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Naxos’s 25 years of reinventing itself – Washington Post

By Anne Midgette, Published: November 8

In the late 1980s, the record label Naxos was a bargain-budget name with a dicey reputation. True, it was recording lots of interesting repertory and selling it at cut-rate prices, but it was supposedly doing this by exploiting its artists, who were paid a flat fee, no royalties, and often not even enough money to cover recording costs. What kind of recording deal was that?

This year, Naxos is celebrating its silver anniversary — as one of the major forces in the classical music field. Today, cushy record contracts for classical artists are all but extinct, more and more artists are self-financing their recordings, and Naxos, offering significant brand recognition and the biggest international distribution network in the field, suddenly looks like a pretty good deal.

The savvy business sense of its founder, Klaus Heymann, is no longer seen as a liability; it’s enabled him to keep the company making money despite the fact that the classical recording business is changing so fast that every time I’ve talked to him over the past 10 years, Naxos has had a different primary source of revenue.

“We can’t live off CD sales anymore,” says the German-born Heymann, 75, speaking by phone from his base in Hong Kong. When Naxos began, Heymann proved that you could make money selling tens of thousands of copies of works nobody had ever heard of; as CD sales gradually declined, the company has variously relied on proceeds from digital downloads, audio books, and other ventures. Today, it looks to YouTube, where a tool called Content ID crawls the site, figures out how many of a given company’s videos are illegally posted, and – rather than removing the videos – calculates that company’s share of advertising revenue. “That’s become an income stream,” says Heymann, estimating that it covers about 75 percent of his recording budget.

“iTunes, Audible, SiriusXM,” he adds. “Wherever there’s a source of revenue, we squeeze it out.”

Twenty years ago, this kind of talk branded Heymann as a miser, a businessman exploiting artistic talent. Today, he’s often heralded as a visionary, a businessman using practical means to keep a valuable artistic resource afloat.

“Klaus is a heroic figure in classical music,” says Joseph Horowitz, the co-founder of Washington’s Post-Classical Ensemble. Horowitz has served as a consultant for Naxos’s American Classics series, which focuses on otherwise neglected works by American composers, past and present. The Post-Classical Ensemble has also released two recordings on Naxos — DVD reissues of classic 1930s documentaries with scores by Virgil Thomson (“The Plow That Broke the Plains”) and Aaron Copland (“The City”). It’s just one of a number of ensembles in the greater Washington area that have found in Naxos a platform and a step to larger international attention — from individuals such as the pianist and composer Haskell Small, who teaches at the Washington Conservatory of Music, all the way up the food chain to Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Heymann has always been something of an outsider, starting out by importing luxury goods including high-end stereo equipment to Asia, and organizing classical concerts as a way to promote his wares. Perceiving a ready Asian market for classical CDs, he set out to fill it. His unorthodox background has stood him in good stead as he keeps changing his company to find new ways to make money. Audiobooks have done well; Naxos is the major distributor of other classical labels; and the company has been in the vanguard of all manner of digital content. The flagship here is the Naxos Digital Library, which offers on-demand access to the entire catalogue. Anyone can subscribe, from schools and libraries to some Naxos artists; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra offers it as a free perk to its subscribers.

That the BSO is a loyal Naxos artist is a clear sign of the changing times. “The days of recording companies fronting all the upfront costs are over,” says Paul Meecham, the orchestra’s president and CEO. “We’ve done things with Decca in the last few years. No one is upfronting the cost. It’s not just Naxos.”

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Small, the Washington-based composer, financed the 2011 recording of his “Lullaby of War” on the American Classics series himself. He doesn’t see a drawback; quite the contrary. “I was excited to do it with Naxos,” he says. “To be perfectly frank, I own [the rights to] a lot of the stuff in my discography; Naxos is the only one I don’t own outright. For the pennies that dribble in [from the other recordings], Naxos is a much better deal on the whole.”

Naxos is also one of the few entities in the classical music business that embraces things that are different and unusual. Opera Lafayette, the Washington-based company specializing in French baroque opera, first approached Naxos with the e-mail equivalent of a cold call; they had recorded the French version of Gluck’s “Orphee,” and wondered if Heymann might be willing to release it. Unlike most cold calls, it worked. “He said, We have the Italian version, but we don’t have the French version, and we like it, so we’ll take it,” recalls Ryan Brown, Opera Lafayette’s founder and conductor. It was the beginning of a fine relationship; Opera Lafayette’s eighth Naxos recording, the first-ever of Andre-Ernest-Modeste Gretry’s “Le Magnifique,” is coming out this month. “When I started suggesting things to Klaus,” Brown says, “it was obvious that they have this omnivorous appetite for music. They were very open to suggestions of things that were out of the way or hadn’t been recorded before.”

