Jack Renner and Robert Woods, Record Industry Pioneers


Jack Renner and Robert Woods dared to aim high, think big and take risks. In 1977, they had the audacity – and the funding -- to hire the Cleveland Orchestra and music director Lorin Maazel to launch their company, Telarc Records.  Their debut album, “Direct from Cleveland,” was the first modern-day direct-to-disc long-play recording of a symphonic ensemble, and it put the small company on the audiophile map.

The following year, the pioneering partners invited distinguished bandmaster Frederick Fennell to record a program of his favorite works with the Cleveland Symphonic Winds, an ad hoc ensemble made up mostly of Cleveland Orchestra members. The first digital recording in the United States by a classical label, the cutting-edge album was engineered to challenge the best hi-fi equipment, and it was issued with a warning about the possibility of speaker damage. So powerful was the sound of the percussion that the recording was cited in the World Encyclopedia Yearbook for capturing “the bass drum heard around the world.”

In 1983, Telarc became one of the first classical record companies in America to switch from long-playing records to compact discs. By then, Renner and Woods had  recorded the Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and they had a established a long-term relationship with the Cincinnati Pops that ultimately sold more than ten million discs.  Their recording of Rudolf Serkin playing the Beethoven piano concertos with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Seiji Ozawa took Telarc beyond the audiophile niche and legitimatized it as a serious classical company. When Renner and Woods branched out from classical music to other genres, they continued to seek out top artists, such as jazz legend Dave Brubeck and pop superstar Liza Minnelli.

The source of Telarc’s success was the exceptionally natural sound the partners achieved by using a minimal number of microphones that faithfully reproduced not only the musical performance but also the ambience of the sonic space. Maazel  once told Renner  that Telarc’s recordings “sound the way I hope the audience is hearing what I am doing, “ and Brubeck  said it was “the presence, whether in a concert hall, night club or small room, that gives Telarc recordings their realistic, pure sound. “

Before Renner and Woods went into the recording industry, both were professional performers and music teachers. Renner, born in Barnesville, Ohio, on April 13, 1935, earned an undergraduate degree in music education and completed graduate studies at Ohio State University. He taught high school music, played trumpet in orchestras and jazz bands and began his recording career with a franchise that recorded school and church music ensembles. In 1970, he founded Advent Records to produce recordings subsidized by professional musicians. In 1971, Woods joined Advent as a part-time tape editor while teaching at Hiram College and Kent State University. Born July 8, 1947, in Chillicothe, Ohio, Woods majored in music at Otterbein College, took summer courses at Tangle wood and the Blossom Festival School, earned a master’s degree in voice at Kent State University, sang in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and performed a solo role in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion under the direction of Robert Shaw at Blossom Music Center.

During Renner and Woods’ 29- year partnership, Telarc made more than 600 recordings and won more than 50 Grammy Awards. In 2005, Renner retired and moved with his wife Barbara to Portsmouth, Rhode Island. In 2009, Woods began transitioning out of the company and formed Sonarc Music with his wife Elaine Martone. To Renner, the greatest rewards of his Telarc career were his relationships with great artists and his success at “preserving their work in a way that’s timeless.” Woods treasures the experience of recording Beethoven’s symphonies with the Cleveland Orchestra and music director Christoph von Dohnanyi, and he takes pride in the company’s ability to maintain financial integrity through harsh economic times. “It was a big, big challenge,” he said. ”But we had the joy factor and the remarkable pleasure of creating something that’s still around.”

— Wilma Salisbury
Spring 2009


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