It took Leipzig 17 years to give a Bach medal to a woman

It took Leipzig 17 years to give a Bach medal to a woman


norman lebrecht

November 18, 2020

The Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt was yesterday awarded the Bach Medal of the City of Leipzig.

She was the first woman to receive the medal. How is that possible?

Past winners are: Klaus Mertens (2019), Robert Levin (2018), Reinhard Goebel (2017), Peter Kooij (2016), Masaaki Suzuki (2012), Herbert Blomstedt (2011), Philippe Herreweghe (2010), Frieder Bernius (2009), Nikolaus Harnoncourt (2007), Ton Koopman (2006), John Eliot Gardiner (2005), Helmuth Rilling (2004) and Gustav Leonhardt (2003).



  • Iain Simcock says:

    Presumably because no woman has distinguished herself enough in Bach performance before. When you read the list of names, I’m not certain Angela Hewitt is up to it. I’d have chosen Rachel Podger!

    • Frances Merchant says:

      Is this a comment from a possibly mentally defective person? What about Marie-Claire Alain, Zuzana Ruzickova, Wanda Landowska, Tatiana Nikolaeva? Caveat: Iain Simcock’s social media presence is full of so much right-wing Catholicism and anti-modernity that I think we all know what his ‘values’ are as a person.

      • HugoPreuss says:

        Okay: whom do you want to delete from the list above? BTW, since all of your nominees are dead, most of them for quite a while, it is a bit difficult to give the award to them.

      • Observer says:

        Tatiana Nikolaeva died in 1993 – ten years before the first Bach Medal was awarded.

      • 18mebrumaire says:

        They’re all dead, that’s why. Might as well award the prize to Anna Magdalena!

      • BruceB says:

        I don’t know how far back the medal goes; NL only lists back to 2003. If that’s when it started, then several of your nominees would be ineligible. If it goes back to the 1930s or something, then yes.

      • Rm says:

        Have you heard of an argument ad hominem? “Mentally defective” “his values” etc? Why don’t you just accuse of starting the second world war and then you wouldn’t have to think about him again?

    • We privatize your value says:

      What about Agnes Giebel?

      • HugoPreuss says:

        Dead as well by now.

        • We privatize your value says:

          Are you kidding us? The question was “who would have deserved to get the prize in the years since its foundation in 2003?” Giebel died in 2017, so she could have received it in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and maybe even 2017. Clear now?

          • HugoPreuss says:

            That’s why I wrote “by now”. The women suggested above died mostly before the medal was even created. Yet the question remains: whom do you want to delete from the list of winners in order to make room for Agnes Giebel? Clear now?

          • Nomath says:

            Clearly Blomstedt (2011), but not to give way to Giebel. Peter Schreier fits much better in the list, both as an Evangelist and as conductor.

          • We privatize your value says:

            Peter Schreier is not a woman.

      • Marfisa says:

        Only guessing, but Agnes Giebel would have been over 80 when the medal was first awarded and (I suppose) no longer singing publicly. The medal is for ‘efforts to promote the work of Johann Sebastian Bach’; it looks as Leipzig wishes to reward and encourage musicians who, having already done much to that purpose, are still actively doing so, rather than to honor those who had done so in the past. But you would have to ask the Leipzig committee.

    • Firing Back says:

      That’s an early April Fool joke, right? Bravo!

      Many women have distinguished themselves as Bach players – many of them being much more interesting and committed than Angela H, so I’m not quite sure why she would be so honoured in any case.

      But Ms Podger? I actually laughed out loud at that – quite a rarity for me.


      PS – Please click thumbs down to this.

    • BruceB says:

      I would submit that they are both up to it.

    • Roland says:

      I guess you have never heard Mrs, Hewitt‘s recordings of Bach works or never seen her playing Bach in concert. And there are so many other women who deserved this medal: Isabelle Faust, Christine Jaccottet, Hedwig Bilgram, Hilary Hahn (yes!), Rachel Podger (of course), Christine Schornsheim, Arleen Auger, Ingeborg Danz, Dorothee Mields, Annette Dasch, just to name a few …

    • jansumi says:

      Why any thumbs down? She played this concert, receiving the award, at Thomaskirk. It’s a wonderful performance, an honour to her, and sadly no audience to celebrate live. Thanks Heini for posting the link. Enjoy..

  • Petros Linardos says:

    All previous recipients richly deserved the honor and were older than Hewitt. Only Peter Kooij is from the same age group. As a singer he is at a later stage in his career.

    • Marfisa says:

      John Eliot Gardiner was the same age as Angela Hewitt when he was awarded the medal and Ton Koopman two years younger (unless my arithmetic has gone wrong). Agree that all are deserving, and so is Angela Hewitt.

  • AngloGerman says:

    Your point is? Meritocracy must rule over positive discrimination, or there is no point to anything.

    • William Safford says:

      Why do you believe that women do not merit receiving the award?

