My Best Moments of 2017: films, music and other stuff…

What with the depressing political mess we found ourselves in throughout 2017, which tended to privilege prejudice over reason, brazen deceit over factual truths, personal profit over compassion for others, and the short-term gains of the present over the long-term requirements of the future, it could be difficult to find cause for hope. But that is where the arts, as so often, proved helpful, proffering humanity, intelligence, understanding, articulacy, even beauty, all of which seemed to be in short supply in the political arena and much of the media. But lest this is starting to sound like a rant from a terminally grumpy old man, let me say here and now that I found a great deal to enjoy in both film and music.

Particularly heartening, in a year when we’ve witnessed the shocking but sadly perhaps not so very surprising revelations of widespread sexual abuse and exploitation in the arts and entertainment worlds (and, of course, more or less everywhere else), was the number of terrific films made by women; while there’s still a long way to go before proper equality of opportunity is achieved, things are clearly beginning to move in the right direction. The same, despite the risibly reactionary statements of certain establishment males, might be said of ‘classical’ music, where women conductors, composers and performers galore have been proving over and over that their artistry is without question as fine in every regard as that of their male counterparts. In many cases, of course, it has been finer.

So here, for the record, are some of the highlights of my own personal 2017. I haven’t counted, but I imagine I saw almost 200 movies and attended 100 or so concerts, most of them ‘classical’. Because I saw many of the films at festivals, quite a few of them are probably yet to come your way, so do look out for them. Just don’t watch them on your phone; they deserve better than that!

As for the music, be it classical, jazz or whatever, the performers listed are formidable musicians; again, if you get a chance to see them play live, I advise you to take it, or failing that, to check them out some other way. (I still mainly go down the CD route myself; it’s better for me, and better for the musicians involved.)

I do hope that some of the stuff mentioned below will help to brighten your 2018 as much as it brightened my 2017.


25 films that premiered this year (very roughly in order of preference)

Western (Valeska Grisebach, Germany-Bulgaria, pictured above)

Happy End (Michael Haneke, France)

Visages Villages (Agnès Varda, France)

The Square (Ruben Östlund, Sweden)

Un Beau soleil intérieure (Let the Sunshine In) (Claire Denis, France)

24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran)

Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia)

12 Days (Raymond Depardon, France)

Jusqu’à la garde (Custody) (Xavier Legrand, France)

The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki, Finland)

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, UK-USA)

A Skin So Soft (Denis Coté, Canada)

My Happy Family (Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Gross, Georgia)

Ana, Mon Amour (Calin Peter Netzer, Romania)

Song of Granite (Pat Collins, Ireland)

The Dead Nation (Radu Jude, Romania)

The Party (Sally Potter, UK)

Marvin (Reinventing Marvin) (Anne Fontaine, France)

Angels Wear White (Vivian Qu, China)

 I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, USA-France)

Apostasy (Dan Kokotajlo, UK)

Casting (Nicolas Wackerbarth, Germany)

Hunting Season (Temporada de Caza) (Natalia Garagiola, Argentina )

Wild Mouse (Josef Hader, Austria)

Siobhan Finneran, Sacha Parkinson and Molly Wright in Apostasy

10 older films I saw for the first time in 2017

The Girl from Stormy Croft (Victor Sjøstrøm, 1917, Sweden)

David Golder (Julien Duvivier, 1931, France)

Poil de carotte (Julien Duvivier, 1932, France)

La Fêté à Henriette (Julien Duvivier, 1952, France)

A Lesson in Love (Ingmar Bergman, 1954, Sweden)

Portrait of an Unknown Woman (Helmut Käutner, 1954, W Germany)

Sky Without Stars (Helmut Käutner, 1955, W Germany)

L’ Insoumis (The Unvanquished) (Alain Cavalier, 1964, France)

Que la bête meure (Claude Chabrol, 1969, France)

Just Before Nightfall (Claude Chabrol, 1971, France)

Alain Delon and Léa Massari in L’ Insoumis


12 new ‘classical’  CDs in no particular order

Bernat Vivancos: Requiem (Neu)

Gerald Finley, Edward Gardner: In the Stream of Life – Songs by Sibelius (Chandos)

Tamsin Waley-Cohen: Harris & Adams Violin Concertos (Hyperion)

Renaud Capuçon: Three 21st Century Violin Concertos (by Rihm, Dusapin, Mantovani) (Erato)

Thomas Adès: Asyla, Tevot, Polaris (LSO Live)

Leif Ove Andsnes: Shadows of Silence (music by Dalbavie, Sorensen, Kurtág, Lutoslawski) (EMI)

Brian Elias: Electra Mourns (NMC)

György Kurtág: Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir (ECM)

Pascal Dusapin: String Quartets Nos 6 & 7 (Aeon)

Simon Holt: A Table of Noises (NMC)

Elliott Carter: Late Works (Ondine)

George Benjamin, Pierre-Laurent Aimard: Musica Viva 22 (music by Ligeti, Murail, Benjamin) (Neos)

5 new non-‘classical’ CDs in no particular order

Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (ECM)

Anouar Brahem: Blue Maqams (ECM)

Vijay Iyer Sextet: Far from Over (ECM)

