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[adapted from a 02-2000 Stereophile interview article]
It’s been three years since the Feb. 1997 [Stereophile] issue, when I last talked with Klaus Heymann, founder and chairman of HHN, the parent company of the Naxos and Marco Polo labels. When I heard that he’d be in New York for a visit, I jumped at the chance for another interview.
Meantime, I have a shopping basket full of Naxos recordings to recommend. Two recommendations? Nah. How about twenty-four! Do your “R2D4” shopping here and save money.
True, the price has gone up [ca. late 1999]. Naxos CDs used to list for $5.99 and retail for $4.99. Now the “suggested” list price is $6.99. As usual, I suggest you try to pay less — about $6 per disc on sale. Even at $6, you can often get three Naxos CDs for what you might pay for one full- price disc from the so-called “major” classical labels.
But if Naxos’ price has risen, so has their quality — recording quality, that is. (Performance quality has always been good to excellent.) Today, new releases on Naxos tend to be state-of-the-art recordings.
Beginning informally at breakfast, I spent nearly a whole morning with Heymann, and found him in a decidedly upbeat mood.
Stereo Sam: Taking in a lot of concerts, Klaus?
Klaus Heymann: Nah. No time. Restaurants.
Stereo Sam: So what is happening in classical music recording? Three years ago when we talked, the sky was falling.
Heymann: Well, recording activity, if anything, has gone up over the past three years. While the majors are re cording a lot less, there are many small and miniature labels that sometimes re cord with public funding and sponsor ship money. In any event, the industry is still releasing 500 discs a month. This is counting reissues of back catalog. If you’re a record collector —and I consider myself one — it’s amazing all the stuff that people record and release.
Stereo Sam: And sales?
Heymann: Sales have come down from their peak. But sales of what? The market, in my opinion, has split. You have the traditional classical record business, as we knew it in the 1970s and 80s — recording interesting repertoire, discovering and developing new artists. That specialist — or traditional — classical market is today dominated by the independents.
Then you have what I consider pop classics, or crossover classics, which is what the majors are engaged in. You have movie soundtracks — the Three Tenors, many of the things that Yo-Yo Ma does, all these funny compilation concepts. That market is actually quite strong.
If you’re a record collector—and I consider myself one—it’s amazing all the stuff that people record and release.
What has come down is the majors’ share of the traditional classical market, because, with few exceptions, they don’t record any big projects any more. They seldom discover and develop new artists. And when they do, they drop them as soon as a re lease doesn’t sell. They live on a series of one-offs. You no longer see the majors doing a Mozart piano-concerto cycle or a Haydn symphony cycle, for instance.
Stereo Sam: Classical music market share — including crossover— is now down to the point where it accounts for less than 3% of record sales. Yet in other countries, like your native Germany, the total is more like 7%. Why is the share in America so small and shrinking?
Heymann: It has to do with cultural differences. In Germany, every small city has its own opera house; and every town has a town music school, which gets a subsidy from the city government. Germans are more exposed to classical music training, or at least classical-music appreciation. This is the problem we have to face in the future. We will try to sell to younger customers who have never been exposed to classical music, except for movie soundtracks or maybe background music in a bar.
---Klaus Heymann, founder and chairman of HHN, whose Naxos label has reinvented the rules for classical CD marketing.
As a label, we invest a lot of money in educational activities. We have publications, like The A to Z of Classical Music. We published a brochure on how to enjoy a live concert, which we market to sym phony orchestras. We have a new series of discs coming out: Understanding the Classics—analysis made easy. We take a symphony, movement by movement, and play excerpts — main theme, development, second theme, exposition, coda, or whatever the structure is. We analyze each movement, take it apart, and then play it whole. [ then mentioned other activities, including a music-appreciation course for colleges and a classical-music training program for kids, aimed at elementary school teachers and parents of young schoolchildren.]
Stereo Sam: The sound of many recent Naxos discs is of demonstration quality. What’s be hind the improvement?
Heymann: A number of things. We now have our own mastering and production studio in London: K&A Productions. We are co-owners, actually. K is for Klaus, and A is for Andrew Walton, my partner in the studio.
