By now you've heard all about Deutsche Grammophon's swanky new e-commerce web site DG Web Shop, which was launched on Wednesday. Alex Ross reported promising results from an initial test drive. A.C. Douglas quoted part of a TechCrunch article that was helpful regarding nerd specs (320 kbps encoding, DRM free), if not especially informed about the living status of classical music. Tim Rutherford-Johnson and Caleb Deupree also posted valuable perspectives.
I've been playing around with the site since the media preview on Monday, and I have to say that I'm mightily impressed. Indie labels like Naxos and Chandos developed effective web models far earlier, of course. But when you factor in the richness of the DG catalog, smart design and superior sound, Deutsche Grammophon has basically knocked this one out of the park.
Inspired by Alex (and, of course, a recent concert by the Berlin Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall) I chose György Kurtág's Stele for my initial test drive. I decided to download the entire album, which also includes Kurtág's Grabstein für Stephan and Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gruppen.
I first tried to download the album with DG's Download Manager, a Java application that performs a lot like the eMusic Download Manager: once a track has completely downloaded to your hard drive, you can listen to it immediately while the rest of the album continues to download. On my first attempt, everything except Gruppen (the largest file) arrived without any difficulty; I retrieved the missing file via a direct download link from the web site. (A third alternative allows you to download complete albums as zipped files, an option I haven't tested.)
Like Alex, on playback I was blown away by the rich sound. File size is certainly an issue, but so far you can't have it both ways: purists who have long complained about compressed formats will have to get used to sacrificing storage space in order to hear the music in the manner to which they're accustomed.
I made two more purchases on Wednesday, both to continue testing the shop and to bone up on a few pieces I'd be hearing in a concert later that night: Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and Berg's Chamber Concerto.
For the Schoenberg, I opted to buy the complete album for $10.99 -- a massive savings over buying just the single work (21 tracks at $1.29 apiece). I used the Download Manager and got the entire package with no fuss at all. The Berg work was part of a classic album, but I didn't have an immediate need for the three Stravinsky pieces that make up the bulk of its program. I purchased the three Berg tracks individually and downloaded them directly from the web site; again, no problem.
One of the most attractive features of the site has not yet been addressed as far as I can tell: Once you've bought something, it remains permanently on account. Want to download your purchased files to multiple machines? Or perhaps you lost some authorized files in a hardware wipeout? No problem. Sign in, go to "My Downloads," and everything you've paid for is waiting for you.
A DG representative with whom I corresponded via e-mail confirmed that this was indeed the case. But I also proved it for myself. I burned a disc of files downloaded to my office computer to take home on Wednesday, but somehow managed to miss Berg's Chamber Concerto. At home, I logged into my account on the DG site and downloaded those files again, directly into my shiny new laptop. Mission accomplished.
That's no minor detail, but rather a matter of trust that goes above and beyond DRM-free files. To illustrate, if I went over to Alex's palacial abode and signed onto the DG site from his computer, nothing at all would prevent me from "gifting" him all the tracks I've purchased, apart from my own sense of propriety.
At this point, DG is apparently willing to take it on faith that I won't do so. And since they control both the substance of properties I crave as well as access to them, it is presumably in my best interest to play by their rules. There are more than a few things to be learned from this model, I'm sure.
Like Caleb, I'm hoping that Deutsche Grammophon will eventually get around to uploading the genuine rarities in its rich catalog. I'm not exactly holding my breath for the "Avant-Garde" series he and his commentators mention, but I'd love to see some of the not-so-deep archives -- pieces that have actually appeared on CD however briefly, like the complete Henze symphonies and the LaSalle Quartet's recordings -- show up before too long.
Still, the site's initial offering provides fodder for serious contemplation and expenditure. Earlier today I responded to Marc Geelhoed's questionnaire regarding canonical recorded accounts as yet unheard by confessing that I'd never heard Mravinsky's DG recordings of Tchaikovsky's Symphonies Nos. 4-6 with the Leningrad Philharmonic. Thanks to the DG Web Store, that is no longer the case. (I can now firmly state that I still prefer Pletnev's miraculous Virgin Classics account of the "Pathetique" over any other, but I understand the fuss about Mravinsky.)
Michael Tippett - Piano Concerto; Fantasia on a Theme of Handel; Piano Sonata No. 1 - Steven Osborne; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins (Hyperion)
Jonny Greenwood - There Will Be Blood (original soundtrack) (Nonesuch; due Dec. 18)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Symphony No. 40; Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 4* - Elizabeth Schwarzkopf*, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bruno Walter (RN Music)
César Franck - Symphony in D minor; Ernest Chausson - Symphony in B-flat - Liège Philharmonic Orchestra/Louis Langrée (Accord)
Radiohead - In Rainbows (W.A.S.T.E. download)
Fripp & Eno - Beyond Even (1992-2006) (DGM/Opal)
Osvaldo Golijov - Youth without Youth (original soundtrack) (Deutsche Grammophon; due Dec. 11 -- but already available via the DG Web Store)
Dave Douglas and Keystone - Moonshine (Greenleaf download)
Pat Metheny with Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez - Day Trip (Nonesuch; due Jan. 29)
The world grew just a bit dimmer and sadder today with the passing of Tom Terrell, a gifted writer and -- more importantly -- one of the sweetest, most loving human beings it has ever been my privilege to encounter. Tom left us this morning after a long battle with cancer.
