Sunday, December 21, 2014


Many people are saying that 2014 was simply awful. In many ways it was. My lowest point was when our best friend, Solti of the Ginger Stripes, went to the green field by the rainbow bridge - this is where the souls of cats go to wait for their humans to join them... Solti lived with us for nearly 15 years and we miss him every day.

That means that the Ginger Stripe Awards of 2013 were the last. But the spiritual presence of Richard and Cosima Wagner as guests of honour has turned out to be prophetic...

Cosima and Richard are back - aka Cosi and Ricki
Solti's successors, even if they are still bit young and flighty, are ready to preside over their first awards ceremony, assuming they'll keep still long enough and don't raid the chocolate cake. Ricki is a "chocolate silver" Somali cat; Cosi, his sister, is a "usual silver". The pet insurance documents, in the names of Richard and Cosima, are causing some amusement.

So please come in, once again, to our cyberposhplace, newly decked out in elegant brown and silver decor. Please leave your outer selves in the cloakroom. 

All your loved ones are here today for the winter solstice; your favourite tipple is on offer, whether it is specialist vodka from Krakow or English sparkly from Hampshire; and you can eat whatever you most enjoy, whether it's roast duck and red cabbage, or nut roast, or gluten-free chocolate cake made with 95 per cent cocoa solids or.....

Our special guest has just arrived: please welcome Sir Andrzej Panufnik. For tonight only, he is back among us to celebrate his centenary. His wife, Camilla, and their children, Jem and Roxanna, are with him and he is embracing the grandchildren he never knew. Please give him a standing ovation: a man whose artistic integrity survived an onslaught of virulent political and cultural fundamentalism and has left a legacy of individual, fascinating and fine-fibred music that shares his own strength of character. Please toast him in Polish vodka: NA ZDROWIE! Annnnd... down in one! >oof<

Next, our habitual round of applause for every musician who has touched the hearts of his or her audience in this past year. You're wonderful, our marvellous musicians. Your art makes life worth living. And we should never forget it.

Thank you! Quiet, please. Would the following winners please approach the cat-tree where Ricki and Cosi, beautifully brushed for the occasion, will give you a seriously fuzzy cuddle and their trademark pile-driver purrs. And the spirit of Great Uncle Solti is not far away.

Icon of the Year: John Ogdon, one of the most astounding, inspiring, heartbreaking and tragic figures of British music in the 20th century. This year marks 25 years since his untimely death. He is the topic of a very fine biography by Charles Beauclerk, Piano Man, which I recommend highly to anyone who's still looking for a pianoy Xmas present.

Pianist of the Year: Please step forward, young maestro Federico Colli, winner of the 2012 Leeds Piano Competition. Do you realise that your recital at the Queen Elizabeth Hall got a heap of five-star reviews from critics who normally never agree with one another? And so it should. Your sensitivity, strength of mind, intense passion for your music and tremendous beauty of tone made your Schumann F sharp minor Sonata one of the pianistic high points of my year. Bravo bravissimo.

String Player of the Year: Julian Lloyd Webber, who has been obliged to call time on his performing career due to a chronic injury. The concert platform's loss is the activists' gain: Julian is a very special spokesperson for music education and for the cause of music for all, and his role as figurehead for Sistema England is absolutely vital, especially at a time when El Sistema is coming under vicious attack. Julian, hang in there. We love you and we need you.

Singer of the Year: Joseph Calleja, you star - what a voice you have, what charisma, and what a terrific talk we had for Opera Now. I adored your Alfredo in Munich, but would gladly listen to you singing the shopping list. You are also the only singer who has volunteered information on the effect of sex life on singing.

Conductor of the Year: Brava,  Joana Carneiro, superb conductor of John Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary at ENO. It was a true tour de force - a gigantic span of intricate writing full of amazing effects, bizarre and wonderful instrumentation (cimbalom, tam-tams, you name it), sound design, electronic frogs and fabulous soloists and chorus.

Bayreuth: Seeing is believing
Festival of the Year: Bayreuth. I came away simply furious: it was so wonderful, yet I had been conditioned by years and years of ghastly reports to steer clear! Nobody ever says how wonderful it is. Presumably the idea that the Wagner festival can be top-notch musically, have a glory of a theatre with perfect acoustics, enjoy a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere, be extremely friendly - everyone's there because they are potty about Wagner, basically - and a nice town with interesting things to visit in and outside it...all this is waaay too threatening for the Dad's Army mentality of the British media. Nuff said: Wagner lives. (Even if he is now a small, fluffy, brown cat.)

