Editorial for March 2010

Published on March 1, 2010

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For March, our drawing/giveaway is for two titles from the audiophile label Groove Note: The Jung Trio in Dvorak’s Piano Trio in F minor, and guitarist Anthony Wilson’s Jack of Hearts album.  They come in both hybrid SACD and vinyl versions and the latter consists of two super-fidelity 45 rpm 12" discs.  The six winners we draw will each receive one of the titles in both formats, so tell us in the Comments whether you prefer jazz or classical. Comparisons will be most interesting. To be eligible as a winner you must Go Here to Register, and be sure to also give us your address, and perhaps a comment about your interest in the Groove Note drawing. 

The two lucky winners of the 8-DVD Jazz Icons Vol. 4 set from Reelin’ in the Years – our February drawing – were: Rita Sonnleitner, Rio Rancho, NM & Diego Malpede, NY, NY. Congrats to both! 

Guest Editorial
Cedille Records Turns 20
Unlikely Classical Label Piles Up Milestones

CHICAGO, March 1, 2010 — Cedille Records, the Grammy Award-winning, internationally distributed classical record label born two decades ago in a student apartment on Chicago’s South Side, is celebrating its 20th anniversary year.

Cedille (pronounced say-DEE) made its debut in November 1989 with its first CD release, a program of solo piano pieces performed by Chicago-based Soviet émigré pianist Dmitry Paperno. With that initial, small-scale project, Cedille founder James Ginsburg, then 24, launched the first Chicago-based classical record company since the heyday of Mercury Records in the 1950s and 60s.

Since then, Cedille’s catalog, which features world-class musicians in and from the Chicago area, has grown and diversified, while attracting critical accolades, an international clientele, and praise from its artists.  Cedille has 116 principal CD titles ranging from solo keyboard works to complete symphonies and operas. These include world-premiere recordings and CD premieres of important compositions, plus the commercial recording debuts of some celebrated artists.

New and recent developments

Cedille’s CD releases for early 2010 include the recording debut of Baroque Band, Chicago’s new and highly acclaimed period-instrument ensemble, in works by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber; the world-premiere recording of Beethoven’s recently discovered Piano Trio in E-flat, Hess 47, with the Beethoven Project Trio, which gave the world-premiere performance last year in Chicago; and Dances & Dreams: Music from the Balkans, the label’s second project with the Cavatina Duo (flutist Eugenia Moliner and guitarist Denis Azabagic).

Also anticipated for 2010 are CDs of Russian cello music with cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova; flute fantasies with Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal flutist Mathieu Dufour and pianist Kuang-Hao Huang; Capricho Latino, solo violin works with a Latin flavor with violinist Rachel Barton Pine; duo-piano works by Debussy and Messaien with pianists Ursula Oppens and Jerome Lowenthal; chamber and vocal music by Stacy Garrop; and a song cycle by Stephen Mackey, performed by eighth blackbird and actor-singer Rinde Eckert, with Mackey on electric guitar.

A point of pride for the label is that its regular music downloads are 256 kbps MP3 files, twice the industry standard for sound quality. In the coming year, Cedille plans to offer premium-priced CD-quality digital downloads in the lossless FLAC format via its Web site www.cedillerecords.org

Cedille recently launched a “free-download-of-the-week” feature on its Web site and released a 20th anniversary sampler CD available free to purchasers of physical Cedille CDs in the U.S. and Canada.

In December, Ginsburg was named Chicagoan of the Year in classical music by the Chicago Tribune.  That same month, Cedille’s Oppens Plays Carter CD, with pianist Ursula Oppens, was nominated for a Grammy Award, marking the third year in a row that a Cedille recording was nominated for a Grammy — no small feat for a label that releases about seven CDs a year.

International distinction

 “I’m still pinching myself,” Ginsburg says, surprised as anyone that the entrepreneurial sideline he launched as a first-year law student at the University of Chicago would evolve into a record label of international distinction — and that his life’s work would be as a classical record producer and label impresario rather than a lawyer. Ginsburg, now 44 and president of the label, also continues to produce most of its CDs.

(Ginsburg, who left law school in 1992 to tend to the record label full time, comes from a family of prominent attorneys and legal scholars.  His mother, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. His father, Martin D. Ginsburg, is a noted tax law authority and professor at Georgetown University Law Center. His sister, Jane C. Ginsburg, is a law professor at Columbia University, specializing in intellectual property rights.)

