- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

CANNES, France

Online music stores, mobile-phone ring tones and other digital devices are opening up the classical world to new and younger audiences worldwide, industry chiefs said here.

“Last year was a very big year for classical music on the digital music sector,” Chas Jenkins told Agence-France Presse. Mr Jenkins, who heads LSO Live, the London Symphony Orchestra’s trailblazing record label, was in Cannes to attend MIDEM, an international music publishing and video music trade fair, which ended Thursday.

“This MIDEM was a real revelation; there was a really big rise in interest in the classical market,” Mr. Jenkins says.

Much of the classical music world has been wary of jumping on the digital bandwagon because of the high-quality sound demanded by customers, industry experts say.

Times are changing, however, and the sector is discovering that the Internet and online stores provide a useful and cheaper way to sell their back catalog no longer sold in retail shops. It’s also a way of reaching new audiences.

The movement is being led by a small number of the world’s leading orchestras and classical artists who are starting their own recording labels to give them the freedom to sell their music where they want.

Opera diva Barbara Hendricks was the latest to join the select band when she started her new label, Arte Verum, last week at MIDEM.

“Through our digital online sales, the LSO can reach a different audience,” Mr. Jenkins explains. “We believe there are a lot of people, especially young ones, who want to get into classical music but feel intimidated in retail stores” by their lack of knowledge.

On the other hand, he notes, digital music stores are anonymous and allow customers to try out a huge variety of music in the comfort of their homes.

Classical music buffs worldwide also are benefiting from these new digital routes.

With the recording industry feeling the pinch from persistent online and physical music piracy, brick-and-mortar stores are being forced to stock fewer classical records, making it harder for serious classical collectors to track down lesser-known artists and composers.

“We have a huge clientele in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Korea, Taiwan and Japan, to name but a few,” says Ralph Couzens, managing director of Chandos, a U.K.-based classical label known for its high-quality sound.

Classical music lovers are frustrated that they can’t buy the recordings they read about in retail stores, so they are increasingly turning to the Internet, Mr. Couzens told AFP.

The Internet is also giving life to pieces of music that have not been widely heard.

Chandos, for example, offered on its Web site a rerecorded set of string quartets by British composer Michael Tippet and was amazed to find they were a hit. “We couldn’t believe how many people were downloading them,” Mr. Couzens says.

Other national markets also are moving at a different pace.

In Germany, birthplace of some of the world’s greatest composers and home to a large and influential classical industry, interest in the emerging digital market is distinctly cautious.

Many classical record labels are not as aware of the digital platform as a means of distribution when compared to contemporary ones, says Thomas Matzner of the new German digital distributer MusicJustMusic.

Germany also has a few copyright issues that complicate digital distribution, he notes. However, this will change later this year, and there were signs at MIDEM that German labels are getting interested, Mr. Matzner says.

News of mobile-phone ring tones finally going classical also will be music to many ears.

Well-known music publisher Boosey & Hawkes, the LSO and others are making top-quality ring tones of both old and new composers available worldwide through their Web sites.

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