Christopher Roberts, Universal Music - President At Universal Music Group
A long-time employee of Universal Music, Christopher Roberts has led a career in the classical and jazz recording industry that spans three decades. His primary mission as president of Universal Music Group International, one of the world's oldest recording companies, was to enhance the relevance of classical music by marketing and presenting the label in a modern way that appealed to contemporary music lovers. As a result, he is credited with the modernization and lasting appeal of classical music. Christopher Roberts also holds distinction as one of the longest senior executives in the history of Universal Music.
During his time with Universal Music, Roberts helped revitalize the company’s jazz label, Verve, into a successful contender in the 1990s. He also enhanced the reputation and success of the Deutsche Grammophon label during the 2000s. Roberts contributed to the companies’ success through the production of highly successful soundtracks and cast albums, including Wicked, Mamma Mia, and Braveheart, and he also contributed to the classical crossovers of Elvis Costello and Sting, as well as the development of Andrea Bocelli, the famous Italian tenor. Roberts furthermore helped lead Universal Music into the digital era, connecting company productions with consumers through iClassics and DG Webshop.
Prior to joining Universal Music, Christopher Roberts earned a B.A. in Music History from Lewis and Clark College. He entered the music industry through a position at a record store in Portland, Oregon, before studying musicology at the graduate level at the University of Illinois. After he joined PolyGram Records, he quickly progressed to president of PolyGram Classics & Jazz, which was later acquired by Universal Music.
2006 Spamalot Grammy a Win for Executive Producer Christopher Roberts
Using knowledge and insights gained over his several decades in the music business, Christopher Roberts guided a number of star-filled recordings to success in his former capacity as head of the Classics and Jazz Division at Universal Music Group. The Broadway cast album for Wicked, which he executive-produced for Universal Music, earned a Grammy Award in 2005 for Best Musical Theater Album. The next year, the Grammy in the same category went to another of Christopher Roberts’ hits as executive producer, the Broadway cast album from Monty Python’s Spamalot.
Original Monty Python comedy troupe member Eric Idle and composer John Du Prez created lyrics and tunes for this musical take on the Pythons’ now-cult classic 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The musical featured a swath of new songs, but also incorporated some of the fans’ cherished favorites from the film, such as “Knights of the Round Table” and “Brave Sir Robin.” The surviving members of the Monty Python troupe, known in the 1960s and 1970s for its typically British, but highly original, blend of broad slapstick with cerebral topical references and outlandish puns, gave their blessing to Idle’s Broadway venture.
Christopher Roberts on Classical Music for a Modern Age
On March 19th, classical music celebrities, Yo Yo Ma and Renee Fleming, performed in the food court of Chicago's Thompson Center, a downtown building that houses many Illinois state offices. A joint effort of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera, only a select group of individuals, including Governor Pat Quinn, knew about this surprise performance. During the short recital, the pair played America the Beautiful, as well as a piece by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
The performance quickly attracted a crowd curious to see the talented cellist and soprano. While some of the onlookers recognized the performers easily, others listened to these masters for the first time. The event was part of CSO and Lyric programs designed to foster greater appreciation for the Arts by encouraging music in community settings.
About the author: 30-year veteran of the music recording industry, Christopher Roberts has worked with numerous artists, including Renee Fleming, Sting, and Andrea Bocelli. As the President of Universal Music Group International, Classics & Jazz, Christopher Roberts has revolutionized the company's approach to branding classical music.
Highest-Selling Digital Singles of All Time
During his time as president of the Classics and Jazz division at Universal Music, Christopher Roberts led a number of initiatives to help modernize the company’s business model. Christopher “Chris” Roberts was particularly instrumental in establishing the iClassics and DG Wenshop services, which allowed customers to make digital Universal Music purchases.
Over the past 10 years, digital music sales have played a major role in the music industry. In 2004, digital music sales accounted for about $400 million, a figure that had jumped to nearly $6 billion by 2013. The vast majority of digital music sales can be attributed to song and album downloads, though subscriptions to online music services and ad-supported streaming platforms contributed nearly $2 billion.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, pop and R&B singer Rihanna currently holds the record for most digital singles sold at 100 million units. Since her third single, “SOS,” in 2005, the Barbadian performer has achieved a string of No. 1 songs, most recently with “The Monster” in 2013. Rihanna is closely followed by Taylor Swift at 93.5 million digital singles sold. Other top digital artists include Katy Perry, Kanye West, and Lady Gaga.
Lewis and Clark Named a Top 10 Greenest College
Christopher Roberts serves as president of the Classics and Jazz division of Universal Music Group. Credited with making Universal Music’s Classics and Jazz labels more contemporary, Christopher Roberts studied at Lewis & Clark College before beginning his career.
