|Graham Parker (Marco Antonio)
Industry Profile: Graham Parker
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Graham Parker, GM, WQXR-FM.
In his heart of hearts, Graham Parker probably wishes that John Kander, and Fred Ebb had written "Theme from New York, New York" as a classical piece for piano in the 1970s.
Since taking the helm as GM in 2010, Parker has led WQXR-FM’s transformation into a global destination for classical music, with a strong boosterism to anything that is excellent classical music in New York City.
Parker is a one-piece New York Tourist Board orchestra conductor.
Classical 105.9 WQXR is New York City’s only 24-hour classical music station, presenting classical recordings as well as live concerts from the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and other New York City venues. In addition, WQXR produces a broad range of events in The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space.
Integrating on-air programming with digital initiatives, Parker has overseen the growth and launch of Q2Music and Operavore on-line channels, securing WQXR's role as a digital music source, while successfully cultivating new listeners for classical music; leading the cheerleading section for newer classical artists on a global scale; while retaining the core of the station’s cherished, established programming.
Born in London, England, Parker holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Oxford Brookes University. Trained on flute and piano, he took up conducting at college.
Arriving in New York City in 1995, Parker answered a newspaper ad that led to him working in both marketing and concert production at the New York Philharmonic. Next, he held positions at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, where he produced the “Great Day in New York” and “Beethoven 2000” concert series.
Parker then served as GM of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, where he managed the artistic, orchestral, education and outreach activities of the organization. During an 8 year tenure as executive dir. of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra that followed, Parker is credited for revitalizing the company’s artistic vision and brand.
In 2009, Parker received the Helen M. Thompson Award from the League of American Orchestras.
In 2009, the WQXR frequency was sold for over $40 million. Why was the frequency so valuable?
Well, it’s important to remember that is what the New York Times put the station on the market for. That was the price for the 96.3 FM frequency. We have changed frequency since. That was the price determined by the market. People have said to me that 96.3 was, perhaps, one of the best spots on the FM dial in the #1 radio market in the country. Certainly, 96.3 is an extremely powerful signal. It is also smack dab in the middle of the FM dial. So that is what the Times priced it at. They were obviously able with (New York Public Radio president/CEO) Laura Walker’s leadership, and our board’s leadership to put a very, very clever deal together with Univision (Univision Communications Inc.), the Spanish music station, WQXR and WNYC, and the New York Times.
As you know, at 8 o’clock on Oct. 8th, 2009, the frequency flipped. Univision and WQXR flipped frequencies. WQXR got to retain its call letters, its website and, of course, its brand, and we started broadcasting from 105.9. All of the monies changed hands in the right way. WQXR got to be born as a new radio station.
[In 2009, the New York Times Company sold WQXR in a series of transactions with a division of Univision Communications Inc., and public broadcaster WNYC. The New York Times Company traded the 96.3 frequency to Univision Radio in return for the 105.9 frequency of Univision's WCAA. Univision paid the New York Times Company $33.5 million to trade broadcasting licenses with The Times. WNYC then paid the New York Times Company $11.5 million for 105.9 FM’s license, equipment, and the WQXR call letters and website. As a result of the deal, WQXR became a non-commercial public radio station operated by WNYC as part of New York Public Radio.]
The big change was transforming WQXR from its commercial model to a commercial free public radio model.
Yeah that was obviously when I joined. I was the first GM the company hired to run the station in its new format.
Under the new ownership.
With new ownership, but also a public mission rather than a commercial mission for the first time in its 72 years. It is really exciting to think about QXR in that new world. Making it relevant on a mission basis, as a public service, and as a broadcaster. We are not at the beck and call of advertisers, and beholden to their whims. We can really set a tone, and a vision for what we believe the sound and the quality of the sound of the station should be as well. Yes, we had to create new funding, create a membership base, create a foundation base, create a major donor base, and have patrons and sponsorship and all of the rest in underwriting (operating costs). All of these new models have been things that we had to do. It’s been really exciting thinking them all through. Some have taken longer to ramp up than others, but we have seen a lot of success. It’s about showing New Yorkers that this is a new QXR that is relevant, and is working really hard in the community to bring the very best of the city out to biggest audience possible. That seems to be resonating with people.
