Appointed in 2007 as director of Château de Versailles Spectacles, Laurent Brunner created their own record label in 2018. In 2022, four years after its launch, Château de Versailles Spectacles became Label of the Year of the International Classical Music Awards (ICMA). Remy Franck met Laurent Brunner for an interview.
– Your record label was launched in 2018, so about ten years after the creation of Château de Versailles Spectacles, a private subsidiary of the public institution. How would you assess the situation?
– The result is very particular because our activity comprises two years of pandemic. On the one hand, there was a slowdown in sales and on the other hand, the transition to digital, which was reinforced by the absence of concerts with an audience almost everywhere. And, as a consequence, the artists had a lot of time. We took advantage of this to make recordings, especially of more specific programs, which is often the case with French music of the 17th and 18th centuries, and resurrections of rare works such as Lully’s Cadmus et Hermione, Cavalli’s Egisto – which we will be releasing soon – or Francesco Sacrati’s La Finta Pazza.
– Did you have to abandon some projects?
– We had to abandon our biggest project ever, planned for the year 2021, the year of Napoleon, both on stage and in recording, Spontini’s Fernand Cortez, the first great French opera and the first great personal commission of the Emperor during the Spanish War. It was a specific request from Napoleon for a libretto, and Spontini responded with an opera for which many singers and many musicians are needed.
– Your recordings are sometimes live, sometimes studio. How do you make the choice?
– Our recordings are practically always made at the Château de Versailles, with the exception of some chamber music recordings during the pandemic. If there is a concert, the live recording is normally used as a base recording and we make corrections. Or there are several days of recordings that are used for the final version. So, generally, the coherence of the music with the place is guaranteed.
– We find on your label big names who are often under contract with other labels. Have you ever had problems hiring them?
– I think that exclusivity is not really important anymore. By selling records you don’t make a profit, at best you make up for the deficits. In any case, generally speaking, exclusivity does not affect our work. And if there is a problem, we can choose another singer.
– You have removed all your recordings from the streaming platforms. Why did you do that?
– It’s basically an economic question. Today, the business model in the music world is based on pop, which doesn’t work the same way as classical. Pop music often has few performers and many sales. Classical music is often a lot of performers and a lot less listeners, except for a few rare events like the Vienna New Year’s Concert or the recordings of a few world-famous musicians. And there are less than ten of them. Unfortunately, the payment system is the same. So you buy a subscription for a streaming platform and for 10 euros a month on average you listen to whatever you want. But the distribution key for this money does not provide for your ten euros to be divided according to your own listening rates. If you listen to half Couperin and half Rolling Stones, the ten euros will not be divided fifty, fifty. No, it will be divided according to the key of all the listening. If the Rolling Stones take 20%, all the pop 30%, the 80s and 90s variety around 50%, there is one cent left for Couperin. On the other hand, if you have the choice to buy a CD worth, say, 15 euros, or to listen for 10 euros a month to whatever you want, you go on this platform which hardly pays the phonographic producer of the classic at all. And even if the quantity would increase, we are in cents instead of euros, and there I have nothing to gain. So I decided to withdraw the whole package, including Qobuz, but on March 1st we will re-enter Qobuz individually, a platform that works differently and where the remuneration is more substantial.
– What does the ICMA Label of the Year award mean to you?
– First of all, it’s a mark of quality. It’s like a label, a seal of quality that you put on a project, and it means that it has been distinguished. It has a very French meaning. We are a country of medals. And that’s what medals are for. It’s a way of highlighting and it means that what we do is good.