Top 10 Performances of 2010

By David Fleshler

Michael Tilson Thomas

1. Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5

The classical highlight of the year was the April presentation of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony by Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony at the Arsht Center. This monumental performance brought together intense concentration, responsive playing by the orchestra and a sense of pacing that brought out the immense power of this work. The pianissimo string playing in the first movement, the violent opening of the second, the brilliance and clarity of the brass, the intense, transparent and ecstatic Adagietto– it was a performance full of great moments with a powerful sense of the symphony’s overall architecture.

2. Palm Beach Opera’s Don Giovanni

In his U.S. debut, the young Italian stage director Stefano Poda ditched the papier-mâché statue and other traditional approaches to this tradition-bound opera. His original and effective production of Mozart’s work for Palm Beach Opera in February portrayed the Don as a heroic figure against a sinister, almost abstract backdrop of 18th century Venice during Carnival. In the Act 2 party scene, where standard productions have a succession of women seat themselves on the Don’s lap as guests eat and drink, Poda creates a hellishly lit scene with white-faced guests and grave masked figures in black walking slowly around the room. Unlike the work of equally aggressive but less talented directors, this one remained true to the essence of the opera. There was excellent singing and the usual fine performance by the orchestra under music director Bruno Aprea.

3. Miami Lyric Opera’s La Bohème

Big-budget opera companies offer more elaborate sets and grander orchestras. But this small company’s production at Miami Beach’s Colony Theater in July entered into the essence of Puccini’s tale of youthful love in 19th century Paris more effectively than many more opulent productions. There was great ensemble chemistry among the Bohemian artists. As Mimi, the soprano Jacqueline Quirk (above) dominated the stage with a subtly acted, vocally luminous performance.

4. Florida Grand Opera’s Turandot

Among the company’s best performances in years, this sizzling November production was driven forward by superb work in the orchestra under conductor Ramon Tebar. The soprano Lise Lindstrom, who sang Turandot last year at the Metropolitan Opera, brought an effortlessly powerful voice to the role. As her dramatic and vocal opposite, the slave girl Liù, the soprano Elizabeth Caballero sang with melting, gentle lyricism.

5. Claudio Martinez Mehner, Miami International Piano Festival

This obscure Spanish pianist gave a tremendous recital of Beethoven, Schumann, Debussy and Janáček at the Lincoln Theatre in May, drawing repeated standing ovations. Martinez Mehner displayed absolute command of the keyboard, with a vast range textures and an air of spontaneity, despite the immense thought and care he has clearly given to these works. Piano festival artistic director Giselle Brodsky deserves credit for the effort she puts into finding performers of this caliber.

6. Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in Rachmaninoff

Despite Slatkin’s recent debacle at the Metropolitan Opera, he remains one of this country’s masterful conductors. At the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in February, he drew from the orchestra an eloquent, richly textured performance of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. The string playing was stunning in its clarity and tonal beauty. Slatkin kept the brass section’s volume in check, with the payoff of a gorgeously burnished orchestral sound.

7. Seraphic Fire Rachmaninoff Vespers

Augmented by a corps of basses capable of reaching the lowest note in the choral literature, the Miami choir put on a magnificent performance of Rachmaninoff’s rarely heard choral masterpiece. Artistic director Patrick Dupré Quigley beefed up the choir to 25 members for this work, giving the ensemble a deeper, darker sound in Rachmaninoff’s complex, otherworldly harmonies.

8. Artemis Quartet for Friends of Chamber Music

This Berlin-based ensemble earned a well-deserved mid-concert standing ovation from the hardened aficionados of the Friends of Chamber Music of Miami series. Technically impeccable, without a trace of the sincere but scrappy style of some quartets, they played three Beethoven quartets in March from early, middle and later periods with knife-edged precision and an almost symphonic richness of sound.