“Look, Naxos is a gift to us,” says the Post-Classical Ensemble’s Horowitz. “When I proposed to Klaus that he do three DVDs with films that are not well known and the addition of live music and content out of the blue and he said yes in three minutes, it’s a very unusual person.” He adds, “Klaus is an impresario; he makes decisions quickly. He doesn’t study a project. If he likes it, he’ll say, I’m doing it. He’s not afraid of doing things that haven’t been done before — an unusual asset in what’s left of the world of classical music. He has an entrepreneurial intelligence that’s not that common.”

Naxos is widely seen as having pioneered a new business model for recordings, but there are other ways to slice and dice the same model. The label Avie, for instance, also produces self-financed recordings, but leaves the rights in the hands of the artists. “It’s all based on artist ownership,” says Melanne Mueller, who co-founded the label with her husband, Simon Foster, in 2002. “Artists come up with financing of their recordings. They own everything, and earn the majority of the revenue. We take a commission.”

Kenneth Woods, a conductor who has released several recordings on Avie, prefers this to Naxos. “Naxos’s strength is the huge catalogue and the breadth of what they cover,” he says. It’s “great for the listener and collector; not so great to the artist.” And, he opines, “it’s hard for a lesser-known artist to get the kind of exposure on Naxos that I can get on Avie.” Ryan Brown might beg to differ; the international reviews, particularly in France, of Opera Lafayette’s Naxos recordings may have helped influence his company’s invitation to perform last season in Versailles.

Naxos has certainly practiced a kind of “flood the zone” approach to music. Heymann thinks in terms of complete sets rather than individual discs: American Classics or romantic masterpieces, the complete works of C.P.E. Bach (the 18th-century German composer) or Alfredo Casella (the 20th-century Italian one). “I’m a sucker for good repertory ideas,” he says, with a chuckle. Even he admits that Naxos probably releases too many recordings.

But when he runs through some current projects, his real motivation becomes apparent. The maverick businessman genuinely loves music and delights in demonstrating its range and variety. “We’ve got the first volume of the complete Villa-Lobos symphonies, then the Penderecki orchestral choral works from Warsaw,” he says. “Then Simon Mayr,” an early 19th-century Bavarian composer whose operas Naxos is bringing out, one by one, two of them this year. “And the third volume of the Haydn piano trios. Can I say no to any of this?” he asks. In today’s classical music world, most people would probably answer, “Yes!” It’s only for Klaus Heymann that this question remains rhetorical.


PostClassical Ensemble performance transcends Shostakovich’s modest intentions – Washington Post

By Stephen Brookes, Monday, November 5, 2012

There was a sizable Russian contingent in both the audience and the orchestra at the National Gallery of Art on Sunday night; not surprising, perhaps, given that it was the closing concert of the PostClassical Ensemble’s three-week festival devoted to Dmitri Shostakovich, the brilliant and controversial composer who was either a closet opponent or a passive supporter of the oppressive Soviet regime under which he worked.And it was, in every respect, a fascinating and compelling evening. The PostClassical Ensemble is famous for its innovative performances — which mix different media with unusual repertoire — and Sunday night’s concert took a fresh look at contrasting sides of Shostakovich’s character, featuring rarely heard transcriptions for string chamber orchestra of two of the composer’s most personal string quartets.

The concert opened with the Chamber Symphony for Strings in C Minor, Op. 110a, the transcription by Rudolf Barshai of Shostakovich’s autobiographical eighth quartet. Beefing up a quartet to an ensemble five times as large is risky; delicate details get lost, and edge and agility are often sacrificed for power. But under the nuanced and utterly fluid direction of Angel Gil-Ordonez, the work lost none of its roiling, acrid bite nor its unearthly luminosity. The wild-eyed allegretto was as menacing as ever, the three largo movements even more sweeping and ethereal than in the quartet version, and concertmaster Oleg Rylatko brought off the lead violin lines with genuine ferocity and power. The quartet may be a whirlwind, but in these hands, the chamber version became a tornado.

