Winners and Yujas in the Covid year

Winners and Yujas in the Covid year


norman lebrecht

December 18, 2020

A handful of artists enhanced their reputation in 2020. Many who soared sank into near oblivion. Here’s our state of the art:


1 Igor Levit
The pianist’s home Beethoven marathons caught the imagination

2 The Sheku-Mason family
Went from Nottingham to Nirvana

3 Tasmin Little
Made a dignified slow exit

4 Mirga
Had baby, bounced back

5 Valery Gergiev
Flying his private jet, he kept on empire building

6 Bob Dylan
Made the $300 million deal of a lifetime

7 Simon Rattle
Dating Bavaria

8 Dudamel
Flirting with Paris

9 Zubin Mehta
Everywhere in Italy

10 Anne-Sophe Mutter
Talked toots to power

1 Lang Lang
His biggest news was a baby on the way

2 Khatia
Barely surfaced

3 Yuja Wang

4 Jonas Kaufmann
Set new record in self-embarrassment

5 Iceland
Melted away

6 The Met
Plumbed new depths of inhumanity

7 Jaap
Absent so long from NY his visa might expire

8 Yannick
Juggled 3 orchestras in the lap of luxury


9 Concertgebouw Orchestra

10 Male conductors
Worst year in history


  • Norman, I don’t understand the way you write about the RCO… Last year the orchestra was in limbo. This year it’s rudderless… what about next year? I have seen the RCO in concert in 2020 before the bad things we know who started in march with Chung for the 9th of Mahler I didnt have this impression pffffff….. Same thing for the online concerts they gave for us free (the other big orchestras can’t say the same thing) on Youtube especially the Tchaikovsky with Bychkov and the Sibelius (they dont play enough) with Makela.

    • Richard Master says:

      Forget RCO. Next year, an American Celebrated Symphony Orchestra will top the losers list, for having turned a blind eye to stuff considered quite unethical by the common man. Sit tight and watch it happen.

      • Dumb in another language says:

        The president and the person at the very top of the celebrated symph orchestra still live in a world where “decency” does not apply to the office of music director. They will be proven wrong.

        • Lothario Hunter says:

          Breaches of decency on the part of the music director. Favoritism and quid pro quos. Perhaps part of the reason is that these behaviors are not frowned upon in Canada? 😉

  • V. Lind says:

    What on earth has Yuja Wang done to merit synonymity with “loser”?

    As your list is personal, I have no objection to your putting her where you have — it is no more unjust than any of the other selections, based as they are upon opinion and not necessarily fully informed by knowledge of facts or circumstances, let alone Covid 19 issues in various locales. But in fact she was not entirely invisible — she sent out a number of photos along the way (most of which as I recall netted rather negative presentation here).

    I find it increasingly difficult to fathom why someone offering as a serious music critic is so resistant to this talented pianist.

    But I suppose the BBC and “the Netrebkos” can be thankful that they have been spared. I did not agree with your take on the way the BBC handled the Proms, but I did not think it was illegitimate to raise the issue.

    But in a year of unlovely sexual revelations and the racism of Yusif Eyvazov, among other things that brought disrepute upon the world of classical music, I think the making of a commercial (however tone-deaf) or the location of Jaap van Zweden are pretty minor irritants.

    And in what way was this “the worst year in history” for male conductors? You lobbied long and hard for more female inclusion. The message has been heard. Are male conductors being given the squeeze? I would be delighted to hear.

    • Brian says:

      It is interesting why Yuja hasn’t appeared with one of the orchestras that are doing online concerts (LA, Philly, Boston, Detroit, Dallas). Purely a guess but perhaps orchestras can’t afford the high fees that the biggest stars expect right now.

      Some artists are also (wisely) avoiding travel. All of those planes, car services, hotels, back-stage areas are potential points of infection. I’d hold off too if I was young and had a nice pot of money saved up.

    • Peter says:

      I agree. The coverage on Yuja Wang now seems to be snide personal abuse. It’s fine to have an opinion, and it’s your website, so you can use it to express your views. But it’s not funny, nor enlightening; the persistence and pettiness seems more a reflection on the writer than the subject. Time to move on Norman.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Ms. Lind, I agree with your entire comment 1000%.

