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January 24, 2009

The Future of the (Classical ) Record Shop

The Future of the  (Classical ) Record Shop

The January issue of BBC Music had an editorial bemoaning the fate of the classical record shop noting the collapse of Zavvi and with a minor swipe at downloads. There was a touch of nostalgia in the article which thought that 'buying music shouldn't be a solitary affair'. The article suggested that a return to the listening booth and listening posts might be the way forward.

This all seems remarkably unrealistic and is mere tinkering at the edges of what seems to be a much deeper problem that was also alluded to. This is the fact that pop and rock accounts for 90% of all music sales! Assuming that this figure is right this means that Jazz, Classical, Folk, World and a couple of other genres are sharing a mere 10% of music sales. The issue here is not listening booths in the shrinking number of record shops but examining how it is that the populist / popular genre has come to dominate the marketplace despite / because of the unchallenging simplistic nature of popular music. A form which relies upon spectacle, celebrityand desire to self generate - A perfect example of Adorno's "culture industry"!!

A core issue surrounding classical music, in Britain at least, is that of class and the sociologist / social anthropologist Pirre Bourdieu puts a strong case for the concept of 'Cultural Capital' which effectively outlines what is important knowledge to have for power and status. For working class people to become enthusisatic about classical music requires shifts at the level of social structure. This means ownership of the music and a valuing of the music. This can only come through education and with the current dreadful skills based discourse driving the worst sort of ineffective education system there hasn't been much hope of change here to date.

That classical music doesn't have to be class-based was shown under the old Soviet system where many working class people could attend local conservatoires in the evenings after school. Currently the best model going is "El Systema" in Brazil which seems to be remarkably effective. Stirling Council and now I believe others in Scotland are moving towards it. Apparently Boris Johnson has asked for it to be considered in London as well. There are plenty of links below explaining the system and describing its successess so I won't go over this at present.


Gustavo Dudamel came through "El Systma" and now conducts the Los Angles Symphony Orchestra

What has this got to do with record shops you might well ask? Well, I think the issue is developing audiences in depth with a wide range of people who have knowledge. These people may well be performers, concert-goers and of course music buyers. With a much wider discourse of non-pop music within the culture I think outlets will start to look after themselves. The issue is to get to the roots of the problem in the first place. 

There are other things which need to be considered which could develop new audiences. The built environment could be changed with a range of small venues properly designed for acoustics. These concert halls would be suitable for chamber music and would have the benfit of building audiences.With a cultural milieu recreated which has a broadbased audience it will matter less how and where people purchase their music but that they discuss the pros and cons of various recordings.

Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra at 2007 Proms

[media] [/media]

Gustavo Dudamel and Venezuelan Brass Ensemble 

[media] [/media]


WNYC Discussion of 'El Systema'

Stirling Council Report on 'El Systema'

Stirling Council news on introducing 'El Systema'

Axis of Logic. Article on Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra

NEC Today on Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra

Instruments of Peace on Bolivar Youth Orchestra

January 23, 2009

ECM Records 40th Anniversary Year

ECM Artwork 1ecm_artwork_1.gifRava New York Days

ECM Records 2009 40th Anniversary Year

I only recently realised that 2009 was the 40th anniversary of my all time favourite record label ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music ) which was founded by Manfred Eicher in Munich in the autumn of 1969. I didn't discover them until some years later in the later part of the 1970s.  The range of interesting jazz musicians from The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, John Abercrombie, Jack de Johnette, Don Cherry,Gary Peacock,Jan Garbarek and many others was fantastic. There was a well-known committment to the highest possible standards of recording. The vinyl was top quality and the art work for the covers was both modernist but tremendously artistic making the whole package a work of art.

