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Year in Review

Top Ten Performances of 2014

Wed Dec 24, 2014 at 12:11 am

By Lawrence Budmen and David Fleshler

The Kalichstein Laredo Robinson Trio performed music of Schubert, Dvorak and Mendelssohn Sunday at Gusman Concert Hall. Photo: Fred Collins

Photo: Fred Collins

1. Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio for Friends of Chamber Music

The venerable trio was in top form in their annual concert for Friends of Chamber Music in February. Soaring Schubert and Mendelssohn were astutely paired with the rarely heard Dvorak Piano Trio No. 2, the players capturing a perfect mix of nostalgia and boisterous Czech dance rhythms. (LB)

Vindhya Khare in the title role of "Jackie O."

Vindhya Khare in the title role of “Jackie O.”

2. Frost Opera Theater:  Daugherty’s Jackie O

In April, Michael Daugherty’s postmodern synthesis of American popular culture and avant-garde modernism combined  sarcasm and pathos in equal measure. Vindhya Khare’s agile and radiant soprano evoked the glamour and mystery of the title heroine in an imaginative multmedia staging by Ben Krywosz. A milestone for the University of Miami’s opera program under Alan Johnson. (LB)

Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the New World Symphony in Mahler's Symphony No. 7 Saturday night in Miami Bach. Photo: Art Streiber

Photo: Art Streiber

3. New World Symphony and Michel Tilson Thomas: Mahler’s Symphony No. 7

The New World Symphony led by Michael Tilson Thomas gave a magnificent, weighted performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7, the knottiest of all his symphonies. There was terrific playing in all sections, from searing string passages to the vigorous, precise timpani work in the final movement. Tilson Thomas led a finely paced performance that allowed the work’s edginess to creep up on you. (DF)

Photo: Patrick O'Leary

Photo: Patrick O’Leary

4. Hilary Hahn’s Mozart with the New World Symphony

The sheer youthful freshness and joy of this performance by the American violinist showed her to be the ideal interpreter of Mozart’s Concerto No. 5 with conductor James Gaffigan and the New World. Her playing was clean and elegant throughout the deceptively difficult work, with poignant emotion in the slow movement that avoided sentimentality. (DF)

5. Richard Goode

The welcome return of the veteran pianist for the penultimate concert of Sunday Afternoons of Music in March offered Goode’s trademark authoritative Schubert (Sonata No. 20) but also scores by Janácek and Debussy assayed with a winning combination of intellect and technical mastery. (LB)

6. Palm Beach Opera: Rossini’s Barber of Seville

Rossini’s opera buffa was cannily staged at a breathless pace in February by Fenion Lamb. Patrick Fournillier’s fizzy conducting and the strong cast was led by  David Portillo’s dulcet-voiced tenor spinning agile coloratura as Count Almaviva and Gaia Petrone (in her American debut)  as a wily Rosina with a dusky mezzo timbre and wide vocal range. (LB)

7. Yefim Bronfman

The keyboard virtuoso’s residency with the New World Symphony in October climaxed with a recital-chamber music concert featuring an insightful and magisterial reading of Beethoven’s “Archduke Trio” with New World fellow violinist Jin Suk Yu and cellist Aaron Ludwig. Bronfman soloed with sparkling Haydn (Sonata No. 60) and a fierce, dark Prokofiev War Sonata (No. 6). (LB)

8. Florida Grand Opera: Vores’ No Exit

FGO decamped to the Arena Lounge in Miami Beach’s club district in February for Andy Vores’ operatic setting of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist play. Jeffrey Marc Buchman’s smart staging utilized the confined space adroitly  and Caitlin McKechney dominated the production as the lesbian Inez—coolly sexy and catlike with an alluring, rich mezzo and splendidly clear diction. Astringent and riveting, this was a great evening of music theater. (LB)

brahms

9. Friends of Chamber Music of Miami’s Brahms program

Friends of Chamber Music of Miami presented a great all-Brahms concert by the violist Roberto Diaz, clarinetist Ricardo Morales and pianist Joseph Kalichstein. Although all the performances were excellent, the standout was the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in F Minor. Rarely will you hear the clarinet played as beautifully as it was by Morales, principal clarinet of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who brought to the performance a round, warm tone, smooth phrasing and a natural feel for Brahms’ melodies. (DF)

10. Gil Shaham’s Korngold Violin Concerto with Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra 

Gil Shaham gave a radiant performance of this concerto by a composer steeped in the Austro-German musical tradition who would become a master of Hollywood film music. With a soaring tone and a touch of virtuoso swagger, Shaham gave a committed account that left none of the concerto’s heart-on-the-sleeve emotion unexpressed, while clearly taking well-deserved pleasure in the performance. (DF)

