Top 20 musical moments of 2017

As we look forward to the new year, we look back on the remarkable musical moments of 2017

Top 20 musical moments of 2017

20.  Unexpected guest #1


French President Emmanuel Macron visited Strasbourg’s Opera House unannounced whilst on government business in the city. Watching a rehearsal of an amateur chorus from a balcony, President Macron then came downstairs to join the 1000 chorus members in singing an excerpt of Bizet’s Carmen!


19.  What an Honour


Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel headed the list of musicians knighted in the 2017 New Year’s Honours. ‘This is something I will hopefully carry with pride’, said the singer, ‘and think it might help some young singers to achieve something – and to dream – and that is something very important.’ Among the other musicians recognised in the New Year’s Honours was percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, who was awarded the Order of the Companions of Honour.


18.  Worthy recognition


The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra received a National Dementia Friendly Award from the Alzheimer’s Society. This was presented in recognition of the ensemble’s outreach work with dementia patients. This has included ‘Cake Concerts’, which provide classical music to patients and their families in a relaxed setting, with cake to enjoy as well as high-quality music-making!


17.  The Grand Opening


Hamburg’s new state-of-the-art concert hall opened on 11 January with a concert including the music of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms. The hall has a capacity of over 2000, and cost over half a billion euros to construct. By November 2017, the hall had attracted over 4 million guests!


16.  Happy Birthday to you


Composer John Adams’s 70th year has been celebrated throughout the 2016-17 season by numerous ensembles and broadcasters. Among the concerts highlighting his birthday was a concert given by the Britten Sinfonia at the Barbican in February; elsewhere, the BBC Proms marked the occasion on the First Night with a performance of his Harmonium. 2017 also saw the premiere of Adams’s new two-act opera Girls of the Golden West.


15. Rewarding live performance


The Royal Philharmonic Society’s annual awards ceremony recognises the greatest achievements in live performance, and winners in the 2017 ceremony included conductor Richard Farnes and pianist Joseph Middleton.


14. An interesting rendition


The Libyan Army welcomed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to their country with a unique interpretation of the British national anthem…


13. Unexpected guest #2


At a classical concert, we normally expect to see just musicians on the stage. However, at a performance at the Barbican, a mouse was seen scurrying down the concert hall!


12. Station innovation


It’s all change at BBC Radio 3! Controller Alan Davey announced a reshuffle for the autumn season, including a new ‘Slow Radio’ project focusing on Bach’s famous journey from Arnstadt to Lübeck (which is also explored in our Christmas 2017 issue). Also part of the changes was a new project with the Wellcome Collection, exploring the connection between music and memory.


11. The History-Maker


New Year’s Day is always a time for celebration, but it was no doubt a particularly festive occasion for Gustavo Dudamel…. The Venezuelan conductor became the youngest person to lead the New Year’s Day concert with the Vienna Philharmonic, aged just 35.


10. 500 years


The BBC Proms marked the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation with a special day of concerts. This included performances by conductor John Butt, organists William Whitehead and Robert Quinney, and the BBC Singers conducted by Sofi Jeannin. New works commissioned to mark the occasion included chorale settings by Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Jonathan Dove.


9. Verdi’s hidden treasure


2017 has been a great year for uncovering lost or previously unpublished music manuscripts…. Among several notable examples of composers ‘uncovered’ is Giuseppe Verdi. The composer’s descendants have given the composer’s scores to the Italian government, which intends to make the papers public. The 5300 pages of manuscript and notes had been kept in Verdi’s house, and have never before been published. Among the vast collection of the composer’s writings include 900 pages of unpublished notes about his opera Falstaff, and manuscript copies of music cut from his operas.


8. A Starry Night


BBC Music Magazine’s annual awards ceremony took place at London’s Kings Place on 19 April. Winners included conductor Vasily Petrenko, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani and composer Julian Anderson.


7. Building momentum


This year has seen some notable developments in London…. American architects Diller Scofidio & Renfro were selected to design the capital’s new concert hall, which will become the home of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the London Symphony Orchestra. The architects were responsible for the Broad Museum in Los Angeles; this new project will mark their first major design in Britain.


6. The scream


Among the lighter musical moments of 2017, a member of the audience at a North State Symphony Orchestra concert in California screamed during the performance. Seemingly waking from a daydream with a start, the audience member interrupted Stravinsky’s The Firebird. The orchestra treated the incident with good humour; the conductor, who turned and winked after hearing the scream, later uploaded a video of the event on YouTube. It has since gone viral!


5. Opera for all


New faces bring new ideas and motivation, and this is certainly the case at London’s Royal Opera House. Oliver Mears, who in 2017 became the new Director of Opera at Covent Garden, is planning to introduce more low-price tickets. 30 years since a similar initiative, Mr Mears hopes to remove all of the seats in the stalls, an area in the auditorium that would usually set you back by around £230.  People can arrive on the day and pay just £10, sitting on the floor or standing during the performance. The initiative is planned to be introduced by 2020.


4. A helping hand


With pianist Lang Lang suffering from a protracted arm injury, the then-14-year-old Maxim Lando was brought in to help the older virtuoso in a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue at Carnegie Hall. Not wanting to miss his concert, Lang Lang performed only the right-hand part, whilst the 14-year-old played the left hand. The teenager received a rapturous response!


3. Female first


2017 has seen some notable advancements in the championing of women in classical music. St Paul’s Cathedral announced the appointment of its first female chorister; Carris Jones entered the record books when she joined the choir on 1 September. She now sings alongside three male countertenors in the alto section. This follows another first from 2014, when St Paul’s appointed its first female organist.



2. Rattle’s Return


Conductor Simon Rattle returned to the UK as the Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra with a 10-day ‘This is Rattle’ Festival. The first concert featured an ambitious programme of modern music, including works by Helen Grime, Oliver Knussen, Harrison Birtwistle and Thomas Adès. 


1. The kindness of strangers


One of 2017’s most heartfelt musical moments was the Grenfell Tower Benefit Concert, held at London’s Cadogan Hall on 17 September. Some of the world’s top musicians – including conductor Edward Gardner and tenor Stuart Skelton – performed in a concert that raised £30,000 for survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire. Dozens of survivors from the disaster attended the recital. What could be a better way to reflect on music in 2017 than to see the kindness of strangers and the power of music to unite?

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