Saturday, December 21, 2013


The doors to our cyberposhplace are wide open, though the entrance hall is currently full of abandoned umbrellas. Please come in out of the rain for the 2013 JDCMB Ginger Stripe Awards: the annual Winter Solstice event at which we traditionally have a virtualkneesup to celebrate the glorious music-making that's taken place in the past year. We present our very own cyberawards, aided and abetted by Solti of the Ginger Stripes, with no prejudice or proviso other than that each comes straight from the heart.

The entire banquet is gluten-free and you can have the finest virtual mulled wine, vintage cyberchampers or the world's yummiest hot chocolate beamed in from Denmark (see 2011) - or all three, since they are, of course, devoid of calories. I hope you've donned your best cyberbling to jolly proceedings along. It may be wet and windy out there, but inside we have the joy of friendship, the scent of virtualcinnamon and unlimited quantities of seasonal good cheer. When you've hung up your coat, please pop over to Gretel, the Good Witch of the South West, who will annoint you with virtualfairydust and offer you a synaesthesia biscuit.

Now, will you welcome, please, our guests of honour. This is a controversial invitation and already I can hear mutterings at the back, but they're here anyway: Richard and Cosima Wagner have come from CyberBayreuth to join the party. It's not that we forgive you - either of you - for what you wrote, or said, or did. But this is a time for reconciliation. Richard, your music has not precisely changed my life, but it has certainly changed my know what I mean, don't you? Of course you do. Your Parsifal has been the greatest thing that happened to me this year: more than an opera, more than a music drama, more even than gesamtkunstwerk, it's a form of spiritual awakening. Even for an atheist. Thank you for your music, Richard, and, er, thanks to both of you for agreeing to star in my play. 

Who's that? Oh...dearie dear...Giuseppe and Benjy are in the corner, doing the muttering. I knew somebody was. Come on over, chaps, and let's celebrate you all together. What an anniversary year this has been... Let's hear it one last time for VERDI and BRITTEN! And a round of applause for every musician who has touched the hearts of his or her audience during the past 12 months.

Now, now, quiet please... Would the following winners kindly approach the platform, where Solti, ensconced upon his silken cushion, will let you stroke the ginger stripes and will give you your special prize purr.

Icon of the Year: Sir Colin Davis, whom I only met a couple of times, but miss, now that he has left us, as if he were a member of my family. He was the first conductor I ever saw, as a child, and among many joys over the years I particularly cherish what he did with the Elgar Violin Concerto, accompanying Nikolaj Znaider, in 2010. Early in 2012 he gave me one of the most outspoken interviews I've ever had the pleasure of writing up. Thank you, Sir Colin, for everything you did for our sacred art.

Pianist of the Year: A special award, this time, for my concert partner Viv McLean, who has been doing such a glorious job of the Alicia's Gift performances that we can't possibly give the prize to anyone else. Viv, you are exceptional: your energy is something oddly transcendent. Like our Alicia, "you know what it is to be in a state of grace, even if you don't realise that you do..." I sit beside your piano every time and I can see, hear and feel this, clear as Chopin. It's a privilege to share a stage with you. Thank you for an extraordinary autumn tour - and looking forward to more next year!

Violinist of the Year: Please step forward, Barnabas Kelemen. You just won a Gramophone Award [left], but there's no law against you winning the Ginger Stripes too. Your Bartok Sonatas recording with Zoltan Kocsis is an absolute scorcher and when you and your wife Katalin Kokas played the duos at those awards, everyone knew that you could reach a rare, remarkable level of insight and communication. Now that you've been signed up by Hazard Chase we look forward to hearing you many, many, many more times in the near future. Gratulalok!

Singers of the Year: Naturally, the first is Jonas Kaufmann. Parsifal from the Met; Don Carlo twice, once in London, once in Munich; a glorious evening at the Royal Festival Hall; and that Wagner CD with the most delectable Wesendonck Lieder you could hope to hear. It's not only Solti who purrs when his voice fills the air. And please welcome the simply divine Joyce DiDonato, whose glorious technique, effortless tone, unbelievable virtuosity and bolts-of-lightning charisma have been blazing through London in the form of La Donna del Lago at Covent Garden and at the Last Night of the Proms (btw, dear Joyce, please can I snaffle that Vivienne Westwood frock when you've finished with it?)

Conductor of the Year: Marin Alsop, of course. Marin, you are not the first woman conductor in the world, nor the only one - see my startlingly  famous list - but you have managed to make that crucial step to near-universal recognition, becoming symbol, role-model and triumphant trailblazer. But it wasn't only great to see you conduct the Last Night of the Proms; more to the point, you did such a glorious job with the Bernstein Chichester Psalms that some of us were moved to tears. Thank you for all that you mean to us, and brava bravissima!

