The Seattle Symphony launches its own record label

Driven by a love of music and the incredible acoustics of Benaroya Hall, the Symphony's first recordings are due out next month.
Crosscut archive image.

Seattle Symphony has a new record label.

Driven by a love of music and the incredible acoustics of Benaroya Hall, the Symphony's first recordings are due out next month.

There’s Sub Pop, Barsuk and now there’s another record label in town: Seattle Symphony Media, the symphony’s new in-house label whose three recordings will be out next month.

“It’s raising the quality and the profile of our orchestra and we’re reaching new audiences,” explained the Symphony’s Executive Director Simon Woods at a recent media preview.

The symphonies in London, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta all have their own labels. “Seattle is a great recording orchestra. And we have a good, an incredible hall that sounds amazing,” added Woods, who worked as a record producer with EMI Classics in London in the early part of his career.

Crosscut archive image.

As part of an agreement made with the Seattle Symphony’s musicians last year, the Seattle orchestra is allowed to release recordings from both “live” and “in-studio” concerts. The Symphony has its own in-house recording facility. The musicians will get a cut of the label’s net revenue.

Donor Joan Watjen has underwitten the first recordings in honor of her late husband Craig, who was a member of the Symphony’s Board of Directors. The couple donated the Hall’s Watjen Concert Organ, which is featured in the new recording of the Camille Saint-Saëns “Organ” Symphony.

Other works featured on the first three CDs include music by Charles Ives, Elliott Carter, George Gershwin, Henri Dutilleux and Maurice Ravel.

And, for the most discerning of audiophiles, they’ll be also be available in four digital formats: stereo, “Mastered for iTunes,” 96k 24-bit high resolution and 5.1 surround sound.

But, not on vinyl — although Woods, when asked about the possibility, wondered if there might be any interest in that.

The recordings are supervised by audio engineer Dmitriy Lipay, who sets up between 24 and 36 microphones at a time to capture every sliver of sound. The recordings are meant to capture the experience of sitting in the front section of Benaroya Hall, which Woods said has a more “natural” sound compared to the Technicolor experience of say, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Woods said the label’s choices will reflect both a core repertoire and some of its more recent and eclectic programming choices. These first recordings are works Music Director Ludovic Morlot felt especially strongly about: Carter and Dutilleux, for example, were each a mentor and a friend.

Carter’s “Instances” was his last orchestral work before he died in 2012. It world premiered at Benaroya in February 2013. The first live recording of the piece is featured on one of the new CDs.

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