A Chat with Michael Andriaccio and Joanne Castellani of Fleur de Son Recordings
In 1996, classical guitarists Michael Andriaccio and Joanne Castellani founded Fleur de Son Classics, which is now one of the most significant and rapidly growing record labels in the United States. Their catalog consists of over 85 titles from a distinguished roster of world-class recording artists. The Castellani-Andriaccio Duo is renowned for playing chamber music and for the introduction of new music for the classical guitar. The duo has performed in prestigious chamber music halls throughout the world and at the White House. Castellani and Andriaccio are also the co-directors of the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition presented by Buffalo, New York, radio station WNED-FM and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Q: How did you meet?
MA: We’re both from Buffalo, New York, and we worked with the same guitar teacher here in town, Oswald Rantucci, who happened to be a violinist with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Back then, and I feel like I’m dating myself, it was hard to find classical guitar teachers. Rantucci frequently went to New York City where he studied with Alexander Bellow.
JC: We both attended the University of the State of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo and it was there that we began to play as a guitar duo. We began helping each other with our degree recitals.
MA: Chamber music was very important during our time at the university. The Cleveland String Quartet was in residence there and we had the privilege of working with them. They embraced the guitar so we did all sorts of things together. We also worked with other string groups and with piano. Chamber music was a natural evolution for us.
JC: SUNY Buffalo was known for its music department when we were there in the ’70s. It was the place to go for contemporary music and for string quartets. The Budapest Quartet was there, and later the Cleveland. At one time Lukas Foss guided the Center for Creative Arts. Later, Michael Tilson Thomas took over.
MA: Aaron Copland was there, too. It was a great privilege for me as a student to work with him.
Q: Are you currently touring as a duo?
MA: Yes, to some degree we are still touring, but we are making the switch from touring to teaching and recording. We’ve been actively touring for 30 years and it is becoming hard to keep it up. Now we think it’s up to younger folk to pick up the mantle. That’s why we’re working with organizations like the JoAnn Falletta Guitar Competition. We’ve been lucky with travel. Our instruments have always arrived with us and in one piece, but we know so many colleagues who have horror stories. [Joanne laughs knowingly in the background.]
Q: Do you teach?
JC: I’ve recently become a professor emeritus from SUNY Buffalo. Before teaching there, I started the guitar department at Fredonia State College. Then I moved to Buffalo where I taught for 30 years. Now I have my own classical guitar studio and an enrollment of 60 students. They range in age from small children to retired people who want to get back into playing. There are people who once earned a degree in performance but for various reasons went into other professions. Upon retiring they often want to get back into playing. Our Ensemble Saltarello allows people like that to play in a group. I’ve done a good bit of editing on their music and it allows everyone to play along even if their technique still needs a good deal of brushing up. The whole idea is to get people back into playing and having fun. The Ensemble plays world music so their pieces come from many different cultures.
Q: How did you come to start a recording company?
MA: Although we were touring all over the world, we could not get a recording contract that we felt respected us and other artists. Fortunately, I have had a business background for much of my life. We decided to take the bull by the horns and start our own recording company. We signed other artists and waited to see what would happen. We actually started the company in 1986. Little by little it took off and now we have a huge network of wonderful artists. We have chamber music players from all over the world. Our mission is to be the voice of artists of international merit and to allow them to get the attention they deserve.
MA: We knew that because we were a small independent company, we couldn’t compete with the major labels. Thus, we decided to focus mainly on music that has rarely or never been recorded. We are the only place music lovers can get that music. Who would come to a small recording company for a Beethoven quartet that’s already available on a major label played by a big-name ensemble? It would be foolish for us to even think of competing with Philips and Deutsche Grammophon. We began to find our own little niche as the whole music industry began to change. For example, there was a time when artists like Andrés Segovia and Vladimir Horowitz were associated with particular managers and record companies. That no longer happens. If you read the biography of a present day artist you will see that he or she has recorded for eight or nine different labels. That way of doing things does not help the artist, the recording companies, or the industry. We try to offer our artists multi-title contracts, which allow them and us to establish an artist-label identity.
Q: How do you choose artists for your label?
MA: We have a huge network of great artists all over the world who are always working on projects. As a result, they are constantly presenting us with ideas. Whenever we feel that an idea is viable, we go for it. We want to be the voice for those artists. A record label should be the extension of one’s artistic personality. No recording company should be dictating repertoire. Most artists who sign with us stay with us. I don’t think we’ve lost more than two of the 36 we have signed.
