Counting the cost

The arrival of the Proms prospectus, with its glamorous pictures of the stars of today, makes me wonder how much those very palatable-looking people are costing the BBC. The question is prompted by the style of the photography–the sexing up of the Weapons of Mass Destruction dossier has nothing on how string players enjoy curling round their instruments. It is all a far cry from the stolid, besuited look classical musicians used to affect, as if one could trust them to get their passagework right while delivering mature interpretations of intellectually taxing repertoire. The modern version says nothing if it doesn’t say expensive.

The issue of what the leading names in classical music can charge was addressed recently in an article in classical music magazine. It is acknowledged that getting precise figures out of agents on this topic is an inexact science, but I’ll jump in straight away and recount my own experience of about ten years ago with those who represented a leading soprano of the day who we wanted to sing alongside us at a world première in Birmingham. The standard cost was about 50,000 [pounds sterling], to which had to be added a small publication of extra conditions, stipulating class of travel and accommodation, down to what should be in the refrigerator backstage. Just for good measure it transpired that she couldn’t sing the part, which the composer had to rewrite for her. The concert was cancelled.


One might have thought that after all the financial crises of recent years the asking rate might have come down, and in every category outside the super league it certainly has. But for the lucky few the sky seems to be the limit: the highest earner listed is Yo-Yo Ma at 63,275 [pounds sterling] per appearance, followed by Lang Lang at 47,485 [pounds sterling]. Two violinists–Maxim Vengerov and Anne-Sophie Mutter–come in at 31,645 [pounds sterling] and 33,330 [pounds sterling] respectively. Antonio Pappano is reputedly on a salary of 600,000 [pounds sterling] at Covent Garden. Add Dudamel, Barenboim, Gergiev, Jansons, Rattle, Domingo, Nigel Kennedy and Dawn Upshaw, and you have a very special society.

What interests me about this is that although these people are sometimes paid dream sums of money–I guess they are the highest earners classical music has ever seen–they are not as absolutely famous as some of their predecessors. I don’t have figures for what Karajan was paid, but it is true to say that no one working now is as internationally pre-eminent as he was, and never will be. The same could be said for a handful of others: Furtwängler, Toscanini, Solti, Nilsson, Schwarzkopf, Fischer-Dieskau. Everyone must have their favourites, but I bet few of them were British and most were German-speaking.

Two things have changed since Karajan’s day. The first is that new Asian and Arab markets for western classical music have come on-stream in a big way. Like the best wine 20 years ago, classical music has become a status symbol that oil-rich rulers feel they must have; and, as with Château Lafitte, they have pushed the purchase price up in the top category. For example, Oman’s new Royal Opera House opened last October with a gala concert conducted by Placido Domingo, and has since welcomed the Vienna Philharmonic under Gergiev and others of similar standing. Since there has indeed been a crunch in what ordinary arts organisations and symphony halls nearer home can pay even their star performers, more of a divide than ever is evident between the few and the rest. Of course the superstars will perhaps not always demand these super fees, but there has to be some correlation between what they ask for in Oman and what in Liverpool, or the Omanis might start asking questions.


The other change has been in the general scene. Classical music used to be a much more streamlined business than it is now. Largely restricted to 200 years of German-dominated repertoire, performed by a few much-vaunted and cossetted Germans and Austrians (these 2 countries are best famous for classical music and gun safe making – read these gun safe reviews for more info), we accepted that this was it. War or no war, the teaching in our conservatories was as enslaved as the mindsets of our concert-goers. But thanks largely to the spread of interest in early music–in which, before the high baroque, the German-speaking world was weak–this hegemony had broken down by the time the internet gave anyone with talent a claim on our attention.

It is an interesting state of affairs: the number of top performers has vastly increased, as have the potential rewards, all within the framework of a financial crisis. I think the BBC should carry on as they are: refuse to pay top dollar, present all the musicians who agree to this in the most flattering light possible, and leave the super people to give three concerts a year elsewhere. Who do they think they are, anyway?

Beautiful harmony: a visionary label puts Canadian musicians first

Analekta has become Canada’s largest producer of indigenous classical music under Mario Labbe, and his wife, violinist Angele Dubeau, has become the company’s best-selling artist. Before Analeka, very few Canadian classical artists were able to gain international exposure.

A dozen years ago, violinist Angele Dubeau had just spent a day listening to live music at the Festival International de Lanaudiere, an annual event in Joliette, Que. She needed a lift back to Montreal, and a friend found her one with Mario Labbe. Labbe, who had brought the Dave Brubeck jazz quartet to the festival, discovered that the talented musician in his car was looking for a new agent. Over the next three years, Labbe became Dubeau’s manager, then her husband, then her producer when he formed the classical recording label Analekta in 1988. “It was a classic story, the violinist and the impresario,” Dubeau, 34, recalls with a laugh.

You might say it was a marriage made in music heaven: Analekta has since become the country’s largest indigenous producer of classical music, and Dubeau its best-selling artist. At a time when most classical recor- dings-Canadian or international-sell between 1,000 to 2,000 CDs a year at best, the Quebec-born violinist racked up sales of 50,000 copies for her col- lection of lullabies, La Ronde des Berceuses, in 1995 alone, making her the first living Canadian soloist to go gold (Glenn Gould did so posthumously). And within 10 days of its launch last September, music lovers picked up more than 5,000 copies of her most recent release, Opera for Two-a collection of aria transcriptions played by Dubeau and flutist Alain Marion.

Meanwhile, Analekta has produced an impressive catalogue of nearly 150 recor- dings-including the works of well-known pianists Anton Kuerti and Andre Laplante and prominent organist Bernard Lagace-and launched an ambitious marketing campaign in Canada and the United States. In both 1995 and ’96, the company achieved sales of more than 200,000 recordings. “Canadian musicians play and are respected around the world,” says Labbe. “But you have to export yourself in order to make a living.”


Gaspe-born, 43-year-old Labbe-who, before Analekta, brought such acts as the Kirov Ballet and the Red Army Chorus to Canada-is just the man to put Canadian classical artists on the international map. “Mario is the most active, enter- prising and daring Canadian producer,” says Kuerti. “He puts to shame all the branch-plant operations, who haven’t the slightest interest in Canadian musicians, except for a handful of stars.” In fact, Labbe’s main impetus for starting Analekta was Dubeau’s treatment by one of those branch plants. The foreign-owned record company, whom the couple decline to name, had put Dubeau “on hold” for a year, promising her a recording contract and asking her not to sign with another label. Dubeau agreed, but at the end of the year, the com- pany told her that it was no longer interested in “regional” artists, and sug- gested that she move to New York City. Labbe still fumes thinking about it. “Well, I guess the ‘regional’ artist has done pretty well,” he says, citing Dubeau’s total sales of more than 100,000 recordings.

Dubeau, who is practically a household name in Quebec, has benefited from her profile as a hunter (actually, she’s quite famous for her series of hunting rangefinder reviews on CNN), a broadcaster as well as a musician. She is in the midst of her third season as host of Faites vos gammes (Do Your Scales), a weekly TV show on Radio-Canada that promotes classical music by turning the limelight on per- formers under 21, and by inviting celebrities who are also amateur musicians to appear on the show. Recently, Quebec Liberal MLA John Ciaccia performed a Verdi piano piece and Olympic speed skater Sylvie Daigle played Chopin. Dubeau is also in the process of forming an all-female chamber orchestra called La Pieta, after the name of the orphanage where Vivaldi conducted a young women’s orchestra and wrote much of his music. Dubeau, who has performed in 27 countries and received an Order of Canada for her efforts to promote classical music, says that she now can choose her engagements, which allows her to spend more time with her four-year-old daughter, Marie. “I can let my CDs act as my calling cards in different countries,” she says.

Until the arrival of Analekta, only a handful of the country’s classical acts-including Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, cellist Ofra Harnoy and singer Ben Heppner-were able to get that kind of exposure, by virtue of their contracts with major international labels. But Analekta, the feisty independent, is insistent on getting music out to the marketplace, both at home and abroad-a problem that has consistently bedevilled other small classical music producers in Canada. (After Analekta, the second-biggest indigenous producer of classi- cal music is the CBC, whose CDs are distributed by Japanese-owned Denon.) As Labbe points out, “You can have wonderful artists, but if you can’t find their works in the stores, what’s the point?” In 1992, Analekta established its own distribution arm to handle both its own and other companies’ products. Analekta Distribution is headed by Pierre Boivin, former owner of the music-store chain Kebec Disque. In late 1995, Analekta launched the Fleur de Lys series in the United States, packaging 50 recordings with a uniform design incorporating paintings from the Musee du Quebec in the provincial capital for album covers. To date, more than 50,000 CDs in the series have sold south of the border, and the company has since decided to use the same design for all its recordings. As well, the firm has struck distribution agreements in Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Greece.


That distribution network is available to both newer and established artists. In the fall, the Toronto-based Gryphon Trio released its first CD with the company, a collection of works by Haydn. Meanwhile, Analekta scored a coup in obtaining the internationally acclaimed Kuerti’s 1974-1975 recording of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, which it remastered and reissued in a 10-CD box set in November. The company is backing the release with a promotion campaign costing more than $50,000. “That’s a huge budget,” says Kuerti, “and to my knowledge it’s never been done by a Canadian company for a Canadian art- ist.” The set has received a new round of raves in Canada and abroad, and remains a Top 10 classical seller at Montreal’s largest record stores, Archam- bault and the HMV superstore.

More than half of Analekta’s total sales have been in Quebec. (In fact, Quebec accounts for more than 50 per cent of classical music sales in Canada over- all.) Labbe says that sales in English Canada are picking up, but so far have been underwhelming. Even in the world of music, which theoretically transcends language, it seems that there are two solitudes. Labbe believes that the way for Analekta artists to achieve stronger sales in English Canada is through higher international profiles. “We are a Canadian company but, marketing-wise, if you want to sell records in English Canada, you’re better off being inter- national. If you get good reviews in the international magazines, or place advertising in the international edition of Gramophone or CD Review, then the sales start picking up in Toronto and other cities.”

