At a glittering and star-studded ceremony in central London, the 2017 Gramophone Classical Music Awards – this year presented in association with the Pan-Armenian Symphony Orchestra, Qobuz, Naim Audio and the BPI – unveiled the special awards and presented the 12 recording category Awards that were revealed a fortnight ago.
Isabelle Faust's Harmonia Mundi recording of the Mozart violin concertos with Il Giardino Armonico directed by Giovanni Antonini was named Gramophone's Recording of the Year (sponsored by Qobuz). Isabelle Faust was in São Paulo but sent a video message of thanks.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award (sponsored by Presto Classical) for her glorious career as one of the best-loved sopranos of our time. The actor and singer Julian Ovenden made the presentation.
The conductor Vasily Petrenko received the Artist of the Year Award, the result of a public vote by over 8000 Gramophone readers and visitors to Gramophone's website.
The Young Artist of the Year Award, supported by Help Musicians UK, went to the Italian pianist Beatrice Rana whose Warner Classics recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations made it to the final round of the awards this year.
Label of the Year (sponsored by Classical:Next) went to Signum Classics and its MD Steve Long received for award for a consistently imaginative approach to A&R.
The composer, producer and founder of NMC, Colin Matthews, received a Special Achievement Award from Sir Mark Elder for his services to contemporary British music and Classic FM received a Special Anniversary Award, marking the 40th anniversary of the Awards, for the station's championing of classical music.
Other artists receiving their Awards – which were presented by Gramophone's James Jolly and the violinist Jennifer Pike – included the pianist Murray Perahia (Instrumental), singers Iestyn Davies (Baroque Vocal sponsored by Mrs Joan Jones) and Carolyn Sampson (Choral, sponsored by IDAGIO), the violinist and director of La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler (Baroque Instrumental), composer and conductor George Benjamin (Contemporary, sponsored by Naim Audio), Phantasm (Early Music), the Silesian Quartet (Chamber, sponsored by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute), the tenor Mauro Peter (Opera).Video acceptances came from Giovanni Antonini (Orchestral, sponsored by the European Foundation for Support of Culture, and Concerto), Joyce DiDonato (Recital, sponsored by Primephonic) and Matthias Goerne (Solo Vocal).
Live music came from the Pan-Armenian Symphony and their founder and conductor Sergey Smbatyan, The Tallis Scholars and Peter Philips (recipients of the 1987 Recording of the Year who returned to mark the Awards' anniversary), Beatrice Rana, Carolyn Sampson and Iestyn Davies with the pianist Joseph Middleton and last year's Young Artist of the Year, Benjamin Appl, who joined the orchestra for Carl Millöcker's heart-stopping operetta aria "Dunkelrote Rosen" from Gasparone.
The awards were streamed live on the Gramophone website, medici.tv and via Classic FM's Facebook page.
Source: gramophone.co.uk, September 13, 2017
Part II. Special Awards 2017
When Classic FM's Managing Editor, Sam Jackson, receives Gramophone's special Anniversary Award (given to mark the 40th anniversary of the Gramophone Classical Music Awards) at the ceremony on September 13, the station will have just marked a special anniversary of its own: 25 years of national broadcasting in the UK (as one of only three independent national radio stations). It launched on September 7, 1992, and has become, in that quarter century, one of the most significant broadcasters in this country, with a weekly reach of 5.8 million listeners, 1.2 million of whom are under 35. Classic FM has become the world's biggest classical music brand on Facebook, with videos there watched by around 17 million people every month. Two thirds of those who "like" Classic FM on Facebook are also under 35 and it shares more of its audience with Radio 1 than Radio 3, again showing its significant role in developing younger audiences for classical music. Whatever their age, though, more people listen to classical music on Classic FM than via any other broadcast medium.
It would be foolish to argue that Classic FM and Gramophone are a natural fit – our broadcast "mirror image" is clearly BBC Radio 3 – but it would be equally foolish to underestimate Classic FM's role in the musical life of this country. Supporting live music-making is not a requirement of a national radio station but Classic FM backs up its role as a national broadcaster by engaging with live music up and down the country. It maintains strong partnerships with orchestras across the nation and regularly promotes concerts, a powerful way of developing closer ties with its audiences. It works tirelessly with all of its partners to make classical music accessible to as broad an audience as possible.
