5 Questions to Carol Rosenberger About Delos Music

Last—but not least—installment in our #ClassicalMusicMonth series is Delos Music. We talked to Carol Rosenberger, Delos’ Director, about the label, the artists, and the challenges.

Could you introduce your label to our readers? When was it founded? What was the impetus?

During the 1971-72 concert season, a California psychologist by the name of Amelia Haygood spent a week in New York City, attending concerts. As she walked around Carnegie Hall, looking at posters announcing upcoming events, she noticed that all of the artists were from overseas. Not one American artist? It suddenly struck her also that her beloved record collection, which she and her husband had amassed before his death, consisted almost entirely of artists from overseas.

As a psychologist, she had been working with wounded vets and troubled ghetto families in Watts. Now she had found her next mission — providing a platform for American classical artists. She was warned that she would “lose her shirt,” but a number of her friends and colleagues in social work and psychology jumped in as volunteers. She named her label “Delos,” after the birthplace of Apollo, the ancient Greek Sun God, who, according to legend, brought music and healing to the world. In the decades that followed, Delos became known for its series of outstanding American artists and composers, much of whose work had until then been unavailable on recording.

How much of your catalog focuses on new music?

Amelia Haygood’s mission in founding Delos — to provide an international platform for American artists — included contemporary composers as well as performing artists. Thus new music has always been an important part of the Delos catalog. A focus on 20th Century composers, beginning with Boston’s Musica Viva in the 1970s, developed into Delos’s Great American Composers series over the two decades that followed, with conductors Gerard Schwarz and James DePreist. In addition to works by composers such as Hanson, Hovhaness, Piston, Creston, Diamond and many other Americans, this group of recordings also included works by emigré American composers, and expanded to include music by many other contemporary composers whose music hadn’t yet acquired a recording platform. In the past two years, for instance, Delos has issued recordings introducing works by composers such as Mark Abel, Richard Rodney Bennett, David Conte, Smaro Gregoriadou, Jake Heggie, Sean Hickey, Nadav Lev, Michael McGlynn, Michael McLean, Benjamin Moore, Robert Nelson, Tracy Silverman, Conrad Susa and Frank Ticheli.

What are the qualities your look for in artists  (composers, performers, conductors) you decide to feature?

We look for something special. As a lifelong musician myself, I look for a piece of music or a performance that speaks to me in a unique way. Something I’d want to go back to, hear again, and have as part of my life. I also want to see how that piece of music or performance affects Delos team members – our informal A & R committee. It never ceases to be a thrill when everyone on the team, when polled independently, is drawn to a certain performer’s vision or to a piece of music. There continue to be exciting discoveries. For example, the first time I heard a demo of Mark Abel’s work, “The Dream Gallery,” time stopped. I had never heard anything like this song cycle for seven different vocal soloists and orchestra, which drew me into its drama for over 70 minutes. I was so excited that I immediately called the phone number Mark had sent along, even though his name was completely new to me, and I hadn’t yet run the project by my team. And now we’ve just released Mark’s new opera, “Home Is a Harbor,” in a stunning two-disc set that includes his song cycle, “The Palm Trees Are Restless.” There are compositions and performances that I feel should be “out there,” even if nobody gets it right away. We have plenty of examples in music history of a performer or a piece of music being overlooked, perhaps for many years, and then one day finally discovered with great excitement. So every time we release a recording of new music, I have the feeling that, no matter how long it takes to gain acceptance, it has crossed the threshold and is available for discovery.

Carol Rosenberger with Delos composer Sean Hickey, August 2013

Carol Rosenberger with Delos composer Sean Hickey, August 2013

What is your biggest challenge as a classical label in the early 21st century and how do you approach it?

The music educator side of me loves the availability of listening opportunities that streaming provides. Anyone and everyone can discover and enjoy a limitless variety of classical music. As someone responsible for the welfare of the Delos label, I find that the ever-increasing streaming model, along with the sharp decline in demand for physical CDs, bring financial challenges when we want to produce important projects with important artists.

What’s next for the label? What are you excited about (a release, a new technology, etc.)?

Our fall season begins with the great American tenor Lawrence Brownlee singing bel canto arias, with conductor Constantine Orbelian. The album, “Allegro io son,” is named for one of the arias, and symbolizes the joyous excitement that Larry can create with his mind-boggling vocal virtuosity. September also brings the recording premiere of Irish composer Michael McGlynn’s “Celtic Mass, ” together with James MacMillan’s “Mass,” sung by the Taylor Festival Choir with conductor Robert Taylor. Both composers combine ancient strains and nuances with strongly modern idioms. In November, we’ll present American mezzo star Jamie Barton’s highly anticipated first recital CD, “All Who Wander,” with songs of Mahler, Dvorak and Sibelius. Also for fall release, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian has created what is for her a nostalgic — and for listeners a spellbinding — program of Armenian chants and hymns, ranging from the 10th to the 18th century. This unusual program, “Mother of Light,” appears in October. In 2017 we’ll release two new recordings with Dmitri Hvorostovsky and conductor Constantine Orbelian: first, a recording of Rigoletto, and a little later, vocal music of Sviridov. Most everyone knows by now that Dmitri is fighting a brain tumor, and thus it’s something of a miracle that he has been able to do two recordings that are of particular importance to him. Also coming up in early 2017 is a lovely collection of mostly unknown songs and instrumental music by the legendary Nadia Boulanger. This is particularly close to my heart, as she was not only one of my teachers, but one of the people who helped the most when I was stricken with polio as a young pianist. It’s a sentimental milestone for me that Delos can bring this music to light in her memory.