Great Gifts Come in No Packages

While I’m not interested in promoting consumerism, I do like to suggest music worth spending your money on, and this time of year, that often means recommended recordings (and the 2011 Best of Year lists will be appearing this week here at The Big City). But I want to offer an intriguing idea for a gift for someone you care about, including yourself, and that’s ideal for last minute shopping, since it requires no package and can be sent, and received, anywhere in an instant. That gift is is what you get when people who really know what content is create something for the web. In other words, it’s one of the leading examples of how classical music producers have taken full advantage of the possibilities of digital technology. The DIY distribution of digital music is commonplace these days, less so is digital access to live and recorded media events, things that appeal to the eye as much as the ear. provides live streaming of musical performances, as well as an extensive catalogue of recorded performances; concerts, opera, dance, documentaries. The ‘talent’ consists of the finest musicians from across the globe; a quick browse of the catalogue notes Claudio Abbado, Jonas Kaufmann, Sviatoslav Richter, Yehudi Menuhin, Alisa Weilerstein, The Berlin Philharmonic, and a quick look through the list of composers brings up choices such as Kurt Sanderling leading Das Lied von der Erde, Glenn Gould playing Schoenberg’s Suite Op. 25, Boulez leading The Rite of Spring, a 2003 Ring cycle using four different directors, and Otto Klemperer conducting Beethoven’s Ninth. This is what we critics call an embarrassment of riches.

The content is the equivalent to an excellent core classical music library, live on your screen at any time. The effect is of bringing concert halls that are often thousands of miles, multiple time-zones and several languages and currencies away into your home, or your lap. I know we were promised jet packs, but this is something both more prosaic and more creative, which is why the futurists, obsessed with gadgets and not human experience, never thought of it. Fortunately, the classical music nerds did.

Argerich, Previn: Prokofiev on is offering gift cards covering three- and six-month and one year subscriptions, starting at what seems to me is the ridiculous bargain of $40. If you buy by Christmas Eve, the recipient will be able to enjoy previously unreleased performances of Martha Argerich playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 and the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto. See for yourself on Boxing Day, when the site offers a free day of viewing.

UPDATED: With the Argerich content direct from


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.