Why Can’t Music Streaming Services Give Good Recommendations for Classical Music?

I regularly use Apple Music, and sometimes the recommendations I receive in the For You section are spot on. They learn from what I listen and what I love (though I don’t love tracks or albums very much), and they recommend music by the same or similar artists, or from similar genres. On any given day, I’d say a quarter of their picks are things that I really would like to listen to. And I think that a 250 batting average for this type of recommendation, which is all done by algorithm, is pretty good.

However, when they recommend classical music, they tend to strike out a lot more. Last night, I listened to an album of Schubert’s piano trios, and this morning, I see these recommendations:

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It’s fair to say that I’d be potentially interested in listening to many if not most of these recommendations, but are they really “like Schubert: Piano Trios, Op. 99 & 100?” No, not really. There are two recordings of violin concertos, an opera, some vocal music (Monteverdi’s Vespers), and some solo piano music.

What would be “like” those Schubert piano trios? Perhaps other chamber works, such as piano trios by Haydn or Beethoven. Maybe some string quartets by Schubert, Beethoven, or other Romantic composers. Or some other music by Schubert: his piano music, lieder, etc.

It’s not clear why these recommendations were chosen. With pop, rock, or jazz, the recommendations tend to be based on the artists performing the music, whereas here, this isn’t the case. None of the three artists who performed the Schubert trios I listened to (Andreas Staier, Daniel Sepec, and Roel Dieltiens) are present in the recommendations. Two of the recommendations are on the same label, Harmonia Mundi, and, in classical music, that can a good reason to recommend music, as independent labels do have a specific character. But I scratch my head to try to figure out how these recommendations were chosen.

The Igor Levit set is in my iCloud Music Library, and I have listened to it before, but I don’t know any of the other recordings. The only commonality I find is that the Schubert I listened to was released in 2016, and five of the seven recommendations were released the same year, with two others in 2014 and 2015.

It isn’t easy to tailor recommendations for classical music, and I suspect that Apple Music is simply looking at what other people who have the Schubert recording in their libraries are listening to, or what’s in their libraries, similar to the way the Genius feature works. Providing better classical recommendations would require additional metadata for classical recordings, beyond just the “classical” genre. There would need to be metadata for eras (Baroque, Romantic, etc.), ensemble sizes (trios, quartets, orchestras, etc.), and styles.

The classical market is too small for the big streaming services to provide this sort of recommendation, and other players, such as Idagio and Primephonic, are entering the field in an attempt to do so. This is probably not something that can be done by algorithm, in part because of the absence of extended metadata specific to classical music.

To be fair, a bit of browsing on Apple Music allows me to find plenty of classical music, but I really would like the kind of recommendation that pushes me in the right direction, especially for composers that I don’t know well. I’m not that interested in paying for another streaming service, because that sort of fragmentation with music is just an annoyance. But I wish the big streaming services – Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon – would take classical music seriously.

Classical musicians to break with tradition and speak to the audience – Daily Telegraph

In the hope of breaking down century old barriers between an orchestra and its audience the performers will step up to the front to talk about the piece they are about to play, its history, how the rehearsal process has impacted on the finished piece and what it means to them. The orchestra’s conductors will also introduce themselves and the music.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, led by Marin Alsop, is going to make their concerts less stodgy, but why has this taken so long? I’ve attended concerts where there was a talk about the music before the concert, but as a separate “event,” usually an hour before. These are generally sparsely attended. It makes sense to have a brief intro for the different works performed, as long as it isn’t too didactic.

Source: Classical musicians to break with tradition and speak to the audience

Coming Soon: An Even Bigger Classical Box Set, Bach 333

The Mozart 225 box set was the biggest box set ever. Until this year. Deutsche Grammophon will be releasing Bach 333, “the new complete edition,” in October. With 222 CDs, and just one single DVD, this will dwarf the Mozart set, which apparently sold well enough that DG has tried to come up with a faux round number to celebrate Bach and repackage his music. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

It will contain more than 280 hours of music, from 750 performers and 32 record labels. And that latter number is interesting. We saw a number of complete sets around 2000, and they were all single-label sets. The ability for DG to combine releases from all the Universal labels, and license from other labels, makes it possible to have a much better selection of music than from any one label.