Being a commercial free public radio station is a big furnace that has to be continually fed through contributions from members, individual donors, private foundations, pledge drives and whatever. In essence, you are always seeking money to survive.
I definitely spend a decent amount of my time fundraising. There’s no doubt about that. That is a skill that I had coming in here, and Laura Walker was keen to put it to work for the betterment of QXR. It’s been really fun, and quite gratifying, and rewarding to have the conversations with foundations, major donors, and the corporate community and hear their feedback on what we are doing, and have their support on what we are doing.
As you say, there’s the whole membership model. We do say very proudly in public radio that the majority of our funding comes from individual listeners. It is entirely true, and we now have a very large membership base for QXR. We had none when we started on October 8th, 2009. We have had to build it from scratch and, yes, it needs constant tending with the funding and pledge drives, and with direct mail, and whatever tactics we deploy. They are always being tweaked and looked at because we have to keep that membership base growing.
What is your annual operating budget?
The annual operating budget of NYPR is a little over $70 million. We do not file the different brands separately. We don’t break out QXR separately from the company.
How is the funding organized?
We have the three funding streams: membership, the underwriting, and the philanthropic. Definitely, membership is the largest of the group. It’s a lot of money to raise every year.
Certainly fundraising is helped by WQXR’s sizable popularity. Its weekly cume averages. approximately 625,000-650,000, is quite high for classical radio station. Add in a strong web presence, and all of that helps the profile of the station with potential donors.
Look, when we started QXR here, there was a skeleton website. The old QXR had an okay website, and the stream listening was relatively small. We have seen huge growth in the streaming numbers since we launched as a public station. The radio numbers are strong, as well. Yes, so when you add those two things together, and you also add not only the local, but the national and the international traffic, we are reaching a very big audience that is beyond our primordial broadcast area.
WQXR broadcasts from studios and offices in the Hudson Square section of Manhattan?
Yep. Hudson Square in SoHo on (160) Varick Street. We are on three floors of a custom built-out studio. We have top of the line equipment, space, and light. Of course, the area is already maxed out. We grow really fast around here. But it’s a great space. I think, initially for QXR, classical musicians generally didn’t go below 57th Street. They would just bounce around between 55th and 57th Street.
Many of those musicians perform uptown or are in pit bands of Broadway productions.
I’m talking about the soloists. But we have created, in essence, a new downtown location for high-quality classical music conversation, and performance with our Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, which is part of the fabric here. It’s a 125 seat performance space with HD cameras, and great audio capture ability. WQXR produced about 20 to 25 events in there (annually). As a company, we do a lot more than that. (Recently) we had Lang Lang, members of the Berlin Philharmonic, and (tenor) Michael Fabiano, who won the Richard Tucker Award. The list goes on. It’s a real hub of the very best in classical music. (American composer) John Luther Adams did a listening party for his new Pulitzer Prize-winning (for Music) piece (“Become Ocean”) in Surround sound there. We took all the chairs out, and people laid on the floor, and listened to the piece. We have had 10-year-old kids doing master classes there. We have had public school kids in there doing programs. So we just don’t go with the Lang Langs, and the Josh Bells. We really want to capture everything that is going on in the classical world in New York. Not just the soloists.
You operate a couple of translator stations do you not?
We do. We have a translator outside of Poughkeepsie, and we also bought a station in Ossining, New York. It was an old community station, WDFH, that we renamed WQXW, covering northern and central Westchester County. So we have translator just outside of Poughkeepsie, and then we have the QXR, and the signal from the Empire State Building.
WQXR’s program director is Matthew Abramovitz?
Yes, our program director is Matthew Abramovitz. We have a music director, Jenny Houser, and another person who assist Jenny as team. The programming team is two. Matt oversees all of the air (programming) at QXR including our hosts and all of the rest of it.
