Today, Bachtrack has published its 10,000th review, Mark Pullinger reporting from the glitziest of occasions, Teatro alla Scala's season opener Madama Butterfly. What started as a few short, occasional pieces has mushroomed into a remarkable effort: over 200 reviews a month written in four languages. Our writers – who are volunteers – are superbly knowledgeable, covering every classical genre and every corner of the globe. Our team of editors are dedicated, professional and excellent at what they do: Mark, Alexandra, Hedy, Katia, Nicolas: Alison and I give you our heartfelt thanks for making Bachtrack what it has become.
The music we review spans genres and centuries. We have reviewed Alamire, who sing music from the 15th and 16th centuries, and Penny Homer was in Colombia to review Jordi Savall, who goes back even further. We’ve reviewed radicals like Stockhausen as well as more traditionally minded modern composers like Arvo Pärt or John Adams. We’ve reviewed everything from the walls of sound of Mahler down to the (nearly) total silence of John Cage’s 4’33”. We go from giant scale opera and choral works down to solo recitals. And we review classical ballet as well as up to the minute modern dance.
Our reviewers truly span the globe. Our most northerly reviews have come from the Kulturhuset i Tromsø in Norway, three degrees inside the Arctic Circle. It’s the home of the Northern Lights Festival, visited by Paul Kilbey in 2013 and Jamie Robles in 2014 (Aksel Tollåli, being Norwegian, is our only reviewer who regularly reports from inside the Arctic Circle, at Bodø). Our most southern review was from Simon Holden, who normally reviews in Auckland but ventured South to Wellington in 2012 for a five star review of Pierrot Lunaire.
Viewed from the Greenwich Meridian, Simon was also our most easterly reporter (in two reviews from Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral in 2012 and 2013), while Vancouver’s Kevin W Ng is the most westerly. By the way, Kevin has the distinction of having the same name as our other Kevin Ng, who is based in Hong Kong: the only case of this, although David Larkin and I would be there but for the switch of two letters (as opposed to the physical distance between us: London and Sydney couldn’t be much further apart).
One of our very first reviewers, Alan Yu, is also based in Hong Kong, but gives us a kind of one man global review service, sending us dispatches from wherever his travels take him: so far, that’s included Australia, the US and London (at 275 degrees of longitude, Alan covers the biggest East-West span of anyone). His count of 13 cities is pipped by Ako Imamura, who has reviewed opera for us from 16 cities since starting in July 2014. And if that isn’t the definition of a card-carrying opera nut, I don’t know what is. But the biggest city count of all (Mark and myself excepted) goes to Ken Ward, former bus driver and editor of the Bruckner Journal, who wrote 73 reviews of Bruckner concerts for us in 18 cities in the UK, Germany and Austria between 2011 and 2015.
My own early reviews apart, our first reviews in those early days in 2010 were by Jill Segal (just after the opening of Kings Place in London) and by Caro Baum, reviewing from Sydney. Our most long-standing regular reviewer, however, is early music specialist Nahoko Gotoh, who first reviewed Liz Watts and the Early Opera Company singing Pergolesi at the Proms in September 2010. Six years later, Nahoko is still actively reviewing for us in London and Tokyo.
We have several European authors who write extremely good English as well as writing in their own language. Just one writes in two non-English languages: someone clearly forgot to send Beate Langenbruch the memo about “you should write in your first language”, since she writes in excellent literary style in both French and German.
Some of the best things in life start by accident: it might surprise you to know that Bachtrack reviews started as a Search Engine Optimisation initiative. In 2010, we were a pure listings site and although, even then, we had an excellent database of performances, we were having severe trouble getting the Googlebot to place our content adequately near the top of their search results. Google’s printed advice was “you need high quality, relevant, unique content”: we took this seriously and concluded that the only sensible next step was to write some. The rest, as they say, is history… The Googlebot now indexes over 40,000 of our pages per day, and we still adhere today to the rule that the material in our reviews may not be published in any other online publication.
In 2016 so far, over 230 reviewers have written over 2,300 reviews for us in four languages and thirty-four countries. I can’t name check them all, but I have to give a special word for the extraordinarily prolific Julien Hanck, Dominic Lowe, Sarah Batschelet and Rolf Kyburz, with 200 reviews between them.
So raise a glass, please, ladies and gentlemen, to the health of our wonderful Bachtrack reviewers, and shout their praises from the rooftops. Alison, I and our team of editors can’t thank them enough.