The Classical Music Awards 1994: Stars come together in a new wide world: Artistic barriers are falling in a celebration of the whole field, writes Robert Maycock

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IF you are new to the world of classical music, you will know all about it being exciting to watch the tenor Jose Carreras, the composer Henryk Gorecki and the 13-year-old violinist Sarah Chang follow one another on to the same concert platform. But unusual? You need to have followed the scene for a while to see it that way.

Opera, contemporary music and instrumental music used to look like closed worlds, each with their own stars and fans and no room inside for anybody else. Now, at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday, here they were sharing in the Classical Music Awards 1994. Among other winners were the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli and the Kronos Quartet, the Fourth Symphony of Witold Lutoslawski and, in a visually stunning Japanese production, Stravinsky's opera-cantata Oedipus Rex. Celebrating the whole field: that was the point.

The idea was sparked off between the television producer Ultan Guilfoyle and musician Bob Geldof. Enthusiasm and discovery were the driving forces. It is all too easy for an industry to set up self-congratulatory prizes that reward the famous for being famous. That would mean tough luck for pioneers and innovators and anybody who is not yet a best-seller. Instead, there needed to be a way of honouring those who have the respect of the musicians themselves and those who are catching the imagination of the public. The key question was to find the right way of choosing them.

A jury of people active in international music read, listened, watched, and then shortlisted their nominations for each category. Then, under the chairmanship of the Independent's editor, Andreas Whittam Smith, came the final decisions.' They stuck their necks out with cheerful abandon,' said Guilfoyle later - though the meeting itself was 'relatively bloodless'.

The verdicts feature on these two pages. Each winner received a copy of Dhruva Mistry's limited-edition award sculpture, a calm but powerful 11-inch bronze. They, or their nominees, came to the ceremony along with presenters Melvyn Bragg and Evelyn Glennie, the English Chamber Orchestra and their conductor Marc Soustrot. They emerged on a spectacular television- style set on the Royal Albert Hall stage - wich the composer Michael Berkeley, who had the job of warming up the audience before the show, described as 'an old friend decked out in a frilly negligee'.

And they made music. Soustrot and the ECO started them off with one of Benjamin Britten's vivacious Rossini arrangements, and marked the triumph of a festival of Nordic arts with a distinctly Gallic dash through a Grieg Norwegian Dance. Valery Gergiev, conductor of the year, went further up-tempo in Prokofiev, and Thomas Hampson soared over the orchestra with an aria from Verdi's Don Carlos.

There were surprises: Glennie turned from presenter to performer and delivered part of a concerto by Milhaud. Carreras, despite engagements in Germany the day before and the day after, appeared in person though he didn't sing. Other surprises were less welcome, including the inevitable disappointments of indisposition. Bartoli had to cancel on the morning of the show. But Lutoslawski, recovering from an operation, sent word that he was 'definitely on the mend'.

As is the way of events geared to television, the evening had its lacunae and longueurs - all destined to disappear in making Saturday's broadcast go with a swing. It had its memorable happenings too, some of the best quite unpredictable. The audience responded with remarkable warmth to the presence of Gorecki, who is able to accept this new-found adulation with a candid, disarming air of mixed delight and detachment. The award for an unwell Yuri Bashmet was accepted by Lillian Tertis, the widow of Lionel Tertis, the player who single- handedly gave the viola a new prominence in 20th-century music- making; her husband, she said, would have been glad of the way Bashmet kept the instrument's flag flying.

If there had been an award for soundbite of the year, the pioneering Kronos Quartet would have walked away with it. In their short video profile players said 'there's nowhere to 'cross over' to, because music is a spectrum of possibilities' and pronounced that 'most politicians are afraid of music and creativity, and that's precisely where we start'. They dedicated their award to the 'hundreds' of living composers who have made the quartet what they are.

'We are here to stay,' was the verdict of Andreas Whittam Smith on the awards process. No doubt there will be more developments next time. The critic John Rockwell, a jury member, thought the involvement of the jury in making the initial nominations had produced more adventurous ideas than a trawl of the industry. But he felt a larger jury would help to increase further the breadth of activities.

And there, no doubt, is the way ahead. Not so long ago the idea that wide audiences might enjoy new works alongside the classics seemed like a fantasy - far too specialist. Now that those barriers are falling, others come into sight: between opera and dance, ancient and modern, West and East, music played from scores and music improvised on the spot. It all sounds unlikely for now, but who is to say where we will be in a decade's time? Watch this space.

In association with Kenwood, supported by BBC Music Magazine and the Independent