Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Naxos Blog

My good friends over at Sequenza21 are understandably elated at having pulled off the coup of hosting a Naxos blog written by company publicist Mark Berry.

Now I am a huge fan of Naxos, buy lots of their CDs, contribute occasionally to Sequenza21, and am generally delighted by the news. But can I just echo the words of the late and great Glenn Gould? - every silver lining has a cloud.

Yes, Naxos has been very supportive of living composers. But they are also one of the leading proponents of globalisation in the music supply chain. They have plays in CDs, DVDs, webradio, and even library lending of music. I was surprised that the media didn't put the spotlight on their role in the recent appointment of a new Music Director for the Baltimore Symphony, instead of endlessly revisiting the irrelevant gender of the successful candidate.

The error is made frequently (including on this blog) of categorising the 'corporate' RIAA prosecutors of file sharing kids such as Sony and Univeral as being big and ugly, and the so-called 'independent' labels as small and beautiful. The fact is any company that controls a significant part of the music supply chain holds a position of considerable power, and that includes Naxos, Hyperion et al. 'Independent' can be a clever marketing platform as well as a positive attribute. Judging by the recent BBC Radio 3 CD Review interview with their Managing Director Simon Perry Hyperion will be dining out on the alleged injustice of the Sawkins appeal result for the next decade, despite it being a decision of an English court of law, which presumably they recognised when they appealed.


Try listening to an audio sample on the Naxos website - you can't without registering on their global database. (Something which Mark Berry forgets to tell us in his first post about composer Sean Hickey). And it is by no means proven that the downward price spiral instigated by Naxos is of long term benefit. Super-budget CDs generate little revenue to support the speculative recording projects which are the lifeblood of many of the contemporary composers who lurk (and post) on Sequenza21.

So welcome to the blogosphere Naxos, and keep up your very fine work. The beauty of blogging is that it provides a forum for everyone's views.

Overgrown paths to Naxos include Music-like-water, Is recorded classical music too cheap?, and Now Naxos downloads from library web sites

And for Hyperion see
Hyperion Records face 'catastrophic' damages bill , Paying the piper, In praise of .... Hyperion, and Peerless Portugese Polyphony.

And for some globalisation free music try
A cure for Marin Alsop fatigue, Now Alpha shakes up web radio, Soli Deo Gloria and Mortal defeat for the mob in Paris.


Picture credit - Boston.com
Report broken links, missing images, and other errors to overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wait... I'm confused. What _was_ Naxos' role in the BaltimoreSO's hiring of Alsop?

Pliable said...

I do not know what Naxos' role was in Marin Alsop's Baltimore appointment. But I am pretty sure there was one. Which is why I said I was surprised the media didn't dig deeper.

I am not for a moment suggesting the Baltimore appointment was not justified musically. But I am highlighting that it is naive to assume that musical criteria are the sole drivers in such appointments. And the long term impact of the other drivers (see below) needs to be understood.

The vast influence that both record companies and agents have on appointments such as Music Directors - see No such thing as an unknown Venezuelan conductor - needs to be highlighted more.

I also took into account the following article on Marin Alsop's own web site about the Tchaikovsky Symphony cycle she recorded in Colorado for Naxos. Note that the article says the Colorado orchestra agreed to a royalty only deal, and paid the recording and production costs themselves, i.e. the orchestra (and that means the musicians)took all the risk. Naxos founder Klkaus Heymann says "we have been approached by other orchestras, but I can't really say at this point who they are, because we really don't have a deal yet in place."

The highlighting in this quote are mine:

"Such a response is exactly what Alsop was hoping for, when she approached Klaus Heymann, Naxos' founder and chief executive officer, about the possibility of the album.

She had previously released more than a dozen recordings on various labels, but they featured contemporary works or less familiar older selections. With this new disc, Alsop wanted to venture into the heart of the standard repertoire.

Because Naxos already had versions of the Tchaikovsky works in its catalog, it agreed to release the Colorado Symphony's disc only on a royalty basis, with the orchestra covering the up-front recording and production costs.

The investment was worth it, Alsop said, because of the invaluable exposure that the undertaking has brought to the orchestra, which has little of a national profile.

"The Tchaikovsky CD that we did here," she said, "will do more for the profile of the Colorado Symphony than anything else we could possibly do.

"That's why we do recordings now. It's about marketing and reach. And Naxos has the widest distribution of any company in the world."

A good example of the label's international reach came a little more than a month ago. The conductor signed copies of the Colorado release at an event in England in conjunction with a Tchaikovsky performance with the Bournemouth Symphony, where she is principal conductor.

"Up until recently," she said, "Naxos had many, many artists on their roster, whom no one ever heard of. They don't have an active, live concert career.

"I come into the picture, and I have a concert career that takes me all over the world. This is a new thing for them (Naxos). So, wherever I go, they can start capitalizing on marketing this in a very wide way."

The Tchaikovsky disc is the first in what Naxos is billing as its American Symphony Orchestra Series, which will feature U.S. ensembles performing established works, something for which it had used foreign orchestras in the past.

The success of the release has propelled Naxos' interest in this series. The firm is in negotiations with the Colorado Symphony about future installments and plans to release some performances by the Seattle Symphony.

"As word gets out," Heymann said, "we have been approached by other orchestras, but I can't really say at this point who they are, because we really don't have a deal yet in place."

Alsop began her relationship with Naxos by embarking on a series of six recordings of works by American composer Samuel Barber. Four have already been released.

She had hoped to produce them with the Colorado Symphony, but Naxos shifted the project to the Royal Scottish National Symphony, which has had a strong relationship with the label.

The spirited sales of the Tchai- kovsky disc and Barber series along with Alsop's appointment as artistic head of the Bournemouth Symphony, which also has a close relationship with Naxos, have tightened her ties with the label.

She plans to record three Naxos albums next year in Bournemouth devoted to the music of Leonard Bernstein, John Adams and Philip Glass and is in the midst of making a Michael Daugherty compilation with the Colorado Symphony.

"Until recently it wasn't an exclusive relationship, and, contractually, it's not exclusive, but I feel completely committed to them," Alsop said. "I wouldn't record with another label unless it was the only option and Naxos was not interested.

"I think it is important to develop a relationship and a profile with one company, and if you start recording similar repertoire across the board, it can be very confusing in terms of marketing and image."

Such sentiments were reciprocated with praise from Heymann, who called Alsop a first-class conductor, who also happens to be "really cool." She can handle herself, he said, equally smoothly both on and off the podium.

"She is very good," he said. "She's not a short-term phenomenon. She will probably be the first woman to have a really big career as a conductor." "