A typically PostClassical touch followed, as a recording of Shostakovich himself playing his Prelude in C Major drifted, ghost-like, from speakers high in the hall. Pianist George Vatchnadze then took the stage to play the same work (with its accompanying Fugue) as well as the Prelude and Fugue in G minor, providing an island of calm and transcendent clarity before the closing work, the Chamber Symphony for Strings in A-flat Major, Op. 118a (from the 1964 string quartet No. 10). Beautifully played, with a wonderfully scherzo-like allegro furioso and a profound, deeply moving adagio passacaglia, it proved to be a work of stunning power and grace — perhaps even more beautiful than the original version for quartet.


The Culture Report with Rob Sachs: Shostakovich Festival Brings Music, Films to Washington, DC – The Voice of Russia Radio

Rob Sachs Oct 24, 2012 00:28 Moscow Time
WASHINGTON — The Shostakovich Festival has kicked off once again in the D.C. metro area for residents to enjoy and celebrate the music of Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich with film events focused on his legacy and concerts of his music.

Host Rob Sachs talked with Solomon Volkov about the festival and the impact of Shostakovich’s music. Volkov is a music historian and author of Shostakovich’s memoirs.



Interpreting Shostakovich with PostClassical Ensemble – The Pink Line Project

By Jason McCool on Oct 19, 2012

Few twentieth-century composers pack as much bite in their music as the seminal Russian modernist Dmitri Shostakovich. Known equally for his epic, politically-charged symphonies as his bracing, acerbic string quartets, Shostakovich presents an emotional range possessing as much depth as any other serious composer of the last 125 years short of Mahler, his symphonic forefather. (For a true musical roller coaster ride, check out the entirety of Keith Jarrett’s essential recording of the 24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano, quite possibly the most underrated piano work of the 20th century.) Rare in the context of often unpopular, 20th century music, this is music equally beloved by performers and audiences alike.

We’re fortunate to have a glut of Shostakovich on the horizon in DC, as part of the Interpreting Shostakovich festival masterminded by PostClassical Ensemble, one of the most forward-thinking, innovative and far-more-than-capable new music ensembles in the country, starting this weekend with screenings of four rarely seen Shostakovich-scored films at the National Gallery. A stellar lineup of concerts and musicological offerings follow – if you’ve never heard this music (belovedly referred to as “Shosty” amongst classical cognoscenti), it’s absolutely some of the most approachable, relevant and riveting modern classical music you’ll come across.

You’ll find the full schedule here. Enjoy!


Popcorn & Candy: Shakespeare and Sisters Edition – DCist

Soviet Shakespeare

The National Gallery of Art highlights the work of film composer Dmitri Shostakovich with a pair of Russian adaptations of Shakespeare, in association with PostClassical Ensemble’s Interpreting Shostakovich festival. As all adaptors of Shakespeare do to some extent, director Grigori Kozintsev edited Hamlet. But in order to shape a visual language out of the Bard’s masterful text (in translation, of course), the director staged a number of key scenes without any dialogue at all. The result is what Lawrence Olivier called the finest of all Hamlet adaptations. Kozintsev wrote of Shostakovich, “I can hear a ferocious hatred of cruelty, the cult of power, and the oppression of justice . . . a fearless goodness which has a threatening quality.” Music historian Roy Guenther and film scholar Peter Rollberg will be on hand for discussion at each screening. The Gallery’s presentation of King Lear is preceded by a musical prelude with Georgetown University Chamber Singers.

View a clip from Hamlet.
King Lear screens Saturday, October 20 at 2:30. Hamlet screens Sunday, October 21 at 4:00 pm. At the National Gallery of Art. Free

By Pat Padua in on October 18, 2012


Brian Bell talks with author Joseph Horowitz -WGBH

Brian Bell talks with author Joseph Horowitz about his 2012 book Moral Fire: Musical Portraits from America’s Fin-de-Siècle, which features a portrait of, among others, Henry Lee Higginson, the founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

To hear the interview, click here.

A roundup of summer classical music books – Boston Globe

Third Ear
August 04, 2012

Music books don’t often make it onto summer reading lists, perhaps because they don’t quite fit the vision of that mythically languorous afternoon on the beach — you know, the sand between your toes, the fruity cocktail in hand, and on your lap that probing new study of the piano playing of Friedrich Nietzsche?

But it’s August, it’s vacation time (at least in Europe), and chances are it’s a good moment to catch up on a music book or two you might have missed over the past year. So, herewith, the inaugural Third Ear Summer Reading Edition.

A good place to start might well be at the beginning, at least when it comes to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which is to say, with Henry Lee Higginson.

