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Classical music media will never look the same again

Early this morning – actually, in the dead of night – a new music magazine was born. No fanfares, no press release, just the start of a new day.

This being 2012, it is an online magazine without a print outlet and with many of the animated features that print cannot provide.

It is called Sinfini Music and it has been created by the Universal Music Group to combat the unstoppable decline of music coverage in mainstream media. It is, however, not a Universal promotional vehicle.

Editorial independence has been guaranteed to all who have requested it. I have agreed to contribute to the magazine in certain specific ways that will not compromise my freedom to comment on Universal’s activities in other spheres and media.

You will see from today’s front page that I shall be writing an Album of the Week spot (the first is an extraordinary Shostakovich 7th on Orfeo).  I shall also deliver a periodical video rant and conduct a series of Lebrecht Interviews with major artists, mostly on video.

Sinfini also features a flourish of informative and reference articles, music to see and hear, charts and celebrity spots.

This, then, is the media benchmark for classical music in the online age. And this is just the beginning – there is plenty more to come, I’m told.

So, take your first look at Sinfini and tell us what you think.Bookmark it. The future starts here.

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Comments

  1. Dan H Robbins says:

    Hilarious!
    “it is an online magazine without a print outlet”

    WOW! Thanks for the insight into the digital world, Grandad. Good luck to Sinfini, the site isn’t bad, but is it really a “benchmark for classical music in the online age”?

  2. It’s a very well done site, much better than the other ones that have been and gone claiming to do the same thing. Clearly it has had a lot of money spent on it (a responsive design! nice – i.e. it rescales itself according to the device you’re using to view it)

    Only drawback I can see is the use of Flash for video rather than, say, video.js or other “HTML5″ solution. So, ipad and iphone users won’t get to see the videos. Unless there is a different version served to them.

    I think the Spotify integration is great, very useful.

    Looking forward to your video rants Norman! ha!

    How are they making money off it, though, as it’s going to cost them a lot to keep up the content – if it’s not a product placement shill for Universal? I can’t see any adverts on it (even after turning off Adblock)

  3. This is great and interesting news. But they are not the first! Please have a look at InterludeHK a great site ( for which I am a contributing writer) that has a wealth of international music news, articles, video as well as a twitter and Facebook site. http://Www.interlude.hk @interludehk and on FB Interlude
    Good luck with the new venture

  4. Wow this is great! I am the co-founder of Salon Music – Classical impresario, CD & DVD shop (since 1994) iSalon – also authorised Apple reseller in Brooklyn Mall, Pretoria, South Africa. We also own Brooklyn Theatre – Classical music theatre in Pretoria (since 2010). http://www.brooklyntheatre.co.za. We have about 40 000 patrons on our address list. We have 28 CD’s and 3 DVD’s of SA classical musicians on our recording label (since 1995). We have a notion that we are the only company on the planet, promoting classical music without sponsorship

    Press coverage of Classical music in South Africa is virtually non-existent. Your magazine and of course blogging opportunity is a very exciting venture. We wish you all of the best with this!

  5. Speaking of interviews with musicians, only yesterday I listened to the beautiful conversation with Menahem Pressler for the BBC. Many thanks and please more of the same, Mr Lebrecht!

  6. Nice to see another online music magazine! If they should need contributors, I would be happy to join the ‘family’.

  7. why not have transcripts of the video interviews available for those of us who like to clip/save/file for future reference? thanks.

  8. paul myers says:

    I wish Sinfini every success, but a listing of great conductors that does not even mention George Szell? Hmm…

    • Yes Addison says:

      Part of the fun of a list like this is arguing with it, and there’s always an omission that someone cannot countenance. I remember being surprised when one of the British magazines did a list of the *100* greatest conductors, and Riccardo Muti wasn’t on it at all. Here he makes the top 20.

  9. I tried often to launch Spotify, both on the website and through my Facebook account, but failed each time. They don’t make it easy and it’s not worth trying again.

  10. Nice! I trust Sinfini is paying its contributors a respectable fee.

  11. The web site looks great.

    One problem, I wouldn’t take the classical chart listing too seriously though, when it includes the like of Catherine Jenkins & Russell Watson!

  12. So Universal started a classical music blog. That’s cool. The future actually started a while ago.

  13. Hi! How about an article on new business models like my ROCO? 8th season, 45 national broadcasts, 34 wold premiere/commissions!!!

  14. I do feel confused. There are several existing well composed and interesting web magazines covering classical music and the performing arts.

    If a new allegedly independent online camera comparison review magazine were released, owned and funded uniquely by Nikon then everyone (especially other manufacturers) would be unhappy with the concept. If a new allegedly independent online mobile phone and pad comparison review magazine were released, owned and funded uniquely by Samsung then everyone (especially other manufacturers) would equally be unhappy with the concept.

