Yarlung Records: An Audiophile Label with a Greater Purpose

Bob Attiyeh of Yarlung Records

Yarlung Records: An Audiophile Label with a Greater Purpose

The Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society, the world’s largest such organization with nearly 2000 members, honored at their annual Gala dinner and awards ceremony in December 2015, Yarlung Records founder Bob Attiyeh with its Humanitarian Award. Yarlung Records is a nonprofit organization that provides recording opportunities to up-and-coming artists. Many illustrious careers have been jump-started by exposure from Yarlung recordings. The recordings, which span a wide range of musical genres, are made to the highest audiophile standards, with many releases issued on vinyl including 45rpm discs.

Upon hearing Bob Attiyeh’s acceptance speech at the LA&OC awards ceremony, I was struck by the tremendous contribution Bob Attiyeh and Yarlung Records is making in support of music and young musicians. I asked him to send to me his speech so that TAS can share with its readers the details of Yarlung Records’ unique mission. —Robert Harley

Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society 2015 Humanitarian Award acceptance comments

Bob Attiyeh, Producer, Yarlung Records

To Maestro Robert Levi, president, and to the board of directors of the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society, thank you so much for this award. This beautiful trophy, grateful as I am to receive it with my name on it, is actually an award recognizing the success of our musicians and the success our little nonprofit makes possible for these musicians in the wider musical community. It is a great honor to be here today and for our work to be recognized along with the great Harry Weisfeld from VPI, who earned this year’s Founder’s Award.

Let me tell you briefly why I think the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society elected to give us this Humanitarian Award.

Yarlung Artists, our nonprofit organization, brings new and classic music to the public by supporting musicians as they begin their international concert careers. We create recordings, commission new music from living composers, release premiere recordings, and support fresh and engaging soloists and ensembles.

Here are a few stories that exemplify our mission:

Yarlung’s first album (with Australian pianist David Fung) reached Sir Brian McMaster, then running the Edinburgh Festival, who invited Mr. Fung to make his solo debut the following year at the Festival in Scotland. In addition, in 2009, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra concertmaster and advisor to Yarlung Artists Margaret Batjer gave Mr. Fung’s album Evening Conversations to Jeffrey Kahane, music director of The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, who had never heard David play before. Based on the Yarlung recording and Margaret’s recommendation, Mr. Kahane and LACO hired David to make his LACO debut during the orchestra’s 40th Anniversary season. David performed the Ravel concerto and a review the next day in the Los Angeles Times compared him favorably with the stupendous Martha Argerich.

Dialoghi, which happens to be among Bob Levi’s favorite albums in our catalog, proved important in cellist Elinor Frey’s career. Yarlung helped put Elinor on the map with this recording (first on CD and now on 180-gram 45rpm vinyl). Elinor went on to develop a successful concert career in North America and in Europe, and has been instrumental in founding two string ensembles and a concert series. To date, she has nine albums and myriad concert bookings to her credit.

Pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough recorded his debut album with Yarlung Artists in 2008, and as a direct result, was invited to give the inaugural concert at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. What a great evening that was. Ryan continues to perform as a superb soloist and chamber musician in Toronto. What’s more, I have a strong feeling he will become one of our great conductors.

Yarlung Artists worked with Finnish violinist Petteri Iivonen to make his debut CD seven years ago. Petteri recently completed his first concert tour in Japan, where he performed the Sibelius concerto to rapt audiences in Matsumoto and Tokyo. Before this tour, Petteri was not known in Japan as a concert musician, but he was known as a recording artist thanks to his Yarlung releases on CD and LP, which supported Petteri’s visibility and raised enthusiasm for his recent tour. Our Japanese distributor enthusiastically arranged to have CDs and LPs available at the Tokyo concert venue for Petteri to autograph for his new fans. Petteri has recently returned from Helsinki to work with Yarlung again; this time to record with the Sibelius Piano Trio, which he founded with pianist Juho Pohjonen and cellist Samuli Peltonen. Petteri was hand to record the Trio’s debut album in Samueli Hall at Segerstrom Center for the Arts on March 30. (Editor’s note: Robert Harley attended this live concert recording session and will report on it with a forthcoming music review in TAS.)

So this gives you an idea what we do and why. In the “good old days,” when Mantovani and his 101 Strings sold millions of copies for London/Decca, and when Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra provided most of the profit for RCA, record labels could afford to gamble regularly on young musicians, giving them a chance to build careers. Now that the recording industry has weakened, young concert musicians lack critical support from the major record labels. Yarlung will never be able to make up for this change, but we can and do support a few musicians each year—and the results have been rewarding.

Our musicians enact the magic, but our sponsors—especially our executive producers—provide the context and underwriting fuel for this magic. In other words, our executive producers give the money that creates our music. Yarlung is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so all of these gifts are tax deductible.

