New signings, new apps, new streaming services - there's a real appetite for recordings
If we, at Gramophone, tend to view the classical music world through the prism of recording, I would hope that’s forgivable. For us, recordings are not a merely a ‘record’ of music-making. They offer advocacy of the new, an archive of the past, access to the unfamiliar (how vast the repertoire is!) – but most importantly of all a powerful artistic experience in their own right.
This month we reported on the Montreal Symphony under Kent Nagano announced a renewal of its links with Decca, and on the announcement that fellow Universal stablemate DG had signed a deal with the Boston Symphony and Andris Nelsons. Each has its regional audiences – but as both are on the other side of the Atlantic to Gramophone’s office, I’m not part of them. They may tour too, perhaps passing near you once a year, if you’re lucky. So it’s through recordings that we build bonds with an orchestra – just as it’s through recordings that I have a perception of what the Chicago Symphony sounded like in the days of Solti, or our American readers might of the Hallé under Sir Mark Elder today. Recordings are a significant part of the international reputation of both ensemble and era – something Karajan understood brilliantly at the Berlin Philharmonic. They change things, open doors, and open ears.
And if it’s true of orchestras, it’s even more true of composers. New music can struggle: to get a performance, to get a second performance, and even then to engage the audiences. Often it’s a case of exposure, time, and repetition – a statement which holds true for many art forms. This is where recording comes in, and it’s a topic James McCarthy explores in depth in his fascinating report in the May issue of Gramophone, out now.
One of his conclusions is that streaming has radically altered things for composers – something it continues to do for music in general, offering both opportunity and uncertainty. Last month, with much fanfare, Tidal added a further name to an arena in which the likes of Qobuz and Spotify offer streaming customers various packages and prices (or lack of), not to mention hundreds of thousands of albums – with Apple due to join them soon. Brilliant for listeners in their millions, though labels and artists will continue to debate the business aspect for a while yet.
Meanwhile, in complete contrast, a new app jointly produced by Universal Classics and Classic FM aims to add clarity to complexity, offering subscribers just one choice of recording per work, with mood-based playlists an important part of how the music is presented. Part streaming service, part radio station.
We don’t know what the future of how we listen will be – and CD certainly isn’t going anywhere yet. But never doubt recording has a future: all the above reveals a real appetite for it, and for further reassurance, read our interview with Paavo Järvi, also in the new issue. Just listing his current projects takes up most of the first paragraph, and it’s clear that for him recording is an integral part of his music-making. So whether Beethoven encapsulating the bond between Järvi and his Bremen players on RCA, or a premiere from a young composer championed by NMC, it’s clear recordings have a vital place – however we end up hearing them.