Hongkonger: Klaus Heymann

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“I came to Hong Kong in 1967. I arrived with a suitcase and a typewriter, and strangely enough the hotel which had been booked for me didn’t exist anymore.” So begins the story of Klaus Heymann, founder of Naxos, one of the world’s largest classical music labels. He came to Hong Kong to help run the business side of American newspaper The Overseas Weekly, but surrounded by locals who were making money through creative enterprises, he admits he was “bitten by the business bug.” This drove Heymann to move into the music industry after the cost of manufacturing CDs dropped significantly, and he quickly created budget CDs with intriguing repertoires. In 1987, Naxos was born. But initially, he faced difficulties when it came to selling, due to the discount prices: “The retailers were suspicious of the quality so they just threw them collectively into a separate bin in the corner,” he remembers.

Fast forward a few years and you can now find the latest Naxos recordings in virtually any mainstream musical outlet. “People don’t go into a store and ask for the latest EMI recording,” says Heymann proudly. “It’s not only about the label; it’s also about the brand. From the very beginning we’ve represented quality recordings at an attractive price. That’s why we get good reviews.”

Naxos’ ever-increasing popularity has led to 11 nominations at this year’s Classical Grammys, the results of which are announced on February 13. But not all reviews have been kind. Naxos has been criticised for sacrificing excellence in order to record cheap productions that can be sold in bulk. Heymann sees this as elitism. “Our records speak for themselves,” he says. “The average graduate coming out of music school today is far better than they would have been 20 years ago, so even a secondary ranked orchestra has extremely high standards. Plus they have the time to make quality recordings.” He even suggests that major labels choosing musicians for their fame is a pitfall. “They pick them for their looks,” he says wryly. “And I pick them for their fingers and their brains.”

Despite Naxos’ thriving success, all record companies are under threat from streaming sites such as Spotify. Heymann is outwardly against the distribution of free music, but knows it could be profitable. “It all depends on whether they can have an impact on paid downloads,” he muses. Naxos’ own internet subscription service allows people to find specific composers, genres and movements instantaneously. “We’re adding even more features because we know these free sites are not specialised,” he adds. On top of all this, Naxos is still keen to promote new music and skilful musicians. Says Heymann: “Being based in Hong Kong, we are very supportive of Asian and Chinese artists, but the bad news about being here is that it’s impossible to make records. There is a lot of money in the arts here, but it’s all bureaucracy. The government is a millstone around the neck of the arts in Hong Kong.” Hannah Slapper

For a list of classical music titles, visit www.naxos.com.hk.

 

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