      • AngloGerman says:

        That is not what I’m saying at all. I am merely stating that the most appropriate and qualified candidates (although I have some personal reservations about some who have receieved the award) have been selected. It is merely circumstance that has dictated that Ms. Hewitt is the first to receive as a woman. In essence, there is nothing special about this fact and unsubstantiated allegations should not beafe.

      • AngloGerman says:

        ‘should not be made’ – apologies.

      • BruceB says:

        I find it interesting that those who go on about basing things on merit only, always seem to complain when anyone who is not a white male wins a contest or award, or is hired for something.

  • Couperin says:

    Good for her.. as far as Goldberg recordings on piano are concerned, I’ve always enjoyed hers!

    • BruceB says:

      I’ve said this in the past, but it’s been awhile so I don’t mind repeating myself.

      Listening to Bach played by Glenn Gould is like going to a museum with an art fanatic who basically grabs you by the shoulders and pushes your face right up to each painting. “Look at the genius of the brush strokes! Look at the details of the light! LOOK! Don’t you SEE??” Very interesting the first few times, but if you go to the same museum with him 100 times and he’s still doing it, then… well, it just wears me out a little.

      Angela Hewitt simply makes all those details clear and lets you hear them, without forcing them down your throat. (And without Glenn Gould’s percussive touch in fast movements, which also wears me out a little.) Perhaps I can enjoy the relaxed clarity of her interpretations because of my exposure to the insistent hyper-clarity of his, but… I do enjoy it.

  • Alexander T says:

    Hewitt can be as dull as ditchwater.
    I don’t understand why Marie Claire Alain and Zuzana Ruzisckova haven’t been awarded the medal. They would have been far more deserving than Hewitt or some of the previous recipients.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    So glad she got it. Long overdue.
    Won’t bring back her totalled Fazioli, though.
    Does anyone here know, has she found a replacement?

  • Nick says:

    ….and what a wrong choice it is!!! With women like Rosalyn Tureck, Wanda Landowska, etc.!!!! What is this one doing in this High Olympus, regardless of others being dead ot still with us?!?

  • Marfisa says:

    The medal is for “efforts to *promote* the works of” J.S. Bach, i.e. more than perform. Lists of great Bach interpreters dead or alive, male or female, are beside the point (though Jacques Loussier would have been a worthy recipient). My grumble is that J.S. Bach needs no promotion. A medal for promoting a composer active in Germany 1700-1750 who is not J.S. Bach would be more interesting: e.g. Hermann Max (but he was awarded the medal in 2008) for Johann Ludwig Bach, Vaclav Lucs for Jan Dismas Zelenka, Florian Heyerick for Christoph Graupner (the other man Leipzig really wanted – fantastic cantatas with bassoon obligato just out with Sergio Azzolini). And so on.

  • Nomath says:

    Looking at the list of past winners, it appears that Leipzig wants to honour active musicians, not ones retired or passed away. That ruled out Landowska, Turech, Ruzisckova, Giebel, Ameling and Auger. There are a lot of directors in the list, in which I find Blomstedt the odd man out ; he was probably honoured for his Gewandhaus connection. Peter Schreier who directed and sung a lot more of Bach, was either considered too old or too Dresden. I would vote for Bernarda Fink next year.

  • Anastasia Vedyakova says:

    Performing J. S. Bach’s music is the most difficult thing for classical music performers. Congratulations to Mrs. Hewitt with this award! I perform violin and chamber works by Bach from 2005 in Russia. I’ve been in Leipzig at Bach Archive 10 years ago, and at St. Thomas Church, in Weimar, Eisenach too. Last year I participated in Bach Symposium in Dresden (only one from my country), I met Ton Koopman there, he is my Bach-keyboard-hero. A lot of wonderful musicians love and research Bach’s heritage!
    The 1st Act of the recital to 335-anniversary of J. S. Bach:

  • Martha Hammond says:

    Saw Angela Hewitt 2019 in GA; she was excellent. Will look forward 2 seeing her again.

  • Edgar Self says:

    thanks to Frances Merchant and Nick for remembering Ste. Wanda Landowska, who consented todie in 1959, and Tatiana Nikolayeva. d. 1993 the year I saw her play twice, withfour Bachencores, the first fromArt of Fugue..

    Modern Bach performance began with Wanda Landowska. She played for Tolstoi and Rodin. Heer 1930s HMV records of the Goldberg Variations was the first, repeated in 1945 for RCA found 50,000 buyers that year. She had one of the strongest musical minds of the century and played Bach like Will and Idea. In Virgil Thomson’s slight hyperbole, “Wanda Landowska plays Bach better than anybody plays anything.”

    Nikolayeva’s devotion to Bach from her 1950 Leipzig bicentennial concerts with Maria Yudina and Shostakovich on, embraced Art of Fugue, Musical Offering, WTC, the Goldbergs, other major works, two- and three-part inventions and carried into Shostakovich’s Op. 87 preludes and fugues, starting with the same notes as the WTC,

  • Dander says:

    I don’t mind as long as they don’t give it to automatons like Lang Lang!

  • Joo says:

    So many people here want to give an award that is not theirs to give.