If you can't beat them, hire them

If you can't beat them, hire them


norman lebrecht

June 06, 2007

Universal, the corporate parent of Decca and Deutsche Grammophon, has just appointed a new V-P in its so-called ‘core’ classical division – as distinct from the peel, pips and wrapping. She is Melanne Mueller, co-founder of Avie Records, an independent umbrella label that packages and distributes self-produced records by such as the San Francisco and Liverpool orchestras, the Rumanian pianist Luiza Borac and the Brook Street Band.
Melanne, with her partner Simon Foster, has done a brilliant job at maintaining artistic integrity and obtaining public attention for a steady flow of serious music, something Universal has long forgotten on both counts how to do. That’s presumably why she has been hired – not so much to restore integrity in a corporate behemoth as to raise production values and publicity.
At much the same time, SonyBMG which has been classically dormant for a year, has named Chris Craker to head a new International Repertoire Centre. Chris, a studio producer with some 400 CDs to his name, set up two small labels, Black Box and Onyx, both noted for a distinctive artistic sensibility and high performance. Chris tells me he is working on a schedule of 200 new releases for SonyBMG.
So does this mean resurrection at two defunct majors? Hardly. Whatever the good intentions of Melanne and Chris, and I have no reason to doubt them, they are entering an environment where marginal arts like classical music can get shut down on an overnight whim, as happened last year at SonyBMG and Warner. With overheads of huge executive salaries and grotesque infrastructures, classical records can never pay their way in the glass tower.
My guess is that Melanne and Chris will do their best, but they won’t be there long.