Thursday, August 27, 2009

EMI - it's a dog's life


First the bad news. The fluctuating prospects of my EMI pension have been the subject of two previous posts. Now comes the news that Guy Hands, the new owner of ailing EMI, has removed the chairman of the company's pension fund and appointed his own nominee to the post. This is Money comments:
The move was unusual since chairmen of pension fund trustees must be seen to be able to represent the interests of pensioners without fear of censure from the company financing the fund.
Fortunately we still have many principled small businesses in the UK. But then there is the BBC and EMI; not to mention HBOS, the bank that cost us, and many others, a serious amount of money.


But now for the good news. The fine drawing above depicts that great conductor Sir John Barbirolli, who made many fine recordings for EMI. His masterly accounts of Elgar's First and Second Symphonies, recorded for HMV with the Philharmonia and HallĂ© Orchestras respectively, have been absent from their catalogue for too long. On August 31st they are being released in a 2CD set coupled with In the South and the Serenade for Strings. This important re-issue can be pre-ordered for just £6.98 UK postage paid from Amazon.co.uk. It is a pity though that EMI's lavish website does not explain who conducts what; Barbirolli conducts the symphonies and Norman del Mar takes over the baton for the Serenade for Strings. But neither of the two conductors listed on EMI's website conduct In the South.

If you look very carefully at the image of the CD box you will see that the conductor of In The South (which, erroneously is given a lower case 'i' on the website) is the Romanian Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969) This is the scintillating and unmissable recording of the Elgar work made with him directing the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Silvestri's uncle was the Austro/Czech composer Emil von Reznicek of Donna Diana fame, and the sparkling style of that piece seems to infect Silvestri's conducting. Constantin Silvestri also composed, and there is a rare video of the third movement of his Rhapsody for Piano here.

Just to complete the catalogue of EMI website howlers, the Philharmonia Orchestra, who play one of the Elgar Symphonies on the new release, is also overlooked. But under £7 for these truly great recordings (and compositions) is very good news for CD collectors. Even if you need to do some research to find out who is actually conducting what on the discs. But, is this really the best way for EMI's new owners to exploit their massive intellectual property assets?

'Glorious John' is in New York here. Mahler with such human warmth and soul is below, read about that great recording here.


* There is another later, and arguably better, recording of Sir John Barbirolli conducting the Hallé Orchestra in Elgar's First Symphony. This is a live concert recording made by the BBC at the King's Lynn Festival here in Norfolk shortly before Barbirolli died in 1970. It was available on BBC legends, now deleted.

* Constantin Silvestri was a very fine Elgar conductor. EMI planned to record both of the Elgar symphonies and Gerontius with him, but his premature death in 1969 prevented this. There is a BBC Legends mono release of Silvestri conducting Elgar's First. Still available and worth buying as these historic BBC CD transfers, which were marketed by IMG artists, are being culled at a frightening rate.

* There are used copies of the essential BBC CD of Barbirolli conducting Elgar's First Symphony at the King's Lynn Festival available from American resellers via Amazon.com. But English customers are blocked by Amazon from buying this English recording of an Englishman conducting English music in England. So much for the frontierless internet.

I am afraid I cannot answer the question everyone will ask. The print seen in my header image hangs on my study wall, which is where I photographed it. But, to my chagrin, I do not know who the artist is. It was bought from a shop in King's Parade, Cambridge some years ago, that is all I can tell you. If anyone knows who the artist is or where copies can be bought I will happily publish the information - update 27/08, see comments below. Meanwhile, apologies for this unattributed image. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

15 comments:

Daniel Wolf said...

In the "thisismoney" article you link to, the key sentence is this: "There are about 22,000 pensioners while about 600 pension contributors still work for the company." This is clearly an unsustainable structure for a pension fund, worse even then those of the big US automakers and shows that during all the waves of downsizing and takeovers over the years, this liability has never been taken seriously.

Pliable said...

'... during all the waves of downsizing and takeovers over the years, this liability has never been taken seriously.'

Daniel that is a very sweeping statement, and it one which I am sure the Trustees of the EMI pension fund, which meets regulatory requirements, would disagree with. Available funds, not ratios of pensioners to employees, is the measure of the viability of a pension fund.

Many UK, and American pension funds are facing funding problems. But the dispute between the new owners of EMI and its pension fund trustees is about the relative security of funding, not the absolute level, as my April 2008 post explained:

'In mid December we reached an agreement in principle with EMI and its ultimate investor, Terra Firma, that the Fund would be granted a meaningful amount of watertight security, which would rank equally with the security granted by EMI to Citi, the bank that loaned Terra Firma the money to take over EMI.

