Showing posts with label JDCMB Ginger Stripe Awards. Show all posts
Showing posts with label JDCMB Ginger Stripe Awards. Show all posts

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.

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...

Friday, December 21, 2012


Welcome back to the Cyberposhplace for the JDCMB Ginger Stripe Awards 2012!

The doors are wide open, the candles are lit - but protected from all contact with clothing, black lace and otherwise - and there are sparkles absolutely everywhere. Gretel, the Good Fairy of the South West, has been busy with the virtualfairydust and as you walk through the gold and silver portals you may find your brow annointed with glitter.

It's the Winter Solstice and traditionally this is the day we gather for our VirtualAwardsCeremony to celebrate the highs of the musical year. For the sake of decorum, we are drinking cyberprosecco rather than cyberchampers this time, and the virtualcelebritychef is aided and abetted in the kitchen by Gretel, who's brought her famous themed canapes. But nothing (within reason) is off-limits in the cyberposhplace, which is everything you want your best cyberposhplace to be. We enjoyed our little trip to Denmark last year, ahem, but it is good to be back.

As we congregate under the chandelier to toast our musicians, the air fills with warmth, golden light and the scent of orange blosson - and some silk chiffon unfurls to welcome our celebrity guest, Fritz Delius. Yes, Fritz, because he's about 23: handsome, vigorous, sexy, rebellious and filled with lust for life. He is as yet unblighted by the disease that turned him into Song of Summer, and he hasn't got round to changing his name to Frederick. Dear Fritz, neither have you yet written your opera A Village Romeo and Juliet. But I've heard it even if you haven't, and it is one of the most beautiful creations in all of music. It moved me to tears. I can't bear the thought that something so wonderful goes unappreciated in this crazy, negation-of-the-negation world. Thank you, Wexford Opera Festival. Please, someone, can we have the complete Koanga next? Fritz, come on in. Someone get that man a drink!

Now, let’s have a round of applause for every musician who has touched the hearts of his or her audience during the past 12 months.

All right, all right...quiet, please. Would the following winners please approach the podium where Solti, ensconced upon his silken cushion, will let you stroke the ginger stripes and will give you your very own prize purr.

Icon of the year:
It's been a difficult year, full of farewells: many great people have passed from this world to the next, and thence into the realms of legend. But one man will be missed perhaps most of all: the extraordinary composer Elliott Carter, who made it to 103. Most of us had decided he was probably immortal. Now he is. We miss his fearless complexity, his twinkling humour and his great humanity. "The greatest American composer who ever lived," says John Tavener. Thank you for your lifetime of music-making.

Pianist of the year:
Given the quality of the piano performances I've heard in the past 12 months, this should be more difficult than it is. But it's not. Andras Schiff's sublime Beethoven blew everyone else clean out of the water. Dearest Maestro, please accept a dusting of sparkle, heartfelt thanks and plenty of purrs.

Violinist of the year:
Actually it's the violin and piano duo of the year: Bradley Creswick and Margaret Fingerhut. Performing the Hungarian Dances concert-of-the-novel with them at the Buxton Festival was simply glorious. Bradley, leader of the Northern Sinfonia, plays the living daylights out of that Gypsy repertoire.

Singer of the year: Please step forward, Sarah Connolly. Her performances as Oktavian for ENO and as Fricka in Covent Garden's Die Walkure blazed brilliant with ruby-red tone, transformative characterisation and zap-strong psychological insight. Amid already fine casts, her artistry was the central oak and in the Wagner her portrayal of Fricka's anguish made sense of the story of the entire Ring Cycle. Brava and thank you!

Opera company of the year
: Wexford was wonderful, and Salzburg was impressive. Covent Garden has had its moments. But my happiest evenings at the opera this year have been at ENO. A seat-of-the-pants Flying Dutchman, conducted by Ed Gardner. A Rosenkavalier that left us all gibbering wrecks of wonderment, starring Amanda Roocroft, Sarah Connolly, Sophie Bevan and Sir John Tomlinson, conducted by, oh, Ed Gardner. The Death of Klinghoffer, which it was great to see at long last. The Magic Flute, my favourite opera of all. And Vaughan Williams's The Pilgrim's Progress, which was almost as beautiful as that Delius. The list could continue.

Artist of the year: Angela Hewitt, who gets at least three annointings with glitter. First, for her performance of the first part of The Art of Fugue at the RFH, because I don't know how anyone does that at all, let alone making it so beautiful, so fascinating, so riveting. Second, for her inspired and daring recording of the Schumann Piano Concerto, with conductor Hannu Lintu (left). Third, for kindly recommending a naturopath, thanks to whom I am feeling well again after a hellish year. The cyberbanquet tonight is consequently gluten-free.