We are able to record in better venues. Venue costs have come down because the major record labels are no longer occupying the spaces. And we are able to record with a wider range of top-class producers and engineers — the same people who record for labels such as Chandos, Hyperion, EMI, and so on. Plus, we have some of the finest people in our studio in London.
Stereo Sam: Are all Naxos releases edited there?
Heymann: Everything is sent there for a listen, and sometimes a little doctoring. We do all our guitar recordings in Canada—technically and musically, they are to a very high standard. We record a lot of chamber music in Hungary and send it to London for final approval. Moscow has its own recording team, and so on.
Stereo Sam: One of your best-sounding new re leases is the Rachmaninoff Symphony I with Alexander Anissimov and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. [ “Sam’s Personal Naxos Recommendations” below.] How does a Russian conductor end up recording with an Irish orchestra?
Heymann: Anissimov has been Principal Conductor of the National Symphony of Ireland since 1994. We have re corded him in Moscow, too. The Irish orchestra plays a lot of Russian music.
Stereo Sam: One of the most widely acclaimed Naxos series is the Bruckner symphony cycle with Georg Tintner. Any plans for more Tint-recordings?
Heymann: Mr. Tintner has become a very busy man—too busy to record.
Stereo Sam: Such a fine conductor—how come we never heard of him before?
Heymann: He is one of the best conductors of the older generation. He has conducted in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. But he didn’t have much of a career. He’s not a smooth, slick, fast-talking, fund-raising conductor. He has his own mind. But he is a very charming man and a wonderful musician. [ a few days after this conversation, Mr. Tintner passed away at the age of 82.]
Stereo Sam: Are there any conductors today whose recordings sell briskly?
Heymann: I’m not sure there ever were many conductors whose recordings always sold — von Karajan, certainly. Bernstein. A few others.
Stereo Sam: Is the situation with orchestras and conductors better or worse now?
Heymann: If you mean quality, better— much better than 20 or even 10 years ago. Young people graduating from music conservatories today are fabulously gifted, technically very competent— so much so that it scares the wits out of musicians who have been in orchestras for 10 or 20 years.
I was talking with a conductor in Nancy—that’s a small city in France, the administrative capital of Lorraine. The population is about 100,000. The director of the regional orchestra there told me that when he has an open position, he has 50 to 70 applicants, all superb, all wonderful players. And this is a provincial French orchestra.
Conductors are more competent, too — a lot more so than conductors of 50 years ago. They are well schooled, and they all have access to the recorded legacy. They all listen to records.
Stereo Sam: But they al/sound the same.
Heymann: The idiosyncratic interpretations of the old conductors wouldn’t be acceptable today — the Mengelberg’s, Furtwangler’s, Weingartner’s. Critics would say, “He’s distorting the music.”
The greatest influence on music-making was Toscanini. He said, This is the way the composer wrote it and this is how it should be played.’ Whether or not Toscanini played it as the composer wrote it is open to question.
Stereo Sam: But there were some conductors whose recordings people collected.
Heymann: Yes; von Karajan sold, and still does. He had a sound. But he wasn’t the greatest conductor of our time. I think he was a reasonably great conductor when he was a young man. In his old age, there was all this hype and this super-rich Cinerama sound he created. But today when you listen to [ahem] it’s impossible to distinguish one from the other. I can’t tell.
Stereo Sam: So why not Anissimov on Naxos for one-third the price?
Heymann: Exactly. Can you tell the difference? Very few people can. The Irish orchestra is fabulous. There are a lot of young people in the orchestra, fresh from music school and technically very competent. They play in a wonderful hail, and they have a plenty of time to rehearse. They have five or six rehearsals for a concert — which is a lot more than the London orchestras—and then they record the work for us.
Stereo Sam: Naxos is known for unusual repertoire. When you record Cannabich [ below], does it sell?
Heymann: Yes, everything sells equally well for the first year. Then the repertory splits into three groups. We have the hits—the Verdi Requiem, which sells 10,000 copies a year. Then we have the cash cows, which sell 3000 to 5000 copies a year steadily. Then we have the water-carriers, which sell 1000 to 2000 copies a year. With more obscure stuff, sales drop off.
Stereo Sam: Are you recording with American orchestras?