Let me mention the music that some of our executive producers have created:

Randy Bellous served as executive producer of three albums submitted to the Recording Academy this year; Sophisticated Lady jazz quartet’s Simpler Times, our first Tibetan album Men of Dharamsala, and our debut album for the American violinist Nigel Armstrong.

Elliot Midwood, a member of this Audio Society, has served as executive producer for many Yarlung successes, most recently Ciaramella Dances, our first 45rpm 180-gram vinyl release, in addition to the Grammy®-Award-winning Te Amo Argentina on vinyl, and most recently Janaki String Trio, also on 45rpm vinyl.

The brilliant Dutch engineer Arian Jansen, whom many of you know as a member of our Audio Society, has not only designed our analog tape recorder for us, the SonoruS ATR12, but also has served as executive producer of 17 albums to date.

Bob Levi and the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society sponsored the CD of Ciaramella Dances, for which Arian Jansen served as executive producer.

Dr. Art Womack, also a member of our Audio Society and previously a Yarlung Artists board member (prior to his move to Florida), sponsored our first vinyl LP, Petteri Iivonen’s Art of the Violin.

Aaron Egigian, another member of our Society, is serving as executive producer for the first 180-gram release for the aforementioned Sibelius Piano Trio. Our valiant executive producer Ann Mulally has underwritten Petteri Iivonen’s second CD, Art of the Sonata and Yarlung’s 10th Anniversary double-CD set, and has returned to underwrite the recording and CD for the Sibelius Piano Trio.

J. and Helen Schlichting underwrote our recent Segerstrom Center recording of music by James Matheson. This album includes Color Field Quartet, consisting of four musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, soprano Laura Strickling and pianist Tom Sauer (who both came from New York), and Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting Baird Dodge as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing Matheson’s violin concerto.

Bill and Ann Harmsen served as executive producers for our first jazz LP, Sophisticated Lady Vol. 1. (There is a Volume 2 in search of a generous executive producer as well!)

These are but a few examples of what our executive producers have created—and they are the reason why our Audio Society is recognizing Yarlung with the Humanitarian Award today. Our executive producers and our other sponsors are generous. But they are not possessive—they want you to join them!

Let me also introduce to you Donna Morton and Jess Morton who founded Coretet, now proudly part of Yarlung Artists. Coretet is a nonprofit commissioning organization which has so far commissioned Princeton composer Caroline Shaw to write a work for Calidore String Quartet, and commissioned Argentine composer Diego Schissi, who wrote a new work for the Sibelius Piano Trio in time for our March recording described above. Any of you who wish to be part of a future commission, please reach out to us. You’ll be part of music history and your name will be in the score forever.

People ask me how it is possible that Yarlung produces “so much CD per dollar they give,” either from executive producers or as donors who work together to underwrite recordings for young musicians. First of all, thank you for this question and for this happy assumption that implies that we do a lot of good for the amount of money you give us. This is true. We are able to do this because we have strong pro bono help from titans in the music industry such as Steve Hoffman, our mastering engineer.

We receive also corporate sponsorship from many of the companies and organizations you know and love and enjoy in your own listening rooms or in the listening rooms of friends. Some of these generous sponsors include exaSound in Canada, Merging Technologies in Switzerland, PS Audio in Colorado, Salesforce.com, Infineon in Germany (their subsidiary, International Rectifier, makes components in most of the amplifiers you hear), Genesis Loudspeakers in Seattle, and the list goes on. Jim Hannon, publisher of The Absolute Sound has written liner notes for us, and The Absolute Sound has given us generous corporate and advertising support. Dr. David W. Robinson from PFO loaned us his DSD equipment and twisted our arms to move in this direction. Michael Fremer from AnalogPlanet has written liner notes for us. In addition, we receive invaluable support from Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Colburn School, the Brain and Creativity Institute’s Cammilleri Hall, the Thornton School at USC, and the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. And we have received generous support from the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, Stratton-Petit Foundation, the Grace Helen Spearman Foundation, the Finlandia Foundation, the David Bohnett Foundation, and others. If any of you have friends in these organizations please thank them, and please let me know via email: support@yarlungartists.org.

These organizations, executive producers, and individual sponsors—and potentially many of you readers, if you join us—share a great legacy from the ancient world through the Renaissance until today. Let me speak for just a moment about the history of music philanthropy, the history of people like you, who give money to make great music possible. It has always been the case that important people have paid for the creation and performance of music, especially the most significant and enduring music across our various world cultures.

Sponsorship, philanthropy, and engagement between artists and underwriters have always been critical to the success of music and the performing arts, from the Ancient Mediterranean world to Ancient India and China through to today. Lorenzo de Medici and his Renaissance family were not the first and won’t be the last patrons of the musical arts. As long as art and music continue to flourish, it will be the visionary people who finance it and make it possible. Let’s look briefly at some of the ancestors of Yarlung’s sponsors and executive producers.