Q: What exactly do you do for your recording artists?
MA: Many artists come to us with previously recorded material that is state of the art. We take it from there. We design the whole package, we manufacture it, and we distribute it worldwide through Naxos of America. For about 40 percent of our artists, we are involved from step one. For them we are in the studio producing the recording. One of the owners of Fleur de Son, David Dusman, is a phenomenal producer and recording engineer. He has worked with the best of the best and we don’t make a recording without him. We’ve brought him to England to record the London Symphony Orchestra and to Israel to record the Israel Chamber Orchestra. The producer is the one who sits in the studio and says things like, “That “take” was wonderful but the E was a little flat. Can we do that again?” He then takes the best of the “takes” and assembles them so that we have a seamless, perfectly played recording.
Q: Do you oversee what material goes in the booklet?
JC: There has been a tremendous shift in the music industry towards downloading and having information about the music online. From a marketing standpoint, we have to weigh the value of a booklet. The reality is that a new culture is determining how one purchases and listens to music.
MA: With LP records we had a large space for written material. Then the compact disc came into being. It gave us very little space so we added a booklet. We walk a very fine line with artists and business people that ranges from the scholarly, to the artistic, to the commercial. We want to provide enough information, but we don’t want it to be a doctoral thesis. Usually, we limit our artists to 1,200 words of liner notes. We feel that it allows for an adequate amount of information without the profusion of words being cumbersome. Artists who have wanted to write more have put longer essays on their websites. We want the information to be accessible to the music-loving public and we can guide listeners to where they can find more material if they want it. We do make sure that each CD has an adequate booklet.
Getting background information to go with a download is not quite as easy. Putting it on websites could be a little costly on our end, but it’s definitely an idea we want to look at. As for sound quality, Naxos has come out with high-resolution audiophile FLAC downloads that are 88 kHz/24 bit and 96 kHz/24 bit. Actually, close to 500 tracks of our recordings qualify for that download. Going forward, everything we record will be on that level. Some of the music industry’s problems are that people don’t believe in paying for music and that they don’t demand an audiophile standard for sound.
JC: Just to back up a bit, some of our artists teach at universities that have facilities and they want to record there. We give them guidelines that they have to adhere to in order for us to handle the recording. They are welcome to record where they like, but our engineer will always check to see that the result is up to our standards.
MA: Our contracts are designed so that we have final say on what goes out and what does not. If a recording does not meet our standards, we just won’t put it out. We don’t do SACDs, but we have been making DVDs since last year. Two of them are out now and two more are coming out within the next 12 months. Essentially, we’re a chamber music label. We have a great many soloists. We do some orchestral music, but we don’t do opera, which really cries out for DVD recordings. Chamber music is what’s in our DNA. I notice that solo performers get a bigger audience than chamber groups. At least that seems to be true among students. They have a greater attraction to the solo player because this is a “me” society. It’s a bit like tennis. There is great playing to be seen at the doubles matches, but nobody is in the stands. Everybody is at the singles matches.
Q: How much are you affected by sales figures?
MA: Sales of recordings or downloads do matter, but if they were the driving force, we would have been out of business years ago.
JC: I don’t think we feel pressure from any source. I think we just go for the artistic contribution.
MA: I’d love to have something sell one or two hundred thousand copies, but that’s not a reality today. That’s for pop figures like Andrea Bocelli. We’re content to be a recognized voice for our artists. As long as our catalog is available worldwide with its highest quality discs and downloads, we’re very happy.
JC: As for the permanence of compact discs, it’s scary at times. I don’t know how long they will be with us, but we certainly hope it will be a long time yet. When you talk to young people, however, the convenience of downloading outweighs the physical properties of the disc.
MA: One student recently asked, “Why would you buy a CD? You can get the music online.” With regard to streaming, Spotify has our entire catalog. They are becoming more and more active on our monthly reports. Streaming has become a big part of things. When something does eventually supplant the CD, I think it may well be streaming. We stream the Falletta Guitar Competition. The semifinals and the finals are all streamed worldwide. A young guitarist may be playing in Buffalo but his parents in India are listening to him in real time.
Q: Were any of the 2012 Falletta Competition winners women?
JC: We did have one excellent woman guitarist from Germany and she took third place. She was the only female in the final round. We did have a number of women semifinalists.
MA: It’s funny because in the 18th century the guitar was a salon instrument that young girls learned to play so that they could accompany their songs.
JC: There are a number of really fine young women guitarists playing today and more of them need to enter competitions like the men do.
