The Top 10 Performances of 2012

By David Fleshler, Lawrence Budmen and Dorothy Hindman

Patrick Dupré Quigley. Photo: Mitchell Zachs

1. Seraphic Fire: Bach’s Mass in B Minor

Everything came together for this memorable performance of Bach’s choral masterpiece in February. The choir, augmented with extra members that gave it a richer, deeper sound, sang with warm humanity and crackling energy under founder and artistic director Patrick Dupré Quigley. His sure sense of the dramatic gave this devotional work real narrative urgency. For the trumpet solos, Seraphic Fire snagged Metropolitan Opera principal trumpet (and New World Symphony alum) Billy Hunter, who brought a true glinting Bach sound to the performance, a standout in playing from the Firebird Chamber Orchestra that was first class throughout. (DF)


Michael Tilson Thomas

2. Michael Tilson Thomas and The New World Symphony: Mahler’s Symphony No. 9

This magnificent season-closing evening of Mahler last May shows why nothing beats a live performance of a great symphony. From intimate solos, weird Mahlerian grumbles and surging passages in the full orchestra, the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas gave a great performance of this complex, emotionally powerful work. (DF)


Nicole Cabell

3. Palm Beach Opera: Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette

Effectively updated to post-World-War II Italy with men in fedoras fighting with knives rather than swords, Palm Beach Opera’s production of Romeo et Juliette in February was dominated by the gorgeous singing and stage charisma of Nicole Cabell. As Juliette, she brought to the performance youthful freshness, a lustrous soprano voice, effortless technique and an underlying seriousness that brought out the Shakespeare heroine’s courage and vulnerability. (DF)


Osmo Vänska. Photo: Ann Marsden

4. Osmo Vänska and the Minnesota Orchestra

The Finnish conductor’s nine-year run on the Minnesota podium has propelled this well-regarded orchestra to the front ranks of American symphonic ensembles despite recent labor troubles and the revelation of a record deficit. In a March concert at the Arsht Center in Miami, Vänska and the orchestra showed they had achieved something special, from the unusual expressiveness with which woodwinds played the theme of the Brahms Haydn Variations to the almost preternatural precision and unity with which they attacked Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. (DF)


Ailyn Pérez and Arturo Chacón-Cruz in Florida Grand Opera’s “La Bohème.” Photo: Gaston de Cardenas

5. Florida Grand Opera: Puccini’s La Bohème

Veteran operagoers have seen many productions of this work, but rarely will they get a chance to hear a singer with the vocal gifts of Ailyn Pérez, the young soprano whose warm lyricism made for a dramatic and moving night at Florida Grand Opera in November. Paired with her was Arturo Chacón-Cruz, whose sturdy tenor made him an effective partner in the string of duets that are the heart of the work. (DF)


Esa-Pekka Salonen. Photo: Karen Robinson

6. Esa-Pekka Salonen and the New World Symphony

In April, the Finnish conductor led the New World musicians in Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird and his own composition Nyx.  The Prelude’s ethereal luminescence was complemented by an earthy rendition of The Firebird.  The performances were so perfect in every way they could have been recorded straight to CD, and Salonen’s mesmerizing, balletic grace on the podium was icing on the cake. (DH)


Murray Perahia

7. Murray Perahia at the Broward Center

The welcome return of the American-born, London-based pianist at the opening concert of the Broward Center’s classical series in October was a textbook demonstration of rock-solid technique, interpretive acuity and exceptional artistry. Clearly recovered from a hand injury that had caused numerous cancellations, Perahia offered poetic and fiery playing in works of Haydn, Schubert, Schumann and Chopin. (LB)


Franz Welser-Möst conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Photo: Carl Juste

8. Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra: Mahler’s Symphony No. 3

The Cleveland Orchestra opened its expanded Miami residency in November with the longest and least played of Mahler’s symphonies. With the Clevelanders in peak form, Franz Welser-Möst’s unhurried pacing and deft sense of instrumental color and balance built steadily to a final movement of overwhelming beauty and emotional fervor. Aided by the rich, earthy mezzo of Bernarda Fink and sprightly choral contributions, this was one of the orchestra’s finest performances over its seven Miami seasons. (LB)


Patrick Dupré Quigley. Photo: Mitchell Zachs

9. Seraphic Fire: Psalms of David

Patrick Quigley’s superb chamber choir may be the most reliable classical music ticket in town, consistently presenting interesting choral repertoire in first-rate performances. Even by this group’s high standards, the November program of psalm settings was something special. Spanning from Renaissance and Baroque glories to the minimalist austerity of Arvo Pärt and homespun Americana of Virgil Thomson, the exquisite blending of vocal timbres and Quigley’s wide-ranging musicality took the choir to a new level. (LB)


The Ehnes Quartet

10. The Ehnes Quartet

In an April concert for Friends of Chamber Music, the Ehnes Quartet gave notice that it has quickly established itself in the top ranks of chamber ensembles.  Playing a program of late Schubert masterpieces, the quartet’s tightly focused playing and interpretive depth were remarkable. Joined by the excellent cellist William DeRosa, the group offered a bracing traversal of the great String Quintet, Schubert’s chamber swan song. (LB)



