Gramophone's editor introduces the latest issue of the magazine
What does a conductor do? It’s an often-asked question by musicians, audiences and critics, yet one that never ceases to fascinate and intrigue. And nor should it: behind the most dramatic, moving, thrilling and emotional orchestral and operatic performances we’ve heard in concert or on record is a conductor. Hundreds of supremely talented instrumentalists and vocalists, too, of course – but they’ll sound different for different conductors. How do conductors communicate their unique vision of a work, based on weeks, years or decades of scholarship, to the players in front of them? How do they elevate a performance from the earthbound to – as Mariss Jansons puts it in this month’s cover story – the cosmic? Geoffrey Norris, who as The Telegraph’s critic for a quarter of a century has watched most of today’s conductors in action, tackled this question through conversations with some of today’s leading maestros. The result is a fascinating insight into the conductor’s craft.
The achievements of conductors are rightly a central focus of the Gramophone Awards, our annual celebration of the best recordings, which this year takes place on September 27. This issue we reveal the three shortlisted works in each category; the conductors whose art you can explore here include Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Sakari Oramo, Claudio Abbado, Sir Antonio Pappano, Iván Fischer and Daniel Barenboim, along with many of today’s most remarkable and gifted instrumentalists and singers. Every week leading up to the Awards, we’ll be exploring each category shortlist with one of our critics in the Gramophone Podcast. They’re free to download here. And for readers not familiar with gramophone.co.uk, I would urge you to log on – as well as daily news stories, recent features include a celebration of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor 100 years after his death, and 10 recommended recordings from Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic to celebrate his 10 years at the Orchestra’s helm. We’ll also be updating the site with all the latest Awards-related news and, on the day itself, revealing the winners as they’re announced.
Martin Cullingford is editor of Gramophone - brought up in Britten country on the Suffolk coast, when not practising the guitar he can often be found enjoying Evensong.