Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time...there was a music journalist who loved beautiful voices. She thought there was something miraculous to the way a great singing voice can exist quite by accident in any part of the world, given the appropriate training and development. So when she found that one especially great tenor voice was shortlisted for a major prize, she thought she must really go to the awards dinner, just in case he won, turned up and sang. But she held out little hope, because he was, after all, a very busy person and was currently on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

But - imagine her amazement! Another fine tenor suddenly developed a frog in his throat at an opera house nearby, and his understudy was off on a golfing holiday. Someone had to be found who knew that major role, and quickly. It so happened that the great tenor had booked some rest time before a Very Big Show, but he was technically free and beside his Very Big Show the role in London was a stuck der kuche. So he hopped on a plane, and when the awards dinner team realised he was on his way they rushed a fast car over to the airport to kidnap him and bring him to the RealLifePoshPlace for the awards dinner. 

At the dinner the journalist found herself seated [note: SEATED. not: SAT] next to him. He accepted his award with gratitude. They talked all evening, he taught her some vital words in his language and then he invited her for a glass of champagne in his dressing room after the show the next night. And said 'Do bring your husband'...

NO - NO - NO - that's just a fairy-story. Except for the grammar lesson. But last night we all had a cracking good time at the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards at the VeryPoshRealPlace aka The Dorchester. The industry donned its glad rags and gave prizes to some truly wonderful musicians who deserved every inch of them and more. And I'd like to thank whoever the kind person was who decided to put me on Ivan Fischer's table entirely surrounded by Hungarians and next to my good friend from the Hungarian Cultural Centre.

Imogen Cooper presented the prizes, with Katie Dereham and Andrew MacGregor doing the announcements. And playwright Mark Ravenhill, whose translation of L'incoronazione di Poppea is currently on at the King's Head, made a superb speech. In days gone by, the RPS dinner speech was often Whingeville Incorporated, a chance for a leading figure to lambast the government/the BBC/the radio stations/the world for not being all it/they should be. No longer. Mark compared the current approach of arts organisations to 'a luxury airline lounge with an access policy' and pointed out the anomalies of this. 'Let's get out of the airline lounge - and fly!' Now we just have to work out how.

It was also a particularly good night for composers, with honorary membership of the RPS presented to George Benjamin and more honours for Lachenmann, Dillon and Ferneyhough.

You can read the full shortlists and more about the winners on the RPS site, here. Meanwhile...

Here are the prizes.

Conductor: As you'll have guessed, Ivan Fischer. Who is marvellous, magical and glorious. I can't wait to hear the Budapest Festival Orchestra Prom (2 Sept) where he'll be conducting Liszt, Mahler and a bunch of surprises to be chosen at the last moment by the audience itself.

Chamber music and song (this was the jury I was privileged to be on): the Takacs Quartet for their Beethoven cycle in 2009-10. Unfortunately they couldn't join us as they are currently touring down under, but they sent a lovely video message.

Audience Development: ENO for Access all Arias - free membership for students and under-30s, plus Punchdrunk in the warehouse.

Chamber-scale Composition: Brian Ferneyhough for his String Quartet no.6.

Concert Series and Festivals: Southbank Centre for the Helmut Lachenmann weekend.

Education: Sing Up. We were treated to a performance by the children of St Mary's Primary School who sang very, very well and did all the choreography too. Sing Up may not be star-ridden, but it's probably the most important award of the evening because this fabulous initiative has introduced quality singing to millions of children in English primary schools for the first time and has become the envy of Europe and beyond. If the government does not continue to fund it after 2012 then they'd be even stupider than they currently look and would deserve to be [insert execution method of choice].

Ensemble: Aurora Orchestra, who have achieved wonders, joyous music making and a real niche in just five years. Very nice to meet their conductor Nicholas Collon and to see Olly Coates, the excellent young cellist whom I interviewed a few months ago. These bright, articulate, fired-up young men and their generation are the people who are going to bring new ideas and new thinking to the music world in the next couple of decades - watch them!

Creative Communication: BBC4's Opera Italia series, presented to Tony Pappano in person. Is Tony the most human and approachable and communicative conductor Covent Garden has ever had, perhaps?

Singer: Susan Bickley. What an ovation she got, too. 'A consummate artist' said the citation, and we couldn't agree more!

Young Artist: Alina Ibragimova. At 25, she's a shooting star, busily fulfilling the promise that her Sibelius concerto showed when she was 16 - my jaw hit the floor listening to her then. More power to her elbows.

Large-Scale Composition: James Dillon for Nine Rivers, 'for its sheer ambition and the consistency of creative thought sustaining it'. The extract that was played was completely mesmerising and I am itching to hear the rest of it. This man has a phenomenal sonic imagination and my resolution for the evening was to explore much more of his music.

Opera and Music Theatre: The ROH for Tannhauser. Which I flipping well missed. Hopefully they'll do a revival.

Instrumentalist. Leon Fleisher. Hooray! Not just a great pianist with an extraordinary journey through incapacity and back again, but a humane, deep-thinking, fabulous musician from the heart of what it's all about. Wish he could have been there in person.

Egézségedre! And there will be an awards broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday

John Gilhooly, Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Society commented:
“The Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards are able to respond to the zeitgeist, but prefer to set the agenda.  They reward serious, imaginative projects which broaden the understanding and enjoyment of music and trumpet the outstanding brilliance of distinguished musicians, composers and young artists at the very top of their game.  There is much to be said for intellectual rigour in a time when serious ideas can often struggle to get a hearing.  The RPS is committed to creating a vibrant future for classical music through a careful, rigorous and artistically bold approach – something which is mirrored in the work of all tonight’s winners.”

Roger Wright, Controller, BBC Radio 3 and Director, BBC Proms commented:
“This set of awards is a celebration of the classical music world, not least the value of live music and new work. I am delighted by the recognition given to James Dillon, a composer who has long been supported by both Radio 3 and the Proms. Live music is at the heart of Radio 3 and our recent announcement of the groundbreaking schedule of live music every week night on Radio 3 is just one example of our shared values with the Royal Philharmonic Society and our desire to share live performances with millions of our listener.”

Please join the Royal Philharmonic Society - you can do so HERE.

Last but not least, here's Ivan again, with the BFO, doing a Hungarian Dance in, er, Chinese.