Matthew worked as a marketing consultant for Blue Note Records.
He did, and at Sirius (Sirius XM for 8 years). He’s a real radio guy. A tremendous asset to the team here. Someone who has really helped me. He has been here for five years, as well. He helped with the transition of ownership, and he has been our program director for four years. I walked into here with no formal radio experience other than listening to great radio. He has really supported me as I tried to learn as much as I can about radio, as well as bringing my own skill set to the table.
When many people think of WQXR, they think of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts or the recent weekly radio series of concerts and recordings by the New York Philharmonic, hosted by Alec Baldwin.
We try to represent what’s going on in the city. Of course, the Philharmonic is our hometown band so we want to highlight their weekly show with Alec Baldwin. But we also have shows that we create ourselves. “Carnegie Hall Live” is a feather in our cap of 12 live national radio broadcasts from the three stages of Carnegie. We opened Oct. 1 (2014) with the Berlin Philharmonic. We had the Academy of Ancient Music in early November. We had (Russian concert pianist) Daniil Trifonov and, again, the list goes on. So we have “Carnegie Hall Live,” the Metropolitan Opera House (broadcasts) on Sunday, and the New York Phil. We do live broadcasts from all over the place including from The Frick Collection, the Metropolitan Museum, the Ecstatic Music Festival, the LPR (Le Poussin Rouge), Central Park in the summer, and from the Caramoor Music Festival in Westchester. Again, that is part of our New York commitment. We raised money from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which allowed us to double down on our ability to capture 60 to 70 live broadcasts a year from all over New York. It is really, really exciting to be there as extraordinary moments happen, and to be able to capture them all.
The live concerts gives WQXR a vibrancy and immediacy. Listeners aren’t just listening to the station’s record library.
I think that we have 33,000 records.
How do you plan out the programming of the live and the recorded components of the station?
It’s a balance. Some of our audience don’t want the chatter of a live broadcast. Some do. Some people complain, “Oh my goodness, I tuned in at 8 o’clock, and all I heard was talking for 4 minutes.” If they had stuck around for 10 seconds longer, they would have heard Simon Rattle conducting (Stravinsky’s) “The Firebird” live from Carnegie.
It’s a good pay-off, we think. It’s challenge always to find that balance for listeners.
Again, as a public station, we have made a mission statement that we want to be there to capture what’s going on in New York, and so we do. We choose as carefully as we can. We try to find programs that will stimulate, and excite folks as well as give them what they want which is excellent classical music. Of course, we challenge them as well. But you don’t want to create moments where people want to switch off or complain that all you are doing is playing the (classical) warhorses all day. It’s a constant juggling act that our program director leads with his programming team. We look constantly at the playlists, making sure that we have variety. We are constantly ripping new CDs of new interpretations (of traditional classical pieces). We want to be sure that we are not just always playing things from 20 years ago. We have Albums of the Week. It’s jigsaw puzzle to get through (the programming).
The majority of classical music listeners of our generation grew up with recordings by the Berlin Philharmonic with Herbert von Karajan or the New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein, or the Philadelphia Orchestra with Eugene Ormandy. Of course, there are recent recordings of these beloved classics but they may be unknown to that audience. A balance has to be struck in the programming between the old and the new.
Right, we are constantly looking at new recordings. Absolutely. In the past month alone there were new separate sets of (Robert) Schumann CDs. Pablo Herras Casado did one. Yanik Nezet-Seguin did one with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Simon Rattle did one with Berlin Philharmonic, and then there was one issued by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, I think.
Conversely, not all classical listeners are open to the warhorses either.
When people say that, “You play too many of the warhorses,” I push back as follows, and obviously as politely as I can. I always remember that when I started my career at the New York Philharmonic in 1995, Kurt Masur was the musical director. He is pretty traditional conductor. His repertoire was not hugely broad and he got a lot of criticism for it. The press would ask, “Why are you conducting another Bruckner (No. 7 in E Major) Symphony? We have all heard it before.” He would say, “But someone in the hall tonight is hearing it for the very first time, and I want them to hear it played by the New York Philharmonic, and played live the best that I can deliver.”