Where Classic FM comes closest to "our world" is in its championing of recordings and its unwavering support for the classical record industry (at a time when classical music is finding it harder and harder to secure those column inches from arts editors with no interest in the genre). Giving new releases the oxygen of publicity is vital to ensure that recorded music maintains visibility in an increasingly information-packed world. While it would be easy to portray Classic FM and Radio 3 as being separated by a yawning gulf, there are numerous artists and recordings that fit quite comfortably into the outputs of both networks. Classic FM plays an important role in promoting today's artists in an increasingly indifferent world.
Add in 24 hour-a-day broadcasting, seven days a week, and you have the destination of choice for a substantial number of people. And the station's cleverly chosen line-up of presenters has added to one of the broadcasting success stories of recent times. We wish Classic FM well for its next 25 years.
Artist of the Year
Still a boyish 41, Vasily Petrenko makes a return to the Gramophone Classical Music Awards this year having been our Young Artist of the Year back in 2007 (a year when, unusually, our Artist of the Year, Hilary Hahn, was younger!). His work with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the ensemble he has led first as Principal Conductor and then as Chief Conductor since 2006, continues to impress, and no more so than in the set of Tchaikovsky's Symphonies Nos. 3, 4 and 6, released by Onyx earlier this year, and which was received with universal acclaim, clinching Gramophone's Recording of the Month in March. Mark Pullinger remarked that "Petrenko's fast and furious approach once again pays off with invigorating performances which dispel Russian gloom. The RLPO play their socks off and must rank as one of the finest ‘Russian orchestras’ in the UK today". For a St Petersburg-trained conductor, it must have been with some satisfaction that MP drew comparisons (in the Fourth Symphony) with Yevgeny Mravinsky. The Pathétique, a crowning performance here in every respect, is characterised by vivid dynamics and a wonderful control of intensity.
If Petrenko drew on his Russian roots in the Tchaikovsky, he drew on the orchestra's in another of this year's recording projects (and another Onyx release): a disc of Edward Elgar's Second Symphony and some shorter works. Jeremy Dibble (who reviewed the companion recording of the First Symphony two years ago) wrote that "I am even more impressed by the Russian's reading of the Second Symphony, which has a clarity of sound to match the luxuriance of Elgar's orchestration. Indeed, the RLPO, on great form, provide a sumptuous array of textures with an ensemble that is crisp and incisive. It is so good to hear every note of the athletic brass counterpoint in the horns and trumpets and the lithe filigree of Elgar's careful doublings between wind and strings... Petrenko is, for the most part, spot-on with his tempos".
Since the start of the 2013/2014 season, Petrenko has been Chief Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic (one of those ensembles that seems to launch meteoric careers – just look at Mariss Jansons, with whom Petrenko studied). They've already set down an impressive little discography and this last year saw a version of Prokofiev's complete Romeo and Juliet ballet. While not totally sold on Petrenko's approach, David Gutman noted (12/16) that "In place of Soviet-style weight, Petrenko wields a new broom... Sections within numbers are refreshed unpredictably, sometimes slowed, more often swift, voicings tweaked to expose long-buried lines or surprising points of colour". And one shouldn't forget his charismatic work with the European Union Youth Orchestra, whose Chief Conductor he also is. His ability to connect with young musicians is impresive and the results speak for themselves.
Gramophone's Artist of the Year is voted for by the public – readers of Gramophone and visitors to our various social media outlets. Vasily Petrenko is making waves, and we're happy to endorse this impressive lead, from over 8000 votes cast, for an artist who has clearly made the step up to a new level of musicianship and has the ability to take audiences with him on his musical journey.
Source: James Jolly (gramophone.co.uk)
Label of the Year
For an avid record collector, opening the morning's post at Gramophone remains one of life's great joys; and opening the post when a package arrives from Signum induces particular pleasure since it unleashes the spirit of serendipity. In an age awash with information, the simple act of opening a parcel without knowing quite what's inside is an unusual surprise. What you can always be sure of with Signum's monthly releases is that they will invariably be splendidly recorded and never predictable. And that recipe has set the company in good stead for the first two decades of its existence.
