Edward Higginbottom and his Choir of New College, Oxford have announced the creation of their new recording label, Novum. The choir’s first release will be Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers.
It’s a special occasion twice-over as, in addition to marking the birth of Novum, the recording celebrates the 400th anniversary of the Monteverdi. And, in keeping with historical practice, almost all the solo music is taken from members of the choir (aside from contributions from two tenors, Nicholas Mulroy and Thomas Hobbs).
“Own-label recordings are no longer vanity products, people read their intentions more clearly now,” Higginbottom tells Gramophone, “and it is crucial to have recordings as a flag-waver, crucial to be there in the marketplace. In fact, in terms of cultural heritage it is even in our statement of purpose of charitable responsibilities, so it is explicitly part of our mission to be active in the cultural sphere in a way that disseminates the music as widely as possible.” To which end, he adds, the choir will also shortly begin webcasting a service a week from their chapel.
Does he think there will be an audience? “The figures speak for themselves,” he replies. “While not everything will sell as many as the Agnus Dei album which we did in the mid-1990’s and which sold some 300,000 sets globally, there is a following.” Last year, he reports, the choir themselves “put a toe in the water” by placing a recording in Blackwells bookshop, and it was the highest-selling recording in the retailer in that entire year. Similarly, a recent recording of Bach’s St John Passion released by Naxos was a healthy seller.
“Who wants another Monteverdi Vespers?” asks Higginbottom. “I do! And we’ve just recorded the Mozart Requiem with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. These things are worth doing because we put out distinctive versions and people want to hear these works with the distinctive New College Choir colour and approach. And we have to be courageous and confident enough to answer that call."