- It's Sounding Mournful In
Classical Music Circles
By John Von Rhein
- KRT News Service
- (My thanks to Russ Coleman for
transcribing this article)
- Recently, after phoning Universal Classics
in New York in hopes of securing some information from one of its classical
labels, I was bounced to the extension of a secretary. A youngish-sounding
voice answered as hip-hop music blared in the background. I asked to speak
to "someone from Deutsche Grammophon." "What label are they
on?" was her bland reply, unaware she was mistaking the venerable
German record label for an imaginary German rock band.
- The level of cultural ignorance seems
to be rife from top to bottom of the classical recording industry these
days, as, one by one, the major companies sell their artistic souls and
legacies to the great god Mammon.
- Last month it was reported that BMG Classics
- known under its imprints RCA Victor Red Seal and RCA Victor - was being
gutted in a drastic downsizing that will reduce what was once the third
largest classical operation in the world to an appendage of BMG's pop division.
All overseas recording activity is to be temporarily halted, reissue projects
are being put in limbo and scores of employees laid off.
- Executive lips remain sealed until in-house
reports are tendered to Stauss-Zelnick, chief executive of the Munich-based
BMG Entertainment, a wing of the German multimedia giant Bertelsmann. BMG
classic reportedly lost $6 million last year, and the company has issued
only the following statement: "BMG is going through a review towards
creating a more efficient corporate structure." But insiders say that
by July 1 BMG will fold its 200 classical, jazz, New Age, and world music
labels into the pop division.
- RCA Records Classical releases, it is
said, will be slashed from 200 to 10 albums a year, new as well as reissues.
- Already such RCA stalwarts as Scottish
percussionist Evelyn Glennie and the King's Singers have lost their contracts,
and the fate of flutist James Galway is in the hands of his attorney. Michael
Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony may be spared the ax because
of their blue-chip value to the label. Not so fortunate, apparently, are
conductors Lorin Maazel and Daniele Gatti.
- RCA has been scaling back its classical
operation, dropping its 'Catalyst' label and deleting a large number of
older recordings while allowing contracts with such artists as pianist
Peter Serkin to lapse.
- And RCA is not alone in gutting its classical
division. Universal (which owns Decca, Deutsche Grammophon and Phillips)
has cut its artist roster to the bone. Sony is devoting more attention
to crossover and soundtracks. In January, EMI merged with Warner-AOL in
a move that is expected to lay waist to several Warner labels. Where once
the worldwide classical market was ruled by six multinationals, now there
are three: Universal, Sony and EMI/Warner.
- If there is no longer any room for serious
musical artists at the cynical level of corporate recording, classical
recording continues to hold its own among the smaller independent labels.
With no shareholders to satisfy, no expensive contracts with big-name artists
to drive their projects, such labels as ECM, Harmonia Mundi, Chandos, BIS,
Naxos, Hyperion, CPO and Bridge can afford to take risks.
- Meanwhile, light a candle for BMG/RCA.
It is sad to see the company that sits atop one of the greatest troves
of historic recordings - matchless performances by Enrico Caruso, Arturo
Toscanini and Van Cliburn - brought low by corporate greed and philistinism.
- The sound you hear from Nipper, RCA's
canine mascot, is no longer a bark, it's a pathetic whimper.