Interview: Dr. Clemens Trautmann

Interview: Dr. Clemens Trautmann

Deutsche Grammophon president Dr. Clemens Trautmann talks about RicordiLab, Huang Ruo, the strategy and upcoming releases of his label, digitization and the collaboration between the labels and publishing houses of Universal Music.

You studied in Lübeck and at the Juilliard School in New York; your teachers included Sabine Meyer. After completing your clarinet training you studied law and then served in managing positions at Springer and Immonet. What led you to move away from music?

I never actually left music. Whether as a lawyer or in management, it was always important for me to continue playing – especially chamber music, several times a year in public concerts or at festivals. But as far as making the clarinet the basis of my entire career was concerned, I probably lacked confidence that orchestral or teaching positions – and for wind players that’s almost always the basis of a career – could occupy 40 years of my professional life. In spite of the great standard works and terrific contemporary music written for the clarinet, the instrument’s repertoire is still limited.

In the US you got to know the composer Huang Ruo. 

Yes, we both lived in the Juilliard dormitory and often exchanged ideas about music during lunch; we also did a lot together in New York with mutual friends. I’m pleased for Huang Ruo that his music is being so well received internationally. It’s always had as its core the creation of distinctive sound worlds inspired by traditional Chinese music yet never merely folkloric.

Which DG releases are you looking forward to most in 2018?

This year we’re celebrating the 120th anniversary of the founding of Deutsche Grammophon, and we’re using the occasion to release some treasures from our label’s early days. And of course, we’re looking forward to Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday in August – along with first releases from Tanglewood and a complete edition of his compositions, there will be a new recording of Mass with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin and a Bernstein tribute album by the outstanding young American soprano Nadine Sierra.

How are you collaborating with Universal Music’s classical publishers?

We take advantage of every possibility for co-operation. For example, in preparing our releases for the centenary of Debussy’s death, we’ve relied on the Durand-Salabert critical edition and have made its new publications available to our artists for their recordings. In the so-called “neo-classical” field, we’re working closely with our colleagues at Decca Publishing in London – for example, with the works of Max Richter.

You were a member of the advisory board of our composers’ competition RicordiLab? What was your experience?

The variety and multidimensionality of contemporary composition is remarkable. It’s no longer possible to determine what Theodor W. Adorno once referred to as the “state of the material” because the approaches have become far too diverse. Being on the jury has provided me with a great overview of the different trends, and I’m also glad that the selection of prize-winners – Sarah Nemtsov, Shiori Usui and Steffen Wick – fully reflects the variety and vitality of avant-garde music.

What is your strategy for the future of Deutsche Grammophon?

Do you want the short version or the long one? In essence, it’s about providing a home for both our established and our younger artists, a platform for realizing authentic and innovative recording projects while utilizing the whole apparatus of a major label: including A&R guidance, cutting-edge technology, ideally suitable video tools and sophisticated artwork as well as our long years of expertise in the physical and digital business. As one colleague so perceptively put it, DG feels like an “independent label with muscles”. And we want to further strengthen the cachet of our trademark so that our artists’ top-quality productions are immediately recognizable, helping consumers navigate the jungle of releases and optimally invest their limited time in the experience of music.

Streaming plays a big role in pop music. What about in classical?

Streaming has also really taken off in classical music, even more rapidly in the international markets than here in Germany. In the US, over half of classical revenue already derives from streaming subscriptions. That naturally affects repertoire policy. When, for example, hundreds of versions of the “Moonlight” Sonata or “Jupiter” Symphony appear directly next to and in competition with one another on Spotify or Apple Music, there is an even greater incentive to record something extraordinary with our artists or to create a wholly new and unique repertoire. And that in turn makes contemporary compositions even more relevant.

What would you as a digital expert advise classical music publishers with regard to digitalization?

From my experience as former Managing Director of the real-estate marketing portal Immonet, my recommendation would be this: Don’t be afraid of cannibalization! When the Axel Springer company invested in Immonet in 2001, the turnover from print real-estate advertising – which the new venture placed at risk – was still in the triple-digit millions while, by comparison, the new-fangled online dissemination was delivering only mini-amounts. In the meantime, the relationship has completely reversed. Investment in digital models should not founder because it jeopardizes existing business. At the end of the day, the customer will always choose the user-friendlier alternative, and it’s surely best when that comes from you.

Photo: Laurence Chaperon / Universal Music