Take this prize and shelve it!

As posted on the website of the British magazine Gramophone:

One of the most highly-regarded pianists of our time, Grigory Sokolov, has refused to accept the Cremona Music Award 2015 because it has previously been awarded to the blogger Norman Lebrecht.

A quick who’s who and what’s what: The Cremona Music Awards, given in the categories of classical execution (i.e., performance), composition, communication (i.e., media) and project, were established in 2014 by Cremona Mondomusica, an annual exhibition of musical instruments, and Cremona Pianoforte, described on its website as “the one and only trade fair exclusively dedicated to the piano world.” These and a few other musical events take place during CremonaFiere (Cremona Fair), held each September, and which credits itself to be “No. 1 for livestock, bioeconomy and fine musical instruments” — sort of like the Big E with a piano pavilion filled with Steinways, Yamahas and Bösendorfers. Grigory Sokolov is a 65-year old Russian pianist who, though not a household name even in most classical households, is held in the highest esteem by fellow musicians for his immense technique and impeccable musical standards. And Norman Lebrecht is, for better or worse, the best-known classical music journalist in Anglophonia, author of several books and writer of a blog called “Slipped Disc.” His position in classicaldom is, roughly, a combination of old-time gossip columnist like Walter Winchell and Hedda Hopper, current media scourge like Matt Drudge, and love-him-or-mostly-hate-him media celebrity like the late Howard Cosell.

In very short, then, the Cremona Music Awards (given in its inaugural year to pianist Alfred Brendel, composer Michael Nyman and the Venezuelan FuturOrchestra project in addition to Mr. Lebrecht) is hardly the Nobel or the Pulitzer, or even as noteworthy as Gramophone’s own annual awards. Mr. Sokolov, an acclaimed artist of known reclusive temperament, doesn’t need another award, much less so unimportant a reward, to cap off his distinguished career. And Mr. Lebrecht will no doubt continue undaunted to chronicle the classical scene with the jaundiced ear and acid pen of Addison DeWitt, the jaded theater critic played to perfection by George Sanders in the film “All About Eve.”

As for what put Mr. Lebrecht on Mr. Sokolov’s s*** list, there were apparently some nasty and possibly unfactual comments about the pianist’s refusal to play henceforth Britian because of what Mr. Sokolov felt were excessive security requirements, but the blog post in question seems no longer to be available.

So what do I make of this? A few things:

  1. Classical spats like this are good. They show that people care enough to have strong opinions, even if they burst into flame once in a while. Show me an art form without spats, and I’ll show you a dying art form.
  2. Most awards are meaningless tokens of self-promotion, intended to call attention to the awarding organization by bringing in some famous person or two. And as in journalism, so in the arts: such awards are usually handed out by tiny committees to someone who shares the same biases and ideologies as the committee members. I stopped taking them terribly seriously long ago.
  3. The best way to deal with nasty critics, bloggers, journalists or journalistic organizations is not to attempt to squelch them, but to ignore them. It deprives them of the oxygen of notoriety without turning them into free speech martyrs. And it’s quite beneficial to the blood pressure and stomach lining. Anyhow, that’s my usual m.o., and my life is better for it.

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