Heymann: We did our first Berlioz recording with the San Diego Symphony a few years ago, and we’ve recorded more Berlioz with them. We recently re corded a Hanson symphony with the Nashville Symphony, our hometown in the US. Several other US symphony orchestras are interested in recording for Naxos, because they know our international presence. In a year’s time, we may have relations with as many as five or six US symphony orchestras.
Stereo Sam: What determines whether an orchestra makes a recording of a particular work?
Heymann: Ah, good question. There are sponsors. They want to have gifts to give away, so they pay for the recording, get their logo on it, then send out 10,000 copies for Christmas. This doesn’t interest us. Then there is the vanity of conductors. A conductor wants to document himself doing the great masterworks. That’s not reason enough for us to record.
If an orchestra tours internationally and a conductor wants to have an international presence, then recordings are necessary. We can put CDs in record shops around the world. Naxos is the right place to go nowadays.
Stereo Sam: I’ll tell [ conductor of a US symphony orchestra who is desperate to be recorded].
Heymann: We cannot afford to pay American union rates and sell at our price—or UK labor rates, either. It costs $100,000 to make a recording with a US symphony orchestra. We make 75 cents or $1 profit per CD. We would have to sell more than 100,000 copies, and, even at our price, we cannot sell that many.
Some Naxos Recommendations:
Telemann: Born four years before J.S. Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann (1681—1767) outlived him by 17 years. When Telemann died in 1767, age 86, Haydn was 35 and Mozart was 11. And Klaus Heymann is right: Telemann must have written day and night. Music de Table, Tafelmusik, Table Music — whatever. This is great stuff— the ultimate dining and baroque musical experience, in four volumes (so far), performed by the Orchestra of the Golden Age. More than four hours of delicious light baroque dining music. If you have a changer, load all four CDs (8.553724, 8.553725, 8.553731, 8.553732), and
Telemann will entertain you for the whole evening. Want more? Try the Suites (8.553791), with the Northern Chamber Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Ward. Enjoy. And listen for the influence of Klezmer music!
Ever hear of German composer Christian Cannabich (1731—98)? (That’s pronounced Cann-a-beesh, but you can call him whatever.) I hadn’t either, until Heymann sent me Symphonies 59, 63, 64, 67 and 68 (8.553960). A lot more great works where those came from, he says. Spirited performances by the Lukas Con sort, directed by Victor Lukas.
Often, a Naxos disc can be a revelation. Like Symphonies, Vol.2, by Joseph Martin Kraus (1756—92), performed by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Petter Sundkvist (8.554472). Kraus was a German- born conductor who made his career in Sweden, entertaining King Gust III. (Lars, take note.) The first movement of the Symphony in C is breathtakingly beautiful and superbly recorded: 72:13 of bliss.
So many Swedes—it must be because Klaus sells so many discs in Sweden. Finland, too. Don’t let the Swedes and the Finns monopolize. this disc. Bernhard Henrik Crusell (1775—1838) is featured on 8.554144 with three clarinet concertos per formed by Per Billman, principal clarinetist of the Royal Opera House, Stockholm, accompanied by the Uppsala Chamber Orchestra with conductor Gerard Korsten.
Not a Swede this time: Bohemian- born Franz Kromnier (1759—1831) was once thought to rival Haydn and Beethoven in popular esteem. Want to hear why? Get Partitas for JHnd Ensemble (8.553868), performed by the Michael Thomson Wind Ensemble.
If you like clarinet, try Carl Stamitz (1745—1801): Clarinet Concertos, Vol.2 (8.554339), with Ká1m Berkes, clarinet, and the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia, Budapest. These are among the first clarinet concertos ever written.
While we’re in the 18th century, you probably want the violin concertos of Viennese composer Leopold Hoffman (1738—93), performed by Lorraine McAslan (violin), Tim Hugh (cello), and the Northern Chamber Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Ward (8.554233). You shouldn’t listen to Haydn and Mozart all the time, you know. Many of this composer’s works survived in only single copies.
Do the Viennese have a special way with music? Of course. Take the Vienna Brahms Trio in the Piano Trios Opp.63 and 80 of Robert Schumann (8.553836). This is the finest chamber- music release I’ve heard all year The Viennese capture so well what the liner notes refer to as Schumann’s “vivid sense of tonal colors.”