For almost all of its first four decades, Higginson of course ran the show. He was the orchestra’s “inventor, owner, and operator” — as the cultural historian Joseph Horowitz describes him in the elegant and warmly sympathetic essay that forms one-quarter of his new book, “Moral Fire: Musical Portraits From America’s Fin de Siècle.”

Horowitz has more broadly set out to upend our received notions of America’s Gilded Age and its supposedly genteel high culture, by summoning the stories of four cultural figures who believed passionately in music as a force of moral empowerment. (Besides Higginson, he spotlights Laura Langford, Henry Krehbiel, and Charles Ives.) That larger linkage between classical music and moral uplift, as the book readily concedes, has not aged well since Higginson’s day, with the coolly detached ironies of Stravinskian modernism on the one hand, and the musical politics of murderous totalitarian regimes on the other. But Horowitz still believes deeply, at times elegiacally, that there is much worth recovering here from the long-forgotten cultural passions of an earlier America, a late-19th-century moment when Wagnerites in New York might stand screaming on chairs, and an entire pioneering symphony orchestra could be built from the toils, fortunes, and idealism of a single man.

Higginson was of course no ordinary Boston philanthropist. He was a dual citizen of the business and artistic worlds, a State Street financier with a network in Vienna, a man who knew Brahms and J.P. Morgan, Hans Richter and Theodore Roosevelt. He traveled widely, spoke German and French, and kept a portrait of Emerson on his desk. Just as saliently his cultural vision for the Boston Symphony Orchestra — “a full and permanent orchestra, offering the best music at low prices,” as he put it in a now famous newspaper announcement in 1881 — was free of condescension or noblesse oblige.

It was not only his business fortune but these multiple fluencies, Horowitz suggests, coupled with a warm yet direct personal manner — “as spartan and crisp as he was affectionate” — that drove Higginson’s success. Wilhelm Gericke, one of the BSO’s earliest music directors, thought if anyone else besides Higginson had tried to found an orchestra in Boston, “it would not have reached the age of ten years.”

Horowitz opens his portrait with the drama of Higginson’s Civil War service, including a Virginia battle during which Higginson was thrown from his horse, shot in his back, cut on his face by a saber, and almost taken prisoner until he convinced a Confederate soldier to leave him to die. (He was found and brought back to Boston, where he recovered and even briefly re-enlisted. He retained his prominent saber scar for the rest of his life.)

Before joining the Army, Higginson had left an abbreviated college career at Harvard to spend long stretches of the 1850s living in Europe, primarily in Vienna, where he studied music intensely — piano, voice, and harmony — and drank in so many opera and concert performances that he often went without dinner to save on expenses.

Horowitz quotes from Higginson’s European correspondence with his Boston father, whose investment firm he would later join. In one remarkable letter defending his years of musical immersion abroad from any potential charge of frivolousness, the younger Higginson describes his study as building a permanent inner resource “to which I can always turn with delight, however the world may go with me. . . . I can then go with satisfaction to my business, knowing my resource at the end of the day.” He even inverted a financial metaphor, describing his newly acquired education as “imperishable capital.” He added: “My money may fly away; my knowledge cannot. One belongs to the world, the other to me.”

In the early decades of the BSO, Higginson chose the conductors (including George Henschel and Gericke, and later Arthur Nikisch and Karl Muck), hired and fired the musicians, many of them European, and covered all deficits. If he was a dictator he was a benevolent one, Horowitz argues, looking out for his orchestra while leading firmly when necessary. The results were self-evident. By 1902 Richard Strauss was calling the BSO “the most marvelous in the world.”

Higginson held onto the reins of the orchestra, without any board of directors, all the way until the final year of World War I. Horowitz suggests it was the war itself that ultimately proved Higginson’s undoing, and not only because Muck, a German, was arrested and interned as an enemy alien in Georgia. Higginson’s cosmopolitan idealism was simply of an earlier vintage, reflecting an inherited faith in an idea of humanity’s forward progress. “The Great War,” Horowitz writes, “extinguished the moral fires of the late nineteenth century.”

Telling Higginson’s story also here entails, by necessity, a vivid sketch of the orchestra’s early decades (including the Muck affair), and the building of Symphony Hall, which had even more of Higginson’s spirit in it than you may realize. The portrait is richer for these inclusions, and should be essential reading for anyone who wants to grasp the distinctive early history of the BSO or the cultural roots of modern-day Boston.