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Seraphic Fire’s “Glory of Versailles” and “Carols by Candlelight” programs; Denis Kozhukhin’s volatile Brahms and powerful Prokofiev for Friends of Chamber Music; Nick van Bloss’ supple Goldberg Variations and Zlata Chochieva’s big boned Chopin and Rachmaninoff at the Miami International Piano Festival; Dawn Upshaw’s exquisite vocalism in Maria Schneider’s fine song-cycle Winter Morning Walks at Festival Miami; Carson Kievman’s shattering music theater piece Fairy Tales: Songs of the Dandelion Woman at SoBe Arts; Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra’s colorful, rhythmically charged performance of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps; Roberto Abbado’s freshly minted Beethoven 5th Symphony with the New World Symphony (LB)

Florida Grand Opera for a worthy performance of Verdi’s rarely heard Nabucco, and dramatic and powerful performance of Puccini’s Tosca; the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 of remarkable transparency and grace. (DF)

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS

The Cleveland Orchestra’s less-than-precise traversal of Strauss’s Don Juan, replete with horn fluffs; a New World Symphony quartet’s unfocused, chaotic reading of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16; Lola Astanova’s weak, underpowered Rachmaninoff with the Miami Symphony; Alexander Aritiunian’s Trio, a trite potboiler incomprehensibly programmed by Pulse Chamber Music at Festival Miami. (LB)

The grotesquely fast, almost incoherent, account of Vivaldi’s “Winter” with which the New York period-instrument ensemble The Sebastians introduced itself to Florida audiences in collaboration with the Miami choir Seraphic Fire. Palm Beach Opera for presenting a tenor who wasn’t remotely up to the job as a last-minute replacement in the title role of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann. (DF)

MOST INTERESTING REVIVALS

In an enterprising all-American program that opened Festival Miami in October, Thomas Sleeper led the Frost Symphony Orchestra in a rare performances of the craggy, bristling Sun-Treader by iconoclast Carl Ruggles, an atonal work divorced from the sensibility of the Second Viennese School. Paul Creston’s Saxophone Concerto, a jazzy and distinctively American score, was a arresting bonus with a brilliant solo turn by Dale Underwood. (LB)

MOST EXCITING DEBUT

Hungarian soprano Csilla Boross took on the vocally punishing role of Lady Macbeth in the Palm Beach Opera’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth in January and scored a resounding triumph. An imperious, frightening figure on stage, Boross could spin effortless coloratura and clean trills one moment, then vault ringing high notes like daggers into the house the next. (LB)

MOST PRICKLY CONDUCTOR MOMENT

At an October New World Symphony performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, between the second and third movements while soloist Yefim Bronfman waited patiently at the keyboard, Michael Tilson Thomas asked a woman and her daughter to move to different seats out of his line of view because they were distracting him. (LB)

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK 

Florida Grand Opera has launched a campaign to reinvent itself financially and artistically, with a drive to raise $17.5 million and a promise of fresher repertoire. This could be the most important season in FGO history, as the company seeks to climb out of a deep financial hole and attract a bigger audience. (DF)

SECOND BIGGEST QUESTION MARK

The Broward Center has programmed a bigger, more ambitious classical season than last year, although it’s also more laden with classical pops concerts. The question is whether the center will be able to improve on the pathetic attendance at last season’s concerts. (DF)

A FOND FAREWELL

After thirty-three years Sunday Afternoons of Music rang down its final curtain in May. In an era when recital series have become an endangered species, SAM (run by Doreen Marx and husband Byron Krulewitch) presented solo concerts by such veteran luminaries as pianist Menahem Pressler and violinist Oscar Shumsky and the South Florida debuts of soprano Dawn Upshaw and tenors Ben Heppner and Marcello Giordani, pianist Olga Kern and the Colorado String Quartet among many others.  The series concluded in style with concerts by keyboard master Richard Goode and  mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard in her local debut. The loss of this recital showcase leaves a void in the region’s musical life. (LB)

julian-kreeger

DISTINGUISHED ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Miami attorney Julian H. Kreeger has long been a force to be reckoned with on the South Florida music scene. For nearly three decades Kreeger has been president of the Friends of Chamber Music. He has presented top notch musicians in consistently high quality concerts and has introduced many young up-and-coming artists to local audiences. Such groups as the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and Guarneri String Quartet became regular visitors.

A presenter with impeccable musical taste, Kreeger’s most interesting programs have often been his mix-and-match salon evenings when he pairs distinguished artists for performances of quintets, sextets and works for unusual instrumental combinations that fall outside the repertoire and instrumentation of touring groups. Kreeger has kept chamber music alive at its highest level in South Florida. Long may he continue. (LB)

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