Classicalite Recording News: The Decca Sound Dead in the U.S. as Universal Music Classics is Born

By James Inverne on Nov 07, 2013 03:11 PM EST

How to interpret the news that Universal is to drop the Decca company name in the United States? The first thing to say is that it's not as bad as it looks at first glance. The second thing is that, in fact, it might even indicate that Universal is on the ball and serious about classical.

Because I think even Universal's detractors, or detractors of the major label system (and there are many, as well as many queuing up to be issued by them) would say that the mega-major has smartened up its act. The arrival of Max Hole to the top job in the classics division saw a sea change in their attitude to so-called core classical--Hole was and is earnest in his belief that the way to make classical work as a business is to treat it with respect, with a certain purity of intention. He has now ascended to a yet higher position in the Universal pecking order and brought in former artist manager Elizabeth Sobol to shepherd classics under his watchful eye.

Decca, the label, has been reinvigorated, with some quality new signings including pianist Benjamin Grovesnor and violinist Leonidas Kavakos. Deutsche Grammophon also has been turning out some excellent records (I'm a big fan of the mandolin player Avi Avital, though he's also a friend). And the revived label Mercury looks intriguing.

So, what, Decca is no longer to exist in the U.S.? Nope. As far as one can tell, this is a corporate issue. Decca is a specialist brand in America (where in London it's an intrinsic part of the city's cultural identity). Universal is a name that resounds far and wide as the world's largest music group. So for DG, Mercury, other associated labels such as ECM and Panorama and, yes, Decca to live under the umbrella of Universal Music Classics (the name of the new division) is likely to benefit them in terms of bragging rights with retailers, media outlets and the like.

And that means that someone has seriously thought about what would most benefit these labels. Of course, it also means that UMC will be a powerful enough brand to promote some of its own home-grown acts (much as Universal Classics & Jazz, as it was, did in the United Kingdom). But as long as the labels are given the attention they deserve, without obstructive interference, this could be a good thing. Again, as I've said a few times already, it means that Universal is serious. But then, Max Hole is a serious guy. Good news? He is, and just in time for Christmas, I think this could be.

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TagsClassicalite Recording News, Decca, Universal, Max Hole, Elizabeth Sobol, Benjamin Grovesnor, Leonidas Kavakos, Deutsche Grammophon, Avi Avital, Mercury, ECM, Panorama

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