The year in classical music
Perhaps by now we should have learned to be grateful for small mercies. The collapse that has so frequently been predicted for the classical-music world failed to materialise for one more year at least, though the aftershocks of September 11 are already having an effect on funding. Even the record industry remained largely intact, though one distinctive label, Nimbus, went to the wall, and some of the major companies have been streamlining their outputs so that there are regular reports of high-calibre performers finding themselves without a recording contract.
That's not to say, though, that it has been a vintage year for British music. There have been few great changes in the fortunes of London orchestras; the LSO has continued to produce work of the highest calibre with Colin Davis as its chief conductor, and is benefiting from having its home at the acoustically remodelled Barbican, where there is a real sense of enterprise and imagination about the artistic planning. The Philharmonia and the London Philharmonic are still struggling to preserve their distinctive profile on the South Bank, which, in the year the Festival Hall celebrated its 50th anniversary, seems more bereft of creative ideas and guiding management than at any time in its existence.
It has been a good year for the regional orchestras: the Bournemouth Symphony has found itself a sensible new chief conductor in Marin Alsop, the City of Birmingham Symphony and Sakari Oramo are at last settling into a fruitful partnership, and now have Julian Anderson as composer-in-association, while after only a few months the Hallé in Manchester is starting to reap the benefits of having secured Mark Elder as its music director.
Not much excitement in opera, either. While the Royal Opera seems to be marking time until the arrival of Antonio Pappano next autumn, it came up with two classy new productions: Nikolaus Lehnoff's staging of Hennze's Boulevard Solitude, and David McVicar's Rigoletto, as well as a Parsifal - conducted by Simon Rattle, who this summer finally signed his contract at the Berlin Philharmonic - that was by all accounts first rate musically but uninspired dramatically. But the visit of the Kirov Opera to Covent Garden for a Verdi season in July was a disappointment, musically indifferent and theatrically more or less inept.
English National Opera had a mixed year, with new shows ranging from the abject (a Marriage of Figaro that should have been aborted in rehearsals) through the controversial (Calixto Bieto's staging of Don Giovanni, which outraged many but was full of fresh and - literally - penetrating ideas) to the first rate (McVicar's Rape of Lucretia and Tim Albery's staging of Prokofiev's War and Peace, a white elephant of a piece that nevertheless showed the company at its best). ENO was also the one major opera company to manage a premiere in 2001 - David Sawer's From Morning to Midnight, which in the event was something of a disappointment from such a promising composer.
It was a less than remarkable year for new music: Aldeburgh presented the British premiere of Alexander Goehr's operatic double bill, Kantan and Damask Drum, but did it no service by clothing it in a production of utter fatuousness. Goehr was also one of the composers favoured with a Proms commission, which were generally unremarkable; out of the 20-odd new works it is hard to identify one that is likely to be heard often again.
So the indelible memories to take away from the year are relatively few - just three, in fact. Krystian Zimerman's Brahms and Beethoven piano recital at the Festival Hall in June was final proof, if it were still needed, that Zimerman merits a place among the greatest pianists of all time. The arrival of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim at the end of the Proms for two concerts finally galvanised what had been an underwhelming season with playing of the highest class. Best of all for me, though, was Heiner Goebbels's latest theatre piece, Hashirigaki, a highlight of an Edinburgh festival otherwise full of operas in concert performance; Goebbels brings together Gertrude Stein and the Beach Boys in a magical synthesis that, like all the greatest art, is utterly unclassifiable.
The Guardian (GB), 21 December 2001