Is it time for a new literary prize?

Leading figures in the publishing world think so.

I blogged yesterday about the misgivings expressed here and elsewhere about this year's Man Booker Prize shortlist. I ended by observing that "some in the literary world are wondering if it isn't time to start another prize altogether".

What should land in my inbox this morning but an email from the literary agent Andrew Kidd announcing the launch of a new literary prize. Kidd's announcement begins:

The Literature Prize will be for the best novel written in the English language and published in the UK in a given year, and a writer's country of origin will not be a factor. Our aim is to establish a clear and uncompromising standard of excellence, and the prize judges will be selected in rotation from an academy of experts in the field of literature.

A "clear and uncompromising standard of excellence" - now that would be something, wouldn't it? That Kidd and his supporters (John Banville, Pat Barker, Mark Haddon, Jackie Kay, Nicole Krauss and Claire Messud have all endorsed the venture) see the Literature Prize as an alternative to the Booker is made clear later on:

The prize will offer readers a selection of novels that, in the view of these expert judges, are unsurpassed in their quality and ambition. For many years this brief was fulfilled by the Booker (latterly the Man Booker) Prize. But as numerous statements by that prize's administrator and this year's judges illustrate, it now prioritises a notion of "readability" over artistic achievement.

Kidd says the new prize's advisory board are currently soliciting funding and that an announcement about this will be made soon. Watch this space.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.