THE STORY OF NAXOS
Nicolas Soames (£17 from Amazon UK)
This is a riveting read, a book of huge importance in the documentation of the history of music and its listening in the late 20th & early 21st Centuries.
I don't have time to write a full review immediately, but the flavour of the book - an easy, racy read - is well shown in the interview excerpted below. The book also stresses the importance of their UK distributor, Select, since 1991.
Gradually DVD producers Arthaus Musik, TDK, Opus Arte, The Christopher Nupen Films and Euro Artscame on board. By 1997 the UK had become the most important Naxos centre outside Hong Kong.
This illuminating book is an essential read for music lovers, recordings collectors, musical historians and for followers of independent business entrepreneurship.
Peter Grahame Woolf
Excerpts from Interview:
Naxos founder Klaus Heymann doesn’t see a music industry crisis, but rather an opportunity – as borne out by the success of his company in "an industry of opportunities".
- - Klaus Heymann, the German-born Hong Kong-based founder of classical music empire Naxos, might well retort, “What’s the fuss?” In Chinese, the characters for “crisis” also contain the character for “opportunity” - -
Offline, Heymann is also a winner. - - Online, he knows where the shark infested waters are. “Pop and rock. They are brief, track-based and song-based. [Pirates] - - scarcely touch jazz and classics.”
The internet has sharpened the difference between buying sound from a shop and renting it online. Heymann was quick to see the potential in setting up four online subscription libraries. “Our Naxos Music Library was originally targeted at institutes such as schools, universities and public libraries. Consumers got interested, then orchestras and conductors. - - For US$200 a year or US$20 a month, you can play all 70,000 CDs, which cover virtually the total classical CD repertoire.
”Naxos Video Library has concerts, ballets and 280 operas, with libretti appearing on screen,” says Heymann. “- - The diversity of Heymann’s online empire seems never-ending. “I am now building what will be the first interactive online classical music encyclopaedia. Click on the work or manuscript excerpt and you will hear the music. Click on any term such as crescendo or tempo rubato, up comes a definition and straight after that you hear the sound.”
It would appear that by combining sound interactively with text he has stolen a march over the 29-volume Grove or Germany’s even more deep and detailed 29-volume MGG (Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart). It’s cheaper, too, says Heymann. “For a small sum added to your Naxos library subscription, you rent the encyclopaedia online. We have yet to finish adding all our sleeve notes, then edit it all.
Meanwhile, for musicians: “Imagine a French pianist who comes here and wants to insert a Spanish component in his recital. He types ‘Spain’, ‘20-25 minutes’, ‘1870-1920’, ‘piano’. Click. Up comes a list of composers and works. He clicks on date of publication, duration and the musical score. This programme-building website - - is becoming an addiction for conductors and performers round the world.” Naxos became involved in music education in response to the slashing of education budgets in most English speaking countries.
When Heymann founded Naxos as a bargain label in 1987, it offered its services to other labels as physical distributor, and it later took over their digital distribution. “ - - With over 200 labels being distributed, we are the biggest digital classical music distributor in the world.”
His American Classics series of yesteryear’s experimentalists has previously grabbed my attention. The historically important Cage, Antheil, Ives, Nancarrow, Feldman and Cowell - - are rarely heard here. “Yes, labels like Columbia built a substantial catalogue but did not make them available widely overseas. I put them all under the Naxos umbrella and internationalised them. They scooped up lots of Grammys, too. But they did not travel well, so I made little money.”
- - He has a soft spot for Poland - “Yes. We work well with Antoni Wit and the Polish Radio Symphony and Warsaw Philharmonic. We have Szymanowski and Lutosławski complete, and we are working on Penderecki, who keeps composing new works. Naxos’s exposure has made those three mainstream already. I am now looking ahead to the lesser known Karłowicz, Górecki and Bacewicz.”
What sets Naxos apart from other companies is how it is preserving the repertoire for perpetuity through such pioneering strategies as highlighting Canada, Greece, Turkey, Japan and Spain. - - I want to show Japan as more than Mayuzumi and Takemitsu, whom we have already recorded.” China and the Pacific Basin? “Its known composers, Tan Dun, Bright Sheng and Gao Ping, the latter two on the Naxos label, have already put China on the map, with more composers to follow. C
Heymann runs through some of his recent acquisitions. “There’s Capriccio and Ondine – a small quality label specialising in mainly contemporary Finnish composers like Saariaho. We launched Grand Piano featuring piano virtuosity from the likes of Medtner, Raff and Weinberg.
All this as well as overseeing more than 20 new productions a month in a Naxos catalogue of over 6000 CDs. - - most of the work is done by those running my regional subsidiaries. As for artists, the final say goes to my Japanese wife. She is also a professional violinist. When she hears the audition tapes and gives thumbs up to someone with fl air, she’s never wrong.”