How to get signed to a record label is one of the least understood areas in the music industry, and particularly for classical musicians it is one that is left all too frequently in the too-hard-basket. Some in this country have had the good fortune to win contracts with the most prestigious overseas companies: one thinks for instance of Greta Bradman signing to Decca, Amy Dickson to Sony Classical, and Orava Quartet to Deutsche Grammophon.
The reality of course is that it is domestic labels that serve the purposes in the vast majority of cases. The dominant player in Australia, and with a catalogue that exceeds 500 titles since it began in 1987, is ABC Classics, but a cluster of small independents also make up the sector. These are Move, which is in fact Australia’s longest standing classical music label (having begun in 1968), Tall Poppies (founded in 1991), Melba Recordings (2000), and the newer classical and jazz label Which Way Music (2005).
An alternative is to start one’s own label, which is exactly what the Adelaide-based ensemble Artaria has done. Specialising in chamber works that feature oboe, this group was founded five years ago by Celia Craig, Principal Oboist with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Its personnel tends to vary in each concert, but frequent members are violinist Elizabeth Layton, head of strings at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, and Michael Dahlenburg, cellist with the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra.
This May, Artaria launched itself as a record label on the Dutch website NativeDSD, a large online store that hosts some 60 boutique classical and jazz labels. It only sells downloads, not physical discs, but in a high-resolution audiophile format called DSD (Direct Stream Digital) – this employs a sampling frequency of 2.8 MHz, which is higher than FLAC or WAV formats, and is claimed to deliver superior sound. Other classical labels in NativeDSD’s portfolio are 2xHD-Naxos, Channel Classics, Etcetera Records, Harmonia Mundi, LSO Live, and RCO Live.
In announcing Artaria’s launch on NativeDSD, Craig had this to say about her group and its plans as a label: “Formed in 2013, Artaria aspires to present the oboe differently, addressing its Endangered status, using an appealing repertoire created for more than the current classical music market with future releases planned to be presented with video, engaging more of the senses and presented for today’s audiences.”
First to appear in Artaria catalogue is a disc of music by Bax, Britten, Finzi and Vaughan Williams that the group recorded in Adelaide in 2017. On this occasion they were a quintet comprising the aforementioned artists along with Anne Horton, former Australian String Quartet violinist, and Caroline Henbest, violist with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The recording was made by ABC Classic FM’s Kevin Roper at Brighton High School.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra is the only other group from this country to be represented by NativeDSD. It has two albums there, both issued by the Dutch label Channel Classics: Schumann and Hindemith with cellist Pieter Wispelwey, and Beethoven with pianist Dejan Lazić.
Indeed, the ACO has been remarkably successful in signing to a number of specialty overseas record companies. Over the years it has issued several discs with two British labels, Hyperion (with trombonist Christian Lindberg in 2004 and pianist Angela Hewitt in 2005) and Chandos (James Crabb in 2003. It has recorded three discs for the Swedish label BIS (with Lindberg in 2009, violist Christopher Moore in 2010 and clarinettist Martin Fröst in 2011). In a novel first, it also recorded for the crowdfunding website ArtistShare for its recording of Maria Schneider’s Winter Morning Walks with soprano Dawn Upshaw in 2013.