Top Ten Performances of 2022

By Lawrence Budmen

Soloist Yefim Bronfman and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas performed a Mozart encore together following the performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in October. Photo: Alex Marlow

1.  Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3. Yefim Bronfman with Michael Tilson Thomas/New World Symphony

An all-Rachmaninoff program at the Arsht Center in October brought the return of Michael Tilson Thomas, the New World Symphony’s artistic director laureate, teaming up with Yefim Bronfman for a thrilling performance of the Piano Concerto No. 3. With velvety as well as powerful playing, Bronfman’s dazzling keyboard technique, artistry and patrician musicality remain pristine after more than four decades on the world’s concert stages. Tilson Thomas joined Bronfman at the piano for a sparkling Mozart encore.

Michael Tilson Thomas

2. Mahler: Symphony No. 1. Michael Tilson Thomas/Cleveland Orchestra

Opening its first Miami residency in over three years, the Cleveland Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas gave a richly colored, skillfully controlled rendition of Mahler’s First Symphony in November, The meeting of the Mahler orchestra, joined by fellows from the New World Symphony, and a conductor with a deep affinity for the composer’s music produced an old school, classically proportioned reading that prized lucidity and warmth over volatile emotional exaggeration. Following a fine traversal of Debussy’s rarely heard Fantaisie for piano and orchestra, soloist George Li and Tilson Thomas rippled delightfully through Schubert’s four-hand Rondo in D Major.

Sharleen Joynt as Gilda and Todd Thomas in the title role of Verdi’s Rigoletto at Florida Grand Opera. Photo: Daniel Azoulay

3. Verdi: Rigoletto. Florida Grand Opera

For a March presentation of Verdi’s endearing opera, Florida Grand Opera fielded a first-rate cast from major leads to smaller roles. Katherine Belcher’s production had the cinematic sweep of a thriller and Pacien Mazzagatti’s conducting exuded Verdian fire. In the title role of the tragic court jester, Todd Thomas’ booming baritone exuded both rage and tenderness. Sharleen Joynt imbued Gilda with sweetness of timbre, crystalline intonation and effortless coloratura. As the Duke of Mantua, José Semerilla Romero exhibited a sizable tenor with a dark tonal hue. A superb evening of red-blooded Verdi all around.

Stephen Hough performed a recital Wednesday night in Pinecrest for Friends of Chamber Music.

Stephen Hough. Photo: Andrew Crowley

4.  Music of Chopin, Schumann, Rawsthorne and Hough. Stephen Hough. Friends of Chamber Music

In a March recital for Friends of Chamber Music, Stephen Hough’s consummate artistry and keyboard facility proved more assured than ever. The English pianist’s astutely designed program contrasted British modernism with romantic showpieces of Schumann and Chopin. The evening included an exquisite reading of Schumann’s Kreisleriana, lucid Chopin, and two compelling English rarities in Alan Rawsthorne’s Bagatelles and Hough’s own virtuosic Partita.

Patrick Dupre Quigley

5. Monteverdi: Madrigals of Love and War. Patrick Quigley/Seraphic Fire

Seraphic Fire opened its 20th anniversary season in November with “Love/War” featuring highlights from Claudio Monteverdi’s final completed book of madrigals. A bridge between the Renaissance and Baroque eras, Monteverdi’s music remains strikingly original, conveying its own unique sound world. Leading a 13-voice choir and six-member ensemble, artistic director Patrick Quigley achieved balanced and glowing corporate sonority while bringing transparency to individual vocal lines. Nola Richardson’s pure, soprano achieved dramatic heights in “Lamento della Ninfa,” a mini-operatic scena. “Sea Drift” by Samuel Coleridge Taylor was the concert’s sleeper, a veritable tone painting in layered building blocks of vocal subtleties, dynamics and shadings.

Jennifer Rowley and Andrew Manea in The Merry Widow at Palm Beach Opera. Photo: Bruce Bennett

6. Lehár: The Merry Widow. Palm Beach Opera

Palm Beach Opera’s production of The Merry Widow transported the audience to a Parisian fantasy world, showing again that the company has a winning touch with classic operetta. Taking place on imaginative Art Deco sets, the production made the most of the big showpieces, like the “Girls, Girls, Girls” chorus and “Vilja” with energetic and affecting singing supported by the company’s excellent orchestra. As the two former lovers, Jennifer Rowley and Andrew Manea brought out the comedy without overdoing it and delivered polished vocal performances in a work full of great melodies. (David Fleshler)

Andres Acosta and Hadleigh Adams in FGO’s  Fellow Travelers. Photo: Jorge Parra

7. Gregory Spears’ Fellow Travelers. Florida Grand Opera

Florida Grand Opera traveled to the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center in April for Peter Rothstein’s riveting production of Gregory Spears’ Fellow Travelers. A portrait of the McCarthy era and the Lavender Scare of the 1950’s, Spears paints one of America’s darkest hours in minimalist currents that expand into full-blown lyricism at key theatrical moments. Hadleigh Adams and Andres Acosta were stunning and, ultimately, heartbreaking as the two politically conflicted, personally intimate protagonists caught in the Washington hysteria of the times.  

The Tetzlaff Quartet. Photo: Georgia Bertazzi

8. Music of Haydn, Webern and Schumann. Tetzlaff Quartet. Friends of Chamber Music

The Tetzlaff Quartet’s Miami debut in April for Friends of Chamber Music was distinguished by the group’s distinctive sound, fastidious execution and depth of interpretive insight. Led by master violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff, the quartet underscored the darkness and tension beneath the courtly charms of Haydn’s Quartet in F minor. Five Miniatures by Anton Webern were rendered with precision and Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” quartet emerged freshly minted.

