I founded Ancalagon Records in 1999 because I wanted to have complete artistic control over every aspect of my recordings.
In the beginning – like anyone else learning the ropes of a new profession – I made a lot of mistakes. Truth be told, I am a musician first and a businessperson a far distant second. So I had no idea how to bargain or bid on production costs, how to use a calculator, and it took me a long while to find all the fabulous folks who are now happily associated with Ancalagon. Nevertheless, I was and still am very proud of the Bach Concerto Album with the New York Bach Ensemble (a group made up of mostly friends, to which I gave a catchy name) which was released in June 2001.
In the fall of 2001, I did a cross-Canada in-store tour (there were still stores then!) to promote that first album, and learned that record stores no longer were little community centers. I showed up more than once to play a Bach fugue for a couple of employees only. Although they were very appreciative, the simple truth was that there were much better ways to spend time and marketing dollars.
Even still, sales were strong. But it wasn't until iTunes got in touch with me in 2005 to ask for the album (yup, they called me, is that not really cool?), that sales became big enough for all of us at Ancalagon to get serious about our next project. With the Concerto Album spending weeks as #1 on iTunes Classical, and nearly a year in the top 20, we were pretty motivated to build on this success.
In particular, it just seemed like the right time to record the complete Bach solo violin works. While it is true that a double CD set is a tall order for a small label, we had one big thing going for us – no need to pay for the violin soloist! This was the first of many projects I have worked on together with Martha De Francisco, and we had some glorious days with the great engineer, Leslie-Ann Jones at the wonderful Skywalker Sound studios, particularly since I am a lifelong fan of George Lucas. It was also my first SACD recording.
The Bach Solo did extremely well in 2007, allowing me to begin thinking about my next project, in which I wanted to go in a completely different direction. A violin concerto had come my way, courtesy of Faber publishing, written by a then 38-year-old Australian composer, Matthew Hindson. Written for a huge orchestra with 28 percussion instruments, no North American conductors wanted to take a chance on it. My reaction was immediate: "Well then, I'll just record it!"
That was the genesis of the Hindson/Corigliano/Liszt/Kennedy project with the Royal Philharmonic of London and Sarah Ioannides conducting. Recorded at Air Lyndhurst Studios in Hampstead, London, it was a tough three days for everyone! Still, I love all those pieces, and always will. Expensive to produce, I had to drum up some sponsorships for that record, also because modern works just don't sell like Bach. Looking back, maybe this is the project I am proudest of – it took a lot to get that album from inception to finished product, and it will always be the premiere recording of the Hindson. Also, it has a niche audience, as it continues to sell modestly, but consistently, every month.
The natural follow up to this was to go with some rather better-known repertoire. “And why not the very best-known?” I thought. Coincidentally, thanks to the conductor Eduardo Marturet, an opportunity had just arisen to do a recording with the unstoppable Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Venezuela. So we did Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Piazzolla's Four Seasons.
That was heaps of fun – those little guys are just the very embodiment of music. It was as though they were born playing that Piazzolla.
2009 also saw the beginning of Ancalagon's “World Music” division, which produced Apolkalypse Now, the debut album by Polkastra, my Polka band (for more on that, please see Ancalagon WORLD).
2010 seemed like a good time to perform a little Mozart back at home in New York City again, particularly the monumental Sinfonia Concertante, which I have been performing with my brother Scott since I was 10 and he 11. We had done a Bach concert together with the Knights in Central Park the previous summer, and their playing was fresh, young, enthusiastic and exceedingly skilled. Perfect for Mozart! At first I considered doing the Concertone (a very young Mozart piece for two violins, oboe and chamber orchestra) to create an album, but my brother pointed out (rightly so) that it's a bit silly to do something neither of us knew well or felt strongly about just to fill up time. We discussed the violin/viola duos (which we knew really well), but why have such a splendid orchestra and not use it? So in the end, we each picked our favourite violin concerto, and lo, the Mozart album was born.
That album spent three months on the Billboard Classical chart and was the only independent label there at any point during that period. I consider that to be some sort of victory.
It also won the 2011 Juno award for Best Classical Album (Soloist(s) with Large Ensemble).
Recent projects include one more Bach album which came out Feb 14, 2012 – this time Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord (without the 'sichord'') with Marie-Pierre Langlamet on harp, recorded in Berlin in early January 2011. This is a very cool project because she is the best harp player in the world, and I think I learned a lot. How to play softly, yet carry a big stick, for one. Also, this was my first time recording in Germany. We went on the road with a Northeastern 'Harpolin' tour in Feb/March 2012 - who knew such a beautiful instrument could be so unwieldy!
I also executive-produced my first album - a project with the Knights orchestra which released in the spring of 2012. We called this fascinating oeuvre album The Knights: A Second of Silence. It is a trip down the minimalism road and includes the music of Satie, Glass, Feldman, and some new transcriptions, as well as the Schubert Unfinished, and his third symphony.
Polkastra has been hard at work on "I Do" (the Wedding Album for the Couple with a Sense of Humour) It is hilarious, fabulous, knee slapping and irreverent, and we are looking forward to the early 2013 release immensely. Folks can expect tracks like 'Shotgun Wedding March', 'J.S. Bachelor Party', the 'Kosher Chicken Dance', and special guests such as David Krakauer and Isabel Bayrakdarian.
And, bit by bit, my Eastern European/Composer project is taking shape. Thousands of tunes, and years of listening; very soon now I'll have a program that I can try out live, the likes of which no one has ever heard, derived from tunes that have not been heard for decades.
And then, it'll be time to do another newly commissioned concerto... and maybe a new sonata project… and then…