Universal picks radio man as head of US classics

Universal picks radio man as head of US classics


norman lebrecht

May 24, 2016

Graham Parker, general manager of New York radio station WQXR, has been appointed president of Universal Music’s classical labels in the US.

Graham, 46, ran the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for almost eight years before taking up the radio job in 2010. British-born, he entered the music industry through an assistant’s job with the New York Philharmonic.

His staff are being told about the move at this moment.

By some weird PR coincidence, the New York Times ran a soft feature about Graham at the weekend.

graham parker

Press release coming up:

SANTA MONICA, May 24, 2016 – Universal Music Group, the world leader in music-based entertainment, today named Graham Parker, General Manager of WQXR, the most-listened to classical music radio station in the U.S. and a 2016 Peabody Award-winner for its Q2Music podcast, as President of its legendary roster of U.S. classical music labels, part of the Verve Label Group.

In this new role, Parker will oversee UMG’s U.S. classical music labels including Deutsche Grammophon, Decca Records, Decca Classics, Mercury Classics, and distributed label ECM. Parker will be based in New York and report jointly to Dickon Stainer, President and CEO of Global Classics for Universal Music Group, and Danny Bennett, recently appointed President & CEO of Verve Label Group.
To accelerate Universal Music’s classical music strategy, Parker will serve as the U.S. lead for the company’s classical music initiatives to develop and promote emerging classical recording artists and composers on a global scale, working closely with Stainer, David Joseph, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music UK & Ireland and Frank Briegmann, President & CEO Central Europe & Deutsche Grammophon. In close co-ordination with this global team, Parker will develop digital strategies to bring U.S. Universal artists to the widest audiences possible, will deepen relationships with the leading ensembles and venues throughout the U.S., and explore new business opportunities for today’s 21st century artists.

While at New York Public Radio, Parker oversaw and implemented ambitious initiatives to serve New York’s thriving classical music scene with new programming, digital offerings, bold community engagement projects, and a robust roster of live events and live broadcasts including performances from Lang Lang to Rufus Wainwright, from its own studios to the stages of Carnegie Hall.

Bennett said, “Universal Music is home to some of the world’s finest classical recordings and composers in history, as well as the world’s cutting edge new artists. With Graham, we’re adding an executive who has a proven track record of having his finger on the pulse of classical music and opera and who has made the genre accessible to a whole new audience through groundbreaking programming and digital innovation. I’m looking forward to working with Graham and together making an indelible impact in the world of classical music.”

Added Stainer, “I’m delighted to welcome someone of Graham’s stature and visionary approach to help expand classical music’s reach and audience in the U.S. His arrival marks a moment of excitement and opportunity for artists and music fans in America and across the world.”


“I’ve devoted my life to classical music and bringing this incredible genre to as wide an audience as possible,” said Parker. “The opportunity to not only join the legendary catalog of Deutsche Grammophon and Decca, but to also be on the forefront of identifying the classical superstars of tomorrow, was too incredible to pass up. I’m humbled by this opportunity and I’m looking forward to working with Danny, Dickon, Michele Anthony and the entire UMG team.”


  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Good luck, Graham, and to Universal Music!

  • Barry Solomon says:

    Congratulations, Graham! Great to see how far you’ve progressed. Inspiring!

  • Regine says:

    I hope that this gentleman will succeed where so many others before him failed at Universal Classics. I hope that he will not be another failed appointment, as has been the case with the vast majority of Universal Classics senior executives. I would hope that he would have already realized that something must be a bit strange, when he sees that Universal Music now puts their iconic classical labels under the Verve umbrella. That, at least, to me, sends a very weird signal. Jazz music sells even less that classical music and yet they put the classical labels, which outnumber the jazz labels in their stable, under the banner of a jazz label, thereby denigrating them to secondary status, at a time when those who are serious buyers and consumers are already highly suspicious of Universal Classics and how they decimated the brand identities of the labels under their management. I sadly doubt that this will be any different and fear that lack of vision, lack of knowledge and continuing poor management will leave this unfortunate Mr. Parker wondering why he ever accepted to get in bed with these people. I hope not, but all past history points in that direction.

  • George says:

    I guess Universal can look forward to watered-down programming of the sort that WQXR specializes in – music for retirees to sleep by.

  • Jessye Mae says:

    Poor gentleman- I just hope this doesn’t sabotage his career like it has too many previous colleagues in this position. It is really unfair how Universal continues to put momentary feel good and grand cocktail party ideas in front of (fill in the blank)……..It’s all just a little bit of history repeating.

  • MWnyc says:

    Oh dear … Seems like people never last long in that job. And it seems they rarely accomplish much – almost certainly because the higher-ups at Universal give the classical folks neither resources nor attention.

    I hope at least they’re paying Graham Parker well.

  • The Goat says:

    Another person from a very different business model being put in charge. Soon he too will find out this niche music genre is not as easy as one thinks to sustain and dare I say grow.

  • Lorna Salzman says:

    Under Graham Parker, WQXR in NY has become a Classics Lite program that rarely broadcasts anything longer than 15 minutes, and which repeatedly, endlessly, without exception, REBROADCASTS THE SAME PIECES on what is now a weekly basis (it was formerly on a bi weekly basis). My complaints about this have gone unanswered. In addition you wouldn’t know that there was any decent American music written before the year 2000 (including composers who emigrated here and became Americans): Hindemith, Stravinsky, Ives, Bartok, Varese, Cowell, Ruggles, Weill, Sessions….the list of composers almost completely absent expands and expands. After suffering and complaining I stopped tuning in to WQXR and will no longer support it. (One complaint of mine two years ago got a reply from a lowly staff person: we play things many times so listeners can become familiar with them). Parker may not be the program director at WQXR but having been overall director he must take responsibility for the deterioration of music programming over the past two or three years. The station is just a joke.

  • Walter says:

    WQXR is no different than Universal Classics, in that it wants to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Sadly, that also means appealing to average and below average tastes and intellects. That is clearly the direction that Universal Classics has taken for over fifteen years already, having alienated hundreds of thousands of serious music lovers in the process. Universal Classics is today what Coca Cola is to wine, what a hamburger is to a Kobe beef steak, what a nap is to a good eight hours of sleep…it is the dumbing down of the offering in the hope of appealing to a larger and less discerning audience and giving it to them in small morsels, nothing too long and too complicated, so easy to digest. The result is that they have shut out the serious buyers, the serious concert goers and are left with an unknown indiscernible buyer, who will never become a committed and loyal “classical” consumer of their offerings. It ends badly every time, yet Universal Classics continue flogging their dead horse, conjuring up new gimmicks and sexy and cool productions that have the life expectancy and longevity of a colourful butterfly, a few days or a few weeks. How long will this stupidity go on?

  • Kathleen D says:

    Why do they keep hiring a jeep driver to fly (what’s suppose to be) a 777? Definition of insanity….