That is a tremendous statement about remembering that not everybody in your audience has been listening as long as you have (to classical music), and someone listening to QXR right now may be a brand new listener to the station. I want to be sure that when they tune in that they hear the very best recording of the best music in the world framed by a host who really puts it into context, and gives them some ease in getting into it because that could shape their listening for the rest of their life. I want that to be a positive experience.
At the same time I was so grateful last year that Sony Classical issued “Vladimir Horowitz Live at Carnegie Hall,” a 41-CD, one DVD box set featuring the complete RCA and Columbia recitals of Horowitz recorded at Carnegie Hall from 1951 to 1978. Does WQXR jump on box set releases like that when they are released?
Absolutely. We do (promote) them in all different ways. Sometimes we will use them for pledge drive for major premiums. We will do them to give them away in regular air, “Call in and get this.” David Dubal. who was host on the old station, we brought him back. He’s from a different generation of hosts. What a knowledge of the piano repertoire, and pianists. He worked very closely with Horowitz. He and Horowitz and (Arthur) Rubinstein. There’s been no one better since then. So when something like Horowitz (at Carnegie Hall) comes out, we did a 12-part series on Horowitz so we could play Horowitz and deal with some of those recordings.
[Author/lecturer David Dubal had previously been music director at the defunct WNCN-FM, WQXR's competitor for decades. His program “Reflections from the Keyboard” was not continued with the transfer of ownership of WQXR to New York Public Radio. “Reflections From The Keyboard” returned to WQXR in 2013. Dubal is the author of numerous books including: “The Art of the Piano,” “Evenings with Horowitz,” “Remembering Horowitz.” “Conversations with Menuhin,” “Reflections from the Keyboard,” “Conversations with Joao Carlos Martins,” and The Essential Canon of Classical Music.”]
While WQXR is New York City-centric, it is also a national, if not international radio station due to the internet. A tricky position given the stiff competition in the digital space?
Yeah. That’s a great question. When I got to QXR, our place in New York, I think, had always been secure, but I took a serious look at the how we fitted into the fabric of the music-making world in the city. I really made sure that we cemented those links, those relationships, those partnerships so that we would always represent the sound of New York, and try to capture the sound of New York with all of the performers, the conductors, and the groups coming through.
As you said, in this highly competitive digital world that we live in. We think, and I think it has proven to be a good bet at this point, that projecting New York out is a pretty good calling card when trying to break through with all of those other stations out there. Other satellite services, peoples’ own CD collections, Pandora, YouTube etc. That New Yorkness, those unique things that we capture in the city, would make us a popular player in that field.
Were you influenced by the scope of the Metropolitan Opera’s HD theatrical series which has taken New York-based opera outside of the city?
I think that there are many good reference points. The Met is a good one. I think that I spoke about this in my interview for the job. That growing up in London, and growing up with the BBC, and Classic FM a little bit before the time that I left (the UK) that I really understand the power of anchoring yourself in a city, and projecting that out to the widest audience possible. I think that I brought that kind of discipline here when I arrived at QXR. All the time that I have lived in America (since 1995), I have only lived in New York. So I guess that I am a New Yorker now. I have always felt immensely proud of the city, and all that it has to offer. So it was kind of seeing what the city has, seeing the references points, and certainly the (example of the) BBC. Okay, QXR needs to own this, and this will be our calling card as we project out a more national, if not international, strategy.
The station’s calling card is “We’ve got New York.”
People ask, “Who is your competition?” They say, “You are the only (classical) radio station in New York. You don’t have any competition.” Well, that’s not true. In New York, as a radio station, we compete with lots of other music formats. Our listeners are not just pure classical listeners. When it comes to the digital landscape, yes, every radio station has a stream. We are also competing with somebody’s CD collection. We are competing with the “off” button. We are competing with lots of other radio stations. We are competing with YouTube, Pandora and Sirius XM and the rest of them, yes.
