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To classical music lovers of a certain age, the words “BBC Northern Orchestra, conducted by John Hopkins”, spoken by the veteran BBC North Region announcer Tom Naisby, remain a vivid memory of 1950s wireless listening.

Prom 39, Brabbins Royal Albert Hall, London<br/>Prom 43, Salonen Royal Albert Hall, London<br/>Prom 46, Bychkov, Royal Albert Hall, London

Decades later and we've grown to love Birtwistle's rich and strange sound world. A concert to celebrate the composer's 75th birthday is met with shock and awe &ndash; as well as affection

Album: Bartok / Shostakovich Violin Concertos, (Ambrosie/Naive)

The raw immediacy of Yossif Ivanov's tone is the first thing to strike in this pairing of two of the mid-20th century's most pungent violin concertos.

Sir Edward Downes: Conductor celebrated as one of the finest Verdi interpreters of his generation

Edward Downes spent more than 50 years of his life at Covent Garden Opera House, as prompter, répétiteur, translater and, of course, conductor. He spent four years as the music director of Australian Opera, but returned at least once a season to Covent Garden where, in 1992, he was appointed assistant music director and principal conductor of the Royal Opera. He had been knighted the year before. He was one of the finest Verdi conductors of his generation, and in 1995 he launched an ambitious plan to perform all Verdi's operas at Covent Garden by 2001, the centenary of his death, a plan which unfortunately foundered from lack of funds. Downes's other great strengths were in Russian opera, especially Prokofiev and Shostakovich, though he did not neglect Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky, and in 20th-century opera: he conducted several premieres and British premieres.

Elaine Padmore: 'Musicians loved Ted. He was a strong man with clear ideas'

Ted Downes had a formidable love and knowledge of opera – particularly Russian opera – and his pebbly glasses made him look like Shostakovich, who was one of Ted's great heroes. He was a huge Verdi man and was instrumental in creating the Verdi festival in London's Covent Garden in the 1990s. I remember when he and David McVicar came for the 2001 production of Rigoletto. I had to introduce them to each other and wondered how they would get on. But Ted was marvellous with younger people and very interested in their ideas, and this senior conductor and rising director got on fantastically well. The revival of this production of Rigoletto in 2005 was one of the last things Ted was able to conduct.

Boris Pokrovsky: Opera director whose career at the Bolshoi crossed five decades

Boris Pokrovsky dominated Soviet opera for over 50 years and his productions – lavish, traditional, even sometimes staid – defined the Bolshoi style. But his chamber opera company often moved in a very different direction.

Orion Symphony Orchestra, Cadogan Hall, London

Another night, another student orchestra. If you want to learn the secret of classical music's perennial good health, look no further; the conservatoires are bristling with talent. The Orion draws its players from all four London conservatoires, and the Sonitus Chamber Choir, which joined it for this event, does likewise. One purpose of this orchestra is to promote "unjustly forgotten masterpieces"; another is to give the players experience of working under real-world pressure.

The Brothers Karamazov, Barbican, London

It's a brave (or foolhardy) man who dares to make an opera of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Throughout the long first act of Alexander Smelkov and Yury Dimitrin's adaptation for the Mariinsky Theatre, the effect was a little like speed-reading it while under the influence. If you didn't know the novel at all, the seemingly reckless dash of the narrative, the dislocation of characters and ideas, will have left you feeling marooned in some grand farce. To some extent, Dostoyevsky's last novel is just that – the anatomy of a chaotic society and the human conditions driving it. But still I wonder if the composer and his librettist have got the balance right between the grimly ironic and the tragic?

Smelkov The Brothers Karamazov, Mariinsky Theatre/ Gergiev, Barbican Hall

It’s a brave (or foolhardy) man who dares to make an opera of Dostoyevsky’s seminal novel The Brothers Karamazov.

LSO / Previn, Barbican Hall, London

It doesn't seem so very long ago (but it was) that André Previn crossed over from the darkside (aka Hollywood) and sought the classical limelight in London. He sported a Beatles haircut and a spring in his step, and Eric Morecambe called him Mr Preview.

London Symphony Orchestra/ Previn, Barbican Hall

It doesn’t seem so very long ago (but it was) that Andre Previn crossed over from the darkside (a.k.a. Hollywood) and sought the classical limelight in London.

Yo-Yo Ma/Kathryn Stott, Barbican Hall, London

They sit closer than do most duo recitalists, reflecting the now intimate nature of their musical partnership. Indeed there was one note of Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata in A minor when a pizzicato in the cello and a staccato quaver in the right hand of the piano chimed in such a way as to belie the fact that there was absolutely no eye contact. Pure musical telepathy.

Pehr Henrik Nordgren: Modernist composer who incorporated folk music into his work and relished his artistic freedom

Pehr Henrik Nordgren was a rare phenomenon among composers: he wrote music which held a place at the forefront of contemporary culture and which also managed to speak directly to his listeners. He took an essentially humanist view of the composer's role:

Prom 70 Messiaen St Francis of Assisi<br/>Prom 71 Mahler CSO &ndash; Haitink <br/>Prom 72 Shostakovich/Mozart CSO Haitink/Perahia, Royal Albert Hall, London

Other concerts pale beside four-and-a-half hours of Messiaen which aim to catch the rapture of prayer

A concert for Ossetians &ndash; to Russia's tune

Many have lost relatives, some no longer have homes, but they all put on their best evening dress and flocked to Tskhinvali's central square to see one of the world's most famous conductors lead an emotional concert in support of his people – and Russian military action.

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