Afterwords alphabetically: 2013

2013 can easily be broken down into the good and bad - or the great and the dismal - its always a personal viewpoint.  Here's my year in alphabet form:

A - the Royal Albert Hall's new automatic booking system has a "waiting room" which takes the pain out of Proms ticket purchases.  I moved serenely from 7000th in the queue to confirmation of purchase in in 25 mins or so.  I secured a weekly ticket which included five Wagner operas and what turned out to be one of the most stunning concerts I'd ever attended for £32.  The Gallery - christened the "Proms Chapel" by Sara Mohr-Pietsch - became a place where I met friends during a long hot summer of delights.  The BBC Proms are a marvel, but they would be much less marvellous were they not in this curious, huge, intimate venue.

B - Barenboim a fine musician, peacemaker and humanitarian (I knew this) but it seems he's also a magician, superhero and showman. He pulled off the impossible - a Ring cycle in a week, in a hall where a capacity audience of 5500 where held in silent suspension, on the hottest days of the year, with wonderful singers and a fantastic orchestra.  All my previous doubts about his conducting disappeared as this master of long term drama turned chronos into kairos.

C - Clara Mouriz, mezzo-soprano: electric in Falla and Turina in Manchester and London live this year. Awesome in intimate songs (check out Youtube) and bold enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall with a golden voice

D - Dudamel continues to perplex - a storming Firebird on CD from LA, a dreadful "live" Strauss disc from Berlin, a mechanical (all the notes, so little passion) Mahler 9 and a puzzling Mahler 7 with the Philharmonia.

E - Esa Pekka Salonen - for a timely and extraordinary Dutilleux on CD, a stark, ferocious live streamed Elektra at Aix, Etvos Violin Concerto at the Proms and just for being the model of the conductor/composer. And he is on Twitter in a way more artists should be on Twitter.

F - Morton Feldman's Coptic Light - Volkov gave it at the Proms. Heard it once then again and again.  What an experience!

G - La Belle Helen Grimaud - gave us her latest thoughts on the Brahms concerti in live performances.  She has the heart of a lion in this music and the technique to match - so much passion.  Her readings hold their own with Gilels - enough said.

H - Ruby Hughes, soprano, colossal in Goreki 3 with Vanska, but much else besides as a Radio 3 New Generation Artist.  A fine musical sensibility, superb dramatic presentation and melting voice.

I -Ill-informed audiences at the Proms and elsewhere - the box holders who think that chatter and bottle clanking is OK, the giddy fish who don't switch their phones off,  the technicians in the gallery who let doors creak, those who clap too often and too soon, the man in Manchester who gave a running account of the beauty of Capucon's playing to his companion.  Many don't know how to behave and when told change their ways - so concert halls why not INFORM people about expected behaviour in concerts?

J - Jennifer Johnston, a great new mezzo who premiered the Payne orchestrated RVW Four Last Songs with Vanska at the Proms and made a new cycle for British concert halls and left an indelible impression of a singer ready to do great service to great music.

K - Thomas Keller, tubist with the Berlin Staatskapelle, transformative in Walkure, led the orchestra in Siegfried at the Proms and about the only decent thing Abbado's Lucerne Bruckner 9

L - Lord Britten - performances of his pieces littered the Proms and Radio 3 throughout the year.  Many entranced me but none bowled me over as much as the last String Quartet.  I came across that last chamber work in Paul Kildea's documentary about the end of the composer's life - what a brilliant piece of television that was.

M - Juanjo Mena - still the conductor I most enjoy going to see - he's at last being recognised as a major force in British music especially following his marrying of live dance and orchestral music at a Prom of MacCabe, Beethoven, Falla and Ravel.  I've also sought to hear him live in Manchester, there I've had the pleasure of hearing a majestic Schubert 9, a lustrous programme of Falla and Turina, and; a ferocious Rite of Spring which had students from the RCM fleeing the hall. The quality of his musical sensibilities was nowhere better demonstrated than at Prom 6 where he sat on the edge of podium, facing away from the audience, transfixed with a beaming smile and closed eyes as he listened to a breathtaking encore of Lizst by ...

N - "Nobu" - Nobuyuki Tsujii - Nobu built a relationship with the BBC Philharmonic as they have toured in Japan (a story in itself) by which was carried to the Proms this year - a sell out concert featuring his winning interpretation of Rachmaninov Second concerto.  He is a fine player and much loved and admired musician. His encore delivered spectacular evidence that he is a pianist of power and grace but simple style and modest presence.

O - Ollie Knussen - our pre-eminent composer/conductor.  I was transfixed by his ever darkening reading of the Henze Barcarola and his opening up of the delights in Tippett's Second Symphony in the same prom.  The BBC Radio 3 Total immersion concerts of Knussen's works was a great landmark, more so for Sara Mohr-Pietsch's compelling interview with a man who's words, like his pieces, are gold.