(We do have) that New Yorkness. And it’s just not the attitude and a sound. It also is the kind of concerts we can line up because we have the proximity to these artists, and these halls. We the relationships with Carnegie, and the New York Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Opera House, and some of the smaller venues like LPR (Le Poussin Rouge), and the Merkin Concert Hall. These are the kinds of relationships we have. Some of which I had before I came here, and some of which I have cultivated. But it’s a challenge, even in the minds of even these cultural partners, for them to think about WQXR a little bit differently. Not as just a place that plays records, but we can really partner with them on Greene Space events or digital initiatives, or festivals. There are lots of things that we could do together that would amplify them and that would amplify us all at the same time.
Around 2000, Universal, Sony, and EMI began downsizing their classical departments, and dropping their recording commitments to orchestras, ensembles and soloists to concentrate on catalog reissues while Naxos built a brand with inexpensive classical recordings. Not that the majors are back fully in recording classical music, but with the popularity of Lang Lang, Lucy Kay, and the Two Cellos, along with popularity of recordings by such classical-based vets as John Williams, Joshua Bell, Katherine Jenkins, and André Rieu, we are seeing signs that the pendulum is turning back a bit.
I agree with you. The pendulum seems to be swinging back again to recording labels signing more artists. But the economic models have changed where risk may have to be shared a little further around. Where the artist needs to agree to really promote the record and, in essence, do a little bit of the “rock thing.” Record it (a CD), and then have it (selections) in their repertoire for 18 months, and really sell the bejesus out of it. Then, when they get to a venue, they go to the lobby afterwards, and sign the CDs. It’s not going to sell itself, anymore. Even some of the biggest names in the business, in confidential conversations that I have had with heads classical labels, they admit that even superstars don’t sell the way that people think that they might. Some (recordings) might blow up, but it’s harder (today) than everybody thinks.
With a global market now, a classical fan has a lot of choices including acts from all over the world to pick from. Traditionally, classical recordings came from Germany, Austria, the UK, and the United States Today, you can listen to the Danish String Quartet, which was selected as BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists for 2013-2015.
And they are awfully good.
They are awfully good.
Absolutely, that’s true. In the U.S., we have different models of funding. Europe is still lucky in that there is still a lot of government funding for the arts, for radio and for the media, in general. It’s a little more cutthroat over here. Also, there are still very different sales trends. For example, Germany is still a physical product market. The UK, a High Street market. The U.S. is a digital market because there’s nowhere to sell the CDs now that all of the (retail music) stores have gone out of business. In Japan, there’s still a high quantity of physical product being sold. Some (sales) are even drifting over to vinyl. The Berlin Philharmonic, their new Schumann box set, got wonderful reviews, and we have been playing it a lot on the station, and they also released it on (a limited edition) vinyl. They have gone both super high-end on Blu-ray and HD files and, at the same time, they pressed a bunch of vinyl, and it also sold very, very quickly.
What a great story.
I love observing this in life. There’s often a swing back to old-fashioned values because, sometimes, the new fangled thing isn’t quite what everybody thought it was. But, when it comes back it doesn’t come back to literally where it was, it swings a little bit forward. But all of those old fashioned values hold true.
Meanwhile, there are a spate of composers releasing new classical recordings.
Yes, the composer-led things, absolutely. You’ve got the younger crowd like Sufjan Stevens, Chris Thile, and Gabe Kahane. Gabe Kahane got signed by Sony Classical which is really interesting. He got signed by Sony Classical, but his first album is like (him being a) singer/songwriter, but it’s orchestrated. It has an orchestral texture. That is the kind of genre osmosis that is happening. I know Chuck Mitchell (SVP at Sony Masterworks U.S) who signed Gabe. We all recognized Gabe’s talent, but he (Chuck) didn’t sign him first do a guitar concerto with traditional selections. He had Gabe do a set of songs about L.A. (“The Ambassador”) which shows off his orchestration, and his songwriting abilities.
