Phila. Orchestra to record with Deutsche Grammophon

Orchestra conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is already recording Mozart operas for Deutsche Grammophon.
Orchestra conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is already recording Mozart operas for Deutsche Grammophon. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 15, 2013

Just as conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin suggested a year ago, the Philadelphia Orchestra will follow him onto the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon recording label this spring, though so far only one disc is assured.

After a string of performances of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring this month, the orchestra will record the groundbreaking 1913 ballet along with Leopold Stokowski Bach transcriptions in a disc that will be a tribute to the orchestra's first great music director.

The pairing is unusual, even unprecedented. "But it's uniquely Philadelphia," said Jeremy Rothman, the orchestra's vice president for artistic planning.

The recording conditions promise to be optimum: Rather than editing together live concerts, as most American orchestras do, the music will be recorded under more expensive studio conditions at the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall for release later this year.

The orchestra declined to discuss numbers or the nature of its agreement with Deutsche Grammophon (nicknamed in the industry "the yellow label"). Rothman would say the arrangement had financial support from the recording company but was also possible thanks to "a great deal of interest and flexibility from our players . . . to find the best conditions for the hall and for the ensemble."

Already, Nézet-Séguin is recording a series of Mozart operas for the label and finished a complete Schumann symphony and concerto cycle with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe late last year in Paris.

"As Deutsche Grammophon is proudly accompanying his sky-rocketing career with prestigious recording projects, it is natural that Yannick's burgeoning partnership with the Philadelphia Orchestra - one of the great musical institutions in the classical world - is an integral part of these activities," Ute Fesquet, Deutsche Grammophon's vice president of artists and repertoire, said in a statement.

Few American orchestras regularly make traditional recordings issued on physical discs anymore. The New York Philharmonic has a Nielsen project for Da Capo, the now-locked-out Minnesota Orchestra records Sibelius for BIS, while the Los Angeles Philharmonic is one of several orchestras with whom Gustavo Dudamel records on DG.

Though no stranger to major labels, the Philadelphia Orchestra has not recorded anything for DG since 1997; the only two were under guest conductors Christian Thielemann (Wagner overtures) and Myung-Whun Chung (Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4).

Though past music directors Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy and Riccardo Muti recorded with the orchestra for a variety of labels, the orchestra was without a recording presence for much of Wolfgang Sawallisch's era (1993-2003), recorded intermittently for the Ondine label under Christoph Eschenbach (2003-2008), and hardly at all under Charles Dutoit (2008-2012).

Talks about the current arrangement have gone on for at least a year. The orchestra's 2012 Verdi Requiem appeared to be a prime recording candidate, partly because tenor soloist Rolando Villazon is a DG artist. However, sources at DG said that possibility was scotched by Daniel Barenboim, who already finished a recording of the same piece with star tenor Jonas Kaufmann.

As with most orchestras, Philadelphia isn't about to confine its recording activities to physical discs. The New York Philharmonic issues nearly every concert by music director Alan Gilbert - 12 this season - on a download-only basis. The Berlin Philharmonic regularly offers its concerts on a video-stream subscription with Simon Rattle. Similarly, the orchestra will have video transmissions through the local company SpectiCast.

"I don't know if we'll get to the point of having every concert available," said Rothman. "But, certainly, we do anticipate having all of this incredible content with the Philadelphia Orchestra."


Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.

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