Since that agreement, however, detailed discussions have revealed that the form of security offered does not rank equally with the bank's in certain important respects and is not sufficiently robust in its terms for the Trustee to be able to rely on it in circumstances where it would be needed to support the Fund. In the absence of meaningful and watertight security, and as EMI is not prepared to put forward an alternative funding package, the Trustee has concluded, with regret, that it has no option other than to inform the Pensions Regulator that there is no reasonable prospect of reaching agreement with EMI and Terra Firma on funding.'

Pliable said...

A visitor from the EMI Group read this post a few minutes after it was uploaded. So I would hope the omissions on the August new releases page on their website will be corrected soon.

Sorting the pension fund may take longer.

Pliable said...

Email received:

I guess we were all led down the garden path in believing our pensions were secure. Your EMI pension fund woes remind me of similar problems with Canada’s famed—and run into the ground—Nortel company. Thousands of people are left holding the bag, with nothing in it.

Constantin Silvestri made a stunning recording of Enescu’s Octet back in the 50’s for Electrecord. I doubt we will ever see it back in the catalogues, though.

Cheers

David Cavlovic

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/banking_and_finance/article5536942.ece

Pliable said...

In fairness to the Trustees of the EMI pension fund, if not to EMI themselves, their latest communication indicates I will receive my pension at the expected level at the end of November.

Watch this space!

callumlthomson said...

The image is by the German illustrator Michael Sowa. It was used as the cover of the Beautiful South's 1994 album Miaow, but according to Wikipedia, HMV made the band withdraw it because it mocked their trademark dog. Sowa then produced an alternative cover illustration for the band.

Best wishes
Callum

A.C. Douglas said...

The artist responsible for your header image appears to be one, Michael Sowa.

See, http://tinyurl.com/mc4vbr

ACD

Pliable said...

Email received:

I'd seen this before and sure enough, after some aggressive googling, I hit upon this:

http://www.amazon.com/Masters-Voice-Framed-Poster-Michael/dp/B000UHNK9G?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1206134430&sr=8-6

People can buy it from Amazon.com and the artist is Michael Sowa. Here's a brief Wikipedia entry for him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Sowa

I have seen his whimsical pig in a bowl of soup as a greeting card illustration--I might have even bought it.

Chalk up another one for the librarian!!

Carol Murchie

http://www.overgrownpath.com/2005/06/guest-blog-year-at-symphony.html

Pliable said...

Wow, that is what I call a power peer review.

Pliable said...

And a Dutch pension fund has bought the publishing rights to The Sound of Music -

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601085&sid=aeD35CoXmq1Q&refer=europe

Pliable said...

Email received:

“And a Dutch pension fund has bought the publishing rights to The Sound of Music “

They can have it. I don’t mind. Really.

David Cavlovic

Daniel Wolf said...

Pliable,

Of course the bottom line in a pension fund is the ratio of assets and obligations. If this is sufficient, then you could reduce the number of active contributors to zero and continue to pay promised pensions from the closed fund. But a far better situation for a fund — as well as for the corporation itself, as its fund contributions will be a competitive liability against younger firms without large numbers of pensioners — is to have a more balanced ratio between current contributors and recipients. In order to do this, EMI should have found ways to grow their business in other areas as the traditional recording operation was downsized in terms of employee numbers.

I readily admit that I don't know the raw numbers for the EMI fund, but the ratio of payers to payees does seem to raise a red flag.

Pliable said...

Thanks Daniel.

...but the ratio of payers to payees does seem to raise a red flag.

Quite so. One of many red flags flying at EMI right now.

ian said...

Someone has jumped ship? see the EMI Trustees enrty here:

http://www.ukpensionstonz.com/transfers.html

maybe the 13% cut in my deferred EMI pension has gone to NZ as well.

Ian

Pliable said...

I have now had a chance to see and listen to the EMI Elgar re-release.

The track listings, of course, mention Silvestri as conductor of In the South. But the accompanying notes, which seem to be a crude cut and paste job from old Michael Kennedy sleeve notes ('from notes (c) Michael Kennedy') makes no mention at all of Constantin Silvestri or Norman del Mar.

But ignore the shoddy presentation. The music making is glorious. An unmissable re-release - warts and all.