May 10, 2011 / 8:19 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. pianist gets British music award

LONDON (Reuters) - American pianist Leon Fleisher, 82, who spent much of his career unable to use his right hand, was honored as instrumentalist of the year by Britain’s Royal Philharmonic Society on Tuesday.

Pianist Leon Fleisher talks with reporters as he arrives for the Kennedy Center Honors show in Washington, December 2, 2007. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Fleisher, a child prodigy whose book “My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Years in Music” describes his loss of dexterity in his right hand at the peak of his career, and his battle over four decades to regain its use, was cited for “extraordinary” performances at the 2010 Aldeburgh festival in eastern England.

As if to confirm the avant garde is alive and well, the RPS at a glittering ceremony in a hotel ballroom also gave Scottish composer James Dillon, a proponent of the “New Complexity” school, his fourth award.

The RPS cited Dillon’s uncompromising, 200-minute-long orchestral, choral and electronic piece Nine Rivers, which had to wait some 20 years for its first complete performance in Glasgow last year, for its “sheer ambition.”

English composer Brian Ferneyhough, whose works are as demanding as Dillon’s, won the chamber award for his String Quartet No. 6.

London’s Southbank Center got the concert series and festivals award for devoting a weekend to the music of German composer Helmut Lachenmann, who requires musicians to play their instruments in unorthodox ways.

RPS chairman John Gilhooly said the awards were given for “serious, imaginative projects which broaden the understanding and enjoyment of music and trumpet the outstanding brilliance of distinguished musicians, composers and young artists at the very top of their game.”

Among the younger generation, the RPS singled out the fast-rising Russian-born violinist Alina Ibragimova, whose 2009 recording of Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin won rave reviews.

The Takacs Quartet, which covers the repertoire from Beethoven to Bartok, got the award for Chamber Music and Song while Hungarian Ivan Fischer, music director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, won the conducting award.

Liverpool-born mezzo soprano Susan Bickley, described by the RPS as “a consummate artist,” won the singing award, while Royal Opera House music director Antonio Pappano got the “Creative Communication” award for his BBC series “Opera Italia.” The eclectic Aurora Orchestra won the award for best ensemble.

Royal Opera and conductor Semyon Bychkov received the opera award for the production of Wagner’s Tannhauser.

The RPS also applauded initiatives to introduce young people to classical music, giving an education award to the British government’s 40 million pound ($63.75 million) “Sing Up” program whose goal is to give every schoolchild a chance to sing.

It gave an audience development award to the English National Opera for its “Access All Areas” marketing and discount scheme aimed at under-30s.

The RPS, one of the two oldest music societies in the world, was founded in 1813 to promote and maintain high standards in music performance.

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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