    • William Safford says:

      Yuja sounds like someone not only whom I’d like to hear again live in concert, but also with whom I would like to have a (socially-distanced) cup of coffee.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      I agree with you in every way, Ms. Lind.
      And, BTW, Norman has a “thing” about Yuja which is pretty obvious to all readers of this blog.
      Make of that what you will.

    • christopher storey says:

      I think NL got no 1 of the uppers confused with no4 of the downers. Surely it was Levit who ” Set new record in self-embarrassment” ? ( not that that is any different from any other year with Levit)

    • Nijinsky says:

      One reads that someone is stooping low when they make a CD that’s seen to be for what works commercially, which one reads while pop ups for I don’t know all what keep raising their heads on the side ordained by click bait about stooping low for commercialism. Stuff on the screen, from different sides of the argument both promoting as repetitively as said (see-through) composer’s music is ridiculed out to be (also commercially viable by the way); along with statements that seem to equivocate with Rossini being just show off stuff, Puccini simplistic melodies with too much sauce, Samuel Barber utterly superficial; and heh look at this bad work of this composer (how can people fall for it, we know better, join in and display how) again with pop ups percolating all over the screen thanks to click bait regarding stooping low for commercialism, and against superficiality….

      And this is not Ein musikalischer Spaß?

      Really, it isn’t?

      Ein kritischer Witz?

      I admire the generosity and the kindness though, lest anyone would read what a critic says and take it to heart. There’s true dadaist harmony there.

    • Nijinsky says:

      I also fail to see that obsessing or fixating on what someone wears onstage is a comment on their playing. I think Yuja wears the sometimes minimal dress because it’s comfortable, and maybe offers more freedom of movement, that’s also why Anne-Sophie wears the strapless dresses she wears, because then her arms are more free for playing, and the violin feels like part of her against her naked skin. Where compromising their ability to play is going to improve their art, or how music speaks, is totally beyond me. And remains there.

      • William Safford says:

        Classical music can be sartorially stogy or worse. It amazes me that some orchestras are still white tie.

        Kudos to Yuja for having some fun with her wardrobe.

    • Nijinsky says:

      V Lind, it might also be something that Norman is trying to wind us both up. Sort of he might like things that go round and round, like in Das Schone Mullerin….. oops I mean: Die schöne Müllerin

  • KH says:

    I could just imagine what our host would say had Yuja not been “invisible”.

  • Derek says:

    Regarding point 10

    Well, at least we have this Finnish guy. Do we need somebody else? Conducting profession is wasted, look around

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    10 Male conductors
    Worst year in history

    So, the future is……. How Woke!

  • Edgar Self says:

    Riccardo Muti and Daniel Barenboim, neither particular favorite male conductors of mine, belong in the winners’ box for speaking up and speaking out,for keeping active, and for being successful in purely musical matters. And Fabio Luisi, who is a favorite and needs our support just now after a positive viral test.

  • BP says:

    Having a baby : good for Mirga, bad for Lang Lang. Defending war crimes : presumably bad, but apparently not as bad as singing Christmas carols, or having a baby Norman doesn’t approve of, since Mr. Netrebko does not make the list.

  • mary says:


    -orchestra players who continue to get a paycheck while unemployed.
    -orchestra presidents who continue to get a paycheck while putting on no concerts.

    By these standards, I am eminently qualified to play nothing just as well, so I should also get a paycheck.

  • MezzoLover says:

    Yujas = Losers? Really?????

    This is misogynistic and totally uncalled for.

    I will stop posting from now on in protest. Shame on you!

    By the way, Yuja’s name in Chinese means “featherlight refinement.” On your list under that title only the RCO fits that description.

  • John Borstlap says:

    “7 Jaap”
    “Absent so long from NY his visa might expire”

    He is studying his scores, like every truly serious conductor.

  • Peter X says:

    Jaap van Zweden was in the Netherlands, he turned 60 and conducted Fidelio.

  • yujafan says:

    Yuja, a loser? I doubt it! Yes, she might have had a quiet year, like so many others, but along with those colleagues I believe that musicians will bounce back stronger. Among the many qualities musicians have in abundance is resilience, and the passion to make music is an irrepressable force.