Lewis & Clark was named one of America’s “greenest” colleges for the fourth year in a row by Sierra Club’s Sierra magazine. Ranked at number 9, the college is the only one in the state of Oregon to be listed in this year’s top 10. Rankings are based on a variety of factors, including water usage, waste management, transportation, energy supply, and curriculum.
Among the standout sustainability features of Lewis & Clark are its student-run gardens and its world-class environmental studies program, which includes majors in environmental law, environmental studies, and ecopsychology. The Princeton Review also ranked Lewis & Clark number 1 among its Top 50 Green Colleges earlier this year.
On the Bridge - A Hit for Val Gardena
Christopher Roberts is the longtime president of Universal Music Group’s Classics and Jazz division. Outside of his work with Universal Music, Chris Roberts composes and produces his own instrumental music albums. Christopher Roberts released his latest album, Synesthesia, under the group name Val Gardena in 2014.
Like Synesthesia, Roberts’ 1995 release, titled On the Bridge, represented a collaboration with his musical partner, Jeff Leonard. On his website, the musician refers to writing and recording On the Bridge as a “fun and very satisfying experience.” The album was an example of the two musicians hitting their stride together. Their unusual collaborative approach included Roberts sending tapes of piano compositions, sometimes recorded on his answering machine, to Leonard, who would then translate the themes into full songs.
On the Bridge received positive critical reviews. One of the tracks, “Northern Lights,” became a top 10 single, and some of the music succeeded in landing “sync” placements, meaning it was used in advertisements for increased exposure.
Lewis and Clark Produces International Scholars and Volunteers
The long-time president of Universal Music Group’s Classics and Jazz division, Christopher “Chris” Roberts achieved increased sales through modernizing the division’s recording labels. Before launching his career as a music industry executive with Universal Music Group, Christopher Roberts attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where he studied music and German literature.
Lewis & Clark College is known for producing a high number of Fulbright Award recipients, more than any other college or university in Oregon. For the 2015-16 academic year, seven Lewis & Clark students received the prestigious award. Taking part in one of the most prominent international educational exchange programs, Fulbright scholars receive grants to study, teach, and conduct research projects in more than 140 countries.
In addition to a high number of Fulbright award recipients, the college also sees a high number of its students apply to become Peace Corps volunteers. In fact, Lewis & Clark was named among the top 25 small undergraduate colleges that are top producers of volunteers. In 2015, eight alumni were serving as Peace Corps volunteers. In total since the Corps was founded, 381 students and alumni have served with the organization.
The Perennially Beautiful Music of Val Gardena
Christopher Roberts, a 30-year veteran of the music production industry and longtime former president of the Classics and Jazz division of Universal Music Group, is also an acclaimed musician in his own right. Among Chris Roberts’ other creative ventures is the two-man group Val Gardena, which he formed with Jeff Leonard in the early 1990s. Val Gardena celebrated a revival in 2013 with a new collaborative album, Synesthesia, as well as the retrospective collection A Different Place, a Different Time.
Val Gardena’s New Age-inflected jazzy rhythms debuted in 1993 with the Mercury Records album River of Stone. The duo went on to record two additional albums on the label. On the Bridge, released in 1995, went on to chart in the top 10 on a variety of jazz record rankings; its single “Northern Lights” has earned a place on many critics’ lists of the best smooth-jazz tracks.
Val Gardena’s third album, Migration, debuted in 1997 and marked the end of the first phase of the collaboration, as Christopher Roberts went on to focus on his executive position with Universal Music. During his time there, he helped expand the careers of numerous emerging artists who are now household names, and spearheaded several innovative crossover collaborations.
Hilary Hahn - A Classical and Crossover Career
Over the years of his tenure as head of Universal Music Group Classics and Jazz, Christopher Roberts supervised the production of albums showcasing the talents of some of the world’s finest performers. Among the many artists Chris Roberts worked with at Universal Music, he assisted in guiding the career of American-born violinist Hilary Hahn.
Like Christopher Roberts, who initiated well-known popular-classical crossover albums featuring artists such as Sting, Elvis Costello, and Renée Fleming, Hilary Hahn has enthusiastically embraced the potential inherent in genre-defying collaborations. She has toured with folk rock singer-songwriter and guitarist Josh Ritter and indie star Tom Brosseau, and she was a featured musician on the recording of James Newton Howard’s soundtrack for the 2004 M. Night Shyamalan film The Village.
