Friday, February 10, 2006
New York Philharmonic to Make Concerts Available for Digital Downloading
New York Times
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
The New York Philharmonic, not known for its quick-stepping ways, is entering the new world of digital downloading under a three-year recording deal with Deutsche Grammophon, the orchestra announced yesterday.
Deutsche Grammophon, using live recordings by the orchestra, will release four concerts a year, probably through iTunes and perhaps through other Web sites, said Zarin Mehta, the orchestra's president. The first is due in about two months and will be priced at about $8 to $10, he said. It will consist of this weekend's program at Avery Fisher Hall, Mozart's Symphonies Nos. 39, 40 and 41, conducted by Lorin Maazel. Listeners will probably have the choice of downloading a movement, a symphony or the whole concert, Mr. Mehta said.
The orchestra thus finds itself in the vanguard of purveying performances through the Internet. Few others have done so, although many are contemplating the move.
Mr. Mehta also announced another recording deal, an arrangement with New World Records to release two CD's a year of new works commissioned and played by the Philharmonic in their world premieres. Those recordings, too, will be available by download, said the orchestra's spokesman, Eric Latzky.
The Philharmonic, with one of the largest back catalogs of any major orchestra, has not been releasing recordings on a large scale since a series on the Teldec label in the 1990's, when Kurt Masur was the music director. In fact, few orchestras have been recording much in recent years, citing the expense under contracts with their musicians and a decline in the market.
But an agreement with the Philharmonic players changed the fee structure, Mr. Mehta said, and allowed the moves. Instead of receiving flat fees and relinquishing rights, the musicians will share in any future revenues.
It is by no means clear whether the deals will be profitable. The New World project is going forward only because of foundation support.
As for the possibilities of making money from downloading, Mr. Mehta said: "There will be some money to be made. But in the heyday of the record industry, artists made money but orchestra institutions never made that much money. What it did was really provide income for the musicians. It made them feel worthwhile. It was a great calling card."
In the rubble of the current classical recording landscape, all sorts of experiments are being tried. Opera houses are providing online streaming. The Sydney Symphony in Australia will provide 10 streamed and downloadable concerts. The London Symphony Orchestra produces its own CD's. The Philadelphia Orchestra has a three-year deal with the Ondine label, under which it will produce its own concerts and Ondine will distribute and market them. The Milwaukee Symphony this year began MSO Classics, which offers concerts for downloading on iTunes.
"This is such a new world to all of us," Mr. Mehta said. "We don't know at this stage what the market is for it." In the Philharmonic's case, Deutsche Grammophon will market the recordings and pay the orchestra a percentage of revenues.
Billboard magazine recently reported that the downloading of digital albums grew 94 percent in 2005, compared with a 15 percent decline in album sales.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic is negotiating with Universal to make its concerts available for download. Its music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, predicted the death of CD's in a recent interview, saying that his children did not go to stores for music but used their iPods.
Mr. Mehta described the recording plans during a news conference to announce the orchestra's 2006-7 season, its 165th.
Two major commissions will be played: a trombone concerto by Melinda Wagner, to be performed by the orchestra's principal trombonist, Joseph Alessi, and a piano concerto by Mr. Salonen, who will conduct. It will be his first appearance with the orchestra since his 1986 debut.
Three previously announced long-term relationships will start next season, with Riccardo Muti conducting four weeks of concerts and David Robertson and Alan Gilbert two weeks each. Colin Davis will mark his 80th birthday with a Mozart program. The early-music specialists Harry Bicket and Bernard Labadie will make their first appearances with the orchestra.
The Philharmonic will follow recent performances of "Candide" and "Sweeney Todd" with a semistaged performance of Stephen Sondheim's "Company." "The orchestra can swing," Mr. Mehta said.
Mr. Maazel will conduct six programs of Brahms, the first time he will have done any of the symphonies since taking over the orchestra. His predecessor, Mr. Masur, did them often and well, he said. "I felt we should have a decent waiting period," he added.
Next season will be Mr. Maazel's fifth as music director, with two more to go, and he implied that he would not be extending the contract. "By the end of my fifth season," he said, "I will start to gradually think how sad it will be to leave the orchestra after my seventh."
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company