Classical Year in Review
TOP TEN PERFORMANCES OF 2008
Inspirational keyboard performances dominated local stages in 2008 with a third of the top ten performances coming from feats of pianistic derring-do. Here is the roll call of the year’s finest classical music performances.
1. KONSTANTIN LIFSCHITZ’S BACH.
The Ukrainian pianist’s extraordinary one-day, two-concert traversal of the complete Well-Tempered Clavier for the Miami International Piano Festival in March presented poetic, expressive preludes and vigorously contrapuntal fugues in an epic Bach traversal that was both profound and exhilarating. Both concerts were taped live and recently released on DVD by Video Artists International for all to enjoy.
2. DENIS MATSUEV’s PROKOFIEV.
Even the lavish advance accolades left one unprepared for the power and seismic force of the strapping six-foot-four Russian musician’s take-no-prisoners assault on Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with the State Symphony Orchestra of Russia in March. The guy is an animal.
3. JOHN ADAMS AND THE NEW WORLD SYMPHONY.
Having our leading composer conduct the New World Symphony in three of his major works provided a thrilling, memorable evening with soloist Tracy Silverman’s plugged-in performance of Adams’ electric-violin concerto, The Dharma at Big Sur, tearing the roof off the Lincoln Theatre.
4. STEPHANE DENEVE AND THE NEW WORLD SYMPHONY.
The young French conductor’s wonderful uber-Gallic Ravel and Roussel in January revealed the vigor, lucidity and wit of these composers in a fresh light.
5. CHRISTOPH VON DOHNANYI AND THE PHILHARMONIA.
“Those strings, those strings,” marveled a usually skeptical friend. If anyone wants to know why von Dohnanyi is regarded as one of the world’s finest conductors, the probing, spacious and eloquent performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 provided ample evidence with glorious playing by London’s Philharmonia Orchestra.
6. FLORIDA GRAND OPERA: HANDEL’S GIULIO CESARE.
The Miami company rose above the prevailing inconsistencies with a sexy, subversive, terrifically sung performance of Handel’s opera, given a massive lift by the stylish conducting of Gary Thor Wedow in his local debut.
7. OLIVER KNUSSEN AND PETER SERKIN WITH THE NEW WORLD SYMPHONY.
The bearish, sardonic British composer has become a local favorite, and his crystalline performance of Webern, Stravinksky and Takemitsu in February with pianist Peter Serkin lending his singular brand of fire and intellect was a highlight of the year.
8. LANG LANG
The superstar Chinese pianist showed he is more than a pyrotechnical whiz-kid with his finely calibrated Debussy and Chopin in a belated Miami debut in March.
9. MARK KOSOWER.
The American cellist and pianist Jee-Won Oh banished the summer doldrums with a generous, uncommonly thoughtful and passionately performed July recital of Bach, Mendelssohn, Poulenc, Ginastera, and Kodaly at Coral Gables Congregational Church.
10. NEW WORLD REUNION CONCERT
Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony closed their season in May with a side-by-side homecoming concert of NWS alums joining the current roster, which resulted in a virtuosic rendering of Act 3 of Swan Lake and a thrilling, propulsive Rite of Spring.
A rousing Carmina Burana from the Master Chorale of South Florida, which made an apt farewell for conductor-choral director Jo-Michael Scheibe; Ben Heppner’s delightful recital for Sunday Afternoons of Music; Garrick Ohlsson’s powerful Rachmaninoff Third with the Pittsburgh Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World in stirring Beethoven and Strauss at the Arsht Center; violinist Giora Schmidt’s Mendelssohn with the Israel Chamber Orchestra; Seraphic Fire’s moving rendition of Brahms’ German Requiem in the chamber version; the lively Corigliano tribute by Frost School of Music forces at the Arsht Center; whipcrack Prokofiev by Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky (Kirov) Orchestra; Midori’s Tchaikovsky concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra; New World Symphony members flutist Brook Ferguson and cellist Soo Jee Yang in concertos of Nielsen and Dvorak; and the SoBe Music Institute’s Rothko Chapel.