Florida Grand Opera offered a consistent cast of strong voices in Rigoletto with fiery orchestral playing under Andrew Bisantz that made for a moving performance of this Verdi masterpiece. The 17-year-old pianist Conrad Tao’s masterful performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Symphony of the Americas; Susanna Mälkki and the New World Symphony in a powerful account of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique; Miami Lyric Opera’s moving performance of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly; Michael Tilson Thomas, mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, bass Eric Halfvarson and video artist Nick Hillel for a nightmarishly effective semi-staged production of Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle with the New World Symphony. (DF)

James Conlon’s program with the New World Symphony brought wonderfully detailed excerpts from Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet, and on the same program James Ehnes delivered a supple, freshly minted rendition of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. The Faure Quartet’s refined, intense performances of piano quartets by Mendelssohn and Dvorak; Anton Kuerti’s magisterial Beethoven recital; Lang Lang’s vivacious Bach, poignant Schubert and impassioned Chopin; Steven Osborne’s blazing Rachmaninoff and exquisite and subtle Ravel in Gaspard de la Nuit; UM Frost Opera Theater’s delightful production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro; Palm Beach Opera’s festive 50th Anniversary Gala featuring extended excerpts from five operas, well sung and superbly led by now departed artistic director Bruno Aprea. (LB)

Conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw, the New World Symphony’s performance of Messiaen’s rarely performed Turangalîla Symphony rivaled the volume of most dance clubs and carried a strong emotional impact, with the vintage ondes martenot played by Valérie Hartmann-Claverie adding a special visual bonus. In Stephen Hough’s solo recital for Friends of Chamber Music (performing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, and the pianist’s own sonata broken branches), Hough’s limitless technique and clearly articulated musical vision were revelatory. (DH)


Mission Chamber Orchestra
The worst concert of the year. Symphony of the Americas always brings in a European chamber orchestra for its Summerfest season, and this time it was an unknown ensemble called the Mission Chamber Orchestra of Rome, whose sour, out-of-tune performance would have embarrassed a reasonably competent youth orchestra. What were they thinking charging $60 to hear this 10th-rate ensemble scrape their way through Bach, Corelli, Mendelssohn and Borodin? (DF)

Florida Grand Opera’s Romeo et Juliette
Director David Lefkowich damaged an otherwise fine performance of the Gounod opera from FGO with the sort of irritating, heavy-handed stage direction the company has honed to a fine art over the past decade. Dancers and pantomiming supernumeraries kept showing up at key points and elbowing their way into the center of attention because apparently it would just be too boring to sit through Juliette singing from the balcony. (DF)

A mostly pops concert by the third-rate National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba; the poor intonation and ragged playing of the Tchaikovsky St. Petersburg State Orchestra, an ensemble of dubious provenance; Gabriela Montero’s rhythmically erratic, bombastic Grieg Piano Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra; the Miami Symphony’s raucous Mahler First Symphony; the Modigliani Quartet’s ill-tuned, poorly balanced Schubert and Mendelssohn. (LB)

Most Interesting Discovery

The Violin Concerto by noted conductor and Mahler specialist Paul Kletzki. Revived brilliantly in September by Robert Davidovici with the FIU Symphony Orchestra under Grzegorz Nowak, the 1928 score mixes the bittersweet lyricism of Prokofiev with the uber-romanticism of early Schoenberg. A real find. (LB)

Most Moving Moment

Jordi Savall, alone on a darkened stage at the Tropical Baroque Festival in March, playing a Bach Bouree on the viola da gamba in tribute to his late wife and artistic partner Montserrat Figueras. (LB)


Susan Danis

Best New Player

Florida Grand Opera created a new sense of excitement in Miami and provided an instant shot of adrenaline to the broader regional arts scene with the appointment of Susan Danis as their new general director. Danis instantly earned the respect and gratitude of local opera fans by announcing her first season would include the belated Florida premiere of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde as well as Mourning Becomes Electra, one of the most acclaimed American operas, by longtime Fort Lauderdale resident, Marvin David Levy. (DF)


Thomas Sleeper

Distinguished Achievement Award

For nearly two decades Thomas Sleeper has led the University of Miami’s Frost Symphony Orchestra, inspiring his student players to remarkably vibrant and exciting performances in record time. With renewed emphasis on the orchestral program and a better pool of musicians, Sleeper’s exceptional gifts have shown all the more brightly. Sleeper is also a highly talented composer who has written a large body of works in wide ranging genres. In March the premiere of his Violin Concerto (Hypnagogia) in  a stunning performance by Huifang Chen with Andres Jaime and the Greater Miami Youth Symphony, delivered a worthy addition to the repertoire, a showpiece of romantic hues and barn-burning bravura. As both conductor and composer, Sleeper remains one of the brightest lights of the Frost faculty. (LB)

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Thu Dec 20, 2012
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