After a century on record, why has the world’s most famous orchestra decided to strike out with its own label?

Once in a while there’s a shift in the tectonic plates of the venerable recording industry. Sometimes, like the advent of the compact disc in the 1980s, it feels like a violent convulsion. At others, particularly to the consumer, it seems like barely a shudder (albeit with far reaching implications) – like Warner’s acquiring a major slice of recording history in the form of EMI. In June 2014, the Berlin Philharmonic launched its own label. Industry watchers have yet to concur on quite what this registers on the classical music Richter scale, but to some of us it has the ring of a game changer about it. When the world’s most famous orchestra – an organisation with an unparalleled association with some, and in particular one of the largest recorded music companies of all time – decides to go it alone, it feels distinctly like something is in the wind.

Sir Simon Rattle is the BPO’s current Chief Conductor, and himself the object of many an industry watcher’s eye. With his contract expiring in 2018, his next move, when it’s announced, will be one of the big classical music stories of the next few years. Meanwhile, the Maestro, last seen in Australia when the BPO toured in 2010, is happy to be spokesperson and cheerleader- in-chief for the new label and their first new recording of the Schumann Symphonies by the orchestra since Herbert von Karajan’s cycle back in the 1970s.

I’m catching up with Sir Simon in transit between two musical events, both of which demonstrate perfectly his openness to new ideas and his passion for inclusivity: he’s just conducted Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at Covent Garden (a production which incorporated a chorus of homeless people), and he’s on his way home to rehearse Carmina Burana (a performance designed to pique the interest of passersby by taking place outside the Philharmonie in Berlin). By comparison, the launch of a new label seems relatively conventional. So what exactly was the reasoning behind it?

“I think it was always at the back of our minds,” he muses. “We realised that we had more and more possibilities for doing things in-house. In a way the Digital Concert Hall made it inevitable – as did the demise of various recording labels. But we always thought the time would come when we’d like to have a little bit more control over what we put out.”

Read the rest of our eight page exclusive interview with Sir Simon Rattle in September’s Limelight Magazine, available from magazine retailers across Australia, or subscribe by calling 1300 038 015, via our online store or download our digital edition via Zinio.