Phaedra's Whys and Wherefores

This catalog simultaneously lists and celebrates the achievements of Phaedra in the twenty years of its existence. At first blush publishing just over one hundred CDs in twenty years time may not look impressive. But it is very impressive, as you will see once you know the whys and wherefores of Phaedra. It is the purpose of this introduction to tell you about them.

In spite of the .com extension in the URL of its website (www.phaedracd.com), Phaedra is not a commercial undertaking. It is part of a non-profit organization, Klassieke Concerten vzw. It was started by one man, and it still is almost entirely the work of one man. He has no staff, not even a part-time secretary. His office is a room in his house; his storage space, another room. He does everything himself. He decides which music Phaedra will publish, often  searching out totally unknown works, including quite a few that are available only as manuscripts. He chooses the performers, in consultation with the composers if these are still alive. He takes care of the logistics of the recording sessions, and of the production process, of the covers and booklets as well as of the CDs proper. He is in charge of all publicity and of marketing Phaedra. It is impossible to justly evaluate the achievements of Phaedra without knowing it is a one-man operation.

Like most Flemish non-profit organizations, it is also a shoestring operation. There is no Maecenas with deep pockets to sponsor Phaedra. Once upon a time Phaedra received some  official subventions, but they were hardly worth the trouble of cutting the red tape to obtain them. Apart from an occasional sponsor, like the Van Hoof Foundation making the recording of all Van Hoof’s symphonies possible, Phaedra is entirely self-supporting.

And that is no mean feat, given the raison d’être of Phaedra: to publish works written between 1830 and the present by Flemish (and occasionally Belgian) composers, and to promote them world-wide. Most of these are unknown works by unknowns. And as anybody familiar with the CD trade knows, selling unknown works by unknown composers is particularly difficult: unknown, unloved. Note that it is as difficult at home as it is abroad, for Flemish national pride about their own composers is virtually nonexistent. In fact, it is sometimes easier to sell them abroad, where people are willing to listen with open ears and minds, unprejudiced by the idiotic idea that Flemish music is mediocre.

Of course it is not. Benoit and his school wrote some fabulous music, as did the generations that made the transition from late romanticism to impressionism. And since World War II there has been intense compositional activity in Flanders, some more traditional, but some cutting-edge modern as well.

In its central series, “In Flanders’ Fields”, Phaedra offers a cross-section of this huge and rich treasury. Its 76 CDs to date feature over one hundred Flemish (and Belgian) composers, with works ranging from massive choral works with soloists and orchestra over symphonies and concertos to chamber music, songs and instrumental solo works. Most of these are world premiere recordings. There is a preponderance of solo pieces and music for small ensembles, which is understandable, given Phaedra’s limited financial means. But don’t all good musicians tell us that playing chamber music is the highest form of music making?

 

Musicians! An almost equally important purpose of Phaedra is to promote Flemish performing artists. It records them, not only in the series “In Flanders’ Fields”, but also in its other series, “Phaedra Classics”, where they get to shine in works from the great repertoire. Any open-minded listener who compares these performances with some wellknown ones by big names published by major labels will readily acknowledge that they are often as good as and now and then even better than those.

Which brings us to the issue of quality. Since Phaedra publishes mainly works by unknowns and since its advertising budget is extremely limited, it can have but one selling-point: uality. Wisely, Phaedra does not stint on that. I have already praised the quality of the works it publishes and of the artists that perform them. But Phaedra also uses the most modern and advanced technology, both for recording and for digitalizing older works—Phaedra occasionally publishes older studio recordings, made mainly by the Flemish radio. It hires highly qualified technicians and for its own recordings it always rents venues that are considered most appropriate for the music to be recorded. Its artistic supervisors are mostly fine musicians themselves. Finally, the booklets that come with the  CDs are beautiful as well as informative—Phaedra has often gone so far as to commission paintings specially for its covers.

This catalog lists the results of all these efforts: recordings of nearly nine hundred works in all, large and small, by well over two hundred composers. Listen to them—they can all be downloaded from www.phaedracd.com, and most of them (excepting only those marked by an asterisk) can still be purchased as CDs.

Above all, enjoy them.

Prof. em. dr. Guy A.J. Tops