Esa-Pekka Salonen and classical music in the digital age

Martin CullingfordFri 25th May 2018

Gramophone's Editor introduces the June issue

Four years ago I met Esa-Pekka Salonen, the cover artist on the new issue of Gramophone, in Berlin’s Apple Store. The conductor/composer and I didn’t just happen to bump into each other while simultaneously browsing for new iPads, I hasten to add. I was there because he was fronting Apple’s new advertising campaign; and that this uncompromising contemporary classical musician was deemed to be representative of the cool creativity Apple wanted to convey remains, for me at least, a high-point in recent merchandise marketing history. But while a four-year-old iPad will already have been superseded several times by newer models, Salonen – about to celebrate his 60th birthday – only grows in wisdom and reflectiveness, as our interview reveals. He emerges as a man immersed in music, but immersed in the wider world too, his hinterland and creative vision embracing both remote landscape and the latest technology, just as his music-making embodies creation and re-creation within the same questing outlook. A perfect model, perhaps, of an artist for our era. 

An artist’s growth may be gradual; technology’s, however, is vertiginous. Last month, the international record industry body the IFPI revealed that digital revenue (ie downloads and streaming) now makes up more than half of the global music market – that’s a figure that now holds true for 32 countries, six of which crossed that threshold this year. The figure was boosted by a staggering 41 per cent increase in income from streaming last year. Physical revenue declined by 5 per cent – though vinyl continued to grow, and now makes up 3.7 per cent of total income. 

These trends are important for a number of reasons. To start with, lurking in here is some good news. For many years now we’ve heard of the decline of the record industry, but at least now it’s beginning to see some growth again. Closer to Gramophone’s home, the UK record industry body the BPI reported that similar growth in streaming led to an overall increase of 10.7 per cent in revenue last year – the biggest increase for two decades. As this is for all genres of course, I took some classical-specific soundings, and some labels I talked to revealed that digital revenue is now a very meaningful part of their business. The challenges, however, remain very real, and these overall figures hide a great disparity in terms of what individual recordings might achieve in terms of sales. And it’s some relief to hear that classical CD sales remain, for now, more resilient than in some other genres.

Income is one thing; but if the aim of those of us who love classical music is for it to be heard by, and to enrich the lives of, as many people as possible, then there’s something else worth noting. Labels report that their music is being streamed – in significant numbers – in countries to which their CDs were simply never shipped. The web breaks down barriers. Music breaks down barriers. We initially talked of streaming’s advantage as being convenience, then about bridging borders between genres, but perhaps the true power of the streaming revolution to transform classical music is only now beginning to reveal itself – in a world in which remote landscape and modern technology meet in more minds than just Esa-Pekka Salonen’s.  

martin.cullingford@markallengroup.com

Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is the Editor and Publisher of Gramophone.

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£67/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2018