The fragmentation of classical music continues. After corporate owned classical record labels such as Universal Classics came musician owned labels including MaxOpus. Then came the orchestra owned labels led by LSO Live. Now we have a concert hall owned label in the form of Wigmore Hall Live which is being launched by London's leading chamber music venue. The new label releases its first four discs in September, from Sir Thomas Allen and Dame Felicity Lott, the Nash Ensemble and the Arditti Quartet, and sixteen releases are planned for the first year.
In a Telegraph interview the Wigmore Hall's director, John Gilhooly says: -"We're regarded by many as the pre-eminent international home of chamber music, song and, increasingly, early music, and that brand is obviously transferable in the form of a CD," he says. "We've been underwritten by a major donor [Harvey Cole, who gave £40,000 to pay for recording equipment], and we have direct marketing in that we can write to everybody who attended a concert and say 'would you like an advance copy of this?' We have an audience on our doorstep, and we know if we sell 400 to 500 copies of a disc, we can break even."
It may seem churlish not to welcome Wigmore Hall Live with open arms, but I'm afraid I don't. Classical music is not about brands. That is how Seagrams, Vivendi, Polygram and many others thought. Where are they today? Classical music is about artistic excellence. LSO Live has worked not because of its brand, but because of the superlative recordings from Sir Colin Davis et al. What impact has the 'cooky cutter' LPO Live brand made?
To justify becoming a link in the supply chain, a classical label needs to add real value. I am afraid there is minimal value, or loyalty, in classical music brands. And that talk of only needing to sell 400 or 500 copies to break even, and donated equipment, doesn't sound very visionary. Would John Culshaw have sold the Solti Ring to his Board with that sort of talk?
I wish Wigmore Hall Live Live every success. And I hope the excellence of their superb artists makes it work. But concert hall owned record labels aren't the solution to the current crisis in the classical music industry. They are just another manifestation of the problem.
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