10 defining classical music moments from the year 2021

9 December 2021, 18:39

2021 highlights in classical music
2021 highlights in classical music. Picture: Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

From the first Black composer at the Metropolitan Opera, to a live-streamed concert for care home residents, here are some of the highlights from the world of classical music, in 2021...

2021 was far from a painless year for the music industry, as concert halls and music professionals were locked down once again.

However, the sound of music is louder than ever, and musicians across the globe have still been able to achieve, perform, and move audiences, despite the pandemic.

We’ve put together a list of ten of our favourite moments from this year in classical music...

  1. Hallelujah! Music venues reopen.

    Classic FM Live 2021
    Classic FM Live 2021. Picture: Matt Crossick

    Indoor live music returned in the UK with full capacity audiences on 19 July.

    After, in some cases, seven long months of concert halls being forced to shut, theatres and music venues were finally able to return, along with some of our favourite festivals and concert series.

    Classic FM Live returned for 2021 at the Royal Albert Hall in September, with the wonderful Chineke! Orchestra.

  2. Musicians duet with the Golden Gate Bridge

    In 2020, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge started emitting a strange humming noise.

    Less than a year later, musicians were taking advantage of this mysterious noise created due to high winds and ‘new railings’ on the structure.

    In July 2021, Los Angeles guitarist Nate Mercereau released a series of duets he had recorded with the famous bridge, and local sound engineer Zach Parkes.

  3. Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony

    As each country’s representatives for the Olympics prepared to enter the stadium for the opening ceremony, both the athletes and a symphony orchestra warmed up together.

    Flag bearers and athletes then entered the stadium accompanied by orchestral renditions of popular melodies from legendary Japanese video games, a hugely important musical export for Japan.

    The track list included music from Kingdom Hearts, Sonic the Hedgehog and Final Fantasy.

  4. San Francisco Opera’s marriage proposal

    At the end of Puccini’s Tosca at the San Fransisco Opera in September, international opera star Soloman Howard surprised soprano Ailyn Pérez with a marriage proposal.

    Howard and Pérez were playing the roles of Angelotti and Tosca respectively.

    Declaring from the stage, Howard said to Pérez during the curtain call, “In front of God, in front of my sisters and cousins, and most importantly in front of your mum and dad, I ask you: will you marry me?”, before getting down on one knee.

    The answer was a resounding ‘yes!’ from both Pérez and the opera audience, who were on their feet cheering for the happy couple.

  5. LSO performs free concert for care homes

    At the start of October, the London Symphony Orchestra hosted a free live-streamed concert, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, for all care homes in the UK – to thank staff for their work during the pandemic.

  6. Fire Shut Up In My Bones - Metropolitan Opera

    The opening night of New York Metropolitan Opera’s 2021–22 season was a historic occasion for a number of reasons.

    Most prominently, it was the Met’s first performance of an opera by a Black composer.

    Fire Shut Up in My Bones, was written by Grammy Award–winning jazz musician and composer, Terence Blanchard.

    The co-director of this production, Camille A. Brown, was also the first Black director to create a main-stage Met production.

  7. The Choir of St John’s extends membership to women

    For the first time in history, girls and women will be accepted into The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge in 2022, marking the first time an Oxbridge college choir has combined male and female voices – in both adults and children.

    Founded in the 17th century, the choir is made up of around 20 choristers, including around 16 adult choral scholars who are mostly students at St John’s College.

    Director of music Andrew Nethsingha said: “I hope this small step will bring the day closer when there is gender equality amongst composers, organists and conductors, as well as among politicians, business leaders and in all other walks of life.”

  8. Stunning virtual performances

    Immigration: a journey in music and numbers

    The FT has made its first music video. It’s a unique collaboration with composer Nitin Sawhney and the Royal Albert Hall. And it tells a story about immigration in music and numbers. https://www.ft.com/video/9529cddb-1d0c-4039-b367-79896ad68d91

    Posted by Financial Times on Thursday, October 21, 2021

    Virtual performances became a mainstay at the start of 2021, but the Financial Times and the Royal Albert Hall took this format a step further in order to communicate an important issue.

    In the FT’s first ever ‘music video’, a group of musicians, Nitin Sawhney (Guitar), Anna Phoebe (Violin), Aref Durvesh (Tabla), Aisling Brouwer (Piano), Camilo Tirado (Percussion), and Emmanuel Afram (Bass Guitar), performed a work by Sawhney.

    During the video of the performance, statistics relating to immigration in the UK are shown as the musicians play. Towards the end of the piece, the musicians begin to leave the stage, representing the number of EU workers in the UK falling, and labour shortages rising.

    The film ends by asking: ‘Will you miss us when we’re gone?’. A powerful example of how music can be used to illustrate our world today.

  9. Music’s role in COP26

    During the UN climate conference COP26, 15 orchestras around the world came together to perform a re-scored Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, which highlighted the changing climate.

    The aim of the performances from the ensembles was to place further pressure on leaders to sign the Leaders Pledge for Nature and commit to reversing biodiversity loss by 2030.

  10. Aurora creates an immersive experience of Beethoven’s Symphony No 7

    In November, the Aurora Orchestra organised an immersive site-specific performance – from memory – of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.

    Their performance of Beethoven’s 7th had audiences imagining with excitement what the future of classical music could look like, as they listened to this 18th-century composer’s symphony in one of London’s biggest warehouse nightclubs, Printworks.

    In 2014, Aurora became the first orchestra in the world to perform a symphony from memory, and since then they have done ten symphonies and well over 100 performances in this way.