Hahn’s traditional classical repertoire includes Mozart violin sonatas and the violin concertos of Elgar, Sibelius, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, and Schoenberg.
In 1991, the 12-year-old Hahn became the youngest solo performer in the recent memory of concertgoers to appear with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She would go on to win three Grammy Awards, most recently for her album In 27 Pieces, which featured her performances of 26 specially commissioned encores and an additional encore that won a blind-submission competition.
What Is the Gilmore Artist Award?
As the president of Universal Music Group’s Classics and Jazz Division, Christopher Roberts leveraged his undergraduate education in music and German literature at Lewis & Clark College and graduate education in musicology at the University of Illinois to implement forward-thinking changes and keep the division’s labels competitive at a time when the market was shrinking. An experienced pianist, Christopher Roberts also served on the Artistic Advisory Committee for The Gilmore Artist Award from 2010 to 2014.
Every four years, The Gilmore director appoints an anonymous committee who chooses the recipients of The Gilmore Artist Award. The very confidential selection process does not discriminate on the basis of age or nationality. Established in 1989 to pay homage to Irving S. Gilmore, The Gilmore’s mission is to develop and promote world-class keyboard experiences that inspire audiences and artists alike.
Since 1991, seven musicians hailing from Argentina, England, Finland, Poland, and the United States have received the $300,000 award. The most recent winner, Rafal Blechacz, was announced on January 8, 2014.
Burt Bacharach - Classic Compositions and Arrangements of the 1960s
As president of Universal Music Group’s Classics and Jazz Division, Christopher Roberts brought a background as pianist and composer into his management of diverse artists. While with Universal Music, he had the opportunity to work with musicians such as Chris Botti, Hélène Grimaud, and Elina Garanca. Dedicated to original composition, Christopher Roberts has remained active as a recording artist and leads Val Gardena with collaborator Jeff Leonard.
Seminal influences include the work of the Beatles and pianist Artur Rubinstein, and Chris Roberts subsequently learned from the work of artists as diverse as George Gershwin and Jimmy Webb. One of his favorite composers and arrangers is Burt Bacharach, who redefined the sound of pop in the 1960s through projects that included collaborations with lyricist Hal Davis and singer Dionne Warwick. Among the hits he penned were "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose.”
Growing up in New York, Bacharach gained early experience writing songs at the Brill Building and as Marlene Dietrich’s piano accompanist. He achieved his first success in tandem with Hal Davis in the 1957 with the Perry Como song “Magic Moments.” He was subsequently influenced by Jerry Leiber to expand his repertoire to include R&B artists.
A key moment came in 1961, when Bacharach discovered a young Dionne Warwick, who was a backup singer with the Drifters. Their storied collaboration led to 15 singles that hit the Top 40 in the 1960s and a career that spanned decades.
Criteria for the Betsy Russell ’81 Music Composition Scholarship
The former president of the Classics and Jazz division at Universal Music Group, Christopher “Chris” Roberts spearheaded the efforts to create Universal Music’s concert production and artist management divisions. Prior to this, Christopher Roberts earned his bachelor’s degree in music and German literature from Lewis & Clark’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Based in Portland, Oregon, the college offers a number of merit-based scholarship opportunities to students, including the Betsy Russell ’81 Music Composition Scholarship, which was established by the eponymous alumni to provide opportunities to up-and-coming composers. Providing $5,000 to a music major who is focusing primarily on composing, there are three key eligibility criteria for the scholarship.
1. Students are asked to submit a portfolio of works to the college’s music faculty, which will be compared against all other submissions from that year.
2. Applicants must either be incoming or current music major students who are focusing on composition.
3. The recipient is required to consult with faculty on which of his or her compositions would be best suited to professional performances, which includes considering the most suitable venues.
Two Tips for Improving Your Piano Fingering as a Novice
The past president of the Classics and Jazz Division at Universal Music Group, Christopher “Chris” Roberts has worked with a varied list of artists to help them create popular recordings. Also a talented classical pianist, Christopher Roberts now composes and records with his group Val Gardena under his stage name of Christopher James.
Proper fingering is something all classical pianists must learn. Two tips for improvement in this area include:
1. Use your thumb. To prevent running out of fingers during scale passages, cross your thumb underneath the third finger of the hand running through the passage so it is ready for use when needed. This technique is usable for both ascents and descents and helps many novices achieve smooth scale playing.
2. Record your fingering. As you gain familiarity with a piece, record the relevant fingering for each passage on your score. A popular method is to record the numbers one through five on the relevant notes, with one denoting the thumb and five meaning your little finger. As you develop your understanding of musical notation and the various fingering techniques, it is likely that your use of this method will lessen.