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

Koch International Classics was founded in 1989 by Grammy award winning producer Michael Fine, as the in-house classical recording label for the major international record distributor Koch International. The label struck gold on its very first outing when it won a Grammy for the world premiere recording of Leonard Bernstein’s last major composition, the song cycle Arias and Barcarolles, which received the award for “Best Contemporary Composition.”

Since then, the label garnered a second Grammy for another world premiere recording, Samuel Barber’s choral epic The Lovers, recorded with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Fine won his own Grammy for “Producer of the Year” in 1993.

The Koch label has recorded music of every nationality and musical period, but the bulk of its critical reputation rests upon its commitment to recording little-known or neglected works by American composers. The label has presented important music by Alan Hovhaness, Norman Dello Joio, Henry Cowell, Charles Griffes, George Tsontakis, Amy Beach, Quincy Porter, Charles Ives, Libby Larsen, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and many others.

In addition, modern music has been exceptionally well served by a series of recordings made by the Group for Contempoary Music. Their recordings of music by Milton Babbitt, Roger Sessions, Charles Wuorinen, Donald Martino and others have been critically acclaimed by critics worldwide. Several of these titles were recently removed from the full-price catalog and reissued at a lower price, encouraging the normally timid to consider exploring the unknown.

Other areas of American music have been explored as well. Several major composers of popular song and musical theater have been represented in a candid and revealing series in which they perform their own music: Cole Sings Porter, Frank Sings Loesser, Yip Sings Harburg, and so on. And Koch has been in the forefront of the movement to rediscover and re-evaluate the serious music of composers best known for the work in film scores, most notably Miklós Rózsa, Bernard Herrmann and Jerome Moross.

After Michael Fine left Koch, his former assistant Susan Napodano-DelGiorno took control of the company, and is one of the youngest women ever to hold such a position in the industry. DelGiorno has continued the label’s commitment to American music as among its primary concerns, and has pushed the label in even more contemporary directions with the release of The Character of American Sunlight by composer Jerome Kitzke and an upcoming recording of music of Evan Ziporyn performed by Bang on a Can All-Star cellist Maya Beiser. On such evidence it seems clear that Koch International Classics will continue to play an important role in the new music business.

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