Thursday, May 06, 2004

Winners and losers?

To the Dorchester last night for the Royal Philharmonic Awards. Each year the ceremony is held there, along with a rather fine black tie dinner. The glitterati of the London musical world mostly show up, even if the musicians who win the prizes are generally busy giving concerts somewhere else. It's always fun to bump into your ex-bosses, meet people you've known by sight or repute for years, and some who you haven't, and discover that you're wearing the same dress (if in a different colour) as the 'acting editor' of BBC Music Magazine.

The line-up of prizewinners this year was relatively inspiring. Among them, the late Susan Chilcott won the singer's award - she died about six months ago of breast cancer, only in her early 40s, leaving behind a small son and some stunning recordings. Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra took the large ensemble prize, and so it should have; an Israeli pianist and Palestinian violinist stood side by side on the platform to accept the award and got a tremendous ovation. Lump in throat time.

I'm on the chamber music panel. Our winner, the Belcea Quartet, was taking the prize for the second time, but it's well-deserved: they're an extraordinary young group, each one sensitive and intelligent yet together somehow greater than four individuals. I'm not sure what happened to our citation, however. The speeches may have been truncated for the benefit of Radio 3 (the awards will be broadcast tonight), but on reflection it would have been nice to point out that the Belceas got the prize not only because they do education work and commission new music. They won also because they are bloody marvellous musicians who inspire everyone who hears them.

There's political correctness and political correctness, of course. This was a mild case. But the thing that really got up my nose was something that the excellent LSO Animateur said, accepting his Honorary Membership of the RPS. Apparently it's a wonderful thing that the LSO has put its finances into appalling shape by building St Luke's, its new educational/rehearsal centre in the City.

I don't think that's a wonderful thing at all: I think it's shameful that a great orchestra is forced to spend its money in this way. Such facilities should be the right of every orchestra - and the government should be paying. In fact, the government should be providing proper, consistent, across-the-board musical education in schools in the first place - instead of forcing musical organisations to put their energies (and money they can't afford) into work that can only reach a few kids for a limited time. The much-vaunted education and outreach trend is little more than an apology for the lack of good musical education in this country. It's trying to fill a round hole with a square plug; even if it inspires the few it reaches, for a short time, it can't do the job that's really needed.

I shall get on the subject of English Amateurism, Lousy Music Courses and the rest of it - not to mention cowboy building contractors - another time. But while we're on awards, I should report that little Benjamin didn't win Young Musician of the Year the other day. The prize went to a gorgeous 16-year-old violinist, Nicola Benedetti, who played Szymanowski exceeedingly beautifully, performs like a seasoned professional and is absolutely ready for a career. General consensus seems to be that they made the right choice. Benjamin got the necessary exposure but won't be subjected to undue pressures of prizewinning too early. Who knows, perhaps he'll come back and win the next one.