We hoped this would be the year everything would come right: that concert venues would buzz with capacity crowds; that musicians would be back in full-time work; that soloists might again travel without fear of quarantine and testing (quite aside from the unresolved difficulties caused by Brexit) – above all, that Covid-19 would vanish. Instead, Omicron gallops ahead and even optimists must accept we’re not there yet.
For all the cancellations and underlying mood of chaos, countless musical events touched lives. The BBC Proms, cautiously but definitively, were back, with premieres from Charlotte Bray, Shiva Feshareki, Britta Byström, Grace-Evangeline Mason, George Benjamin and more. Highlights included John Wilson and his lithe Sinfonia of London; the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, revelatory in Mozart’s last symphonies; the Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson wowing the crowds in his Proms debut. Another pianist, Janeba Kanneh-Mason, introduced Florence Price’s one-movement concerto to the Proms.
András Schiff, in between incomparable Bach, gave a commentary of such obscure humour that I listened back four times
Podium exits and arrivals shaped the season: Domingo Hindoyan took over from Vasily Petrenko at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Petrenko himself injected vitality into his own “new” orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic. After a triumphant five years, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla announced her forthcoming departure from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Kazuki Yamada, from 2023, is her successor. Esa-Pekka Salonen said goodbye to the Philharmonia; Santtu-Matias Rouvali has already made a thrilling splash as his replacement. Succeeding Vladimir Jurowski, Edward Gardner launched his innings with the LPO, electrifying in Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage. As some regretfully anticipated, Simon Rattle will shorten his stay with the London Symphony Orchestra to work more in Germany, now his home. Antonio Pappano will take over (from 2024); his successor at Covent Garden has yet to be announced.
Santtu-Matias Rouvali, ‘thrilling’ new conductor of the Philharmonia. Photograph: Mark Allan
Opera struggled back to the main stages, with Janáček at the Royal Opera and Glyndebourne, Wagner at English National Opera, Puccini at Welsh National Opera, Bizet at Opera North, Gilbert and Sullivan at Scottish Opera, and at ENO too. The ever adaptable smaller “country house” venues fared well. Longborough built a big top for Monteverdi. Grange Park was strict with social distancing, with Bryn Terfel as Verdi’s Falstaff a star attraction. Garsington’s airy pavilion, with striking Richard Strauss and Handel, might have been designed with a pandemic factored into its risk assessment. Opera Holland Park cleverly reconfigured its entire auditorium for the benefit of audiences.
Covid and its ring road of consequence kept me closer to home than usual, often at events in non-traditional venues: a reminder that quality of performance takes precedence over a perfect acoustic. Grimeborn enthralled in Arcola’s new urban “barn”. Bold Tendencies, winner of this year’s Royal Philharmonic …….