Decca Classics: Is Launching a Classical Label in 2011 Bold or Foolhardy?
Decca Classics: Is Launching a Classical Label in 2011 Bold or Foolhardy?

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Pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim in Seville, Spain in 2009 (Photo: Manuel Vaca)

It might seem foolhardy to launch a core classical label in the middle of a worldwide record sales slump, but then Decca is noted for its innovations.

The distinguished label -- whose catalogue includes luminaries such as Luciano Pavarotti and Sir Georg Solti -- recently re-launched as Decca Classics with a promise to focus on core classical repertoire in a time when other classical labels and venues are resorting to crossover tactics to boost sales.

How will it do it? Simple, says Dickon Stainer, president of the Decca Records Group, by playing the long game: "Building a career like Pavarotti's takes decades. That long-term planning can't exist within the mentality of needing a hit in six months." He adds, "some of the major companies haven't done this as well as they could have done. We're not decrying the attraction of crossover but we need to pay attention to the classical music which is filling concert halls the world over."

Decca is capitalizing -- and expanding -- on classical music's live popularity, which is key to the label's success and the future of core classical music commercially.

That will be done, says Stainer, by focusing on how the classical world builds a digital imprint: "It is very important when it comes to new audiences that we think how to better improve digital marketing. How can we get higher quality downloads? The classical industry can learn from digital innovation in the pop world, and the speed with which artists are being broken in pop needs to be mirrored, at least."

Committed to signing, "some of the best young talent in the world," the label -- one of Universal Music Group's flagship labels -- will be headed by managing director Paul Moseley, based in London's Kensington and marketed internationally by a team led by Lut Behiels of Deutsche Grammophon.

Alongside legendary Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, new signings include 20-year-old Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov, winner of the 2009 London International Piano Competition and who performed at the label's London relaunch. Abduraimov's Decca debut will be released in 2012 and will include works by Liszt, Saint-Saëns and Prokofiev.

Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak has signed an exclusive deal for four albums, one currently in recording. She says she is excited by the new direction of the label and hopes it will help her develop creatively. Whilst her first album will be a mixture of different arias, she hopes her second will concentrate on one artist, "possibly Rossini or Mozart". Kurzak believes there is definitely a market for core classical: "I have been performing in operas attended by 3,500 people," she says, "They are always sold out and audiences always ask whether I have a CD at the end."

Kurzak's first album, which will be released in late Summer 2011, will be a showcase of contrasting lyric and coloratura arias, recorded with the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana and focusing on roles she has sung on stage or is about to sing on stage, including Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro and bel canto roles from Rossini's "Barber Of Seville". The disc also features the main soprano aria from "Straszny Dwór" (The Haunted Manor) by Polish composer Moniuszko.

As well as launching new talent and consolidating older artists, the change will also refocus the label's brand, says Stainer: "The red and blue livery of Decca Classics is very important to us. For a long time Decca Classical was not a full part of the UK arm of Universal Music and has been floating around. Integrating it back into the UK is vital to its future."