The best classical music of 2012: Fiona Maddocks's choice

John Cage rocked, Britten's War Requiem returned to Coventry and Daniel Barenboim did the Proms and Olympics in a night

Plucked cacti, water-filled conch shells, sound and silence: John Cage's centenary in 2012 offered some of the most irreverent performances in a year which had its usual array of anniversaries – still the most powerful influence on shaping the classical calendar – but thankfully none which hogged the limelight: Debussy, Delius, Nancarrow, Coleridge-Taylor: Philip Glass at 75, Oliver Knussen at 60, the Britten Sinfonia at 20, the Southbank Sinfonia at 10 among others. We could enjoy them all. Will we say the same after 2013's monster anniversary triumvirate of Wagner, Verdi and Britten?

If prickly plants weren't your thing, there was music via four helicopters with Birmingham Opera's Stockhausen adventure, Mittwoch aus Licht, and John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer (ENO) finally made it to London. "London 2012" stamped its mark on musical events nationwide, including the BBC Proms which hardly needed this extra badge of merit. But planning the culmination of Daniel Barenboim's Beethoven cycle to coincide with the opening of the Olympics was smart, especially as hours later he was seen by millions, looking strangely virginal all in white, as one of the bearers of the Olympic flag.

Among the comings and goings: three notable composers died: Elliott Carter at 103, Hans Werner Henze at 86 and Jonathan Harvey at 73. The Peter Moores Foundation, bankrolled by Littlewoods football pools since 1964, announced its closure, having donated £215m to the arts, especially to opera in English. The BBC Symphony Orchestra named Sakari Oramo as its new chief conductor, as well as creating a new role for Semyon Bychkov. Earlier in the year, by the way, the Master of the Queen's Music, Peter Maxwell Davies, accused today's conductors of being "lazy and limited" and "just churning out production line performances".

No one could make such charges against the Royal Opera's music director Antonio Pappano. After completing two marathon works, Berlioz's Les Troyens and Wagner's The Ring, he had to sign off with repetitive strain injury. But he'll soon be back: finding a replacement for Tony Hall, popular CEO of the ROH, now appointed BBC director general, will be the headhunters' biggest headache for the new year.


Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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