After an almost 50-year history and a catalog of well-over 900 recordings of music by nearly 500 American composers, Composers Recordings Inc. (CRI) has officially announced that they are going to cease operations at the end of April 2003.
According to a statement by CRI Executive Director John G. Schultz on their Web site: “The Board of Directors of CRI has been working tirelessly over the past seven months to explore ways by which we might be able to keep our doors open. However, given the current funding climate and global market, this has proved to be an impossible task, much to our sadness. The Board currently is finalizing arrangements with another well-respected and established not-for-profit recording label. This label has been most generous in their offer to ensure the preservation of CRI’s archives. They will continue to ensure that all titles remain in print via various new media that have become available over the past few years. As far as accepting new submissions and the releasing of new titles, CRI will cease to exist as we have all known it. The Board and Executive Director will be happy to assist composers by suggesting alternative labels that may be approached.”
On January 3, 2003, Schultz told John Schaefer on WNYC-FM’s SoundCheck Program that the “well-respected and established not-for-profit recording label” mentioned in the statement is New World Records, another label devoted exclusively to American music. Joining Schultz on the program, New World Records’ Managing Director Paul Marotta announced that New World is prepared to digitize the entire CRI catalog and to make it available on line at some point in the future. Schultz, who was named executive director of CRI in the summer of 2000, resigned to assume the position of executive director of Elisa Monte Dance in September 2002, but has continued to work with CRI’s Board of Directors to help determine the future course for the struggling record label.
Composer Daron Hagen, whose opera Vera of Las Vegas, was the last recording officially released by CRI with the highest catalog number, 902. The final CD to be shipping, however, is River Songs, a 2-CD set featuring performances by the Philadelphia-based Orchestra 2001 of music by George Rochberg, George Crumb, Anna Weesner, Robert Maggio, James Primosch, Arne Running, David Finko, and Jay Reise. River Songs will be shipped this week. Sources say that CRI will continue to fulfill orders in the coming months and will see its entire back catalog made available through New World Records, under its own imprint.
Composer Jack Beeson, an honorary trustee of CRI, also reflected on the changes in the record industry: “In 1954, the year in which CRI was founded, RCA was owned in this country and so was Columbia Records. I mention just those two because of them consistently put out music by American composers. Things have changed since then. Sony Japan has Columbia Records, so to speak, and Bertelsmans, a German company, has RCA. Neither is known for putting out serious American music in any quantity these days. CRI continued to exist under more or less the same auspices since it had at the beginning and many record companies devoted to putting out music primarily by American composers have come in quantities like mushrooms, and, like mushrooms, have disappeared in the interim. But CRI has confronted the same problem that all record producers have in releasing music that is enjoyed by a minority. The minority interested in new American music is nevertheless a large one and the problem is only getting in touch with it. New World Records, though not as old as CRI, has confronted the same problems as all the rest of us and has managed for quite some years to do nicely. The task of pushing these innumerable round CD objects up the hill can now be carried out by CRI and New World joining in the effort.”
“It’s a disappointment of course,” said Charles Wuorinen, a composer whose earliest recordings appeared on the CRI label when he was in his early 20s. “It’s just one more symptom of a lack of interest in non-commercial music. CRI is a casualty of this general lack of concern. It’s possible that a new generation of composers might come along who will reject the facile populism that so many currently well-known composers are practicing. But when a CRI goes out of business, how will their music be recorded? Perhaps the vanity press aspect of a CRI is now no longer necessary. When anyone can burn their own CD, maybe the record labels, which are abasing themselves anyway possible to survive, are going down the drain because they’re not needed any longer. The end of CRI is news with consequences we can’t predict.”
Founded in 1954 by American composers Otto Luening (1900-1996)–who was also a co-founder of the American Music Center–and Douglas Moore (1893-1969) with arts administrator and musicologist Oliver Daniel (1911-1990), who headed the concert music division of BMI from 1954 until 1977. The label’s illustrious history includes recordings of music by 42 Pulitzer Prize-winning composers as well as many other key figures in American music of the 20th century including Milton Babbitt, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford Seeger, and many others. Under the stewartship of Joseph R. Dalton, who served as CRI’s Executive Director from 1990 to 2000, CRI embarked on a variety of high-profile innovative recording series including: “Emergency Music ,” which featured the earliest recordings of Bang on a Can; “eXchange music,” which featured some of the earliest recordings of prominent Asian-American and Hispano-American composers including Tan Dun, Tania Léon, Chen Yi, and Roberto Sierra; the best-selling “Gay American Composers” series; and a comprehensive re-issue of all of Harry Partch‘s historic self-produced Gate 5 Recordings. [A 1999 NewMusicBox profile of CRI describes the earlier history of the label.]