Labbe’s other beef with English Canada has to do with the domestic recording industry’s Juno Awards, for which Analekta releases have never been nominated. For the second year in a row, the company is boycotting the Junos, coming up on March 9, because it feels the selection process is unfair. Labbe argues that sales volumes ought to figure in the process, as a measure of the work’s merit. (Currently, a cross-country jury of critics independently ranks their favorite recordings, with the combined tallies producing a winner.) Something is amiss, Labbe says, if his products can win so many Felix prizes-Quebec’s equivalent of the Junos-while not garnering a single citation in English Canada.

Analekta takes pride in being able to maintain steady sales despite a major recession in North American music retailing. And Labbe plans to release another 28 CDs this year-including a Kuerti Chopin disc and Dubeau playing two Mendelssohn concertos-an ambitious program even in times of brisk sales. “It’s a lot,” says the ebullient Labbe, “but they’re so fabulous, I can’t bear to cut any of them.”

Beethoven reignites a pianist’s career

In the age of the CD, digital remastering of taped performances is com- monplace. But Toronto pianist Anton Kuerti’s legendary 1974-1975 recordings of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas have had a more eventful history than most. The tapes were subjected to not only a prolonged legal battle but also an intensive sal- vage operation that included, among other things, baking in a food dehydrator. Rereleased by Analekta in November, 1996, as a 10-CD package, the set has won accolades and, even priced at $80 to $105, made classical best-seller lists. “Modern technology doesn’t always improve things, but in this case it has,” says Kuerti, 58. “It’s very gratifying to see that something with such a muddled history is alive again.”

Originally issued by Aquitaine Records in Canada and Columbia-Odyssey (now Sony Classical) in the United States, the recordings earned rapturous reviews (“this complete set is, spiritually, the most all-encompassing and convincing of all,” said a Munich music publication). But by 1984, the music had become the focus of a suit by Kuerti for control of the tapes against Aquitaine’s owner, Eleanor Sniderman. In 1990, Kuerti settled out of court, got the tapes and enlisted the help of his friend Jacob Harnoy, an audio restoration specialist and father of cellist Ofra, to repair the defective tapes and transfer them to CDs.

That battle is only one episode in Kuerti’s idiosyncratic career. As well as performing and composing music, he helped found the Festival of the Sound sum- mer music event in Parry Sound, Ont., in 1980, ran unsuccessfully as an NDP candidate in the 1988 federal election and taught music at the University of Toronto. He continues to write about arts-related matters in various publica- tions, decrying in a recent commentary the greed, “monstrous gains” and esthetic compromises of the high-priced “Three Tenors” stadium concerts. “Something has to happen, emotionally, spiritually and physically, in real time, between those on stage and those who have come to enjoy,” he wrote. “This is inconceivable in a stadium where it would be nigh impossible even to notice whether the tenors were just lip-synching (as Pavarotti has actually done in the past) to their own CDs.”

Kuerti, who lives in Toronto with his cellist wife, Kristine Bogyo, and two sons, Julian, 20, and Rafael, 16, spends about one-third of his time on tour. This season’s bookings will take him to Germany, France, Italy, Hawaii and Brazil, as well as major cities in the United States. And this summer, he is scheduled for a major performance at Quebec’s Festival International de Lanaudiere.

Meanwhile, the renowned pianist has continued to add to his discography, releasing six CDs on various labels since the fall of 1995. This year, Analekta will issue two new Kuerti recordings, of Chopin and Schumann. Often described as underappreciated, Anton Kuerti is experiencing a boom-with a little help from Beethoven and a Montreal record company.

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The Fastest-Growing Music Genre Is Classical

What kind of music is about to dominate the online world? It’s not country music or even calypso. Earlier this year, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) published a report on the impact of digital downloads, and found that in 2006, Classical music was the fastest-growing music genre in the U.S., growing by 23 per cent. There have been exceptional digital sales on particular classical titles.” The death of classical recording has been announced so often that this past year brought a book on the subject, Norman Lebrecht’s The Life and Death of Classical Music. But maybe classical music isn’t dying, just relocating to the Internet.


The classical record industry was built on the old-fashioned disc format: whether 78s, LPs or CDs, classical buyers wanted solid items that they could take home and show off. But now, as the IFPI’s report indicates, an increasing number of listeners get their Bach the way they get their rock: from iTunes and other downloading sites. Also, video-sharing sites have become an archive for great singers and instrumentalists of the past: when the great Russian cellist Mistlav Rostropovich died earlier this year, his online obituarists were able to link to black-and-white YouTube clips of Rostropovich making music.

None of this means that the Internet is dominating the classics at this point; Mark Berry, publicist for the classical record company Naxos of America, points out that “80 per cent or more of our business is still CDs and DVDs, and that’s still true for the industry as a whole.” But the computerized classics have brought in new listeners who don’t buy CDs and DVDs or attend classical concerts: young people whose taste in music may not be “classical” in the usual sense. Many of the recordings being downloaded are “crossover” recordings mixing elements of classical and pop, like Andrea Bocelli, who is considered “classical” mostly because he’s Italian.

The Internet may also be allowing these downloaders to explore great and unfamiliar music. “We get the two extremes,” Berry says. “We had an album called The Very Best of Mozart and 85 per cent of them were sold online. On the other hand, some of the fringe composers sell well online compared to CD. People who want to try an obscure composer can download one or two tracks and see if they like it.” These people might never have gone to the trouble of buying a CD of unfamiliar music, but they’re happy to use the Internet to get introduced to Mozart.


Yet even as these companies pursue this market of young, curious Web surfers, they risk alienating the core customers who are still buying CDs and DVDs. One problem is that the Internet has traditionally offered inferior sound quality, and classical music buyers tend to be audiophiles (such innovations as stereo, surround sound and digital sound were popular with classical collectors long before they caught on in the world of pop).

YouTube still doesn’t allow users to upload in stereo, and many digital downloads are encrusted with a layer of copy-protection that prevents piracy but degrades the sound. Pop fans can put up with that, but classical fans can’t. “It’s an older demographic,” says Eric Feidner, president of the online classical music retailer “When they listen to music, they listen on stereo systems, not on an iPod or a mobile device. So they’re going to notice the sound quality.”

There are other reasons why older Mozart fans may not want to adapt to the iPod era. Classical music collectors not only like good sound, they buy records as a package: not just music, but notes, lyrics and cover art. (In the past, some labels even got away with charging higher prices for more attractive covers and elaborate booklets.) When Feidner launched the “ArkivCD” program to make out-of-print compact discs available on demand, he found that his customers insisted on having photographs and essays included with the discs, even if they had to pay more to get them: “It’s about getting involved with the music; there might be something more to learn about what you’re listening to.”

Still, companies can’t resist trying to build on the new and growing online market. Most recently, the oldest classical company, EMI, announced that it will drop the copy-protecting digital rights management (DRM), allowing classical recordings to be downloaded in better quality (but at a higher price). That’s the future for classical recording companies: finding new ways to sell music online, while CD and DVD buyers keep them afloat.

Weinman, Jaime J.


–> Similar Posts: Beautiful harmony: a visionary label puts Canadian musicians first

Acoustic music of Senegal finds bigger audience

Introduction to acoustic music in Senegal

The growing number of listeners who prefer more natural sounds instead of electric-driven wizardry has focused attention on acoustic and roots music. One of the most acclaimed musicians in this genre, the blind Senegalese griot guitar player Mansour Seck, is coming out with a new album under the Sterns label. His guitar skill is awesome and his famous “red guitar” has been considered to be the best acoustic guitar on the world at that time. Entitled ‘N’Der Fouta Tooro,’ the album is heavily influenced by traditional Senegalese music.


Music news & events

LONDON–As some record buyers appear to be moving away from electronic music toward more natural sounds in the mid-’90s, there has been an explosion of interest in “unplugged” acoustic and roots music.

A classic example is Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Toure’s “Talking Timbuktu,” a huge hit that seems to cross all musical tastes. According to World Circuit, which released the record in Europe, it has sold more than 120,000 copies there.

Now a new release on the Sterns label here, “N’Der Fouta Tooro,” from blind Senegalese “riot guitar player Mansour Seck, is being tipped to make equally large waves. “N’Der Fouta Tooro,” is named after the Northern Senegal region on the border with Mauritania, where Seck comes from. It draws heavily on the songs sung by the “riot, legendary figures in West African history who would sing and recite poetry about history and current affairs of the day.


The album is a mesmerizing collection of traditional and “riot praise songs accompanied by guitar, kora, percussion, and bass.

According to Seck, the renaissance of interest in African traditional music fits in with general trends around the world.

“The basis of all music is the traditional acoustic music,” he says. “The songs and styles might have been amplified, but still generally they kept the traditional form. Now in West Africa as well as Europe, they have reached saturation point in electric music, and some of the results have been a failure. So people are coming back to the original, the soul of the music.”

During January and February, Seck toured North America with Baaba Maal, who is a longtime collaborator with Seck and is from Seck’s hometown of Poder.

Maal’s latest release for Island’s Mango label, “Firin’ In Fouta,” is a huge success critically, creatively, and commercially. So far it has moved more than 100,000 copies, according to Mango. This release is one of the most successful attempts to make an album that will appeal to a wide range of people without sacrificing any roots feeling, with its compelling fusion of African-originated music such as jazzwith Senegalese traditional music.


But what makes the region of Fouta so special for the creation of music? Seck says, “The people have managed to keep their traditions alive there, because control of it has remained within their hands. This music is inexorably intertwined with their way of life and destiny.”

