Pianist duo Olha Chipak and Oleksiy Kushnir
Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation, New World Center, Miami Beach, Feb. 4
Liszt two-piano “rendition” (don’t call this a reduction) of Beethoven’s Ninth. Brilliant performing of this demanding score. No cuts—just as mind-bendingly dense as any orchestral performance. And just as long. With Seraphic Fire singing selections from Brahms’s “Liebeslieder Walzer,” this made for a memorable afternoon.
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Herbert Blomstedt and Moritz Gnann conducting
Symphony Hall, Boston, Feb. 23, 27
Mozart two ways: irresistible. A quirk in the schedule had two conductors leading the same program: the C major symphonies (34, 36, 41). A litmus test of close listening. There’s no need to include the fact that Blomstedt is 90, and Gnann is not. It was hardly the study in contrasts you might think it would be. Both ideas of Mozart were thoroughly enjoyable.
Arts in the Village, Rehoboth, Feb. 24
Feeling bad shouldn’t sound so good. Deeply elegiac piano trios of Smetana (G minor) and Dvorak (F minor), with accomplished practitioners. Any program with just two works would hardly seem a model of variety. But in just seven movements, all told, the trio explored not only ideas of loss and sorrow, but the contradictory emotions that accompany those feelings. Devastating ups and downs, and superb playing.
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Alan Gilbert conducting
Symphony Hall, March 1
John Adams’s “Scheherazade.2,” with violinist Leila Josefowicz. Breathtaking solo performance. That Josefowicz played this new work from memory only adds to the wonder—not just because of her dazzling solo part, but because of how it interacts with the orchestra, swirling constantly around her. Long, loud, sometimes angry and programmatic work that challenges the basic ideas of soloist/ensemble.
Skylark Vocal Ensemble
First Congregational Church, Falmouth, March 26
Concert presentation of the group’s recording “Seven Words from the Cross,” which ultimately would receive a Grammy nomination. Diverse and loving interpretations of Thorvaldsdottir, von Bingen, Billings, and others. The tender heartbreak of Frederick Buckley’s “Break It Gently, to My Mother,” with tenor Cory Klose—unforgettable.
Week Two, Rockport Chamber Music Festival
Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport, June 21-24
Including a whole weekend of performances is simply a way to pay tribute to the effect artistic director Barry Shiffman has had on this venerable festival. Bach was a mess. The video wasn’t effective. What was the violinist’s problem? The soprano left the stage unannounced. The cellist didn’t have any shoes. All of it was a success.
Ambitious programming with theatrics, new contexts for standard repertory, and variety in staging. Soprano Samantha Hankey sang Brahms. An ensemble ventured Reich’s “Different Trains,” and Arvo Pärt. Stephen Prutsman paired Bach with all sorts of things. Adrian Butterfield led countertenor Daniel Taylor and soprano Suzie LeBlanc with an ensemble, performing Handel. Great style and artistry. No two performances were alike.
Newport Chamber Music Festival, The Breakers, July 13
Some they steal. Some they transform. Some they write themselves. But no matter where their arrangements come from, the Imanis play the heck out of them.
Arrangements of Rimsky-Korsakov, Piazzolla, and Simon Shaheen; a Poulenc sextet (with pianist Sara Davis Buechner); and a new composition by Valerie Coleman, grabbed the audience and didn’t let go. A wind quintet at the top of their game.
Shai Wosner, piano
Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, New Mexico Museum, Aug. 15
Rzewski, Scarlatti and Schubert—the kind of crazed program that reflects perfectly what Marc Neikrug’s festival is all about. Sold-out program in the ancient St. Francis Auditorium—at noontime, on a Wednesday.
John Adams’s “Dr. Atomic,” Matthew Aucoin conducting
Santa Fe Opera, Aug. 16
Director Peter Sellars stripped the production down to the local geography—the stage opened out the back, directly toward Los Alamos, site of the atomic tests, 45 miles away.
Tesuque Pueblo dancers enacted a corn dance. Descendants of the radioactive fallout victims—the Downwinders—silently took the stage during the performance. We were at ground zero. The staging power felt awesome. It seemed like a mushroom cloud could reappear, right then.
The brilliant cast could have used more challenging voice-settings—John Adams’s sprechstimme left Julia Bullock, Ryan McKinny, Andrew Harris, Ben Bliss and the others without enough challenges. But that moment.
Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, Cotuit Center for the Arts, Aug. 21
Mozart’s E-flat major, Janacek’s “Kreutzer,” Beethoven’s second Razumovsky. Musical storytelling at its most intense. Great quartets make it seem like four intelligent people discussing magical ideas.
“Sky on Swings,” O18 Festival
Perelman Theater, Philadelphia, Sept. 29
Lembit Beecher’s heart-rending premiere struck a profound chord. Instrumentally, it’s a chamber setting, animating Hannah Moscovitch’s crisp libretto. Vocally, it’s a character piece, with the protagonists—Frederica von Stade and Marietta Simpson—each providing their own vocal style.
Theatrically, it’s a moving experience that tackles the pervasive disruption caused by Alzheimer’s.
We see it poignantly. We see it angrily. We see it terminally. We are memory beings, and having none breaks everything. Conception and execution in “Sky on Swings” matched each other in brilliance. Simpson and von Stade extended remarkable careers in these remarkable roles.
Anthony Roth Costanzo’s “Glass Handel,” O18 Festival
Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Sept. 30
“Glass Handel” had many moving parts—including the audience. Set in the entryway of the Barnes Foundation, “Glass Handel” was all precision. Costanzo singing, in Calvin Klein costumes; George Condo painting, live behind a screen; multiple artists’ videos; Justin Peck’s choreography; two orchestras (one period, one modern, conducted by Corrado Rovaris); and a squadron of people movers, wheeling the audience to various vantage points during the proceedings.
It was either a brilliant amalgam of the arts, or the most elaborate album release party ever for Costanzo’s “ARC.” The centerpiece was Costanzo, whose elegant countertenor veered easily from the vibrato-less Handel to the minimalist repetitions of Glass. His instrument is riveting.
Tenor Frank Kelley, pianist Janice Weber
South Coast Chamber Music Series, Grace Episcopal Church, Marion, Nov. 10
Schubert’s “Die Schöne Müllerin.” Everything about this cycle—the word painting, the piano accompaniment, indeed each note—bears witness to the emotion felt by the protagonist. Kelley sang with beautiful confidence—Schubert’s lieder fit perfectly into his comfort zone. There didn’t seem to be a single note sounding forced or stretched.
Weber’s part is no mere accompaniment. The wanderer seizes on any gesture to believe in love, and plunges into despair at each realization of the truth. The Müller casually appreciates a green ribbon, and suddenly all he thinks of is green. Her blue eyes mean everything. For him, hope—ultimately fruitless—resides in every glance, every word, every thought. Kelley captured it all.