New York Philharmonic Positions Digital-Only Releases

The New York Philharmonic announced a deal this week with Deutsche Grammophon to sell digital recordings of its concerts.

An upcoming performance of Mozart Symphonies Nos. 39, 40 and 41 at Avery Fisher Hall will be the first to be offered for sale, just one of four digital-only releases slated for this year. Orchestra president Zarin Mehta said that the performance will be made available in about two months, and priced somewhere between $8 and $10 for the entire set. As part of a press announcement, Mehta also said that consumers will be given the option of purchasing just a single movement or symphony, opening the possibility of an iTunes offering. Deutsche Grammophon, a division of Universal Music Group, inked a three-year deal with the Philharmonic.


The New York Philharmonic and various other orchestras have cut back on performance recordings, a reaction to market declines and rising player contract costs. Download-only releases offer renewed hopes for recorded classical music, as the reduced costs of digital distribution make it easier to recoup expenses. A new revenue sharing model with musicians also made the Philharmonic venture possible. Meanwhile, other orchestras are also embracing experiments in digital distribution.


Prior to the recent announcement in New York, the BBC launched a highly successful digital-only release of all nine Beethoven symphonies. The project, a collaboration with the BBC Philharmonic, offered the downloads for free. That drew 1.4 million takers, a massive response. Label executives complained bitterly that the effort would ruin the market for Beethoven recordings, though the tremendous response indicated an untapped digital audience for classical music. While the BBC is responding to the label reaction by curtailing the amount of free downloads it offers in the future, other symphonies are now in the mood to experiment.


Story by news analyst Richard Menta.