Sunday, April 22, 2007

A few more words on Naxos

Part of the reason I like Naxos so much is the steps the label has taken to make its music available to everyone.

Naxos' decision to license its recordings to Emusic is a wonderful development for listeners; it makes an enormous amount of classical music available for purchase for a modest price. (Emusic has many other independent labels which put out classical music, of course, but getting Naxos was a big deal). And I've noticed a few months ago that the Cleveland Public Library is offering downloads of classical music. The downloads expire after a certain amount of time, but they offer an alternative way to borrow music. And it turns out those downloads also are Naxos recordings.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, I have been following the debate among Greg Sandow and Alex Ross and Norman Lebrecht about the financial health of the classical music industry, and it's interesting. We should all hope that classical musicians can make a living, and that the companies which issue classical music recordings can make money. But what I really care most about is how listeners are doing.

Because of downloading sites such as Emusic, and CD swapping sites such as, it's much easier for a person without much money to put together a pretty good classical music collection. Whatever is happening to the classical music industry, listeners are doing better than ever.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tiresome critic disses Naxos

Supersnob critic Norman Lebrecht is busy demonstrating once again that even when he's probably right, he's insufferable. Lebrecht, the kind of fellow who disses Mozart to generate attention, has jumped into the ongoing debate over whether the classical music recording industry is alive and well or headed for the edge of a cliff.

It's been an interesting debate. Alex Ross points out that claims that classical music recordings are vanishing are nothing new, while Lebrecht argues to the contrary, concluding that "The truth is out there - in the idle studios, in the shut-down record stores, in the shrinking space for classical debate in mainstream media." Greg Sandow agrees with Lebrecht.

In his blog post, Lebrecht takes a gratuitous slap at the Naxos record label, writing, "Naxos, based in Hong Kong, is the only label to maintain consistent classical output, but it does so without artist promotion, denying the element of interpretative individuality which has fuelled the history and tradition of classical recording."

I guess Naxos isn't allowed to find new ways to stay alive. The label has been a good friend to fans of modern music, issuing lots of music by living composers which simply isn't available elsewhere, including good recordings of William Bolcom and Margaret Brouwer.

Several folks post objections to Lebrecht's comments, including conductor John McLaughlin Williams: "Naxos doesn't need artist promotion to sell records, because it sells repertoire, not star appeal, and thankfully so, as all that gets you is another Beethoven 9th. Your third posit (...denying the element of interpretative individuality...) is an opinion you could not possibly take if you've really listened to more than several of the recordings. Can you really quantify that? Unlike those of us who are actually recording, I think you may be too hung up upon the concept of an historical classical recording tradition. I'm not."
Making MediaMax work

To follow up my last post, after I complained to MediaMax that the site doesn't work, I got some helpful, thoughful replies. A couple of suggestions: Converting my MP3 files to lower bit rates (which would make the file sizes smaller and bring them in under MediaMax's maximum 10 MB size) and converting the files to more efficient formats. I'll try the suggestions.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Trying out the virtual iPods

I've been checking out Web sites which function as a kind of virtual iPod. MediaMax and XDrive both allow free storage of MP3 music files. Both sites all0w the users to stream the files to any computer with a fast Internet connection.

MediaMax allows users to store a whopping 25 gigabytes of music, a great service. But there's a big bummer for classical music listeners: You can't stream or download any file larger than 10 MB. This is no big deal for, say, country and western fans, but many pieces within classical compositions exceed the limit. So for the kind of music I favor, MediaMax is not very useful. I also could not figure out how to get playlists on the site to work.

XDrive offers 5 GB of free storage -- puny compared to MediaMax, but still quite a bit of music. And the site seems to work really well. You can stream the music to your computer and user your own media player. Or you can open the file on XDrive's site, and XDrive will supply a media player of its own. (This function does not always seem to work; perhaps there are problems when the site is busy.) There is no limit I've been able to detect on the size of the file -- I played Terry Riley's "In C" from the site the other day -- and it's reasonably easy to put together functional playlists at the site.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Duckworth piece slated for New York City performance

The New York Times reports:

THOMAS BUCKNER (Thursday) The baritone Thomas Buckner, here presented by the World Music Institute as part of the Interpretations series (which he curates), has long been a champion of avant-garde music. He will perform new works for voice and various instruments, including William Duckworth’s “Their Song” for baritone and piano. Petr Kotik conducts the New York premiere of Christian Wolff’s “37 Haiku” for baritone, oboe, horn, viola and cello, and the world premiere of “A People’s History” by R. Chris Dahlgren for baritone, flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, celeste, violin and cello. At 8 p.m., Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th Street, Manhattan, (212) 501-3330,; $10; $7 for students. (Vivien Schweitzer)

Tunes for the road

How do you listen to music when you are away for the weekend? As I type this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, listening to The Ohio State University's radio station broadcast classical music. The radio is a Tivoli SongBook my wife bought me for my birthday. It's small enough to pack easily, but it is sensitive (handy for pulling in the local classical station, wherever I happen to be), has a good sound and has an input jack, so that I can plug my MP3 player into it. I'm sure I also could listen to Internet radio through the Wi-Fi in the hotel room and the laptop I'm using, plugging the laptop into the radio to take advantage of its superior sound.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Brouwer concerto premieres

My wife and I just got back from a Sunday night performance at Rocky River Presbyterian Church of CityMusic Cleveland, the last of a series of five concerts premiering Margaret Brouwer's new violin concerto (they also did Stravinsky's "Danses Concertantes" and Mozart's 39th symphony). I thought the Brouwer piece was really good, maybe her best so far. The use of percussion in the piece was interesting; during the first movement, the percussion played an instrument I didn't recognize, which Brouwer explained is a "Chinese opera gong." A press release has claimed the piece had elements of trip hop; that sounded strange to me, but sure enough, in the second movement the percussionist played a rhythm on the drums as the violin soloist played, and it did sound a bit like Portishead. Brouwer says a recording of the piece will become available later; more details when I have them.