What lies ahead for classical recording?
Martin Cullingford, Editor and Publisher
Monday, May 15, 2023
‘High costs and a vast catalogue concentrate the mind, and the result is release schedules full of purpose and creativity’
Firstly, my personal thanks to the many of you who have shared in the celebratory spirit of our centenary and written in with memories of Gramophone. It’s been very moving to read of the significant part the magazine has played in so many readers’ listening lives. What’s been most wonderful, however, is that so many letters have felt like part of a dialogue, an expression of a shared appreciation of what it means to engage with recording. Just as listening to music is an active rather than passive pursuit, so, I hope, is reading commentary on it.
I’ve just returned from an industry event in Vienna called Audio Classique – two days of hearing about what lies ahead for recording. From the conversations I had with labels I can happily assure you that their plans are just as inspired and inspiring as ever: albums on the horizon involve both known names thinking creatively, and also artists unfamiliar to me but backed by some of the industry’s most forward-thinking A&R executives – always an encouraging sign.
As part of the event, I chaired a panel discussion exploring the place of the traditional album in an age where streaming plays an ever greater role. My starting point was: why does a format rooted in the physical era continue to have such resonance, such that not only do artists devote substantial time and money to it, but organisations such as last year’s Gramophone Recording of the Year winners the Bayerische Staatsoper are even launching new labels? Debate ranged widely, but it was quite clear that the idea of a long listen, over a span sufficient to allow space for pairings or programmes to illuminate concepts or contrasting works, continues to capture the imagination. Furthermore, it also highlighted the extent to which album tracks provide crucial building blocks for playlists – whether our own Gramophone Listening Room or those found on the likes of the new Apple Music Classical app. Like radio programmes, thoughtfully curated playlists can offer enjoyable listening experiences in their own right, as well as excellent ‘ways in’ for explorers. Elsewhere, we learnt that while post-Covid concert audiences have sadly settled at a lower level than before, where that gap is being filled is by younger audiences who, while the world was at a standstill, discovered classical music through streaming. There are many ways to listen to recordings, and we should welcome them all.
Meanwhile, we also learnt that the classical albums that see greatest sales success are often those featuring contemporary composers. The past century of recording may have been heavily weighted towards historical works, but prior to that, most music was modern. Perhaps the future will offer a healthier balance between the two. By the time you read this, global audiences will have been focused on the Coronation of King Charles III, featuring music both old and brand new, performed by artists of extraordinary ability -– what better message to send about our musical life than that? Overall, the message I took away from Vienna is that in uncertain times nobody is recording music for the sake of it. High costs and a vast catalogue concentrate the mind, and the result is release schedules full of purpose and creativity. I can’t wait to hear – and share – the outcome.
This editorial appears in the new June edition of Gramophone - find out more