Carus Quo vadis?

Ester Petri and Uwe Wolf in conversation

What does Carus mean to you? How do you see the future of the company? Ester Petri and Uwe Wolf in dialog. Over the last few years both have had a considerable influence on the development of Carus – Ester Petri as Managing Director alongside Publisher Johannes Graulich, and Uwe Wolf as Program Director, succeeding Günter Graulich. Neither Petri nor Wolf is related to the Graulich publishing family, nevertheless they endeavor to maintain the good traditions of the family business – and at the same time to make the company fit for new challenges!

Ester Petri (EP): Carus is 50. A good moment to stand back and consider how we can use this experience for our future. For there have been many successful, inspiring, wonderful times, but of course sad moments, and not least with the corona pandemic, a challenge which nobody could have thought possible. I have been at Carus for just three years. Uwe, for you it’s a few years longer. Why did you decide back then to become Chief Editor at Carus?

Uwe Wolf (UW): It was for a combination of reasons. I had just completed two terrific projects in Leipzig: the new edition of the Mass in B minor for the NBArev, the revised edition of the New Bach Edition, and the redesign of the Bach Museum which I was able to work on with the museum team. Both of these were unique projects after which you ask yourself, what can follow that? And around this time Günter and Johannes Graulich asked me whether I could envisage coming to Carus. Günter had already mentioned this on various occasions, but now the right moment had come and he tempted me with new tasks, a new area of responsibility, and an exciting range of tasks. And Carus is about Bach, about editing, and always about communication, amongst other things. So in fact, it was nothing new, just under different conditions. It was quite different for you, Ester, because you come from a different field from choral music or musicology – what does Carus represent for you? And what do we need more of for our future – or the opposite?

EP: Even before I began at Carus, their clear focus on choral and vocal music impressed me. Carus always stands for excellence, which is in no way meant to be elitist, but always in the sense of the best possible support for choirs and choral directors worldwide. Our aim is to make their work as comfortable as possible, so that they can concentrate on the essential – shared musical experiences!

I originally came from the audio-visual sector and in the years before I joined Carus, I worked intensively on the characteristics of the cultural and creative industries and how they are the drivers and creative implementers of digitisation. When and how can a media company – specifically Carus-Verlag – succeed with digitisation? This is my insight: there is no magic recipe, but through its close and intensive contact with the leading players in the world of choral music Carus holds an important key in its hand. This interaction with Carus takes place in many places, and the central question is always what repertoire choirs need, and how it is most useful to them.

Uwe, every day you and your editorial colleagues have the challenge of editing interesting and musicologically-up-to-date editions so that they are easy to use in performance. How often do you tear your hair out to achieve this? Or do you have a secret magic recipe?

Ester Petri

Ester Petri (b. 1974) has been Managing Director of Carus-Verlag since 2018, working with Publisher Dr. Johannes Graulich. She studied Cultural Sciences at the University of Lüneburg. Before working at Carus, she was a Media Manager with several key areas of interest, and worked at the Media and Film Society Baden-Württemberg (MFG), at Swiss Radio and Television (SRF), and at the European culture channel ARTE.

Dr. Uwe Wolf (b. 1961) has been Chief Editor of Carus-Verlag since 2011. A musicologist and historian, he previously worked in Bach research for over 20 years, firstly at the Bach-Institut in Göttingen, and later at the Bach-Archiv Leipzig. He has long been active as a wind player, performing on instruments from baroque trumpet to cornett.

UW: No, there are no magic recipes; that would be boring. How a musical text is constituted from given sources can be very varied, and our editors have different approaches and different emphases. Each time it is always an exciting process to select the right sources from what has somehow randomly survived. And when the authoritative source(s) is/are determined, the “Urtext”, or original text is revealed. Then the “tearing the hair out” begins at our end, that is the critical evaluation: how much do we need to intervene so that the musical text is consistent within itself, without at the same time restricting the performers’ latitude – that’s always a balancing act in which every editor has different priorities and introduces new aspects. Our task is to extract the scholarly and musical-practical needs in equal measure. And no work of music can be performed with just a good score. Performers need parts (with good, or at least the most practicable page turns), a vocal score, often a chorus score, translations, pronunciation aids, practice aids … Not all of these are always needed (or possible), but a score alone will never be sufficient. This then involves the whole company: a good musical text also calls for beautiful music engraving and the right paper, the texts require good translations – up to audio recordings and practice aids. And the editions need to be supplied to the customers.

And of course we don’t always hit the mark. But we keep in close contact with our customers, invite choral directors to a choral workshop at our publishing house every two years. In addition we are present at events such as chor.com or the American ACDA Convention, and our colleagues in Customer Service are available for advice daily. Our ears and eyes are always open for what the choral world needs.

EP: I completely agree. And the feedback that we get in Customer Services or at events show that we get a very great deal of this right. That is encouraging, particularly when we take a risk with editions which require a large financial outlay. Over the last few years, the choral collections have become more elaborate in terms of production. Here we invest a lot and take a risk. Happily up to now that has very often paid off. We have created some real “classics”, such as the folk song collections Lore-Ley, the Freiburger Chorbücher and other collections for church choirs and, still relatively new, but well on the way to becoming a must-have, the Beethoven Choral Collection. The success of such collections depends on many factors, but a decisive one is always a coherent choice from the wide range of possible works. Looking to the future, for me the crucial question is how we can present this input digitally, without having to directly print a whole book. There I see a lot of potential, thanks to our single editions which are available digitally, in combination with themed compilations with commentaries from experts in our CARUS blog.

