Monday, December 21, 2015


If you're new to JC, let me explain the Chocolate, Silver & Ginger Stripes Awards:
-- This extraordinary Virtualbash takes place here every year on 21 December. It used to be the Ginger Stripes Awards, in honour of my cat Solti, but since his death we've been joined by two new young award-givers, coloured chocolate and silver.
-- It's fun.
-- The choices are entirely personal.
-- It's a JDCMB retrospective of the year, plus a chance to let down one's hair;
-- All you need is a smile and the willingness to join in and/or suspend disbelief, and there's some good stuff to listen to.
-- Enjoy the party!

What? It's the Winter Solstice again? How did that happen? It feels like just the other day we were entering the CyberPoshPlace for Ricki and Cosi's first year as kitten-heirs to our late beloved Solticat's Ginger Stripes Awards. Still, the faster time progresses, the faster we get to enjoy our VirtualVintageBubbly and hug lots of people we can't hug in real life. 

So please don your CyberGladRags and come on in to the aforesaid venue. Welcome! It's decked out in thousands of fairy-lights, plus tinsel and glittery stuff in our colours, which mix Ricki's chocolatiness with Cosi's silveriness and a tribute to Solti's ginger stripes. 

Please leave your outer selves in the cloakroom. Have a glass, relax, enjoy the scents of rose and citrus and cinammon, and you'll find lavish quantities of extremely good Italian virtualfood being prepared by our friends Luigi and Cristian, the best caterers I know, sourced with the aid of a favourite café, Nelson's...

Next, a very warm welcome to our special guest stars. Bela Bartók has come to join us tonight, quiet, wise and great-eyed, modest and poised, and he leads the way for a rather surprised collection of characters, gathering by the door and gazing about, wondering how they got here. Three cheers, please, for the great Hungarian violinist Jelly d'Arányi (pronounced Yelly, not Gelly, btw), her sister - also a great violinist - Adila Fachiri, Jelly's former duo partner Dame Myra Hess, and their friend, Professor Donald Francis Tovey. Theirs is a very specific purpose tonight, but I'm not going to tell you what it is (you might have to check back in January to find out). 

Quiet, please...quiet... thank you. First, a big round of applause for every musician who has touched the hearts of his or her audience this year. You're wonderful. We love you. Thank you for all your inspirational music-making.

Now, would the following artists please approach the platform where Ricki and Cosi are ensconced upon their silken cushions. They will let you stroke their chocolate and silver fur and are ready to give you each a very special purr. 

Icon of the Year: It was Sviatoslav Richter's centenary this year and if there was ever an icon to celebrate it was him. I heard him in the flesh once only, many years ago, in recital at the Royal Festival Hall, on which occasion he played the Schubert G major Sonata and the first chord lasted for what felt like an entire revolution of the moon. This man worked with Prokofiev, managed things in interpreting Mussorgsky and Rachmaninov that few have ever matched, and made recordings that set the standard for generations. Let's take a moment to honour him.

Pianist of the Year: The piano recital of 2015 that will stay with me forever was Daniil Trifonov's performance at the Menuhin Festival Gstaad of the complete Liszt Transcendental Etudes. It took place in an atmospheric 15th-century church in Saanen (the next-door village - where Bartók composed his Divertimento) and proved a universe of colour and sonic imagination - as if Daniil was improvising it, yet sounding deceptively easy, natural, unshakeable. It was a privilege to be there. 

Here he is in 'Harmonies du Soir' at Carnegie Hall:

String Player of the Year: This was a tough one, because I've spent a lot of this year editing The Amati Magazine, which means that I've had more good lunches with fantastic violinists, violists and cellists than ever before. But here's da man. He looks flamboyant, yet is sweet and gentle; his virtuosity is dazzling, though delivered with modesty and grace; and incidentally, his incredible band made a Welsh fish and chip shop very happy when we all pitched up in Fishguard for Peter Donohoe's festival on the same day. The ensemble came to London twice to play at the Amati Exhibition and it was a joy and privilege to introduce them. Please welcome the incredible Roby Lakatos. Gratulálok, Roby, and thank you!

Singer of the Year: Who else?! Here you go, Jonas...

Conductor of the Year: Susanna Mälkki is a wonderful musician and a powerful personality: straightforward, assertive and able to inspire brilliant results. Her muscular, up-tempo Sibelius 1 the other week had me reaching for my programme to check whether this was a different version of the text, because I was hearing things in it I'd never heard before. 