Youthful artist of the year: Joint winners, both young pianists whose gifts restore my faith in life and music. Benjamin Grosvenor, 20, and Daniil Trifonov, 21: boys whose deep-seated musicianship lights up every piece they touch. It is wonderful to see the art of great pianism alive and well and living in the 21st century. Come and get your glitter and your purrs, lads. We look forward to loving your playing for years and years and years.

Conductor of the year:
Sir Roger Norrington, it is you. Oh yes, it is. Listening to your overwhelmingly gorgeous, funny, adorable, detailed, genius Haydn with the OAE a few months ago, I realise that I remember every one of your concerts that I've ever attended. I've loved or loathed them, I admit - one or the other, every time, with nothing much in between - but either way I've never forgotten any of them. Thank you. Sorry if I've sometimes been a pig about your vibrato thing. Please accept some glitter - after all, it's already shining in your music-making.

Interviewee of the year: Pierre Boulez. What a privilege to meet and interview such an extraordinary man. Boulez not only has an intelligence that slices to the core of any issue with the surety of a neurosurgeon's hand, but he also has the wisdom to see the bigger picture, the heart to smile about it and the ceaseless creativity to keep devising ways to change things. If something is wrong, he says, you can't just sit there and do nothing.

Musical sports personality of the year:
A new category for the year of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Step forward, please, Anthony Hewitt, the Bradley Wiggins of the piano. Tony spent three weeks in the spring cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats as "The Olympianist". Every day he covered 70-90km and gave at least one recital at his destination, raising money for musical and sporting charities for children. Even beyond that project, he's still the only pianist I can think of who prepares for a recital by going on a 100km cycle ride. Here is some well-deserved glitter...

 It's a good year for Hewitts here at the Ginger Stripe Awards, but please note: to the best of our knowledge the two A. Hewitt pianists, Anthony and Angela, are neither related nor married. I'm not sure they've even met. Maybe we need to get a good piano genealogist on to them.

Ballet of the year: A new category, because ballet is at last part and parcel of my professional life. The best new ballet I've seen this year I actually didn't write about at the time, but it is Faster, choreographed by David Bintley for his Birmingham Royal Ballet. It's Olympic-themed, exploring the topic in ways you never dreamed ballet could: a duet for an athlete and a figure representing her injury and her relationship with it, for example; a remarkable pas de trois based on slow motion pole-vaulting; and a finale all about running that plays with time, space, speed and perspective with the bedazzlement of a kaleidoscope. A magnificent company piece showing off extraordinary corps de ballet work and apparently endless stamina, it's set to a terrific post-minimalist score by Matthew Hindson. And if you think synchronised swimming can't be put into a ballet, think again. Fabulous.

Stuffed Turkey: That Meyerbeer at the ROH. Fascinating to write about; excruciating thereafter.

Lifetime Achievement Award: This goes en masse to our composers. I've been fortunate to encounter some wonderful ones this year. Pierre Boulez, of course, but also the much-loved John Adams; and Judith Weir and Errollyn Wallen, whose respective operas, performed last winter at Covent Garden, absolutely did not deserve the panning they got from much of the press. Then Roxanna Panufnik's colourful and atmospheric violin concerto Four World Seasons for Tasmin Little and the London Mozart Players received a wonderful premiere in March and Roxanna's new CD Love Abide is out at any moment. And Michel van der Aa has won the Grawemeyer Award.

Anybody who writes good new music in the classical vein in these ridiculous times deserves much more than a Lifetime Achievement Award - because it has to be new music that makes the entire art form alive and vibrant and necessary. Keep on keeping on, then. It's the only way.

Take a bow, everybody...Thank you. Thank you for your moving, uplifting, inspiring, life-enhancing music-making. You’re wonderful. We love you.

And a few personal highlights...

Proudest moment:
The performances of my play A Walk through the End of Time at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, starring Harriet Walter and Henry Goodman, formed a day that I will remember with joy, love and a certain incredulity for the rest of my life. Thank you, International Wimbledon Music Festival!

Weirdest moment:
"Getting" modernism. I've undergone a revolution in musical taste this year - perhaps the result of other upheavals in life that can't leave you unchanged. Listening to Barenboim conducting Boulez at the Proms and thinking "this is totally bloody incredible". Attending two works by Bernd Alois Zimmermann, including Die Soldaten at Salzburg, which left me speechless. Discovering that I am really looking forward to hearing some Birtwistle in the new year when Covent Garden revives The Minotaur. We embrace and applaud their courage, their energy, their lack of compromise.

Quote of the year:
At a wedding the other week I was amazed to meet the man who utters my favourite line in all cinema. But I was embarrassed because initially, though I knew I knew him, it took me a moment to place him. "Don't worry about it," said his wife. "It was a long time ago, and he was wearing a dress."

