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Sony, CAMI in classical Crescendo

Two classical music powerhouses joined forces Wednesday when Sony Music Entertainment Inc. announced it had acquired CAMI Video and created a new division, Sony Crescendo, to expand Sony Music’s classical music-related business.

In addition, CAMI Video president Peter Gelb was named president of both Sony Crescendo, which will distribute the Sony and CAMI video catalogues, and Sony Classical USA, which releases albums. CAMI Video was the television and film division of Columbia Artists Management Inc., a major classical music talent agency.

“My mandate and my desire is to produce on film and video, classical productions that make sense artistically and are commercially viable,” Gelb said from his office in New York.

Learning experience

At CAMI, Gelb produced four or five video productions per year based on pre-production contracts with television and film companies here and abroad, then sold the homevideo rights to labels associated with the artists. “It was a good exercise in that it taught us how to make classical programming without losing money.”

He predicted Sony will release more than CAMI per year but did not give out budget figures or a release schedule for Sony Crescendo.

CAMI Video will operate as a subsidiary of Sony Crescendo and bring with them about 25 video titles. CAMI will also continue to produce video of performers signed to exclusive recording contracts with labels other than Sony, Gelb said.

As part of the deal, Gelb, 39, has been given a development budget to explore feature film ideas for one of the Sony-owned film studios.

Gelb professed a desire to continue to develop “crossover” programs.

“The biggest single problem is that there has not been any kind of classical homevideo established,” he said. “The idea of sell-through homevideo has not worked yet in classical music. New ways have to be explored.”

Gelb has produced about 50 video programs — five of them Emmy winners — featuring classical performers such as Vladimir Horowitz, Kathleen Battle and Mstislav Rostropovich. He said Sony will not be taking a pop-music approach to video and use it to enhance audio sales.

“I don’t belive you can create superstars in classical music,” he said. “Maybe it’s because it’s a re-creative music but there are only a handful of great artists at any given time. … To make a great classical production, all the stars have to be in the right positions in the sky. The days of turning on a camera and filming a production are over.”

The former assistant manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Gelb has been executive producer of the Metropolitan Opera television program for six years and is currently executive music producer of the sequel to the Walt Disney Co.’s “Fantasia.”

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