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Best of the Year Lists: A Meta List on Forbes

A Very Happy New Year to all ionarts readers from me. Greetings, Cheers, and may the world continue to become a better place which, even when it doesn't look that way, it does.

A Meta List: The Best-Of-Best-Of The Year In Classical Music

At the end of every year, usually and conveniently before the Amazon shopping deadline to get deliveries in on the 24th (by which I mean the high holidays of contemplation, reflection and thoughtfulness, Advent and Christmastide with a dedicated dash of Hanukkah thrown in), newspapers, magazines, radio stations, blogs and the like – this column included – publish “Best of the Year” lists.

“Best of the Year” doesn’t really connote the hubris that one might think. No writer or even team of writers and editors that put together such a list would ever seriously entertain that the process of making such lists is either comprehensive enough of objective enough to have come up with the ten or dozen or 50 “Best” releases of any style of music. The phrase acts as a symbol, well understood by every adult reader, that this is a list of what rocked the list-making person’s or persons’ boat. It’s not an ideal title, perhaps, but it works well and it gets eyeballs – and in doing so it brings more attention to a diverse bunch of good releases than a more appropriate title might. The one year (since 2004) I didn’t make a “Best of” list, I called it “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…” – a title I actually quite liked. But it’s too much of a mouth full, I suppose. Others go for “X Notable Recordings” or the like; all perfectly fine.

Now, there are plenty of scam-actions going on in the universe of “Best of”-type awards. The Grammys, certainly in classical music, are a matter of voting-strengths among certain blocks of voters… fairly predictable, but not necessarily of quality. In Germany the ECHO prize, which still barely clings on to being a televised event, is the equivalent, but beholden to the labels. On top of that its classical music part is increasingly ghettoized and the voting process is an industry-led, prorated sham. I’ve written about it before:

Ask anyone who hasn’t been nominated: The Grammys for Classical Music are a joke. But a potentially important joke; the increase in sales based on inclusion on that list of winners is real, even if the rest is fake. (“Daft Awards We Embrace”, ionarts, 2010)

But the best of these lists, like that of Alex Ross, are insightful and intent to broaden the mind and the ears. Tom Huizenga does something similar with a similar-ish list for NPR. Some lists have a strong nationalist bent; American lists often want to champion American music on principle; desperately trying to make those recommendations look organic. Some individuals want to get just the right touch of hipness, off-beatness and eclecticism… yet with a nod to populism. The result may come across as calculating – but so what. Other lists are more reflective of broad, rather than pioneering, tastes. The choices from Boston suggest that the ECM’s public relations department did an excellent job. (It’s such a fabulous label, admittedly.) The venerable Gramophone has a notorious British/Anglo bent when it comes to labels and performers. There are lists that look like they were more easily swayed by the big ticket items, big names, or robust marketing campaigns… others have a knack for squirreling out small-label rarities. At best, one merely has to content with the personal bias and limited exposure of a curator of such a list.

That said, all these lists have merit – and some of their flaws can be cancelled out by coming up with a meta-list. This is such an attempt and these are the ingredients:

Charles Downey at the Classical Review: Top Ten Recordings of 2017
Alex Ross: Ten Notable Recordings (and Ten More)
BBC Music Magazine’s 13 Recordings of the Month
Gramophone Magazine’s “Gramophone Awards 2017”, “Critics' Choice 2017” and “The Best Reissues & Archive Releases of 2017
Gramophone’s “Critics’ Choice” list is unique among these in that one recording can get multiple nominations – which are reflected in my overlap list.
John von Rhein/Chicago Tribune’s “10 classical recordings that made 2017 a very good listening year
The Guardian’s “2017 in review: Andrew Clement’s top 10 classical CDs
KUSC’s “Svejda Plays Santa: Jim’s 2017 Favorite Things
New York Times’ “The 25 Best Classical Music Recordings of 2017” (put together by Anthony Tommasini, James R. Oestreich, David Allen, Seth Colter Walls and Joshua Baron)
WQXR’s “The Best Classical Recordings of 2017
The Guardian: “2017 in review: Andrew Clements' top 10 classical CDs
Tom Huizenga: “NPR Music's Top 10 Classical Albums Of 2017
Boston Globe: “Zoë Madonna’s picks for 2017’s best classical albums” and “Jeremy Eichler’s picks for 2017’s best classical albums
Forbes’ “Best Classical Recordings of 2017” and “Best Classical Recordings of 2017 (Re-Issues)

The rest can be found at A Meta List: The Best-Of-Best-Of The Year In Classical Music

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