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An Interview with Capstone President Richard Brooks
Quoted from QCA

Capstone Records: Working in Partnership with
Contemporary Classical Composers

by Diane Sward Rapaport

Like many owners of niche oriented independent record companies, Richard Brooks founded Capstone Records to help keep his favorite genre of music alive.

"There are so many good contemporary classical composers and limited exposure opportunities. Many of my peers grew up thinking that if we just wrote the great American symphony, people would knock down our doors. We went to school to be composers and artists. We weren't taught business. Or promotion. Or how to be successful without holding down a teaching job. Today, that's changing. Composers are thinking creatively about promoting themselves."

Rapaport: Can you give me some examples?

Brooks: "The McLean Mix" comes right to mind. Their performances feature an interactive, three dimensional music and art media installation. Visitors are invited to participate by improvising sounds on acoustic instruments, microphones and electronic keyboards. "Rainforest" recreates the sights and sounds of a rain forest to create a continuous music/media macrocomposition. The audience walks through the event and participates by producing sounds on acoustic instruments, microphones and electronic keyboards that have been preprogrammed to evoke appropriate sounds. What a great idea!

Another composer, Bruce Mahin, mixes music with sound and animation on his enhanced CD "Time Chants." Any CD player will play it, but if you have the right computer, you can access fabulous, animated graphics. The provocative images in "Time Chants I" evoke the confusion and tension of the L.A. riots of 1992. By incorporating some of the feelings and sounds of rock 'n' roll, Mahin shows he isn't afraid of enlarging his palette across traditional boundaries. As a result, he's attracting a younger generation to his concerts.

Rapaport: Many people think that "contemporary classical" means the atonal, serial compositions of Shoenberg's disciples. Some of my friends get downright hostile when they hear that music. Is this changing?

Brooks: Today, a lot of composers who were influenced by jazz, rock and world music are using tonal based systems and writing music that is much more accessible to contemporary audiences. Their music is more in tune with what lovers of classical music are comfortable with and like. A very good sign that the music is becoming much more accessible and desirable is the signing of three contemporary composers to major record label deals: Richard Danielpour, Aaron Kermis, who won the 1998 Pulitzer, and Henrik Gorecki from Poland, who had a bestseller with his Second Symphony. All had put out records on smaller labels before being signed.

Rapaport: I'm beginning to think that contemporary classical is a catch-all phrase that encompasses a lot of interesting styles.

Brooks: Some people are hard to categorize. Frank Zappa is a good example. The vast majority of his pop fans have no idea that he was also a very serious composer who wrote chamber music and orchestral works. He was a great admirer of Edgard Varese, a major composer of the mid-century and a pioneer in electronic music, and those influences made him one of the most creative and interesting pop AND classical composers. It is hard to draw the distinctions because so many contemporary classical composers are interested in a broad range of creativity and have a whole new set of electronic and multi-media tools at their disposal. It is a very exciting time for new composers in all genres.

Rapaport: Why did you found Capstone?

Brooks: One afternoon, my composer/ recording engineer friend Reynold Weidenaar-an important multimedia pioneer-and I talked ourselves into doing an album of our own music. We spent an afternoon trying to think up catchy titles. We called the album "Music Visions" and the record label Capstone. We thought it was a one shot thing.

The next year, we gave a presentation about how to produce your own record at a composer's conference. Afterward, a curious thing happened. Several composers approached me and said 'It's okay doing it ourselves, but how about doing it on your label?' We did a second, then a third. The label began to grow by word of mouth. And now we have nearly 60 titles and are turning out two to three records a month. I have a sense of mission to get some very wonderful music out to where audiences can find it.

Rapaport: Doesn't it cost a fortune to make a record with a full orchestra? How do you keep recording costs down?

Brooks: By engaging orchestras in Eastern Europe, we can contain costs tremendously. For example, the annual International Music Days festival in Constanta, Romania, is dominated by American composers. In addition to performing their pieces publicly, they schedule recording sessions with the Constanta Symphony orchestra and do the rest of it back here. It would cost three to four times as much to do it here. The festivals and recordings have helped bring the Constanta Symphony prestige and the orchestra has twice toured the United States under the auspices of Columbia Artists Management. The festival is a collaboration of the International New Music Consortium, New York University, the Constanta Symphony, Orfeus Choir, Hyperion University, Thalassa Sound, the Inspectoratul de Cultura and the American New Music Consortium.

Rapaport: What do composers like about Capstone Records?

Brooks: We think of it as a compatible alliance. Our artists know that we are making our selections solely on the quality of the work. They know we make a conscious effort to include a broad spectrum of styles and approaches without assuming any aesthetic bias. The composers produce the music the way they want and get to keep inventory to sell at performances or give away to people who are likely to hire them or review their performances. Our distributor, Albany Music, gets our records into stores all over the country, and we are beginning to work with several European distributors. We send promotional mailings to our list of classical radio stations and reviewers. We put ads in the Calendar of New Music, Fanfare Magazine and others.

Rapaport: What do you like about QCA?

Brooks: I've been working with them for 20 years and their product is always excellent. I've never met them face to face yet they are like friends. They extend tremendous courtesies. I just know anything I send will be done great.


Richard Brooks, founder of Capstone Records, has composed over fifty works in all media, including operas, orchestra, chamber and choral music. His music has been widely performed in the United States and Europe.

Since 1975, he has taught at Nassau Community College, where he has been Music Department Chair since 1983. From 1977-1982, he served as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Society of Composers. Since 1981, he served on the Board of Governors of the American Composers Alliance, was elected President in 1993, and was reelected in 1996. Among his awards is a Composer Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, several Meet the Composer grants, an American Music Center Grant and a compositional grant from the State University of New York Research Foundation. He has received commissions from the Tri Cities Opera (Binghamton), the New York State Music Teachers Association, the Kent Philharmonia Orchestra of Grand Rapids and several individual performers.