It's always good to mark significant anniversaries in the life of a record company, but when that anniversary is supported by a stream of first-rate recordings, recognition is less dutiful and rather more the result of inspiration. The 2016-2017 vintage has seen some truly superb releases and many Editor's Choices – Haydn's The Seasons conducted by Paul McCreesh, a terrific recording of chamber and vocal works by Jonathan Dove, Sophie Bevan and Ian Page's The Mozartists in scenas and concert arias, further instalments in Malcolm Martineau's Fauré song series, JS Bach organ works from David Goode, Peter Donohoe's Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, Nielsen's Flute and Clarinet Concertos with the Philharmonia conducted by Paavo Järvi, choral works from St John's College, Cambridge, and Wells Cathedral Choir, Roy Harris and John Adams violin concertos from Tamsin Waley-Cohen... the list goes on.
It's been a long journey from the mid-1990s, when Floating Earth (Signum's sister company) would make recordings in an executive production capacity – which it financed, owned and licensed to both independents and majors – to today's position as one of the most productive companies (in quantity, quality and range) on the UK classical music scene. As Steve Long, Signum's MD, recalls, an approach from an artist to record nine discs of Tallis got things under way. "Having pressed the first three albums and been to [the industry trade fair] Midem to get distribution, the first discs went on sale in November 1997. We were quickly approached by other early music groups who wanted to be on this new early music label so rather than be a niche of a niche I decided to broaden the scope of the label to be a multi-artist but still early music label. We continued in that vein until about 2001, by which time we had over 40 albums released but copious requests from non-early-music groups to join the party." Soon artists like Tenebrae and The King's Singers had a new home.
"We have a number of different ways of making recordings happen", Long continues. "The most common is that an artist comes to us with an idea and we make it happen in that we take care of technical and production elements and they put in the musical and artistic elements. We always like the artists to be ‘invested’ in the recording and have the making of the recording the start of the journey, not the end, as far as they are concerned. We view each release as a co-production with the artists. We also like each artist to undertake a series of recordings rather than stand-alone projects so we can develop a following for them."
With over 500 recordings in the catalogue and 50 releases emerging each year, Signum is very much a part of our world – and, always mindful of the way its audience listens, ensures that it is visible on all available platforms and on formats from the traditional CD to the massively popular stream.
Source: James Jolly (gramophone.co.uk)
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
"Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding", sings the Marschallin in Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier – "Time is a strange thing". Time for Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, one of the most admired Marschallins of our age, is not about looking back. It's for looking forwards. "I get bored talking about the past", she says, a line Hofmannsthal might easily have dropped into one of his librettos.
Dame Kiri may have stopped singing publicly ("No, I don't miss it"), but she certainly doesn't consider herself retired. She maintains a busy schedule overseeing her Foundation, an organisation to help future generations of singers. "Some of my students say to me, ‘How can I repay you for what you've done for me?’. I reply, ‘Just be successful!’". And if anyone has experienced success it is this possessor of one of the loveliest voices of modern times. That great connoisseur of the voice (and one of Gramophone's best-loved contributors) John Steane commented of Te Kanawa's "Dove sono" (Le nozze di Figaro) that "the legato is perfect, the style aristocratic, the tone at its loveliest", and drew comparisons with Meta Seinemeyer (and from JBS that was high praise indeed).
It's exactly 25 years since Gramophone bestowed its Artist of the Year Award on Dame Kiri. That year, 1992, had been an extraordinary one for her when it came to recordings: we'd had Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier from EMI, conducted by Haitink, a second recording of the Four Last Songs from Decca, conducted by Solti, Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus from Philips, conducted by André Previn, as well as an album of songs by Michel Legrand (to add to a sizeable lighter catalogue that included Gershwin, Bernstein, Kern and Rodgers and Hammerstein).
