Two rock stars record on DG

Two rock stars record on DG


norman lebrecht

February 01, 2014

It’s the first of February, not April. Believe what you read:

Deutsche Grammophon is proud to announce the release of  orchestral works composed by Bryce Dessner, known to many from acclaimed rock band The National, as well as a complete Suite from the soundtrack of “There Will Be Blood”, composed by Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead.

“Bryce Dessner is without doubt one of the most exciting contemporary composers working anywhere in the world today. We welcome his daring, his passion and his unique creative vision to the Yellow Label, and look forward to working with him.”

Mark Wilkinson, President Deutsche Grammophon


More here, sadly.


  • I’m not sad at all, rather thrilled. Chapeau, Deutsche Grammophon! To describe this project as DGG simply featuring rock stars is not quite accurate: both Dessner and Greenwood are working between the genres with more than a foot in the classical world. Bryce Dessner has been a leading figure in Brooklyn’s Indie Classical scene for a while. I enjoyed playing his string quartet Aheym tremendously. And it’s no coincidence that the Copenhagen Phil with general manager Uffe Savery – formerly a classical percussionist but also “pop star” as member of the Danish electronic percussion duo Safri Duo – and conductor André de Ridder are involved in the production. Both are immensely active in advancing positions in contemporary composed music that combine intellectual substance with pop-appeal. A key to the future of the field, I believe. At the very least an enrichment to the world of composed new music. BTW: guess who’s responsible for this moving and wildly successful (check not only the numbers of views and likes, but also the comments!) flash mob with Peer Gynt on a subway Uffe Savery and the Copenhagen Phil. Sometimes it takes out-of-the-box thinking and fresh ideas to show new directions in our classical music world that, you will admit, has a few challenges to tackle.

  • Thomas Walton says:

    Nothing wrong with any type of music, but what is wrong here is that it doesn’t belong on the ‘Yellow Label’. This short term, shortsighted populism is only a desperate attempt to restart a moribund label that has been badly managed for nearly twenty years already. The current management of Universal put the final nail in the coffin when they appointed the current president of Deutsche Grammophon, Mark Wilkinson, who follows marching orders and wants to make DG “cool” and appealing to a new audience. What these fools have forgotten is that in the process, they have discredited the entire label and alienated their once loyal consumer base. These releases with music by Jonny Greenwood will probably not make a dent in their global sales and will be totally forgotten in two or three years time. One thing that it will do, for sure, is turn off yet more serious classical music buyers to DG and further make the label dependent on these off base projects and further accelerate their decline and inevitable demise.

    Again, I have nothing against Radiohead nor Jonny Greenwood, both amazing in what they do and I actually like much of it. What’s wrong here is simply that when I go into a vegetarian restaurant, I don’t expect to be served meat and when I go into a five star restaurant, I don’t expect to see hamburgers, chips, hot dogs and milk shakes on the menu.

    • Anon says:

      Except plenty of top-drawer restaurants do serve burgers and chips. In any case, DG is a broad family, not a narrow vegetarian-only outfit. (Something like NMC, specialising in one type of repertoire, would be more analogous to that.)

      I don’t agree that these projects will turn off serious classical buyers at all (and in any case the label makes little enough money from them, so it wouldn’t matter if you were right).

      Out of interest, did you have similar objections to EMI Classics releasing Jon Lord?

      • Thomas Walton says:

        In reply to the above comment and question. It is very astonishing to read that any person would state that serious classical buyers are no longer of any importance and are disposable, as “the label makes little enough money from them, so it wouldn’t matter.” ( if DG became irrelevant for them) How sad! And also how foolish. The core classical consumer is out there. They are loyal and usually willing to try new things, but they can all smell a marketing ploy from a mile away and that is exactly what DG and Universal Classics have become, one big marketing ploy. It is really sad that a brand, once associated with the top of classical music, perhaps a conservative label, but one that instilled confidence and trust, now takes the quick-fix populist route. It would be like if a once great publisher, going way back and having been the publisher of James Joyce, Steinbeck, etc., now decides to release cartoons and romance novellas under the same, great publishing name. Jonny Greenwood and Bryce Dessner don’t need the DG logo next to their name. It won’t help them sell one additional download or disc. It will, however, degrade DG in the eyes of its most hardcore buyers. So, nothing wrong with recording and releasing this, but they don’t need to put it next to the yellow label’s iconic logo in order for it to make any commercial impact. Sadly, I don’t think that Universal even understands what is brand value and brand identity. They are willing to prostitute the labels just to make a sale. Unfortunately, this appearing on the ‘yellow label’ will not help anyone, but will, in fact, drag DG down to the level of poor management and incompetence that reigns in these sorts of companies nowadays.

