Posted by: rbbadger | November 11, 2009

Pieter van Winkel, Klaus Heymann, and the future of classical music

The classical music world has been undergoing something of a sea change in recent years.  For a long, it was dominated by major labels such as Columbia, EMI, Deutsche Grammophon, Philips, and others.  In the late 1980s, an upstart record company based out of Hong Kong by the name of Naxos released its first recordings.  For many of the older labels, their prices remain high, mostly because of the cost of paying prominent stars in the music world.  However, now there are so many good musicians, many of whom despair of ever getting recorded, that budget labels such as Naxos have put them to work recording both the standard classics and a great deal of lesser-known music.  (Ever hear a Glazunov symphony?  For $6.99 a CD, you can buy all nine of his symphonies on Naxos.)  Naxos has also done American music a world of good, too.  There is so much good music out there written by Americans.  Copland was not the only American composer you know!  Naxos is now giving composers such as Virgil Thomson, Roy Harris, William Schuman, Nicolas Flagello, Vittorio Giannini, and others their due.  The founder of Naxos, Klaus Heymann sets forth his philosophy in this interesting interview.  As Heymann points out, there isn’t a lot of difference in interpretations between some of the more prominent musicians and some of the lesser known artists.  Unlike earlier, idiosyncratic interpretations just won’t fly anymore, though the recordings of older, more idiosyncratic artists countinue to be treasured and reissued. 

2006 was, by any estimation, a big year in the classical musical world.  It marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  To celebrate, another independent label known as Brilliant Classics brought out the complete works of Mozart.  They were able to do this by either licensing previous recordings from other record companies or making their own recordings using talented, though not as well known performers such as Jaap ter Linden and the Mozart Akademie Amsterdam or the Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester Mannheim.  Rather than printing lush booklets, they put everything on one CD-ROM where listeners can browse through the files.  The complete set, which I have seen, is on 170 CDs and is about the size of a shoebox.  It sells for about $120 on Amazon and includes just about everything Mozart ever wrote.  You can read about Brilliant Classics and their work here.  They have sold over 300,000 sets in Europe alone.  For those who prefer Bach, they also have a complete Bach edition which sells for about $150.  They’ve been working on a complete Haydn edition which might go as far as 230 CDs (!!).  It is amazing how much that man wrote, over one hundred symphonies for a start.

While there will always be stars, labels such as Brilliant and Naxos provide those interested in the music more than the performers a means to explore the vastness of the western classical music heritage without shelling out huge amounts of cash in the process.  Naxos is now making a lot of money from the internet, as they’ve put their entire collection up online where subscribers can download just about anything they want for a monthly fee.  The classical music industry is changing.  Entrepreneurs such as Klaus Heymann and Brilliant’s Pieter van Winkel have taken great advantage of the opportunities.

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