Best of 2013: Label of the Year

Winner: Mercury Classics

Runner-up: Bedroom Community

Its been another trying year for classical music but don’t tell that to the indie and major labels supporting the medium.  From shifting their focus/financial backing to crowdsourced recordings (New Amsterdam), to pushing the boundaries of recording quality standards (Sono Luminus), and to providing fresh spins on repertoire from  lesser known but well deserving contemporary composers (Odradek Records), classical labels in 2013 have been nothing but dedicated to keeping the art pure and dignified.

Icelandic record label Bedroom Community really set the standard in 2013 for contemporary works and bringing respectable cred with mightily impressive releases of noteworthy LPs.  Their dedication to not only artist development but advancing new works is second to none in the industry.  Bedroom Community undoubtedly brought the biggest contributions to contemporary classical music and the expansion of the sub-genre with three foward-moving albums; violinist Nadia Sirota’s stellar Baroque LP, organ player James McVinnie’s Cycles (hands down the best album focused on the organ since Anthony Newman’s 1975 Organ Orgy, and the mind blowing Over Light Earth from Daníel Bjarnason. More importantly Bedroom Community’s strong support for the commissioning of works from their roster (Nico Muhly, Daníel Bjarnason) and overall tour presence has made the label the premiere destination point for anything remotely contemporary and a true safe haven for classical artists in creating music without the altering perversion of market demands.

Nonetheless, on a pure overall impact for classical music as whole, young imprint label Mercury Classics is tops. No other label has done more for the genre in bringing relevancy back and a nostalgic cool factor that has been long missing from classical music. In a short year, Mercury Classics has altered the dynamic for classical recordings. When was the last time a soloist recording for the clarinet (Andreas Ottensamer’s Portrait: The Clarinet Album) was this addictive…and delectably enjoyable?

For the first time since the apex days of John Williams or Julian Bream, the classical guitar was not only actually relevant but performed with such precision and character (Miloš’ Canción) that it brings back the wonder years of stylish galore the instrument once helmed. The label’s release of Béla Fleck’s The Impostor showed not only can you re-imagine the use of the banjo but in essence stir reinvention of its legendary holder himself into bold new territory.

When it comes to contemporary music, Mercury Classics has been no slouch either, with the standout LP For Now I Am Winter from neo-classical composer Ólafur Arnalds and the American Quartet Brooklyn Rider’s own dabble into compositional writing with A Walking Fire. Mercury Classics didn’t reinvent the wheel on classical music but their well-rewarded risks made it go faster and on roads less traveled. No other classical label in 2013 can attest to the rejuvenation of how we perceive classical music than newcomer Mercury Classics.

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