In praise of the 2016 Gramophone Award winners
Accolades come in many forms. We've just published our Awards issue, our annual celebration of the very best classical music recordings of the year and tribute to the extraordinary life-affirming music-making from the greatest artists in the world. It’s stating the obvious that such achievements do not happen over-night, the result purely of artistic inspiration. For all the interpretative genius that elevates the technically brilliant to the summit of artistic excellence, all is nought without the decades of devoted, hard graft – technical exercises, forensic exploration of the music, experimentation, consolidation. As the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall goes: practice, practice, practice. But then, only then, is that visionary extra layer able to make all the difference.
As I write, I’m still feeling a glow of patriotic pride at the phenomenal success of our British athletes in the Olympics. Sport/music analogies are easily made, and it’s possible to take them too far – for a start, winning isn’t so absolute in art. We bestow Awards on our winners, which indeed have emerged from a rigorous voting process, but unlike in sport the status of the first across the line is more nuanced, the definitive and unanswerable cruelty of the clock does not apply, and anyway, we’re rarely comparing like-for-like. Any recording which made it to the category shortlists, let alone found itself before the final Recording of the Year panel, is worthy of joining your collection.
But as we all marvel at the path of total dedication, invariably and necessarily one of sacrifice, of our Olympic victors, let us remember that for the soloists, singers and conductors here being honoured, that path has been no less one of single-minded pursuit, quite possibly one that started even earlier than that of a cyclist or swimmer.
Most insights into the lives of athletes – whether interviews, biographies or those moving displays of emotion on winning or losing – reveal that the will-to-win is only part of the story, just as a musician’s technical prowess is only part of theirs. Endeavour exists within the context of a life – soul and spirituality are a crucial part of the mix. In a fascinating step, the Estonian Olympic Committee has recently appointed conductor Kristjan Järvi as the first non-sports person to become a member. Partly it’s to explore the role music can play in inspiring people (I wonder what he’ll have athletes listening to on their giant headphones when getting into the zone!). But it’s also to bring to sport a fresh angle of understanding about how the physical and spiritual relate which, as we know, they so crucially do in music-making. As with athleticism, so with art: we are all complex and comprehensive beings, perhaps those able to attain the extraordinary levels required to win Gramophone Awards (or Olympic medals) more than most.
I do hope you enjoy our Award-winning recordings – gold medals to them all. And two new initiatives this year offer you an even closer ring-side seat: the entire Awards ceremony is available to stream on medici.tv - also available through our own website and classicfm.com – while a special CD featuring performances by all the Award-winners is available exclusively from Amazon.