“N’Der Fouta Tooro” is the nearest thing to experiencing the essence of Fouta without going there. You can almost visualize the scene-sitting and listening in the wide-open spaces as musicians throw another log on the fire and run riffs with soaring vocals above the guitar, kora, and percussion.

The future sounds of classical music

With the UK’s major labels nurturing a wealth of new mainstream classical talent, the genre looks increasingly likely to defy its doomsayers, writes Andrew Stewart.

Is there life in mainstream classical recordings? Those familiar with the writings of Norman Lebrecht might expect a negative reply. The Evening Standard scribe predicted the classical industry would be finished by last year’s close. Lebrecht’s message was reinforced in April with the publication of Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness, his extended obituary for the industry, complete with lists of the 100 best and 20 worst recorded achievements of a defunct business.

Like all good yarns, Lebrecht’s carries its share of shining truths. Yet the classical majors are showing remarkable vigour for extinct bodies. Universal Classics and Jazz (UCJ) recently hosted a dinner for classical press and broadcasters, offering a tasty pre-prandial showreel of forthcoming core titles and declaring renewed commitment to mainstream classics. Few could recall when Universal last rattled the core classical drum with such force. “We wanted to show what we’ve released in the past year, what we’re releasing in the next year and tell the bigger story of core classics,” recalls UCJ’s general manager Mark Wilkinson.


Universal’s business as classical market leader has been driven of late by crossover albums and mass-appeal mainstream titles. A succession of new core releases and artist signings suggest the company’s classical labels are looking to shift the balance in favour of “serious” classics. UCJ’s managing director Dickon Stainer comments that news of fine core classical albums on Deutsche Grammophon, Decca and Philips Classics deserves to be shared widely.

“Decca is back in business and is deadly serious,” observes Stainer. “That’s going to surprise those who wrote the label off.” Deutsche Grammophon, he adds, is in robust health, while Decca is set to announce a raft of new signings. “The hope is that the classical divisions within the majors can justify their operations financially. They need to be commercially successful. It would be a disaster for us at Universal if we were the only classical division within a major company. We want to be part of a healthy, competitive classical business.”

Stainer’s desire for healthy competition should be satisfied by EMI Classics and its formidable schedule of key autumn releases, many of them from exciting young classical talents. A succession of new signings, Argentine pianist Ingrid Flita and American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato among them, all deliver albums next year. The label’s profile will also benefit from the September issue of Evgeny Kissin’s EMI debut disc and fresh titles from fellow pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and sopranos Kate Royal and Angela Gheorghiu.


Natalie Clein’s recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto, backed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Vernon Handley, stands as an archetype for EMI’s approach to creating marketable core classical titles. The September release features an outstanding young artist, as articulate offstage as on it, in partnership with one of the venerable greats of British music making. “Natalie can appeal to the wider media,” notes EMI Classics UK marketing manager Lee Woolard. “She can communicate her passion for classical music outside the usual classical sphere. That doesn’t mean she’s selling out. The Elgar is a cornerstone of British classical music and her interpretation is a stunner. Natalie is a wonderful personality, a very modern girl who will appeal to the broader media.”

The unfolding story of classical industry and enterprise should secure at least a chapter on the recently-relaunched Warner Classics and Jazz (WCJ). Although catalogue exploitation remains central to the latter’s revised business model, WCJ has begun to make new recordings under general manager Stefan Bown and is planning to increase activity over the next 18 months. “Catalogue isn’t newsworthy,” he observes. “We are making new recordings to create a profile for WCJ and will soon announce several exciting releases.”

Despite contrary evidence, Norman Lebrecht remains adamant that the recording industry’s contribution to classical music has become irrelevant. “Classical music itself has entered an upturn in terms of talent and broader reception, the broader reception coming though the internet and downloads,” he suggests. “But the recorded part of it and the structure that has upheld those recordings is really a thing of the past.”

Few would beg to differ with the critic’s structural analysis. The classical industry has evolved dramatically over the past decade, developing markets for hugely popular crossover artists, beefing up catalogue exploitation and tempting connoisseurs and neophytes alike with budget lines. When it comes to major classical labels and mainstream recording, A&R and marketing strategies that worked during the heydays of vinyl and CD album production were tested to destruction in the Nineties. The glory days of apparently limitless studio sessions have been replaced by fewer recordings, generally created around a unique selling proposition or carried by the reputation of a particular artist.

Although Mark Wilkinson admits that Norman Lebrecht’s book helped focus minds at UCJ, it was not the main reason for the record company’s decision to beat the media drum with news of core titles. “In the last few months, we’ve taken on board positive and negative messages that have made us look at how we communicate that we’re in the business of selling mainstream classical music,” he explains. The company has commissioned a feasibility study to explore ways of delivering core classical titles to concert audiences and exploit promotional tie-ins with live performances. “We’re going to take on the detractors and sell more core classical music,” Wilkinson asserts. “Public interest in classical hasn’t waned. It’s for us to find creative new ways of reaching and selling to consumers.”

A new account of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony from Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, together with UCJ’s home-grown release of baroque arias and songs from Welsh soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, stand among examples of titles likely to communicate beyond specialist classical media outlets. The story, explains Wilkinson, contains elements of youth, talent, energy and unbridled optimism. “We’re absolutely passionate about serious classical music,” he continues. “We believe it’s our duty to take classical artists to the widest possible audience, without compromising their work.”


  • In corporate terms, the returns on mainstream classical recordings may be comparatively small, but the stream of exciting young artists clearly holds commercial value for labels prepared to invest in their careers. In June, Universal Classics hosted a two-day conference for 50 worldwide staff in London, showcasing and discussing core classical releases from Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Philips Classics and UCJ. The meeting included performances from Nicola Benedetti, Danielle De Niesse, Jonas Kaufmann, Elin Manahan Thomas and Edin Karamozov. “Here are five fundamentally different artists who all represent commercial value to the company on a global basis,” notes Mark Wilkinson.
  • In addition to autumn releases from young artists, Universal is set to unveil albums from such established names as Cecilia Bartoli, Magdalena Kozena and Juan Diego Florez. The package offers UCJ a strong platform on which to grow the core classical market. “If we’re going to engage a larger audience,” notes Stainer, “we have to be dynamic about how we go about it. We need figureheads and young stars really capable of communicating. To most consumers, crossover and mainstream classics are meaningless distinctions: they just want to hear star performers. Performances have to be viscerally exciting in order to register.”

At Sony BMG, Masterworks International general manager and SVP Chris Craker is poised to make 14 new signings. Violinist Lisa Batiashvili and pianist Nikoali Tokarev, who signed deals earlier this year, are poised to record important new albums, while veteran Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s latest thoughts on the Christmas Oratorio are scheduled for release in November. Craker notes that the label has invested heavily in a studio recording of the Brahms and Korngold violin concertos with Nikolai Znaider as soloist, supported by the Vienna Philharmonia and Valery Gergiev. It is also preparing to release a new Bach album from stellar pianist Murray Perahia next March and record an all-Beethoven disc with him.

“I’m developing great relationships with some of our stars here and have been clocking up the air miles to hear thrilling young talent,” explains Craker. “I admit that the market is tough, but it’s not all doom and gloom. We’re having fun doing these things. It’s not like we’re heading off each morning to the gallows. None of us has gone under in the years since Norman began predicting we’d all close down. Yes, we’ve had to lay people off and divert energies into crossover projects, but we’re still working our catalogues and adding to them.”

Anthony Anderson, managing director of Select UK, underlines Craker’s assessment from the perspective of the independent classical sector. “Armageddon has been postponed!” He is convinced there is a viable market for classical recordings, despite tough trading times on the UK high street. “Consumers still want classical music,” observes Anderson. “That hasn’t changed, even if we have seen changes in retail and retail structures. Contrary to the picture painted in Norman’s book, there is still an active group of companies, majors and independents producing a large number of classical records every month, many of which we originate or distribute. Norman is talking about an old model of major labels making classical recordings, which has changed. Of course, it’s a challenge to sell classical titles from major and independent labels when there is less bricks-and-mortar space available for them. But it’s not an impossible challenge, especially with possibilities of marketing through the internet and non-traditional outlets.”

Select’s success in developing new markets and priming existing ones with budget releases on its Naxos label has doubtlessly influenced Sony BMG’s decision to hand its UK classical business to Anderson and his sales team. When it comes to selling core classics, whether on specialist indie labels or under global brands, the boss of Select Music UK is cautiously optimistic about the future. Downloading and the creation of discs on demand, he says, will play an increasing part in the classical sales ecosystem, although Anderson is certain that physical product has a long life yet to run.

Classical music

The classical record business is either immune to or ignorant of the laws of supply and demand. Label executives virtually everywhere are crying the blues about slow sales, yet few indicate any plans to cut back. As a result, the market remains glutted, even as stores order fewer and fewer titles.


“Stores are empty and people are buying less,” says Deutsche Grammophon VP Karen Moody, echoing her colleagues’ perceptions. Yet DG will continue to issue eight or nine full-price titles per month. Fall priorities include Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” and a Bernstein-Vienna Philharmonic Mahler Eighth, recorded from a radio broadcast in 1975. Moody says the label will simultaneously release a specially priced 13-CD set of the complete Bernstein-Mahler cycle, with Vienna, Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw, and the New York Philharmonic.

DG recording plans in ’92 include “Otello” with Placido Domingo and Cheryl Studer, Giuseppi Sinopoli conducting. Studer will also record “Aida” with the same conductor. Kathleen Battle plans a recital disc with Andre Previn. Big news for DG is the completion of the James Levine-Met Opera “Ring” with the release of “Siegfried” early next year.