Series of the Year: Please welcome, from the Southbank Centre, artistic director Jude Kelly and head of classical music Gillian Moore. This was the year of The Rest is Noise - the most exciting year I can ever remember experiencing at a venue to which I've been going on average at least once a week for a quarter of a century. Restoring the idea of narrative and context to enhance understanding of modern/contemporary music, the series went right through the 20th and 21st-to-date centuries, bringing together speakers, films, participatory events, concerts, listening guidance sessions and much more through 13 themed weekends that packed newcomers into the halls. The website holds a remarkable archive of the talks for all to hear.

At John Adams's bright-blazing El Nino the other night, which concluded the festival, it was revealed that the LPO audience figures never went below 1800 for any of the TRIN concerts, even the most challenging - and even though Jude remarked that they'd been warned there were only 700 people in any major city who would go to contemporary music. The vision and trailblazing confidence that Jude and Gillian have brought to The Rest is Noise has categorically disproved that. I believe concert life will never be quite the same again. Thank you, Jude and Gillian! More, please!!

Youthful Artist of the Year: From the nearer reaches of north-west London, here is the adorable violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, whose first two recordings, respectively on the Champs Hill and Signum, labels show a developing performer of innate musicality and inspiration, as well as an excellent communicator of the joy of music-making. Looking forward to hearing you heaps more in the years ahead.

Artist of the Year: Dear maestro, Andras Schiff, it is your 60th birthday today. I can't quite believe this. I still think of you as 28... It has been a remarkable privilege to watch and listen as your musicianship has grown and grown and kept growing with the decades; and to interview you about so many fascinating topics, musical and otherwise (a little memento, left, of our latest, at the Beethovenfest in Bonn). And you're as irrepressible as ever. I know you have to leave our cyberposhplace pdq because tonight you're playing the Goldberg Variations in the first half of your big birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall and the Diabelli Variations in the second half. Your purr will therefore be delivered to the Wigmore's stage door.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Please step forward, Roger Wright, head of the BBC Proms and Radio 3, for bringing us the best Ring cycle in the world, and the most egalitarian, for £5 a pop(era) - and all that other Wagner too. (And for programming the Korngold Symphony!) The BBC gets a lot of stick these days - some justified, some not - and in this day and age I think we need to be reminded sometimes of how bloody lucky we are to have such a thing as the Proms at all.

Colleagues of the Year: Hooray for David Le Page, Bradley Creswick, Margaret Fingerhut and Anthony Hewitt, who have been my much-loved, ever-inspiring, on-stage partners for the Hungarian Dances concerts this year - alongside Viv McLean, of course, who's already got the piano prize. And thank you a thousand times to the entire Seven Star Productions crew: "Five stars is not enough"... The amazing Yvonne Evans and her team, complete with those yummy "synaesthesia biscuits", themed canapes and copious marshmallows! Cheers, applause, hugs and fairy dust to you all.

Interviewee of the Year: There is only one Angela Gheorghiu. Blimey, guv.

Opera of the Year: Daniel Barenboim's utterly incredible Wagner Ring cycle at the Proms. It is being rebroadcast on R3 over Christmas, btw, and therefore should, I think, be available to listen to on the iPlayer for 7 days thereafter.

Ballet of the Year: Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in Giselle with the Mikhailovsky Ballet back in March. They were utterly aflame: probably the greatest dancers I've ever had the good fortune to see. Spassiba balshoy, both!

Stuffed Turkey: Die Fledermaus at ENO. Dearie, dearie, dear.

And a few personal highlights:

Proudest moment: Premiere of my play Sins of the Fathers at the Orange Tree Theatre under the auspices of the International Wimbledon Music Festival, on 24 November. I never thought I'd write a fantastical comedy about Wagner, but there we are, it happened and it seemed to go over OK.

Weirdest moment: Quite a few contenders for this, provided by...well, three or four very different people, some of whom play the piano, some of whom sing and some of whom don't. Let's leave it there.

Quote of the Year: "What you went through with us is something which I never dreamt of and I never thought it would be possible..." - Daniel Barenboim thanks the Promenaders at the end of the Ring Cycle. (His whole speech is here.)

Biggest Sigh of Relief: Probably the one upon completing my Chopin Ballades survey for Radio 3's Building a Library a few weeks back - comparing 35 different recordings ranging across 83 years. You can download the podcast here. (Scroll to 30 November.)

Wonderful Webmaster of the Year: Step up, please, Horst Kolo, as always. Thank you for putting up with me and thank you for keeping running and updated! Glad to see that you are now making a website for a very special violinist friend, too. (Watch this space.)

Feline of the Year: Bravo, Solti. Keep up the good work - you're the best cat on earth. >^.,.^<

Thank you, everyone! And now, sit back, have another glass and let Jonas sing for us, accompanied by Christian Thielemann and the Dresden Staatskapelle. I will leave you with one last piece of news: >>>NEXT SUMMER WE ARE GOING TO BAYREUTH FOR THE FIRST TIME...

Season's Greetings to everyone! Take it away, Jonas...