Festival of the Year: Wexford Opera Festival is a true one-off. Every autumn this enchanting spot on the south-east coast of Ireland, two or three hours south of Dublin, is transformed into the most interesting venue in the opera world: rare and beautiful operas are performed by exciting young casts with rising directors and genre-expert conductors. This year hearing and seeing Delius's Koanga, Mascagni's Guglielmo Ratcliff and Hérold's Le Pré aux Clercs was a joy and, often, a revelation. If you've never been there, all I can say is: go. And book fast, because it sells out. 

Youthful Artist of the Year: Beatrice Rana, ace pianist, welcome to the stage. You've got the musicianship, the technique, the intelligence, the personality, the gumption, the groundedness and, generally, everything it takes to make it to the top and stay there in this insane world. I look forward to hearing you many, many more times. Congratulations on your first Chocolate Silver Ginger Stripe Award - but please don't bring your adorable dog with you to the platform to collect it because he'd scare Ricki and Cosi...

Artist of the Year: Daniel Barenboim's performance of the Schubert B flat Sonata on his special, bespoke piano at the RFH was probably the most heart-shattering performance I heard in 2015. Barenboim is perhaps the most complete of all our great artists: a visionary, an educator and a philosopher as well as a musician, accepting no division between such roles. Maestro, thank you.

Here's a slightly lighter piece of Schubert - with Martha Argerich joining him.

Colleagues of the Year: Our composer Roxanna Panufnik, our director Karen Gillingham and the entire team involved in creating our new opera, Silver Birch, for Garsington, where it will be performed in 2017. We now have a cast to die for. We also have a remit to create a work that seeks to reach the widest possible audience, from seasoned critics to opera newbies, featuring professionals, amateurs, children, teenagers, a VJ, Siegfried Sassoon's poetry and matters of life and death. It's a joy working with you all. And while I'd always wanted to write an opera libretto, this has been the most fun I have ever had writing anything, ever - because it is in collaboration with you. Please come up to the platform and receive your purrs.

Opera of the Year: That joyous marvel that was ENO's Mastersingers. It sent us all home walking on air. (Honest to goodness, folks, we mess with that company at our peril. What is the ACE really up to there?)

Ballet of the Year: Matthew Bourne's The Car Man nearly burned down Islington: the hottest of the hot, with gripping, galvanising storytelling, fabulously danced by a cast who gave more than anybody's all has a right to be. Its star, Jonathan Ollivier, gave his life a few days later, killed on his motorbike in a road accident in Clerkenwell - a huge shock and tragic loss. There is to be a gala to benefit his young family - details here. 

Stuffed Turkey: There were waaaay too many piano competitions this year, and some were distinctly more interesting than others. (The best I've yet heard, though, is the first prize winner Seong-Jin Cho of the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, whose debut CD I found seriously impressive). 

And a few personal highlights:

Proudest moments: Signing the contract for my opera libretto for Roxanna and Garsington (see 'Colleagues of the Year') - a long-held dream come true. And discovering, after several days giving pre-concert talks at the Istanbul Festival in the gardens of Topkapi Palace, that I had amassed a little fan club. That was great. 

Weirdest moment: In Pontresina, Switzerland, learning that Richard Strauss wrote 'Beim schlafengehen' (from the Four Last Songs) just over the fence from where I started writing in earnest as a teenager sensing something creative in the air.

Biggest sigh of relief: We are not moving house after all! PHEW.

Quote of the Year: "The power of music is to unite us and to bring out the best humanity has to offer"- Marin Alsop, Last Night of the Proms.

Wonderful Webmaster of the Year: Horst Kolo, of course. Dearest Horst, I don't know where I'd be without your attentive updates of the article archive and your ever so gentle chasing for my latest news. There's a good one on the way in the new year!

Felines of the Year: There have to be two, obviously: Ricki and Cosi, who are beautiful, bright, fluffy Somali cats, now fully grown and too clever by half. As the pet insurance documents delightfully tell us, 'You never know what Richard and Cosima are going to get up to'. 

Let's spend a moment thinking about what we want to be in 2016. 

I'm often told that JDCMB is 'the voice of reason' in our little corner of this crazy world - and I hope that's the case and intend it should continue to be so. Too often, the wealth of culture, invention, wisdom and delight that centuries of accomplished art music has built up seemingly doesn't count for a hill of beans any more. Yet music is one of the true forces at work for spiritual, social, mental and corporeal good - and the case has been made to prove this again and again and again. Still it must be restated often, because people who haven't seen its power for themselves always need to be convinced. Once you've witnessed it, you know it's true. 

Please join me to love our music, explore the joy it brings us, celebrate it and uphold its marvels in the face of whatever life throws at it, and us. Let's keep our heads, our sense of perspective, our passion and our idealism where our art is concerned. 

Thank you all for a wonderful year! Now please mingle, have fun and enjoy the VirtualParty. And just in case we don't get much snow this Christmas, here's an extra bit of wintery sparkle...