More Questions Raised than Answered

Classical:Next Exhibition Floor

Exhibition floor of Classical:NEXT 2015. Photo courtesy of Eric van Nieuwland

I approached Classical:NEXT 2015 – the trade fair for classical music – at De Doelen, Rotterdam, at the end of May, with an open mind and an open diary. Never having attended the event before (this was its fourth annual edition), I had no idea what to expect. Attending with Martin Anderson, our illustrious leader, it was always going to be nothing short of fascinating: his drive and passion for undiscovered classical works is second to none, his shirts are as ebullient and effervescent as he is, and his multi-lingual skills left me in surprised silence on many occasions.

Jonathan Govias

Jonathan Govias

The first round of meetings and keynote addresses whetted my appetite for what was to come over the next couple of days. We spoke with distributors, musicians, businessmen and -women, representatives of orchestras, record-company executives, digital service providers (DSPs), festival organisers, educators and conductors. One discussion that caught my imagination was with the charming Jonathan Govias, a conductor and educator working principally in the US and Canada with various missions into South America and an expertise in the El Sistema method of enthusing the young with classical-music theory and practice. Our ‘take-away’ from this presentation and discussion was Jonathan’s emphasis on inclusivity, and it got us thinking about how we too might more directly include our customers, musicians and supporters in what we do.

I attended some of the Music Showcases in the evenings and was left in awe of some of the performances. In the past I have worked as both tour-manager and sound-engineer and have witnessed many outstanding performances of soloists, orchestras and bands (Menuhin, Grappelli, Reinhart, Kennedy, Budd, Sakamoto and U2, to name but hundreds) and I have to say that if the showcases of Classical:NEXT 2015 were anything to go by, the world should not worry about the continuation of magnificent music and excellent musicianship. The pianist James Rhodes was an absolute delight – intense in his playing, and charming and self-effacing as a man.

James Rhodes intense playing. Photo courtesy of Eric van Nieuwland

James Rhodes intense playing. Photo courtesy of Eric van Nieuwland

If there was a conclusion to the experience, it was initially some way off in my thoughts. I was once told: ‘At the centre of the golden circle is why’, and so I kept on questioning the validity of my presence at such a gathering, the validity of Toccata Classics in a world full of digital noise and even the validity of music as a business rather than just an art-form. Many presentations and speeches and countless coffees later, I was pretty sure I had my answers.

At the centre of the golden circle is indeed why. Why do we do what we do? What motivates us? What drives us to continue to try and paddle up the creek?

And the answers, after everything, boiled down to one pretty simple response: people. Ultimately, there’s the customer who buys the product; upstream there’s the musician who plays the work and further upstream yet the composer who sank time, expertise and emotion into the music; and somewhere in the process there’s the composer’s family or other individual passionate enough about the music to get it performed and recorded. All these passions are channelled through Martin’s hunger for the undiscovered and the unknown. And for all the upheaval currently on display in the industry, the medium is essentially unimportant – as Martin puts it, ‘Whether it is streamed, played on a CD or performed in a concert hall, this music deserves an audience’.

My job, therefore, is to keep asking why, and keep developing Toccata Classics and Toccata Press as a business and as melting pot of creativity and discovery.


  1. Prompted by Martin’s call to action regarding interacting with the blog: it’s very interesting to hear the basics of what goes on at symposia like Classical:NEXT, etc. But it leads me to a question, which may have an obvious answer to those of you who live and breathe music (but not to me, being a relative outsider by comparison)… How do you get people to record music that the rest of the world is ignoring?! I have had contact with many artists over the years and almost all of them have feigned interest in the repertoire I suggest to them. I know money has a lot to do with it. Is it a case of building relationships, or is it a personality thing, where your enthusiasm and ‘passion’ – for want of a more underused term – shine through in a way that is inescapably infectious? Perhaps this topic deserves its own blog entry for the unitiated?

    • It might indeed be worth a blog posting in its own right. But a short answer goes along the following lines. Musicians earn their incomes from giving concerts. To get noticed by concert-promoters you have to generate some kind of attention. Reviews are the obvious way to do that — and that means CD reviews since if you’re already getting concert reviews, the problem doesn’t arise in the first place. If you don’t already have a name that people will recognise, there’s no point in recording standard repertoire, since — with over 500 CDs being released every month — your chances of standing out are small. The obvious thing to do in those circumstances is to record repertoire that is of interest in its own right.
      At least that’s my logic. What say you musicians?

      • I definitely see the logic there, but I think my question still stands: how do you encourage musicians to record non-standard repertoire, since in many ways the safest option would be for them to do the opposite?
        I’m sure the issue ties in with and is perpetuated by the music school/Conservatoire system, where in the majority of cases (I imagine) the study of non-standard repertoire is not especially encouraged and where the canon of great composers is pushed, to the detriment of other deserving music. This then, hypothetically (or in reality), leads to a musician focusing on the comparatively narrow portfolio of the received music of those great composers already alluded to. Of course that’s not to say that the canon shouldn’t be taught – of course it should, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the fruits of labour of the Bachs, Mozarts, Beethovens, Schuberts, Chopins, Schumanns, Brahmss, etc, etc. But at the same time, haven’t these composers been too dominant for too long?
        Perhaps there are generational and cultural elements to this too, where exposure to the vastness of classical music in existence has suffered due to major historical events such as the wars and repressive regimes we are all aware of. I’m beginning to ramble, but hopefully I’m making some kind of point.
        Do my comments have any shred of truth?
        To echo Martin: what say you musicians?