Music Philanthropy: A Brief History

In what was in fact a happy accident of history, Peking Opera came about because of birthday celebrations for the Qianlong Emperor who lived from 1711 to 1799 during the cultural high point of the Qing Dynasty. The imperial court commissioned two months of operas for Qianlong’s 80th birthday in 1790. The emperor’s “executive producers” organized and commissioned this music.

But China’s tradition of music philanthropy reaches back at least 2000 years before Qianlong’s famous 80th birthday. In China’s “golden age” during the Tang Dynasty, which is generally dated from 618 through 906 AD, the emperor and his court invited and paid for international orchestras to perform for state banquets in Xian, the capital city.

And the Han dynasty (generally dated 206 BC through 220 AD) saw the founding of the “Music Bureau,” especially during Emperor Wu’s reign.

Looking back to an even earlier age, we know that music and its patronage were important in pre-historic Egypt, but we start to know more about it in the dynastic period in the historic record beginning about 3100 BC. The pharaohs and the temples sponsored musicians for court and temple rituals, and music performance and accompanying dance are often depicted in Egyptian art from this period and forward.

Egyptian percussion instruments included hand-held drums, rattles, castanets, bells and the sistrum—a highly important rattle used in religious worship. These musicians were the predecessors to Yarlung’s wonderful Smoke & Mirrors Percussion Ensemble, whom many of you have enjoyed both in their digital releases, and now—thanks to executive producers David and Margie Barry—on 180-gram vinyl.

Egyptian wind instruments included flutes, single- and double-reed instruments, and trumpets. Stringed instruments included harps, lyres, and lutes. These combinations of instruments remind us of the glories presented by our modern-day Ciaramella Ensemble. Key to all of this was patronage by Egypt’s “Executive Producers”—the pharaohs, members of the imperial courts, and the temple priests and administrators.

In Ancient Greece, Choragos (sometimes spelled “Choragus”) was the title given to a wealthy citizen of Athens who would underwrite the cost of a tragic drama at the Festival of Dionysus, especially during the 5th and 4th centuries BC at the foot of the Acropolis. These Choragoi (plural) made the public performances possible and received tremendous public appreciation for their sponsorship. The Greek dramas we know today, Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Sophocles’ Oedipus plays, Euripides’ Medea and The Bacchae, were all sponsored by Choragoi. We must also remember that ancient Greek drama was sung (by the three main actors and chorus) with instrumental accompaniment.  

Opera was officially born when groups of young noblemen in Venice and Florence funded and recreated Greek tragic drama. Our earliest extant work is Jacopo Peri’s opera Euridice, which premiered October 6th in the year 1600 in the Pitti Palace in Florence. The first masterpiece, still performed regularly today, is Monteverdi’s Orfeo, which premiered in Mantua in 1607. But before this, the famous Medici and Strozzi families in Florence underwrote (directly and indirectly) much private and public musical performance. Other influential families followed suit, vying for public recognition for their sponsorships and for their contributions to the culture of their great city.

If we look at concert programs today, here in California and anywhere in the world, we will notice that almost all new music is underwritten by generous and visionary patrons, without whom this music would not exist. And without music patronage, the great works from earlier eras would not exist either. Think of Handel’s Messiah commissioned by William Cavendish, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 commissioned by Count Franz von Oppersdorff, Verdi’s Aida commissioned by Ismail Pasha, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev. The honor roll goes on and on. In the 20th century, Swiss conductor and philanthropist Paul Sacher commissioned much of the century’s great music. Yarlung executive producers J. and Helen Schlichting and now Coretet, among many others, follow suit.

How You Can Help

If it would give you pleasure to support and work with Yarlung musicians directly, become an executive producer. Or perhaps consider a year-end gift.

Here are some other easy ways to help: 

  1. Join us in support of the Sibelius Piano Trio’s debut album (coming out soon!) that was recorded March 30 at the Segerstrom Center.
  2. Support the new piano trio Yarlung and Coretet have commissioned for Sibelius Piano Trio from Argentine composer Diego Schissi.
  3. And support Yarlung every time you use Amazon by identifying Yarlung Artists through Amazon Smile. It won’t cost you a penny. I use this myself of course, and Amazon sends Yarlung a check every year. Every little bit adds to our ability to support composers and musicians.

So, those of you reading this can help carry the mantle of great leaders in history. Without you Yarlung would be nothing, and our musicians would have no support. So, as we collectively accept this beautiful and meaningful Humanitarian Award, thank you. Thank you from all of us, from our musicians and from future generations who will enjoy the music you create. May we offer all of you a huge round of applause. —Bob Attiyeh, December 6th, 2015