Columbia shuttle disaster concerto gets top music prize

By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - A violin concerto by contemporary Hungarian composer Peter Eotvos commemorating the deaths of the space shuttle Columbia's seven crew in 2003 was chosen as the recording of the year on Tuesday by the Gramophone magazine.

English trumpeter Alison Balsom was named classical artist of the year.

The violin of Moldovan virtuoso Patricia Kopatchinskaja "comes close to disintegrating under the force of her spectacular display" the magazine said in awarding its top honour to the recording of Eotvos's "Seven".

The recording on the Naive label, which also includes pieces by Hungarian composers Bartok and Ligeti, is conducted by the prolific Eotvos, who often tackles topical subjects in his compositions.

"It was like being in a Hungarian cosmos," Kopatchinskaja, who could not attend the awards banquet on Tuesday, said in a recorded message.

Two other Hungarians, violinist Barnabas Kelemen and pianist Zoltan Kocsis, won the chamber music award for their recording of Bartok's sonatas for violin.

London-born classical guitarist Julian Bream, who used to earn money as a boy playing piano in his grandmother's pub in Battersea, was given a lifetime achievement award.

"It was to achieve something that was difficult on an instrument no one cared about, really," Bream, 80, said by way of explanation of why he took up the guitar.

Asked what it was like having had a life in music, he added, "Heaven."

Trumpeter Balsom, 34, whose next CD will feature excerpts from her previous 10 albums, many of which have been big sellers on classical charts, said her selection for the award "is a massive thrill for me because the list of nominees are my musical heroes and idols".

She said that while the repertoire for solo trumpet may not be huge, she felt the instrument had an immediate appeal.

"The voice of the trumpet is a universal sound, it's close to the human voice and I try to exploit that," she said.

The magazine's annual awards, most of which had been announced in advance, are considered among the most prestigious in the classical music industry.

Other awards announced on the night were to Decca as "Label of the Year" while 18-year-old Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki was named young artist of the year. (Reporting and writing by Michael Roddy)

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