Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Feasts, joy and optimism at the BBC Music Magazine Awards

A seriously impressive line-up of award-winners raised eyebrows and spirits alike yesterday at Kings Place when Oliver Condy and James Naughtie presented the BBC Music Magazine Awards 2013.

The Instrumental prize went to the fabulous and brave pianist Janina Fialkowska. (I was thrilled to be "sat" next to her at lunch - she is on the right.) Imogen Cooper was there to present her prize and it was deeply touching to see these two distinguished artists, who have been friends ever since their student days in Paris, take the stage together at such a celebration.

Janina's winning CD is of Chopin and she treated us to two waltzes that were fine testimony to her feel for natural expressiveness, delicate rubato and radiant tone. Knowing the story of her cancer survival adds a twist of poignancy (see my recent article about her in Classical Music Magazine), but her artistry transcends her personal history. Clear of the disease now for six years, she has started to plan long-term at last and the prize is worthy recognition for her, not a moment too soon.

Heart-warming, too, to find the occasion - quite unlike last year's Gramophone Awards - celebrating the achievements of women musicians extremely strongly. Composer Kaija Saariaho won the Premiere prize for a CD of her music and made a gracious acceptance speech. Star mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager was present to collect the Singer award for her CD of Liszt Lieder on Hyperion, and treated us to a gorgeous performance of Schumann's Widmung, accompanied by Roger Vignoles. And the young Malaysian pianist Mei Yi Foo scooped an audience prize for her album of contemporary piano pieces, Musical Toys: she proved herself a terrific player, assured, intelligent and glitter-fingered. Her career, we heard, has been on the up since she was spotted by the composer Unsuk Chin, who noted that she'd had three awful reviews of the type that meant she was probably a really interesting musician. "I don't only thrive on bad reviews," she added, accepting her prize. "I like good ones too..." I am sure she will win many more.

It was a good day, too, for Sir Simon Rattle - who wasn't there in person, but landed the prizes with his Berlin Phil both for the Orchestral category (the musicologically completed Bruckner 9) and the DVD (the Bach St Matthew Passion in a "ritualisation" by Peter Sellers). The principal cello of the Berliner Philharmoniker collected the award and made one of the day's most valuable points. The BBC has a classical music magazine? And it presents annual awards to celebrate the art form? Wow! In Germany - a country that we usually assume values classical music more highly than our own does - an equivalent situation is something of which he can only dream, he said. Do we know how lucky we are? (We do now.)

Last but by no means least, Sir Mark Elder scooped Record of the Year for his CD with the Halle of Elgar's The Apostles and was there to talk about its creation in inspiring tones, together with the baritone Jacques Imbrailo, who sings the role of Christ.

All in all, it was an enlightened selection, populated by genuine, passionate music-lovers and some of the finest performers on earth. A time for optimism, blessing-counting and great hope.

The full list of award-winners can be found here.