Johannes Brahms arranged some of his finest works for piano duet—four-hand piano music. Get Vol.3 (8.553654), which contains a four- hand arrangement of my favorite, the Sonata in f, Op.34b. and the Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, Op.56b. Vol.4 (8.553726) is nice too: the two Serenades, with pianists Silke Thora Matthies and Christian Kohn.
Were there other late-19th-century Czech symphonists besides Dvorak? Well, yes—Zdenek Fibich (1850— 1900), who wrote three symphonies, the first two of which are heard on a disc with the Razumovsky Symphony conducted by Andrew Mogrelia (8.553699). I won say the music is memorable, but it’s worth a listen if you like late Romantic symphonies.
“In one ear and out the other” would also describe the music of Alexander Glazunov (1865—1936). Our friend Alexander Anissimov is heard with the Moscow Symphony in The Seasons and Sc de Ballet (8.553915). If you like Tchaikovsky; try it. An even better-recorded Glazunov disc is 8.553857, with Suite Charactéristique, Le Chant du Destin, and Preludes, again with the Moscow Symphony, this time conducted by Igor Golovschin. The Prébde O: No.2, in memory of Rimskv-Korsakov, is a must for all fans of Russian music.
We’ll skip out of sequence to Sergei Rachmaninoff Naxos has one of the great Rachmaninoff pianists in Turkish-born Idil Biret. I think this is the finest recording in the catalog of the Piano Sonatas 1 and 2 (8.553003). Ms. Biret is wonderful with Chopin, too.
Two more Biret/Rachmaninoff discs: Piano Transcriptions &Arrangements (8.550978) contains Rachmaninoff’s renderings of Bach, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and more. A wonderful disc, and worth having just for the 2:11 at the end: the composer’s transcription of “The Star_Spangled Banner.” He first performed it in Providence, Rhode Island on December 8, 1918, a year after he fled Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The younger Rachmaninoff is heard on 8.553004, which includes the Morceaux de Salon, Op written in 1894, when the composer was fresh out of the conservatory.
I mentioned Alexander Anissimov’s Rachmaninoff Symphony 1, with the National Symphony of Ireland. This may be the best-played and best- recorded Rachmaninoff First on disc (8.550806). A sweeping performance of the CapiiceBohemien fills out the generous 69:14 playing time. Kudos for this one to recording engineer Tim Handley, who’s engineered quite a few Naxos discs.
Edward Elgar is John Atkinson’s favorite composer, and one of mine, too. Falstaff may not be Elgar’s greatest work, but 8.553879 might be the finest recording of it in the catalog — the English Northern Philharmonia is heard, conducted by David Lloyd Jones. The music is a little fattening.
For something leaner, try Richard Strauss’s Le Bourgeous Gentilhomme, performed by the Melbourne Sym phony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Hálasz (8.553379). I find the recording slightly opaque, but the performance is exquisite.
British composer Arnold Bax (1883—1953) followed in Elgar’s foot steps. Never did quite fill Sir Edward’s shoes, perhaps, but Bax’s music is quite appealing nonetheless. Early in his career he composed a series of tone poems, of which November Woods is one of the most famous. It is heard on 8.554093, along with Symphony 2.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra again, conducted by David Lloyd-Jones, the same chap who gives us the splendid Elgar Falstaff Hats off again to producer Tim Handley.
Don’t let the last name fool you— Gerald Finzi (1901—56) was one of the most English of composers. Was ever music so gentle, so easy on the ear? His Clarinet Concerto is a special de light as performed by Robert Plane, with the Northern Sinfonia conducted by Howard Griffiths (8.553566). Fillers include A Severn Rhapsody. A must for all fans of English music, produced and engineered by Tim Handley.
I mentioned that Georg Tintner died at the age of 82, He should have had a more illustrious recording career, but don’t blame Klaus. With Sym phonies 1, 3, and “00” still to be re leased, Tintner’s complete cycle of all 11 symphonies of Anton Bruckner will be well worth owning. Start, per haps, with Symphony 4, the “Ro mantic,” in the 1878—80 Haas version (8.554128). Tintner conducts the Roy al Scottish National Orchestra.
