Frequently asked Questions and Answers
Why call the label Naxos?
One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is “why are you called Naxos?” The answer is simple. Naxos, the famous Greek island, has long been associated with classical Greece, a land of art and culture, an obvious link. The island also gave birth to the legend of Ariadne, which has inspired many a composer, most notably Richard Strauss, whose opera Ariadne auf Naxos helps to reinforce the musical and artistic connotations of our name.
In which country is Naxos based?
The Naxos group of companies is based in Hong Kong and is comprised of two main holding companies. Naxos Rights International Limited owns all the rights and intellectual property of Naxos. Naxos Global Distribution Limited has the world-wide distribution and commercial exploitation rights for the Naxos catalogue and intellectual property. It has partly or wholly owned subsidiaries in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Denmark and Finland.
What’s the difference between Marco Polo and Naxos?
First of all, Marco Polo is still a rarity label which records and releases only repertoire that has not been recorded previously or is not currently available in decent recordings. The focus of Marco Polo also has shifted-when the label was started back in 1982 Marco Polo focused on Romantic, Late Romantic and Post-Romantic composers, the best-known works of relatively unknown composers (for example, Rubinstein), and unknown works of well-known composers (for example, Wagner and Respighi). Back then, Marco Polo was the only dedicated rarity label.
Today, many other labels are digging out rarities because they can no longer make money from standard repertoire. As a result, Marco Polo is now concentrating on repertoire in which it is the market leader (light classical composers, film music, Romantic piano music) while also extending its scope to include more 20th Century classics (Markevitch, Lajtha) and Latin-American music. Some projects, like the complete orchestral works of Glazunov and the Romantic Piano Concerto series, had to be shifted to Naxos as other labels started releasing the same repertoire.
The difference in price has nothing to do with the artists but with the repertoire. In order to break even on a recording, we have to sell six times as many copies on Naxos than on Marco Polo (10 times if a work is in copyright). Therefore, if we feel that rare repertoire may not achieve these substantially higher sales figures, even at the Naxos price, we will release it on Marco Polo.
Also, the focus of Marco Polo is still on the late 19th and early 20th centuries whereas Naxos covers all periods of classical music and, these days, releases quite many world-premiere recordings, in particular of 18th century composers but also Early Music and Baroque repertoire, not to mention our guitar and organ projects. In the not too distant future, Marco Polo may also branch out and cover Baroque and 18th Century repertoire, simply because there is a limit to the size of the Naxos catalogue and to the space allocated to the label by retailers.
How can Naxos sell brand-new recordings of full-price quality at $7.99 US?
In the early days of Naxos, people thought the low price was made possible by using Eastern European orchestras and artists. However, nowadays Naxos is working with orchestras that also record for full-price labels, such as the Royal Scottish National, the Ulster and the Iceland orchestras (Chandos), the Orchestre National de Lille (Harmonia Mundi) and the Bournemouth Symphony and others. Yet the price remains the same as before!
First of all, the Eastern European orchestras and artists were never cheap - unlike the musicians in orchestras in Western Europe, those in the East cannot live from the salaries they receive for playing in their orchestras. Some make as little as a few hundred dollars per month. For them, recordings were the only way to survive or to make a decent living. This meant our paying market rates for Eastern orchestras that were sometimes higher than those of frequently subsidized orchestras in the West.
Basically, Naxos pays, on average, the same for its orchestras and artists as other independent record labels, and we always pay up-front, with our up-front fees frequently being higher than what artists and orchestras can make from royalties. Furthermore, we use many of the same producers and engineers who also work for other independents or for some of the majors.
In other words, our artistic and production costs are the same as those of independents such as Hyperion, Chandos, Harmonia Mundi and others.
However, early on we decided that we wanted to make our recordings affordable and accessible and that meant selling them for much less than other labels.
Typically, Naxos sells for between one third and one quarter of the price of a full-price classical CD. This means that we have to sell many more CDs per release as a full-price label. Fortunately, we usually do manage to achieve this and this is one of the key secrets of Naxos’ success. It allows us to continue investing in new recordings that other labels will not risk.
And, at the Naxos price, many music lovers can afford to experiment and acquire works they would never have tried at full price.
Would I be giving up anything by compiling a good part of my classical CD collection with Naxos recordings?
I had randomly been collecting classical CD’s for a couple of years, but have recently started following some lists of the basic classical and romantic repertoire obtained from a classical web site and the NPR Guide To Classical Music. I have noticed several recent posts at this newsgroup Re: Naxos. My local record store has a Naxos section, which appears to have just about anything, for less than half the price of many other CD’s. My question is: what, if anything, would I be giving up by filling my collection of many of the “basics” with Naxos recordings? (I am a Newbie, still learning what I like in classical music). Thanks.
