Why a label’s commitment to an artist matters

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Signing, and nurturing, musicians is as important as ever

There’s a theme to much of our news coverage in the latest issue of Gramophone, and it’s one that I hope brings some much needed cheer to readers, collectors and all who appreciate classical music on record. It feels a little like transfer season in sport, when column inches are awash with teams signing talent – only in this instance it’s labels and artists. Some of these are sigificant steps in a young artist’s careers – pianist Bruce Liu joining Deustche Grammophon, male soprano Samuel Mariño joining Decca; some are extensions (trumpeter Alison Balsom at Warners), and others label moves (guitarist Miloš joining Sony Classical).

Those announcements are all from traditional major labels, but a glimpse at other ongoing relationships between artists and labels shows such bonds matter greatly across the sector. Think of Hyperion and its partnerships with the likes of Stephen Hough or Steven Isserlis, or Chandos and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet or John Wilson, or Harmonia Mundi and its extraordinary family of artists.

The rise of streaming offers us something remarkable: pretty much the entire repertoire of classical music at a touch of the button. But this only exists because throughout the history of recording a commitment has been made by labels towards their musicians, to building relationships, nurturing them as artists, capturing their response to, and reflections on, musical masterpieces throughout their lives. As a consequence, the more than century-long catalogue of classical recordings we all cherish is not a mere index of composers and works, but a gallery of portraits.

We hope to serve you as expert gallery guides, and we’re not alone – retailers online and in person play a vital role too, and last weekend I was delighted to speak on a panel at a conference of the UK members of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres. The challenges music librarians face in how best to serve people with expert information and, ultimately, the finest recordings, in this increasingly online era, are in so many ways shared by Gramophone: and so very clearly too is their dedication to performing a role that can so greatly enrich listeners’ lives.

This month’s signings fill me with confidence that we will continue to have superb new recordings to add to our list of current recommendations. I’m delighted that so many artists of the younger generation are just as committed to the art of making records, and just as excited about its possibilities, as their older colleagues. An excellent example of this was last month’s cover artist Klaus Mäkelä, who not only spoke of what studio recording offers him as a conductor, but also of his enjoyment of the time spent editing afterwards (all 150 hours of it!), as well as the powerful possibilities presented by technology such as Dolby Atmos.

Mäkelä also spoke of his interest in historical recordings – which brings me to a final, sadder note. As we were sending the issue to press, we learnt of the death of Stewart Brown, founder of Testament Records, whose lovingly and painstakingly prepared reissues of recordings of extraordinary significance have earned the admiration and gratitude of all us. You can read our tribute to him here.

Gramophone's May 2022 issue is available now: full details here

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