Youthful Artist of the Year: Ilyich Rivas, the very young Venezuelan conductor who has been in our sights for a while, made a spectacular debut with the LPO back in March. More about the evening here. Hope to hear him again soon - he's going to be mega, IMHO.

Artist of the Year: This time it's a composer. Please step forward, Judith Weir: not merely the first woman to be appointed Master of the Queen's Music in all of its half-millennium-long history, hence a hugely significant figurehead, but more importantly a creative and original musical mind and a person of wisdom, humour and humanity.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Dear Sir András Schiff, vast congratulations on receiving music's best-deserved knighthood. We love you, but more importantly, just about every young pianist I've been talking to recently loves you too. Your influence is profound.

Colleagues of the Year: A huge cheer to all my lovely editors, to my wonderful violinist David Le Page and pianists Viv McLean and Murray McLachlan, and to festival directors Stephen Barlow of Buxton, who let us take Alicia's Gift home to Derbyshire, and Anthony Wilkinson of the Wimbledon International Music Festival - who coolly rescheduled the show for another venue when the Orange Tree went pear-shaped. And, last but by no means least, the inimitable Chopin Society, run by Lady Rose Cholmondeley and Gill Newman - such a fantastical organisation that you just couldn't make it up. Performing Alicia's Gift there in September, interviewing Andrzej Jasinski in November and dancing the night away at their glorious gala the other day means they have a very special place in this year's calendar of colleagues. If this year's awards are looking rather Polish, then so they should.

Interviewee of the Year: Dear Jonas Kaufmann, we met at last [for BBC Music Magazine, right]. Yours remains the only interview to date for which I've worn snow boots. It wasn't quite the glamorous look I'd hoped to adopt for the occasion, but it was awfully cold in New York. I'm so pleased that you're as fascinating in person as you are on stage.

Opera of the Year: Benvenuto Cellini at ENO, directed by Terry Gilliam. The perfect match of off-the-wall piece and director, delivered with flair and rapture and fabulous imagination - but best of all was the ENO chorus belting out "Applaud and laud all art and artisans!" and audibly meaning every syllable of it.

Ballet of the Year: I adored watching Connectome, Alastair Marriott's new ballet for Natalia Osipova, coming into being. What a treat to be in the studio only a few metres away from the Osipova Leap!

Stuffed Turkey: Not a performance, but a reaction to one. That disgraceful incident now known as "Dumpygate".

And a few personal highlights:

Proudest moment: Deciding What To Do About Wagner. You face the facts. You face the nastiness. You look it all squarely, head on, and you think it over: OK, either I can never listen to a note of it again; or I can admit that I know all this, but now I'm going to put that aside and simply get on with loving the music. Decided on latter. End of story.

Weirdest moment: I spent much of the summer and autumn sick as the proverbial dog with what I later learned was whooping cough. I went along to the Rattle/Berliner Philharmoniker/Peter Sellars St Matthew Passion at the Proms before the bug had been diagnosed. And I sat there in reverential silence with streaming eyes and chest in spasm, managing not to cough aloud, waiting desperately for the thing to be over. But the final chord did not bring the expected relief, because the silence after it went on...and on...and on....and on.........and on........ and there could have been no worse moment in the entire evening to make a noise. I managed not to - but honest to goodness, guv, I thought I was going to die.

Biggest sigh of relief: Getting through not just that evening, but a range of concerts, talks and broadcasts without losing my voice or alternatively crashing at high volume due to said illness.

Quote of the Year: "Applaud and laud all art and artisans..." Monsieur Hector tells it like it is!

Wonderful Webmaster of the Year: Thank you, dear and marvellous Horst Kolo, for your ever-devoted updating, archiving and moral support.

Felines of the year: two little cats from school - small, fluffy, silvery and chocolatey and not very far from here.                

Thank you, everyone! We miss our lost loved ones, but we will make the most of whatever life brings us and fight on for the values of humanity, compassion, fulfilment, development, high standards and genuine artistry that bind us together. We are all interdependent in the end, and we should never forget that either. If you don't subscribe to these values, you probably don't read JDCMB, which increasingly I am being told is "the voice of reason" in the musical blogosphere. We won't do near-porn for hits (or for anything else), we won't accept mass madness, witch-hunts, blind prejudice or bullies, we stand up for what's right and we wish to change what isn't. We praise liberty, equality and siblinghood - and we applaud and laud all art and artisans!

Now please have another glass, sit back and enjoy a very special performance by the miraculous young pianist who keeps alive my faith in the future of British music and musicians: Benjamin Grosvenor.