Welcoming the new year with Bruckner
Monday, January 8, 2024
Introducing the January 2024 issue of Gramophone, our Bruckner 200th anniversary special
A new year, a new set of composer anniversaries to encourage us to explore music either well-known or unfamiliar, and to think about it afresh. There’s an intriguing variety to explore – Giacomo Puccini and Gabriel Fauré died a century ago in 1924, the year that Luigi Nono was born; Gustav Holst was born 150 years ago, while 200 years ago saw the birth of Bedřich Smetana and Anton Bruckner. We’ll celebrate Smetana in a later issue, but it’s to Bruckner that we turn first, and indeed we’ve dedicated much of this issue to a special focus on his symphonies. For many listeners, and certainly for many conductors, this extraordinary series of orchestral works – both hugely ambitious and deeply spiritual – have become the subject of intensive study and reflection, works that fit that rare accolade of being career-defining, even life-changing. And yet, certainly in the UK, Bruckner’s symphonies don’t perhaps have the resonance or recognition of, say, those of Mahler. Reasons may be many: Mahler’s music found extraordinarily high-profile champions such as Leonard Bernstein – but then Bruckner’s music hasn’t wanted for advocates of its own. In a fascinating essay that opens our coverage, Richard Osborne traces the history of Bruckner’s music on record, as conducted by the likes of Eugene Ormandy, Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, Eugen Jochum, Carlo Maria Giulini and Claudio Abbado – an impressive line-up of the last century’s leading maestros.
But what of this century? Well, we’ve assembled ten of today’s leading Bruckner interpreters to talk us through the symphonies, one conductor per work (with the exception of Nos 0 and 00 which are addressed together). The starting point was that the conductor had to have made a recording of the relevant work, and from that list we then sought to represent a true variety of style and approach. We hope it proves a powerful contribution to your understanding of Bruckner’s music, and a valuable reference for Bruckner performances throughout the year ahead, as orchestras worldwide seek to bring audiences closer to his music. To have conductors as different as Simone Young and Riccardo Muti, Herbert Blomstedt and Lahav Shani sharing their insights with us is a real privilege, and I’m hugely grateful to the trio of interviewers – Christian Hoskins, Henry Kennedy and Michael McManus – who not only managed to pin down the world’s busiest conductors for often long and in-depth conversations, but also brought so much of their own passion for Bruckner’s music to this special project.
I hope many of you may set aside time – and few composers reward you more powerfully for setting aside that most valuable commodity in our fast-moving world – to explore Bruckner’s music anew. And to explore so much more besides. Talking to labels about their plans, it promises to be a year every bit as inspiring as the last, with artists offering personal projects, orchestras preserving their current partnerships for posterity, and composers enriching the repertoire with new works. And as Gramophone steps into its second century, we’ll continue to be your guide to it all – whether here in the magazine, on our website, or on the Gramophone Podcast.