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The Little Match Girl Passion / The Record Industry

David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion, which won the Pulitzer last year, was released today on a  Harmonia Mundi recording.  Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices, who co-commissioned the piece with Carnegie Hall, perform the piece beautifully, and there are nice details in this studio recording that were only hinted at in the live recording which Carnegie Hall made available after the premiere.  You can hear streaming audio here, buy through Amazon here, or support the evil iTunes empire here.

My most devoted fans (hi Mom!) will remember that I interviewed David about Match Girl, the Pulitzer, and other things last November.

But as glad as I am that this gorgeous piece is finally available, I can’t pass up the opportunity to use it to illustrate a serious problem with the industry as a whole.  Match Girl was premiered at Carnegie Hall on October 25, 2007.  It won the Pulitzer in April, 2008.  The world had to wait more than a year and a half after the premiere, and an entire Pulitzer cycle came and went before a studio recording was released.  The problem is mitigated somewhat by the fact that Carnegie Hall has had the live recording available for streaming on its website, but not everything gets that treatment.  Newsweek was able to get exclusive permission to stream Steve Reich’s Double Sextet for a week or so after it won the Pulitzer this year, but in Seth Colter’s accompaning interview he asks Reich when a Double Sextet recording will be released and Reich says “Yeah, that’s just part of the recording business. When you have a 24-minute piece, the official recording hinges on finishing and recording two other pieces to go with it [on a CD]. I’m working on two other pieces right now, and have to finish writing the second one, actually. I’ve got a piece for all rock-and-roll people already completed, and it’s going to premiere later this year.”  In the meantime, as far as I know there’s no legal way to hear a recording of the whole of Double Sextet.

I don’t mean to point fingers.  The massive delays between premiere and recording are endemic to the industry as a whole, and I’m not blaming David Lang, or Paul Hillier, or Harmonia Mundi, or Steve Reich, or Eighth Blackbird, or Naxos.  We all own this problem, and we should really find a way to solve it.

Okay, rant ended.  Go buy and/or listen to Match Girl.  And while you’re at it, I recommend accidentally playing the Double Sextet clip on Reich’s MySpace page and the “When it is time for me to go” section of Match Girl at the same time.  Play the Reich twice in a row for the full effect.

Comments

Comment from zeno
Time: June 9, 2009, 5:27 pm

Thanks for the update, Galen. I recall listening to Lang’s ‘Little Match Girl Passion’ on the Carnegie Hall site over a year ago, and I’d like to relisten to it.

As to your post’s theme, I remember being very pleasantly surprised to see the large number of recent contemporary classical works available for auditioning on the Carnegie Hall site, alongside the Lang prize-winning work.

I can’t recall whether you have also directed people to the other audio-streams on the same site, works by:

Adams, John ›
Adler, Christopher ›
Assad, Clarice ›
Bruce, David ›
Carter, Ryan ›
Clyne, Anna ›
Kalhor, Kayhan ›
Karpman, Laura ›
Kopelman, Aviya ›
Lam, Angel ›
Lang, David ›
Lauer, Johannes ›
Lena Frank, Gabriela ›
Muhly, Nico ›
Pintscher, Matthias ›
Reich, Steve ›
Riley, Gyan ›
Roumain, Daniel Bernard ›
Rzewski, Frederic ›
Sheng, Bright ›
Vrebalov, Aleksandra ›
Ward-Bergeman, Michael ›
Ziporyn, Evan ›

(Alas, no Birtwistle Cortege.)

Thanks again.

Comment from Galen H. Brown
Time: June 9, 2009, 5:56 pm

The fact that Carnegie is posting those recordings is really great, and they deserve a lot of credit for it. I hope other venues will follow their example, and that ensembles will do the same. But I suspect part of the reason that more organizations don’t is that they’re afraid of eating into the already small returns they stand to get from sales of the recording, which is understandable. If that’s the case, then they need to release the recording sooner!

I’m sure there are all sorts of problems that get in the way of what I’d like to see, and I don’t pretend to know what they all are. But I can’t imagine that they’re insurmountable.

Comment from Joe Phillips
Time: June 9, 2009, 6:18 pm

I also remember hearing Little Match Girl on the Carnegie web site and checking out streams of others but I do look forward to getting the recording.

As far as the time it takes to get the recording done, with the way things are in the recording industry maybe we are moving backwards towards the “single” again. Certainly it would be easier to get a single work recorded and sold as a download only on the composer’s (or record company’s) site, sort of like the olden days of 45’s or 78’s. While it still means getting together the performers, financing, etc. at least you won’t run into the problem Steve Reich talks about trying to get the Double Sextet released.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: June 9, 2009, 10:40 pm

See the red ad at the top of the left sidebar? Click on it and it will take you to all the Carnegie Hall online musical goodies .

