In classical music's consciousness, the world is always shrinking. Facts aside, orchestras are in trouble; the record business has evaporated; no one loves us anymore.
The closing of Tower Records just before Christmas was only one more clanging nail in the coffin.
And yet last week at the old Tower location at Broad and Chestnut, buyers hummed happily to Mendelssohn as they moved among the classical bins. FYE, the national chain owned by Trans World Entertainment of Albany, N.Y., has taken three former Tower locations - Nashville; Torrance, Calif.; and the spacious Avenue of the Arts spot.
Not only did FYE not banish the Brahms, it moved the classical section down to the main floor. And a good collection it is - 11,000 titles and more to come. One wall displays easily a few hundred opera titles, and by no means only the most popular Verdis and Mozarts. Another display holds classical DVDs - opera, instrumental, historical.
In between, several cases of classical stock are studded with surprises: Janine Jansen, the young darling violinist-violist of the moment; this month's Philadelphia Orchestra Saint-Saëns release; an aged Brahms symphony cycle with Riccardo Muti (for $22); a Beethoven cycle with the London Symphony Orchestra led by Josef Krips (for just $9.99).
Did FYE buy Tower's old stock only to shrink the size of the offerings over time as they are sold off?
On the contrary, says FYE. The stock was not purchased from Tower or the liquidator who bought Tower. And rather than marginalizing classical, the company is highlighting it.
"It will continue to be what it is, if not a little more," said Randy Hawk, general manager for the FYE location. "We're fully committed to keeping that big corner area. I think there is certainly a market here," he said, pointing to the Kimmel Center and other arts venues along South Broad Street.
Hawk even hired Tower's classical buyer, Claire Shapiro, who now offers suggestions in gentle tones to classical shoppers. "Customers come looking for her," Hawk said.
If the classical section looks slightly makeshift, so does the entire place. Temporary plastic signs bearing the store name await replacement by permanent signage once city approval comes through. The store opened quietly Feb. 1, little more than a month after Tower closed, and a grand opening will be held when the new signs are up. Inside, better displays are on the way.
Another significant addition, says Hawk, will be download zones where customers can buy MP3 versions of releases, though he wasn't sure how much classical would be available.
But in the meantime, old-fashioned hard goods - CDs - are in abundance.
The classical section carries a range that speaks to both the newbie and the aficionado. Among singers, there's Bocelli, Bartoli and Battle - as well as Hildegard Behrens and Teresa Berganza. Philadelphia's maestros are well represented, but so are Paul Paray, Hans Rosbaud, André Cluytens, Rafael Kubelik, Klaus Tennstedt and Eduard van Beinum.
No fewer than four Strauss Four Last Songs turned up yesterday, including the standard-bearing Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Kiri Te Kanawa takes.
Everything, it seems, from Frederick Fennell conducting Leroy Anderson to a five-CD set of Morton Feldman's one-movement, six-hour String Quartet No. 2.
Shapiro, who worked at Tower for four years and is herself an amateur singer from South London, says 3,000 to 4,000 more titles are coming soon. She culls her selections by reading newspapers and magazines - especially the English music magazines, since titles are often released there before they are available in the United States. She chats up customers to see what they are thinking about. But even she is sometimes surprised.
"I find that people don't like new music, or think that they don't like it," she said. "But after a [composer Toru] Takemitsu piece was done at the orchestra, people came in asking for it. They didn't realize it was written in 1980."
Being on Broad Street makes a difference in what shoppers are looking for. The FYE store in the Gallery has a well-chosen classical section, but it's tiny compared with Broad Street, where customers come in before and after concerts, as do musicians performing at the Kimmel and other venues.
"It's as much a social thing as a shopping experience," says Shapiro.
For a segment of the music-loving public with an unshakable persecution complex, more time to talk while a little Mendelssohn plays in the background can only be a salutary thing.