Two events, both looking ahead with enthusiasm
Last month was bookended by two events to offer tonic to anyone beset by pessimism about the classical musical world. First came the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards, a celebration of live music-making in the UK – in many ways the live equivalent of our Gramophone Awards. Sir Antonio Pappano, receiving the 100th RPS Gold Medal, spoke movingly of how his most memorable musical experiences have not been, for example, an ovation after an opening of renown, but when engaged in outreach and education to the young and uninitiated. Pappano described it as ‘that magical moment where interest is first sparked’; talk to many musicians, be they luminaries or lesser-sung heroes in orchestral ranks or education departments, and you will find that same passion. All of us – listeners, labels, opinion formers, parents, politicians – must do all we can to support them in this most vital of missions.
The month ended with an invigorating and intensive few days at Classical:NEXT, a gathering where labels, journalists, entrepreneurs and artists meet, share plans, debate challenges, draw conclusions, and pave the way ahead for the months and years to come. It was held this year, for the first time, in Rotterdam. Setting aside that such events are always somewhat self-selecting – only those with enthusiasm, initiative and ideas tend to attend them – it was still heartening to be surrounded by so much passion and optimism for recorded music-making. Release schedules for the months to come look every bit as enticing as the year past; challenges, though real, are being met as people find new ways to work together and to reach audiences. Which is how it’s always been.
At one extreme lie experiments in virtual reality concert-going, at the other, pragmatic approaches to funding which ensure many fine records will thankfully still be made in the same old way by the same old labels.
In the middle lies digital listening. It was an amusing reminder of just how far into the digital era we are that the marketing material of streaming service Qobuz contained the phrase ‘good old downloads’ – that compared to the heady new waters of streaming, the download is now a traditional safe haven. That conference sessions on metadata and digital concert halls were scheduled and held with no particular fanfare shows that such issues are simply the mainstream now. The agreement required for all to move happily full steam ahead towards the brave new world of streaming still seems some way off, but many are heading there anyway, with differing degrees of willingness and excitement: the winners are the listeners.
Not far away from the conference venue, a little downtown and downriver, lies Europe’s largest port. Much has buffeted maritime fortunes in recent eras – air travel has obliterated distance, telecoms render travel less necessary – yet cranes still load and unload, people gather and disperse, ever more modern vessels sail past thrillingly contemporary dockland buildings. Much changes, but the basic spirit continues much as it has done since man first enquired what lay beyond his own limited horizons and went exploring. Which isn’t a bad analogy for music, really.
This article appears in the July 2015 issue of Gramophone, available now