Thursday, April 09, 2015

BBC Music Magazine Awards: playing of integrity and passion

North star: Andsnes triumphant
The BBC Music Magazine Awards took over Kings Place the other night and offered an evening that would in old-fashioned pop-psychology terms have been termed a "warm fuzzy". It was Leif Ove Andsnes's birthday, for starters, and he didn't only walk off with the Concerto Award, but also with Recording of the Year for his recording with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra of Beethoven concertos nos 2 and 4.

Accepting the prize, the Norwegian superstar - who, we're told, is now one of the country's biggest exports - explained that he had had to postpone the recording because at the time it turned out that his wife was having their twins three months early; they remained in hospital for two months. But all is well, the recording took place at a later point - and he says he is delighted with the results both of the recording and of the twins. Tony Pappano was there to present his prize, then sat down at the piano and struck up Happy Birthday. So now pretty much the entire UK music business can say it has sung with Tony Pappano.

It was a fine night for keyboard players, all in all. Benjamin Grosvenor won the Instrumental for his gorgeous album 'Dances'. Mahan Esfahani was Newcomer of the Year for his CPE Bach Sonatas (with his old record label, Hyperion) and he was there to perform a fabulous example from it on the harpsichord - as well as delivering an impassioned tribute to the inspiration he'd received as a lad listening to the playing of the person who presented his prize, Trevor Pinnock. And the inimitable Oliver Condy, editor of BBC Music Magazine, initiated the whole evening by telling us a story about the time he had to perform the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony in Cambridge recently and the digital organ malfunctioned...let's just say that Hoffnung could not have bettered this account.

The one person who nearly succeeded, if on video, was the pianist Alexander Melnikov, whose recording of Beethoven trios with Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras won the Chamber Award. "A lot of jokes probably begin with 'A Frenchman, a German and a Russian decide to play trios together'..." he began in the most deadpan of tones...

In person once more, we were treated to a performance of one of Elgar's Sea Pictures by the amazing Sarah Connolly in tribute to her recording of these plus The Dream of Gerontius with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davies that scooped the Choral Award. Opera went to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from Glyndebourne, with Gerald Finley as Hans Sachs and Vladimir Jurowski conducting; DVD was for Being Traviata, with Natalie Dessay in rehearsal; and vocal went to Joyce DiDonato for her 'Stella di Napoli' album. Premiere award was for Unsuk Chin's concertos respectively for cello, piano and sheng, and Orchestral was the late Claudio Abbado's Bruckner 9 with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

You can see the full list of winners and shortlisted discs, and listen to extracts, here.

Can't think of a single thing to argue with, really, so let's raise a glass, or a coffee (depending at what time you're reading this) to a roster of wonderful winners - devoted musicians every one of them, who deserve what little celebration this crazy world can give them. At a time when other pianists seem mired in controversy - Valentina Lisitsa being dropped from Toronto for political reasons, Gabriela Montero desperate to reveal the corruption of Venezuela and Khatia Buniatishvili causing fuss by bothering to respond to an iffy review - while we can't separate music and politics, because one never can, we can at least keep celebrating the music  first of all. Because if it wasn't for music, these would be grim times. Music can carry us to a better world. Here's hoping it always will.

Here's Benjamin.