What’s “Classical:NEXT”? In short: it’s the independent classical music label’s MIDEM. It’s the outgrowth of collective disgruntlement with the music industry’s dominant trade fair where classical music had become a tolerated afterthought. CLASS, the association for classical independent labels in Germany (read: Musikproduktion Dabringhaus & Grimm), banked on the dissatisfaction of Cannes in February, crowded expensive hotels, and increasingly high participation fees and opted instead for Munich in May (May 30 – June 2), a winning proposition right there.
With the experienced WOMEX team behind them, Munich’s accessibility, the Gasteig (Munich’s ugly and convenient behemoth cultural center) at their hands, and a little official city funding garnered by making sufficiently believable the whole thing was a partly public affair, Classical:NEXT was off to a promising start. The real stroke of genius was to have Naxos’ 25th anniversary celebration take place as part of it. Naxos’s Global Logistics arm and Naxos Germany are headquartered in Kirchheim just north-east of Munich (Martin Anderson, critic and head of Toccata Classics suggests that “stepping into [NGL’s] warehouse is barely less breath-taking than entering Chartres Cathedral”), which made it sensible to have the main bash for Klaus Heymann’s 75th and Naxos 25th birthday held there. Conveniently Nicolas Soames’ impeccably researched label-hagiography was released just in time by Piatkus Books to be presented alongside the birthday cake.
Naxos’ invitation ensured that Classical:NEXT’s “start-up edition” (as the American expat Jennifer Dautermann – project manager and platitudinist-in-chief – did not tire to call it every opportunity given) had the critical mass of visitors its first year that instant success was a given. Seven hundred registered delegates, well over a third from abroad, made absence from Classical:NEXT look conspicuous. It led Richard Winter – proprietor of continental Europe’s oldest record shop, head of the clever Gramola label, and one of the very first distributors of Naxos – to suggest that after its first year Classical:NEXT had already passed the MIDEM in importance for classical labels.
Based on quantity alone, the future of the fair is ensured for at least a few years to come, which gives time and a little peace of mind to work out the organizational kinks that will take it from an unmissable networking event to something more pertinent yet… Something with better and more focused panel discussions (nods to Carnegie Hall and the Bavarian State Opera who stood out positively with their presentation on the use of new media and social networking), a greater variety of better integrated, briefer artists’ concerts (“showcases”), and actual utilizations of the public – the alleged, but ultimately ignored object of everyone’s desire in reaching.
Presuming the Department of Arts and Culture of the City of Munich plays ball, the dates Classical:NEXT 2013 will be announced soon, which would be good news for me, too, because it would mean I could get another Classical:WEISSWURST gathering next year, the informal Bavarian breakfast-gathering of dear friends and acquaintances that I could otherwise never all find in one place at a time.
Dotted throughout the three days were recitals and “artists’ showcases” and Naxos 25th Anniversary Concert. Attempting to emphasize the “Classical” but of the fair’s name, the opening concert featured Eldar Nebolsin, a Naxos artist (with a foray to Oehms and an ancient debut disc on Decca) with an Antonio Soler Sonata (I wrote down “#78”, but it was more likely the Scarlattiesque Sonata No.87 in g-minor) and sewing-machine Bach. Tianwa Yang, Naxos’ violinist for all things Sarasate, showed her chops in the Jacques Thibaud-dedicated Second Ysaÿe Sonata for Solo Violin. Unfortunately she butchered the opening pauses, as if they weren’t an essential part of the music, and the pizzicatos were awfully unimaginative. Toward the end did she forced the work off her instrument with aggressive approximation that hinted at something titillating to come.
If Barbara Kozelj were as good an instrumentalist as she is a mezzo soprano, everyone would have admired her skill and choice of repertoire in those six, seven Joseph Joachim Raff songs. But unfortunately Lied-singing is tough and often unrewarding and a very good, achingly sincere, stilted rendition just doesn’t cut the mustard. Florian Uhlig, the young pianist that hänssler Classic is currently unleashing on Schumann, finally made an instant impression of total professionalism. Schumann’s Abegg Variations were pretty good already, but the Jubilee-appropriate “Rule Britannia Variations” by Beethoven, played to the hilt, wowed everyone in the crowd of professional listeners.
For the Naxos Anniversary Concert, Nebolsin found himself more at home in deliberate, well articulated, very decent Rachmaninoff (D-major Prelude op.23/4) and Chopin. Thomas E. Bauer’s seven songs from Schumann’s Dichterliebe – accompanied by Uta Hielscher – were a different caliber than Miss Kozelj’s go at Lied repertoire, but the baritone didn’t knock one out of the park until the very well mastered, perilous “Ich grolle nicht”. Miss Yang was back and now she continued on the good note where she had left off the day before, getting a movement from Ysaÿe’s Third Sonata (the one dedicated to George Enescu) plenty right and dazzling with great tone, plenty character, rock-solid intonation, and virtuosity in her home-field, Sarasate.
The closing concert, in symmetry to the opening recital, meant to suggest the “NEXT” bit and programmed new music. First a selection of John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes put together and performed by composer-pianist Moritz Eggert. What a treat, these endlessly fascinating witty spunky little creatures. If Scarlatti’s sonatas were “Happy Freaks” in Charles Burney’s time, Cages’ deserve the coy title today. Perfectly enjoyable, perfectly sensical they splendidly undermined the stereotype of Cage, so often dismissed in a quip about silence. You can hear that for Cage, as every honest composer, the impulse for composition is primarily a communicative and musical one. Eggert dipped the ears, who had just listened to James Jolly give a heartening and compassionately brief closing address, right into the midst of this joyous music.
Joyous is decidedly not the primary quality of Ernst Krenek’s Symphonic Music op.11, but as performed by the Munich’s Orchestra Jakobsplatz – a lively, craggy ensemble that excels in its director Daniel Grossmann’s clever programming – it conveyed musical joy via a sense of the uninhibited. It nearly cloaked the delicious irony that the “NEXT” of classical music apparently consists of composers who have been decomposing for an average of 20.5 years. Classical Music. Up next: Death!
Then again, in a environment where audiences still think of 140-year-old Schoenberg as modern, the charitable response is “We know what you mean!” So why not Cage and Krenek, who combine for a mere 202 years.*
Edit 6/11/12: Jennifer Dautermann feels compelled to point out that the final, third part of the closing concert with the Quartet New Generation (QNG) featured works by Moritz Eggert, Michiel Mensingh, Fulvio Caldini, and Wojciech Blecharz. Recent works and by composers she (rightly) "suspect[s] ... are still very much alive and kicking."