The new-music sextet eighth blackbird, which made its commercial recording debut on Cedille, has four CDs on the label including strange imaginary animals, winner of the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance, all produced for Cedille by multiple Grammy Award-winner Judith Sherman, known for her work with the Kronos Quartet.  String Poetic, a recording with violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Reiko Uchida, also produced by Sherman, was nominated for a 2009 Grammy Award in the chamber music category.  Two of the label’s recordings were nominated earlier for Grammy Awards in the category of Best Engineered Classical Recording: Violin Concertos by Brahms and Joachim, with violinist Rachel Barton Pine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Carlos Kalmar; and Symphonic Works by Robert Kurka, with the Grant Park Orchestra, also conducted by Kalmar.

From the outset, Ginsburg says his goal was to showcase Chicago’s finest musicians in fresh and imaginative programs on audiophile-quality recordings.  The native New Yorker saw in Chicago an abundance of stellar musicians who were ignored by East Coast, West Coast, and European record labels. With the right recording projects, Ginsburg believed he could advance their careers and serve the listening public in equal measure. Cedille would concentrate on attractive, off-the-beaten-path repertoire overlooked by the major labels. Mainstream classical works would show up rarely — and only in the context of innovative programs by artists who have enlightening and compelling interpretations. “Local focus, international interest” became a guiding principle.

Audiophile Audition magazine’s Steve Ritter writes, “Every release Cedille puts out is of outstanding quality; production values, from ensembles to repertory to booklet notes and package look are never anything less than superb. This is a great example of a locally-organized and locale-specific enterprise taking on global significance over time. It’s hard to find fault with any aspect of their releases, and believe me, as a longtime reviewer, I try hard.”

Cedille’s artists also speak highly of the label. John Bruce Yeh, acting principal clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, calls it “a company with the greatest musical and fiscal integrity.”  Harpsichordist, organist, and fortepiano player David Schrader, one of the label’s earliest and most prolific artists, says Cedille “does an invaluable service to its artists in giving us an audience cachet, as it were, outside of our customary performance venues.”

Building a Foundation

 Ginsburg’s passion for broadcasting the talents of Chicago artists became Cedille’s official mission when the nonprofit Chicago Classical Recording Foundation, which Ginsburg organized in 1993, assumed financial responsibility for the label in January 1994. A nonprofit label, Cedille has won grants from sources as varied as the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Illinois Arts Council, Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Sara Lee Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts.

While most record companies are happy just to find people willing to pay for their discs and downloads, Cedille goes them one better: satisfied customers send in cash gifts. “We get individual donations of $5 to $100 from buyers who believe in our mission,” says Ginsburg.

In 2006, Ginsburg launched the subsidiary Cedille FOUNDation imprint to produce mid-priced CDs, including sonically enhanced reissues of LP and early CD-era recordings and never-before-released archival recordings by outstanding Chicago artists. Cedille remains Chicago’s only free-standing classical label (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has its own in-house recording operation).

In addition to its recording activities, the label has produced and participated in educational forums and has presented several of its artists in concert, including the highly successful debut of soprano Patrice Michaels’s “Divas of Mozart’s Day” program at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Artists’ ideas

While Cedille is an artist-focused label, it’s not artist run. Ginsburg makes the final decisions on who and what gets recorded. “A project has to be intriguing, commercially viable, and a genuine contribution to the world’s catalog of classical recordings,” he says. “I take the viewpoint of the listener: Is this a CD I would want to buy?”

In the early years, Ginsburg sought out musicians for his label, inviting them to submit project ideas. Nowadays, artists and agents routinely approach him.

 “From the start, I believed that the best programming ideas come from the artists themselves,” Ginsburg says. “I don’t concoct programs in a vacuum and then go scouting for musicians. I want musicians to record music they care about, music that’s special to them and to which they bring distinctive interpretations.”

— Nat Silverman

AUDIOPHILE AUDITION began in 1985 as a weekly national radio series hosted by John Sunier, which aired for 13 1/2 years on up to 200 public radio and commercial stations coast to coast. In September 1998 its site for programming information was expanded to the present Internet publication.
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