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Creative Destruction: How Labels Like LSO Live and BR Klassik Revive Classical Music—Part 2

March 10, 2010

[Last] Fall, the classical channel of Bavarian Broadcasting (BR) launche[d] BR Klassik, a label for its own orchestras and choir. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and one of the best orchestras in the world, the Munich Radio Orchestra (with its focus on light classical music, Italian opera, and educational work), and the Bavarian Radio Chorus now each have the opportunity to pick the finest performances in any given season and immortalize them on record. The model of LSO Live is behind this new venture, too, but there are significant differences. As a public radio station, with the aid of radio license fees and a cultural mission to fulfill, the BR already records all the concerts of its musical bodies. “Rather than having to decide beforehand what to record (with the subsequent pressure to publish it, no matter the result), the artists and artistic advisors can pick the best from the lot”, says Stefan Piendl, Label Manager of BR Klassik. Among the first releases, Mahler and Bruckner Symphonies with Chief Conductor Mariss Jansons have been chosen. Like LSO Live, BR Klassik issues new releases in the Super Audio CD format with surround sound. But Piendl says that SACD is no dogma for the label, simply a matter of using the high definition surround master that the radio provides. “We broadcast in surround sound, so we might as well make use of that quality and put it on CD. But who knows what the future will hold, with the maturing of Blu-ray and the like.”

Since the cost of recording is offset because BR records the concerts anyway, releasing rare and ‘difficult’, but artistically important works with modest commercial prospect is made much easier. “That makes it easier to offer recordings like Klaus Amadeus Hartmann’s Simplicius Simplicissimus with the Munich Radio Orchestra or the BR Chorus’ release of Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir”, Piendl explains, and points to the philosophy of the label, summarized by its motto: Those possessing treasures should share them. “Sharing our best musical moments, and to decide ourselves, independent of traditional labels and their naturally different criteria of what makes a successful release, was one of the main motivations behind the founding of BR Klassik.” Sharing treasures especially applies to the BR’s vast archives with an estimated 20,000 recordings accumulated over the last 60 years. Incorporating the who’s-who of classical music in memorable performances that were only once broadcast on radio, the Archives are going to be an essential source for BR Klassik. Three or four recordings from the vaults are projected to see the light every year, alongside a couple new releases from each musical body, for a total of ten, twelve releases annually.

American orchestras, kept out of the recording business for years due to the insurmountable challenges the unions (of musicians and especially stage hands) caused, have lately gotten back into the important business of attesting to their artistic virility by issuing new recordings. While the Minnesota, Cleveland, and Philadelphia Orchestras have managed to get record contracts with traditional labels again (BIS, DG, Ondine), others like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO Resound) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO Classics) have taken the in-house label route, following the American forerunner in that field, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra that founded its own label as a platform for its Mahler cycle. All of them cater to the audiophile segment, including high resolution downloads, which will be the next big thing in the classical music market.

In that classical market BR Klassik (available world-wide, thanks to an international distribution deal with Naxos) is the latest example of the beauty of creative destruction. Out of the detritus of the old recording companies spring dozens of new labels with thousands of recordings, offering more choice and rarer works than were ever available. As we near the 10th anniversary of the declaration of the industry’s imminent death, LSO Live and BR Klassik are emblematic of the astounding vitality of Beethoven & Co on CD.

– Jens F. Laurson, Classical WETA 90.0 FM, October 15, 2009

Read this article on WETA FM’s Blog


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