(He is, of course, Terry Jones, and the line is: "He's not the Messiah! He's a very naughty boy!")

Biggest sigh of relief:
Return of the OH from six months abroad, following the most hideous episode I've ever encountered during a quarter century in the already ugly music business. Shame on all the people who perpetrated it, stirred it, exploited it and got away with it. No cyberprosecco for them!

Special Guest Award: Dedicated to Gretel, the Good Fairy of the South West, and her magic circle of courageous spirits, bohemian freethinkers and passionate, great-hearted music-lovers - for rallying round, keeping me sane and bringing the fairydust.

Feline of the year:
Solti has no competition. He's been as much of a brick this year as any cat can be. Some special fish for you, Soltikitty, once you've finished your presentations today.

Wonderful Webmaster of the Year: The award always goes to Horst Kolo, who designs and maintains with a patience that few others could muster, now or ever.

Thank you, everyone. And now, to entertain us, taking us back in time, here is....CYBERABBA! Think about it: we should be so lucky as to have music, love and laughter in our lives, the company of friends, the good fortune to share our passions with joy. Let's live a little. Let's celebrate. Let's dance.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


That's JDCMB Ginger Stripe Awards 2011 in Danish, or sort of. This year we have abandoned the usual Cyberposhplace - too many people around there to whom we don't wish to be polite - and booked instead a very special CyberScandinavian venue: a Virtual version of the Sjette Frederiks Kro, tucked away in the beech woods by the sea in Aarhus. Please come in and thaw out by the log fire. And don't miss the hot chocolate. It's the best in the whole world - even better than the Cafe Europejska in Krakow - and they bring you a goloptious full-up pot of it... Prepare to sing, too. The Danes always sing at parties.

This has been the year in which the Sleeping Beauty woke up (see choreographer Matthew Bourne's project for Christmas 2012) - and didn't much like what she saw. This year it was revealed, loud and clear, just how intensely, insidiously and pervasively big money rules the world and the music world with it, trampling on all and sundry that are left behind. This year, too, we've seen - on our own doorsteps - the danger of all ideologies that put the imposition of their dogma and the crushing of dissent before any notion of basic humanity. Heaven alone knows what 2012 will bring, but my words to you today, on the Winter Solstice 2011, are these.

Beware of anything that threatens the democratic nature of the places, societies and organisations in which you function. Never sign away your rights - someone will try to convince you it's in your own best interests, but it never is. Remember that constitutions exist for a reason, and if anyone wants to change yours, take a good, hard look at who, how, why, and who gains (case study: Hungary). To quote this article from Spiegel Online about culture in Hungary - where journalists this week have been on hunger strike against press manipulation - "to gain complete control over a country, one has to control what people think." This doesn't only apply to countries. Now that you're awake, keep your eyes wide open.

In a skewed and shaky world, it's more difficult, yet also more important, to keep up the celebration of the Ginger Stripes. Solti is back on his silken cushion today, and I've promised him a lot of fresh Danish fish.

This year's awards are taking a slightly different format from the usual. Instead of specific categories, we've just chosen specific people. Through 2011, more than ever, my interviewees have been a source of great joy and inspiration. I've been lucky enough to come into contact with an astonishing succession of individuals; with each of them there is much to learn, nuggets to nurture, jewels to treasure. I've also attended some unforgettable performances. And writing a little more about dance - which was my first love, you know - has brought a welcome new dimension and a different type of challenge. You think it's difficult to write about music? That's a piece of cake by comparison...

Now, to business! A round of applause, please, for our special guests: some of this year's top interviewees. As they approach the silken cushion to stroke the ginger stripes and claim their prize purrs from Solti, plus a VirtualSarahLundSweater, meet them, love them and thank them.

Anna Caterina Antonacci - the Italian mezzo/and/or soprano whose artistry stands out in today's operatic scene like a George Eliot novel surrounded by chicklit. Is she the nearest thing we have to Pauline Viardot? I believe so. Article from Opera News. Below: as Cassandre in Les Troyens - which she will be singing in London next summer.

Martha Argerich. Interviewing her was a challenge I never imagined I'd meet, but...somehow...did. In the words of Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who conducted the concert in Rome that I attended: " she still playing as well as ever? Of course she is. Why wouldn’t she? To me she is not 70, or 60, or 20. She is just Martha.”

Gustavo Dudamel. Cometh the hour, cometh the Dude. Again, it was all touch and go, but in the end we touched. What energy. What charisma. Go, Gustavo, go: be the next Bernstein. We need one. Better still, be the first Dude.

Valery Gergiev. Speaking of energy...