    Bravo to Universal for doing this publication in a big and obviously serious way, but journalism simply has to be more independent than this otherwise it is not journalism as we know it. This is not a ‘magazine’ really, it is a very nicely put together advertorial – reminiscent of an electronic inflight airline magazine. Furthermore Universal is effectively ‘buying’ support from its carefully chosen contributors who will hereafter be very careful ever to criticise Universal anywhere because it might affect their bank account.

    All our media present their outputs with some kind of angle, and readers are used to the idea. It is fine for a newspaper like the Daily Telegraph to make it clear that it supports many of the policies of the Conservative Party, and equally fine for the Guardian to make it clear than it has many sympathies for Labour’s policies. However they are both financially and editorially independent. The Daily Telegraph is not a wholly funded and owned subsidiary of the Conservative Party, nor is the Guardian wholly funded and owned by the Labour Party. That independence is how journalism earns the credibility it has.

    • ‘Buying support’, Bill? What a petty, defamatory thing to say. Are you suggesting I am going to go soft on Universal because they hire my editorial services? I, and other contributors, would take great exception to that false perception.

      • No. I am not suggesting you NL as an individual whom I respect would go soft on Universal. You are a man of greater standards and such would be an unreasonable questioning of your integrity. Without your reputation and record few would read nor contribute to your blog and read your reviews with respect.

        Not everyone is as ethical as your goodself. I fugure such issues should not just be left to individuals’ consciences, they have to be seen to be correct as well. Conflicts of interest can and do arise with no intention to deceive. If a reviewer is effectively on Universal’s payroll I think it will raise doubts in the minds of some readers seeing his/her reviews good or bad of releases either from Universal or from their competitors – it is a naughty world and people are suspicious.

        • The problem is that the classical music world is so small that these professional interconnections are almost impossible to avoid. The best approach is to look at a journalist’s record. No one has been more openly critical of the industry than Norman – a policy he has maintained for decades. I also know of no instances where he seemed to be shilling for the industry. He has also had at least one of his books about the industry suppressed. (It was about Naxos, if I remember correctly.)

          Perhaps the most extreme case is Fanfare magazine, which openly offers reviews whose size is directly related to how much advertizing the musician or recording company buys. Photos, for example, are only included if a certain amount of advertising is purchased. Musical America is also worth study, because it is essentially an industry magazine that also presents a lot of music journalism.

          In general, I know of at least three music critics who have had their work shut down for consistently criticizing the GMDs of their local orchestras, Don Rosenberg in Cleveland who didn’t like the work of Franz Welser-Möst, Joachim Kaiser in Munich who criticized Sergiu Celibidache, and a journalist in Berlin whose name evades me who dislikes the work of Simon Rattle. When it comes to major cultural institutions and local music journalists, criticism is only tolerated with certain limits or the journalist is out. Another recent example is how Peter Gelb silenced Opera News after its criticisms of the Met. Mr. Gelb also protested to WQXR over a blog posting that called his leadership into question. It was immediately pulled.

          Another odd practice is how orchestras often embed journalists during their tours by giving them seats on their charter planes. After Joachim Kaiser quit writing about Celibidache, another journalist who was essentially a sycophant always flew with orchestra on tours and wrote highly supportive reports about the greatness of Bavarian musical culture.

          This is part of the way that orchestras are used as symbols of national strength, which is nowhere more important than with the Vienna, Czech, and Berlin Philharmonics. In ways that are probably correlated, these orchestras also have the three lowest ratios of women members in the world — 2%, 12%, and 13% respectively. (By contrast, the Zurich Opera, National Orchestra of France, and the New York Phil all have over 40% women.)

          For those who read German, here is a good article about the nationalistic uses of the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics:

          http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/braune-toene/v_print/4041072.html

          This nationalism seems to affect the way journalists write about orchestras.

          Anyway, the symbiotic relationships between journalism, cultural institutions and nation states are everywhere apparent. Norman stands out for maintaining a very informed, analytical, and critical voice.

          • The journalist I mentioned above who crticized Rattle was Alex Brüggemann. In fact, Norman reported on the conflict here and how Brüggemann was ousted from his job at Die Welt :

            http://www.scena.org/columns/lebrecht/060823-NL-rattle.html

          • William – it was not suppressed. A small change was made in one edition. Some newspapers reported otherwise. The book remains vigorously in print. N

          • Have you read that article you are quoting? I do not get the slightest cue, what the author’s intentions and credentials could be, because it mistakes cause for reaction and puts the evolution of the regional Viennese and “Deutsche” orchestra cultures post factum AFTER their national exploitation. And anyone knows that 19 comes before 20, don’t we?

            Your reductio ad absurdum regarding the female employment ratios here are quite laughable, sorry. Is there any story about Germano-Austrian classical culture where you DON’T throw in your atonal Leitmotiv?

