ARTS / Barbican buoyed by boy with Bernstein touch: Musician of the Year

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The Independent Culture
THIS was, more than usually, a transitional year for classical music. We said goodbye to Messiaen, Stephen Oliver and Glyndebourne-as-we-knew-it, each of them an institution of a kind, and welcomed with varying enthusiasm the arrival of Classic FM, the return of the Wigmore Hall, and the irresistible rise of John Tavener, who seems to have become the industry's totem in every conceivable sense - an unlikely combination of vox populi, sex symbol and spiritual advisor.

There have also been conspicuous arrivals among what genteel periodicals call the Younger Generation: the Scottish composer James MacMillan, whose Sinfonietta was among the best new works of the year, the suddenly and deservedly ubiquitous English tenor John Mark Ainsley, the soprano Amanda Roocroft, whose starring role in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi at Covent Garden was one of the most meltingly beautiful opera performances I heard in 1992, and the director Lucy Bailey, who showed invention against the odds in staging Tavener's Mary of Egypt at Aldeburgh and the Pasolini adaptation Teorema almost everywhere else. If I were issuing dispatches, there would also be mentions for Roger Norrington's Brahms Requiem at the QEH, Klaus Tennstedt's Beethoven 9 at the South Bank, and Robert Tear in the Glyndebourne Death in Venice (see Opera of the Year, page 19). I'd also give special mentions to Susana Walton for her tireless service to British music in William Walton's 90th anniversary year, and to Richard Hickox for just being there - a solid, dependable champion of so much in the musical life of this country that he gets taken for granted. We'd soon notice if he wasn't around.

But in looking back over the year, the recurring presence in my mind has been the Barbican. This year was its 10th anniversary and a cause for celebration, because the Barbican has won through. What started as a monstrous white elephant has proved itself a viable, productive and very often inspired music centre. It has, arguably, the best administration going; the best resident orchestra; the best orchestral management. It has just completed its massive Scandinavian festival, Tender is the North, a triumph which survived a cool beginning and settled into near-relentless triumph: a real credit to Humphrey Burton, the organiser.

And it has Michael Tilson Thomas, whose gifts as a conductor and all-round communicator have been catalogued too often in this paper to need much amplification. He has, in many ways, the Bernstein touch: the excitement, the glamour, the complete command of a specific (largely modern) repertory. He gives the LSO an energy and brilliance that are unique. So, as a representative of the Barbican but also in his own right, Michael Tilson Thomas is my music personality of 1992. We won't be seeing very much of him in 1993 because he's taking a sabbatical to write some music. Make the most of what you get.

(Photograph omitted)