Classical music is right to champion the young

Martin CullingfordMon 30th January 2017

The support and nurturing of the young and the new has always been of immense importance

There’s an understandable, and important, tendency in classical music to place great emphasis on the past. This is true both in terms of repertoire – the bulk of what we hear on disc and in the concert hall having been written many years, often centuries, before – and in terms of artists. Historic recordings reveal great riches about the interpretations of performers no longer with us, and indeed about their eras. Music, like all art forms, ties generations together in both directions, and recording is the perfect bond.

But it is to music’s great credit that the support and nurturing of the young and the new has always been of immense importance too. This is particularly true with artists, and with recording.

In recent months we’ve seen signings from major labels of very young artists. This month saw Warner Classics’s signing of 17-year-old trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary, while last year also saw Decca sign 17-year-old cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and 16-year-old recorder player Lucie Horsch, and DG sign 15-year-old violinist Daniel Lozakovich. These are soloists at early stages of their career, and one hopes – and expects – repertoire and career progress will be carefully considered so as to enable them to grow into truly profound artists. It’s easy to knock such signings as being about the pursuit of the youth market. To which the correct reply can only be to judge the results (Lucie Horsch’s disc, for example, was well received last month), and also to say that there is much to be praised in trying to engage teenage audiences in classical music: performances from extraordinarily talented peers may well speak to them with a greater directness and relevance than those of their elders. It could be the start of a lifelong journey, one such listeners may well find themselves sharing alongside the likes of Renaudin Vary, Kanneh-Mason, Horsch et al; just as an older generation shared their own journeys with Anne-Sophie Mutter (who made her debut disc with DG aged 15) or Daniel Barenboim (who first performed at Carnegie Hall aged 14).

Such thoughts were prompted by these signings, and by the change of year when, encouraged by an arbitrary numerical moment, we tend to turn from reflecting on the past to looking ahead. But they were also prompted by the process of selecting this month’s Editor’s Choices. I’m not quite sure what constitutes youth these days, but if life is very long, then a significant number of this month’s most extraordinary recordings certainly came from the younger generation destined to define tomorrow’s musical world. To hear Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies explored so masterfully by the 31-year-old pianist Vincenzo Maltempo is inspiring. Pablo Heras-Casado – at 39 still young for a conductor certainly! – receives Recording of the Month for a truly impressive performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 1. And then there is the debut disc by Jamie Barton, winner of 2013’s Cardiff Singer of the World, a quite beautiful voice of which we can only look forward to hearing more. Looking forward, then: for classical music, at least, the future feels bright.

Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is the Editor and Publisher of Gramophone.

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