EMI, the venerable music company that is home to the Beatles, Maria Callas, and the Motown song catalog, has just released debut recordings by three Juilliard musicians as part of a new series designed to spotlight promising conservatory talent. A release concert featuring the artists takes place on March 12 in Paul Hall.
The recordings, which mark the first deal of its kind between Juilliard and a major label, were released on February 21 as bargain-priced, high-resolution downloads on iTunes. (A free sampler is available at www.JuilliardSessions.com/iTunes.) Along with the Juilliard Sessions, as the series is called, the label will produce recordings by students from the Royal College of Music in London, in what is expected to be the first of several partnerships with major music schools.
The Juilliard artists, who were chosen jointly by the School’s faculty and EMI’s talent scouts, are pianist Conrad Tao, tenor Paul Appleby, and violinist Sean Lee. In a recent interview, Juilliard Provost and Dean Ara Guzelimian told The Journal that he hopes the series would give young artists an extra career push in a highly competitive market. “Obviously the landscape for recording companies has changed drastically over the last 10 years, and EMI’s new initiative makes extensive use of its Web presence and recording expertise,” he said. “It is really heartening in this day and age of reduced recordings.”
Each of the three musicians on the series is quickly becoming known among concert audiences. Tao, a teenage whiz kid who spent five years in Juilliard’s Pre-College Division, is currently a freshman at Columbia and a participant in the Barnard-Columbia-Juilliard Exchange. He has appeared with several major orchestras including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Baltimore, Dallas, and San Francisco symphonies. In an interview, he told The Journal he wanted to showcase “an interesting spectrum of musical colors from the painstakingly shaded hues of Debussy’s Preludes (Book I) to the bold ones of Stravinsky’s Petrushka.” Tao is also a composer, and his recording includes his own Three Songs.
Appleby (M.M. ’08, A.D. ’10), a tenor who was recently seen in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of The Enchanted Island, performs Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo and three Schubert lieder with pianist Brian Zeger, the artistic director of Juilliard’s Marcus Institute of Vocal Arts. And Sean Lee (B.M. ’09, M.M. ’11, violin), who is a member of the Chamber Music Society Two at Lincoln Center, chose Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata, “a beautiful piece that’s accessible for any listener,” he said. Sean Chen, a second-year master’s student, plays the challenging piano part.
The Juilliard Sessions project comes at critical moment for EMI. In November the embattled company was sold and split up in a proposed deal that will have the music arm going to the Universal Music Group and the music publishing side going to Sony. The deal has yet to be approved by antitrust regulators. Jean-Philippe Roland, the company’s international director of A&R, told The Journal he and his colleagues were eager to re-establish its name in talent discovery and thus “make up for the decline of young artists development in the recording industry on the whole.”
Roland added, “Talent scouting should take place at the very source, that is, schools of music known for their excellence.” The artist selection process for Juilliard Sessions was made jointly: Juilliard chose six current students or recent graduates who were well along in their careers and asked them submit recordings and press materials. Those were sent to EMI, which then picked the final three. Martha de Francisco, a veteran classical record producer, came to Juilliard last August and spent five hours on each recording session.
In an e-mail, Tao described the studio experience as painstaking. “Trying to make the entire recording sound as good as possible was a tough process,” he said. “It provoked a more meticulous—and therefore, acutely aware—mindset than that of tactile, spontaneous live performance.”
Sean Lee said he often gets asked after concerts about whether he has any recordings for sale. Now audiences will be able to download his version of the Strauss Sonata on the spot. “When you think of all of the records EMI has released—from [Itzhak] Perlman, my teacher, to the Sex Pistols—it’s an honor already to be involved with that,” he said.