MA: It may be that men are more drawn to competition than women are. It could be a testosterone thing.
JC: Many of the contestants are foreign, possibly because there are so many more opportunities to play concerts in Europe. It is so easy to go from one country to another there and they have so many more festivals than we have. The opportunities are much greater for Europeans.
MA: Europeans tend to start playing at a much younger age and they tend to reach musical maturity much sooner, too. It’s probably because of the “wallpaper” that they grow up with.
JC: I see that American children are starting classical training much earlier these days. Not starting an instrument until high school has been a problem for the longest time. Since the guitar is not a band instrument, it is not taught in most schools that do have music education. They do teach music, including guitar, in the Buffalo schools, but the teachers do not necessarily have the best backgrounds for classical studies. One of the best places in the United States for classical guitar is Austin, Texas. They have a phenomenal program throughout their school system. We just don’t have that here.
Q: How did you become associated with the Falletta Competition?
JC: Quite some time ago, Buffalo’s classical radio and television station, WNED, started the Buffalo-Niagara Guitar Festival. It ran the gamut from rock to country to jazz, and very little time was allotted for classical playing. The first classical guitarist to come and play at that event was Sharon Isbin who gave a concert and a master class. Then the station found out that the classical events were the most successful with regard to both attendance and enthusiasm.
MA: Thus, they wanted to expand the classical section. The result was a marriage between the Buffalo Philharmonic, guitarist and conductor JoAnn Falletta, and WNED. Don Boswell, the president and CEO of WNED, had also served on the board of the Van Cliburn Competition so he wanted to use that as a model for the Falletta Competition. With JoAnn’s contacts and mine, we put together a perfect constellation. Our first competition was held in 2004 and we have held one every two years since then. Contestants must be classical guitarists at the beginning of their careers who are not represented by major management. Even contestants who have only made it to the semifinals have experienced a big bump in their careers. It is one of the most visible music competitions in the world. It attracts an audience of up to ten million people. We have been broadcast by the European Broadcasting Union, National Public Radio, Radio and Classics Today and we have also had a live stream on the Internet. The prize package has increased over time, too. The total for 2014 will be $40,000 to $45,000. It includes cash, a performance at Weill Recital Hall on the D’Addario Series, a concert guitar by American luthier J. D. Glass, return appearances with the Buffalo Philharmonic, and performances with other orchestras as well.
JC: They also get performance opportunities at the Round Top Festival in Texas.
Q: How expensive is a concert guitar?
MA: Concert guitars are much more modern instruments than violins, and although prices are going up, they don’t cost nearly as much as violins. An aspiring guitarist who wants a professional instrument can get one for under $10,000. Next year, 2014, will be the sixth edition of the competition. In 2012 all the judges were concertizing guitarists, but we often try for a mix of players, composers, producers, and presenters. The contest draws luminaries from the broader industry as well as guitarists. Because of our touring and Fleur de Son we are blessed with a huge network of talented people.
Q: Is guitar becoming more important in the world of classical music?
JC: It definitely is. More composers are writing for it. It’s now as accepted as violin and piano. Guitar recitals are very well attended, too, so guitarists are becoming successful from a financial standpoint.
MA: Since the inception of the Falletta Competition, many more guitar concertos are being written and there are far more performances of guitar concertos these days. Ten years ago not much music for guitar and orchestra was being performed.
Q: How do you deal with the low volume of sound from a guitar?
MA: It’s still a bit of a problem, but modern concert guitars have a much greater volume than older instruments. New playing techniques help, too. The balance is not that much of a problem with chamber music but it can still be a challenge for guitarists playing concertos with orchestra. A skilled composer can do a great deal to eliminate the problem, but most of the time we have to have a little bit of sound reinforcement or amplification to achieve a good balance.
JC: We have wonderful tone colors on the guitar, but we just don’t have the same capacity for volume as other orchestral instruments.
Q: Do you have time for a private life?
MA: We think about having time for a private life. Looking at our calendar, we see that our first real breather is in December. Eight months from now we can take a little vacation. Sometimes we don’t want to look too far in advance because the workload is overwhelming.
ANIMA DEL SUR (SOUL OF THE SOUTH)
Joanne Castellani (gtr)
FLEUR DE SON 58020 (57: 23)
Milongarrugada. Yerbita Compañera.
Evocación de la Suite Recuerdo.
Tango en Skaï.
O Parque das Crianças.
Milonga (a Piazzolla).
Milonga. Suite Popular