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Conversation with John Pfeiffer. This is another in a continuing series of programs each of which offers the listener a rare opportunity to hear an eminent musician informally discussing his own career and expressing his thoughts about a variety of topics related to the art of music. The regular participants in these discussions are Aaron Parsons professor of music theory at Northwestern University's School of Music and program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. And George Stone program director for Zenith radio corporation's serious music station WEF am in Chicago. They were joined today by Richard freed assistant to the director of the Eastman School of Music. Mr. Parsons and Mr. Stone have as their guest on today's program John Pfeiffer executive producer red seal artists and repertoire for RCA Victor Records. Now here is George Stone. We have with us today a distinguished guest Mr. Pfeiffer. We're also fortunate to have a member of
the official family here who usually is somewhat more distantly removed from this. Dick Freed who does the Richard Reid record review WEF I'm on Friday evenings from Rochester that is. And Mr. Pfeiffer where a terrible thing to identify you with Rochester you know you're really from Chicago aren't you. I thought I was from Tulsa but he didn't say which Rochester. No I didn't I rather left that up in the air. I think all this is a sort of universal spirit really he's all over it we find him in various publications and through the radio program where we have come to think of him as being back in Chicago. And at this time we're delighted to have him back in Chicago. It's nice to be a roving critic isn't all it's nice to be roving. When you were here however dick on our side of the table. To talk with Mr. John Pfeiffer
who is an executive and our man for the RCA Victor recording. George what is you know are. Well supposing we ask Mr. Prime Minister. Well there's been a lot of definitions of it among which have been assault and robbery which we've just been discussing. But the actual term refers to artists and repertoire. Which is that category of every record company which is involved with the contact with the artist and identifying the the repertoire with that particular artist arranging for the recording holding the artist's hand being present at the recording stations supervising the editing and the transfer work and going through all the details of the recording which lead up to the actual production of the record. Well in a sense then that also involves direction.
Yes although differing from a. Movie director or a play director the artists are generally prepared to do what they want to do that is they come to a session exactly prepared with their their repertoire and how they want to perform it. And it's our job to see that their presentation or their interpretation is captured on the record. It's the whole process is a little different therefore we're called instead of directors we're called producers which probably is a little closer allied to the movie production or the plate producers. We gather and assemble the people together and make sure they do their jobs and then we evaluate what they do and judge as to whether or not will be a successful presentation to the public. I had two questions in mind one of which you've partially answered. One is how you select the I it is you who are. Going to be produced
in America records and how does the art is to select the repertory repertory with which he's going to be associated. You've answered partially the latter the first one he would be interested in. Well the selection of art is of course is the critical point in a. Commercial record company because many of the. Well-known artists want to be heard on records and it is our responsibility as well as our desire to make contact with those artists and arrange them to record them. We like of course to have certain features of exclusivity that is we like to have certain artists identified with with our company and and maintain them over long terms which gives them a certain sense of belonging to one particular company and gives us the advantage of being able to identify us with with those great artists we have
in the past have very long term relations with. The root of most of the great artists rights that Heifetz Horowitz Toscanini Stokowski Boston Symphony Chicago Symphony Dr. Reiner the list goes on quite like some of the names you were mentioning brings me to a question you might be able to throw some light on even if you don't want to take a position on it. I don't know that a record company or a record company representative might want to take a position on this but I don't know how generally acknowledged it is but critics writers and commentators have come out with a statement during the last few years that we should recognise or concede or acknowledge that recordings constitute the. The primary area of musical activity now because recordings reach
so many more listeners than any other form of music and the record companies are in a position obviously to influence very directly what is heard and what isn't heard. And I'm already getting ahead of myself but the names you were mentioning Koussevitzky Stokowski Toscanini when these people were making records they generally were recording the music they had lived with if not all their lives they lived with for years and a record at that time was a document a preservation of an already recognized established admired performance. Lately it's become the practice for recording artists and not only young ones but many if not all recording artists to learn the work. Specifically to record it. Well this is true of course. Many of the established artists like to present
performances of the works of they are constantly performing. But there are other areas that we feel are necessary to explore particularly since the record market has expanded and expanded it's blown apart practically with. 40 different performances of all the standard works. So it's not only because artists have an opportunity to explore different repertoire things which they wouldn't well probably wouldn't always be prepared for concert. So they have an opportunity to to explore them through the medium of the record which is important to them and important to us and it's also important to the scrutiny of the record buying public which is interested in exploring more of the repertoire than just those standard pieces that one normally hears in. Community concerts or performances by visiting orchestras and
so on. It's the same problem incidentally are not a problem but it's the same objective as say a symphony orchestra in a big city where they want to give the standard repertoire because these are the works that people know and they love and they're interested in hearing them played by their beloved orchestra or their opera or their chamber music societies and so on. But these organisations also from time to time give fairly unknown works really to explore larger areas of the repertoire. Of course I wasn't thinking of repertory expense and when I presented that question on the case in which a pianist let's say would be encouraged to record a Mozart or a ROM on an off concerto he had never played in public or to to record. Carmen if she's a singer if she'd never sung that in the opera house.
