In pursuit of Nonesuch Records
Vinyl collectors tend to specialize. I have a particular weakness for anything on Nonesuch Records from 1985 till the rise of the CD, which is about 1990.
Why these dates? Robert Hurwitz, the president of the label, began his tenure in 1984. He overhauled the label’s roster, bringing in Steve Reich, John Adams, Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet.
The label was most famous at the time for championing modern classical music by the likes of Elliott Carter and John Cage, and Hurwitz started to refashion the label gradually.
Downtown New York jazz artists such as Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz and John Zorn came aboard. The Explorer Series paved the way for Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares.
And this transformation happened at the most vulnerable time in my life — adolescence.
If my allowance could have accommodated it, I would have bought every Nonesuch recording on the market at the time. Till then, I snatched up every Kronos Quartet recording I could. I overplayed Adams’ The Chairman Dances and Zorn’s Naked City. Robin Holcomb’s self-titled debut was the soundtrack to my high school graduation.
As of this writing, there are 152 items from Nonesuch in my collection. It outstrips the next ranked label, EMI, by 48 percent.
Would my loyalty to the Nonesuch brand be as strong if I discovered the label later or earlier in life? I think I’d arrive at the same place eventually.
My discovery of Nonesuch also happened at a time when I was not sufficiently funded to pursue it. So a lot of albums slipped through my fingers.
Whenever I flip through used bins of vinyl or CDs, I watch out for Nonesuch titles from the latter half of the 1980s. Before the minimalists and Kronos dominated in the roster, the label put out modern music by American composers.
Adams inaugurated the Meet the Composers series, which would release works by John Harbison, William Kraft, Stephen Paulus, Libby Larsen, Joan Tower, Tobias Picker and Joseph Schwantner. Stephen Albert, George Perle, Ingram Marshall and Scott Johnson released albums as well.
Browse the Nonesuch web site today, and you might run into some of these old titles. But they’re de-emphasized, almost treated as footnotes in the label’s march to be an eclectic curate. The Albert album hasn’t been made available as a digital release. Nor the only album recorded by Ani and Ida Kavafian.
So it’s these un-reissued albums that catch my eye. I have my fill of Reich, Adams and Kronos. Now I want to hear what else I missed during that influential time.
Tags: in pursuit, nonesuch records