As we celebrate Kiri Te Kanawa's career with the Lifetime Achievement Award, we must be thankful that she lived through one of the richest periods for recordings and had the fortune to record for companies with great operatic heritages: Decca, EMI, Philips and CBS/Sony Classical. She enjoyed recording because, she says, "I liked the idea of getting things down while my voice was still in good shape. I always felt that while it was still there and still with a sweet quality to it, the more we could capture the better. Getting it perfect wasn't my idea; having long takes was. It had to be a performance; not spliced together". And she got the chance to record all her major roles (sometimes more than once: especially with the increased interest in DVD).
"I always said as I went along, throughout my career, that I never got it perfect", she revealed. "I never got it totally as I wanted it. I suppose that was quite an achievement, never getting it to the point of perfection. I never did. But I got as close as I could. Sometimes your colleagues were good, sometimes not so good. Sometimes the conducting wasn't so good. I always had a sort of octopus view of things, tentacles everywhere, to see if it was going right or wrong. I suppose the Met went very right on a lot of occasions. But when you've got 4000 people in the audience and they have 4000 different ideas, you don't know if you're singing to a friendly group or an unfriendly group, so you have to hope!"
Dame Kiri's voice might have been made for the music of Mozart and Strauss, and her recordings of operas (and choral works and songs) by those two composers remain particularly cherishable: her Capriccio Countess was a glorious characterisation, as was her Arabella; and in Mozart we have her Pamina, Countess Almaviva, Donna Elvira (particularly fine both under Sir Colin Davis and in the classic Joseph Losey film with Ruggiero Raimondi as Giovanni) and Fiordiligi, not to mention a glorious C minor Mass and some of the concert arias.
Dame Kiri has achieved what few classical singers manage, to attract a huge international audience with everything from musical theatre to grand opera, and she approached it all with the same spirit. She worked hard, she played the game (chat shows, Morecambe and Wise, constant interviews) and she gave generously of her time. Now, she has the time to devote to her extensive garden, and live the life she missed during her career. As Frederica von Stade once said to her, "We're on a freight train, and from time to time we stop!". And, Dame Kiri continues, "that's what it was like. It was like buzzing through almost 50 years of not stopping. It was an incredible life and when I look back on it, I keep thinking, ‘How did I have any time for anything?’. It was just the music – getting ready and then doing it. I don't think I could do it today".
Source: James Jolly (gramophone.co.uk)
Composer, arranger, administrator, mentor and cultural advocate: it can be difficult to decide where the emphasis lies when considering Colin Matthews (b. 1946), his contribution to British music across more than 40 years putting composers, musicians and listeners alike in his debt.
Matthews's own music is notable for its diversity of content. Two of his earliest acknowledged works, the Fourth and Fifth Sonatas for Orchestra, meet the respective challenge of American minimalism and Mahlerian chromaticism head-on, their concern for evolving and integrating large-scale expressive contrast pursued in such impressive later pieces as Cortège, Memorial, Reflected Images and Traces Remain. A productive relationship with the classical heritage is no less evident in his concertos for violin, cello and horn, along with a cycle of string quartets (five to date) spanning the greater part of his output. Vocal works include the dramatic cantata The Great Journey, orchestral song-cycle Continuum and No Man's Land, an arresting fusion of cantata and cabaret commemorating the First World War in provocative yet affecting terms.
This latter piece emerged out of Matthews's decade as Associate Composer with the Hallé – most significant of several such posts that have also included the Philharmonia and London Symphony orchestras, and that also gave rise to acclaimed orchestrations of the 24 Préludes for piano by Debussy. These transcriptions and arrangements are no less central to his work: back in the early 1960s he orchestrated several Mahler songs in collaboration with his older brother David (himself a distinguished composer), and he has since arranged song-cycles by Debussy, Holst and Britten. Matthews worked as amanuensis to Britten during his last years, and those editorial activities have continued with realisations of several early or unfinished pieces, in the process making new orchestral and chamber works available for performance.
Mention should also be made of his involvement (alongside David) with Deryck Cooke on the latter's performing edition of Mahler's Tenth Symphony, which has now received more than a dozen recordings and established itself as an integral part of the orchestral repertoire.
Matthews has long been active as administrator of the Holst Foundation. He is also chairman of the Britten Estate, as well as a trustee and Music Director of the Britten-Pears Foundation.