J.T.W. In Classical Music Newsgroup
I read your question on “rec.music.classical.recordings” with great interest and, since it is one frequently asked, I decided to reply to you myself.
You will have realized, from the many suggestions you received from members of the newsgroup, that there are probably as many different opinions as there are members. Since there is no absolute measurement of artistic or even sonic excellence in classical music, everybody is entitled to his own opinion and also to express it.
I think the secret of the Naxos success is that the label provides 95% of all viable repertoire in recordings which range from good to excellent, both in terms of performance and sound. There is no, or very little, duplication of repertoire making the consumer’s choice easy.
The latest Penguin Guide to Compact Discs lists more than half of Naxos’ recordings and, on the whole, rates them as high or higher than the budget labels of the major record companies.
Yes, you can go out and search the bins of specialist shops for the best version ever of everything you are interested in. But there is no such "best" version. What one critic may consider superb, another may rate as mediocre.
One correspondent suggested the budget series of the majors—re-releases of their back catalogue recordings. While there are some good things there, there are also lots of mediocre or idiosyncratic performances on these labels and you would be far better off with a good Naxos recording. At the very least it offers up-to-date sonics and sound musicianship.
One correspondent recommends the Arte Nova Skrowaczewski Bruckner cycle. It is good indeed, but does he know the Naxos Bruckner cycle with Georg Tintner?
Even the New York Times devoted a feature article to our cycle praising it as “A Thinking Man’s Bruckner”.
Another complains about the Naxos orchestral recordings. I think he is probably thinking of the early Naxos recordings which were mostly made in Slovakia.
Nowadays, we use the same orchestras as full-price labels such as Chandos, Hyperion, Harmonia Mundi and others and we have replaced and are replacing some of our earlier recordings. We completed a new Beethoven cycle a few years ago, praised widely as one of the best new cycles to hit the market in some time. Our Sibelius cycle with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Petri Sakari received a lot of praise. It replaced the old one with the Slovak Philharmonic and Adrian Leaper.
Yes, Naxos is like any other label—we have recordings that are among the best at any price; others that are merely good or excellent; and the occasional one that is merely serviceable. But our batting average is at least as good as that of the full-price labels, and often better. In addition, the wide range of repertoire and the attractive Naxos price allow you to experiment and try out music you have never heard of, be it the Leopold Hofmann Cello Concertos (better than those of Haydn) or a symphony by Bax.
Go out and build your collection around Naxos and you will be a very happy person. If you ever buy one whose quality [artistic or sound quality] you don’t like, send me an e-mail and name an alternative; our US company will send you your choice free of charge and you can keep the one you don’t like.
Where are the discs manufactured these days?
Mainly in Canada for North America, in Germany and Austria for Europe and Australasia. Some special titles are manufactured in Hong Kong, for example, Japanese Classics.
How are Naxos artists selected?
On merit alone. Naxos is not blinded or prejudiced by an artist’s publicity build-up or marketing. We select artists solely for their ability to perform the repertoire we want to record.
The company is now inundated with sample tapes and requests for contracts, and the research department devotes a great deal of time spotting new talent in this way, as well as by keeping tabs on the international competitions, many of which it routinely supports by offering recording contracts as “prizes”. More importantly however, the company is directed in its selection by the overall plan it has for the catalogue. As ever, Naxos is music-driven, never a slave to grand names and the PR industry.
We also increasingly rely on personal recommendations. Numerous Naxos artists sit on international juries and are leading conductors. But we do not then look around for works for people to do—rather we find people to do recordings of the works we want to include in our catalogue. The demands of music, not personalities, come first.
Hasn’t everything important been recorded already?
Someone once estimated that about two million hours of classical music have been composed, yet the industry has only made about 100,000 hours of that music into discs.
To anyone who has begun to sample the new recordings released by Naxos every month, the world of music appears to be infinite, however, not finite. There are many thousands of works and composers to be discovered and played through, never mind recorded.
Take, for example, the planned 200-CD Naxos American Classics series. At its inception, there was a certain skepticism from some quarters that America had any truly great music to be discovered. As the series progresses, the accolades accrue with stunning regularity. Or take the number of composers Naxos has helped practically establish as mainstream: Arnold, Alkan, Bax, Dupre, Field, Finzi—and that is not going very far down the alphabet.
At a more mundane level, at Naxos we feel we still have gaps in our catalogue: in opera, sacred music, chamber music (Haydn piano trios for example), Handel oratorios, early Italian music. And that is just covering standard composers. Musical experience is indeed infinite.