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Triumph of excellence in classical music - International Classical Music Awards (ICMA) gala in Wroclaw

Thursday, 4 May 2023 , ora 12.55

On the 21st of April 2023, the 13th ICMA - International Classical Music Awards gala took place in Wroclaw, Poland. First awarded in 2011, these prizes continue the history of the MIDEM awards held in Cannes and have been called the "Oscars of cult music" by the international press; however, they are among the few international record awards presented on the basis of strictly professional criteria by an independent jury made up exclusively of specialised journalists, without any involvement of the record companies. The jury is made up of 20 international publications (magazines, radio stations, websites), among the best known in Europe; since 2019, Radio România Muzical is also part of the jury.

Each year, special prizes and awards are handed out for 16 categories of audio and video productions. Some of the award winners can be heard in the annual winners' galas.

In 2023, the host was the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw in a superb 1,800-seat concert hall opened in 2014. The interest shown by the Polish local authorities and the city in general in the completion of this concert hall is impressive and competes with other such constructions in recent years - a black and white symphony in the foyer, earth tones in the halls. In total, there are 4 halls - one for large events, 3 for chamber music; and not just for classical music, but for other genres as well, with acoustic panels allowing the acoustics of the halls to be modified according to the genre being performed.

The awards gala took place in the largest of the chamber music halls - jury president Remy Franck and Nicola Catto of the Italian magazine "Musica" were the hosts.

Starting at 19.00 local time in the NMF Great Hall in Wroclaw, the NFM Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by its music director Giancarlo Guerrero, presented a unique and entertaining musical programme, together with some of the award-winning musicians. A concert of almost 3 and a half hours, with an eclectic programme, is unusual, but also a rare opportunity to have some of the best-known names and most beloved works gathered in one place.

The concert started with a tribute to Poland's iconic composer Frederic Chopin: pianist Alessandro Marangoni, winner of an outstanding achievement award for his complete works for piano by Rossini, played the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise op 22 convincingly and with free spirit.

Followed by fireworks: part III of Nikolai Kapustin's Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings, soloists being the two musicians who won the Chamber Music Prize - violinist Tassilo Probst and pianist Maxim Lando. A jazzy score by a Ukrainian composer I hope to hear performed more often in Romania, two truly out-of-the-ordinary young musicians we'll be hearing a lot more of in the future - in a word, fireworks.

Young performer of the year, violist Sao Soulez Lariviere then wowed the audience with Max Bruch's Romanze op. 89 - it's so rare to hear a violist who performs like a violinist...

Then, unforgettable moments with Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho, Interpreter of the Year, who performed an aria from the opera Adriana Lecouvreur by Francesco Cilea and Ombra di Nube by Licinio Refice. Ermonela Jaho is not only one of the great voices of today, but also an extraordinary actress, a musician with the ability to convey emotion at a burning intensity, and a person of rare delicacy, naturalness and modesty. The audience gave her a standing ovation, as expected.

The youngest of the award winners, 16-year-old violinist Leonhard Baumgartner, is the Discovery award winner. He looks shy, but totally transforms on stage - we heard a very mature, outgoing and free version of Camille Saint Saens' famous Havaneze.

The prize for early music went in 2023 to the Spanish ensemble Capella de Ministrers, led by Carles Magraner: it was an unusual moment to have these musicians perform pages from the repertoire of the Moors who once lived in Spain.

Another Spaniard came on stage next, the winner of the Solo category: pianist Josu de Solaun, soloist of Joaquin Turina's Rhapsody. Josu de Solaun has deep ties with Romania; he is a laureate of the George Enescu Competition, has performed Enescu's complete piano works, visits Romania often and is a fan of Romanian composers in general. A pianist of high calibre, he has shone on the Wroclaw stage.

Since 2023, the ICMA jury has also awarded a Claseek prize, which also goes to young performers - it went to double bassist Marc Andre Teruel, who delighted with Gabriel Faure's Elegy op. 24, an original piece for cello and orchestra. The virtuosity of the performer made you hardly realise he was playing the double bass, not the cello - a great talent.

The prize for Composer of the Year 2023, which last year went to the Romanian Sebastian Androne, was won by the Swiss composer David Hefti who proposed a short work: Con moto for orchestra.

A long-awaited moment: the performance of the Lifetime Achievement Award winner - cellist David Geringas. A life dedicated to music, begun under the auspices of studying with Mstislav Rostropovich and continued today through numerous disciples - David Geringas performed Max Bruch's Kol Nidrei with sensitivity and grandeur, perhaps also as a tribute to Polish Jews: on the 19th of April, Poland commemorated the 80th anniversary of the Polish Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, the most important act of Jewish resistance to the Nazi army during the Second World War.

The concert ended in the celebratory tones of the fourth part of Joseph Jongen's Symphonie concertante op. 81, with organist Karol Mossakowski as soloist, winner of a special prize offered by the NFM Orchestra for this gala. Karol Mossakowski, a 32-year-old musician who is currently the organist of the Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris and was artist-in-residence of the Orchestre National de France (2019-2022), will also appear on the stage of the Radio Hall in Bucharest on Saturday, the 10th of June, in an unique "Cine-concert".

It was a celebration of music, really; and what touched me most was the special connection between the Wroclaw Philharmonic and its audience. The conductor, Andrzej Kosendiak, dedicated the ICMA award received by the NFM to the audience, urging everyone to take a picture with the trophy; everyone in the audience stood up in appreciation of their orchestra and the award they had won - an unmitigated state of pride and appreciation that I can only think of as an example to apply back home. As well as the example of the construction of a new concert hall, which in Wroclaw has practically changed the cultural ecology of the city, and the example of the functioning and general appearance of cities and airports. We have a lot to learn from our Polish friends...

Next year's ICMA gala will take place in Valencia on the 12th of April 2024.

The ICMA 2023 Awards Gala was streamed live on Deutsche Welle's youtube account and can be watched here.

Photo gallery:

Cristina Comandașu
Translated by Lenuța Bejenaru,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu