Friday, December 21, 2012


Welcome back to the Cyberposhplace for the JDCMB Ginger Stripe Awards 2012!

The doors are wide open, the candles are lit - but protected from all contact with clothing, black lace and otherwise - and there are sparkles absolutely everywhere. Gretel, the Good Fairy of the South West, has been busy with the virtualfairydust and as you walk through the gold and silver portals you may find your brow annointed with glitter.

It's the Winter Solstice and traditionally this is the day we gather for our VirtualAwardsCeremony to celebrate the highs of the musical year. For the sake of decorum, we are drinking cyberprosecco rather than cyberchampers this time, and the virtualcelebritychef is aided and abetted in the kitchen by Gretel, who's brought her famous themed canapes. But nothing (within reason) is off-limits in the cyberposhplace, which is everything you want your best cyberposhplace to be. We enjoyed our little trip to Denmark last year, ahem, but it is good to be back.

As we congregate under the chandelier to toast our musicians, the air fills with warmth, golden light and the scent of orange blosson - and some silk chiffon unfurls to welcome our celebrity guest, Fritz Delius. Yes, Fritz, because he's about 23: handsome, vigorous, sexy, rebellious and filled with lust for life. He is as yet unblighted by the disease that turned him into Song of Summer, and he hasn't got round to changing his name to Frederick. Dear Fritz, neither have you yet written your opera A Village Romeo and Juliet. But I've heard it even if you haven't, and it is one of the most beautiful creations in all of music. It moved me to tears. I can't bear the thought that something so wonderful goes unappreciated in this crazy, negation-of-the-negation world. Thank you, Wexford Opera Festival. Please, someone, can we have the complete Koanga next? Fritz, come on in. Someone get that man a drink!

Now, let’s have a round of applause for every musician who has touched the hearts of his or her audience during the past 12 months.

All right, all right...quiet, please. Would the following winners please approach the podium where Solti, ensconced upon his silken cushion, will let you stroke the ginger stripes and will give you your very own prize purr.

Icon of the year:
It's been a difficult year, full of farewells: many great people have passed from this world to the next, and thence into the realms of legend. But one man will be missed perhaps most of all: the extraordinary composer Elliott Carter, who made it to 103. Most of us had decided he was probably immortal. Now he is. We miss his fearless complexity, his twinkling humour and his great humanity. "The greatest American composer who ever lived," says John Tavener. Thank you for your lifetime of music-making.

Pianist of the year:
Given the quality of the piano performances I've heard in the past 12 months, this should be more difficult than it is. But it's not. Andras Schiff's sublime Beethoven blew everyone else clean out of the water. Dearest Maestro, please accept a dusting of sparkle, heartfelt thanks and plenty of purrs.

Violinist of the year:
Actually it's the violin and piano duo of the year: Bradley Creswick and Margaret Fingerhut. Performing the Hungarian Dances concert-of-the-novel with them at the Buxton Festival was simply glorious. Bradley, leader of the Northern Sinfonia, plays the living daylights out of that Gypsy repertoire.

Singer of the year: Please step forward, Sarah Connolly. Her performances as Oktavian for ENO and as Fricka in Covent Garden's Die Walkure blazed brilliant with ruby-red tone, transformative characterisation and zap-strong psychological insight. Amid already fine casts, her artistry was the central oak and in the Wagner her portrayal of Fricka's anguish made sense of the story of the entire Ring Cycle. Brava and thank you!

Opera company of the year
: Wexford was wonderful, and Salzburg was impressive. Covent Garden has had its moments. But my happiest evenings at the opera this year have been at ENO. A seat-of-the-pants Flying Dutchman, conducted by Ed Gardner. A Rosenkavalier that left us all gibbering wrecks of wonderment, starring Amanda Roocroft, Sarah Connolly, Sophie Bevan and Sir John Tomlinson, conducted by, oh, Ed Gardner. The Death of Klinghoffer, which it was great to see at long last. The Magic Flute, my favourite opera of all. And Vaughan Williams's The Pilgrim's Progress, which was almost as beautiful as that Delius. The list could continue.

Artist of the year: Angela Hewitt, who gets at least three annointings with glitter. First, for her performance of the first part of The Art of Fugue at the RFH, because I don't know how anyone does that at all, let alone making it so beautiful, so fascinating, so riveting. Second, for her inspired and daring recording of the Schumann Piano Concerto, with conductor Hannu Lintu (left). Third, for kindly recommending a naturopath, thanks to whom I am feeling well again after a hellish year. The cyberbanquet tonight is consequently gluten-free.

Youthful artist of the year: Joint winners, both young pianists whose gifts restore my faith in life and music. Benjamin Grosvenor, 20, and Daniil Trifonov, 21: boys whose deep-seated musicianship lights up every piece they touch. It is wonderful to see the art of great pianism alive and well and living in the 21st century. Come and get your glitter and your purrs, lads. We look forward to loving your playing for years and years and years.

Conductor of the year:
Sir Roger Norrington, it is you. Oh yes, it is. Listening to your overwhelmingly gorgeous, funny, adorable, detailed, genius Haydn with the OAE a few months ago, I realise that I remember every one of your concerts that I've ever attended. I've loved or loathed them, I admit - one or the other, every time, with nothing much in between - but either way I've never forgotten any of them. Thank you. Sorry if I've sometimes been a pig about your vibrato thing. Please accept some glitter - after all, it's already shining in your music-making.

Interviewee of the year: Pierre Boulez. What a privilege to meet and interview such an extraordinary man. Boulez not only has an intelligence that slices to the core of any issue with the surety of a neurosurgeon's hand, but he also has the wisdom to see the bigger picture, the heart to smile about it and the ceaseless creativity to keep devising ways to change things. If something is wrong, he says, you can't just sit there and do nothing.

Musical sports personality of the year:
A new category for the year of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Step forward, please, Anthony Hewitt, the Bradley Wiggins of the piano. Tony spent three weeks in the spring cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats as "The Olympianist". Every day he covered 70-90km and gave at least one recital at his destination, raising money for musical and sporting charities for children. Even beyond that project, he's still the only pianist I can think of who prepares for a recital by going on a 100km cycle ride. Here is some well-deserved glitter...

 It's a good year for Hewitts here at the Ginger Stripe Awards, but please note: to the best of our knowledge the two A. Hewitt pianists, Anthony and Angela, are neither related nor married. I'm not sure they've even met. Maybe we need to get a good piano genealogist on to them.

Ballet of the year: A new category, because ballet is at last part and parcel of my professional life. The best new ballet I've seen this year I actually didn't write about at the time, but it is Faster, choreographed by David Bintley for his Birmingham Royal Ballet. It's Olympic-themed, exploring the topic in ways you never dreamed ballet could: a duet for an athlete and a figure representing her injury and her relationship with it, for example; a remarkable pas de trois based on slow motion pole-vaulting; and a finale all about running that plays with time, space, speed and perspective with the bedazzlement of a kaleidoscope. A magnificent company piece showing off extraordinary corps de ballet work and apparently endless stamina, it's set to a terrific post-minimalist score by Matthew Hindson. And if you think synchronised swimming can't be put into a ballet, think again. Fabulous.

Stuffed Turkey: That Meyerbeer at the ROH. Fascinating to write about; excruciating thereafter.

Lifetime Achievement Award: This goes en masse to our composers. I've been fortunate to encounter some wonderful ones this year. Pierre Boulez, of course, but also the much-loved John Adams; and Judith Weir and Errollyn Wallen, whose respective operas, performed last winter at Covent Garden, absolutely did not deserve the panning they got from much of the press. Then Roxanna Panufnik's colourful and atmospheric violin concerto Four World Seasons for Tasmin Little and the London Mozart Players received a wonderful premiere in March and Roxanna's new CD Love Abide is out at any moment. And Michel van der Aa has won the Grawemeyer Award.

Anybody who writes good new music in the classical vein in these ridiculous times deserves much more than a Lifetime Achievement Award - because it has to be new music that makes the entire art form alive and vibrant and necessary. Keep on keeping on, then. It's the only way.

Take a bow, everybody...Thank you. Thank you for your moving, uplifting, inspiring, life-enhancing music-making. You’re wonderful. We love you.

And a few personal highlights...

Proudest moment:
The performances of my play A Walk through the End of Time at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, starring Harriet Walter and Henry Goodman, formed a day that I will remember with joy, love and a certain incredulity for the rest of my life. Thank you, International Wimbledon Music Festival!

Weirdest moment:
"Getting" modernism. I've undergone a revolution in musical taste this year - perhaps the result of other upheavals in life that can't leave you unchanged. Listening to Barenboim conducting Boulez at the Proms and thinking "this is totally bloody incredible". Attending two works by Bernd Alois Zimmermann, including Die Soldaten at Salzburg, which left me speechless. Discovering that I am really looking forward to hearing some Birtwistle in the new year when Covent Garden revives The Minotaur. We embrace and applaud their courage, their energy, their lack of compromise.

Quote of the year:
At a wedding the other week I was amazed to meet the man who utters my favourite line in all cinema. But I was embarrassed because initially, though I knew I knew him, it took me a moment to place him. "Don't worry about it," said his wife. "It was a long time ago, and he was wearing a dress."

(He is, of course, Terry Jones, and the line is: "He's not the Messiah! He's a very naughty boy!")

Biggest sigh of relief:
Return of the OH from six months abroad, following the most hideous episode I've ever encountered during a quarter century in the already ugly music business. Shame on all the people who perpetrated it, stirred it, exploited it and got away with it. No cyberprosecco for them!

Special Guest Award: Dedicated to Gretel, the Good Fairy of the South West, and her magic circle of courageous spirits, bohemian freethinkers and passionate, great-hearted music-lovers - for rallying round, keeping me sane and bringing the fairydust.

Feline of the year:
Solti has no competition. He's been as much of a brick this year as any cat can be. Some special fish for you, Soltikitty, once you've finished your presentations today.

Wonderful Webmaster of the Year: The award always goes to Horst Kolo, who designs and maintains with a patience that few others could muster, now or ever.

Thank you, everyone. And now, to entertain us, taking us back in time, here is....CYBERABBA! Think about it: we should be so lucky as to have music, love and laughter in our lives, the company of friends, the good fortune to share our passions with joy. Let's live a little. Let's celebrate. Let's dance.