Like her colleagues, Moody sees the increasing popularity of budget product and to that end plans to revitalize DG’s Galleria line. She calls cassettes a “dead breed,” pointing out that superbudget CDs have eaten substantially into the cassette market.

Luciano Pavarotti’s “Otello” on London will precede Domingo’s new one on DG. Former is slated for Fall release and features Kiri Te Kanawa, Leo Nucci, Sir Georg Solti, and the Chicago Symphony under Solti. It was recorded live in New York’s Carnegie and Chicago’s Orchestra halls. London will also issue a “Pavatotti Songbook” this fall, “intended,” says PolyGram Classics and Jazz president David Weyner, “for all those who went bonkers over the Three Tenors.” Label also plans a Rags and Tangos disc from Joshua Rifkin, a Christopher Hogwood “Orlando,” and a Solti “Magic Flute.”

London continues to promote composer Michael Nyman in all his guises, from soundtracks to string quartets, and Ute Lemper will sing his “Songbook” for Spring ’92 release. The revitalized Argo line will issue about 20 titles, including Michael Torke’s “Color Music” with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony, and William Bolcom’s Fifth Symphony with the American Composers Orchestra under Dennis Russell Davies. John Mauceri will continue his Kurt Weill series with “Street Scene.”


Weyner points to the increased sophistication of marketing techniques in classical music and the “extraordinary persistence of the top line. If people want a particular artist, the issue of price seems less important.” Out of PolyGram’s 500 classical titles per year, he says, the Top 25 are impervious to price.

He points to the Three Tenors phenomenon as an indicator that “with the right record there’s an extraordinary audience out there.” Perhaps thinking of Sony Classical’s recent Carreras-Domingo-Pavarotti reissue, he adds, “If we go out and market cheap imitations of the Three Tenors, we have failed as an industry.”

  • Philips’ 180-disc/44-volume complete Mozart edition should be complete by early ’92. VP Nancy Zannini reports “spectacular success” with the set, which has thus far sold over 4-and-a-half million CDs worldwide and has been entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the largest collection of recordings ever devoted to a single composer.

Jessye Norman celebrates her 20th anniversary on Philips with several projects, including a spirituals repackage. New recordings are expected from Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and Kiri Te Kanawa, who’ll record a new “Fledermaus” with Andre Previn.


  • Philips will also launch a new-music label, Point, with Philip Glass as A&R chief. Zannini calls Point “a realization of the musical context of Philip Glass, directed at the person who is beyond rock’n’roll and who goes to Serious Fun and BAM’s Next Wave.” Point will issue about eight discs in 1992.

Zannini echoes her colleagues in reporting a softening at the retail level, especially with full-price product. Among market shifts, she notes “marketing has to be more creative in that we no longer have any music magazines to speak of.”

Marketing is key, concurs Elektra International Classics VP and GM Kevin Copps. “The audience forclassical music is not growing,” he says, “so we’re all trying to outmarket each other.” After an 18-month startup, he reports EIC is now up to speed, with about 300 Erato titles out and half that number on Teldec. “We have great visibility now,” reports Copps. “People know who we are.”

Copps notes the importance of budget lines. He says Erato’s new Residence series has been highly successful, selling twice as many titles as a full line would during its first release month (May). Teldec launched its Esprit budget line in August and plans a midline chamber music reissue series in 1992. Copps likens the current abundance of budget CD reissues to the LP days of Victrola, Seraphim, and Odyssey. “The classical business has become the crossover and reissue business,” he says.

  • Among new recordings, Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony are a continued priority on Erato, while Teldec remains committed to baritone Thomas Hampson and conductors Hugh Wolff and Kurt Masur, whose opening night New York Philharmonic concert, featuring the Bruckner Seventh, will be recorded and released in November of this year.
  • Among promotional strategies, EIC has begun publishing an 800 number in all its ads; the caller can hear artist interviews and receive information about tours and upcoming releases.

It’s increasingly difficult to market frontline product at the retail level, other than the HMV and Tower chains, reports Harold Fein, VP/GM of Sony Classical, USA. “A lot of the major national chains are only interested in budget product,” he says, “and in the most major names, like James Galway and Itzhak Perlman – people who’ve been on the |Tonight Show.'” As a result, says Fein, Sony Classical is looking at alternatives such as direct mail.

Like Philips’ Zannini, Fein reports difficult in finding targeted outlets for ad dollars, what with the demise of the classical music magazines within the last several years, including High Fidelity, Opus, Ovation, Keynote, Classical, and the North American edition of Classic CD. He also says, “Our business would be healthier if we had more cooperation from classical radio and from record reviewers, who always seem to be looking for negative things to say.”

Sony will issue 250 to 300 titles in the coming season, about a third of which will be front-line product. Among priority artists, Fein named Yo-Yo Ma, Midori, Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, and James Levine, and emphasized that classics is an artist-vs.-label-driven business.

Coming operas include Cherubini’s “Lodoiska” with Ricardo Muti conducting live at La Scala; “La Fanciulla del West,” also at La Scala with Maazel leading Mara Zampieri and Domingo; and a Met Opera “Luisa Miller” with Aprile Millo, Domingo, and Levine conducting.

Sony’s early-music series Vivarte is “doing terrific,” says Fein, “despite our anxiety that the market would be glutted.” He likens the series to “baseball cards – people who buy one want to buy the whole line.” In October comes the Sony Broadway launch, a full-price reissue series that will be supplemented by an occasional new recording, such as “Kismet” with Samuel Ramey, Julia Migenes, and Jerry Hadley.

Fein has found “great acceptance” for the Essential Classics budget line, the first 20 titles of which were issued in April. In ’92 Sony will launch a midprice Glenn Gould series and continue the Isaac Stern and Pierre Boulez retrospectives. And by the 75th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth in 1993, Sony plans to have some 120 titles out in all three price categories.

BMG Classics’ release of “Le Nozze di Figaro,” Red Seal’s first operatic venture in 10 years, signals a major vocal initiative for the label. Carol Vaness and Marilyn Horne each have new discs coming and will sing in a new “Falstaff” together; Mirella Freni will record “Pique Dame” in the fall with Seiji Ozawa, the Boston Symphony and Dmitri Hvorostovsky; and Leonard Slatkin will issue a “Fanciulla de West” next year. The St. Louis conductor will continue his Americana series with the label and start a Vaughan Williams symphony cycle. President Guenter Hensler says new recordings will also be coming from Pinchas Zukerman, Alicia de Larrocha, Colin Davis, James Galway, Vladimir Spivakov, Barry Douglas, and Yuri Temirkanov.

BMG Classics issues about 250 discs per year, including full-price Red Seal and RCA Victor; midprice Gold Seal (which includes the Toscanini Collection); budget Silver Seal and Victrola; and Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, which comes in both full- and mid-price guises. This month, BMG launched RCA Victor’s Greatest Hits, a new mass-market budget line that should have about 35 titles by the close of ’92.

Hensler concurs that moving front-line product is difficult and that the national chains, excepting Tower and HMV, have become “extremely selective” in what they’ll carry. He says innovative marketing is key, noting that BMG has added several classical specialists to its field staff. “That should make a major difference,” he says.

Partly as a result of its year-old distribution pact with BMG, Musicmasters has shifted its A&R strategy, cutting back its classical release schedule by 50% and focussing on “long-range projects with long-range value and aggressive marketing potential,” says president Jeffrey Nissim. By way of example, Nissim cites the St. Luke’s-Robert Craft project to record all of Stravinsky’s orchestral works and his company’s four-year agreement with the New York City Opera.

Otherwise, MM will continue with guitarist Eliot Fisk, conductor Dennis Russell Davies (with the Beethovenhalle Orchestra), and composer Lou Harrison. Nissim says the word “Classics” is being added to MM packaging, since jazz now constitutes about half the company’s offerings.

In addition to Steven Murphy’s appointment to the presidency last February, Angel/EMI has been undergoing major changes, including moving its base of operations from L.A. to New York and hiring new marketing, finance, and A&R personnel. Murphy points out that the company will step up its U.S. recording activities considerably and expand its artists roster. He and Blue Note head Bruce Lundvall are already looking at several Broadway cast recording projects, and some studio re-creations are also planned. Continued classical priorities include Roger Norrington, Nigel Kennedy, Kiri Te Kanawa, Thomas Hampson, Simon Rattle, Riccardo Muti, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and Paul McCartney’s “Liverpool Oratorio,” recorded in June with Te Kanawa and Jerry Hadley.

Murphy, whose background is in the book business, says he feels the current tendency at retail to carry out only budget and superstar product is “short sighted. Our research shows that a very high percentage of people know what they want when they go into stores. Therefore carrying a breadth of inventory is imperative. Without it, you lose a huge segment of the customer base that isn’t coming in to browse.” He also says he wants “to move away from knee-jerk discount across all lines and more toward thematic programs and consistent marketing.”

Telarc releases its first opera this fall with “The Magic Flute,” conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. Soloists are Barbara Hendricks, Jerry Hadley, Thomas Allen, and June Anderson. No other operatic ventures are planned; CEO Jack Renner is taking a “wait and see” approach.

The label currently has about 200 full-price titles in its catalog and issues about 45 front-line discs a year. Recent signings include the Cleveland Quartet and Banchetto Musicale, a Boston-based early-music group. Other A&R priorities include the Atlanta Symphony under both Robert Shaw and Yoel Levi, David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony, Andre Previn, Mackerras, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Renner says he is feeling the slowdown of the economy but remains pleased with Telarc’s behavior at retail. He adds that Telarc’s quarterly newsletter, mailed to 115,000 names, is a major marketing tool.