EP: The interesting question here is what the choral scene needs now that is new, or what it will need differently in the future, and how we can use the digital opportunities for this. As an outsider, Carus greatly impressed me a few years ago with the digital practice app carus music, the choir coach. As a publisher steeped in the analog print business, with the choir app Carus succeeded in developing a digital product which is not only innovative, but exactly tailored to the needs of choral singers. The app, developed as an investment in the future, quickly covered its costs. That’s great and in my observations of the publishing world, is something really rare. I think it worked so well because Carus was very conscious of the wishes and needs of choral singers. In 2021 we were finally able to respond to an unfulfilled wish: carus music now functions on all devices, that is on PCs and not just mobile end devices.

The digital opportunities allow us to make our enormously rich catalog of repertoire easily searchable by choral directors. Hundreds of choral directors from all over the world use the Carus website every day to find information about works and to research suitable pieces for the next concert for their choir. In the past we have regularly received enquiries such as this: I have a rehearsal tomorrow and would definitely like to rehearse Schütz’s Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich with my choir. Our Distribution Department is quick, but neither we nor the post can perform miracles. But since 2020 part of our catalog of works (and we are working on expanding the selection) can be downloaded digitally as PDFs. A few minutes after placing an order with us or a music retailer, the music for the choir is sent by e-mail. To print out legally in multiple copies! As well as the sheet music, audio recordings and introductory and singing texts for concert program booklets are available digitally. I am really proud that we can offer this all-round carefree service. We managed to implement this demanding distribution project right in the middle of the difficult corona period. Uwe, what are you most proud of?

UW: As you’ve mentioned corona, we can be proud of the fact that, despite everything, we haven’t buried our heads in the sand (although I would often have been happy to do that), but we have continued with our publishing program even with considerably reduced resources. We consciously did not set up a special corona program, but prioritised our planned program. Which of the things we find important has become even more important because of corona? An example is our series “Great choral works in small scorings”. The series is also important irrespective of corona – and so in these difficult times we have worked on editions which will still be in demand in ten years’ time.

In our daily work there are many things which are satisfying: it is particularly pleasing when compositions which had almost been forgotten because there was no available edition can be performed because of our publications, or – as in the case of Homilius – a less well-known composer becomes re-established in concert life. It is also gratifying when we succeed in establishing a new edition of a repertoire piece in the market, that is when we notice that although editions exist, we can still do things differently, often better, with our editors. And I am really proud of my editorial team, a really varied team of people with quite different strengths and very different musical backgrounds who all contribute their abilities and knowledge in a friendly cooperation: from reading unclear cursive writing to the question of whether a double stop works, or which cue notes are the most helpful.

EP: Exactly. When I started at Carus three years ago, I could not have wished for better colleagues – open, considerate, and respectful. In fact, we had various new ideas and projects planned for 2020. But then came the corona pandemic. For us in the company, like so many others, this presented a huge challenge. Until then we had a culture of working closely together. Now we had to disperse all the two- and three-person offices and often send some of the employees to work from home. Our revenue losses were so dramatic that we can only survive thanks to short-time working, drastic cost-cutting in our program, and various state aid programs. I think that we will be able to get through, because in the preceding years Carus achieved a firm place on the choral scene, and our employees in the company have pulled in the same direction magnificently. I have had to demand so much flexibility from them, yet they have remained loyal to Carus. They support each other mutually and all have in mind the common goal of carrying on. Of course we will always do everything we can to ensure that choral music, and thus we as publishers, can quickly put this pandemic period behind us. But I will certainly never forget my gratitude for this solidarity and the great commitment of my colleagues! The cohesion of the choral scene has also helped us as a publisher. That is something I was not previously familiar with. And even amongst competitors there is great cooperation. The crisis has even strengthened collegial exchange.

2022 is a very special year for us. We want to celebrate what Carus has achieved over the last 50 years, yet at the same time in 2022 we will still clearly be noticing the after-effects of the pandemic. But naturally we already have lots of plans for the future. We were successful with our application to the funding program “Innovative Business Models and Pioneering Solutions” run by the German Federal Ministry of Economics. This also gives us the necessary starting capital for our next project in the area of digital support for up-and-coming choral directors, which we are developing with Jan Schumacher.

UW: For our classical sheet music program, several years ago we decided at Carus to publish all the important choral-symphonic works in modern Urtext editions by the 2022 anniversary. Corona thwarted this plan, but we are standing by this aim even though we won’t achieve it fully by the end of the anniversary year. The next work on this list is Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. But Bruckner will also feature large over the next few years, and further arrangements will be published in the series “Great choral works in small scorings” and “Choir & Organ”. There will be a new choral collection for choirs with just one male voice part, and new children’s musicals are also planned, such as Peter Schindler’s new staged cantata Perpetuum mobile. A varied program in which many choirs will be able to find their way once more – varied as always, it’s just that now we can think in terms of digital as well.

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