Apple Music Classical: iPhone maker launches new streaming service focused on orchestral music

The BBC Symphony Orchestra during the First Night of the Proms 2020 at the Royal Albert Hall in London (BBC/PA) (PA Media)
The BBC Symphony Orchestra during the First Night of the Proms 2020 at the Royal Albert Hall in London (BBC/PA) (PA Media)

Apple’s subscription music streaming service, Apple Music, now has a new sibling, dedicated to classical music. Apple Music Classical has just gone live and is available to most Apple Music subscribers at no extra cost. If you have an individual, family or student subscription, then Classical is included. The only exception is Apple Music Voice Plan, which is the lower-priced version for users of the HomePod, for instance, which is entirely controlled by the user’s voice.

Oliver Schusser, Apple’s VP of Apple Music and Beats, talked to The Independent earlier this month about the new venture. He told me, “At Apple, we love music. When we launched Apple Music, in the first few years, we were trying to really wrap our heads around how streaming works and what we should do with the product. But as it went along, we realised we were doing a great job of pop music and other genres but not classical. And all the other streaming services were doing a terrible job with classical. The main reason why everyone’s failed with classical is because of metadata and product. We decided to fix that. We want to do a better job for the classical audience, and for classical artists, in displaying the work for consumers to search and browse through the classical catalogue.”

In August 2021, Apple announced that it had acquired Primephonic, the highly-respected classical-music-only streaming service. At the time, Schusser told me that he hoped the service would be in place in 2022. It took longer for, it seems, the usual Apple reason: the forensic attention to detail and the need to get it right.

What Primephonic did better than anyone else was recognise that unlike other genres, classical listeners require a better search engine. It’s not enough to choose a song, artist or album. Classical fans are looking for a particular conductor or a special venue, for instance.

So, Apple worked on creating a database of over 20,000 composers and 115 works and movements. The service has the largest classical music catalogue in the world, with over five million tracks.

The Browse tab in the app lets you find your way by composer, by genre, by conductor and by period. You can also choose by soloist, ensemble, choir and orchstra.

And there’s a lot to choose from: if you click on the link for Johann Sebastian Bach, and you know that you want the Orchestral Suite No 3 in D Major, you’re met with 2,126 tracks. Or take Henry Purcell. The best-know works are listed first (Dido and Aeneas has 334 options to choose from) but you can also choose to “See all 375 works”.

The entire category is offered in lossless or hi-res lossless quality. Additionally, many tracks are available in spatial audio with Dolby Atmos, handy if you are listening on an Apple HomePod, for instance.

In the Library tab, as well as the expected sections such as albums, playlists, tracks and artists, there are also dedicated slots for recordings, works and composers. Apple has designed a unified library. So if you add a track, album or playlist in the Classical library, it will also be available in the regular Apple Music library, too. This will be especially useful at the moment because there’s no offline playback possible in the Classical app yet – though this will surely follow.

The search function in the app is what is designed to be a real treat for classical devotees. You can search by composer, the name of the work, the opus number and the artist. It’s even smart enough to recognise if you type a composer’s name in a different language and if you’re looking for Shostakovich’s Symphony number 7 in C Major, it’ll show the opus number and even the nickname, the Leningrad Symphony. Apple’s classical curators offer their favourite recordings as well as other popular recordings. If you want to find your own special love, you can go through the 128 versions available. There are thousands of tracks which are exclusive to Apple and more are being added regularly. Apple is committed to classical and is commissioning new recordings, commissioning new music and more.

The app is available on Apple devices right now by searching Apple Music Classical in the App Store, and an Android version will follow.