Andras Schiff. A great man as well as a great musician: speaking out about the rise of the racist far-right in his native Hungary has landed him with a backlash that's made him wonder if he can ever return - though that does rather prove the veracity of what he said. Meanwhile, Beethoven is eternal...

Benjamin Grosvenor. This has been his year. Let's put aside the many landmark events he's experienced - we've marked them amply on JDCMB - and simply consider this: Benjamin's playing leaves me wondering why not every pianist plays like that, and why anyone would think, for a moment, that anything less will do. Here he is having some fun with an encore at the Prom...

Eva-Maria Westbroek. Interviewed her, loved her, loved her singing. I heard her in three astounding performances. First, Anna Nicole, which threw her into a spotlight the size of the Millennium Dome but with rather more substance within - and not only silicone. Then Sieglinde in the Met's cinecast of Die Walkure, singing opposite Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmind. And finally Il Tabarro at Covent Garden, part of Richard Jones's magnificent production of Il Trittico, which I didn't actually write up, but which was a major highlight of this year's opera-going. Here she is in one of her favourite roles, Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

Sergei Polunin. The 21-year-old Royal Ballet star really does want to open a tattoo parlour. The day after the cinecast of The Sleeping Beauty last week, JDCMB was carpet-bombed by Google searches for this dark-lord-in-waiting of British ballet. In this clip, Lauren Cuthbertson as Aurora is equally poetic.

Zofia Posmysz. The author of The Passenger, a novel based on her own experiences in Auschwitz, could not be more radiant or less embittered if she tried. She came to London for the UK premiere of the opera by Weinberg based on her book. Talking to this remarkable woman was a very humbling experience. Film below in Polish with German subtitles, except the bits in English from David Pountney, and provides a taste of the opera's furious, devastating music. (It got panned in London, but I couldn't care less.)

Rolando Villazon. First I heard his marvellous Werther at Covent Garden; then, at the crucial moment in September, I went to Paris to meet him. He gave me a red foam nose. It is now on my desk lamp, where it has helped to keep me sane these past months. This song from last week's Royal Variety Performance sums it all up. Thank you, Dr Rollo.

And performances? It's a golden age. It really is Joseph Calleja at close quarters at a Decca launch in the ROH Crush Bar; Jonas Kaufmann in recital at the Royal Festival Hall. The Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer at the RFH (the best Beethoven Pastoral Symphony ever) and the Proms (Mahler 1 and the fun, engaging, wonderfully played Audience Choice event). The cinecast from the Met of Die Walkure, where the cast - Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde, Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund, Bryn Terfel as Wotan and Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde - had us all pinching ourselves to make sure it was true. Despite my reservations about the detail of cinecasting, it's a great new medium that's transforming our experience of opera, theatre and ballet; and through this medium the Met also brought us Rossini's fabulous Le Comte Ory, with Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau and Joyce DiDonato. At the ballet, Osipova and Vasiliev rawked Ashton's Romeo and Juliet; and, as I couldn't interview Tchaikovsky about The Nutcracker, Joby Talbot was a fascinating alternative as he told me about his new score for Alice. Another major highlight: revisiting the Dartington Summer School of Music. It's always strange going back to a place that meant so much to you so long ago - but the old magic is still alive and well.

Huge treats, too, in performances of my own stuff, some on the other side of the globe. Roxanna Panufnik's beautiful choral work Let Me In, for which I scribbled the words, was premiered by Chanticleer in San Francisco in the spring and is now out on CD. In July, Piers Lane's Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville gave the first performance of Sins of the Fathers, my words-and-music project about Liszt, Wagner and Cosima (it's not quite Lisztomania, but hey...). Hungarian Dances with Bradley Creswick and Margaret Fingerhut at Potton Hall and Old Swinford Hospital School, was huge fun - and I'm happy to say we're taking it to the Buxton Festival next year.

A reading of A Walk Through the End of Time - my Messiaen play - at East Sheen Library bore fruit: an enthusiastic impresaria was present, liked it and is currently arranging a new lease of life for it, featuring two superb actors - Susan Porrett and Patrick Drury - as well as the considerable massed talents of Viv McLean (piano), Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin), Matthew Hunt (clarinet) and Gemma Rosefield (cello), starting with a showcase concert at Bob Boas's central London salon on 9 January. More news soon, I hope.

And in case you wondered - yes, I am writing another novel. Slowly. It's different. It's historical. It's unbelievable. And it's all true.

Dear readers, we live in interesting times. I hope that we can make them turn out for the best. Please raise a glass as our stars of stage and page step forward and lead us in a rousing, celebratory Danish Xmas song. Now, come on, everyone - we have to dance round the tree. Did I mention that? No? Well, we do...