To mark the twentieth anniversary of MusicWeb International
some twenty reviewers, including some from Seen and Heard – several
of us accompanied by our “other halves” - met for lunch
on 16 May at Wyastone Leys, the home of Nimbus Records. We were delighted
to be joined for lunch by several of the Nimbus staff, including the
directors, Adrian Farmer and Antony Smith.
The reviewing team is widely dispersed around the world and so, sadly,
it was not feasible for most of our colleagues based outside the UK
to be with us. However, we were delighted to welcome Hubert Culot, who
had travelled specially from Liege in Belgium. From even further afield
we welcomed Leslie Wright from Virginia, USA.
Prior to lunch there was an opportunity to have a guided tour round
the Nimbus recording and manufacturing facilities.
Though the occasion was extremely informal – and very relaxed
– it was entirely appropriate that Dr Len Mullenger, our founder,
should say a few words after lunch. Len reminded us that the origins
of MusicWeb lay in the website of the William Alwyn Society, which he
established. He also mentioned several other important connections,
not the least of which are the official Gerard Hoffnung website and
the links with a number of distinguished British composers such as Malcolm
Arnold. There’s much more information about the story of MusicWeb
International here; it’s a fascinating story.
By 2004, when its name was changed to MusicWeb International, the site
had published some 10,000 reviews. That was an appropriate time for
the site to be given a significant makeover by Bill Kenny, who then
went on to effect a similar transformation of Seen and Heard. Since
2004 our growth has been phenomenal and we have now published some 42,000
reviews. Our readership has similarly grown and currently we are receiving
some 120,000 visits per month and around 300,000 individual page visits.
Those statistics say an awful lot about the loyalty of our readers and,
as we celebrate this anniversary, it’s marvellous to think that
we have earned the support and trust of so many music lovers all over
Our Editor, Rob Barnett, spoke of the “ferment of creativity”
that is MusicWeb International. He stressed the voluntary nature of
all the work that’s done for the site. By his reckoning, we’ve
had over 300 reviewers writing for us over the last twenty years. Some
have had fairly short connections with us; some have left and then come
back; others again have been writing for MusicWeb for many years. Rob
stressed that, for him, a key feature of MusicWeb is that our readers
have always enjoyed free access and he hopes fervently that this will
continue to be the case. Paying tribute to Len, Rob described him as
“the glue” that has held MusicWeb together over the last
two decades; he is the Sorcerer to our Apprentice activities.
We welcomed a guest, Maggie Cotton. Maggie retired in 1998 after a forty-year
career in the percussion section of the City of Birmingham Symphony
Orchestra. A true trail-blazer, she was the first woman to be appointed
to a full-time post as a percussionist with any of the UK professional
orchestras. Her career encompassed the entire 18-year tenure of Sir
Simon Rattle at the CBSO and the orchestra’s move from Birmingham
Town Hall to its purpose-built new home in Symphony Hall. Along the
way she took in such events as playing in the first performance of Britten’s
War Requiem, many other notable first performances –
especially in the Rattle era - and appearances in concert halls all
over the world. She also took part in a host of CBSO recordings. Maggie
has chronicled her career in a book, Wrong Sex, Wong Instrument
reviews that is as insightful as it is entertaining. Maggie’s
book gives a unique perspective on the hard work as well as the excitement
of being a professional orchestral player; it’s a rewarding career
but it is also extremely demanding. Maggie’s absorbing talk to
us was full of amusing anecdotes and a down-to-earth understanding of
the world of orchestral music.
This was, above all, a day for thanking those whose efforts, often unsung,
have made MusicWeb what it is today. On behalf of the reviewers thanks
were expressed to David Barker, our webmaster. We were reminded of the
extent to which we rely on David’s commitment and industry only
a few weeks ago when a hurricane in Australia, where he lives, caused
severe disruption to power supplies. David was obliged to evacuate his
home but he was thwarted only briefly. He had the site back to normal
within a couple of days – before even he was allowed to return
to his house! Thanks were also expressed to David Dyer who, month after
month, painstakingly lists all the discs received for review –
usually running into the hundreds – so that reviewers can select
the discs they would like to appraise.
On behalf of the team Rob Barnett was also thanked for his dedication
in editing single-handedly all the reviews that are submitted each month.
No matter how perfect the copy every review still has to be read in
detail. On top of all this Rob finds time to do an amazingly large numbers
of reviews himself, covering a very wide range of music, much of it
unknown to many of us until he writes about it with his customary enthusiasm.
Above all the reviewers expressed gratitude to Len Mullenger whose vision
brought MusicWeb into being in the first place and who still continues
to be its wise guiding hand.
This gathering was a celebration when we looked backwards with pride.
However, we also look forward with confidence. The recording industry
has changed enormously over the last twenty years – as Rob reminded
us, in 1995 the CD was the accepted medium for most recordings but several
other delivery channels have now established an important place in the
market. As the flood of recordings each month continues to demonstrate
reports of the imminent death of the recording industry have been greatly
exaggerated. Everyone connected with MusicWeb is aware of the challenges
that the industry faces. In the last few months we have seen the closure
of two highly respected magazines, International Record Review
and Classical Recording Quarterly. We greatly regret their
passing but we remain determined to continue to do our best to inform
our readers about new recordings to the best of our abilities. We are
not complacent and we know that we need to continue to justify the trust
and support of our readers but, as a team, we have every intention of
reaching our next milestone: our twenty-fifth anniversary lunch.