9. Thomas Ades’ Violin Concerto (Concentric Paths) –Leila Josefowicz/the Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Most

One of the first truly significant violin concertos of the twenty-first century, Concentric Paths by the extraordinarily gifted Thomas Ades received a dazzling performance by a fiery Josefowicz with crack support from Welser-Most and the Clevelanders at the Arsht Center. “[Lawrence Budmen]

10. Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk at the Broward Center

The violin virtuoso par excellence and the thinking man’s pianist in high voltage performances of sonatas by Bach, Grieg, Schumann and Ravel at the Broward Center. [Lawrence Budmen]

Other Notable Performances

The University of Miami’s Frost Opera Theater poignant, well-handled productions of the contemporary operas Strawberry Fields and Ballymore, Part One: Winners; trumpet virtuoso Arturo Sandoval and the Miami Symphony Orchestra in the world premiere of Carlos Rivera’s evocative Concierto de Miami; Palm Beach Opera’s intense and dramatic production of Verdi’s Otello; Seraphic Fire’s  antidote to forced holiday cheer in its candlelit Christmas concert; the cellist Mark Kosower’s immaculate technique and tonal warmth in a recital at Coral Gables Congregational Church; Yuja Wang’s exuberant, passionate traversal of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with Patrick Summers and the Russian National Orchestra at the Kravis Center.

Dishonorable mentions

Florida Grand Opera for permitting risible, ego-driven directorial inanities to be inflicted on Lucia di Lammermoor, Carmen and the Barber of Seville; the Cleveland Orchestra for using their in-house pianist for an underwhelming performance of Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety; the Claremont Trio’s bland, harsh and edgy performance of Dvořák’s Piano Quartet No. 2.

Grace Under Pressure Award I

Pianist Tao Lin had planned to attend a recital at Gusman Hall by the University of Miami’s new piano faculty member Santiago Rodriguez. But Rodriguez caught the flu, and Lin ended up taking his place on stage, where he performed a substantial all-Chopin recital  for a highly appreciative audience.

Grace Under Pressure Award II

The violinist Elmar Oliveira suffered a serious shoulder injury during a chiropractic appointment, impairing his ability to move his left hand. Despite clearly being in pain, Oliveira went on stage and gave a fine, muscular performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, as well as distinguished accounts of Handel’s Sonata in E Major, Tchaikovsky’s Meditation and William Walton’s Sonata for Violin and Piano.

Widest range of talents

During the intermission of an all-Beethoven program that included the huge Diabelli Variations, the Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti gave an impromptu half-time show. He walked on stage with a black bag of tools, opened up the Steinway grand and began repairing the hammer springs, which had irritated him during performances of the Les Adieux and Appassionata sonatas.

Weirdest Debut

The South Florida Symphony, formerly the Key West Symphony, in September announced an ambitious, three-county season with an impressive lineup of well-known soloists. The orchestra’s Oct. 7 concert at the Broward Center earned excellent reviews. But complaints emerged from musicians stiffed by the orchestra under its previous name, and the orchestra canceled its December concerts, which were to have featured the violinist Lara St. John in works of Mozart and Sarasate.

Lifetime Achievement Award I

Doreen Marx, celebrating the 30th season of her Sunday Afternoons of Music series. Her personal touch, musical taste and connection with audiences has helped the series grow from a few concerts at a Kendall temple to a series that brings international stars to South Florida.

Lifetime Achievement Award II

The Lincoln Theatre, for nurturing the growth of the New World Symphony, which has now moved to a brand-new campus next door. The old Miami Beach theater, the orchestra’s home for 22 years, is to be gutted and turned into a retail complex.

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3 Responses to “Top 10 Performances of 2010”

  1. Posted Jan 06, 2011 at 3:47 am by Jacqueline Quirk

    OMG! I am Jacqueline Quirk who played the Mimi in the #3 ranked production for South Florida! Wow, such great news for my favorite role !!!
    Thank you so much for the recognition and for the hard work that was put into this production by all! I am elated !!!

  2. Posted Jan 06, 2011 at 3:38 pm by Rowna Sutin

    It is wonderful that you put on your list the large venue, large audience events, and the smaller and more intimate ones as well. A well balanced compilation, and wasn’t South Florida lucky to have the opportunities to see and hear them all.

  3. Posted Jan 07, 2011 at 4:53 pm by Jean-Francois Lejeune

    Dear David Flescher,

    While I do not disagree overall with your choice of performances, I find it very sad that you put the three productions of the FGO among the dishonorable. These were to the contrary among the best. If you want to see the performing arts flourish in this city it is time that critics realize that the world has changed, that operas are living works and not frozen in time “bonbonnieres” like you seem to see them. Instead of encouraging renewal of the works and of the public you keep reinforcing the clichés. Seeing you more conservative than most critics in the US is a big disappointment and a big treason for Miami’s future.

    Jean-François Lejeune
    Professor of Architecture and Stage Design
    School of Architecture University of Miami

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