LEADERS OF THE PACK / More agony than ecstasy: Musician Of The Year

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BAD YEARS are not a royal prerogative: 1993 will go down, largely, as a bad year for the morale of musicians - especially those in the London orchestras, who have been so preoccupied with fighting for their survival in recent months that you wonder how they've found the energy to make music at all. Meanwhile, the German mezzo Christa Ludwig bowed out of one of the best-loved vocal careers of our time. The conductor Sir Edward Downes was struck partially blind, at a time when his career was at its peak. And there have been some particularly poignant, early deaths: Lucia Popp, Arleen Auger and Tatiana Troyanos among them.

In the circumstances it is only fitting that the runaway classical success of the year should have been Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, and the best new score the Henze Requiem. More positively, there have been some impressive arrivals: not least, the astonishing 13-year-old violinist Sarah Chang, whose adolescent virtuosity surpasses anything of its kind I've heard. The baritone Wolfgang Holzmair confirmed the reputation of his increasingly frequent Wigmore Hall appearances with a memorable Covent Garden debut. Jessye Norman provided the most glamorous recital the South Bank has seen in a long time. Colin Davis supplied the most classily masterful concerts, with the LSO in Berlioz's The Trojans at the Barbican. And Philip Langridge was a superlative ambassador for British singing at the Salzburg Festival, with a Nero (in Monteverdi's Poppea) whose intensity was unforgettable.

But my vote for musician of the year goes to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who has reclaimed the central position in British musical life that he seemed, not so long ago, to have surrendered. As a composer, his extraordinary outpouring of concertos for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra has continued unabated, while substantial new recordings have signalled the enduring strength of earlier scores such as Worldes Blis. As a conductor, he has tackled an ever-wider repertory with illuminating results. And as a voice of conscience in the music business he bounced back into the fray this year with a challenge to the Arts Council on behalf of the London orchestras that was impassioned, brave and risked the ridicule of failure. Next year sees his sixtieth birthday; and it mustn't be allowed to pass without acknowledging that fierce commitment to the well-being of music in this country.

(Photograph omitted)