My first experience of the Beethoven sonatas as a body of work came when I was 13 years old. I had flown to the Peabody Institute in Baltimore to play for Leon Fleisher, who several years later would become my teacher and one of the great influences of my life. Coincidentally, that same weekend, his students, between them, were performing the sonatas, complete, in a marathon session beginning early in the morning and ending somewhat past midnight. I arrived in time for the Opus 31 Sonatas (numbers 16 through 18, of 32) and stayed, excepting a short dinner break, to the end.
There was a strange sense of faltering change in the air in Lahti this September. Finland was at the end of its hottest and brightest summer for decades, but despite the shortening days the temperatures weren’t cooling and the sun wasn’t dimming. The Lahti Symphony Orchestra was revelling in its own new dawn, inaugurating principal conductor Okko Kamu with performances of the complete Sibelius symphonies.
‘Everything in this country today is going down the tubes,’ mutters the veteran BBC reporter, an Italy specialist, as we file into the concert. Then, looking up at the still-new auditorium of the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, one of three towering, pod-like structures raised off the ground like alien spacecraft waiting to take flight, he checks himself. ‘Almost everything.’
Riccardo Chailly’s view of the Beethoven symphonies has been a well-kept secret, but now in a single well-coordinated gesture all is revealed. At concerts in Vienna’s Musikverein, Paris’s Salle Pleyel and London’s Barbican, Chailly and his Leipzig Gewandhausorchester will present all nine symphonies alongside five specially commissioned works that reflect their individual composer’s attitude to Beethoven’s symphonies.
The Baroque specialists have had it all their own way for too long. Ever since the 1930s when they first discovered Vivaldi, any composer who could dream up another variation on diddle-diddle-diddle has been the subject of exhaustive scholarly analysis and accorded any number of recordings. Forgotten names have been resurrected and put back on the pedestals which they occupied during their lifetime; moth-eaten manuscripts abandoned in obscure monastic libraries have been restored, edited and given new life. It’s been good for music, music lovers and musicologists.
Dame Janet Baker was honoured at this year's Gramophone Classical Music Awards, presented in association with Steinway & Sons, with a Lifetime Achievement Award. You can see some of the photographs from this year's Awards (the first few of many more to be posted in the next few days) by launching the gallery view - simply click the first image below .
‘We have the same sense of humour, the English and the Danes, don’t we?’ There’s a teetering pause. Backstage at the Symphony Hall in Aarhus, composer Bo Holten has me fixed with expectant eyes and a burgeoning grin. ‘That’s why we get along so well, isn’t it?’