MusicWeb International’s Twentieth Anniversary Celebration
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 the world.
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 (2006)
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.