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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 5, No. 2

Quebec's Independent Classical Recording Industry: New Launches Feature Home-grown Talent

by Anne-Catherine Hatton / October 1, 1999

Version française...

A new player has emerged on the Quebec recording scene in the past few weeks with the recent launch of Pierre Boivin's company, Riche Lieu Productions. (Boivin took the step after selling back his shares to Analekta, the recording company he co-founded.) With 25 years' experience in the industry Boivin isn't wasting any time, judging by his release list for 1999-2000. Riche Lieu will issue some 50 albums, half of them classical. The first, Fête galante, features such topflight artists as soprano Karina Gauvin and pianist Marc-André Hamelin. The company's new "Radio" label (the result of an exclusive partnership agreement made last April with the French radio section of Radio-Canada) will produce and market recordings of French CBC radio performances by, for the most part, big-name local artists such as violinist Anne Robert, cellist Guy Fouquet, and flautist Lise Daoust. Up and coming artists won't be neglected, however. Riche Lieu Productions is currently working on recordings by several jeunesses musicales winners.

The question is, can a company make money selling classical CDs? Boivin, who describes himself as an eternal optimist, is convinced it can if it successfully balances material targeting special audiences against products aimed at the general public. It's a question of knowing the market saturation point, he says, especially for the more popular material. "Even when people want the more popular type of music, they still look for something out of the ordinary, something that catches them off guard. So we go for mainstream repertoire, but with a dash of originality."

Boivin isn't the only player to bring his distribution experience to the recording business. Interdisc has about a dozen classical CDS out on its Oratorio label with groups such as the Claude-Gervaise and Nouvelle-France ensembles. Last May, Pelléas, another distribution company, launched its own label, Disques Pelléas, with four albums -- not including an earlier title, The Well-Tempered Clavier, recorded two years ago by Scott Ross.

New artists and offbeat composers

Top quality local talent is often unfairly ignored by other recording companies, but Ossama el Naggar of Pelléas has long dreamed of giving such talent a chance to be heard. Naggar, a chemist by training and formerly head of marketing for Polygram, has realized his dream with the Disques Pelléas label. Among its more impressive albums is the first in a series that will feature the entire Debussy repertoire performed by pianist Louis-Philippe Pelletier. Pelléas intends to expand its catalogue, but won't rush things or compromise the company's recording policy. "We're emphasizing recordings that will last," explains Georges Nicholson, Pelléas artistic director. CDs can be thrown away, but if they're good they'll leave something behind. Maybe it's a cliché, but I want to capture the moment, the perfect moment that wouldn't be there for us if it weren't recorded." Pelléas is not only looking for unusual quality in artists; offbeat repertoire is just as important. One of its upcoming recordings will feature two twentieth-century Quebec composers, Claude Vivier and Michel-Georges Brégent. For the moment this venture is more charitable than profitable (profit being a long term objective in this case). However, with Naggar's background and contacts developed worldwide over the years, he holds trump cards that have enabled him to move into international distribution with the label's first albums. This, he feels, is more important than developing the local market.

The fact is that the Quebec market can only absorb so much, even though it buys more classical recordings than its neighbours and offers more encouragement to home-grown artists. Anyone who wants to expand distribution is almost forced to seek outside markets. Strategies for achieving this vary. Next month we'll take a look at some Quebec companies that have decided to give their catalogues an international dimension, right from the start.

[Translation: Jane Brierley]

Version française...

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