How do performers past and present relate?

Martin Cullingford
Thursday, January 3, 2019

When we were developing the idea for the cover story of our January issue – a discussion about some of the leading young stars of the piano world – two key things came to mind. The first, and our starting point, was simply to delight in the fact that we seem particularly fortunate to find among today’s young pianists some extraordinarily gifted and visionary individuals. What those we’ve highlighted – Igor Levit, Beatrice Rana, Daniil Trifonov, Yuja Wang and Benjamin Grosvenor among them – share is that when you read their name, you immediately have a vivid sense of their approach to performance, repertoire and collaboration. Each has a strong music-making identity, one which has been chronicled through our pages in reviews, including Editor’s Choice and even Awards coverage. Second, there was a feeling that those mentioned in particular all somehow shared the spirit of the great soloists of the past, from the early part of the recording era, when a combination of both international concert-giving fame (which the likes of Liszt had of course achieved in a pre-microphone era) and the reach of recording together made certain pianists into beacons of brilliance and even household names. And so the feature became a tribute to both present and past – two things deeply entwined of course, reflected in the approach of many of our reviews to contextualising new recordings within the catalogue. 

One of the fascinating elements of my work is getting to discuss with artists their perception of figures from earlier generations – whether in the magazine, or on our podcasts where conversations can sometimes range more freely and informally. Some don’t think about it too much, but for others it’s a deep source of inspiration. For several years, as part of the Gramophone Hall of Fame, we invited leading artists to pay tribute to greats of the past, and their revealing responses can all be found in the artists section of our website. 

So much for the musicians, what about the listener? I hope our recently enhanced coverage of reissues and box-sets has helped our readers to think about past music-making in new ways. I find it interesting, in our My Music interviews, how often it will be an iconic recording from the past that makes it into the ‘Recording I can’t live without’ slot. And looking at the albums being re-released on vinyl, again it’s often monumental historic performances that seem to particularly capture the imagination of a new generation discovering the format. There’s an understandable confidence in turning to accepted achievements from the past, where time has sifted other versions and left a few shining out (though our Classics Reconsidered feature aims to make sure we don’t become complacent in our assumptions). 

Thanks to recording, the past is there to be enjoyed for ever. It’s the soloists of today, however, those we can watch and follow, and allow ourselves to be challenged and changed by, who will shape the future. Who knows which of those we’ve highlighted will be the basis of debate in decades to come? I think it’s quite likely many will be – but then predicting the future has always been a precarious pursuit. 

martin.cullingford@markallengroup.com

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