Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Copyright extension uh-oh

Official silence, plus rumours, according to Christian Engström.
The interpretation of the various rules of procedure in the EU are pretty much a mystery even to people who have spent years trying to understand them, and I am certainly not one of those people.

Pass the salt

In the latest American Record Guide, Steven J Haller reviews a reissue from Regis:
This Dukas program from Jean Fournet and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic was originally a Denon CD (Nov/Dec 1993) and comes with its own review on the back, courtesy of the Penguin Guide: "amongst the best... second to none... marvellously expansive yet well-focused recording... deserves a strong recommendation".
That's why you need to take so many Penguin Guide huzzahs with a grain of salt.
And there it is: the Science of criticism. The Penguin Guide really liked this CD; Haller did not; therefore we must not trust the Penguin Guide. And the basis for this argument is... uh, I dunno. The implication is that the means by which Haller assesses the worth of a CD is more objective or empirical than that used by the Penguin Guide. We saw this a couple of posts below with Dudamel's Mahler 2 - one guy liked it and the other didn't, so clearly the one guy had a hidden agenda.
Obviously I don't object to the differences of opinion. It's when "I liked it and you didn't" gets mutated into "I'm right and you're wrong" that I start to shake my head sadly. Yes, if one party is an expert and the other's clueless (eg, Ebert vs Transformers fans), then one can be righter than the other, but that's not the scenario we've got here.
And it doesn't take long to find an example to illustrate the silliness of the situation. Haller included on his 2010 Critics' Choice list a Chandos release of Johan Halvorsen's Symphony no.1 and other orchestral works, conducted by Neeme Jarvi. He described the symphony as "a warm-hearted and sweeping performance that will have you wondering "Where has this symphony been all my life?"" Whereas over at Fanfare, James A Altena listened to the same disc and said of the symphony "It is pleasantly tuneful, thoroughly undemanding, and decidedly inconsequential throughout its 35-minute compass, and nothing more need be said of it". Of course, what he did not say was "That's why you need to take so many Steven J Haller huzzahs with a grain of salt".
"But Nereffid", I hear you thunder, "you have to admit the Penguin Guide isn't all it's cracked up to be, and we really do need to take their reviews with a grain of salt".
Well, quite. We need to take everyone's reviews with a grain of salt.
Including our own.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Don't buy Katherine Jenkins's new album! (Really!)

She says so herself:
Katherine Jenkins has urged fans not to buy her new album.
The classical singer claims her former record label Universal has put together a compilation of old material and doesn't want her loyal followers to purchase songs they already have.
Katherine - who quit the label in 2008 to sign a huge £5.8 million deal with rivals Warner Brothers - tweeted: "Universal Records are putting out YET ANOTHER compilation album of my music.
"Considering I haven't recorded for them since 2008 it's stuff you already have."
She later told fans: "Don't want you to feel conned."
Katherine instead urged her fans to buy Warner album 'Daydream' as it features "all newly-recorded tracks".
She added: "Make sure you get the right one!"
Just to be on the safe side, I'll buy neither.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

8tracks mix: Awards 2010, part VI

8tracks has been screwing around with its embedding process again, it seems. Anyway, here's the Opera and Opera Recital winners and runners-up from way back in January.

Did you even attend the same concert?

