Gramophone's Editor reflects on 2019's classical announcements so far
The New Year began with some good news. Barely had the sound of Strauss waltzes faded from Vienna (this year under the baton of Christian Thielemann, reviewed in our latest issue) and choirs swapped their Christmas carols for Epiphany hymns (though aren’t some of those among the brightest and best?), when the BPI, the UK recording industry organisation, announced its sales figures for 2018. First published was some general good news: that across all genres there was a six per cent rise in sales. But then, a week later, it announced the results of some drilling down into classical-specific results, and revealed a remarkable 10 per cent increase. Within that was a 42 per cent increase in streaming, but the standout figure for me was that CD sales alone saw a seven per cent increase.
That’s quite enough statistics, and you can read more about the results here. But it did confirm something I’d begun to detect through conversations with many labels. That after a period of long-standing decline, CD sales had begun to stabilise and streaming was beginning to bring in both new revenue and, most importantly, new listeners for classical music.
All figures should come with context. Classical crossover projects account for much of those sales – but then they always have – and one positive result is too early to conclude that the tide has turned. But a streaming increase which doesn’t appear to have come at the expense of physical sales is a good thing. And while we hear that a lot of classical streaming is repertoire- rather than artist-driven, that the figures were boosted by some strong-selling and inspirational core artists – Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Yo-Yo Ma, King’s College Cambridge, among them – is great too.
Meanwhile, other good news reached the many musical recipients of New Year’s Honours. Most attention understandably went to the small number of the highest-profile recipients, headed by that passionate ambassador for music Nicola Benedetti. But keep reading through the list, and you’ll find recognition bestowed upon a significant number of people for ‘services to music education’, or something similarly reflective of a life devoted to enriching the experiences and lives of children and adults alike, through teaching, or organising, or fundraising. Their names are invariably known only to those whose lives they impact upon, but are often more meaningful for that. Such people can – and I don’t employ the oft-used phrase lightly – change lives.
In the autumn I reported here a worrying decline in those taking GCSE Music Exams (15 per cent down in two years). My final piece of New Year good news, then, is a welcome announcement by the UK government of a £1.33m boost to music education, plus plans to create a new model music curriculum to be devised by an independent panel of experts. Both elements are vital. Money matters, of course – but a big part of the challenge is a cultural one, about how music is valued within wider education, and society itself. Without placing too much weight of responsibility to address this vast issue on their shoulders, may I wish the panel well.
This article appears in the February 2019 issue of Gramophone - find out more about the new issue here