When recently Gramophone ran an online feature about the world’s most inspiring orchestras – focusing exclusively on their social roles rather than their musical quality – there was a fulsome reaction. Readers wrote to voice their approval and media outlets reported on the initiative. Music has always had a transformative power; it can help to give lives direction, even to give life itself a measure of clarity and meaning. More practically, perhaps, the meritocratic system of auditions can provide a way up for those from underprivileged backgrounds.
The winners of the 2009 Praemium Imperiale Awards, honouring outstanding contributions to the arts, were announced today. Five leading international figures were selected by the Japan Art Association, and recognised in the field of music was pianist Alfred Brendel. Selected alongside Brendel were photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, sculptor Richard Long, architect Zaha Hadid and playwright Tom Stoppard. They join an impressive list of former laureates, including music winners Györgi Ligeti, Mstislav Rostropovich, Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim.
For cellist and conductor Paul Watkins 2009 has been a particularly successful year. First came his appointment as music director of the English Chamber Orchestra, a three-year engagement from the current 2009-10 season. Now comes the news that he will also take over as principal guest conductor of the Ulster Orchestra with immediate effect. This engagement, too, is for an initial period of three years.
Sofya Gulyak has triumphed over almost 200 applicants to win the 16th Leeds International Pianoforte Competition. The 29-year-old Russian impressed the panel of judges - including Beaux Arts Trio pianist Menahem Pressler and 1981 Leeds first-prize winner Ian Hobson – with her performance of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé in the final. She receives the Princess Mary Gold Medal and a cash prize of £15,000.
The successful partnership between the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko was yesterday cemented further as the young conductor signed a three-year contract extension. Petrenko, who has been credited with attracting fresh, younger audiences to classical music, will now remain in Liverpool until 2015. His title will change from principal conductor to chief conductor in recognition of the new commitment.
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If Arthur Fielder was the king of pops conductors, Erich Kunzel rightly earned the title “Prince of Pops”. For more than three decades, Kunzel presided over the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, touring the world and making 85 recordings for the Telarc label. Their discs won Grammy awards and sold more than 10 million copies.