Alexa, streaming, digital concert halls: what will 2018 hold?

Martin CullingfordTue 2nd January 2018

Gramophone's Editor looks at trends which may shape the coming year for music

January. A point when people, having looked backwards (as we’ve just done with our free digimag featuring all 2017’s Editor’s Choices) now look forwards. Such is the pace of change that only with a very misplaced sense of crystal-ball-confidence could anyone predict exactly what will happen next year. But you can look at trends, both those specifically related to classical music, but also those in the wider world too. 

Starting with technology, I’ve been encountering many adverts of late for Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated personal assistant, an indication of just how much is being invested in the concept (and as Andrew Everard reports in the January issue's Audio pages, Amazon is not alone). Perhaps you’re not the sort of person who wants to call out a request and have it swiftly played. I’m not sure I am. But many might be. I just tried asking Siri, Apple’s equivalent, to ‘Play me some Beethoven’ and within seconds was offered a playlist starting with Carlos Kleiber’s Beethoven Fifth, followed by Fricsay’s Beethoven Seventh, followed by Gilels playing the Pathétique. Not bad. But what about more specific requests? That poses significant challenges. But if this is to be part of home hi-fi’s future, the classical industry will want to make sure it finds solutions.

Streaming continues to go from strength to strength. A major label revealed just the other day that streaming revenue has, for them, overtaken downloads when it comes to digital income – and they’re not the first. As well as the cross-genre services (Apple Music, Spotify, Qobuz et al), there are classical-specific players trying to establish themselves in the market, and this month, as we report in our news pages, one has even done a deal with the Vienna Philharmonic to release new recordings exclusively via its service. Perhaps it stands to reason that, as it grows, streaming will seek to offer not just a variant on how to access existing recordings, but also an entirely new channel for releases in the first place. And speaking of alternative channels, as our supplement revealed recently, the digital concert hall sector shows every sign of good health. With more live performances archived and available than ever before, how should we consider them alongside, say, DVDs, when discussing the ‘catalogue’? 

As for the recordings themselves, a simple glance (let alone an attempt to lift) Gramophone’s daily postbag is cause for confidence. It’s more than a decade since we were told that EMI’s Tristan und Isolde with Domingo would be the last major studio opera recording. Well, time has thankfully proved that to have been far from the case, and from Opera Rara’s bold rarities to Erato’s new Les Troyens (recorded from concerts, but nevertheless concerts conceived as a recording project), impressive sets continue to reach us. Meanwhile, beautifully presented CD box-sets continue to delight and, from my knowledge of what many labels are planning next year, this will continue throughout 2018. The vinyl revival isn’t unwinding either. Thus, through a combination of an imaginative industry looking both forwards and backwards, I think we can be safely optimistic about what the year ahead holds for classical listeners. A very happy new year to you all.

martin.cullingford@markallengroup.com

Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is the Editor and Publisher of Gramophone.

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