Regime change at the leading classical record label stepped up a gear when Michael Lang, head of Deutsche Grammophon, was ordered to report to his parent company’s German HQ instead of the Universal New York office. This is a small but significant shift.
Lang, an American, was installed at DG as the executive arm of Chris Roberts, president of Universal Classics and Jazz, whose writ reduced the famous label from standard-bearer of classical performance to ambulance chaser of crossover trash. Roberts is leaving the job in October and his structure is being demolished daily beneath him.
Many expected Lang to depart with his master and commander, but the quiet former jazz producer has been given one big chance to put right all that has gone wrong over 15 years. It’s a huge task, but the restoration of geographic primacy will be widely cheered - and not just by the surviving Mutters and Thielemanns on the roster.
One of the world’s leading conductors told me the other day of the hostility he faced from Roberts & Co. ‘I felt they hated conductors. Anything I suggested was greeted with a sigh and a frown. I was a time-waster for them. We were never going to achieve anything together.’
That deadly ambience has changed with the return of Costa Pilavachi in a presiding A&R role. Pilavachi was removed as head of Decca when Roberts decided to demolish the London-based label. he went on to become head of EMI Classics, fell out with its hedge-fund owners and has now returned in a peacemaking role to revivify the Roberts wasteland.
Much will need to be done before Deutsche Grammophon can regain its rightful historic position as pacemaker in the classical music industry, and Pilavachi has a long way to go before he gains the confidence of its devoted German staff.
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