Classical: Now it's bang up to date

Deutsche Grammophon and a chic hi-fi firm are pushing out the boat.
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The Independent Culture
THE FASHIONABLE marriage of lifestyle and classical music was newly consummated in Edinburgh on Sunday when, at Leith Harbour on board the lavishly attired liner Seabourn Pride, Deutsche Grammophon consolidated a "corporate partnership" with Seabourn Cruise line, and the Danish audio- visual company Bang & Olufsen.

The partnership will yield a "themed cruise" in the spring of 1999 (where DG will host some of their most prestigious artists), and a specially prepared six-CD set for sale in B&O's retail outlets.

Another CD initiative centres on The Art of Seduction, a lavishly presented single-disc package which, like the multi-disc set, "will be presented to the public with the latest Bang & Olufsen technology", the "latest" being B&O's minimalist BeoSound 9000 CD Player. What a pity DG's pioneer of the techno-classical revolution, the late Herbert von Karajan, wasn't around to see it.

If there is any truth to the rumour that classical music sits more comfortably among the affluent classes, then B&O UK's marketing manager, Graeme Taylor, will have his work cut out. "We need to explore the myriad possibilities that are open to us," he told me, fresh from attending a promotional mini- concert where the violinist Augustin Dumay raced headlong into a Brahms sonata. "We're thinking in terms of product placement within theatres or concert halls, so concert-goers can explore B&O."

Deutsche Grammophon's president, Karsten Witt, spoke of his company as being especially "future orientated", and he prides himself on the "beautiful CD packaging" that finds a rough parallel in B&O's sleek, decidedly futuristic designs. Both product ranges are traditionally highly priced, but will the principle of selling premium-price CDs in a hi-fi shop anger local CD retailers who are trying to shift the same titles? "We have to face a differentiating of the market-place," replies Witt, somewhat guardedly.

Competitive trading is rarely a comfortable subject for discussion, least of all for the man in charge. "Maybe things were easier when you had just the one record shop in town," he adds. "I mean by that `your' shop, a place where you could listen, get advice, and so on. But times have changed; nowadays people buy their records at very different kinds of places.

Witt fancies the idea of selling discs in a "boutique-style" shopping environment. Plainly, the gentleman's not for dumbing down. But is this just another ploy to help prop up a tottering market? And is it really the way forward?

Listening among us in the ship's lounge were patrons of the current cruise, mostly elderly and prone to doze. And yet, one performance in particular held their attention. Cellist Jian Wang told us of a blind Chinese street musician who learned of reflected moonlight from his mother, then wrote a song about it. Wang played us the song unaccompanied, and everyone sat spellbound.

You see, that's how the big-time hits work. Directness. Simplicity. Sincerity. Human interest (think of Gorecki's girl in a Gestapo cell, Bryars's homeless singer, Helfgott's half-cock antics and Kennedy's punk protests). The rest is, with due respect to Seabourn, plain sailing.

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