Last December I recorded a solo chamber work for bassoon and piano in my office/studio with one of my former students as a personal favor for composer Carl Paul Vollrath. The acoustic piano I have there needed a tune, so I played the digital keyboard instead. The track was shipped off to MMC Records and I was very honored when they decided to include it on a sampler of new music by classical composers. The track is available via:
I’m also finishing up the liner notes for Dr. Vollrath’s upcoming release featuring Richard Stoltzman on clarinet. Scheduled for release next month, the project consists of 2 CDs of clarinet music (recorded by Bob Lord at MMC). If you’ve ever written liner notes for your own music, you can imagine how tough it is to summarize someone else’s music. What I ended up doing was writing a layman’s analysis of the character and form of the pieces. It’s descriptive enough to encourage folks to listen (and hopefully buy the printed music).
It’s really tough being a classical composer in this age; ensembles generally are very conservative with their programming choices and if you noticed the program the New York Philharmonic took to North Korea, you’ll see what I mean. Dr. Vollrath retired from teaching recently and is devoting all the time and resources he has to these recording projects.
Think about this for a moment. Would you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to see some of your life’s work recorded? This situation is absolutely amazing to me! Carl gives away many of his compositions to performers in hopes of having them performed; unfortunately, few are. It’s not a quality issue, it’s a glass ceiling that classical composers have to find a way to break through.
It works out great for the labels; think of them as the audio equivalent of a “vanity press” (those publishers who will publish a certain number of copies of your book for a fee). But for Dr. Vollrath, these compositions are his “children” and no price is too great in order to see them come of age. He has already released a 2 cd album of piano music and one cd of chamber music for trumpet and horn. I won’t begin to speculate how much these projects cost.
I’ve known many musicians who would play anywhere simply for the joy of sharing their music (gratis). Classical composers are ‘up the creek without a paddle’ because they cannot realize their works without the cooperation of other like-minded performers. Either you get really good at writing grants for arts enrichment, playing political games and courting rich patrons or you do what Carl is doing; –focus on the music and do the best that he can. You’ve got to admire someone who has spent a lifetime of disciplined composition for the sheer love of the art, perhaps never knowing when or if the notes on the page will ever be heard. Putting your soul down on manuscript paper because this music that no one else hears is welling up inside you and has to be released. That’s creating art for art’s sake.