America’s top-selling classical album this week is … Rachel

She featured twice on Slipped Disc last week, but we accept there may be other reasons that Rachel Barton Pine is now top of the Nielsen Soundscan charts with the complete Bach partitas and sonatas on the Avie label.

On the down side, her top-selling record sold fewer than 250 copies in the US, and the next-best album sold 150.

This week’s classical sales may be the lowest we have ever seen.

rachel barton pine

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  • Dear Milka, I admire the art of Rachel’s playing. The violin world does NOT go downhill. As a chairman of the jury, I have just heard more then 200 candidates for the 15th International Competition of Henryk Wieniawski in Poznan. These preliminary rounds were held live, in Interlaken, Toronto, Gdansk. Tokyo preliminaries are in the month of May. I must say: out of all candidates I have heard live, more then 30 are wonderful violinists, more then 10 are in the class of excellence, and couple of them are in the class of their own – these are real talents to admire!!! I’m proud of the time we are living. I am looking forward to the Competition in Poznan which will take place during October 2016. In fact, we may have great surprises! Watch out, everyone! – look at the bright side of the world:)

    • Agree with you, Maxim. Recordings are never the benchmark for the succession of instrumentalists and their visibility in public. They help, and I fear, will count more when we’re not on earth than when we are (not to be morbid, but it often applies). I find more people are actually attending performances of late than purchase recordings. That’s just based on what I find in the performances I give and those by friends. And, I see more children attending too, which is a good thing for tomorrow’s audiences.

    • First off. Thank you for existing, Mr Vengerov. You are one of the reasons that as a young kid made me become a musician.

      Now, on the ‘Devils Advocate’ cap in my view to have more talent and more people playing at a really high level, while good for the art, technichally commoditizes the performers.

      Like it or not, could the market right now support 30 extraordinary players, if the top selling album sells 250 copies? How could 10, 20, or 30 excellent violinists be differentiable enough to warrant audiences to consume music (attending concerts, buying their CD’s, following them in social media) in such quantities as to make a performance career viable?

      Sadly, these are the questions that like it or not a young musician must think about. To quote Malcolm Gladwell: “In a room full of Harvard Law graduates waiting to be interviewed for the top job, to be marginally better than the man next to you means nothing. Other things become more important differentiators”

      As such, these past years we have seen this in action: Pianists showing legs to differentiate, or having a handicap, or simply having the right mentor (and by right, I mean a top conductor who will push you).

      Its a big paradox, the more high level talent there is, the less special it becomes, and other things start to weigh in more.

      • Excellent points. You see this in sports, too; in football you may have Messi and Ronaldo, but in fact there are hundreds of great players. And distance running is perhaps a better example: Kenyan distance runners rule the world. But there are so many of them – and many have relatively short careers – so few really stand out, great as they are. Even fans of the sport can’t name most of them.

        As for number of recordings sold, people consume music in different ways today. Living in Europe and the former Soviet Union most of the last dozen years, I have been a regular viewer of Mezzo, where I can see a great concert (sometimes more than one) nearly every night. On the internet I not only can stream nearly any piece in existence over Youtube, but have the Digital Concert Hall, and many orchestras to stream. And with over 1,000 CDs acquired over 20+ years, it’s rare that I buy new ones and several years ago gave away a few hundred that I figured would never listen to again. For the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, I have Milstein, Kremer, Tetzlaff, and Rosand, just off the top of my head. Chances of buying a new one are pretty small.

    • Mr. Vengerov your response to my observation concerning the lady and her
      violin playing is noted and brings to mind the phrase” De Gustibus non est
      disputandum” and to me speaks volumes as to your understanding the art .
      Concerning the promoting of the upcoming Poznan competition ,if one looks
      back to its beginnings it has given nothing to the world of music except a few
      celebrated names who are now dust . It is a sterile world.

      • I will, with great respect to all of my colleagues, make one very important suggestion from this colleague to another: when we are called upon to serve either as President of a jury for an international competition, or to serve on a jury, we must carefully treat these events similarly to court proceedings of any legal nature. Just as we are not allowed to discuss anything about a legal case, nor mention anything about our opinions about a suspect, or witness etc, we must respect that of each competitor in any competition setting so as to avoid any feedback from the competitors, their teachers, their managers, the public etc. This can also set them up for false hope of being considered one of the potential winners. Everyone reads everything online these days, and once we say something about the competitors, as innocently as we think it may be, we are actually breaking the law of most competition handbooks which require that jury members heed from any commentary about the competition or the competitors before and during the competition. It sets up opinions from jury members about the competitors, which must remain silent. Even though it is not vocally shared, anything written is, basically, the same–and perhaps seen by more people than we think. (I hope my advice is taken with good intentions. It is important, and I want to respect my colleagues on this, as well as the competitors.)

