“Are you crazy?”

That was the reaction of not one but two friends in the music business when I told them late last year that I planned to start a record label. “Sales are tanking… the business model is in meltdown… and did I mention the economy is a train wreck?”

Yes, yes, and yes — which is why I feel now is the right time to launch Urlicht AudioVisual.

Sales of physical product are not doing comparatively well — if you’re a major label like Sony or EMI. Indie classical labels have advantages — they are more connected with their audience, they are not encumbered by the dictates of the major labels’ clueless distribution divisions, and they understand the power of direct downloads. Indies now rule the roost when it comes to classical music. I’ve opted to partner with two companies — E One Entertainment for traditional physical distribution and meyefi.com for downloads — that are navigating the changing business model with insight and aplomb. And, being ever the optimist, the only direction in which I see the economy going is up.

Urlicht AudioVisual will focus on daring artists with a strong interpretive point of view.

Pianist Elisha Abas, whose playing is strongly influenced by Ignaz Friedman, Josef Hofmann, and other great romantic virtuoso pianists, brings a bold, new direction to a cornerstone of the romantic repertoire, Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, in a performance that has the feel of a large-scale “symphonic poem.”

I’ve been mightily impressed by the New York Chamber Music Festival and its core ensemble, the New York Piano Quartet — pianist Linda Hall, violinist Elmira Darvarova (the driving force behind the festival), violist Ronald Carbone, and cellist Samuel Magill, all of whom have been members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Toward the end of last year’s festival, Elmira and I talked about recording one of their programs. Instead, we did two: “Songs for Mahler in the Absence of Words”, centered around Mahler’s very early movement for piano quartet and sketches for a scherzo (this disc features seven world premiere recordings by a variety of impressive composers), and a second disc coupling two formidably challenging works by Joseph Marx and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

And I’m working on forthcoming releases featuring violinist Elmira Darvarova, legendary double bass player Gary Karr, and two of the most exciting exponents of new music I’ve heard in years, violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Blair McMillan.

On September 12, the New York Chamber Music Festival will hold an informal label launch party following the NYPQ’s performance of the Marx and Korngold works, plus Gernot Wolfgang’s From Vienna with Love (featured on the “Songs for Mahler” CD) at Symphony Space. I hope you can join us!

– Gene Gaudette