'Music is the centre of my life', Manfred Eicher once said. 'It is the essential core; everything else radiates from it, and to there I always return: to the concert halls, churches and studios. Music is my vocation: recording sessions should have a unique atmosphere that kindles a desire to change something or, if necessary, to make it better, more perfect. For instance, to question things, to depart from procedures devised during rehearsals, things that were good enough in concert, but which change in the solitude of a recording studio, where they are focused on other ears and require transformation.'
In 1969 Manfred Eicher founded the label ECM Records (Edition of Contemporary Music), which he has headed to the present day. Its catalogue has since grown to include more than 1,200 titles.
From the very outset Eicher saw himself as a recording producer actively involved with the musical events in the studio. In his hands the label’s sound and artistic appearance, its imagery and typographical design, received a unique and unmistakable touch. His recordings of jazz musicians of the stature of Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Paul Bley, Mal Waldron, Egberto Gismonti, Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, John Surman, Ralph Towner, Paul Motian, Jack DeJohnette, Terje Rypdal, Dino Saluzzi, Bobo Stenson, Arild Andersen, Jon Christensen, Kenny Wheeler, Don Cherry, Lester Bowie and the Art Ensemble of Chicago set new standards in the field. By the 1970s ECM had become one of the most influential labels, winning the DownBeat Critics ‘Producer of the Year’ poll in 1976 and ‘Label of the Year’ in 1980.
In 1984 the ECM New Series, devoted mainly to written music, was launched with the release of Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa. Since then it has issued recordings of compositions by György Kurtág, Alfred Schnittke, Heinz Holliger, Helmut Lachenmann, Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Thomas Larcher, Heiner Goebbels, Eleni Karaindrou, Giya Kancheli, Tigran Mansurian, Valentin Silvestrov, Betty Olivero and many others. Among the performers and writers for the New Series are Kim Kashkashian, Thomas Zehetmair, the Hilliard Ensemble, Gidon Kremer, Thomas Demenga, Anja Lechner, András Schiff, Heinz Holliger, Alexei Lubimov, the Keller Quartet, the Rosamunde Quartet, Herbert Henck, Leonidas Kavakos, Dennis Russell Davies, Christoph Poppen and Bruno Ganz.
ECM’s outstanding productions have received many awards and distinctions, including the Grand Prix du Disque (France), the Edison Award (Netherlands), the Grammy Award (USA), the Academy Award (Japan) and the annual prize of the German Record Critics. In 1999 Manfred Eicher was honoured as ‘Producer of the Year’ by the American trade journals DownBeat, High Fidelity and Musician Magazine. In 2007 ECM was twice named ‘Label of the Year’, first at the MIDEM in Cannes for its classical music releases, and a few months later by the Jazz Journalists’ Association in New York.
Manfred Eicher has received many personal awards and distinctions, including an Honorary Prize from the German Record Critics (1986) and the Music Prize of the City of Munich (1998). In 1999 he was made a Commander of the Royal Order of the Polar Star by the king of Sweden and received the V°Class Order of the Cross of St. Mary’s Land from the president of Estonia; two years later he became a Commander of the Royal Order of Merit at the behest of the king of Norway. In 2000 Eicher was awarded an honorary doctorate from Brighton University ‘in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the development of contemporary music’, and in 2002 he won a Grammy as ‘Best Classical Producer of the Year’. The City of Munich awarded him an Honorary Prize for Culture in January 2005. In 2007 he received the German Federal Cross of Merit.