I guess the above makes it sound like I’m interested in this set. I might be; at around £500, it’s a huge investment, but my love for Bach could sway me. I bought the Mozart set – and haven’t listed to very much of it – but my familiarity with Bach makes this tempting. On the other hand, it’s 222 CDs, which will take 280 hours to listen to – just once each – and countless days to rip, if I decide to rip them.

In 2000, I would have jumped on this – I did buy two of the complete sets available back then – but now, I’m not so sure. It’s not just that I buy fewer CDs, and have less time to listen to my huge collection, but I’m not sure that there is any real need for this. It’s excessive, but the music of Bach is so great that, well, he merits this type of approach.

There is one element of the set that is interesting, but that makes me hesitate. Some sets of works are made up of a mixture of recordings by different performers. For example, the lute suites are performed by three different people; the sonatas for violin and keyboard by two different pairs; and there are discs containing a hodgepodge of similar works by a variety of musicians, such as one with cello suites Casals, Starker, and Genrdon, followed by a lute suite by Gerwig, and gamba sonata by Wenzinger, a partita by Segovia, and a suite by Bream (and there’s much more on that disc). This does have some attraction as a sort of compilation of great performers, but it is a bit confusing. On the other hand, many works are present in multiple versions, such as the Kunst der Fuge for chamber orchestra, piano, and harpsichord, but there is no organ version.

The Mozart set was a limited edition: 15,000 copies. It hasn’t sold out yet. This Bach set is also limited, presumably the same number, and may have good resale value if it sells out, but it’s not worth buying as an investment, because fewer people these days care about big box sets.

In any case, I’ve got a few months to think about it. So do you. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

The Wizard of Salzburg, by Tim Page – The New York Review of Books

In all, there are 330 compact discs, twenty-four DVDs, two Blu-Ray audio discs, a handsome pictorial biography that would be worth having even without the music, and several booklets. There are 405 hours of music here: the first performance dates from 1938 (the overture to Die Zauberflöte with the Berlin Staatskapelle) and the last from April 1989 (Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic, a few months before Karajan’s death). According to the Guinness Book of World Records, which tracks such things, this is the “largest box set ever issued,” eclipsing a 2011 award presented to the late Arthur Rubinstein for the “largest boxed set of recordings by a single instrumentalist” (a total of 142 CDs).

Critic Tim Page reviews the new, big box set of recordings by Herbert von Karajan. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) While the above mentions the largest box set by a single instrumentalist, this new Karajan set also eclipses the 200-disc set of Mozart recordings released in late 2016.

The sheer bulk of the set is overwhelming, and one can’t help wondering who will listen to it all. After all, we live in a world that offers the near-complete recorded output of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi and most of the albums released by Vladimir Horowitz over the course of sixty-one years (as well as a fifty-CD set of live performances that chronicle seismic ups and downs in the last part of his career), and virtually everything Arturo Toscanini, Pierre Monteux, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Charles Munch ever conducted near a microphone. Moreover, if you are growing weary of Anne-Sophie Mutter, Hilary Hahn, and Itzhak Perlman, you can find the complete records of worthy but not exactly household-name violinists such as Johanna Martzy, Gioconda de Vito, and Eduard Melkus issued in Asia, where there has long been a huge hunger for rare recordings.

We have reached peak classical music. These complete sets are everywhere, but I still await one: the complete (more or less) recordings of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, at least those he did for the major labels, DG, Philips, EMI, etc.

There is a simple reason for this proliferation: reissues are nothing but profit for record companies. There are no studio costs to pay, only a small fee to the musician’s union, and some residuals to the artist or the artist’s estate. It has long been considerably less expensive to spiff up and repackage an existing recording than to make a new one. The first stereo albums of Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, for example, sound as though they were recorded yesterday, although some of them are nearly sixty-five years old and every person associated with them is either dead or long retired. Brilliant young performers now have to compete not only with their contemporaries but also with a host of legendary ghosts. Through technology we have established a permanent pantheon of great performances, one that can be very difficult, perhaps impossible, for newcomers to crack.

This is an interesting point. These sets aren’t just about cheap (per disc) recordings of all the major classical works, and many minor works, but they have flooded the market with recordings that will make it much more difficult in the decades to come for other performers to stake out a place.

