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An introduction to para-classical music, the industry’s new PC

It is hard to know what to make of the new streak of releases from Deutsche Grammophon and its sub-label Mercury.

The classical chart-topping ‘For Now I Am Winter’ by the Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds holds the attention for all of 18 seconds before losing it to a pair of summer flies crawling up a window. Mr Arnaulds is 26 years old. He will make a very good film composer.

Here comes another, also on DG. Sven Helbig is a German composer, founder of the Dresden Symphony Orchestra, producer for Rammstein and the Pet Shop Boys. DG are about to release his Pocket Symphonies with the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orch, Kristjan Järvi and the Fauré Quartet. It looks like classical, feels like classical, sounds like….. For Now I am Winter. The mind goes blank in a matter of seconds. There is nothing here to challenge the intelligence of an under-privileged newt. Mr Helbig describes his art, without irony, as being in the tradition of the Wagnerian Gesatmtkunstwerk.

So what are we to call these things on the new DG? Phony classical springs to mind, except there is nothing phony about them. What you hear is woefully what you get. Post-neo-minimalist? Too cumbersome.

Para-classical just about does it. Welcome to the new musical PC.

sven helbig


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  1. very funny and completely spot on, still laughing…it will be para classical musics next! yuk!

  2. You’re very much the diplomat here, Norman, mulling over market-speak labels instead of analysing DG’s new products and describing them accurately – it’s junk.

  3. Seems more like what we used to call “new age” music, or the kind of ambient music that accompanies yoga classes. I can’t even agree about the film music merits of such work where music like this fits not into the indie-art film type nor the Hollywood type. OMG, there are vocals…. (I skipped forward).
    The real issue is that this is just not good as anything—classical concert music, indie pop, film, ambient or otherwise (since the vocals have now disallowed it being used even for yoga class!). DG must sniff some real income here somehow…

  4. Who is the audience for this?

  5. I am listening to Helbig’s ‘work’ on spotify and I don’t know what to say about the clash of minimalism and the neo-baroque piano theme… To me looks like the music Nyman does if he would smoked bad stuff!

    And about Arnalds, I am pretty tired of his followers who claims his music as simply the best ‘classical’ stuff coming from the nice, cool and perfect Iceland and want us to say yes and join the new religion when they ‘ve never heard a f****** cd of Mozart, Beethoven, and even less Jon Leifs (that’s the really good one from Iceland!) But you know, If DGG earns money with this stuff, that means ignorance is taking advantage over knowledge…

    And music schools close and orchestras are being disbanded…

    This is really good post-post-postmodernism..

  6. Gesamtkunstpoop.

  7. Peter R. says:

    I was in a CD store recently and saw the category “Classical / Easy Listening,” which included a Szell/Cleveland Orch recording of Beethoven’s 6th, something called “Chilling with Vivaldi,” Yanni and Robeta Flack. This shit’s gotta stop.

  8. Cheryl Anderson says:

    The meaningless titles are a sign of the content:
    Old Skin
    No. Other.
    Hand. Be Still.

    meaningless stuff for the sake of appearing intellectual …

  9. NewAgeGuy says:

    I also like new age music, as well as core classical, but am not impressed, nor interested, in these DG offerings. It all sounds and smells of crass commercialism and nothing of great music. There are far more interesting labels and producers out there, who have their fingers on the pulse of what is going on. DG is a lost ship adrift today and very little of anything they do is of interest to me. DG is a hodgepodge of everything and nothing. Unfortunately, since it is now all over the place, their once reliable releases, which I used to buy sight unseen and unheard, are now all big question marks, as DG doesn’t have any credibility as a brand anymore with me. I know that this has all been said here countless times and I know that nothing will ever change, as the label under Universal Music is just a corporate machine, full of lame brained yes men, following orders and directives of unknowledgeable self assured arrogant “leaders”, none of whom have a clue what is classical music, who is a classical buyer today and what is great new age music.

  10. Steve Creswell says:

    I’m in favour of calling it Been Classical–using a clipped ‘ee’ vowel-sound. <>

  11. Eric Bruskin says:

    In the old days, stuff like this (but better) provided subsidies for the echt-classics.

    Peter, don’t diss Roberta Flack so quickly. From her Wiki bio :

    When Flack was 9, she started having interest in playing the piano, and during her early teens, Flack so excelled at classical piano that Howard University awarded her a full music scholarship. By age 15, she entered Howard University, making her one of the youngest students ever to enroll there. She eventually changed her major from piano to voice, and became an assistant conductor of the university choir. Her direction of a production of Aida received a standing ovation from the Howard University faculty.

  12. Carlos Aransay says:

    Have you heard Karl Jenkins’ Colores??? Oh dear, oh dear!

  13. Robert Kenchington says:

    I agree with NewAgeGuy’s comment. Deutsche Grammophon were the bastion of standard orchestral and operatic repertoire. The yellow cartouche stood as a symbol of quality and reliability. Some 20 years ago, when you bought a DG album or box set you took it for granted that it would be a well produced and highly collectible item to enjoy forever. And, in fairness, DG’s reissue program of back catalogue items from the LP era (Vienna Philharmonic Edition, Karajan ’60s and ’70s etc.) has revived that same high standard. But as far as brand new full price DG recordings are concerned I have no interest whatsoever. Indeed my own collection consists entirely of reissues from that period.

    This Helbig album is typical of these ‘neither flesh nor fowl’ releases that fail to capture either the interest of the specialist classical collector or pop market. Pop is pop and classical is classical. I mean, you couldn’t even class this kind of thing as crossover. It’s nothing.

    Call me conservative if you wish, but if I wanted obscure music like this I would seek it from a small label that specialized in such stuff – not from the bastion of the standard classical repertoire that DG originally set out to become.

    Given the huge catalogue that DG has amassed since the days of Emile Berliner and Elsa Schiller, I think they would do better to concentrate on that, using new remastering techniques to restore, preserve and introduce it to new generations of collectors. These so-called ‘concept albums’ are a waste of time and resources.

  14. Have you heard Karl Jenkins’ Colores??? Oh dear, oh dear!

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