Seattle Symphony Launches Label

There is a brand-new indie label in town. It's first release features a band with more than 50 members.

A brand-new indie label launches in Seattle this month, and its first release captures a blockbuster live performance by a band with more than 50 members.

The Seattle Symphony’s latest platform is Seattle Symphony Media, a record label helmed by music director Ludovic Morlot and executive director Simon Woods. In the last few decades, the Symphony has released more than 100 recordings through small classical labels or major-label imprints, but SSM gives the directors an unprecedented degree of creative control and Symphony musicians greater opportunity for financial reward.

“Look at what’s happened in the pop business,” Woods said after a listening party held in an office at Benaroya Hall in mid-March. “There’s so much movement towards artists controlling their own destiny. Same has happened in the classical music business.”

The Symphony has been recording every performance since Benaroya opened in 1998, but SSM will focus on recordings from the last three years and onward, beginning with Morlot’s celebrated tenure as music director. Morlot, French by birth, and Woods collected the works of modern French and American composers for the first three releases, including Ravel, Gershwin, Ives, Henri Dutilleux (a personal friend of Morlot’s) and more.

“With our own label we can be nimble on our feet and literally say, ‘That concert was great, it’s coming out on CD four months later.’”

Each release will be available as a compact disc, iTunes download, high-definition iTunes download and 5.1 Surround Sound lossless download. Woods said that as of now there are no solid plans for vinyl, but he’s considering it.

During the listening party, Woods played snippets of each release. The sound quality was stunning (granted, these were the 5.1 versions piped through a high-end sound system) and the selections brilliant in their diversity and impact. Each demonstrated the perpetual vitality of classical music—as well as an alluring freshness to anyone bred on a steady diet of pop and hip-hop. For many, classical offers an entirely new language to learn, rich and undeniably moving.

“We want to take the Seattle Symphony to a broader audience,” Woods said. “We’re one of the top 15 American orchestras but not as well known as some of the others. It’s time to change that.”