Classical:NEXT debuts in Munich

By Rebecca Schmid

Classical:NEXT, an exclusively classical professional forum which held its first edition from May 30-June 2 in Munich, set out with high ambitions. Founded at the behest of the Association of Classical Independents in Germany (CLASS) as an alternative to MIDEM, which has left many attendants disappointed in recent years both for its high costs and lack of innovation, the new event included not only a trade fair and networking opportunities but live showcases, video screenings, panel discussions and after-hours concerts exploring classical club culture. Naxos, a partner of Classical:NEXT, brought its entire brigade alongside countless small labels, distributors, independent entrepreneurs, managers, and more to mingle at Munich’s Gasteig, an elegant event space that also serves as home to the Munich Philharmonic. 700 delegates attended in total, 60% of which came from outside Germany.

The most successful aspect appears to have been the networking opportunities. The managing partner of a small label told me that several people planned on foregoing MIDEM—which is heavy on pop music and serves thousands of delegates—in favor of the new alternative next year. The founder of a new label whom I spoke with at a private party was headed up to his hotel room to sign a contract with Naxos. While none of the (former) ‘Big Four’ labels were represented, there was no lack of promotional activities. Meanwhile, the live showcases and video screenings (for which yours truly sat on the jury) coincided with each other as well as conference sessions, receiving a less than stellar attendance rate and leaving several performers disappointed. One can only hope the coming iteration will attend to the issue. I did manage to catch a performance of composer-performer Thierry Pécou’s “Ensemble Variances” in two original chamber works. His subjective idiom and unusual presentation format certainly fits into the “NEXT” part of the event’s mission, as did a contemporary concert at the Harry Klein club later that evening.

Delegates mingling at the Gasteig (c) Eric van Nieuwland/Classical:NEXT

The topics of the conference sessions included the use of atonality in film music, crowd funding, digital marketing, and perspectives on journalism today. Carnegie Hall E-Strategy Director Christopher Gruits gave an unusually focused presentation about multimedia strategies alongside Bavarian State Opera Head of Marketing Anna Kleeblatt. Video is the operative word for both institutions, while the Bavarian State Opera is also making its first forays in Twitter and has amassed 3,356 followers: the company recently launched a contest for a free weekend in Verona that asked participants to name, among other creative bits, their favorite “manner of death onstage” (hopefully stage directors won’t take the submissions too seriously). The discrepancy in developments across the Atlantic of course could not hide its face—Carnegie Hall has four people on staff for digital marketing as compared to one at the Bavarian State Opera—but the latter is fully on the bandwagon with its newly-launched free streaming service, already attracting 40,000 viewers in the U.S. Up next is an App entitled “I love Opera” to serve the 13 largest opera houses in the German-speaking world.

The ramifications of digital developments for journalism of course also dominated a discussion with BBC Music Magazine Editor Oliver Condy and freelance journalist Jessica Duchen as moderated by PIANONews Editor Carsten Dürer. Condy emphasized that music journalism must be seen as a profession and accorded proper compensation: I wouldn’t invite a plumber to work in my house and say this will be a great promotional gig, he explained. Duchen, who holds a widely read blog, admitted that it has become a bit of a “millstone” for her as she struggled to meet the expectations of readers and PR agents who request that she cover certain topics. The panel members also decried the proliferation of opinion pieces as opposed to solid music journalism. Perhaps it is my American perspective, but the general tone was a bit outdated for the current state of affairs and made too strong a distinction between internet users and print. Surely we journalists have reached the point where we can actively exploit the internet to our advantage, rather than allow it to exploit us, and use multimedia in healthy doses.

Gramophone Editor-in-Chief James Jolly, in his closing speech, emphasized the power of social media (his magazine boasts some 14,000 Facebook followers) and compared the iPad’s impact on journalism to the iPod when it first descended upon the music industry. He also confirmed that the U.S. is leading the way in digital developments, somewhat of a tricky issue at a continental conference including people from countries (40 altogether) at various stages in exploiting new technology. As it happens, some local residents of the conservative Bavarian capital were not so smitten by the forum’s international mission and complained that city funds had been invested in an event that failed to involve enough local arts institutions. Jolly smoothed over any controversy by praising Classical:NEXT as a “relaxed forum…vital to sharing our experiences, developing new relationships and guaranteeing that we will all be in a position to return again next year– in good health and ready for the challenges that will undoubtedly present themselves.” That they will indeed.

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