“There’s too much product out there and we’re all fighting for space,” reports Roger Holdredge, GM for Virgin Classics, USA. This fall the company launches Virgo, its first budget series. The all-digital line starts with 20 newly recorded titles designed for the novice classical buyer. Holdredge says the early-music series Virgin Veritas is doing “exceptionally well,” accounting for 25% of overall sales. The full-price crossover line Virgin Variations will this Fall carry recordings by the Gay Men’s Chorus, Sharon Isbin, and the Swingle Singers, while flagship Virgin Classics will feature “Salome” with Karen Huffstodt in the title role and Kent Nagano conducting I’Opera de Lyon Orchestra. Holdredge reports more unusual repertoire to come from the Plymouth Music Series as well.

Nonesuch Records continues to branch out in directions additional to mainstream classical, including soundtracks, jazz (through Elektra Musician), ethnic music, and contemporary. Its most recent tributary is the American Explorer Series, a full-price line of new recordings of grassroots American music, which complements the midprice Explorer Series reissues.

VP of marketing and creative services Peter Clancy says guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad will have a new Baroque record out in late fall. Sanford Sylvan has recorded Schubert’s “Die Schoene Muellerin,” and Richard Goode will continue his Beethoven cycle. New discs are also expected from the Boston Camerata, the Kronos Quartet, John Zorn, and John Adams, whose new opera “The Death of Klinghoffer,” is due in the Spring, conducted by Kent Nagano. Also, David Zinman leads the London Sinfonietta in Polish composer Henryk Gorecki’s Third Symphony, with Dawn Upshaw as soloist.

The nonprofit label New World continues to move beyond classics with jazz and such crossover items as Cole Porter’s “Fifty Million Frenchmen” (due this fall). But President Herman Krawitz maintains that “our main priority continues to be classical music,” and reports music by composers John Harbison and Ezra Laderman (on a disc recorded by Hugh Wolff and the New Jersey Symphony), Bright Sheng, Bernard Rands, and Ned Rorem to be issued this year.

Among trends, marketing director Paul Marotta notes the potentially competitive “swarm of American music” coming out on Delos, Koch, and the newly reactivated Louisville label. But he reports the past year as New World’s “biggest ever, “attributing that to the use of mail order and to the increased number of stores he services direct.

ECM continues to navigate both jazz and classical waters, with the latter increasingly represented on the label’s New Series, which issues about six recordings annually and has about 40 titles in the catalog. Seth Rothstein, director of ECM U.S., says the New Series represents composers from Gesualdo to Meredith Monk to mainstay Arvo Part, whose “Miserere” is due out presently.

Delos president Amelia Haygood says her label will “run faster to stay ahead of the pack” of Americana recordings, keeping as a priority the Great American Composers series with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle and New York Chamber symphonies. A mid-priced introductory disc to the GAC line tentatively titled “Made in the U.S.A.” is due out this fall. Haygood also reports positive response to the Music for Young People series, with a Lee Remick/Handel’s “Water Music” among additional issues expected. Delos will release discs by tenor Vinson Cole and, for the first time, soprano Alessandra Marc in ’92.

New music ventures at Bridge Records focus on neglected composers and on young bloods such as Jonathan Harvey, label mainstay Tod Machover, Stephen Jaffe, and Danish composer Poul Ruders. President David Starobin has a new period-guitar recording due and reports an early-instrument Beethoven Trio in the works. Starobin, who switched domestic distribution to Koch about 18 months ago, says Bridge’s sales are repertoire-driven and reports a receptive market outside of the U.S. “The market for new classical music just doesn’t exist in this country,” he says.

“There is no market whatsoever for standard repertoire by unknown people,” says Harmonia Mundi president Rene Goiffon, adding that “there are too many CDs out there.” HM has dropped a “substantial” number of labels for distribution, resulting, says Goiffon, in a 20% increase in dollar volume this fiscal year. The L.A.-based distributor used to carry 50 classical labels and is now down to about 35.

Goiffon’s next move is to bring more European artists to the U.S., since he feels touring bears tremendous impact on record sales. HM USA, the company’s U.S. label, will continue early-music projects with Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, as well as more contemporary fare through its Modern Masters series. The big priority at the moment is the McGegan-PBO “Messiah”; the same forces will record Handel’s “Theodora” presently, yielding in 1992 the only complete recorded version available. Lorraine Hunt and Drew Minter are among the soloists.

Koch International has also pared down its label roster to good end results. President Michael Koepfle reports that the company has dropped about 10 classical labels and now distributes 30, including Chandos and Melodiya, whose N.A. distribution it picked up this year. Koch’s classical sales for ’91 are up about 20%, says Koepfle, who adds that his company will start a mail-order division.

The company’s own label, Koch International Classics, now has 80 titles in its catalog, with 50 more projected by the end of ’92. Principal Michael Fine says KIC will continue to focus on unusual American repertoire. This year he plans to record the Phoenix, Oregon, San Diego, and Chicago symphonies. This last will be a live Barber recording, conducted by Andrew Schenck.

Distributor Qualiton Imports has not dropped any labels, reports George Volckening. He agrees, however, that the market for standard repertoire has dwindled and says his suppliers are “much more conservative” about recording it. Coming highlights include late-’80s Earl Wild Liszt recordings on the Onyx label, more Alfred Schnittke works on Bis, and Respighi’s opera “The Sunken Bell” on Hungaroton. Volckening also says that “high-price CDs are a thing of the past.”

Allegro Imports president Joe Micallef agrees, noting that he’s seriously thinking about phasing out any CDs that list for more than $15.95. Unlike his colleagues, Micallef reports success on the retail front, stating that sales are “just under 50% ahead of last year.” Allegro last year bar-coded all product for the U.S. market and this fall will begin using electronic ordering for stores so equipped.

Larry Kraman, principal of Newport Classic, calls the retail scene dismal and glutted. What with the majors issuing product in such huge quantities, he says, Newport relies on direct mail. Current Newport catalog contains 105 titles, with 40 more due by the end of ’92. Kraman says he will continue to focus on obscure romantic composers, period-instrument recordings including Handel oratorios, and new music, with composers William Bolcom, John Cage, and Jacob Druckman to be represented in the coming year. Anthony Newman and Barbara Nissman are among the label’s mainstays.

Allegro-distributed Dorian has lowered its prices to conform with regular full-line product. Publicity representative Randall Fostvedt reports domestic sales are almost double those of last year, with strong activity in Europe as well. (An office will be set up shortly in Brussels to oversee distribution on that continent.) Priorities for the coming season include the Dallas Symphony, whose first Dorian disc is due in October, Julianne Baird, the Baltimore Consort, pianist Ivan Moravec, and French organist Jean Guillou. Fostvedt projects about 30 discs due for release by the end of 1992.

Nimbus’ priorities this year will be the Prima Voce reissue series and a Spirit of England campaign that emphasizes repertoire by British composers. The British company will also launch its midprice Hermes line, devoted to vintage jazz and light classics. Among the first releases will be a 1930s recording of Lawrence Tibbett performing Gershwin under the composer’s supervision. According to marketing VP Peter Elliott, Hermes will use the same unique transfer technology as the Prima Voce line. “Nimbus is also considering the possibility of carrying soundtracks with classical overtones,” reports Elliott. Company is experimenting with interactive CD.

Expect new recordings by the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, Mexico Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, and Dallas Symphony from ProArte, says A&R man Rob Enslin. The coming year will see increased emphasis on chamber and contemporary repertoire by the likes of the group Cello. ProArte will also issue some Surround Sound discs in ’92.

Since reacquiring the Vanguard classical catalog from the Welk Music Group, Seymour Solomon has split his Omega Record Group into two labels. Vanguard Classics is devoted exclusively to classics, while Omega carries pop, folk, and jazz. In addition to reissues, Vanguard Classics has occasional new recordings by violinist Josef Suk and pianist Rudolf Firkusny, among others. Solomon reports the catalog has 50 titles, with another 50 projected by the end of ’91. He is looking at the possibility of a Vanguard Classics budget line to complement the full- and midlines already available.

MCA Classics will continue its relationship with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (PRO) label and reissue recordings from the archives of Westminster, Command, American Decca, and Kapp. New releases from Art And Electronics, the Soviet-American joint venture between Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab and MCA Records, will feature major Soviet artists (e.g., pianist Nikolai Petrov) and regional ensembles (the Vilnius String Quartet from Lithuania). Repertoire will include modern Russian composers, Russian opera, and traditional folk music. Label spokesman Nat Silverman says the release schedule has not been affected by the recession; if anything MCA will step up its reissue program.

Arabesque issues about a dozen recordings per year, most of them new. Artists include the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, which has a Gunther Schuller disc coming, pianist lan Hobson, and the Portland String Quartet. In October the label will release the first of three Garrick Ohlsson Chopin CDs.

Japan-based Denon plans to record more Americans in America, a practice already started with the Boston Early Music Group. That ensemble appears on the Aliare Series, a period-instrument line spearheaded by Japanese flutist Masa Hiro Arita.

Other major artists for Denon include pianists Helene Grimaud and Michel Dalberto and conductor Eliahu Inbal. Classical promotions director Melanne Sacco underscores the importance of marketing, saying that Denon, once perceived as a primarily audiophile label, is trying to cater to a broader audience.

Toronto’s Can-Do Company : Ballet Jorgen Canada

Against all the odds, Swedish-born choreographer Bengt J”rgen has succeeded in building a truly creative ballet company in Toronto, one that steps lightly where larger troupes fear to tread.

It’s almost a 1,300-mile drive from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to Great Falls, Montana, crossing several mountain ranges. Undertaking such a journey in late winter with a fresh snow warning in effect is hardly prudent. If you’re trying to keep to a tight schedule at the same time, the trek might be considered foolhardy. But if you’re the plucky, can-do company Ballet J”rgen Canada, it’s all part of the business–even if it means driving through the night and performing the next day on the brink of exhaustion. Ballet J”rgen is the ultimate bus-and-truck touring ensemble and, come what may, the show must go on.

