What do this year's Gramophone Awards tell us about the current state of classical music?
Monday, October 9, 2023
Editor Martin Cullingford reflects on the differences of a passing year – or century
What defines a year’s music-making? Is there a single trend to detect in the albums that have passed across Gramophone’s desks in the previous 12 months – metaphorically speaking of course, these days, as like many readers, digital files form so much of the way we engage with recordings? Generally, the answer is no, an exception being when the pandemic created challenges for large-scale studio sessions, and led to recordings responding to events as a number of reflective recitals over the past few years have done. But happily, a glance at releases reveals that recording life has moved on from that difficult period. Live audiences have settled somewhat too – the 93 per cent capacity reported by the BBC Proms is a very positive sign.
But if there has been a trend, then it is – as I alluded to above – the ever greater significance of streaming. This month we reported on the acquisition by Apple, a company that perhaps more than any has defined digital listening (even launching a dedicted classical app), of the Swedish label BIS. Its founder Robert von Bahr would only have allowed his extraordinary creation – our Label of the Year – to have been placed in the care of a supportive home; what the Apple deal hopefully guarantees is that BIS will find as loyal an audience among tomorrow’s streamers as among today’s collectors. That news followed the purchase earlier this year by Universal of the equally revered British indie Hyperion, one of the last labels to arrive on streaming services, and it’s just announced that it has delivered its 10 millionth stream.
But if the way we listen to music has seen significant developments, what of the albums themselves which form, firstly, our long list, before being whittled down through considered listening by the finest of reviewers to our Award winners – what trends can we detect there? Happily, much the same as we have throughout Gramophone’s 100-year history, an anniversary we’ve been marking throughout 2023: an insatiable appetite to act as advocate for the new, to rethink the familiar, to welcome the wisdom of long careers, and to nurture the next generation of artists. It’s always pleasing (though a reminder that I’m aging too!) to see the Young Artists of years past proving very much the guiding spirits of the present, shaping the scene for their successors in turn.
We hope – no, we know – that the albums we celebrate throughout the Awards issue will provide much enjoyable listening, and many may become benchmarks for years to come. Time will tell, of course, and the test will always be comparative listening, the consideration of new recordings in the context of an ever-changing catalogue. That approach, as much as anything, has defined Gramophone’s critical style across our past century, and does so today – and however you listen, whether via CDs or a streaming service, the ways and means to do so have never been greater or easier. It’s once again been a remarkable year – my heartfelt thanks to the artists and industry who continue to so enrich our listening lives, to all my colleagues for their insight so generously given, and to you our readers who support all that we do. Here’s to the century to come!