I can't remember now why it was that I decided I didn't want to watch Gustavo Dudamel's Mahler 2 with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra when it was on TV. I just wasn't in the mood at the time. Oh, I wish I had seen it now, just so I could have an opinion about it. Yes, I am late to this story but I was on holidays for a couple of weeks. I think BBC Four might be showing it again on Sunday, but how can I approach it objectively now, seeing as I already know it was rubbish or brilliant, depending on who I believe.
This is a great one for the whole debate over the value of criticism. Dudamel seems to divide critics, as there is a lot of media enthusiasm about him that some feel may not be justified, but at the same time it may be drawing new audiences into classical music, which is good, but then again maybe it's at the expense of other more talented musicians, but then again maybe Dudamel is actually a cut above the rest and... It's quite a dilemma, I'm sure you'll agree. So you can adopt any one of several stances regarding Dudamel. Not just "he's totally overhyped" but "he shows great promise that hasn't yet been fulfilled", or "he's doing too much too soon", or "OMG he's so wonderful I want his babies and he makes me want to MAMBO!!1!" From a Nereffid's Guide point of view, perhaps in terms of reviews of his recordings he doesn't fare any better or worse than any other young conductor, but he seems to be scrutinized that little bit more, by both supporters and detractors, and so opinions are a little stronger. Anything you say about Dudamel has to be done in the context of justifying your opinion of him. So if you don't like his new CD, this supports your claim that he's overhyped, or explains why you're ambivalent about his success; if you like it, well, that proves you were right to think he's a great conductor, or helps to resolve some of your ambivalence. What it boils down to for Dudamel is that he's unlikely to win a Nereffid's Guide Award anytime soon.
Anyway, back to the Mahler concert at the Proms. The Guardian's Guy Dammann gave the performance five stars, prompting accusations of editorial bias from Pliable at On An Overgrown Path, who cited Geoff Brown's "curate's egg" review as a more accurate reflection of reality. (Incidentally, when claiming "consensus", are you allowed cite just one thing? And can you claim to be "at" a concert if you were in fact listening to it at home on the radio?) Me, I'm a little suspicious of both reviews, not being familiar with either reviewer: Dammann's a little too gushy, Brown's rather too smug. Dammann acquitted himself well in response to Pliable, though:
Finally, you ask in your last comment for balanced Guardian articles about Dudamel. I would argue that my article is balanced, but I think what you mean is an article expressing only moderate enthusiasm.
Indeed. If only everyone thought exactly the same way I do, there would be no bias!
As you might expect from comments about an opinion expressed on the Internet, the comments on Dammann's review generate plenty heat and sod-all light, but I love this one:
Well, I enjoyed it anyway - just as well I know nothing about music, otherwise I guess, from comments above, I might not have enjoyed it half as much.
That is pretty much the official Les Introuvables de Nereffid policy on responding to all musical performances.

Monday, August 1, 2011

They're listening

In my inbox this morning, from EMI Classics:

We're Listening!

The BPI (British Phonographic Industry) is conducting a consumer survey on behalf of UK classical recorded music companies which will help us understand more about our customers and classical music lovers in general.

The survey should take you no longer than 10 minutes to complete and you can enter a competition to win an iPod Touch.

[After a few preliminary personal questions such as age we get to the meaty stuff]

5. How often do you buy classical recordings on either CD or download?
Usually 5 times a month or more
Usually 3 or 4 times a month
Usually 1 or 2 times a month
A few times a year
Once or twice a year

6. When buying classical recordings, which of the following factors do you consider the MOST important
Record label
Other (please specify)

7. Which retailers do you buy classical music from?
(Please tick all that apply)
Specialist independent music shops
Online CD store (Amazon, Play, MDT, Presto etc)
Digital download store (iTunes, eMusic, Amazon MP3 etc)
Amazon Marketplace
CDs from record label websites
Downloads from record label websites
Other (please specify)

8. In the past year have you bought classical music as a gift for someone else on any of these occasions?
(Please tick all that apply)
Mother's Day
Father's Day
Valentine's Day
Wedding Anniversary
Other Religious Festivals
Other (please specify)

9. How do you buy your classical music?
Digital downloads only
CDs only
CDs and digital downloads

10. What proportion of your classical music spending is accounted for by digital downloads?

11. Which digital download stores do you buy classical music from?
(Please tick all that apply)
Amazon MP3
HMV Digital
Record label sites
Other (please specify)

12. Please look at these statements about digital music and tell us how strongly you agree or disagree with each
Digital downloads are convenient to buy
Digital downloads are good value for money
I like to create my own playlists
I buy fewer classical compilation albums since I started downloading music
I would like to get better digital artwork and sleevenotes when buying downloads
The sound quality of recordings is important to me
The sound quality of downloads are usually very good

13. Have you ever downloaded an album in a 'high quality' digital format such as FLAC or AIFF?
Don't know

14. Please look at these statements about high quality digital formats and say whether you agree or disagree
I always try to buy downloads on 'high quality' formats
The sound quality is noticably better than other downloads
I wish high quality formats were available for all classical music
I am more likely to buy a high-quality format for classical music than I am for other types of music
It is worth spending a bit more money for 'high quality' formats

15. Which radio stations do you listen to? (tick all that apply)

16. Do you use any of the following social networking sites?

17. Please tell us which of these devices you own, or have access to in your household (please tick all that apply)
[iPhones, iPads, HDTV, that sort of thing]

18. Please indicate which, if any of the following online services you use to listen to classical music (please tick all that apply)
Last FM
Naxos Music Library
None of these
Other (please specify)