Hungarian Jeno Jando may be the most recorded pianist of modern times —possibly the most recorded pianist ever. Klaus Heymann thinks the world of him, as became apparent at breakfast before our interview. Why is Jando so special? Part of it is the pianist’s full, rich sound. There are so many Jando discs on Naxos, all recommendable; a good place to start might be Beethoven’s Bagatelles and Dances, Vol.1 (8.553795), which starts off with a superb performance of “Fur Elise,” one of the best-known melodies in classical music.
This may be an audiophile crowd, but can your system do Niagara Falls? Find Out with a volume of Naxos’
American Classic series: Orchestral Works of Ferde Grofe (8.559007), with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T Stromberg. The disc includes three suites: Mississippi, the well-known Grand Canyon, and Niagara Falls, written in 1961, toward the close of the composer’s career. It’s the last that will excite audiophiles — especially “Thunder of the Waters” and “Power of Niagara.” Lars and the Brass Ear flipped when they heard this. Don’t crank up the sound too loud. I warned you! This killer disc could literally take out your system.
While awaiting 16 CDs of John Philip Sousa’s band music, I have three other Sousa discs to recommend, Keith Brion conducting the Razumovsky Symphony on all three. On Stage (8.559008) features music for the musical theater. Dig band 6 of the 1897 operetta, The Bride Eleci it’s called “The Whiskies — Scotch, Irish, Bourbon, and Rye.” At the Symphony (8.559013) consists of marches and other pieces, with a great rendition of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” I sometimes send Marina marching off to work in the morning with this disc. And On Wings of Lightning (8.559029) is mostly marches. Great fun.
If I dwell on Naxos releases, it’s be cause they’re so good, so cheap, and so many of them tend to not get noticed; little hype surrounds their release.
And many record stores do a poor job of stocking Naxos, some adding insult to injury by jacking up the price from $6.99 to $7.99. If you can’t find these discs in your local record Store, try ordering from your favorite Inter net source. A 50-cent discount is sort of cheesy look for at least $1 off.
And happy listening!
Stereo Sam: So sponsorship makes the recording possible.
Heymann: Yes. In the US, sponsorship tends to be private money. In the UK, we have sponsorship from various trusts — the Walton Trust, the Delius Trust, etc. On the continent, the radio orchestras receive grants from the regional or provincial government, and sometimes sponsorship money. The orchestra records as part of their regular work — the musicians are on salary. Of course, the recording fees do not cover the real costs of the recordings.
Stereo Sam: At least one American orchestra has started its own record label— the St. Louis Symphony and their Arch Media label. Do you see that happening more?
Heymann: It’s not a very good way to get distribution. You may sell a few thousand copies locally, but that’s it.
Stereo Sam: Will Naxos adopt SACD orDVD?
Heymann: I think DVD-Audio will win the day. Super Audio CD is too expensive, and it’s a one-format stan dard. In a little while, DVD players will play DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, and CDs. These multi-format players will not play Super Audio CDs.
We are prepared. We have been recording for the past three years in six-channel surround, which we can adapt to five-channel surround. I am very keen on the long playing times of DVD-Audio in 16-bit/44kHz, because then we could put the Haydn string quartets on 4 DVDs, saving dealers and customers a lot of space.
Stereo Sam: Would this save customers money?
Heymann: Sure. You have a sliding scale: As time goes up, manufacturing cost goes down, so you pass on the savings to the consumer. You charge for the recordings by the hour, instead of by the disc, and give people a discount: one hour is $7, two hours are $12, three hours are $16, and so forth.
Stereo Sam: Do you think most recordings will be two-channel 16/44?
Heymann: No, most will go to 24-bit/96kHz. Twenty-bit recordings can be adapted to 24-bit. We have a lot of 20-bit recordings already. From 16 to 20 bits I hear an audible improvement. From 20 to 24, bits, I can’t hear any more. But surround sound is a major improvement over two-channel if it’s well done—if it’s natural, not gimmicky surround. I remember hearing some demonstrations. Even 16-bit surround blew 20- and 24-bit stereo out of the water. Dramatic improvement.
Stereo Sam: Do you think surround sound will succeed?