While we’re on the topic of the city’s prominent musical citizens, Gunther Schuller, now 86, has written a remarkable first volume of his memoirs, published this fall as “Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty.” The book covers only his first 35 years, but it nonetheless seems like the events of many lifetimes are packed into these 600 pages.

As a composer, conductor, classical and jazz horn player, administrator, author, jazz historian, and record producer, Schuller seemingly has done it all in music. And because many of his interests developed in parallel, they collide joyfully in the pages of his memoir, too. Schuller writes about playing Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” under Fritz Busch at the Metropolitan Opera, and in the very next paragraph, remembers a warm reunion with Duke Ellington, who calls him “my horn-playing professor.”

The range of experiences and personalities encountered is astonishing, and turns this autobiography simultaneously into a street-level view of key decades in American music history. Schuller takes a personable, comprehensive approach, reconstructing it all in exhaustive detail, often with candor, humor, and a disarming openness. The book is dedicated to his late wife Marjorie, and her presence in one way or another is also ubiquitous. I can’t wait for volume two.

Meanwhile, across the river, the distinguished Harvard scholar Christoph Wolff has written a soberly persuasive new book about Mozart’s last days. In “Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune,” Wolff argues that the composer’s late music should not in fact be heard as “late music,” that is, as autumnal art tinged with an awareness of closure, decline, and impending death. In fact the opposite in true. The title of the book paraphrases a letter Mozart wrote as late as 1790, a year before his death, when he saw himself as standing on the precipice of new artistic and professional breakthroughs, a self-assessment Wolff affirms in part by examining the forward-looking musical fragments Mozart left unfinished. Of the composer’s final illness, Wolff writes, splashing cold water on decades of old hoary myths, “it all might just as well have turned out differently.”

Perhaps the most unexpected music book I’ve come across this year is “The Philosopher’s Touch” by Francois Noudelmann, an artful meditation on Sartre, Nietzsche, and the literary critic Roland Barthes as passionate amateur pianists. At one point, we get a moving snapshot of the deranged Nietzsche toward the end of his life. Barely able to speak or write comprehensibly, this vanquished Zarathustra retreated to the keyboard, performing brilliantly for two hours every day on the upright piano in the cafeteria of his mental asylum. The playing was so powerfully articulate, one friend thought Nietzsche might be faking his madness.

Noudelmann more broadly savors the distance between the modernity and rigor of these thinkers’ public work and their unabashedly Romantic or sentimental tastes when they sat down alone at the keyboard. Sartre and Nietzsche loved Chopin, Barthes’s lodestar was Schumann. The book probes the meanings of these elective affinities, and speculates on both the yawning gaps and hidden passageways between intellectual and corporeal pleasures, the travails of the mind and the secret life of the fingers. So maybe, in a way, it’s beach reading after all, depending on your beach.

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@


PCE named finalist in the 27th Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards in Washington DC

The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities has informed PCE that we have been chosen as a finalist of the 27th Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards!

The award ceremony will be held on September 13, 2012 at 5:30pm at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington DC.

PCE is honored to have been chosen as a finalist. For more information about the event, click here>

PCE welcomes our newest Board member Philippa Hughes

PostClassical Ensemble an its Board of Directors welcomes it’s newest Board member Philippa Hughes. Ms. Hughes’ “reputation for creating inventive and collaborative environments in which people who would not normally have the opportunity to interact with each other gather to experience art and culture in alternative and stimulating ways,” is an excellent addition to PCE’s Board. In addition, her Pink Line Project has been a huge supporter of PCE and our performances. To learn more about Ms. Hughes, click here.

Hear PostClassical Ensemble on WETA’s “Front Row Washington” – 90.9 FM — on Monday night, July 2 at 9 pm.

This 90-minute show samples PCE renditions of George Gershwin at the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Manuel de Falla at the Harman Center for the Arts, and Igor Stravinsky at Strathmore, all conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez.
Gershwin: Prelude No. 2 and Rhapsody in Blue (with improvised solos) – with pianist Genadi Zagor

Falla: Fantasia Betica and Nights in the Gardens of Spain – with pianist Pedro Carboné

Stravinsky: Concerto for Piano and Winds – with pianist Alexander Toradze

The Stravinsky performance is also featured on “Russian Accents,” an eight-hour exploration of Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff written and co-produced by PCE Artistic Director Joe Horowitz for WFMT/Chicago.

For more information


Emerging America
Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos
Graham Holdings
DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities
national gallery
Andrew Mellon
Austrian Cultural Forum