What is it. Is this something the record companies or your company for which you can speak is doing more of our feels as a valid approach to well I think very little actually because we feel that the preparation of the presentation in public of the work is actually the the objective of an artist. And generally they do not feel confident with the work until they have prepared and presented a number of times in public. In fact this this type of preparation is is the best preparation and they're confident of their performance. They're confident of their their musical objectives and it's at that point then that we like to like to record. Now there have been instances where. A work has been prepared particularly for recording where the artists have not previously performed it. Your mention of common is a good
point. A good case in point because some years ago Leontyne Price who always loved the music of common but didn't have or didn't feel actually prepared to present it to the public. And I shouldn't say that but the Cajun never rose and did the demand for hers in the ready repertoire in the Puccini repertoire and getting into common was something a little far afield. So she was prevailed upon by her from the car in the conductor and and RCA Victor had something to do with it. I mean we we did. I think they did it with our blessings but we we found the opportunity to record it as an interesting and example of the art of Leontyne Price representing of a character which she didn't normally have an opportunity to present on stage. So is that what you were driving at.
Yeah. Mr. Fleischer asked something related to Dick's question. Would you say that more frequently the artist is chosen for whatever reason. And then the repertoire is selected to fit the artist or is it the other way around. Does the company have in mind that this would be a good time to release. Well let us say that the four piano concerti of Rachmaninoff. So having decided that we're going to do these four then do we find the artist to do them. No generally not it. The chicken comes before the egg as it were. We like to present to the public recordings by personalities I mean people who are identified with the musical scene and we generally contact them to see if they're interested in joining us. And then we decide on repertoire which they are which they have a
feeling for which they which is in their repertoire which is part of their musical identification. And then record it. At a time when the market seems to call for it. So to answer your question specifically the artist comes first. The repertoire comes later which I think is the is it is is a good way of course many times and this might get back to Dick's question too. There will be a need for certain repertoire in the catalogue. You know certain hall just not only in our catalogue but in the in the whole musical catalogue of saleable LP recordings and in which case then we may go out and look for an artist who can perform that particular work in the best way. But those are the exceptions for a young girl. Would this have been the case with the Nielsen literature for example back in the 50s. There was quite a really quite a profusion of Nielsen music
records for a time. But it didn't remain available to long. And now suddenly we find again that there is renewed interest in those and his works. And of course the several largest companies in the industry have been doing deals in music. Absolutely. But I think it's started in the concert hall. And the recording is a reflection of the desire on the part of conductors and and artists to inquire into the into the Nielsen literature. We found the same situation many years ago with barely a house there was a time when there was very little bell iOS in the in the catalog. People were not specially interested in it it can seem to whim be put in the category of you know the French music interesting but not very substantial. And slowly
through certain specific artists barriers began to be played more and more in the concert hall and as it became played more. The efforts on the part of the artists and the recording company emerged and those things are recorded morn of course it's a kind of a snowball affair. And now there's almost nothing about Rails that isn't available on records. Instead many versions. Yes that's right except the trojans which you know which. Has a great deal of promise shall we say this is a link they work which costs a great deal of money to record and there may be limited appeal and so there's a certain shall we say fiduciary hesitancy on the part of record. Honestly I wonder if record companies and you may not care to get involved in this all get