[Gabe Kahane’s “The Ambassador” is a set of chamber pop songs examining Los Angeles through the architecture of 10 of its buildings. The album, the composer’s debut on Sony Masterworks, was born as a commission by the Brooklyn Academy of Music which will present the stage incarnation Dec. 10–13, 2014 as part of this year’s Next Wave Festival. John Tiffany, who won a Tony in 2012 for his staging of “Once,” directs.]
WQXR is in the midst of Bach Awareness Month, an annual festival event celebrating classical composers.
November is a festival month, and we have exchanged different composers in and out of that over the years. We did two years of Beethoven, Mozart last year, and we are doing Bach this year. We are effectively calling it, “Bachstock, 30 Days of Peace and Music.” With these festivals, there has been a real opportunity for us to position WQXR as a real content curator. It allows our current audience to dive deep on a particular idea, and for us to attract a lot of new listeners who possibly wouldn’t have heard of WQXR. We often go pretty big with some media campaigns, and we have some really fun graphics.
What’s the long-term strategy behind this style of programming?
We are trying to get away from this stodgy way of thinking about a classical radio station or classical music in general, by using every tool in our toolkit; from the radio, from the web, from live events, from quizzes, from download devices. We use everything that we’ve got to bring the maximum impact to this big idea. It seems to have really worked. We tend to do two or three festival a year. The one in November seems to be the biggest one, right now. We see some good lifts in terms of new audience; folks who are discovering WQXR for the very first time. We are also seeing that they tend to stick with us which is nice as well. So we are seeing some traction there. That they seem to be enjoying these gateway moments, and they discover an art form that, maybe, that they knew a little bit, and they sort of forgotten about QXR, and they are now listening a little bit more which is always great. It’s a formula that seems to be working, and we are going to continue with it.
You received a Bachelor of Science degree from Oxford....
Oxford Brookes University. There are two universities (named Oxford) there (in the UK).
Though you were trained in flute and piano, you weren’t seeking a career in music at that point.
I wasn’t. I was a little bit confused about what I wanted to do. I did want to study music at college, but my parents were not in favor of that idea. Actually, my (high school music) teacher was one of the most important musical influences in my life. He used to call me Parker because that’s what you do at an all-boys’ private schools in Britain. He said to me, “Parker, you are good, but you are not that good” in terms of making a career as a performer. I was a decent singer and a conductor, but I kind of knew that I didn’t have it to make it as a true professional. But I always had a management skills and management interest.
And your short-lived career in hotel management?
The career in hotel management was that I love to cook. That was honestly it. I had decided to do that if I couldn’t study music. I did a lot of music while I was at school. I started conducting a lot, and I started getting involved with the Oxford University scene. I conducted a Gilbert and Sullivan Society, and I started doing some premieres. I sang in musicals. But when I came to the States I really wanted to see if I could drop the food management thing, and do music management.
How did you come to land in the United States in 1995?
I had a chance to come. I had a visa. I didn’t have a job, but I took a risk. Then I answered an ad in the New York Times. I didn’t know that it was for the New York Philharmonic. It was just a blind ad, “Major cultural institution is looking for a marketing assistant. Send your resume,” to this P.O. box. It turned out that it was the New York Philharmonic. They interviewed me a bunch of times. I was a very non-traditional candidate, as far as they were concerned, My boss told me that the reason that she hired me was because she couldn’t understand a word that I had said throughout the interview. My accent was really strong, and she saw Oxford on my resume, and she hired me.
You were also at the Brooklyn Philharmonic.
I went from the New York Philharmonic to the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Centre, and then I was the GM of the Brooklyn Philharmonic . Then I went to run Orpheus (Orpheus Chamber Orchestra) and then I came here. I have stayed in New York for my whole music career.
You had some of those programming ideas featuring New York while at the Chamber Music Society. You did the “Great Day in New York” event.