    • AndrewF says:

      You seem to have made the assumption that these guys aren’t writing serious contemporary ‘classical’ music, on the basis that they have also been prominent in other genres..

  • Sheila says:

    What turns off serious classical buyers (she said, as one) is the farce DG presents as serious classical music these days. Rock crossover, whatever — but when you try to sell me Jan Lisiecki albums as if this is anything beyond basic conservatory-level piano playing? Really? On the same label as Richter, Gilels, Argerich, Pletnev to name but a few? That’s the death of DG right there.

  • rc1 says:

    DG always tries to bolster its sales figures with “pop” and “rock” stars. See: Elvis Costello a few years back, followed by Sting sings Dowland ,followed by Tori Amos repeats her greatest hits with a bit more orchestration , followed by Schiller last year. These are not great albums by any stretch of the imagination either in the pop or the classical genre but they are not particularly offensive. This new one may or may not be good. But usually this type of recording is mundane and offers very obvious musical content at best. The “crime” is not necessarily releasing these artists on DG but the stupid marketing hype that goes with each of these releases being championed as “art” and somehow being “the future of classical music”. No..Universal marketing suits-none of these are the “future of classical music’ but they may be the future of your employment contract renewal or not. Obviously the ploy works well enough because in a niche market the small percentage of these cult artists’ fan bases who can be convinced to consume these releases enables the releases to far surpass the sales figures of other more “conventional” recordings.

  • Thomas Walton says:

    rc1’s comments are true, in my opinion. The issue is that DG and Universal should simply stop trying to create “the future of classical music” and just focus on developing an already existing consumer. They are losing focus and confusing their brand identity all of the time. DG is an iconic brand and these people have no respect, nor any concern for preserving it in any way. They will just pander to the lowest common denominator every time and only think short term, very short term. Where would they be today without their illustrious back catalogue? Do they actually think that Jonny Greenwood and Bryce Dessner’s current recording will earn money for the label in twenty years time? Of course not. They couldn’t care less, as they are only thinking short term and as is mentioned above, about “the future of their own employment contract”. So, protecting a brand identity is not in the cards here, just short fixes, with no concern about the long term consequences.

    I am a passionate music lover, but work in corporate branding and advertising. The people at Universal Classics, and particularly at Deutsche Grammophon, should be shocked to learn that their idiotic branding and total lack of brand development has been used no less than four times in corporate branding seminars as among the three worst examples of iconic brand destruction and off target brand communication seen in the past five years. That is not something to be proud of. Does anybody in their company even have training in brand maintenance and brand identity strategy or is it just the usual music business guys, who know absolutely nothing of branding strategies and couldn’t give a damn? Such brand desecration would be impossible to imagine within iconic brands like Mercedes, BMW, Apple, Ralph Lauren, Dyson, Lufthansa, LVMH and many others. In a serious company, no matter how great a potential commercial idea may seem, great care is given to its impact on the overall brand image and what impact it may have on the future brand perception. If a commercial idea is deemed potentially damaging or even confusing to the core brand identity, then the project is either shelved or released on a affiliate brand, a brand within the brand, so to speak, but never, as DG has done here, putting something that is in direct conflict with the core iconic brand right next to the iconic DG yellow logo, thereby challenging the very essence of the brand’s identity and confusing the market in the process. It is pure idiocy and yet another proof that the music business is, and has always been, run by overpaid, arrogant music loving macho-type blokes, for whom these nuances of corporate identity and brand development are an anathema.

  • Michael B. says:

    I think that one of the most disturbing things about these comments is that there is an assumption that artists who begin in a popular idiom, now mostly rock, but, in previous years, more likely to have been jazz, have no business in getting involved with classical music. Over the years, there have been many examples of musicians who began in pop or jazz transitioning to classical music. The American composer Mel Powell, a Pulitzer Prize winner who mostly wrote in a 12-tone idiom, started out as a jazz pianist who played in the Benny Goodman band. The rock musician Frank Zappa wrote classical music influenced by Edgard Varèse with virtually no pop or rock influence; his music has been recorded by, among others, Pierre Boulez and Kent Nagano, who have never made a crossover recording in their lives (both are known for their recordings of modernist works). More recently, the Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür started out playing with an Estonian progressive rock band, “In Spe.”

