Orchestra recordings go DIY
Late Wednesday morning, WFCR will broadcast a new recording by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Robert Spano, of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. Other than that it's an excellent new rendition of a thrilling work, what's noteworthy about it? The fact that it comes from one of the first recordings on the orchestra's own ASO Media imprint..
Yes, the Atlanta has gone DIY. As have Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis and Cincinnati (please let me know if I've overlooked any). Once upon a time, each of these orchestras put out recordings on real record labels, including some of the biggies. These recordings also provided the musicians with some lovely extra income. No more, as I described in a previous post.
As all but the starriest musicians in all genres know, recordings are more likely to cost money than earn money in the long run. But they're nice to have for marketing and exposure. It took a while for this news to reach American symphony musicians and their unions, but eventually, it did. Nowadays, the musicians typically waive their recording fees in order to get the recordings done, then agree to share in the profits. I hope they let me know when the first penny is earned by any of them.
But snideness and cynicism aside, many of these recordings make for very nice additions to WFCR's playlist. And a few of the orchestras have gone well beyond just CDs to develop imaginative digital enhancements for the concert-going experience. The New York Philharmonic, for instance, makes a season pass available for $50, allowing one to download 12 concerts from the 2010-11 season. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has a listening library where one can stream for free a large selection of the orchestra's performances, including major works. Best, and a model for others to follow, is the San Francisco Symphony's "Keeping Score", offering extensive interactive content to help you learn about great works and composers.
So, maybe we're not in the heyday of orchestral recordings anymore. Alas, there are no more Reiners, Szells and Bernsteins putting out immortal renditions of the great symphonic repertoire. But considering economic realities, the situation is pretty good. Kudos to the orchestras' management and musicians for having the vision and flexibility to bring this promising new reality about.
More on DIY orchestral recordings, including sound quality and ease of purchasing, later.