The Story of Ancalagon Records


I founded Ancalagon Records in 1999 (the first classical musician to do so) because I wanted to have complete artistic control over every aspect of my recordings (for the origin of the name, please see Lara’s Giant Lizard).

In the beginning – like anyone else learning the ropes of a new profession – I made a lot of mistakes. I am a musician first and a businessperson a distant second. I had no idea how to bargain or bid on production costs, and it took me a long while to find all the fabulous folks who are now associated with Ancalagon. Nevertheless, I 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) 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 found out the hard way that most record stores were no longer little community centers. I showed up more than once to play a Bach fugue for a couple of folks only. Although they were very appreciative, I learned better ways to spend time and marketing dollars.

Still, sales were strong. But it wasn't until iTunes got in touch with me in 2005 to ask for the album (yep, they called me!) that sales became big enough for Ancalagon to get serious about the next project. With the Concerto Album spending weeks as #1 on iTunes Classical, and nearly a year in the top 20, I was pretty motivated to build on this new success.

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 the violinist! 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 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, for which I wanted to go in a completely different direction. A violin concerto had come my way, courtesy of Faber, written by then 38-year-old Australian composer, Matthew Hindson. Scored for a huge orchestra with 28 percussion instruments, no North American conductors wanted to take a chance on it. My reaction was: 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 huge three days for everyone! Expensive to produce, I had to drum up some sponsorships for that record, because modern works just don't sell like Bach. Looking back, this may be 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?” thought I. 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. We recorded Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Piazzolla's Four Seasons.

That was heaps of fun. It was as though they were born playing that Piazzolla.

2010 seemed like a good time to do a little Mozart back at home in New York City again, particularly the monumental Sinfonia Concertante, which I had 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. We each picked our favourite violin concerto, added the Sinfonia, and lo, the Mozart album was born.

It 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).

Later projects include one more Bach album which came out in 2012 – this time Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord (without the 'sichord’) with Berlin Philharmonic principal Marie-Pierre Langlamet on harp, recorded in Berlin. We went on the road with a Northeastern 'Harpolin' tour  - 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 later 2012. We called this oeuvre album 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.

I went back to Berlin in 2013 for a ‘Schubertiade’, an album featuring the soprano Anna Prohaska, Marie-Pierre Langlamet, harp, and cellist Ludwig Quandt, as well as myself. It was chosen as one of ‘The Best CDs of Spring’ by Der Tagsesspiegel.

(I really wanted to call it Harpeggione but it being such a serious record, that didn’t end up happening.)

In late 2015, a project I had been working on for years with many composers and jazz pianist Matt Herskowitz was at last released – with its working title: Shiksa (although it has 10 names – all of them meaning ‘foreign female’). We made five videos from this album, all produced by my visual alter ego, Gangsta Squid (please see: videos from the Shiksa Album)

It features traditional folk tunes from the Jewish Diaspora, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Middle East, reimagined for the concert stage. All About Jazz said “Music like this is beyond imagination and talent. It exists only in the loosely-held molecules found on the razor's edge of Creation." 

Next – two concerto commissions and a swing album with Matt. No moss-gathering for this little label!