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ICA Classics: Full service for an intelligent market

img  Tobias Fischer

I've often wondered why the DVD didn't take off more than it did in the classical world – it seems a medium all but tailor-made for the genre.
I very much believe in the DVD. I go back to the fact that when you hear music at a concert hall, opera house or on television, you’re both listening to and watching a performance. A key element is the interaction between the artist, the music and the performance itself, and whether we like it or not, there is a visual element to interpretation and certainly a visual element to performance.
To a generation who has never seen or heard live performances of artists such as Toscanini or Richter, having the opportunity to watch such historical performances on DVD adds another dimension to their effect. If you can see Toscanini conducting then you are immediately in a more visceral relationship with the artist. The critical element is that it is well filmed, a prime example being the DVDs of Claudio Abbado at the Lucerne Festival as directed by Michael Beyer.

Before focusing on ICA, you ran IMG Artists Europe, working on a variety of musical and audio-visual projects. When did the awareness first manifest itself that these activities were directly related to the business of managing a musician's career?
From 1971 onwards and at the beginning of my career as an artist manager, the majority of the artists I represented were pianists, violinists and conductors, including John Eliot Gardiner, Neville Marriner, Mariss Jansons, and Yuri Temirkanov. At that time - and still in most artists’ minds today - one of the most important areas for an artist was his or her recording contract, which was seen as integrally linked to their concert career, their repertoire and so on. Then in the early 1990s I began a parallel career making and producing films and documentaries on classical musicians for television, DVD and the internet. Over time it became very clear to me that the audio-visual side is as important in an artist’s career as the audio side, and that the music industry is nowadays as much an audio-visual as an audio medium. Therefore expertise in these two areas should be an integral part of what an artists’ agency should be offering today: A mixture of a deeply personal service - tailored to each artist’s individual style and management - whilst providing expertise in all areas of their career, including the audio and audio-visual sides. This offering is quite rare as managing itself is already such a full-time job. However having been in the music industry for a long time now, I have come to the conclusion that all these services should be combined and offered by a first-class artist management agency.

How will this new style of interaction work in practise?
The idea behind the CD and DVD label is this: apart from my great personal interest and career to-date in organising the issuing of historic live recordings - as, for instance, co-founder of archive label BBC Legends, I truly believe that our label will act as a support service for our artists. This means that I discuss with each and every one of our artists which audio and TV recordings they feel show them at their best, and we then go through the process of clearing and producing these recordings for worldwide distribution.
For example I had a discussion with Antoni Wit, one of our conductors who is Music Director of the Warsaw Philharmonic, when he told me that he thought Polish TV had made a particularly good film of his performance of the Szymanowski Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4. These are not the type of works likely to be picked up by a commercial DVD company today, as they are not commercially attractive repertoire. However Antoni felt they showed him at his best as an artist, and therefore as his representatives we saw it as our job to make these available to the world. Likewise, we have just released the DVD of Hartmut Haenchen conducting Mahler’s 6th Symphony, which was specifically chosen by the artist. 

I am often under the impression that performing musicians, rather than the large traditional networks, are frequently the best distributors of their own music. Is this something which has influenced your approach in any way?
No, I don’t think that it should be the artists’ responsibility to distribute their own performances. However a good agency should empower its artists and give them a considerable voice when it comes to making artistic decisions as to which performances and repertoire should be released. It is then the agency’s job to go through all the necessary processes, such as design, packaging, putting together sleeve notes, and so on, to market and distribute the performances successfully. 

But we are moving away from the old label-concept and towards record companies which are more open and work within a variety of fields ...
Yes I think we are moving away from the old label concept. The reasons for publishing DVDs and CDs now are predominantly artistically-driven, as the commercial results are more and more difficult for large companies to justify economically. At ICA we have a small, dedicated in-house team, taking care of the creative, artistic and rights side of things, whilst we partner with, in my view, the best distribution company, Naxos, and for production, White Label. 

You really seem to believe in the art of personal interpretation.
Our releases are hand-picked and we’re not at all in the business of bulk or volume. We’re in the business of choosing each release carefully on the assumption that there exists a demand from an intelligent market with sound musical judgement. We hope that people will see that our label has a sense of artistic integrity and therefore sales will naturally follow; that “quality will out”. That’s our philosophy and our hope.   

When do you see live internet streaming making its breakthrough?
It’s already making its breakthrough and indeed it plays a very important role in the future of classical music. From its inception, ICA has been involved in what I believe is the finest streaming platform for classical music in the world; ICA has an agreement with whereby we represent them outside France and thereby handle a number of the high quality streamings of their 80+ live events per year. has developed an audience throughout 208 countries - and over the period of only two to three months that the performances stay on their free streaming web site - of over 100,000 in terms of average audience figures.  This is a substantial number which is also increasing rapidly.

Artists today are, in a way, constantly in competition with a virtually overwhelming amount of fantastic interpretations. Do you nonetheless see the chance of a “legends” collection in twenty years from now including some recordings from the new millennium?

This is a difficult question to answer as there is a certain aura around the great artists of the past, despite the fact that some of the performances would not be considered to be absolutely first class - in terms of polish - by today’s exacting standards. Today there is a wide range of outstandingly talented artists around – but the challenge exists in knowing just how many of these are going to remain at the top of their profession for fifty years, as did artists such as Menuhin, Arrau, or Rubinstein. There was something in the way that all of these great artists of the past were allowed to develop musically, notably at a slower pace than the music business of today now demands. It can therefore be difficult to determine the artistic development and the lasting power of some of today’s young artists. 
Having said all of that, I would still answer yes, I do see a “Legends” collection in twenty years from now including recordings from the new millennium.

Homepage: ICA Classics

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