This year the Gramophone Awards marks its 40th anniversary. Beginning as a new addition to a magazine of substantial vintage, the Awards have now been a crucial part of Gramophone for longer than many of you may have been readers (and, for that matter, longer – just – than its present day editor has been alive!). Founded at the tail end of the so-called ‘golden era’ of recording (and I add in the caveat not to bring into question the quality of that period’s music-making, but because so much from the decades since stands up worthily alongside it), we find ourselves today at a time when the very nature of recording, as an art, as an industry, as a way of listening, is undergoing immense change.
As our winning and shortlisted recordings show, today’s focus remains primarily on album-length releases, a format shaped by the capacity of a physical product. Yet even for those who access music in an entirely virtual way, this still – I’d argue – defines how people generally think of a recording. But for how long I wonder? Various labels have experimented with ‘singles’ or EPs (terms that also have direct roots in physical product). Why does a concerto generally need one coupling (why not three, why not none)? What’s the difference between a live recording streamed online, and an archived performance stored in a digital concert hall? I expect that, as our Awards head onwards towards their half-century, some of these questions – and many more we can’t foresee – will find themselves shaping our sense of what we cover, what we celebrate, what the industry makes available, and how they do it. And I look forward to it.
What, however, hasn’t changed, is the astonishing quality and commitment of those who find themselves before the microphones. The artists themselves, of course, continue to change, and that so many of our winners are relatively youthful is a great cause of celebration. Though so too is the fact that someone like Murray Perahia – perhaps the only recording winner this year who might conceivably have been a contender back when the Awards were launched – is still inspiring us with his profound gifts, for continuity is a vital part of evolution too.