Heymann: This time, yes. Last time we had surround, 25 years ago, there were different formats and a problem of equipment. Today a lot of people already have surround sound in the home for home cinema. Feeding surround-sound audio into those systems is easy.
Stereo Sam: You must have recorded everything. Are you scraping the bottom of the barrel, or is it time to re-record everything you recorded 10 years ago in better sound?
Heymann: We are doing the latter any way. We think some of the older recordings should be re-done —new versions of the works. But that’s not because we are running out of things to record.
If you look only at the major composers, there is no complete recorded Vivaldi, although we’ve recorded a good many of the concertos. There’s no complete Mendelssohn. I don’t think there’s a complete Haydn yet No complete Telemann. We have a lot of Cannabich, Stamitz, and Vanhal to record. Dittersdorf wrote 110 symphonies. If you can consider him the next Haydn, there’s a lot of work for all of us. There are other contemporaries of Mozart and Haydn, and much of it is wonderful music.
Telemann wrote 600 suites. Most are lost, but about 200 are still in existence. He must have written day and night for a very long life. You could theoretically have a complete Telemann on 300—400 CDs. We’re not going to do it, of course. [ could tell, though, by the gleam in his eyes, that Heymann had at least considered the idea.]
And then you have all those opera composers. There is so much stuff—I shouldn’t say “stuff” — so much good music Out there. I don’t think we will discover another Beethoven or Mozart, but there is still a lot of wonderful music. If you look at all the music catalogs, you come to the conclusion that there are about 1.5 million hours of music composed, but only about 60,000 CDs of unduplicated repertoire out in the market. That leaves 1.44 million hours of material yet to be recorded.
If you look at my recording plan — it’s a basket of ideas, really. I have 4000, 5000, or 6000 CDs I could produce right way, if I had the money and the resources.
Stereo Sam: It’s sad what’s happened to most of the major classical labels. Will Naxos remain independent?
Heymann: Our plan is yes. I can’t be sure of what will happen if I am no longer there. Anyway, I have time. In our business, people live very long. [ is 63.] It’s an old people’s business. I see another 10 good years ahead for myself, maybe more.
But yes, I am thinking about it: How do we ensure the survival of what we’ve built? We’ve sort of revolutionized the industry. I would never sell to a major. I don’t want investors who say I can’t do what I want to do— can’t record this or that because we have to make a profit every quarter.
I’m not an idealist, mind you. But I am not in business just to make money, but rather to do something that’s right. I told my wife the other night, “Mommy” — I call her Mommy —“we are so lucky that we can make a decent living off something we love to do.”
Stereo Sam: You have a son, Heniyk. Is he in the business? [ “HNH” in HNH International stands for Henryk Nishizaki Heymann. Violinist and Naxos recording artist Takako Nishizaki is Mrs. Klaus Heymann.]
Heymann: Unfortunately, my son is not interested. He is into punk rock. At least he plays and makes music; that’s a blessing.
Stereo Sam: How old is he?
Heymann: He’s 22. But we have many talented people within our organization, at the national level, running distribution organizations. I think we are in much better shape than most of the small independent labels.
Stereo Sam: New projects?
Heymann: Always. We are releasing a complete Schubert lieder cycle — only German singers. We are continuing with the American Classics series—this has been very successful. Barber, Ives, Schuman — and the complete Hanson, including a lot of works that have never been recorded before. We are doing the complete band music of John Philip Sousa —16 CDs of band music with the Royal Artillery in London, conducted by Keith Brion. The first two volumes have been recorded.
And then the historical stuff. We have just been given access to the Paul Whiteman Collection at Williams College, in Massachusetts — sound recordings and other material that Paul Whiteman himself donated to the college in the 1930s and ‘40s. This includes a lot of broadcast material that has never been issued. In the mean time, we also decided to release out-of-copyright Paul Whiteman Orchestra and Band material, to be restored by David Lennick, in Toronto.
Stereo Sam: That should be a treasure trove of early-20th American popular music —Bing Crosby and the like.
Heymann: You’re excited, huh? [ could see my tongue hanging out]
Stereo Sam: You bet.
Heymann: Me too. The material stretches from the 1920s through the 1940s. I have heard the sound of some of the later recordings, and it’s quite good.
And on that happy note, we concluded our interview.
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