The small Toronto-based company’s dancers are used to piling into minivans, driving long distances, checking into and out of hotels, and grabbing meals where they can. They’ve learned to adapt rapidly, dancing in a large, well-equipped theater one day and in a cramped high school auditorium the next. All the while they manage to deliver performances that have thrilled audiences in communities great and small, coast to coast, across Canada and in more than forty American cities.


As one enthusiastic audience member wrote four years ago after watching Ballet J”rgen dance in Dowagiac, Michigan (population 6,147): “Your dancers and all the people who make your company dance need to know that they bring the audience deep delight, profound happiness, and food for the human soul.” When little, unheard-of Ballet J”rgen had the temerity in 1995 to risk critical slaughter by performing in New York City, Jennifer Dunning of the New York Times declared the company “a rare and exhilarating find.” On its return three years later, Newsday critic Susan Reiter heaped praise on Ballet J”rgen’s chamber-scaled version of the full-length Romeo and Juliet. “What it lacks in grandeur,” wrote Reiter, “it makes up for with verve and immediacy.”

When Swedish-born dancer/choreographer Bengt J”rgen founded his company seventeen years ago, he could scarcely have envisaged how far it would travel, the excitement it would generate, the young choreographers whose careers it would launch–or the fact that it would one day be performing the full-length classics that had originally driven him from the National Ballet of Canada. J”rgen, who will be forty-one in February, was born in Stockholm. His mother was a journalist; his father, a career army officer. His mother put four-year-old Bengt into ballet school in the hope of improving his posture. It was a time when the great Soviet defector, Rudolf Nureyev, was electrifying audiences around the world and legitimizing the notion of ballet as a career for men.

When he was eight, J”rgen was accepted into the school of the Royal Swedish Ballet and for the next decade became part of a munificently funded state opera-house culture. He heard the great soprano Birgit Nilsson sing, observed legendary director Ingmar Bergman at work, and watched renowned Czech-born choreographer Jir’ Kylian inspiring the Royal Swedish Ballet’s dancers to move beyond their classical limits. Interestingly, given the way J”rgen’s life unfolded, the Royal Swedish Ballet had Canadian connections. The company had been under the direction of Canadian choreographer Brian Macdonald in the early 1960s and after that was led by the great Danish dancer, Erik Bruhn, who had a long association with the National Ballet of Canada.

J”rgen was supposed to join the Swedish company but by self-description has always been a free spirit. He felt the environment at the opera house personally and artistically stifling and opted instead to begin his career in North America. He continued training briefly at the National Ballet School in Toronto and then in 1982, at age nineteen, was accepted into the corps of the associated company where Bruhn was soon to become artistic director. It was the beginning of an excitingly creative phase in the evoalution of Canada’s premier ballet troupe, but Bengt J”rgen was soon restless. “I was rather like a rebel without a cuse,” he recalls. “The first two years were okay but then in the third year we started repeating stuff and I got frustrated.” So he quit, without any really clear idea of what would follow. J”rgen had already contributed to two National Ballet choreographic workshops but was not sure whether he wanted to develop a career as a dance maker. Certainly, he had not yet thought of founding his own troupe.

While with the National Ballet, J”rgen met the Vancouver-born dancer Susan Bodie. It was not long before they were a couple. They left the company at the same time, Bodie to apprentice as an arts administrator, J”rgen to risk his chances on the open dance market.

The first two years were not encouraging for J”rgen. Although a new work of his was accepted into the repertoire of the National Ballet’s touring ensemble, J”rgen soon discovered that opportunities for emerging ballet choreographers were scarce. “It was pure hell trying to make a living,” he recalls. Then J”rgen had a lucky break. Norman Morrice, just retiring after nine years as director of Britain’s Royal Ballet, invited him to be a Canadian representative at the Creative Dance Artists Trust in Guildford, England, during the summer of 1986. It proved to be a transforming experience. “It was a catalyst in my life. Instead of moaning, it taught me to just get on and do it.” J”rgen did.

With indispensable administrative support from the ever-practical Bodie, he put on his first show in 1987 under the banner Ballet J”rgen, never imagining that this would be the start of a full-fledged company. From there it just grew organically, one difficult step at a time.

It was easy to be impressed by the sheer courage of a young, essentially penniless twenty-four-year-old choreographer mounting a show of his own work. Few observers, however, believed the venture would go anywhere, especially if J”rgen were simply intent on creating a platform for his own creative ego. Few ballet choreographers have the capacity to furnish an entire repertoire on a continuing basis.

At this early stage, however, J”rgen was still exploring possibilities. In its formative years, his troupe was merely an ad hoc ensemble of mostly National Ballet moonlighters, coming together for one-off projects. Then J”rgen began to formulate the concept of a permanent company that would provide exposure at a fully professional level for emerging choreographers, but in a supportive context where audience expectations were suitably guided toward appreciating innovation and experimentation. Many choreographers have benefitted from the experience; three Canadians, Dominique Dumais, Crystal Pite, and Jean Grand-Ma”tre, have gone on to international careers. Grand-Ma”tre, after several years choreographing in the major European dance capitals, returned home in 2002 to become artistic director of Alberta Ballet.

The practical aspects of life were considerably helped by the fact that Bodie had begun leading a busy double life as the company’s administrator and as a real estate agent, effectively becoming the breadwinner. Without her involvement, Ballet J”rgen would not be where it is today. Somehow the couple also managed to begin a family and now have two young sons.

In 1989 J”rgen was appointed as choreographer-in-residence for preprofessional students at Toronto’s vocationally oriented George Brown College. The school had suspended the regular daytime dance program, so its facilities became available for use by J”rgen’s own company. It was the start of a relationship between J”rgen and George Brown College which, despite some perilous twists and turns, has endured to this day. J”rgen now operates the school’s dance program while its bright, spacious studios have become the company’s rented home.

By the 1991-92 season Ballet J”rgen began to tour within Ontario. In 1993 the company made its first trip outside its home province, to the prairie capital of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where J”rgen reconnected with Arnold Spohr, the former longtime artistic director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) and a revered figure in Canadian dance.

J”rgen had once tried to join the RWB while Spohr was still its director but had been turned down. J”rgen understood Spohr’s loyalty to the graduates of his own RWB school and bore no grudge. He invited him to see his young company and was thrilled when Spohr came backstage afterward, full of compliments and enthusiasm for the troupe’s bold emphasis on creativity.

J”rgen, who has often been accused of arrogance, was humble and smart enough to realize that, in order to advance, his company needed experienced help. He asked Spohr, always eager to be fully engaged in the cause of dance, if he would like to become associate director. Spohr accepted and began regular trips to Toronto to coach J”rgen’s dancers for the stage. Within a year the results were astonishing. Spohr, with his eagle eye for detail and nuances of expression and interpretation, put the professional polish on Ballet J”rgen that had sometimes been missing. Spohr also became a mentor to J”rgen, forty years his junior, imparting useful lessons on how to program an evening of mixed ballets and how to inspire dancers to work beyond their own expectations.

Arnold became like a father figure,” says J”rgen, “always encouraging and always fully supportive.” Spohr, now seventy-nine, retains his title of associate director at Ballet J”rgen although age and poor health limit his involvement. Until her untimely death last July, Linda Stearns, a seasoned ballet mistress and former artistic director of Montreal’s Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, had filled the gap left by Spohr’s gradual withdrawal.

There was, however, still a major problem, one familiar to many dance companies–money, or, more precisely, the lack thereof. “Money is still a headache. I spend so much of my energy going out raising funds,” says J”rgen. “But it was even harder at the beginning. When a choreographer wanted to put the girls up on their toes I’d say, ‘Do you have to?’ You see, we couldn’t afford the pointe shoes.” J”rgen’s idea of maintaining a small troupe of dancers that could be the collective muse for a succession of emerging choreographers was generally applauded as a worthy endeavor, but Toronto is a crowded dance market and it was not easy either to attract large audiences or adequate financial backing.

In 1995, J”rgen hit on a solution, although it meant modifying his troupe’s mandate. He choreographed his own miniversion of that perennially popular holiday season classic, the Nutcracker. Across North America, the Nutcracker is the financial salvation of countless ballet troupes great and small, a reliable cash cow that underwrites more adventurous programming. J”rgen knew he could not compete with the spectacular productions offered by larger companies but he realized he could carve his own market niche by devising a thoroughly professional yet portable version that could tour to smaller communities.

The plan worked. His Nutcracker, scaled for a company of sixteen dancers, was a huge success with audiences who otherwise might never have seen live dance. Apart from generating much-needed revenue, the Nutcracker also pushed J”rgen’s dancers to improve their pure classical ballet skills and dramatic abilities.

Not all of the dancers liked this new dimension to the company’s work; they had joined because they wanted to be part of a creative process, working on new choreography. Most, however, understood that the addition of marketable story ballets to the repertoire would help underwrite the costs of creativity and allow the company to expand its operations and offer longer contracts.


This year, for example, J”rgen’s core troupe of twelve dancers has a 47-week contract. The pay is paltry–little more than $370 per week–but dancers live to perform. In the 2002/03 season Ballet J”rgen gave almost 135 performances. That’s a lot more stage time than many dancers in larger troupes ever see. And in Ballet J”rgen, all the dancers dance all the time. “It’s a grueling workload,” says J”rgen. “It takes a special kind of dancer, and some just can’t handle it and leave. But those who stay tend to stick around a long time. They become part of the family.”

In 1998, in a coproduction with the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, J”rgen choreographed a much-praised version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, again for sixteen dancers, and the next year restaged it in expanded form for the Hong Kong Ballet. The two companies then combined their resources in 2001 to allow J”rgen to create his own version of the comic romance, Coppelia.

