There was a glittering curtain, dry ice, a vast cake wheeled on by Harry Hill and kisses galore at the climax of Michael Nyman's birthday celebrations in a packed Hackney Empire. It was typical of the composer to hold his 60th at the local theatre; dressed in what looked like Armani, he probably arrived there on his beloved 38 bus. Griff Rhys Jones, spiritual engineer of the newly restored playhouse, leapt up and gave Nyman a statuette of the Muse that crowns the exterior. This, said Rhys Jones, was to make up for missing out on an Oscar nod for The Piano. There was much laughter, particularly as Nyman had grumbled about this only the week before on Radio 4.
While the art world gongs make very jolly spectator sport for us in the audience, they really matter to those in the running. Which can make the selection process a rather fraught and very serious business. I'm currently on the judging panel for the Gulbenkian Prize, which annually chooses a Museum of the Year with a [pounds sterling]100,000 prize. And just before Nyman's birthday party, I was at the meeting to decide who would make the shortlist of four. We six Gulbenkian judges--plus our debonair chair, Loyd Grossman--battled over whether a certain institution in Scotland or a certain institution in England should prevail.
It's a lazy journalist's cliche that judges always "battle". In this case, there was no animosity, perhaps because the longlist was so outrageously varied and involved visits to museums in a Romany caravan (which made the shortlist) and a disused cable factory (which didn't).
Or perhaps it's because the majority …