Source: The Wizard of Salzburg | by Tim Page | The New York Review of Books

The Next Track, Episode #94 – Do Classical Record Labels Make Money?

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxPeople often wonder if classical record labels make money. We asked Andy Doe, who has a lot of experience in the classical record business, and he explains how the business works.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #94 – Do Classical Record Labels Make Money? .

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

Marin Alsop appointed first female artistic director of top Vienna orchestra – The Guardian

The American conductor Marin Alsop has been appointed artistic director of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, becoming the first woman to take up the prestigious role.

Alsop, one of the world’s leading conductors, and the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms, said she was honoured to be assuming the post in Vienna, which she called “the seat of classical music”.

Acknowledging how groundbreaking the appointment was for the classical music capital of the world, which has often been shockingly slow to welcome female musicians, let alone promote them to leadership roles, Alsop said she welcomed the chance to “push the envelope” for women in music. But she said she hoped the time would soon come when being “the first woman” would no longer be news.

“I’m very honoured to be the first,” she admitted, “but I’m also rather shocked that we can be in this year, in this century, and there can still be ‘firsts’ for women.”

Good for her.

The Vienna music world has frequently made headlines for its fusty attitude towards women. Only 20 years ago the Vienna Philharmonic bowed to public pressure and announced it would officially accept female musicians for the first time. What it was reluctant to admit was that it had had a female musician — the harpist Anna Lelkes, for the previous 26 years, but had never acknowledged her presence, and only allowed for her hands to be visible during television broadcasts. Even after officially opening up to women, the orchestra was extremely slow to appoint them and even today it remains overwhelmingly male dominated.

Ah, yes, the Vienna Misogynistic Orchestra…

Source: Marin Alsop appointed first female artistic director of top Vienna orchestra | Music | The Guardian

The Next Track, Episode #80 – John Cage

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxWe welcome Laura Kuhn, executive director of the John Cage Trust, to discuss the life and legacy of composer John Cage.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #80 – John Cage.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

ECM Records Now Available on Apple Music

ECM Records is now available on Apple Music. You can stream their excellent roster of jazz, classical, and world music (which they call “transcultural) on this and other streaming services.

Most of ECM’s presence is in the Jazz genre, where Apple is highlighting featured playlists, other playlists, and “new releases” – new to Apple Music, not recently released albums. (As you can see, the first is the landmark Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett.)

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ECM is one of those rare labels that has their own sound; something you don’t find much any more. Check out music by Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheney, Jan Garbarek, Bill Frisell, and so many more. This 10-hour playlist will give you a taste of the ECM sound.

While ECM isn’t as visible in the classical section, they have an excellent line-up of classical recordings, including works by Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt, and the wonderful recordings of pianist Andràs Schiff. On of my all-time favorite classical recordings on ECM is the Hilliard Ensemble’s 1989 recording of music by Pérotin, a haunting recording of early polyphonic music.

This link will take you to the ECM “curator” page, where you can browse their catalog.

So, stream away that great jazz and classical music that has made ECM one of the great record labels.

The Next Track, Episode #78 – Alexander Joel on the Role of the Conductor in Classical Music

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxConductor Alexander Joel talks about the profession of conductor for operas and orchestras.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #78 – Alexander Joel on the Role of the Conductor in Classical Music.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

Classical Box Sets for Christmas 2017

It’s that time of year again. Classical record labels released big box sets to tempt music fans, and many of them offer very interesting collections of recordings at nice prices (at least the per-disc price). Here’s a roundup of some of the box sets that I’ve found interesting. (Note that some of these recordings may not yet be listed on Amazon US.)

Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein Remastered is a 100-disc set of Bernstein’s recordings on Columbia records (now Sony). The box is the now-familiar shape of the big Sony sets; nearly cubic, with a hardcover book, and with original album covers. With some 230 separate works, it features recordings that were previously released in Leonard Bernstein: The Symphony Edition and Leonard Bernstein Edition – Concertos & Orchestral Works. Those sets totaled 140 discs, so this new set is just a selection, and not his complete recordings. The discs are “remastered from their original 2 and 3-track analogue tapes. This has allowed for the creation of a natural balance (for example, between the orchestra and solo instruments) that brings the quality of these half-century-old recordings, excellent for their time, up to the standards of today’s audiophiles.” (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

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