Charlotte and Bryn top the classical pops

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The Independent Culture

Acclaimed by the recording industry but condemned by purists as dumbed-down glitter, the inaugural Classical Brit Awards attracted a roll-call of the sexiest names in serious music last night.

They were led by the Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel, who beat violinist Nigel Kennedy to the title of male artist of the year, and fellow Welsh singer Charlotte Church, voted British artist of the year. Kennedy, who now goes by his surname alone, received a special award for his "outstanding contribution to classical music".

The 14-year-old Church's £10m fortune rivals that of Liam Gallagher and other pop stars, but she was beaten to the title of best female artist by the Argentine pianist Martha Argerich, who has enjoyed a career of more than 40 years.

The choice of a serious performer such as Argerich in a category that included such well-known opera popularisers as Lesley Garrett and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, as well as the Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, may assuage some of the purists' objections.

The awards were set up by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) in response to classical music sales which it claims are booming. More than 16 million "classical" records were sold last year.

But critics point out that some of the music involved - such as from Star Wars - The Phantom Menace and Shakespeare in Love - would not have been described as "classical" in former times. They argue that the genuine classical music market is in long-term decline and suspect that the Classical Brits are a desperate attempt to inject showbiz glamour into a moribund industry.

However, Rob Dickins, the BPI chairman, defended the ceremony. "Classical music has over recent years spread its influence to encompass all kinds of markets and in doing so is reaching a much wider audience," he said.

"The strict and somewhat old-fashioned conformities of the past have been eroded and music is the winner. The Classical Brits aim to reflect the widening of the music and the audience."

Most of the awards were voted for by an academy of industry executives, record dealers, members of the Musicians' Union, promoters and orchestra leaders.

An exception was album of the year, which was voted for by listeners to Classic FM, which last week was named station of the year at the radio industry's Sony awards. Its listeners chose Sacred Arias by new male heart-throb Andrea Bocelli, who was also nominated in the male artist of the year category. The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, directed by Stephen Cleobury, won best ensemble/orchestral album award with their record of Rachmaninov's Vespers against competition from Sir Paul McCartney, the jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek, Nigel Kennedy and the Star Wars album.

Daniel Harding, a young conductor who has already worked with the Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, was named best British classical performer under 25.

The Critics' Award went to Ian Bostridge for The English Songbook.

Many of the nominees also performed at last night's event, held at the Royal Albert Hall, for an audience which paid a top price of £80 for tickets. Vanessa-Mae, the violinist as well known for her provocative poses as her playing, kicked off proceedings backed by 20 scantily clad drummers.

Kennedy and Charlotte Church were also joined by Lesley Garrett and the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, in the show which will be broadcast by ITV in two weeks' time.