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Classical music

This man turned Hong Kong into a classical music hub (but you wouldn’t know it)

Klaus Heymann set up his company in the city 30 years ago, but he has never been recognised here

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 11:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 11:58am

Hong Kong is a leading capital of classical music recordings, but few, the government included, know about it, a veteran record producer has said.

Klaus Heymann turned Naxos Records, which he founded in To Kwa Wan 30 years ago, into a top global music distributor.

He said he was used to not being recognised in local society – despite his achievements in the global music industry.

“[A total of] 99.9 per cent of people buying Naxos CDs don’t know the company is headquartered in Hong Kong,” the 81-year-old German entrepreneur told the Post.

“But then for us not to have a distinctive national identity gets us to become the universal label featuring artists from Norway to New Zealand, Slovakia to Hong Kong and China,” he said.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary in Hong Kong this month, Naxos boasts over 9,000 titles, of which 24 won a Grammy and 184 a British Gramophone Editor’s Choice Award.

“We were the first in the world to put our entire catalogue on a streaming website in 1996 and from that we set up a streaming music library that is subscribed to by universities around the world, including those in China in recent years,” he said.

Accolades have been showered on Heymann for those “milestones”. They have come from governments and the record industry, including a special achievement award from the International Classical Music Awards jury early this year.

But none have come from the city he has called home since 1967. “They don’t know about me and thus leave me alone,” he said of the Hong Kong government, whose last invitation came from then British governor Murray MacLehose in 1975.

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“They do consult with a lot of people but they consult only the people they know and not those who know,” he said.

Some mayors of cities where Naxos recordings were made provided a hall for free because it would be a good promotion for the city.

“But the halls in Hong Kong are so ridiculously expensive that it would be cheaper to send our artists on business class to record in New York,” he said.

He said the golden days of the local CD market were a thing of the past, citing fewer than 100 sales of the recent recording of the Hong Kong Philharmonic’s Wagner Ring Cycle, compared to 50,000 CDs for the Butterfly Lovers Concerto his wife and renowned violinist Takako Nishizaki made in the 1980s.

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But he remained optimistic about the future of the classical music recording industry. “CD buyers are getting old, but people are listening to playlists on their mobile devices more than ever,” he said.

The mainland China market, once haunted by pirated recordings, has been slowly picking up.

“China finally became a real market when the government cracked down on pirated works three to four years ago, and classical music is now reaching people through big streaming companies more than CDs in the past,” he said.

Heymann and his wife have no plan to relocate or retire. “Hong Kong is our home, and for the next couple of years we’ll be working on a digital music encyclopaedia, music publishing and artist management,” he said.