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: June 9, 2009, 11:15 pm

They still think in yerms of CDs as the big money and ‘official’ prestige. There’s absolutely no reason both works couldn’t have been recorded exactly like they were, and sold as downloads at iTunes, eMuisc etc… Except that they’re afraid very few would purchase the CD when it finally did arrive. While that’s no doubt true, there’s another entire set of benefits that follow from embracing rather than rejecting the new paradigm. The other reason is that the whole world of commerce in recorded classical music (and most of other genres as well) is totally geared to the ‘album': a certain package designed, catalogued, marketed and accounted as a discrete ‘product’.

Comment from lawrencedillon
Time: June 10, 2009, 7:45 am

Everything you guys are saying is true, but here are two further considerations:

1. Scheduling. The Pulitzer is announced in March. At that point, someone has to coordinate schedules with all the musicians, a recording engineer and a recording space. (Remember, we’re talking about a piece that was premiered 3 to 15 months before the announcement) Given the way musicians’ schedules tend to work, it’s often tough to find a day all of these elements could line up in less than six months. After the recording session, the engineer has to make a first edit and send it around for approval, getting feedback from the composer, each musician (if it’s a chamber piece) and/or the conductor. Given the varying speeds at which people tend to respond to these kinds of things, add another 3 months. Then the producer is charged with making sense of all the feedback and adjusting accordingly.
2. Cost. Hiring the musicians, renting space, renting instruments (eg piano), hiring a piano tuner, and an engineer – it all adds up. A 30-minute piece for a medium-sized ensemble can easily run $10,000. If a grant is being applied for to help with the cost, add another six months. Even if there is no grant process involved, the money doesn’t just magically appear, it has to be allocated, cajoled, squeezed, whatever. That takes time.

The solution? Choose the Pulitzer winner, but don’t announce it for another year, until you are able to produce a recording. But I prefer the way things are done now. I can wait.

Comment from Galen H. Brown
Time: June 10, 2009, 11:32 am

Lawrence-

Very good points, which are precisely why I’m not holding any specific people or organizations responsible for the problem. And this isn’t just a Pulitzer-winner problem–Pultizer just makes for some extra clear examples.

But again, I suspect there’s a solution out there that could be made to work. Could the recording session for a piece that’s going to be recorded anyway be done during the rehearsal period before the premiere? Double Sextet had to run recording sessions anyway, because they needed to pre-record the second sextet. And the 2x6tet MySpace clip sounds like it might be a studio recording anyway, in which case Naxos is just sitting on it.

I don’t have a solution to the money problem, and I’m not sure how it works. I suspect some of the money for the studio recording is raised on the basis of the recording of the premiere which gets shopped around to potential funders. If so, that’s a significant hurdle. On the other hand, changing the recording schedule and process might create efficiency gains that make it cheaper.

Anyway, I don’t claim to have the right solution, I just want to try to get the people who are in a position to work on solving the problem to be thinking about it. I’m glad to see some good discussion here :)

Comment from Ed Lawes
Time: June 10, 2009, 6:10 pm

My 2 pence: I agree about the CD being something of an antiquated format, it seems crazy that projects are delayed or not considered because of a poor fit with the ‘album’ concept.

I buy more single pieces/tracks than whole albums, especially as some albums have more than one composer on them, or pieces from various periods in one composer’s catalogue (the album seems more of a popular music concept to me, especially post-Beatles and Beach Boys etc, i.e. a collection of songs written/designed around the LP format.)

I can’t comment on the economic arguments for and against single pieces versus full albums but it seems the ‘industry’ is out of step with the consumer if they are intent on sticking with the CD/album format (audio quality isn’t really an issue, use a lossless format, also artwork and liner notes shouldn’t be either, include a digital copy with the DL.)

Comment from Jack Curtis Dubowsky
Time: December 5, 2009, 4:04 am

It’s concert music. It’s meant to be heard in concert. What’s all this about CDs and iTunes and streams and what not? Pacific Mozart Ensemble just performed the west coast premiere of Little Match Girl Passion tonight at the Green Room, and you could have walked up and bought a ticket.

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: December 5, 2009, 8:14 pm

Great for San Francisco, Jack, but what about Redding, Yreka, Yuba City, Casper WY, Taos NM, Missoula MT, etc… And even in San Francisco, if you were to rely on concert performances only, how many opportunities would you expect to hear Lang’s piece again over the years?

I suspect that most of us who’ve grown up this past half-century have a great body of well-loved music, that we’ve both never heard performed live, and quite possibly never will. It may be concert music, but the reality is that recordings are indispensable for reaching all those not favored by geography, and for keeping the work alive in the decades that follow.