Melba Recordings

"... a label of fragrant distinction"

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News from Melba Recordings

Go behind the scenes for insights on our recordings, our artists and our future plans. Follow our artists' schedules and share the excitement of their journeys.

Fanfare interview with Henry Fogel Part 2

Thursday, 30 September 2010 - 6:42pm

Interview with Maria Vandamme, Founder of Melba Recordings

In just about a decade, Melba has established itself as a label of consistent high quality. It has brought to the attention of the world some superb Australian artists, it has discovered some important un-recorded repertoire, and has quickly become one of those labels that one trusts to always maintain a high level in all of its releases. Its founder is Maria Vandamme, a musician with a long background as a producer. The company caught my attention sufficiently for me to be curious about its history, its mission, and its founder and so I had a conversation with Maria Vandamme.

HF: Melba began in 2001 - just about at a time when people were predicting the death of the recording industry? What possessed you and your colleagues to start a new recording company at that time?

MV: Reports of the death of the recording industry were (apparently) greatly exaggerated. The huge changes taking place then continue today. But that turmoil also threw up huge opportunities. It was a visceral decision; making quality recordings was just something that had to be done in Australia. It needed a Rolls Royce label. A desire to record Massenet with Richard Bonynge led to my setting up Melba Recordings. I raised funds for a CD and documentary film, and the success of that lead to more.

HF: What specifically is the mission of Melba? How will it differ from other recording companies?

MF: To take Australian musicians and music making in Australia to the world. By being Australian—that in itself is a huge statement. Everyone knows about our beaches, lifestyle and sport, but there’s a thriving classical music scene here too! We will present the best Australian musicians in the best sound to help them take their long-due place on the international stage.

HF: In the nine years of Melba's operation, what have you learned, and how have you adjusted some of your original ideas because of what you learned?

MV: I began with the premise that the world doesn’t need more recordings—the only reason for making another is the artistic one: it has to offer the listener something of high merit and reward. And that means you have to work with musicians who are working towards the same goals. What has changed in the nine years is that we are developing more collaborations in recordings with musicians who share our vision and understand the challenges in the market.

HF: What is your own background—how did you prepare for this position?

MV: I began as a pianist, then I worked a producer and spent a lot of time in Europe and the UK. A high point was working as a producer at the Salzburg Festival, recording all the great performances there for Austrian Radio. Opera was a passion, and I went to as many of Carlos Kleiber’s performances and rehearsals as I could. My piano lessons and contact with Jascha Spivakovsky and Georg Tintner, the wonderful conductor who lived for many years in Australia, were very strong influences. I also had the luxury of having a partner who was an orchestra musician, who offered insights into how orchestras worked. It all adds up!

HF: Your focus seems clearly on the voice—starting of course with the company's namesake Nellie Melba—what will your balance between vocal and non vocal recordings be?

MV: Melba Recordings certainly started out as a label focussed on the voice. This was natural, given my immersion in opera. Two conductors who have been influential for us have been Richard Bonynge and Guillaume Tourniaire, and both live and breathe opera (evident also in their orchestral/instrumental performances).But the label has broadened; we have introduced solo instrumental streams, emerging performers and a virtuoso series. We also have a growing catalogue of orchestral recordings.

HF: What can we expect in the future from Melba? Any undiscovered Australian operatic masterpieces?

MV: We are always looking for interesting repertoire. Australia’s musical heritage is richer than anyone gives it credit for and we’re particularly looking at a number of Australian art songs and song-cycles. But, Melba is more than just an Australian label for Australians. It is an international label and one, for example, that has premiered music by Saint-Saëns, Vierne and Chausson to unanimous acclaim.

HF: I note in fact that there has not been a strong emphasis on Australian music—it seems more focused on Australian performers. But do you feel that Melba has a role in bringing to the world Australian music?

MV: The national broadcaster in Australia dedicates considerable resources to recording Australian composers so it makes little sense to duplicate that activity. Instead, we are focusing on developing an international perspective, one that is outward-looking rather than inward.

HF: Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge are patrons of Melba. Do they play an active role in the company?

MV: Richard Bonynge’s faith in our company and his support have been of immeasurable help. He was there conducting our very first recording, he narrated our first documentary (on Massenet) and it was his encyclopaedic knowledge and belief that lent so much authority to what we were doing. Dame Joan is a great Australian, the voice of the century and an enormous inspiration. To have her experience and support says something, I believe, about the point and purpose of Melba and a stamp of approval that international audiences will recognise and respond to.

HF: If you were to look down the road say five and ten years from now, what do you think Melba will look like—and what do you think the record industry will look like?

MV: The search for engaging and unusual repertoire continues—there are a few real gems in the pipeline, but I can’t let the cat out of the bag with those just yet. I would hope that in five years record-buyers will feel a sense of anticipation for the next Melba release. One thing that won’t change is the search for singular talents, musicians whose imagination and utterance touch your soul. Over the last 10 years, contact with exceptional musical personalities has been one of the sustaining experiences of the label.

We are also looking at historical, archival recordings; there is a wealth of taped performances sitting forgotten in archives and on people’s shelves, and we are keen to contribute to creating the context for contemporary recordings by increasing access to great recordings of the past.

As for what the recording industry looks like, I’ll just rub my crystal ball…I think it’s pretty clear that digital platforms for delivery of recording are going to become increasingly important and dominant. Melba is already exploring how to make sound artistic and commercial use of new technologies and the new audiences that come with it. Classical music needs to get its act together on the web. There is a huge opportunity there waiting to be grasped.