            Anyone well connected with TODAY’S realities – and not mistaking his scholarly ideas of the world of 70 years ago with today – knows that the Berlin Phil certainly is not a symbol of “nationalistic use” for a long time. Quite to the contrary. The Berlin Phil is one of the biggest success stories of human global cultural collaboration. It draws the best musical talent from all over the world. The three concert masters are a Pole, an Israeli Jew and a Japanese. Their Chief is a Brit. Many fine players of the orchestra are from many different nations and cultures. It is based on German soil though. But that’s just circumstancial.

          • The author, Fritz Trümpi, provides ample evidence that the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics were utilized as national symbols by the Nazis. I highly recommend his book on the subject: „Politisierte Orchester. Die Wiener Philharmoniker und das Berliner Philharmonische Orchester im Nationalsozialismus“. And an other good source is „Democracy of Kings“ written by no less than Clemens Hellsberg, Chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic.

            After the war, the Berlin and Czech Phils were especially notable for their use as cold war symbols in their respective societies. During the 1968 Prague revolt the Czech Phil was especially active and held a important position in the resistance. And the Berlin Phil stood as a symbol of Western culture and freedom in the divided city in the middle of East Germany. These orchestras still serve as national symbols, and to a degree that makes your denial ridiculous. It has nothing to do with who the personnel are, but with how the orchestras are viewed and used for cultural diplomacy.

            There is a recognized relationship between patriarchy and nationalism which is why I suggest there is a correlation in the unusual gender politics of these orchestras.

            I’ve written much more about these topics in an article in Leonardo Music Journal which is published by the MIT Press. You can find it here:

            http://www.osborne-conant.org/prophets.htm

          • You were stating in the present. Now you changed that to the past. That’s more like it. The history of Berlin BEFORE AND AFTER the Nazi time is not one of nationalistic abuse. You might want to study the history of that orchestra a bit.

            But yes, it has to do with how this orchestra is viewed… thru a distorted lens by many. Like you for instance. You seem to have a preconceived dogma which you make your reality adhere to.

            Of course it has to do with who the “personnel” are. The Berlin Phil is one of the few truly self governed orchestra. They are nothing BUT their personnel, a collective of fabulous musicians from all over the world. Do you really think people like Guy Braunstein or Simon Rattle would lend themselves to German nationalism?

            And please elaborate on your relationship between patriarchy and nationalism. I’m pretty sure it is as correlated as patriarchy and low life expectancy… Just correlated in time. Correlation is not causation.
            And we have another philologist who stumbles over basic logic fallacies…

            And ANYTHING that is great serves as a national symbol sometimes, ANYWHERE in the world. You fail to distinguish the line between natural and unnatural forms of national identity.

  15. It says much about your devotion to free speech that my critical but entirely polite message has been censored.

  16. Victoria Clarke says:

    So, are we to expect pages and pages of adverts for Andre Rieu and Katherine Jenkins, or some real stuff? It could go downhill all the way if it doesn’t get ‘popular’. That’s where it is :(

  17. As an industry insider my main concern would be an accountancy one: how this innovative Universal sub-enterprise will earn enough to justify the million or so it must be costing to operate. There is no TV licence funding to provide the risk cash a la BBC, and a million represents the profits from a lot of CDs, DVD’s and downloads for the house labels who must be picking up the tab somehow or other. Where else can the bills go, because they always end up on somebody’s budget?

    So far in these early days it looks and feels still like a retrospective in the old mould of the Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine or the now departed Classic FM magazine, even if it is electronic only. It will appeal to keyboard-active over 35′s but our industry needs to appeal more realistically to buyers under 35 as well.

  18. As soon as I read about this magazine in Zite I became a follower. Your article confirms my impression on what I consider a trend setter in the music world and any other. Excellent coverage and a lot of information that a print version cannot communicate with the same feeling.
    I have share the magazine website with all my friends in the Dominican Republic.
    Wish Sinfini a long and sucessful life for all of us music lovers to read, listen, watch and enjoy.

  19. “Editorial independence has been guaranteed to ALL WHO HAVE REQUESTED IT” (emphasis added)

    Sorry, but this sound just a tad too creepy for me. Maybe authors of stature and untouchability like Norman can request it (though I doubt that they even need to bother), but what of the young buck wanting to move up in the music journalism world– or just make a bit of money?

    No, independence requested is not independence at all. It is presumed, understood, and a priori guaranteed. Anything less is meaningless.

  20. Norman, I immediately learned 2 new things on my first visit to the site at a page devoted to Sibelius at http://sinfinimusic.com/uk/composers/jean-sibelius/ under the reference to his 7th symphony, to whit; that it is a “Profound farewell to symphonic form that no less an authority than Gustav Mahler admired for ‘its style and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all its motifs.’ “ The 2 new things I learned of course are… ah, I see you’re ahead of me.

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