There have been rumblings in the music industry for some time that the executives at Universal Music were preparing to inject new life into their classical divisions. Not that DG and Decca, who between them have an artist rosta including the likes of Anne-Sophie Mutter, Mitsuko Uchida, Bryn Terfel, Claudio Abbado and Anna Netrebko, can be said to be ailing. But having been somewhat eclipsed of late by some big-name signings from the rival Sony (not least of DG’s star pianist Lang Lang), a Universal meeting of international staff has been held in London to re-emphasise the company’s commitment to classical music, and to announce a trio of new signings.
Decca has taken on the Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, and the American cellist Alisa Weilerstein. DG, meanwhile, has signed the Armenian violinist Mikhail Simonyan (which follows recently announced signings of the German soprano Mojca Erdmann and the Montenegran guitarist Miloš Karadaglić – and the pianist and former Gramophone Editor’s Choice recipient Francesco Tristano, signed to Universal Music Germany). Kurzak has been a member of the Hamburg State Opera and has taken leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York – Olympia, Blonde, Gilda), at the Royal opera House, Covent Garden (Aspasia) and at La Scala (Gilda). Weilerstein has long been tipped as one of the young cellists in the US most likely to succeed, with a formidable resume that includes playing for President Obama at the White House. Simonyan has built a hugely promising career in Russia, where in 2005 Vladimir Putin recognised him as one of the country’s future potential musical stars.
All of which comes against a background of management changes that also point to a ramping up in classical activity. Max Hole has come in as Chief Operating Officer and immediately appointed former Decca and then EMI boss Costa Pilavachi as Senior VP, Classical Artists and Repertoire. Now he has been joined by DG stalwart Lut Biehels as Director of Classical Marketing and the experienced Barry Holden as Director of Classical Catalogue.
Mutter attended to the conference to talk about her plans for celebrating her 35 years as a performer next year. And Hole commented in a press release, “Universal Music intends to assert its classical music leadership as never before.”