    I don’t care two hoots for the DG “core iconic brand,” and, as far as I am concerned, DG did far more damage to itself during World War II when they cooperated with the Nazis and put out,, for example, a bastardized version of Mozart’s Requiem with certain portions of the texts changed because the original reflected Jewish concepts, in order to comply with Nazi cultural dictates. I intend to buy the Dessner-Greenwood recording, and I feel that much of this criticism bespeaks snobbery and a narrowness of vision that does not advance the cause of classical music. ,

  • Evelyne Littlehurst says:

    As far as I’m concerned DG has become a hodgepodge, a label with no clear direction. Perhaps that is what the issue is here. It has nothing to do with “what is classical music”, but the mixed signals that are sent out by the brand. I’m not alone in my thoughts, as several of my friends say the same. What has the label become, what does it stand for and why has it become so inconsistent, both in quality and in image? Perhaps it is a reflection of, as the comment of T. Walton above implies, very poor and a totally lost and incompetent management.

  • Dr Peter Allen says:

    Those with less fossilized and snide minds may be interested in trialing “Krzysztof Penderecki / Johnny Greenwood” on Nonesuch 530223.

    1. Penderecki – “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” (1960, original title “8:37”)

    2. Greenwood – “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” (2005, BBC Radio 3 commission)

    3. Penderecki – “Polymorphia” (1961)

    4. Greenwood – “48 Responses to Polymorphia” (2011)

    This is all acoustic orchestral music. “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” was Greenwood’s first large-scale work in the medium. His advance in “48 Responses” is obvious, and the form of the music intriguing: a repeating series of inversions of the structure of the original “Polymorphia”. It is hypnotic and effective music. I was both annoyed (think Adagietto, and Tristan Prelude) and unsurprised that this has already appeared since on a film soundtrack.

    The music on this disc was recorded in Poland in late 2011 by the Aukso Orchestra, with Penderecki conducting his own works, and Marek Mos conducting Greenwood’s.

    Of course, Greenwood himself hardly sees himself as the equal or even successor of Penderecki. But what excites me particularly is that he is part of Radiohead, an ensemble which has already pushed the envelope in the development of contemporary music of substance.

    In these complex and confusing times, the separation of such music into out-moded “genres” as a basis for distinction and criticism has little meaning or use.

  • TMM says:

    So I assume by the above remarks that DG should slap themselves for signing Anoushka Shankar!

  • I think this is good news. The music of both these musicians is interesting and definitely worth listening. Dessner in particular has impeccable classical music credentials, and any of you out there who know Radiohead (one of my favourite bands, I have to admit) will know that Greenwood is a very serious and accomplished musician.

    I have heard some of this disc already and frankly I don’t understand why people are getting their backs up about it. The only thing that disturbs me is the tone of the marketing, which is obviously capitalizing on Dessner & Greenwood’s commercial pop credentials and ironically somewhat undermining their eclectic styles and skills as composers by being so gushy and over the top. But no matter! This is definitely a disc I am going to relish listening to (the whole thing) as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. Don’t be sad NL, this actually happy news 🙂

  • Babi Banerjee says:

    There are many of us that think of DG from its glory days as the arbiter of good taste and quality classical repertoire. I have a large collection of recordings and DG has put out a lot of modern pieces that could be considered noisy and atonal and definitely far removed from the warhorses it is famous for. I have DG vinyl copies of Vangelis electronic music and a hilariously named collection of Stockhausen pieces on its “Festival of Hits” series. I also own several from unknown artists on its Debut series from the early 1970s. Most of the artists on the latter were never to be heard from again but left a legacy of very important recordings (one recording was good enough to pull off a Paganini themed hoax). DG has taken many artistic chances over the years and I applaud them for it. The reality is no one is buying recordings of any genre and fewer still are buying classical. I am a Radiohead fan with all of their LPs and recently bought an LP of their music from In Rainbows by the Vitamin String Quartet. Very interesting take on the music. If these new DG recordings are well engineered and feature new music that gets people interested in pursuing more classical, then where is the harm? Worse yet, if DG focuses soley on a repertoire that is already over represented, will it be here for future artists? Perhaps the marketing and brand management need work but the music needs to speak for itself – today and into the future. And by the way, Mercedes Benz did nearly destroyed itself and its brand by way of the “Merger of Equals” with Chrysler. Hope DG continues to develop new music while not losing sight of why people like me keep buying their recordings.