P - BBC Philharmonic - as far as I can hear - they're the best band in the land: there is no finer brass section, the woodwind are characterful and expert, the strings are fiery and full of subtly by turns. No orchestra matches their power and such flexibility they excel in any repertoire.  Taking them to Vienna, HK Gruber called them his "Manchester Rolls Royce" and he knows a thing or two about orchestras.

Q - Questions: why are there so few sensible questions asked of performers on Radio 3?  Indeed why is there little searching and challenging discussion of all aspects of classical music on Radio 3.  Broadcast musical analysis is seldom based on the choices open to the listener more often on the preferences of the presenter and virtually always from a musician's perspective - Building a Library has become laughable as a result.  Those interviewers who do get their hands on a live musician are either too keen to show off their intellect (one in particular is so clever he can hardly get his words out at all) or, too often, resort to simpering, awe-struck nonsense.  It is a station which loses value because it is perpetually grateful servant, too often focusing on the act of creation and not the reaction of the listener and so seldom satisfying the enquiring mind. It exists in the deferential world of the 1930s when it needs pundits, opinions, arguments and a demanding audience.

R - Francois Xavier Roth - a star in the next generation of conductors.  He works miracles of clarity, balance and drama with his band Les Siecles.  I first realised Roth's potential in a relay of a Prom this year, he crafted an authentic Rite of Spring which had me shuddering with anticipation, but this was preceded by a vivid and glamorous collection of French ballet (ancient and modern'ish). So I sought out more - a CD of Dukas which is mouth-watering and one of authentic Debussy which has a premiere of note both confirmed he's my type of conductor.  Since then I've experienced more CD's of French music, a sublime L'Enfance du Christ with the LSO on Radio 3 in December and a double CD of short works by young English composers on LSO Live which is admirably forward looking - he's a man in demand. But his most surprising unknowing gift to me: the finest Heldenleben on disc since you know who...a firm favourite and a man to watch.

S - Nina Stimme - the finest Wagner voice I will ever hear: the frisson from her voice and her acting was an experience of a lifetime.  Many said she is at her peak as Brunnhilde now - I'm so glad I heard it.  Now I know what a great Wagnerian sounds like and sadly how rarely these voices come along.

T - Robin Tritschler, tenor, who's rendering of The Curlew by Warlock at a Chamber Music Prom melted my heart - haunting and exquisite without affectation.  A true servant of the music.

U - Where were yoU? where were my friends in all this? Audiences everywhere seem to be getting smaller and the age profile shifting upwards, concerts are not cheap except for Proms (where the Promenade ticket offers great value and usually better behaved neighbours).  One friend struggled to find the right words for his encounter with the Rite of Spring - I suspect he hated it.  Another friend remarked that the dance prom was the most remarkable music making she'd ever encountered.  But we must all try to do more to support musicians: the rewards of this music are too great for us to lose them.

V - Osmo Vanska did the only thing he could do, resigned his position at the moribund Minnesota Orchestra.  At the Proms he excelled - I hope we see more of him in Europe now.

W - Wagner of which I heard a lot thanks to Radio 3 and the BBC Proms (my first live Ring cycle). Began to realise what Wagner is really capable of playing with your head. I can't say I respect him more, still less understand it - but I do love it!

X -Great Britain's musical eXcellence continues to amaze me - Oramo and Knussen at the BBCSO, Mena, Storgards and Gruber in Manchester with BBC Philharmonic, Roth with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Collon with the Aurora Orchestra, Elder and the Halle were excellent in Parsifal at the Proms - all world beaters.  The dismal LPO and exclusive LSO pain me, the Philharmonia are the best of that bunch.  The Liverpool and Bournemouth orchestras play so well - but their conductors are not keeping their feet on English soil for long enough.  In Scotland I'm even warming to Runnicles but astonished by Pintscher and Manze, the latter's RVW cycle is revelatory and one wonders why it hasn't been snapped up by a recording company. Soloists listed above and too many to mention grace the world's stages and bring so many happy hours to Radio 3 - AND yet this music is a minority interest and will lose Government funding and so dwell in the popular classics and cross-over hall-fillers.  This is a sadness.

Y - WhY can't the BBC sort out the Radio 3 website?  It takes me so too many clicks to find out who's playing what on Afternoon on 3 and it remembers NOTHING about my viewing preferences.

Z - Zappa at the Proms - at last.  Bravo to Aurora Orchestra and Nicholas Collon


Great choices, especially for the "M" and "N" :-) :-)
Happy New Year!

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