My year in movies, music and books (what I liked best, anyway)

You certainly don’t need me to remind you that 2016 was in many respects a terrible year – an annus anus, so to speak – and an extremely worrying one in terms of what we may expect of 2017 and thereafter. And I am not going to darken your mood still further by listing the many greats who passed away during the last 12 months, except to say that, for me, the death of Abbas Kiarostami – quite probably avoidable and therefore especially regrettable – came as a truly horrendous shock. He was a genuinely great artist possessed of a wonderfully idiosyncratic genius, but he was also a good friend and a very special human being. I shall miss seeing him and I shall miss seeing his new films.

But there were also, of course, good things in 2016, and here, for what it’s worth, is a list of my favourite movies, concerts, CDs and books of the year. (I attended more classical concerts this year than at any other time in my life, and the music often proved to be a source of beauty and consolation in these troubled, sometimes ugly times.) Note that I say ‘favourite’ – these are not so much meticulously ordered lists of the works I think were the greatest achievements as (re)commendations. There were undoubtedly a great many things I missed which might have figured on these lists, but time and money are limited. You can’t have everything. Indeed, having anything beautiful in one’s life is surely cause for celebration. Hence this particular celebration. Now let’s hope for good things to look forward to in 2017. All the best for the new year!

30 favourite films of 2016

(roughly in order of preference, though there’s obviously no huge difference in films clustered closely together):

Sieranevada – Cristi Puiu, 2016 (scene from the film pictured above)

Paterson – Jim Jarmusch, 2016

A Quiet Passion – Terence Davies, 2016

Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare) – Gianfranco Rosi, 2016

Things to Come (L’ Avenir) – Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016

Toni Erdmann – Maren Ade, 2016

I, Daniel Blake – Ken Loach, 2016

Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy – Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, 2016

The Unknown Girl (La Fille inconnue) – Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2016

All of a Sudden (Auf Einmal) – Asli Özge, 2016

Elle – Paul Verhoeven, 2016

Hail Caesar! – Joel and Ethan Coen, 2016

Scarred Hearts (Inimi Cicatrizate) – Radu Jude, 2016

Love & Friendship – Whit Stillman, 2016

Certain Women – Kelly Reichardt, 2016

The Academy of Muses (L’Accademia delle Muse) – José Luis Guerín, 2015

A Journey Through French Cinema (Voyage à travers le cinéma français) – Bertrand Tavernier, 2016

Gimme Danger – Jim Jarmusch, 2016

Hedi (Inhebbek Hedi) – Mahammad Ben Attia, 2016

Manchester-by-the-Sea – Kenneth Lonergan, 2016

Aquarius – Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2016

The Clan (El Clan) – Pablo Trapero, 2015

Julieta – Pedro Almodóvar, 2016

Frantz – François Ozon, 2016

Personal Shopper – Olivier Assayas, 2016

Graduation (Bacalaureat) – Cristian Mungiu, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins – Stephen Frears, 2016

Sully – Clint Eastwood, 2016

After the Storm (Umi Yori Mo Mada Fukaku) – Kore-eda HIrokazu, 2016

The Commune – Thomas Vinterberg, 2016

There were also two older films I belatedly encountered for the first time and especially enjoyed: Elaine May’s A New Leaf (1971), and Arthur Robison’s newly restored The Informer (1929), about which I have already written (see Archive).

20 favourite concerts of 2016

(not in order of preference):

Best orchestral concerts:

Nicolas Collon, Aurora Orchestra, Marcus Farnsworth: Beethoven 5, Gruber’s Frankenstein! (RFH)

Osmo Vänskä, Tamsin Little, LPO: Sibelius 6 & 7, Walton Violin Concerto (RFH)

Pascal Rophé, Alban Gerhardt, BBC SO: Dutilleux evening (Barbican)

Sakari Oramo, Gerald Finley, BBC SO: Prokofiev 5, Saariajo’s True Fire, Tchaikovsky (Barbican)

Thomas Adès, Steven Isserlis, Augustin Hadelich, Britten Sinfonia: Adès’ Lieux retrouvés, Beethoven 8, Prokofiev 1, Coll (BBC Proms, RAH)

Best chamber concerts:

Igor Levit: cycle of Beethoven Piano Sonatas (Wigmore)

Jeremy Denk: ‘Medieval to Modern’ (Wigmore)

Julia Fischer, Igor Levit: complete Beethoven Sonatas for Violin and Piano (Wigmore)

Steven Isserlis: Bach Cello Suiites, Kurtag (Wigmore)

Carolin Widmann: music by Bach, Widmann, Zimmermann, Telemann (Wigmore)

Arditti Quartet: music by Birtwistle, Xenakis, Harvey (King’s Place)

Lawrence Power, Vilda Frang, Nicolas Altstaedt: Veress and Beethoven String Trios (LSO St Luke’s)

Tamara Stefanovich: music by Ives, Carter, Copland (St John’s Smith Square)

Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Albion Quartet: Schubert and Haydn String Quartets (Tricycle)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Anu Komsi: Kurtag’s Kafka Fragments (RFH)

Best opera:

The Royal Opera House production of Shostakovich’s The Nose (ROH)

The Royal Opera House production of Enescu’s Oedipe (ROH)

George Benjamin, Christopher Purves, Barbara Hannigan, Tim Mead, Mahler Chamber Orchestra: Benjamin’s Written on Skin (Barbican)

Thomas Adès, Barbara Hannigan et al, Britten Sinfonia: Barry’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (Barbican)

And yes, I know I should have seen the ENO production of Berg’s Lulu. Oh well…

Best jazz concert:

Liberation Music Orchestra led by Carla Bley (Cadogan Hall)

12 favourite CDs new to me in 2016

(not in order of preference)

JS Bach: Complete Sonatas & Partitas (by Isabelle Faust; Harmonia Mundi)

Saint-Saens, Franck, Fauré: French Impressions (by Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk; Sony)

Grieg, Sibelius, Stenhammar: Violin Sonatas & Pieces (by Lauma and Baiba Skride; Orfeo)

Bent Sørensen, Hans Abrahamsen: Air (by Frode Haltli, Arditti Quartet, Trondheim Soloists; ECM)

Hans Abrahamsen: let me tell you (by Barbara Hannigan, Symphonieorchester des Bayerisches Rundfunks, Andris Nelsons; Winter & Winter)

Julian Anderson: In Lieblicher Blaue, etc (by Carolin Widmann, London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir, Vladimir Jurowski; LPO)

Mark Simpson: Night Music and other chamber works (by various; NMC)

Emily Howard: Magnetite (by various; NMC)

Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra: Time/Life (Impulse)

Trygve Seim: Rumi Songs (ECM)

Tigran Hamasayan, Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset, Jan Bang: Atmospheres (ECM)

David Bowie: Blackstar (Sony)

10 favourite books I read in 2016

(in alphabetical order)

Julian Barnes: Keeping an Eye Open

Julian Barnes: The Noise of Time

Max Blecher: Scarred Hearts

Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Laura Cumming: The Vanishing Man

Fiona Maddocks and Harrison Birtwistle: Wild Tracks – A Conversation Diary 

George Gissing: The Crown of Life

Michiel Heyns: The Typewriter’s Tale

Allan Hollingsworth: The Stranger’s Child

WG Sebald: A Place in the Country

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