Orchestras on iTunes - Live in Concert!
I know I'm a little behind the times on this (in the Internet age where news moves at the speed of light), but I thought I'd write about it to help spread the word: two major American orchestras have taken to releasing (some or all of) their concert recordings, almost immediately after the event, on iTunes. The LA Philharmonic has been doing this since 2006. To my knowledge, the New York Philharmonic started it this year, under the leadership of their new music director Alan Gilbert. I had a passing attention to this a few months ago when I was searching for some music, but I payed closer attention after downloading the premiere of John Adams' City Noir by the LA Philharmonic from one of the first concerts under their new music director Gusatvo Dudamel.
I'm not a huge orchestra snob; I do like some groups better than others - I tend to favor the Minnesota Orchestra, Chicago Symphony & Cleveland Symphony, each in different ways - but it goes without saying that the LA Phil & NY Phil are top-class groups, and I would listen to them without much of a second thought. One thing I like about both groups is their penchant to perform new(er) orchestral works, instead of sticking to those in the standard repertoire or by composers who have stood the tests of time. A look at LA Phil's releases from the past 4 years gives us: Hillberg (premiere), Reich, Pärt, Andriessen, Legeti & Adams, along with staples such as Beethoven, Ravel, Stravinsky, & Prokofiev. From my occassional reading of the NYTimes & Alex Ross's superb blog & column in the New Yorker, the NY Phil has also stepped up their programming of contemporary works this year.
Both groups offer different packages and "bonuses." LA Phil releases program notes with their recordings (something I wish all classical albums would come with on iTunes). The NY Phil has tried a different approach: a subscription series, or as they call it, an iTunes Pass. While the LA Phil albums are about the regular price of an album or a little cheaper ($9.99 or less), you can pay $150 and get all of the releases from the NY Phil, including encores and Gilbert's stage talks about the music. (NY Phil also has released a few individual concerts and has a podcast series discussing upcoming concerts.) I have the feeling Deutsche Grammophone has something to do with this digital push, and I'm sure their profiting from this (as is Apple).
(Both groups have iPhone apps, too - I haven't explored the NY Phil app, but the LA Phil app leaves much to be desired, simply giving you an opportunity to "conduct" like Dudamel by waving your phone around.)
These aren't fuzzy concert recordings, either - they obviously take the time to master them properly (and probably play other technical engineering tricks). The orchestras sound good, and as anyone who has attending a concert can say, concert performances almost always have more excitement than studio recordings.
I think this is an encouraging sign from the classical music world. People continue to spout about the death of classical music, but I feel that's far from the truth. New(er) conductors such as Dudamel & Gilbert are programming a lot of contemporary music, including many premieres. Audiences are attending these concerts, and not just to hear Beethoven's 7th. Releasing concerts on iTunes shows that these groups - and hopefully other orchestras will take note - are aware of the digital presence of music, and how great it can be to release concerts. They can only help spread the word of their orchestras, the music they perform, and the high level of musicianship you'll hear from both groups.
I can't be too difficult to get music released on iTunes, with the plethra of independent "artists" I've seen on there, and I hope that orchestras across the country will work to release their concerts, even if it's only a few a year. It's great marketing. It will put the groups in the grasps of a younger audience. And it can only help to expand the niche role classical music currently plays in our society.