Classical music: Fiona Maddocks's 10 best of 2020

The year will be long remembered for recitals to an empty Wigmore Hall, car-park Puccini, Ravel as animation – and one man and his piano…

1. Igor Levit’s livestreamed house concerts
In an empty room, often in socks or slippers, the Russian-born pianist’s spontaneous response to global lockdown was to give nightly recitals – more than 50 in total – from his flat in Berlin, watched by a worldwide audience: the classical cult event of year, but incredible music-making too.

2. Wigmore Hall
London; From June
The revered London venue proved itself an agile pioneer in making live concerts free for all to watch online (or to hear via BBC Radio 3), with or without audiences. On 1 June the pianist Stephen Hough made headlines when he broke the 11-week lockdown silence across UK concert halls with a live lunchtime concert to an empty hall. His performance of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne felt like a moment in Covid-19 history.

3. Bold Tendencies
London; August-September
While others were still scratching their heads, this multistorey Peckham car park venue coaxed gilded young artists – pianists Pavel Kolesnikov, Samson Tsoy, Isata Kanneh-Mason, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason – back to live performance and enabled a sizable (socially distanced) audience to hear them, drawing sell-out crowds all summer.

Stephen Hough rehearsing ahead of his 1 June Wigmore Hall concert.
Stephen Hough rehearsing ahead of his 1 June Wigmore Hall concert. Photograph: Doug Peters/PA

4. Nixon in China
Theatre Royal Glasgow; February
Scottish Opera’s scintillating production proved the lasting power of John Adams and Alice Goodman’s 1987 opera, which embraces global politics, loneliness and old age.

5. Drive-in La bohème
Alexandra Palace, London; September
Opera from the seat of your car isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but all praise to English National Opera for having a go against all odds, and especially to the great cast (seen on TV too), who risked all to give heartfelt performances in the hardest conditions.

6. Mozart’s Gran Partita
Orchid Classics CD; November
UK players recorded this masterpiece in lockdown (with Geysir, a premiere by Mark Simpson) on one of the best discs of the year. In June, Simon Rattle conducted wind players in Munich in the same piece – a prototype for socially distanced performance when no one thought it could work.

7. Street Scene
Leeds Grand; January-February
Leeds Grand theatre was transformed, pre-Covid, into a sweltering Manhattan tenement in Opera North’s atmospheric all-singing, all-dancing staging of Kurt Weill’s “Broadway opera”.

Isata and Sheku KannehMason at Bold Tendencies.
Isata and Sheku KannehMason at Bold Tendencies in August. Photograph: Cottia Thorowgood

8. Ariodante
Royal Opera House, London, live stream; November
The Royal Opera wasn’t so quick at getting back on stage, but then offered the classiest singing in Handel’s 1735 opera, with Paula Murrihy gripping in the title role.

9. L’enfant et les sortilèges
Online film; November
Vopera and the London Philharmonic’s bewitching animation of Ravel’s opera charmed all. The cast list read like a big musical party, but it was all done in isolation.

10. Maxim Emelyanychev
City Halls, Glasgow; January
When concert life was still “normal”, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s new music director dazzled with Rameau and Lully in Glasgow’s City Halls, then – in the interval – played his cornett and persuaded his mesmerised audience to dance.


Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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