Mannheim Castle, Venue for "The Blue Sound: 40 Years of ECM"
In a press conference that took place prior to the first evening's concerts, label head/producer Manfred Eicher spoke of how the label has, indeed, survived such perceived crises as the oil crisis in the late 1970s which, as he dryly put it, "resulted in vinyl as thin as pizza crust." Just as much a threat was the industry's move to CD format, forcing the label to rethink its design approach to accommodate a smaller footprint. And as music seems, at the same time, to be moving away from hard media to digital downloads and returning to vinyl, ECM continues to stand strong with the vision that has not only made it a remarkable innovator, but a rare survivor. There simply is no other independent label in jazz and beyond that has remained so for so long, and it's Eicher's singular vision of sonic transparency and musical cross-pollination that, as he explained, is all about instinct--the intuition that has kept the label at the forefront of modern music--no longer jazz, no longer classical, but simply music.
Eicher talked about the increasingly blurred line between the label's regular series (once considered the "jazz" side) and the New Series line (the "classical" side), and how musicians are surprisingly well-informed about music beyond their apparent purview. He talked of attending a Radiohead concert and being invited backstage, where he ended up in a discussion about Beethoven with the group's bassist, Colin Greenwood. "It was a surprise," Eicher said," but then again it shouldn't have been." It was a sentiment mirrored by Wolfgang Sandner--a respected German journalist who is co-curating the ECM festival with Enjoy Jazz Festival director Rainer Kern and journalist Hans-Jürgen Linke--who talked of how classical composer György Ligeti was informed by jazz, and how violinist Thomas Zehetmair, scheduled for a duo performance with violist Ruth Killius later that evening, takes considerable improvisational liberties with the music of Paganini on his most recent recording, Paganini: 24 Capricci (ECM, 2009).