Sony BMG Music Entertainment is creating a new centralized A&R structure for its Sony BMG Masterworks classical music group.

Artist development will now be run through an International Repertoire Center (IRC), overseen by Chris Craker, most recently head of classics for Sony BMG U.K.

Craker, who takes the title of senior VP/GM of the IRC, will have offices in both New York and London, and reports to Sony BMG Commercial Music Group President John Ingrassia.

Under the new system, the IRC will look to sign more acts outside the U.S., and with more of an eye on global distribution than in the past. The system is also designed to assist in worldwide setups for star acts like Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell. The IRC additionally will handle Sony BMG's classical catalog and assist in marketing classical crossover releases.

Up to now, the classical division has handled A&R on the label level, with many of the global signings coming out of the U.S., and international signings often intended for isolated territories.

"Europe is going to benefit a lot from this because we are going to be creating products that are very European-centric," says Craker.

The new approach to A&R comes in the wake of the departure of former Masterworks president Gilbert Heatherwick, who left the company last November as part of a shakeup that saw the elimination of some 30 staffer from the classical ranks.

Sony BMG is looking to an increased global focus for its classical releases to help improve their profitability.

Universal Music Group and EMI have shifted to similar centralized, global-focused structures in recent years as classical sales have shrunk and staffing ranks have been reduced.

"Around the world it's tough on any individual territory basis to be profitable," says a high-ranking industry executive close to the situation.

"It you are in the U.K. and you sign a classical artist with the expectation you are just going to sell records in the U.K. it's very challenging to do that."

Acts will still be able to be signed by the imprints. But a majority of them -- perhaps as much as 70% -- will be signed and/or worked by the IRC, which will then team with the imprints around the world to set-up, market and promote releases.

Violinist Lisa Batiashvili is among the initial artists signed through the

As part of the move Tim Schumacher has been named senior director of marketing, international, and Silke Zimmermann has been named director of promotions, international.

Also, Alex Miller has been named GM of Sony BMG Masterworks in New York.

He was previously senior VP of marketing and sales for the division. Sony BMG Masterworks comprises the U.S.-based imprints RCA Red Seal, Sony Classical, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and Arte Nova, and serves as the home of the Sony BMG Broadway catalog.

Classical sales increased almost 23% in 2006 to more than 19 million units, Nielsen SoundScan reports. The rise comes amid shrinking shelf space dedicated to the format at physical retail. Crossover hits and an increase in commercial downloading were credited with helping boost sales.