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The destruction of Warner Classics

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  • TeriNoelTowe@aol.com
    ... Teri Noel Towe Of Counsel Ganz & Hollinger, P. C. 1394 Third Avenue New York, NY 10021-0404 USA 212-517-5500 (voice) 212-772-2216 (telefax)
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 14, 2006
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      With thanks to Gary T. and apologies for any accidental duplicate postings:

      >Date: Mon, 12 Jun 2006 19:15:36 -0600
      >
      >Another record crash
      >
      >
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      >
      >       Another record crash
      >
      >       By Norman Lebrecht / June 12, 2006
      >
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      >    A large chunk of masonry fell off the music industry last week when
      >Warner shut down its classical operation, throwing 40 artists onto the
      >street.
      >
      >    The execution was conducted in the usual way, without the slightest
      >consideration for cultural consequences. An empty suit in Hollywood rang a
      >tight-run office in London and told them to stop everything and sack the
      >team - all except those who will be needed for recycling the backlist as
      >supermarket labels and download fodder. No argument was permitted, for such
      >elevated decisions are always irrevocable.
      >
      >    The fact that Warner Classics has been profitable in each of the
      >past five years and more progressive than its competitors cut no cake with
      >a parent corporation that is yoked to floundering AOL and contemplating
      >merger with EMI. Grappling with these big deals, chairman Edgar Bronfman
      >Jr. had no patience for the prestos and adagios of an offshore accessory
      >that contributes barely two percent of pop-music revenues.
      >
      >    The tragic fact of the matter is that giant media players are
      >pulling out of minority art, a myopic strategy that gives them no chance of
      >tapping the next quirk in public taste or contributing to cultural
      >evolution. Warner bought its way into classics just ahead of the Three
      >Tenors 1990 boom and scored an eight-million follow-up CD at the Los
      >Angeles World Cup. It gobbled up one independent after another - Erato in
      >France, Teldec in Germany, Finlandia, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi - and went
      >into overproduction along with all the others in the 1990s until the roof
      >fell in and the outlet was slimmed down to a single stream of mainstream
      >classics. That, too, ha now been deemed surplus to requirements.
      >
      >    Warner's exit leaves just three major labels in the classical racks
      >- EMI, Sony-BMG and Deutsche Grammophon/Decca - and much of what they
      >produce nowadays cannot be remotely classified as classical.
      >
      >    The brunt of the Warner switch-off is being borne by artists. Senior
      >figures like Daniel Barenboim and William Christie took the news with a
      >fatalistic shrug, having made enough records over the years to live off
      >rolling royalties. But there was no softening the blow for soloists in
      >their 20s and 30s who were just starting to make a name - the quicksilver
      >Canadian violinist Leila Josefowitz, the formidable Russian pianist Nikolai
      >Lugansky, the thoughtful British fiddler Daniel Hope.
      >
      >    The BBC Symphony Orchestra's new era with its Czech chief Jiri
      >Belohlavek has been taken off the record with just one Dvorak disc in the
      >can; the eclectic Sakari Oramo in Birmingham will not be given another
      >chance to exhume obscure British composers such as the intriguing John
      >Foulds. Karita Mattila, Susan Graham and Monica Groop are among the singing
      >casualties. Anu Tali, an enterprising, stunningly attractive young Estonian
      >with her own Nordic Symphony Orchestra, has been thrown on the scrapheap.
      >Even by present-day corporate standards, the shutdown was as brutal as it
      >gets.
      >
      >    The irony is that Warner Classics, under the thoughtful Matthew
      >Cosgrove, was doing almost everything right. Avoiding vapid film tracks,
      >tacky crossover projects and sex-bombs who could pout but not play,
      >Cosgrove, 45, combined aesthetic sensibility with an eye for market
      >opportunity. He had a higher count of living composers than any other
      >label, including a million-selling CD of Henryk Gorecki's third symphony
      >and the projected complete works of Gyorgy Ligeti (now discontinued).
      >
      >    When Tony Blair visited the Pope this month, the gift he presented
      >him was a Warner set of Mozart concertos. When the BBC broadcast
      >Barenboim's set of Wagner's Ring in a day over Easter, Cosgrove offered
      >free downloads, taking a bigger stride into I-pod delivery than any of his
      >plodding rivals. Whatever Bronfman's reasons for axing Warner Classics,
      >failure was not one of them.
      >
      >    But then performance, financial or artistic, plays little part in
      >the running of the music industry, where the big egos belong to the suits
      >upstairs and the artists get by as best they can in a never-ending round of
      >executive musical chairs. EMI has just announced a successor to its
      >deceptively subtle President of Classics, Richard Lyttelton, who is being
      >shoved into early retirement in his mid-50s despite sustaining high profits
      >and prestige for almost two decades. Lyttleton, fourth son of a British
      >Earl a former Sixties disco owner, got along famously with everyone from
      >Simon Rattle to Angela Georghiu to Vanessa-Mae. His one social failure was
      >Alain Levy, the humourless chairman of EMI Music and his direct boss, who
      >wanted him out.
      >
      >    So Lyttelton has been expensively ousted in favour of Costa
      >Pilavachi, a Greek-Canadian of equal conviviality who was best mates with
      >Valery Gergiev, Andrea Bocelli and Cecilia Bartoli so long as he was
      >President of Decca - that is, until a couple of months ago when he was
      >removed in an ego spat by his New York boss, Chris Roberts. Roberts sent a
      >Serb from Deutsche Grammophon to run Decca, leaving a highly-paid A&R gap
      >at DG which, I understand, is going to be filled by none other than Matthew
      >Cosgrove, newly released by Warner. So, when the music stops, all the
      >executives have good seats (or payoffs) and it's only the artists that
      >suffer.
      >
      >    Meanwhile, the actual production of classics by major labels has
      >dwindled to about three-dozen a year and the only way most artists can get
      >on record is by paying for it themselves or authorising free downloads.
      >That, whatever the soft talk of corporate press releases, is the state of
      >play in the music industry of 2006, an industry that is looking more and
      >more like the kitchen cabinet of Admiral Doenitz, waiting for a junior
      >Allied officer to come along and arrest the fantasists around the table. It
      >would be a farce if it wasn't so sad, for the loss is wholly ours.
      >
      >    Classical music used to be the industry's core resource. The Beatles
      >could never have developed their sophisticated sound world without the
      >symphonic expertise on hand at Abbey Road and most subsequent groups are
      >indebted, wittingly or not, to the stern disciplines and mathematical logic
      >of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. 'People in the record business understood
      >that classics was where we all came from - the basis of what we do,' a
      >former head of Sony Europe told me recently. 'We were happy to carry on
      >making records in that area, even losing a bit of money. But Wall Street
      >didn't like that. If investors see sentiment, they make heads roll.' This
      >month's Sony-BMG release sheet consists of movie puffs and crossover - not
      >one classical CD. The abolition of Warner Classics is another small step
      >towards cultural oblivion.
      >
      >
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      >    Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]
      >
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      >       (c) La Scena Musicale 2001-2006
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      Teri Noel Towe



      Of Counsel

      Ganz & Hollinger, P. C.

      1394 Third Avenue
      New York, NY 10021-0404 USA
      212-517-5500 (voice)
      212-772-2216 (telefax)







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