involved in anything no one hears of the efforts of the automobile companies to determine from year to year what company B is going to do with its cruel Company C is going to do with the roofline and this kind of thing. Do the record companies evince a great interest in what other record companies are likely to hit the market in early. Well yes although we are in it. In fact all record companies are in certain unique positions because if you have a Rubenstein and he performs or he records say the Liszt Sonata they listen out of. I think other record companies are more likely to want to know about that because they wouldn't then at the same time want to release the same Sonata by an artist of lesser stature. It may be just as good a performance but they
know in advance that the name Rubenstein carries with it such prominence that is would tend to sell over another one which came out. So in that respect there is an interest on the part of other companies but given to artists I mean for instance if you've Rubenstein records the Liszt Sonata and Horowitz records the lists are not and there will be a demand for both. Because in the catalog there are maybe 10 recordings of the same work and the customer has a choice of those and they don't go out of date and they aren't superceded by anything else so the performance is just as good today as it will be. It's as good today as it was 10 years ago it was recorded then. But if Rubenstein and Horowitz record the same Sonata and they're both on the market same time. I don't think their sales the sales of either one would suffer because there are hard SF fans in the Rubenstein fans and there are goods and Rubenstein fans and generally they'll explore both
of them. They won't make a choice between them so there isn't the. Real competitive feeling when you're considering artists of us of similar stature. It's only when those instances when the release dates might coincide so closely you are so vastly contrast ing statures where there might be any interest in what another record company is doing. Generally we announce our plans sometimes three four months in advance. But it does not limit anyone else generally and certainly we are not influenced too much by what the other record companies are doing. How do you go about selecting the repertory in the unknown type of repertory let's say Renaissance by Roque early Baroque. Our 20th century works that don't appear frequently on the
concert platform. You have a staff of musicologists who will be prying into the archives and tell you look it will be a good thing to record this concert of that all the others involved had a vision of this piece of legacy. Well that's a good question because as you know to inquire into all of the. Literature would take a staff of musicologists and then it would be judged on the basis of a particular person's judgment. The way we generally are drawn to new repertoire is through the artist himself again because he's always looking for new areas of inquiry into the repertoire. If he likes modern music or if he's known for his playing in modern music he's exploring all different types
of modern music and he may bring to us certain suggestions which we can then listen to explore and evaluate according to what we feel is desirable for a particular label. It works both for the older repertoire as well as the move that you can select and yet it is usually to find ideas for example. Well who perform Renaissance music who performed by Roque 20th century materials and others do have a kind of a profile of periods related to artists in trying to make complete coverage here. Is it that you didn't come. Well I'd say that's a pretty complex matter. And it depends upon the particular moment you know an artist may make a certain splash or we say with a certain performance involving a certain piece of music and we are drawn to that because we know that if he's
attracted attention on the concert level he's likely to attract attention on the record level. But to go out and say well we need artists who are particularly adept at performing music of Rummel or often Bach or give audience you know we don't do it. Do you think the record company looks to the day when the complete repertory of music will be on punch cards IBM cards and the whole repertory performance history their recorded history. Yes that's a rule of the program into this so that my hunch of a button you can determine that it will be a fight to see every person. What made you do that. Well I suppose we could enlist the aid of computerized judgment as it were to tell us if the risk of recording something was worthwhile.