19. You say that you use streaming services to listen to classical music. [No I didn't, I said I used YouTube] Please take a look at these statements and let us know how strongly you agree or disagree with each one.
I think the selection of classical music on streaming services is good
I often find it difficult to find the classical music I want to listen to on streaming services
Streaming services help me to discover new classical artists and recordings I am unfamiliar with
Using streaming services means I don’t spend as much money on classical recordings as I used to
If there was a streaming service that specialised in classical music, I would be interested in paying a monthly subscription fee to use it

20. Do you listen to music on your mobile phone through apps or services such as Spotify?

21. On average, how many classical music concerts do you attend per year (including ballet and opera)?

22. Do you ever buy CDs of the performing artist or the music performed when attending classical concerts?
Yes, I often buy CDs when at classical music concerts
Yes, I occasionally buy CDs when at classical music concerts
I have only bought CDs at classical music concerts on one or two occasions
No, I choose not to buy CDs when at a classical music concert
No, but I would be interested if they were available

23. In the past year, have you attended any of the following?
(Please tick all that apply)
An outdoor concert of classical music
An opera screened at a cinema
A school concert of classical music
BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Glastonbury festival
Any other non-classical music festival (eg Reading, V, Latitude, Cambridge Folk Festival)
None of these

24. Which of these television programmes have you watched in the last 12 months? (Please tick all that apply)
Classic BRITs
Popstar to Operastar
New Years Day Concert From Vienna
Classical music TV programmes on BBC 3
The Culture Show
BBC Proms
BBC Cardiff Singer of the Year
Classical music on Sky Arts
None of them

25. Would you like to see more classical music programmes on TV?

26. What sort of classical music programmes would you like to see more of?
Please tick all that apply
Concerts and recitals
Documentaries / interviews
Review programmes
Broad based arts programmes
Other (please specify)

27. What type of classical music do you prefer to listen to most?
Other (please specify)

28. Which period of music is your favourite
Baroque (examples of composers include Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Purcell)
Classical (examples of composers include Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn)
Romantic (examples of composers include Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Bruch)
Contemporary (examples of composers include John Cage, Philip Glass, Stravinsky, Walton)
Don't know

29. Which other types of music do you listen to?
Which other types of music do you listen to?
Easy Listening
None - I just listen to Classical music

30. Which of these publications, websites and radio shows do you find useful in finding out about classical music releases?
(Please tick all that apply)
BBC Music Magazine
BBC Music website
BBC Radio 3 CD Review programme
BBC Radio 3 In Tune Classical Chart programme
Broadsheet newspapers
Classic FM Chart show
Classic FM magazine
Classic FM website
Classic FM's New CD Show
From online retailer websites
Gramophone Magazine
Gramophone website
Review websites
Other (please specify)

31. .....and which of these publications, websites and radio shows do you find the MOST USEFUL of all in finding out about classical music releases?
(Please tick only one)
[Same list as above]

32. Please tell us who your favourite classical composer is
Bach, C P E
Bach, J S
Franck, C
Rimsky Korsakov
Strauss, J, II
Strauss, R
Vaughan Williams
Other (please specify)

And that's it. Staggeringly, on those questions where they provided the option "Other (please specify)", they didn't provide a button to tick, so if your preferred answer was a write-in one, you first had to choose a "wrong" answer". How stupid is that? I berated them in one of the "please specify" boxes.
What of the questions themselves? The technology- and purchasing-related questions are sensible enough, and no doubt will be used to justify some future decisions. Given that they don't know how to properly design a survey, can we be hopeful that they understand that participant recruitment via email produces an inherent bias in any of the questions that relate to the web?
Leaving aside the "Other (please specify)" snafu, questions 27 and 28 are pretty stupid (are you allowed call it "borderline retarded"?). Undoubtedly there are people who prefer opera above all else, but could the survey designers not countenance the possibility that I might like two or more genres equally? If I say I prefer Chamber music, what does this say about my interest in Piano music? Yes, I know the British are "first past the post" people, but still. And why give Early music as an option of the kind of music you prefer, but omit it from the list of musical periods you prefer? And you've got to love that catch-all "Contemporary", haven't you? Of the, erm, highly disparate Cage, Stravinsky, Glass and Walton, Glass is the only one who's been alive for the last 19 years.
Will the BPI learn anything useful from this survey, ultimately? It would be nice to think that a large majority of respondents will disagree with the statement "Digital downloads are good value for money" and that the industry will act accordingly. It would be even better if a large majority of respondents chose Telemann as their favourite composer. Think of the implications!