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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

Classical numbers - where it hurts most

By Norman Lebrecht / February 1, 2010

The last time Hilary Hahn topped the classical charts, I reported that she was selling fewer than 500 copies a week. This time, after an appearance on the Tonight Show, Anne Midgette writes that she's selling fewer than 1,000 - still peanuts on any pop scale.

Anne quotes a Sony man who says classical accounts for three percent of US record sales. No longer. It's below two percent, and most of that is made up of non-classical crossover. Real classical music is way below the Nielsen rating line.

This stark and unchaing reality makes the Grammy classical awards materially irrelevant, even if one were to agree that Michael Tilson Thomas's account of Mahler's eighth symphony was the best thing to happen in the past musical year.

So where do classical recordings sell? Not in America, that's for sure. South Korea, as I have written elsewhere, spends most per capita on classics - 18 percent of all music sales are classical. Close behind is France, with 9 percent of the music market.

What that means is that a French newcomer like Renaud Capucon or David Fray can be guaranteed bigger sales and national fame than a US star like Hilary Hahn, no matter what network show she appears on. Much the same is true for Hungary, Austria, Germany, Finland and even the UK, all of which mantain high public profiles for classical musicians.

That leaves the American classical artist in a quandary. With domestic support in steepling decline, more and more may be advised to build their careers in another country.

Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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