Colin Vallon Trio: Danse (ECM)

Randy Newman: Dark Matter (Nonesuch)


20 ‘classical’  concerts in chronological order

Mark Padmore, Lawrence Power and the English Chamber Orchestra (photo by Geoff Andrew)

Mark Padmore, English Chamber Orchestra, Lawrence Power: Britten, Tippett, Dowland, Woolrich, Corelli, King’s Place, 21/1

Igor Levit: Beethoven cycle, Wigmore Hall, 30/1, 26/2, 17/3 & 13/6

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Berlin Philharmonic, Simon Rattle: Ligeti, Mahler, Rihm, Philharmonie Berlin, 12/2

Huw Watkins, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Oliver Knussen: Grime, Carter, Boulez, Davies, Wigmore Hall, 3/3

Igor Levit, London Symphony Orchestra, Fabio Luisi: Beethoven, Brahms, Barbican, 16/3

Roderick Williams, Nash Ensemble, Martyn Brabbins: Watkins, Matthews, Davies, Holt, Anderson, Wigmore Hall, 21/3

Calder Quartet, Thomas Adès, Nicolas Hodges, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Timothy Redmond: ’Arcadiana’  Thomas Adès day – Adès, Lutoslawski, Kurtág, Janácek, Barry, Wigmore, 25/3

London Sinfonietta, Brad Lubman: Haas (‘in vain’), Royal Festival Hall, 27/4

Alban Gerhardt, Stephen Osborne: Beethoven, Shostakovich, LSO St Luke’s, 4/5

Janine Jansen, Martin Fröst, Torleif Thedéen, Lucas Debargue: Messiaen, Schubert, Wigmore Hall, 2/6

Christian Tetzlaff, London Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle: Grime, Adès, Birtwistle, Knussen, Elgar, Barbican, 14/9

Heath Quartet, Hannes Minnaar: Haydn, Widmann, Shostakovich, Wigmore Hall, 24/9

Pekka Kuusisto, Philharmonia, Esa-Pekka Salonen: Sibelius, Thorvaldsdottir, Bjarnason, Royal Festival Hall, 28/9

Ensemble Intercontemporain, Matthias Pinscher: Boulez, Harvey, Schoeller, Royal Festival Hall, 14/10

Nicolas Hodges, Philharmonia, Clement Power: Furrer, Royal Festival Hall, 5/11

Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Hugh Watkins: Beethoven, Brahms, Janácek, Ravel, Wigmore Hall, 12/11

London Sinfonietta, Martyn Brabbins: Xenakis, Matthews, Rihm, Birtwistle, St John’s Smith Square, 25/11

Nash Ensemble (Ian Brown, Adrian Brendel, Benjamin Nabarro): Ravel, Poulenc, Debussy, Boulanger, Wigmore Hall, 9/12

Heath Quartet: Haydn, Widmann, Mendelssohn, Wigmore Hall, 10/12

Anthony Marwood, Isabelle van Keulen, Lawrence Power, Richard Lester, Heath Quartet: Mendelssohn, Enescu, Wigmore Hall, 15/12

3 operas (in chronological order)

George Benjamin: Written on Skin (Royal Opera House)

Ryan Wigglesworth: A Winter’s Tale (English National Opera)

Thomas Ades: The Exterminating Angel (Royal Opera House)

5 jazz, improv or whatever gigs in chronological order

Vijay Iyer Trio (Iyer, Stephan Crump, Tyshawn Sorey), Wigmore, 20/7

Evan Parker, Lucian Ban, Mat Maneri, Vortex, 19/10

Vijay Iyer Sextet (Iyer, Graham Haynes Steve Lehman, Mark Shim, Stephan Crump, Marcus Gilmore), Wigmore, 13/10

Nik Bärtsch, Union Chapel, 18/11

Trygve Seim, Frode Haltli, Svante Henryson, Tora Augestad (‘Rumi Songs’), St Martin-in-the-Fields, 8/12


Trygve Seim, Tora Augestad, Svante Henryson and Frode Haltli performing ‘Rumi Songs’ (photo by Geoff Andrew)

Other stuff

5 exhibitions very roughly in order of preference

America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, Royal Academy, Feb

Cézanne Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, Dec

Miró: Sogno e Colore!, Bologna, June

Sieranevada: Photographs by Cristi Puiu, Galeria Baril, Cluj, June

Opera, V&A, Dec

6 books very roughly in order of preference

David Hockney, Martin Gayford: A History of Pictures

Harold C Schoenberg: The Lives of the Great Composers

Fiona Maddocks: Music for Life

Julian Barnes: England, England

Penelope Fitzgerald: The Means of Escape

Thierry Frémaux: Sélection officielle

And finally, for those ultra-specialists among you, my three best bird moments

Tenerife blue chaffinch (Fringilla teydea): one seen feeding, at length and seemingly without fear of being closely observed, in Tenerife, March

Honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus): group of 50+ migrating south over western Pyrenees, August

White stork (Ciconia ciconia): group of 100+ migrating south over western Pyrenees, about 30 minutes later.

Not the white storks, sadly, but some honey buzzards on the move. Believe me. this can be as exciting as any music or movie!

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