Which is probably not a bad idea. But as it as it stands now we rely on the judgment of our musical staff which is that he is the in our department. Of course I wanted to say earlier that we should restrict all of these discussions to the classical end of it which of which I'm a member because the popular end of the record business is an entirely different affair it operates almost all common Asli I mean it has very little contact with our methods or the systems that we use in. Although they still have a great deal of confidence in the artist and his performance but in the popular areas certainly more recordings are made which are never performed. And in the popular areas certain performances are the result of a recording rather than the other way around. So getting back to your question. It would
be nice to have a judgment made by a perfectly independent by feeding material into a computer and deciding whether it was a valuable risk or at least a calculated risk that the probability that it would sell would be higher than a certain percentage percentile point but I don't think any of us are ready quite to go into that extreme of mechanism. Do you think that the attitudes of recording companies and I mean the big ones by becoming more adventuresome. Oh by all means. I mean there was a time when. And it varied from company to company but there was a time when most of the companies knew that they could sell only a limited the number of classical selections
in quantity sufficient to justify the expense involved in recording them and so very little effort. Although there were efforts to record other things but the bulk of the effort was put into recording those performances which had a good chance of becoming popular in a sense or as popular as a classical selection can be. Now the pendulum has begun to swing a little bit in the opposite direction. A new recording of the Beethoven Fifth Symphony will certainly attract attention and it will be purchased and I'm sure enjoyed by a large segment of the record buying public. But we are constantly amazed by what is happening to examples of say a 20th century music. I mean really contemporary music and baroque music so that the repertoire swing is away from the Romantic period which is more or less predominated during the during those days when
repertoire was limited. And it's blowing apart so to speak it's coming more up to date and it's going farther back. Can you give us some examples of well let's say contemporary music which has been recorded and which perhaps exceeded the expectations in the matters of sales once released. Yes there's a very good example of a Polish composer by the name of the name of Penderecki who is quite popular in Europe in the on the contemporary scene has written a mass. It's actually it's a passion according to St. Luke. And this was recorded and released about three months ago by RCA Victor. We didn't have any great expectations for it although we had confidence in its musical qualities and we had the feeling that it should be heard
by a large segment of the public if they were so interested. But as music of that type went the expectation on the part of the merchandising department was that it would would have a rather limited acceptance and don't get me wrong it still has. But you know anticipating the initial production. Everyone fell short of the actual sales figures in these very first three months. By almost 200 percent. In other words more than twice as many people are three times as many people bought the record than we expected to in the first three months which shows that and I'm sure not too many people in this country had heard of Penderecki and the masses not well it's not generally explored to infinite and in contrast with say a solo piano or orchestral composition. And there
were there were no name artists involved even though they were well known in Europe but they weren't well-known here at all. So there was nothing to tie this. This release on it was contemporary music. It was in a sense religious music by a fairly unknown composer with an unknown cast and yet it sold three times as many records as we expected it to. And this is gratifying. This gives us hope and I'm sure it must be. You can take more chances. Absolutely. Of a similar nature that's what this kind of thing seems by now to have got to the point of what. We might call that a breakthrough on the part of almost every major company as well as the little ones that always used to be more adventurous because I can remember not too many years ago in fact very recently when representatives of large companies and no initials would say that they weren't even going to risk investing in a Beethoven quartet because of the Nutcracker
in the Beethoven fifth and these things would sell no matter how many they turned out. But now that the baroque boom. I would hope is kind of petering out everybody and I mean every company I can think of seems to be going in a big way for the most adventurous experimental music electronic music. One label alone during the last two weeks I think I must have received 10 or 12 records of electronic or combinations of electronic and similar material. Now this is quite true. I think you're right in the fact that the borrowed com boom is. It is reaching its post mushroom conditions mushroom cloud condition that is. And people are beginning to explore the things which are more immediate Of course. I think popular music has a lot to do with it too because the new
sounds that are being created in connection with popular music and particularly of this rock and roll music which use about 90 percent noise and 10 percent rhythm but it has a place because it generates excitement and people are beginning to understand that noise is not necessarily noise.
A conversation with
Episode Number
#11 (Reel 1)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Identifier: 69-12-11 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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