In-house recording labels gain popularity
By Do Je-hae
The latest trend in the classical music industry is the establishment of recording labels by orchestras, with a focus on capturing live performances.
In the last decade or so, an in-house recording label has emerged as one of the trademarks of world-class symphony orchestras in Europe and North America, reaching new audiences and dealing with financial challenges.
Two of the world’s most respected ensembles — the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) — will perform in Seoul next month.
As front-runners in their field, both have a long history, marvelous concert hall to call their own and outstanding musicians and conductors.
Additionally, they have also been the industry’s front-runners in producing in-house labels, with much of their latest output gaining critical acclaim.
As producers of such labels, orchestras are in complete control of the methods of recording, distribution and promotion of their CDs and other multi-media products.
As exclusive contracts with the big-names like Deutsche Grammophon/Decca, Sony/RCA, EMI, Telarc/Warner are becoming scarcer and more expensive, orchestras are focusing on marketing their own labels.
The London Symphony was the first major orchestra to enter the recording market armed with its own label.
LSO Live started in 2000. Its innovative projects and sonic quality has earned praise such as “recording phenomenon of the decade” by Classic FM Magazine.
Since its founding, it has sold over 3 million albums worldwide, with releases distributed internationally and made available through digital music services.
The label is considered one of the most successful and influential independent classical labels in the world, having won Grammy, Gramophone and Classical Brit awards, among others.
“When recording companies started to rely on re-releasing recordings, the alarm bells were ringing at the LSO. If no new recordings are released, then the public starts to see the whole industry as dead — a museum-culture,” Chaz Jenkins, head of LSO Live, said during an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
A cycle of all Beethoven’s symphonies with maestro Bernard Haitink has been one of the most popular recordings by LSO Live.
Led by Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, the LSO will be in Korea for two concerts on Feb. 27 and 28 at the Seoul Arts Center Concert Hall, with a program of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich symphonies.
The RCO has produced over 1,100 recordings and enjoys international acclaim for its interpretations of the late romantic repertoire with major labels.
Since 2004, the orchestra has released CDs and other multimedia content on its own label, RCO Live. It is one of the most important legacies of RCO music director Mariss Jansons.
RCO Live has produced CD, SACD and DVD releases of performances at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam under the direction of Jansons and leading guest conductors.
Because of its poularity, more and more of the orchestra’s media activities are being released under the in-house label.
The live recordings of Janson’s performances of symphonies by Beethoven and Mahler have been particularly well received by critics and fans.
One of the RCO Live CDs features Chung Myung-whun conducting Saint-Saens’ “Organ Symphony” recorded in 2005 at the Concertgebouw, home of the RCO, and one of the best halls in Europe.
Fans can listen and order CDs by visiting the RCO Live Shop online at www.rcolive.com. Visitors to the site can also listen to concerts given by the orchestra on its own Web radio station, RCO Live Radio, and watch concert recordings and video commentary on RCO Live TV.
For two dates at Seoul Arts Center in February, the RCO will be led by Chung, who has had a close relationship with the orchestra since the 1990s. He will lead the orchestra on an Asian tour that will also take in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.
The Korean maestro will be leading a program of Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta,” Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and “Concerto for Orchestra” by Bartok. Violinist Janine Jansen will be the soloist in the Mendelssohn piece on Feb. 21. This will be followed by a program featuring Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with phenomenal young pianist Kim Sun-wook and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, a staple in the RCO’s repertoire on Feb. 22.
Prior to the tour, Chung will conduct the RCO in Amsterdam featuring the above program and soloists.
Another front-runner in the in-house label market is BR Klassik for orchestras and choirs, run by Germany’s Bavarian Broadcasting (BR). The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO), the MunichRadio Orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Chorus record under this label. The BRSO is one of the top orchestras in Germany after the Berlin Philharmonic and is also led by Jansons. The Latvian maestro will make a second visit to Korea this year to bring the BRSO to Seoul on Nov. 20 and 21.
Under the BR Klassik, Jansons has made acclaimed recordings of masterpieces by Strauss and Tchaikovsky with the ensemble named the world’s 6th best orchestra by The Gramophone magazine in 2008.
As a public radio station with an estimated 20,000 recordings from the past 60 years in its archives, the BR Klassik has also released hidden treasures previously broadcasted only once on radio.
U.S. orchestras have also been joining the rush for in-house recordings.
The San Francisco Symphony and its music director Michael Tilson Thomas have released a host of CDs, particularly a refreshing Mahler symphony cycle, and DVD recordings of its “Keeping Score” series, designed to guide young listeners through the world of master composers like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Mahler.