An article by Wes Phillips in the August 20 online issue of *Stereophile* mentions the end of Warner Bros. records as an “active” a classical label, and What It Means. The other major classical labels that still exist are enumerated—it’s not a long list—and recordings are mentioned (by an employee) that required the resources of a major label, “not an independent.” Further, Phillips tells us, it’s increasingly difficult to even locate the recordings:
“Go to iTunes or Amazon and try to find a specific recording of a well-known classical work. The meta-data is so sloppily entered in both retail outlets that you're playing Russian roulette half the time. You can find what you're looking for if you know precisely what it is, but casual browsing doesn't pay off.”
So, um, don’t shop on iTunes or Amazon, which are obviously set up to communicate primarily with a different clientele?
Rumors of the death of classical recording and classical music, to paraphrase Mark Twain, are greatly exaggerated—so much so that the use of Mark Twain’s famous comment itself in this context is completely hackneyed. It (classical music, or art music, or concert music, or the cultivated tradition, or whatever you will) continues to be a minority interest, played by quixotic diehards and listened to by same. Yet enrollments in music schools do not seem to be waning, and the living culture of performance seems to survive, though never on a level to compete with popular musics of various flavors. How to respond, then?
Consider: more music of various epochs and repertories is available now than ever before, in my experience (I am less than a year shy of 50). Medieval and Renaissance music in passionate, historically informed performances (often competing and conflicting, which is a real joy), contemporary and recent compositions, music of minor contemporaries of the familiar roll of Great Composers (which may or may not deserve to be minor)…and these things are not infrequently fabulously performed and recorded. I do not want to exclude, moreover, the historical recordings (with correspondingly historical sound quality) that come out on labels like Pearl. Really, from what my music librarian is managing to acquire, you’d think we live in time that fetishizes classical music.
My feeling is that the big corporations simply drop the ball on things like this. If after three mergers an uniformed boardroom that doesn’t value classical music is uninterested in the small classical market, so? There seem to be plenty of creative, committed, resourceful people and companies picking up the slack. If the real problem is that one is a hi-fi guy who simply can’t live without the ready availability of new digitized recording of an Ormandy and the Philadelphia something-or-other originally recorded in the mid-1950s, well… tough. Nothing is forever, and there have probably been bunches of recorded interpretations since that should be compared and considered. Cherish your old vinyl, if you like (I do), but the lack of availability of certain supposedly “classic” recordings (often not regarded as such by actual musicians, as opposed to record collectors) does not mean the end of the world. In terms of availability, to turn a line of Paul Simon’s on its head, the corporations may suffer, baby, but the music thrives.