Much of the music was ethereal and more contemplative what many described as "chamber jazz". Over the years the catalogue and number of artists has continuously developed. The Wikipdia entry associates some ECM artists with the rise of "World Music" but this is to ignore the cross-cultural links positively sought by many Afro-American jazz musicians from at least the 1960s. Africa was inspirational to musicians such as Randy Weston and Pharoah Sanders who are just 2 examples. Nana Vasconcelas, Don Cherry and later Shankar are good examples of cross-cultural fusions on th label. I love them and have seen many in concert over the years. These musicians are explorative and on the whole I wouldn't describe the works as "World Music" as this term often seems to double as folk musics. No, these were cutting edge musicians out on the edge! One can also add Steve Reich to this as he too was strongly influenced by rhythmic patterns from Africa and Bali for example.

Thirty years later, it remains the most uncompromised and distinctive entity of its kind. Eicher still goes entirely his own way, beholden to no major corporation and allied with different companies only for the purposes of distribution. Jazz was his original impetus, but his catalogue now boasts a plethora of recordings from numerous other disciplines. (Richard Cook New Statesman on 30th ECM Anniversary)

Weeping Meadow

Eicher has supported unusual composers such as Eleni Karaindrou well known for providing the music for the films of Theo Angelopoulos.

Eicher and Reich

Manfred Eicher with Steve Reich (Right) from booklet of Reich's Octet 1980

ECM New Series

Beethoven cello sonatas

February 2009 BBC Music Magazine Building a Library recommends this ECM version of Beethoven's complete music for Cello and Piano

In some of the finest Beethoven playing I've heard from Schiff, he combines a melting piano sound with crystalline articulation. (Helen Wallace, BBC Music Feb 09)

ECM has engaged some of the world's leading classical musicians to play well known works but they also took an early lead in commissioning works by musicians who were at the time relatively unheard of such as Arvo Pärt from Estonia along with the work of another Estonian, Tüür:

tuur crysallisatio

Taking advantage of the breakup of the old Soviet Union ECM was also able to promote the work of Georgian composer Giya Kancheli.


ECM official website

Wikipedia ECM entry

ECM Forum Record Corner

Richard Cook in New Statesman on ECM 30th Anniversary with Manfred Eicher

Below: Audio interview with Manfred Eicher from 1985

January 21, 2009

Handel In Italy: Solo Cantatas – Emma Kirkby London Baroque SACD

Handel In Italy: Solo Cantatas - Emma Kirkby London Baroque SACD

Handel in Italy Kirby

The 2008 SACD (Hybrid) of Handel in Italy from BIS sung by Emma Kirby

The Arcadian influnced baroque painting by Claude Lorraine is the Landscape with Egeria and Numa which can be found in the Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples. (Wikipedia list of works available in the Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte)

I must confess that I'm no expert on Handel at all, however, as 2009 is a significant anniversary for the great composer (250 years since his death) this is a good year to find out more and I enjoy the Baroque period. I've always liked the singing of Emma Kirkby since I first heard her on various recordings from Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music in the early 1980s. There is an airiness and lightness of touch in her tone and timbre which fits the Baroque period very well. 

Emma Kirkby 1

Emma Kirky specialist Baroque soprano

There are 4 Cantatas in all on this SACD and just over 67 minutes of music. Emma Kirkby is accompanied by The London Baroque who have been playing Baroque chamber music for ovr 30 years. 

Handel In Italy - Solo Cantatas

Notte placida e cheta, HWV142 (1707)

Un’ alma innamorata, HWV173 (1707)

Figlio d’alte speranze, HWV113 (1706)

Agrippina condotta a morire, HWV110 (1709)

Concerto a Quattro in D major

The first two cantatas are about unhappy love whilst the last two are about the loss of authority and claims to power.

Handel the Man and his music

Keates is illuminating on Handel's early journey to Italy as a keyboard virtuoso and budding composer. In Venice, he was sought out by an admiring Scarlatti, while in Rome he fell under Corelli's benign influence; he was ravished by the pifferari music played in the street by Abruzzi shepherds, which he later reproduced in his Messiah. In Rome, he encountered the cantata, a form he quickly made his own. (Independent)

Cambridge Companion to Handel

For those new to Handel the Cambridge Companion to Handel is most useful

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