[Paleopsych] NYT: In Restructuring, Sony BMG Introduces Classical Label

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Arts > Music > In Restructuring, Sony BMG Introduces Classical Label
April 12, 2005

[Too much good stuff from the New York Times! In the future, I'll keep to 
twenty forwardings a day in addition to those from the NYT.]


    Sony BMG Music Entertainment said yesterday that it would restructure
    its classical music division with the introduction today of Sony BMG
    Masterworks. The division will encompass the former Sony Classical and
    BMG Classics lines.

    The individual labels, including subsidiary imprints, will retain
    their names, logos and artist rosters. So, as examples, the cellist
    Yo-Yo Ma, the pianists Emanuel Ax and Murray Perahia, and the
    violinists Midori and Joshua Bell will continue to be marketed as Sony
    Classical artists; the pianist Evgeny Kissin and the tenor Ramón
    Vargas will still record for RCA Red Seal; and the conductors Nikolaus
    Harnoncourt and David Zinman will record for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
    and Arte Nova, respectively.

    But Gilbert Hetherwick, who became president of the division in
    January, said yesterday that the new name was meant to suggest a
    change of philosophy. It is intended not only to evoke past glories -
    Masterworks was CBS's flagship classical line long before Sony bought
    the company from CBS in 1989 - but also to signal what Mr. Hetherwick
    described as a renewed commitment to the core classical repertory.

    Mr. Hetherwick reports to Michael Smellie, the chief operating officer
    of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, and both men repudiated the notion,
    standard at classical labels since the mid-80's, that pop-classical
    crossover projects were necessary to keep a classics line afloat.
    Peter Gelb, who ran Sony Classical until Mr. Hetherwick's appointment
    and who is to become general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in
    2006, was a strong proponent of crossovers.

    "This is a dream job for me and an amazing opportunity to get it
    right," said Mr. Hetherwick, 52, who joined BMG Classics in 2003 after
    running EMI's American classical operations and holding positions at
    Polygram, Telarc and Sony Classical. "The people above me totally buy
    and support what I'm trying to do, which is to put the focus on
    classical music. We will do some Broadway and soundtrack recording, as
    we've always done. But it has to start with classical artistry."

    Mr. Hetherwick pointed out that in the 15 months he ran BMG Classics,
    before the merger, he was able to turn a profit with a line devoted
    fully to classical repertory. At BMG, the theater and film
    departments, originally part of Red Seal, had been spun off, and there
    were no crossover projects: just straightforward standard repertory
    recordings by the likes of Mr. Kissin and Mr. Harnoncourt.

    Mr. Hetherwick added that during his years at EMI, when crossover
    projects by Sarah Brightman accounted for 30 percent of the label's
    sales, he ran the numbers for the classical projects alone and found
    them to be profitable as well. (He declined to provide numbers.)

    Mr. Smellie, who professed to know nothing about classical music, said
    he found Mr. Hetherwick's approach persuasive.

    "I don't buy the reports that the classical record market is
    collapsing," Mr. Smellie said. "It's just a question of recording the
    right repertory, marketing it convincingly and applying the right
    discipline. And in my view, getting rid of crossover allows people to
    be focused.

    "Crossover distorts people's values. You have a record that sells a
    million copies, and the universe shifts towards finding the next one.
    That's not what we want to do."

    Central to Mr. Hetherwick's plans is exploring the back catalog of the
    combined label. That trove reaches back to the 1890's, when Sony's
    original predecessor, the Columbia Phonograph Company, and BMG's
    ancestor, the American Gramophone Company, were rivals in the nascent
    record market.

    In the heyday of classical recording, from the late 20's through the
    late 70's, each label amassed a huge library of recordings that are
    now considered classic.

    Mr. Hetherwick said that he had no idea how many master tapes the
    company's combined archives now hold, but that a computer catalog is
    being created. In any case, the trove is extraordinary, with legendary
    recordings by the conductors Fritz Reiner, Arturo Toscanini, Charles
    Munch, Pierre Monteux, Bruno Walter, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Leonard
    Bernstein, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy and Pierre Boulez; the
    violinists Jascha Heifetz and Isaac Stern; the pianists Vladimir
    Horowitz, Arthur Rubinstein, Rudolf Serkin and Glenn Gould; and a vast
    array of vocal stars, from Enrico Caruso to Plácido Domingo, many of
    them appearing in complete recordings of operas.

    Before the merger, Mr. Hetherwick restored some of RCA's legendary
    recordings, reissuing them as hybrid conventional and Super Audio
    CD's. He said he would do the same for Sony's Masterworks Heritage
    series, an archival project that was shelved after several
    well-regarded releases in the late 90's.

    Reissues may, in fact, become the engine that drives Sony BMG
    Masterworks. Mr. Hetherwick said he would probably release more than
    100 (but probably fewer than 200) reissues a year, a number that
    dwarfs the 20 to 25 new recordings. He said, too, that he hoped to use
    the Internet to revive even more of the back catalog.

    "For the collector, you could have the complete Toscanini always
    available online," he said. The Internet, he added, "would be ideal
    for some of the contemporary-music recordings that Sony has:
    avant-garde productions from the 1960's that are important but that we
    couldn't afford to remaster, put into a plastic box and sell in

    The Internet is crucial for marketing, too, he said, pointing out that
    Yo-Yo Ma's latest disc, "Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon," has
    sold extremely well through iTunes, where it was the No. 4 seller for
    a time.

    "What the Internet offers," he said, "is a place where nonspecialists
    can go and listen to samples to see what they like in the privacy of
    their homes, without being embarrassed."

    More broadly, the label's plans are still vague. Mr. Hetherwick did
    not hold out great hope for a revival of operatic or symphonic
    recording, at least in the United States, although he is interested in
    opera DVD's. As for expanding the currently small rosters of his
    labels, Mr. Hetherwick said he would do so cautiously.

    "There are two kinds of artists," he said. "Those who look at a
    recording as a work of art and those who see it as a snapshot of what
    they were doing that day. I like the ones who see recordings as art,
    who are passionate about making statements with their work in the

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