An open letter from Peter Christ, Founder and President of Crystal Records

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55-year anniversary. The years roll on and we are still thrilled that Crystal Records is still here and active, and healthy, even with the pandemic that has scourged the entire world. In 1966, when I was in my 20s putting the finishing touches on an LP album which was to become Crystal Records S101, I could not imagine that 55 years later, with over 600 albums (LP and CD), Crystal Records would still be alive and kicking, having survived the demise of LPs, cassettes, and into the digital age with CDs competing with downloads and streaming. 

 

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Description automatically generated55 years! (1966-2021) 2020 was the most extraordinary year most of us can remember. Live music was hit especially hard, with most concerts cancelled and venues closed. But in the time of a pandemic, music can be a source of comfort and great joy. Recording was also diminished, and we could not do new recordings as we usually would, but we knew that our customers would enjoy CD reissues of some of our best LP recordings. Thus, we have a wonderful recording of Mozart’s Gran Partita, played by the Toronto Chamber Winds, and the fabulous artists Clarinetist James Campbell, Horn player Christopher Leuba, Fine Arts Brass Quintet, and Richards Wind Quintet. It is to our satisfaction that our customers continue to explore all of the amazing artists and composers in the catalog, eschewing streaming and downloads to purchase high quality CDs for their collections. This provides better music quality, and keeps us in business so that we can continue to produce the music that gives you comfort and joy. Thank you for an amazing 55 years.

 

 Alan Hovhaness recordings continue to be best-sellers. The beauty of Hovhaness’ works never fails to impress everyone who listens to them. And we are delighted that more and more people are discovering our Reicha series and taking advantage of our 12-CD set of the 24 Reicha Woodwind Quintets. Our instrumental solo and ensemble collections  are unmatche3d anywhere else.

 

THANK YOU, our customers, for keeping the vision alive, making it possible for Crystal Records to be in its 55th year!

 

When Crystal Records was started in 1966, there were almost no recordings available of top quality woodwind and brass soloists and ensembles, and even very few of strings. As a professional oboist and founder of the Westwood Wind Quintet, I had been frustrated trying to find recordings of the music that I loved. The major record labels (there were very few independent labels) had a few of their “stars” on a smattering of instruments, but they were seemingly not very interested in the less common solo instruments or ensembles, or in adding to their rosters some of the fabulous players in the major orchestras around the world. When one walked into a record store (which is how most people bought records back then), it was almost impossible to find a choice of flute, oboe, horn, or trumpet albums, and it was impossible to find tuba or trombone. Much of the repertoire that I and my friends were playing was nonexistent, as far as the major labels and the record stores were concerned. 
        I had gotten the recording “itch” a few years earlier, when Columbia Records, urged by Robert Craft, produced a Schönberg series, on which they included the Schönberg Wind Quintet. The Westwood Wind Quintet had performed this several times, and Craft asked my group to do the recording. Rehearsals at Igor Stravinsky’s house added to the excitement for me, still in my early 20s, and when the record came out, it was thrilling to hear it on radio stations around the country. I was hooked on recording and wanted to do more of the wonderful ensemble pieces that were unknown to the general music-loving public. A few letters to major record labels proved that they were not interested in this type of music, and a few calls to some of the players I knew in the Los Angeles area proved that there were others who wanted to record and let the public know about the music they were playing. Among my peer group I was fortunate to know players who would become some of the most respected on their instruments. With more enthusiasm than knowledge of the industry, I started Crystal Records. 
        The first record we released (and they were black vinyl records in those days, not CDs) was of my own group, the Westwood Wind Quintet. But my idea from the start was to have recordings of many different instruments and ensembles, and to get the best players we could from around the globe. The Los Angeles Brass Quintet and Los Angeles String Quartet albums came quickly, and then we moved to ensembles and artists from New York, Cleveland, Dallas, Berlin, and other major cities, in addition to Los Angeles. Roger Bobo did his first solo album, which has become a “classic” amongst tuba players. Tom Stevens on trumpet and Harvey Pittel on saxophone did solo albums that many considered exemplary for their instruments. Since this beginning, many other fine artists have joined the Crystal roster, and it is gratifying to see the reputations of the Crystal artists expand throughout the world. 
        In 1975 another milestone occurred when trumpet player Tom Stevens suggested that Crystal do an all-Hovhaness album as part of a Ford Foundation grant. In this way I was introduced to some of the most beautiful and unusual music I had ever encountered and met the composer, a warm, remarkable man. When Crystal was later offered the chance to purchase the Poseidon catalog of Hovhaness music, all conducted or supervised by the composer, I jumped at the chance. Since then we have recorded many more Hovhaness works and I am pleased to have had a part in reintroducing this marvelous music and extending the popularity of this extraordinary composer. 
        The recording industry has changed somewhat from those early days. There are many independent labels and the majors have even tried their hand at instrumental music. But at Crystal we still try to do what we have always tried to do: find world-class artists to play repertoire that is not frequently done by others. In our small way, we hope we are helping to enrich the music community with excellent music and performances that would otherwise be ignored. We thank our customers for supporting our efforts through the past 54 years. 

         Since its inception in 1959, the Westwood Wind Quintet has been performing the quintets of Anton Reicha for some of its concerts. A few years ago, Charles David Lehrer edited the original publications of these 24 quintets and made parts and scores that he put on the International Double Reed Society web site. I was delighted to find these and contacted “Chick” Lehrer, who convinced me that it would be a grand project for the Westwood Wind Quintet to record all 24 of the quintets, a feat that had only been done once (many years ago) and never by an American ensemble. In working on the Reicha quintets, I have found Reicha to be even more profound and enjoyable than I had previously thought. These are fantastic pieces of music by a major composer of the period. They are not just good pieces by an average composer; they are excellent pieces by a composer of the first rank. They have been described as “symphonies in miniature” with “some of the finest music ever penned” (Ritter, Audiophile Audition). I am pleased to say that we finished recording all of these wonderful works and all 24 are now available on 12 CDs. The CDs are available either individually or in a box set at a discount price. See Reicha for more information.

 

Sincerely, 

Peter Christ 
President, Crystal Records, Inc. 

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Interview with Peter Christ