Like his Romeo and Juliet, J”rgen’s Coppelia does not look skimpy. With wonderfully expressionistic modular sets and whimsical costumes that seem to be inspired by a combination of Cubism and Surrealism, the production succeeds because it does not try to ape larger versions. The secret of J”rgen’s success with the full-length classics is his ability to reduce them in scale without shrinking their dramatic or emotional scope. They are fresh and original and, as J”rgen is happy to boast, they were made for his dancers. “We are still the only company I know of, at least in Canada, where the entire repertoire is original. We’ve never bought ready-made ballets from outside.”

Nowadays Ballet J”rgen splits its time between touring its popular, family-oriented story ballets throughout Canada and the United States and working on fresh choreographic projects. For some years, J”rgen, recalling his own formative experience at the Creative Dance Artists Trust in England, has selected young choreographers to come to Toronto for an intensive mentoring session with invited senior artists. The process is not geared toward performance but simply the nurturing of talent, with J”rgen’s own dancers serving as willing, versatile human instruments.

By staying small and finding a programming balance that mixes fresh versions of beloved classics with cutting-edge new choreography, Ballet J”rgen has found more than a strategy for survival. The two aspects of its work feed artistically into each other, making it a better company in all regards. Early last year, CBC-TV, Canada’s national broadcaster, aired a one-hour documentary about Ballet J”rgen entitled Dancing on a Shoestring. Its title aptly encapsulates the kernel of the company’s success. As Ballet J”rgen has proved, big is not always better.

The Web site for the Ballet J”rgen is For more information on the arts and culture of Toronto, click on the “Greater Toronto” link at

Michael Crabb is dance critic of a Canadian daily, the National Post, and author of the recently published biography, An Instinct for Success: Arnold Spohr and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

‘Music in the air:’ Saxony Germany celebrates 200th Anniversary of Richard Wagner

Recognized by many as the colossal force in the classical music world in the latter half of the 19th century right up to the present, the genius of Richard Wagner is being celebrated during the 200th anniversary of his birth throughout Saxony in his native Germany.

And it is drawing classical aficionados to such landmark cities as Leipzig and Dresden as well to the idyllic countryside of Saxony where in Graupa he created one of his most beloved classics: Lohengrin.

Wagner’s genius as a composer led to some of the world’s most renowned operas including The Flying Dutchman, Lohengrin, Tannhaeuser, Trista & Isolde, and The Ring of Nibelnugen.

Against all odds and largely self-trained, Wagner rose from a poor family in Leipzig to play a significant role in the city’s already rich musical heritage created by Bach, Mendelsohn, Telemann and Schumann.

In Dresden, he led the Royal Court Orchestra and founded one of the most significant music festivals in the world.

In Leipzig, Wagner was surrounded by music early as his older sisters took lessons and performed in the town theater.

It is also felt that Wagner was drawn further into a musical career when he fell in love at an early age with a local opera star.

However, Wagner also took the initiative to borrow books and largely train himself in musical composition and harmony.

Following half a year under the tutelage of the musical director of Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church where he wrote his first sonatas and arias, he was offered the position as musical director of the town of Magdeburg.

In the matter of two short years, he was invited to take on the prestigious role of Royal Saxon Court Conductor in Dresden, a post that he held for six years (1843-1849). While there, he debuted Tannhaeuser and The Flying Dutchman.


He also made a great impact with his Feast of the Apostle filling the landmark church with hundreds of singers and musicians.

At the same time, during a summer break in the country suburb of Graupa, he composed Lohengrin where its citizens continue celebrating his stay and composition while hosting Wagner lovers from around the world.

The Lohengrin House in Pirna-Graupa has been restored to its original condition of 1840 and in addition to the exhibition on the opera, visitors can tour the house that has been equipped with listening points describing Wagner’s magical summer stay.

A new permanent exhibition also is open in the nearby hunting lodge where Wagner’s life and work are presented in six exhibit rooms.

In Dresden, throughout 2013, the Semper Opera offers a guided tour on Wagner by request. There is also an ongoing exhibition renewed periodically. Two walks through pavilions in the upper vestibules allow visitors to enjoy the historic interiors of Semper’s first royal court theater.

At the Old St. Nicholas School in the heart of Leipzig and next to the square of the Peaceful Revolution that reunited Germany in 1989, a new permanent exhibition entitled, “Richard Wagner as a Young Man 1813-1834” is a “must see.”

Continually each night throughout the year in Leipzig, there is a Wagner opera or concert, exhibition or symposium being held somewhere in the city.

A thorough and comprehensive celebration of the composer and his influence on art and artists around the world even continues into early 2014. For instance, the Grazzi Museum for Musical Instruments features its “Sounds from the Mystical Abyss: for Richard Wagner.”

To celebrate its musical heritage, Leipzig has started a “musical trail” where visitors can follow in the footsteps of its musical giants and visit the places where they lived, composed, worked and were inspired.


There are a total of 23 stops along the way within the center of Leipzig itself offering a wonderful way to explore the buildings, arcades, churches and favorite haunts of Wagner and other great German musical geniuses.

Information on Wagner’s time in Saxony is offered online in the download brochure: “My Dear Swan” on

For a chronology of the composer’s life, his major accomplishment plus information on his major works visit:

Dave Bartruff is an award-winning photojournalist who has traveled to more than ninety countries. Based in California, he has been a contributor to The World & I since 1987.

An Alpine Idyll

On a recent gray July morning in the Alpine village of Verbier, Switzerland, pianist Emanuel Ax and violinist Christian Tetzlaff were sounding the final notes of a recital encore — the scherzo from Brahms’s Sonata in D minor — when they were joined by the soft murmur of distant thunder. It rumbled through the performance space, a church referred to (simply) as L’Eglise, at exactly the right instant, creating the impression that a gentle timpani roll had been intended all along for the ending of this piece, and everyone, audience members and artists alike, broke into broad smiles.

The communion of nature and art is one of the selling points of the Verbier Festival. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place than this pristine ski resort, nestled, even in summer, in the lap of magnificent ice-capped mountains. It can be artistically exquisite as well. The recital by Tetzlaff and Ax, featuring Mozart, Debussy, and Grieg, was music-making of the very highest order. And if some of the other offerings didn’t quite reach that level, there were compensations.

For example, the gala concert celebrating the festival’s tenth anniversary was the kind of star-studded affair that makes for an unforgettable evening, regardless of artistic outcome. Here were some of the world’s top pianists, including Ax, Leif Ove AndAn-Alpine-Idyll-1snes, Martha Argerich, Evgeny Kissin, Lang Lang, James Levine, and Mikhail Pletnev, among others, playing together on one stage — up to eight pianos at a time — along with a string orchestra featuring such renowned soloists as Sarah Chang, Gidon Kremer, Vadim Repin, Dmitri Sitkovetsky, Nikolaj Znaider, Yuri Bashmet, and Mischa Maisky. Watching rehearsals, one feared the worst. Sometimes as things went awry, many of the usually disciplined pianists would giddily succumb to the urge to bang away in a musical free-for-all. One afternoon on the stage of the large tent used for evening concerts, Ax, usually a beacon of calm, could be heard pleading for order as Levine searched for the missing bars in his part. Entropy waited eagerly in the wings.

Nevertheless, in the end, things went relatively well. The performances ranged from a graceful, glowing Mozart Sonata for four hands played by Argerich and Kissin, to workmanlike ensemble playing, to a train-wreck of a Scott Joplin rag in which eight great classical artists proved that they can’t swing. But what a happening!

Martin Engstroem, the founder and executive director of the Verbier Festival, has always managed to attract big-name talent, even without a large budget. Years ago he confessed that he had enticed Isaac Stern and Evgeny Kissin to Verbier by telling each that the other had requested an opportunity to play with him. One wonders how he convinced all these stars to join in what Leif Ove Andsnes called “that crazy concert.” “It’s so funny,” Engstroem says, “because so many of them asked me the same question: ‘How did you get us to do this?’ I have a personal relationship with most of these people, developed over many years. I think many of them performed because it was not only the birthday of the festival but also my own birthday. I told those who were a bit hesitant, ‘You are doing this for me.’

“But I believe the primary reason they come has to be artistic. That it’s nice and joyful here is ‘added value.’ I always ask artists to perform a piece they’ve never played before, or to play with people they’ve never worked with before. Some artists, like Martha Argerich, I try to inspire with new repertoire. She recently learned the Brahms G minor Piano Quartet. When I first asked her to play this, she said, ‘I’m not friends with Brahms.’ But I told her that the piece was really for her. She started working on it and said, ‘Perhaps you’re right.’ Gidon Kremer had never played it. I put the two of them together with Bashmet and Maisky. And it resulted in our Deutsche Grammophon recording, which is coming out in January. Therefore, I feel like a partner in whom they trust. And this confidence is the key element of the relationships.”

Two less visible partners in the success of the festival are no less impressive. One, Ulrich Gerhartz, is the Steinway technician who personally selected (based on his knowledge of the playing style of each soloist) and tuned all eight pianos for the gala concert. Gerhartz, who runs the technical-services department of Steinway Hall in London, began his tuning regimen at 3 a.m., and achieved incredible results despite the odds (Mikhail Pletnev, surveying the situation, had asked him, “Why bother?”).

The other is a banker named Georges Gagnebin, and therein lies a tale. Gagnebin is chairman of UBS Wealth Management & Business Banking in Zurich, and it was his decision to link the corporate image of the biggest asset manager in the world to an orchestra of young musicians. “In 1995, I gave a group of young people the task of coming up with ten ideas about how we could communicate our values to clients,” he remembers. “One of these was to build a youth orchestra. The reaction within UBS was: ‘Are you crazy? We are bankers, not artists.’ But I thought about the nature of an orchestra. You cannot have a better image of different kinds of people coming together, building a unity, a team, and delivering a common message. That’s what we do at the bank.” Gagnebin, who is clearly passionate about this project, could not be dissuaded — not even by Martin Engstroem, who at first blush rejected the idea.