He served as a council member of the Aldeburgh Foundation for 11 years and has retained close links with the Aldeburgh Festival and the Britten-Pears School, not least as co-director (with Oliver Knussen) of the Contemporary Composition and Performance Course. He was a member of the council of the Society for the Promotion of New Music for over two decades, and director of the Performing Rights Society for three years. Since 1985 he has been a member of the music panel of the Radcliffe Trust and, since 2005, he has served as a council member of the Royal Philharmonic Society and Composition Director of the LSO's Panufnik Scheme.
Matthews has often worked as a recording producer, not the least significant being Górecki's Third Symphony with the London Sinfonietta, which topped classical charts on both sides of the Atlantic and has sold more than one million copies during the 25 years since it was issued.
It is as founder and executive producer of NMC Records that Matthews has made arguably his greatest contribution to the UK contemporary scene, and which has secured him this Special Achievement Award. From its modest beginnings in 1989 (the actual title is an acronym for New Music Cassettes), the label has built up a catalogue that currently amounts to 236 titles and which takes in a broad spectrum of British post-war music from senior composers such as Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Hugh Wood to rising stars such as Mark Simpson and Kate Whitley. Notable "firsts" have included Anthony Payne's realisation of the sketches for Elgar's Third Symphony, an Archive series which comprises reissues of long-unavailable recordings of British music, an Ancora series featuring reissues from other labels and a Debut series that focuses on composers from the younger generation. The NMC label has also been involved with download and online formats with such projects as New Music 20x12, for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and New Music Biennial. Nine of its releases have won the Contemporary category of the Gramophone Awards over the past quarter-century.
Colin Matthews received an honorary doctorate from Nottingham University in 1998, was given the Royal Philharmonic Society/Performing Rights Society Leslie Boosey Award in 2005 and made an OBE in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to music. It is fitting he is being recognised with a Special Achievement Award at this year's Gramophone Awards.
Source: Richard Whitehouse (gramophone.co.uk)
Young Artist of the Year
Young musicians usually impress in one of two different ways. One is to dazzle with the exuberance of youth, the sheer joy of their own talent and personality. It's a hard thing to resist, but one would be wise to wonder if it will still be serving them so well a decade or so down the line. The other is to show technique, yes, but also the poise and wisdom often lazily assumed to be beyond the attainment of youth, but which, if you've got it, will surely never go away. A few minutes with the playing of Beatrice Rana leaves you in no doubt which category she is in.
At 24, she has a refreshingly short competition history, though it includes first prize in the 2011 Montreal and Silver Medal at the 2013 Van Cliburn. Her days with such things are presumably over now, however, thanks to a contract from Warner Classics that has already yielded the Tchaikovsky First and Prokofiev Second Concertos (the Prokofiev "shapely, subtle, nuanced, musical in every detail", according to our own Patrick Rucker) and, as a first solo disc, an exquisitely drawn Bach Goldberg Variations that scored highly in this year's Instrumental category, only a year after Igor Levit's winning recording of it seemed to have given us enough to think about for the time being.
Born to pianist parents, she herself started on the instrument at the age of three, so that, as she claims, "playing the piano was among the most natural things I could do". Watch her play now – a luxury I had for a whole day while producing one of her BBC New Generation Artist studio sessions for Radio 3 – and it is evident that this deep grounding lends her a calm stillness that betokens perfectly relaxed technique and allows her to bring out the innate intelligence of her musical personality. Read Harriet Smith's review of the Goldbergs (4/17) and you will learn of a mouth-watering succession of original and beautifully realised ideas. Better still, listen to the recording itself to encounter a profound musician who also happens to be a pianist through and through.
Indeed, everything about Beatrice Rana speaks of maturity, from the playing itself to her modest reflections on it, and from her thoughtful approach to the music (see her Goldberg booklet note for that) to an attitude towards her career that essentially says "not too much at once". We must be patient, then; it would surely be both impolite and impolitic to hurry her. There will be plenty more to savour in years to come.
Source: Lindsay Kemp (gramophone.co.uk)
Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2017 – Part I. Disc Awards
Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2016 – Part I. All of the news from an inspiring and moving awards ceremony