Clearing the summer clutter of CDs off the righthand side of my desk, I was startled to see how few of them were made with any commercial purpose. Gone are the days when multinational record labels flooded reviewers with star properties. Most of the classical records released nowadays are either self-published or cheap snapshots of live concerts.
Nothing wrong with that. There is greater diversity of music on record than ever and, for my weekly review, I have discovered an number of unsponsored talents that I really want to hear again, composers and performers alike – the Irishman John Kinsella, the Bulgarian Iossif Ivanov, the Russian-German Anna Gourari, to name just three of the more recent.
My colleague Anne Midgette, in her characteristically polite and thoughtful way, takes issue with the establishment figures who claim that records that are now being made without the musicians having any hope of getting paid is ‘healthy’ and right. It’s actually dreadful and wrong. The prestige has gone out of making records and, with it, the editorial acumen.
There are exceptions – I have huge admiration for three French labels, Vigin Classics, Naive and Harmonia Mundi, that have nurtured a nine percent domestic classical market share – but in general musicians are either working on dinky labels for little or no pay, or out on their own on a wing and a prayer.
I stand accused of having broken the bad news in The Life and Death of Classical Music. I plead guilty as charged in respect of corporate recording, but I never said the music would stop.
Anne’s right: music will survive so long as someone is around to tell the public that it exists. But what happens when the last newspaper abolishes classical coverage, or goes to the wall? Where will the credible writing appear? And how will the world hear the music? I’ve never believed it will disappear, but I do think we need to work on communications solutions.