2016: A Year in Music

It’s been a year full of dramatic world events, but what has 2016 meant for classical music? We take a look back at the big news stories of the last twelve months. 

2016: A Year in Music


No sooner than the BBC Music Magazine team had trundled back into the office after our Christmas holidays, then the sad news reached us that the ground-breaking French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez had died. The extent of Boulez’s musical influence was extraordinary. As a composer, writer and conductor, he championed the works of generations of new composers, encouraging a need for greater musical experimentation. A pioneer of serialism, he developed his own ‘controlled chance’ technique that allowed performers to have choices about what to perform (read more). The other two main news stories of January 2016 were much more cheerful: Jaap van Zweden was appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic, and the King’s Singers announced that they’d found a replacement for the retiring David Hurley.


Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla appeared on the August cover of BBC Music Magazine


The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra took the classical music world by surprise in February when it announced that it had appointed a new music director: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. After just one concert with the CBSO in July 2015, chief executive Stephen Maddock raced through another booking. ‘The orchestra were unanimous. They said she was the clearest conductor they had ever worked with,’ he says. Quite a claim, when that list contains CBSO predecessors Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons (read more). This was a month for celebration, as film composer Ennio Morricone won his first ever Oscar after 37 years of nominations, and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was awarded a Royal Philharmonic Society gold medal. On a sadder note, leading American composer Steven Stucky died, aged 66.


Peter Maxwell Davies passed away in March, 2016


2016 has taken many greats from the world of culture, and classical music was no exception. The death of revered Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt came just three months after his retirement from the stage due to ill health. In a career that lasted over 60 years, Harnoncourt was one of the most influential musicians of his era, not just as a conductor but, importantly, as a major scholar, pioneer and champion of the period instrument movement (read more). A month after being awarded the prestigious RPS gold medal (see above), composer Peter Maxwell Davies died after a long battle with leukaemia. The former Master of the Queen’s Music, widely known as ‘Max’, he was part of the avant-garde 'Manchester school' in the 1960's. He moved to Orkney in 1971, where he lived for the rest of his life and, in 1977 he founded the St Magnus Festival there.

The already troubled English National Opera suffered another blow in March, when its music director Mark Wigglesworth resigned as music director after disagreements with the executive panel over the future of the company. The UK government released its first white paper on culture in over 50 years. 



The biggest excitement in April was, of course, the BBC Music Magazine Awards – aside from being a fantastic party (tickets for 2017 are on sale now), it provided a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the exceptional recordings of the year. The Recording of the Year in 2016 was Verdi’s Aida, conducted by Antonio Pappano. With an all-star cast, including Anja Harteros in the title role and Jonas Kaufmann as Radamès, this superlative Warner Classics recording was made in the studio in Rome with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia – just when the days of large-scale opera studio recordings were believed to be a thing of the past (read more).

Also in April, Susanna Mälkki was named as the LA Philharmonic’s new principal guest conductor, Ziyu He won the Yehudi Menuhin competition, and Daniel Kramer was appointed artistic director of English National Opera. Plus, a lost manuscript of Malcolm Arnold’s Symphony No. 7 turned up on eBay