Instantly memorable

Jeremy Pound says why new works need to be made available on CD… within minutes

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Recently, I had the good fortune to attend the world premiere of David Matthews’s Seventh Symphony. What I can tell you is that I enjoyed it hugely. I can also happily describe the overall feel and structure of the work – tonal, one major recurrent theme, touches of Sibelius and Vaughan Williams here and there, a rousing finale. But that’s about it.

Ask me about any of the finer details, and I’ll give you a blank look – not least because the 80 minutes of Mahler’s Seventh that followed in the second half muscled poor old Matthews out of my (admittedly limited) short-term musical memory.

Only the most brilliant of minds can properly appreciate and analyse a new work after one hearing. The rest of us need a little help. And, yes, we are fickle too – in the absence of some audio prompt, we soon become hazy about what attracted us to a piece, and our enthusiasms move on.

This, I suspect, rather than lack of quality of the works themselves, is a significant reason why so much contemporary music is blighted by the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ tag.

So, what’s the solution? How can we prevent so many interesting new works disappearing so quickly?

Perhaps the solution lies in instant concert CDs, of the sort that have been produced since 2005 by the Gürzenich Orchestra, Cologne under its ‘GO Live!’ brand. The ‘GO Live!’ concept is simple: you go to a Gürzenich concert at Cologne’s Philharmonie; you enjoy the thrills of live music from one of Germany’s most revered orchestras; you leave the hall at the end of said concert and – bingo! – CDs of the very performance you have just listened to are on sale in the foyer.

By and large, the ‘Go Live!’ adventure has been a success, though it’s interesting to note that the instant concert CD idea hasn’t really caught on elsewhere in the classical music world. Beyond Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir’s ‘SDG on the Night’ label, launched in 2006, examples are few and far between.

A fairly obvious question lies behind why the ‘Instant CD’ idea hasn’t been taken up more widely: who would want a rough-and-ready (coughs and all) recording, when there are plenty of neatly edited ‘live’ performances around? That question, however, becomes obsolete in the case of world premieres, where the advantages of offering a ‘there and then’ recording are pretty plain: as well as giving those who are enthusiastic about a new work the ideal chance to hear it again straightaway and get to know it properly, it would also provide a means for the piece to be instantly disseminated.

Plus – and I acknowledge this may be a touch fanciful – such ‘First Night’ CDs could in time even start to gain value as collector’s items. Maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe most concert goers treat new compositions as a vaguely interesting prelude to the main fare but would never dream of buying them on CD. Maybe this is a market that simply isn’t there to be tapped. But I’d like to see someone, somewhere give it a try. Works such as Matthews’s Seventh Symphony deserve it.

Jeremy Pound is the deputy editor of BBC Music Magazine

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