Apple and the Berlin Philharmonic: how two announcements ended months of speculation

Martin CullingfordFri 17th July 2015

Gramophone's editor introduces the August issue of the magazine

After months of speculation, the announcement finally arrived. Many words over many months had been written examining the possibilities, and so audiences around the world, sitting in front of their computers and waiting patiently for the live-streamed press conference to begin, were eager to discover how their listening lives were about to change. 

At this point, the story goes in two very different directions. Let’s start with the live stream from San Francisco, where in early June senior Apple executives, shirts untucked and high-fives at the ready, unveiled before an assembled audience of technical developers their next big step in online listening: Apple Music. Most Apple initiatives – iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad – have either kick-started, or arrived in the early days of, a technological trend. In this instance, they’d been beaten to streaming by services such as Spotify, Qobuz and Tidal. Apple’s offering needed to be bigger and better to reclaim lost ground: by the time you read this, it will have launched and you’ll have your own views on whether it’s succeeded. 

Playlists and listening suggestions are clearly a key part of the service. I’d love to see Apple being bold and creative in this area, proposing classical tracks to users they identify as among the more exploratory, helping to bridge those artificial borders between genres, ones largely defined back in the days of purely physical sales when companies needed to know which bit of a shop to stock something in. Given the millions who are likely to use Apple Music, what an amazing opportunity this could be to reinstate classical as being serious music for the culturally curious, not merely a specialist genre sidelined by the uninitiated. Time will tell. 

Back to that live-streamed announcement, this time with shirts tucked in (though still open-necked - this is 2015) and the more familiar formalities of a traditional press conference, as the Berlin Philharmonic announced its new Chief Conductor, Kirill Petrenko. This was more of a surprise, but that in itself bodes well. In life an obvious choice can sometimes be a lazy choice: a less obvious one generally stems from careful consideration and special insight. Again, time will tell. 

So, two very different announcements, relating to two very different organisations, not least when it comes to time-scales. Petrenko doesn’t replace Sir Simon Rattle until 2018 – three years is an incredibly long time in the digital world, and by then something completely unheralded may have once again radically altered how we buy and hear music.

And yet there’s something of the ethos of Apple’s innovativeness lurking in the Berlin Philharmonic – its Digital Concert Hall has set the bar impressively high for how an orchestra can harness the web to reach new audiences. Perhaps more unites these two organisations than just the fact that both announcements were delivered in the same way. And finally, what does it say about how rapidly the way in which we engage with music is changing in that it seemed perfectly normal, entirely unremarkable in fact, that both announcements were live-streamed?  

martin.cullingford@markallengroup.com

This article appears in the August issue of Gramophone, available now

 

Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is the Editor and Publisher of Gramophone.

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