Yes, we did “Great Day in New York.” We did the “Beethoven 2000 Festival.” I didn’t conceive all of those things, but I have been part of some amazing moments in New York history in the past 10 or 15 years. The people that I worked with. I look back and I think that I got to hang out with Kurt Masur, and the great (pianist/conductor) David Golub who passed away too early (in 2000). I turned pages for him in a rehearsal. It was like, “wow.” I have done some pretty fun things.
You were at the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for 8 years?
Yes, I was the executive director for 8 years, yep.
During that time the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra recorded for EMI. Was it difficult getting major label support, or was the onus on you to record yourselves?
No, it was a partnership. It was definitely looking at the world of recordings. There are two Orpheus projects with EMI. They are both different. Both were aspects of the soloist having a contract with EMI, and we were working with that soloist on a number of projects.
Who are the soloists?
Jonathan Biss (“Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 21 & 22” in 2008), and Sarah Chang (“Vivaldi: The Four Seasons” in 2007). We were able to put these (recordings) together. What I did bring to the Orpheus (recordings) was a different way of recording them and also a different way of marketing them. No longer were we going to do these true recording sessions. We had to combine live performance because of the economics that EMI was willing to pay was just not there. But we wanted to record again. The other thing that we did was to record them, in essence, quietly, and then take them on the road once the CDs were out so that we could sell some CDs. The essence of doing the “rock thing” is to play the record that you have selling all over the stadium as opposed to the “classical thing” which is that you tour, play it (the musical selections) in as much as you can, then you record it, and then you try to sell it without ever playing the repertoire again which is kind of silly. So we tried it that way.
More classical music figures should consider that marketing route.
Look. the record business has evolved. That must have been eight years ago at this point since I did those recordings with Orpheus. The record business continues to evolve, and WQXR is in the position where we can act, if we so choose, as kind of a record label because we do 60 to 70 live broadcasts a year from all sorts of different venues. Some from our own studios, and some from outside of our studios. We have access to most of this material that we have recorded. So we can talk to artists about releasing them. We have released some things that we have recorded live on a commercial label.
Give me an example.
We did one specifically with John Eliot Gardiner and The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. We did Beethoven (Symphony) #3 and #5. It was a live Carnegie Hall broadcast, and John Elliot really loved the quality of our recording and, of course, the playing of his amazing orchestra. I said, “Hey guys, have you ever released this?” They answered, “It’s funny that you mention it. We haven’t. We have a recording from The Barbican, and now we have your recording. How much would it cost to release this?” And, we negotiated with Carnegie for a pretty modest fee, to be honest, and it was released with our logo and Carnegie’s logo on the back. It’s fantastic. It went out on Soli Deo Gloria which is orchestra’s own label on which he has released all of the Bach cantatas. He has a very extensive discography since he was dropped by Phillips years ago so he releases himself. So this recording is now part of the Soli Deo Gloria label.
The future of any musical genre is with the younger generation. Over the years, we have seen severe cut-backs in music education programs. Nevertheless, you have made steps to address music education as a primary component of WQXR.
You are absolutely right. Focusing on kids and continual learning is really important. It was one of the reasons why we started our (current) instrument drive. It was a direct way for us to answer a significant need in New York in putting working instruments in the hands of New York public school kids. One reason that they don’t play instruments is that they just don’t have them. We wanted to be sure that we could help solve some of that problem by launching the instrument drive. It was very, very successful. Also the other thing that we say to people is, “Put the radio on for kids. The easiest, quickest, and cheapest thing you can do to put music in your kid’s life is just to put on the radio.” We are thinking of more deliberate ways, whether through digital initiatives or others things, to address the issue of engaging kids. We have done broadcasts of youth orchestras, and we have done kids events in the Greene Space. We are thinking about a more deliberate digital strategy that we can address to try and engage kids, as well as adult learners as well.
A recent headline in The Guardian in the UK read, “Parents think classical music is 'elitist' and only listen to pop.”
Well, what does The Guardian know?
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.” Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.