A better Decca story

A better Decca story


norman lebrecht

February 17, 2009

This just in from a veteran Decca producer:


Dear Norman,
I hope you are well, and have been reading your recent articles on Decca with mixed emotions – mainly sadness at the callous destruction of a once-great company.
They remind me of a story of a Viennese professor lecturing his class.  He present a large spider and announces: ‘This is Adolf, an extremely clever arachnid.  When I say “Hop!”, Adolf jumps 9.4 centimetres in the air.  He says ‘Hop!’ and, sure enough, the spider leaps, and one sees his eyes following the insect’s movements.  Once again, ‘Hop!’, and the spider leaps to his command.
‘Now,’ he continues ‘Here is an interesting phenomenon.  I am going to tie Adolf’s eight legs together with some fine cotton …’ which he then proceeds to do.  Then, he commands, ‘Adolf, hop!’.  Nothing happens.  He again commands ‘Adolf, Hop!’  The spider remains motionless.
The professor turns to his audience.  ‘Here is proof of my theory.  When you tie a spider’s eight legs together, it becomes stone deaf.’ 
I have the feeling that Universal Classics and Jazz have been delving into the same logical conclusions.
All the best,
I couldn’t have put it better myself. Since my column and subsequent blogs appeared over the last two weeks, Universal’s president of classics and jazz, Chris Roberts, and its managing director, Dickon Stainer, have each denied aspects ot it, without seeming to agree on what is really happening – for reasons that will soon become apparent.
Roberts, in a letter to the Evening Standard, says: ‘We are making changes, but they are to preserve the label’s integrity (sic) and give artists confidence that they will not be subsumed by “efficiencies”.’ He does not mention the assisted departure of Decca chief, Bogdan Roscic, and blurs the abolition of Decca’s crossover list, its financial mainstay.
Stainer, in a comment to Classical Music magazine, confirms that crossover is being taken away from Decca but insists its London office will continue somehow as ‘a creative centre’.
Why the difference? Insiders say that Roberts in New York and Stainer in London don’t talk to each other. The death of Decca is an incidental casualty of their fallout.
It is not the first time that artists have fallen victin to the intrigues of the bonus culture. I expect we’ll see more of this before heads finally roll at Universal.
Watch this spot. And weep for Decca.