A lot of folks were pulling for Tom with good vibes and donations; a benefit concert held in September 2006 here in New York featured performances by Angelique Kidjo, Butch Morris, Coati Mundi, Greg Osby, Kenny Barron, Meshell Ndegeocello, Vernon Reid and others. I wish there was more we could have done, but Tom let everyone know how much it was appreciated.
I hadn't seen or heard from Tom in more than a year when today's news arrived, and I'd give a lot to experience just one more of his warm hugs. You can get some sense of Tom's spirit in a PopMatters column he wrote after attending the funeral of his aunt, jazz icon Shirley Horn, in April 2006, and in a passage from an unfinished memoir on his blog. Tom's college buddy, photographer Jeff the Purple, remembers him here.
Update: Anastasia also remembers those hugs, and -- like Phil Freeman in a comment below -- cites Tom's liner notes for Sony's On the Corner box set.
Having spent the past hour-plus composing a post on my unexpected and amazing weekend rendezvous with Lucy in Houston, only to see my efforts trashed by the fabulosity that is Windows (Vista apparently included), I'm wishing that Nico Muhly's warning had arrived a day or so earlier. Feh.
Which is not to mention that the good Dr. L.P. reminded me -- pretty much as soon as I informed her I'd bought a new Windows machine under duress -- that earlier I'd as much as decided to switch to a Mac at my next opportunity.
Apple. I'm begging. Can't you please bring the prices down just a little? A couple hundred dollars would probably have prevented me from having to type this. Please?
Ending months of speculation among intense, balding, bespectacled* not-so-young men, the new King Crimson lineup was finally confirmed this week on DGMLive, Robert Fripp's website. In addition to Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto, about whom we've known for quite a long time now, drummer Gavin Harrison was announced as a fifth (and final?) member on Monday.
(*I'm not personally bespectacled, but still…)
If you're not a prog-head like me, Frank J. Oteri and Henry Holland, none of the rest of this will make sense, and you can probably stop reading right here.
If you're saying to yourself, "King Crimson? They're still around?," the band's MySpace page offers a few examples of what the most recent incarnation sounded like. (At the moment the site also has a scorching live version of "The Sailor's Tale" recorded in Denver in March 1972: a great illustration of that version of King Crimson doing what it did best.)
Harrison is probably best known for his work with Porcupine Tree, a neo-prog band with which Fripp has had frequent connections on CD and live recently. Harrison also played on The Bruised Romantic Glee Club, a strong recent solo album by singer-guitarist Jakko Jakszyk -- whose own Crimson connection stemmed from his membership in the 21st Century Schizoid Band, a now-inactive group of Crimson veterans.
This new quintet lineup (assumed there are no further members to be announced, which seems unlikely) will be playing a four-night run at Chicago's Park West in August 2008, in preparation for a 40th-anniversary world tour in 2009. Fans who might have been wishing for a few veteran members to return to the fold on so auspicious an occasion should have known better: Fripp has almost never taken an interest in revisiting past Crimson incarnations, or even much of the band's back catalog.
Time to start working on an excuse to be in Chicago next August, I think.
Meanwhile, in the "what a surprise" category, Eddie Jobson has announced that the live premiere of UKZ, his new quintet with former King Crimson touch-guitar player Trey Gunn (about which I blogged here; scroll down), has been postponed indefinitely. A statement from Jobson was circulated on Monday:
"With the escalating union strikes, Los Angeles is a precarious place to stage a major event right now. There is a ripple effect that impacts the whole community. Furthermore, the album is still a few months away from release and we decided it would be better if more people knew our music ahead of time. Both issues have factored into the decision."
Newly added to the blogroll are Classicalive, Brian Hinrich's fresh reportage of classical-music life from both eastern and western perspectives in Bangkok -- which doesn't need my help racking up fresh visits since hitmeister nonpareil Alex Ross mentioned it first -- and Urban Modern, New York oboist James Roe's lively site. Look for both among the Players, bottom right.
A bit of silence is most likely in store here: after tomorrow's workload, I'm heading to Houston, where it seems that not much will be happening for the duration of my family visit through Monday morning. (Please do correct me if I'm wrong.) Meanwhile, don't miss this deeply informed, exactingly shaded New York Timesreview by Nate Chinen of Monday night's show by Brazilian genius Caetano Veloso at the Nokia Theatre.
Bernard Holland earns his share of both hosannas and brickbats amongst the bloggerati. It is far from my place to judge, but I am gladly willing to state in this most public of forums that I hope to one day write a piece of criticism as insightful and incisive as this review of Friday night's Berlin Philharmonic concert.
Mr. Holland -- I employ that usage not according to the Times style guide, but out of utmost respect -- can at his best write rings around us all. Here is proof.