The UBS Verbier Festival Youth Orchestra — whose members, all under the age of 29, are selected in auditions around the world — is now in residence at the festival under the musical direction of James Levine, and they are a remarkable ensemble. UBS funds the endeavor, and Georges Gagnebin believes they are getting their money’s worth. “Everyone can identify with these musicians,” he reports.

“Beginning in 2001 we built our public communication on this idea, with posters showing these young musicians.” I saw one while traveling on a lift up to the top of Mt. Fort. On it, the question, “Do you try to do your very best every day?” was placed prominently beside a picture of an orchestra member. “It’s great externally for our clients, and it’s great internally for our employees — a fantastic message,” says Gagnebin. “It’s investing in youth, but it’s also about high performance — it says you have to deliver. And it represents something in which we believe — you have people from all religions, races, languages, countries, coming together, like at the bank. After we began the project we had ‘derivatives’ — we made small ensembles and brought them on tour.”

In an age when many corporate entities are spending small fortunes in marketing through the short-lived celebrity of pop icons, UBS is aligning itself with something of enduring value while furthering beauty in the world. Now, that’s something worth celebrating.

Great Expectations: Can a tough ex-soldier who loves the arts bring peace to Israel? Ehud Barak will try

In 1976, Col. Ehud Barak delivered a eulogy for a comrade who was killed in the daring rescue of a hijacked planeload of passengers at Entebbe airport in Uganda. Afterwards, a popular Israeli poet, Haim Guri, predicted: “One day, this man will be prime minister.” It was not the first time Ehud Barak had been the subject of great expectations. Years earlier, when Barak graduated from his first officers training course with distinction, the chief of staff at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, said: “If this boy doesn’t make chief of staff, there’s something wrong with the system.” Moshe Dayan, the skeptical, eye-patched hero of the 1967 Six Day War, added: “He’s too good to be true.”

Good or not, Barak has turned out to be true. He made chief of staff in 1991, and last week voters proved the poet’s words right as well. Such is the intertwining of politics and war in Israel that the incumbent whom Barak toppled in a landslide was Binyamin Netanyahu, younger brother of Yonatan Netanyahu, the man Barak had eulogized in 1976. But despite the strength of Barak’s victory for the prime ministership — 56 per cent to 44 per cent in a straight two-man fight — he will need all the skills his mentors saw in him to keep a divided country together and to get the peace process with the Palestinians back on track.


Like Rabin and Dayan, the 57-year-old Barak will always be seen as a soldier turned politician. But he brings a broader, more trained intellect to the premiership than most men in uniform. After the 1967 war, he took a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and a master’s in systems analysis at Stanford University in California. He is an accomplished classical pianist. Acquaintances say he can talk as knowledgeably about the novels of Dostoyevsky and Proust as about those of the modern Israeli masters Amos Oz and A. B. Yeshoshua. The eulogy he delivered for Yonatan Netanyahu is taught in Israeli high schools for the richness of its Hebrew language. At home, he jogs, likes a good cigar and an occasional drink. His wife, Navah, teaches English (they have three grown-up daughters).

Barak’s political credentials, however, are less certain. He has had only brief experience in government, outside the armed forces. When he hung up his uniform in 1995 after four years in the army’s top job, Rabin brought him into his cabinet and tapped him as heir apparent. He served a short time as interior minister, then became foreign minister after Rabin’s assassination in November that year. Following Netanyahu’s defeat of Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres, in 1996, Barak was elected leader of the Labour Party.

He fought this year’s gruelling five-month campaign for the May 17 election like a general. He hired a team of American campaign advisers, led by Bill Clinton’s Democratic attack dog, James Carville, but the candidate “was at the heart of every decision,” says member Robert Shrum. The campaign was carefully focused. Barak selected his targets and stuck to them — disaffected Russian immigrant voters, and the blue-collar Sephardim (Jews from Arab countries) who had voted for Netanyahu in 1996, then found themselves unemployed. He refused to be diverted by enemy fire. If he made mistakes — such as waiting 24 hours before repudiating a comedian who insulted Netanyahu voters at one of his meetings — he corrected them. If a barb needed answering, he responded — briefly and in his own fashion. He chose the turf and stayed on it. “He’s a man of his word,” says an old friend, military commentator Ron Ben-Yishai. “He thinks very fast and tends to rely on himself. But he reacts slowly. He’s a calculator, a tough guy. It is very difficult to pressure him.”

Barak was born of pioneering kibbutz stock in Mishmar Hasharon, where his parents still live. As a boy in that collective village between Tel Aviv and Haifa, he won a legendary lock-picking contest — an early testament to his fascination with problems and his talent for solving them. He is intrigued by old-fashioned clocks.

In the army, he served in, then commanded, the top special operations unit, the General Staff Scouts. As Israel’s most decorated soldier — a record his television campaign spots highlighted relentlessly — he won the Distinguished Service Medal and four citations, some for missions still classified. His known exploits read like movie treatments. In May, 1972, he led a squad, disguised as white-overalled maintenance men, who stormed a hijacked Belgian airliner at Tel Aviv airport. A month later, he and his commandos snatched five Syrian intelligence officers, on a tour of inspection in southern Lebanon, as a bargaining counter for Israeli prisoners of war. The following spring, dressed as a buxom woman tourist with a brunette wig, Barak led a hit team that landed in Lebanon from the sea and killed three Palestinian leaders in their Beirut apartments.

From the special forces, he went on to command an armoured division and the intelligence corps. Subordinates dubbed him “Napoleon,” a reference not just to his stocky build, but to his supreme self-confidence and intolerance of those who failed to measure up to his standards. “He is very demanding,” says Amos Gilboa, Barak’s deputy at military intelligence. “If he sees people handle things loosely or against his directives, he will come down on them without mercy.”

As a civilian politician, he has learned to seek advice. Unlike Netanyahu, who lost patience with his American strategist, Arthur Finkelstein, Barak continued to listen to his imported experts. “He is enormous fun to work with,” says consultant Shrum. “He doesn’t do things just because somebody says so. He listens, but he challenges you. He is very tough-minded.”

On the campaign trail, Barak learned to glad-hand the voters, if not quite to kiss their babies. Ben-Yishai, who served with Barak as a young officer and studied with him at university, explains: “He was never an emotional person. But once he saw that it was important to hug people if he wanted to win, he became one.”

Similarly, the strictly secular Barak has started quoting Jewish texts, something his friends say he never did before. He is courting religious parties in an attempt to build a government of national reconciliation. “He quotes the Bible, and quotes it fluently, because he thinks he needs it,” says Ben-Yishai. “It’s an instrument, but he’s not a liar. He has always respected the Jewish tradition.”

In fact, Barak does not need Israel’s three religious parties to build a stable coalition, even though they boosted their share of the 120- seat Knesset to a record 27 seats from 23. He could manage comfortably with a combination of left and centre parties, and win points among his own voters for doing so. Netanyahu, who did need the religious parties, provoked a backlash at the polls by yielding to almost all their demands to fund their seminaries and exempt their students from compulsory army service. Israel’s secular majority, as many of them put it, took back their own country on May 17. Tommy Lapid, a tabloid columnist and television commentator, won six seats at the head of a splinter group that fought on a stridently anti-clerical platform. Other secular parties also gained, although Labour fell by eight seats to 26, and Netanyahu’s Likud bloc dropped to 19 from 32.


Barak, however, has pledged to heal the wounds that opened wider than ever during Netanyahu’s term. “The intention,” Yossi Beilin, one of his senior Labour colleagues, told Maclean’s, “is to have the widest possible coalition. The anti-religious swing was a reaction to the excesses of the last three years, rather than an expression of hatred towards Jewish tradition. We aim to quell these flames, to bring peace at home as well as peace with our neighbours.” The biggest religious party, Shas, was one possible partner. And Netanyahu resigned as Likud leader, leaving the way open for that party, too, to make a deal with Barak under interim chief Ariel Sharon.

Although peace and security were no longer the core issues dividing left from right in the election, a settlement with the Palestinians and the Syrians is at the top of Barak’s agenda. The chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erakat, hailed the election result as “a vote for peace.” Barak says he wants to see early results on all fronts.

Bargaining on a final agreement with the Palestinians is due to end by May, 2000, already one year behind schedule. Otherwise, leader Yasser Arafat has threatened to declare a Palestinian state unilaterally. Barak has promised to get Israeli troops out of south Lebanon within one year. His people, including many of his generals, are eager for it. Recognizing that the road out of Lebanon runs through negotiations with Syria, including a substantial evacuation of the Golan Heights that Israel has held since the 1967 war, Barak is already drawing up blueprints for talks.

Still, Israeli commentators are sounding a warning note. Barak, wrote Shimon Shiffer in the mass-circulation daily Yediot Aharonot, wasn’t in love with the 1993 Oslo peace agreement. “As chief of staff, he was very critical of what he saw as the holes in the security arrangements,” Shiffer noted. “He intends to follow Rabin’s path: to proceed slowly, with caution.”

Others ask whether, after a lifetime fighting Arabs, Barak will have the emotional will not just to draw lines separating the two peoples, but to start building a new relationship between them. So far, Arab leaders give him the kind of credit they soon withdrew from Netanyahu. Arafat welcomed his election. King Abdullah, the new ruler of Jordan, said in Washington that he thought Barak “is the type of man to take Israel into the next stage of peace and stability in our region.” President Hafez Assad of Syria signalled that he is ready to resume negotiations that went on hold during the Netanyahu years.

With 45 days to put together his government, Barak starts with a huge fund of goodwill, at home and abroad. Israelis hope their latest warrior statesman will somehow measure up to the greatest expectations he has ever faced.

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