  • Can someone explain the economics of the classical music business to me, please? On 8 April SD reported that Kyung Wha Chung had signed with Warner Classics to record the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas. Now we have this news with its thoroughly depressing sales statistics. Meanwhile, a quick glance at the relevant Amazon site lists 16 available recordings of these works on the first page (of 10) many at super budget prices. How on earth do recording companies expect to get an adequate return to cover even their upfront costs (studio/engineers/production/marketing/distribution, etc) on yet another recording, however distinguished? Oh, and I nearly forgot, how does the artist get paid out of all this?

    • Most of the time it’s the artist that pays for the recording from his own pocket, the label just sticks their label to the CD and promotes it. CDs aren’t necessarily there to make money, they’re used nowadays to promote the artist.

    • For most concert violinists playing the Bach sonatas and partitas has nothing to do
      with economics, it is for most an ego trip .It is to show that violinists are to be taken
      seriously as musical artists and not just circus performers doing their last rose
      of summer schticks.Violinists do not have as wide a range of works to play as does the piano world and Bach being thought of as the Alpha -Omega in music having written sonatas and partitas for solo violin becomes the calling card to reflect the “serious ” violinist versus the circus performer. It all becomes ridiculous when the fiddler takes
      to wearing cut out finger gloves as does Mr. Vengerov while walking the railroad tracks
      of Auschwitz and supposedly playing the Chaconne and down we go with Bell at
      the subway stop doing his Bach and further down we go with the dreadful happy
      birthday variations by Barton .

      • It would be interesting to know which violinists you consider to be currently elevating the world of violin (or at least resisting the downward slide).

        • Bruce mark this name ! Kopatchinskaja , Patricia . leaves the ones I mentioned
          in the dust . She is the true artist that happens to play the violin, The only
          one I would cross the street to buy a ticket .At times one can be in total disagreement with
          what she does but you know there is real “life” in what she does ,not the dreary nobodies
          from Asia or the West who have mastered finger exercises and end up in these pointless
          violin competitions that Mr. Vengerov chairs .She is the best since the likes of Kreisler
          Heifetz .

  • One clear message, dear classical industry, screams loudly from the above thread:

    CREATE NEW CONTENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    CREATE NEW CONTENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    CREATE NEW CONTENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The key to differentiation ought to be content, not stage attire or cup size. Supply of the old content far exceeds demand for it. It’s that simple. We need to create new markets! If I have more liquid than I can put into one jar, I have to find more jars! The classical jar overflowed long ago!

    Why – picking up on Mr. Vengerov’s commentary – do we have SO many competitions in an overcrowded marketplace, which are all about re-creativity, re-churning the distant past and further overcrowding the performance-only field, yet there are so few showcase platforms, if any, in which the performer is expected to create new content and blaze a trail for the future of the genre? What happened to the composer/performer values of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods that made music-making so vibrant?

    Promoters must be less fearful of artists who don’t want to remain stuck in the old concert/recital model. They must become part of the solution, not the barriers to creativity, by promoting and trusting the values of art itself, rather than fearing the loss of their subscriber base.

    I’m happy to have spent the last few days at home in deep and very pressing conversation about this very subject with two great performer/composers who are doing just that: my wife (yes, hang me now for conflict of interest, mea culpa…) Gabriela Montero, who just gave a critically acclaimed world premiere of her 1st Piano Concerto in Leipzig, and Lera Auerbach, who’s diverse catalogue continues to bloom prolifically. Both are promoting and celebrating the totality of the artist, rather than imposing restrictions upon creative output, but the tide of resistance is strong. Happily, there are those promoters and orchestra managers who are brave enough to program adventurously and to commission new works. Because without such support and forward-tinking, the game is over.

    • Just a very quick comment relating to Pine herself — one of the things I love most about her is that she does actually create her own cadenzas and medleys. More importantly, she very much encourages other violinists and students to do the same. She’s also very, very active about finding pieces from unknown composers as well, especially women and ethnic minorities.

      I agree with you 100% about the need for new pieces though, to break down the brick wall that the classical world has put between the composer and the performer. The classical past is a beautiful thing, but it’s not a mausoleum.

  • Many years ago I read that before “Elvira Madigan” made Geza Anda’s recording of Mozart’s 21st piano concerto popular, DG had sold only 200 copies of his LP in the U.S.

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