Already a leader in the digital marketing of classical music, Universal Classics is guiding orchestras into the download age with its new "DG Concerts" series, which rolls out March 28 on iTunes.
The first two orchestras to partner in the initiative are the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Both are teaming up with Universal's Deutsche Grammophon label to issue four digital-only albums per concert season, along with potentially one physical disc per year, recorded at live concerts.
Each title carries a $9.99 suggested retail price for the full digital album, although consumers also may download an individual piece or movement from the concert. The iTunes store is the exclusive partner for the launch, but Universal anticipates bringing other digital stores onboard at a later date.
The L.A. Phil's initial iTunes packages offer some signature programing of contemporary music from its current "Minimalist Jukebox" series. The first two concerts, which were to be recorded March 24-26, arrive at iTunes March 31.
The New York orchestra's first "DG Concert" includes Mozart's Symphonies Nos. 39, 40 and 41, recorded live in February and conducted by music director Lorin Maazel. It is due March 28 on iTunes.
Orchestral releases typically achieve relatively low sales volumes. That, plus high recording costs and strict union regulations have meant that most American and many European orchestras, even those with the highest international profiles and reputations -- including the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics -- have gone without recording deals for years.
Chris Roberts, president of Universal Classics and Jazz International and chairman of Universal Classics Group (U.S.), says that has been an ongoing frustration. "We really wanted to find a way to work more actively with orchestras," he says.
To make the performances available, the L.A. Phil worked out a new performance agreement with the orchestra musicians. In New York, the musicians revisited their fee structure, switching from a flat-fee payment to a revenue-sharing agreement.
Universal will avoid recording costs by having the orchestras deliver their own recordings, provided via partners such as radio broadcasters.
Roberts hopes to create similar opportunities for international orchestras. The label group is in talks with several prominent European ensembles and announcements about additional partnerships are anticipated soon.
While the initial round of releases will be branded as "DG Concerts," Universal Classics says that some of the forthcoming partnerships will be marketed in a "Decca Concerts" series, incorporating another of Universal's prestigious imprints into the larger initiative.
Bogdan Roscic, managing director of Decca Music Group, sees the initiative as "the chance to represent the rich everyday musical life of cities like New York and Los Angeles, which have been going unrecorded."