MISCELLANEOUS AND DUBIOUS DISTINCTION AWARDS
Yundi Li’s South Florida debut at the Arsht Center. Well-played and technically polished but boring and a distinct lack of feeling. This is the greatest Chopin pianist of our time? Not judging by his Miami recital.
MOST NIXONIAN PRESS RELATIONS (LOCAL)
Al Milano and Concert Association of Florida colleagues for their intimidation campaign of calls and emails to Miami Herald editors after a critical column of mine questioning the artistic direction of the organization. DISHONORABLE MENTION to those Florida Grand Opera staff and board members who indulged in the same shoot-the-messenger tactics. Be careful what you wish for, guys.
MOST NIXONIAN PRESS RELATIONS (NATIONAL)
The Cleveland Orchestra for their ongoing vilification of Plain Dealer music critic Don Rosenberg for writing insufficiently worshipful reviews of conductor Franz Welser-Most. The attempt to get Rosenberg unseated finally bore fruit when his gutless editor caved in this fall and reassigned him. Earlier this month Rosenberg sued his paper and the orchestra in what promises to be an extremely messy and highly entertaining legal battle. Can you spell Pyrrhic victory?
Florida Grand Opera firing its noxious orchestra contractor and hiring some desperately needed new musical personnel. It was way overdue, but is already providing a much-needed boost to the quality of FGO productions.
FGO’s delightful season-closing revival of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, with a strong cast, lively staging and terrific musical direction by Gary Wedow.
MOST DEPRESSING RESPONSE TO BEST SURPRISE
The large number of opera patrons who walked out of the same Handel production expressing vociferous disapproval of operas containing da capo arias and high-voiced male countertenors.
MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER
Alan Johnson, who continues to do remarkable work at the Frost Opera Theatre including a wonderful evening of music from Philip Glass operas with the composer in attendance in February and a charming student staging of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortileges this fall.
MOST ORIGINAL OPERA PRODUCTION
Palm Beach Opera’s imaginative La Traviata, with the sets on the floor reflected in massive, raked mirrors at the back of the stage. At Violetta’s death the mirrors rise to a right angle making the reflected Kravis Center audience members visible spectators at Violetta’s deathbed. Amazing.
MOST MYSTERIOUS SAVIOR
The Concert Association of Florida’s new financial backer P. Daniel Orlich. CAF officials have stated that the wealthy attorney will have a prominent role in programming Concert Association events but since Orlich has no experience in classical music or presenting concerts, what that means is anyone’s guess. Be very afraid.
BEST INVISIBLE DEBUT
Soprano Catherine Malfitano whose stage direction lifted FGO’s so-so Tosca cast to an impressive level of dramatic intensity.
No contest. South Florida’s three largest newspapers for either eliminating their classical music/arts critic positions or, worse, electing to ignore the area’s classical music scene completely. Yes, times are tough in the news industry, but are the fine arts less important than hopped-up rappers and bimbo pop stars? Apparently.
SECOND WORST PERFORMANCE
The Miami Symphony’s abysmal playing of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 last spring, which was a reminder of just how bad, really bad orchestra playing can be.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
The same Miami Symphony, which under Eduardo Marturet rebounded from that unfortunate evening and has improved with each successive outing since then.
My fellow journalists and music critics across the country who have lost their jobs or were forced to take buyouts and who continue to ply their trade on the internet, often thanklessly and for little or no remuneration. Apropos, props to my colleagues who have contributed to this website venture: Alan Becker, Greg Stepanich, Thomas May, Sharon McDaniel and Sebastian Spreng, great journalists and terrific people all.
The passing of Jack Zink in August, a dedicated critic, great friend and wonderful human being. We miss you, Jack.
I’d like to thank my family, friends, loved ones, and all who have written or expressed support for this website. It’s been difficult in the current economic climate to launch and maintain this project, but we hope with continued support to keep South Florida Classical Review.com alive and covering the region’s classical music scene for a long time to come.
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Wed Dec 24, 2008
at 12:59 pm