The new Peabody Premieres recording label, which debuts this fall, aims to broaden the catalog of recorded music by underrepresented composers, an effort that pianist Lior Willinger (BM ’14, MM ’16, Piano) champions. He took part in the first recording sessions for the new label in January, when heightened university COVID regulations mandated that people couldn’t be unmasked in the same room at the same time. He played in Leith Symington Griswold Hall while mezzo-soprano Taylor Boykins (MM ’14, Voice) sang in one of the low-latency studios on the Conservatory’s second floor.
Taylor Boykins (above) and Lior Willinger (right) recorded their parts simultaneously in different rooms, using the new low-latency studios.
Taylor Boykins (top) and Lior Willinger (bottom) recorded their parts simultaneously in different rooms, using the new low-latency studios.
The ongoing pandemic was but one of a number of logistic, legal, and administrative hurdles Peabody Premieres has cleared in its creation since Willinger first approached Kathleen DeLaurenti, director of Peabody’s Arthur Friedheim Library, in 2019 asking about pathways to record music by underrepresented composers. The ultimate goal is to broaden the repertoire of music performed and programmed at large. “My experience as a pianist is that you’re expected to program very specific repertoire,” Willinger says, adding that he’s always had repertoire requirements at auditions for conservatory, grad school, festivals, and competitions. “At competitions, you’re always being told what kind of repertoire to play, and it could be detrimental if you play music that the panel doesn’t know.”
It’s difficult for lesser-known composers to break into artists’, ensembles’, or orchestras’ rep if they’ve never heard it—or only heard one version of it, where it can be difficult to separate the quality of a composition from the quality of the performance and recording that captures it. “I think there’s a lot of music out there to be rediscovered,” Willinger says.
Libraries, DeLaurenti notes, democratize access to information and music, but “what we still don’t have is a truly democratized access to publishing and sharing music,” she says. “You still need a label or service to get on Spotify or Apple Music, so I think there’s a shifting role for libraries from facilitating access to facilitating creation.”
She and Willinger put together an advisory group for the label that includes Peabody Institute Advisory Board member Paula Boggs, who supported the project with a donation, and DeLaurenti has patiently been navigating the bureaucratic back end of a label: securing rights and permissions, creating contracts, setting up relationships with music platforms such as Bandcamp, and tracking the recordings through editing, mastering, and final approvals.
Peabody Premieres hopes to announce its first release this fall. The plan is to invite students and alumni to apply to record new works each year, and, eventually, be able to use the label in professional studies classes.
With the library housing the label, “we can formalize the contract experience, managing royalties, and reporting from the label,” DeLaurenti says. “And then on the back end we can make a transparent lab experience for the students, so they can understand a little bit more about what the workings of a record label look like.”
– Bret McCabe