Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels

Peter Kermani could not have brought a more impressive resume to the task of running a label. He is the past president of the Albany Symphony Orchestra board, past chairman of the American Symphony Orchestra, a past board member of the American Composers Orchestra, and for four years chairman of the board of CRI.

And perhaps even more importantly, he is a man with a mission, and someone who knows what he wants. Asked to summarize the raison d’etre of Albany Records, which he founded in 1987, he is typically succinct: “Albany is devoted mainly to music of contemporary American composers. I decided that we needed a for-profit record company that could act unilaterally to record American literature that was important, sidestepping any kind of editorial policy.” [Originally, Albany was a trans-Atlantic operation with a parallel U.K. office devoted to British repertoire, featuring more than 20 CDs of the music of neo-romantic symphonist George Lloyd. But in the past year, Albany has only been generating new recordings on the U.S. side although the British affiliate, Albany Records UK, maintains a Web site of back catalog.]

Kermani set about recording the unheralded and in some cases largely overlooked composers of the middle part of the century, composers such as Morton Gould, Roy Harris, Peter Mennin and others who chose to pursue the mainstream American orchestral tradition rather than any of the maverick movements that came along in the latter part of the century. This, too, he chose to do for a reason. “We’re talking about the most important part of the American repertoire,” he states emphatically. “We never are going to be able to determine how we are going to exist in the future and the present if we don’t pay proper homage to the past. That, I think, is the mission of Albany Records.

“Everybody knows Roy Harris,” Kermani continues, “but they just know the Third Symphony. Everybody knows Morton Gould, they just know the American Symphonette No. 2 or the Latin American Symphony.” To counter those two examples, Albany has recently captured the premiere recordings of Harris’s eighth and ninth symphonies and Gould’s 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winning work String Music. Other recent and upcoming recordings by Albany include symphonies by Mennin, William Schuman’s Symphony No. 4, the Piano Concerto No. 2 of Benjamin Lees, and orchestral music by John Harbison and Don Gillis.

Kermani points to the examples of the British labels Chandos and Hyperion as being analogous to his goals for Albany, recording important but neglected music by lesser known composers to give a fuller, truer representation of a nation’s native music. “There’s just so much gorgeous American music that is not brought before the public,” he says, “and it’s a crying shame.” And with Albany, Kermani is in the serious business of acquainting record buyers with the music that’s been missing from their lives.

From Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels
by Steve Smith
© 1999 NewMusicBox

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