Elaine Rinaldi conducted Orchestra Miami Sunday afternoon in Miami Beach.

Elaine Rinaldi

9. Weill: Lindbergh’s Flight & Blitzstein: Airborne Symphony. Elaine Rinaldi/Orchestra Miami

Orchestra Miami presented a unique program commemorating the 95th anniversary of the founding of Pan American Airways in April, played at the airline’s sole remaining hangar in Coconut Grove (now a boating destination for people with disabilities). Encompassing film and dance as well as music, the “Airborne” program featured two rarities: Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht’s Lindbergh’s Flight and Marc Blitzstein’s Airborne Symphony. The Blitzstein work was particularly impressive, mixing the composer’s dual penchant for neo-classicism and Broadway theater. Elaine Rinaldi led cogent, strongly played and sung performances.

Jeannette Sorrell. Photo: Apollo’s Fire

10. Music of Handel, Mozart and Bologne. New World Symphony/Jeannette Sorrell

Jeannette Sorrell, founder and artistic director of the Cleveland- based Apollo’s  Fire, combines the best aspects of musicological scholarship with a modernist sensibility. Sorrell’s appearances with the New World Symphony have always been outstanding and her November program exceeded previous efforts. Sorrell’s compilation of highlights from Handel’s Water Music was nothing short of revelatory and Mozart’s rarely heard ballet music from Idomeneo proved an utter delight. Jamaican soprano Sonya Headlam was most impressive in music of Mozart and Joseph Bologne.

Honorable Mentions

Christian Tetzlaff’s deeply probing Berg Violin Concerto and conductor Gemma New’s taut Beethoven “Eroica” with the New World Symphony. Gerard Schwarz’s riveting reading of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre de printemps with the Frost Symphony Orchestra. Elizabeth Caballero’s vocal and dramatic tour de force as Blanche DuBois in Florida Grand Opera’s production of Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Miami Lyric Opera’s delightful L’Elisir d’Amore. Piano recitals by Simon Trpceski and Vadym Kholodenko for Friends of Chamber Music. Seraphic Fire’s all-Bach Enlightenment Festival program and Christmas concert.

Dishonorable Mentions

Christoph Koncz’s mediocre direction (in Strauss and Brahms) at the New World Symphony’s season opener. Joshua Bell’s coarse, pedestrian Beethoven “Eroica” with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Matthias Pintscher’s concert of loud and vulgar scores by Bernd Alois Zimmerman and Helmut Lachermann at NWS’s Sounds of the Times series; Eduardo Marturet and the Miami Symphony’s ragged performance of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. Florida Grand Opera’s ill-conceived, musically uneven, Miami-centric updating of Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto

Best Contemporary Works

The University of Miami’s Frost School of Music presented the year’s two finest contemporary scores. In October, Gerard Schwarz directed the Frost Symphony Orchestra in Jennifer Higdon’s Duo Duel for two percussionists and orchestra. Higdon’s work is a tantalizing amalgam of jazz, classical Americana and minimalism that utilizes vibraphone and marimba as melodic instruments as well as a battle royal between two sets of timpani.  Svet Stoyanov and Matthew Strauss were stunning soloists with dexterity to burn.

In March, the Frost Opera Theater ventured off campus to the Moss (formerly South Miami Dade) Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay for the world premiere of Michael Dellaira’s The Leopard. At a time when most opera composers write intimate creations with small casts, Dellaira dared to think big. Dellaira and librettist J.D. McClatchy conceived an old-fashioned Italianate score that charts the story of an aristocratic family through the historical and social upheaval of the Risorgimento. In a combined faculty-student cast, baritone Kim Josephson was a gripping, warm voiced protagonist. Schwarz’s leadership in the pit kept tension and momentum at fever pitch.

Thomas Sleeper

Thomas Sleeper

Conductor-composer-educator Thomas Sleeper passed away on October 15. Sleeper, 66, had been battling ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in recent years. A faculty member at the UM Frost School of Music for a quarter-century, Sleeper consistently drew performances of astonishing quality and subtlety from student forces. He was also a highly talented composer who created a large catalogue of orchestral, chamber, vocal and theatrical works. Sleeper leaves an indelible legacy at the university through his high standards and student mentorship. His most significant accomplishment may be his numerous excellent scores (many of which have been recorded) which deserve continued performances both locally and internationally. As a multi-talented musician and teacher, Sleeper will be greatly missed.

Seismic Change at New World Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas resigned his position as artistic director of the New World Symphony in March. The American conductor, who has been battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, co-founded the orchestral academy with philanthropists Lynn and Ted Arison. For over 34 years, Tilson Thomas has nurtured several generations of orchestral musicians who have gone on to play in major ensembles around the globe. He has led the young players in many memorable performances locally and has undertaken numerous American and foreign tours with the ensemble. Mahler has always been an MTT specialty, and it was appropriate that he bade goodbye (but not farewell) with a powerful and moving reading of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in May.

The organization announced the appointment of French conductor Stephane Dèneve as artistic director to succeed Tilson Thomas. An outstanding musician, Dèneve has appeared regularly with New World over the past 12 years and his excellent concerts have always been highlights of the season. He brings international acclaim and flair to the Miami Beach podium and, hopefully, his tenure will mark an exciting new era for the orchestral academy.

Twentieth Anniversaries

Two Miami-based music organizations celebrated their 20th anniversaries in 2022. In many ways, both seemed unlikely undertakings. But intelligent and knowledgeable artistic leadership, slow but gradual growth and expansion planning and able fund raising proved a path to success. The professional chamber choir Seraphic Fire began as a church choir in South Miami, Under the brilliant direction of Patrick Quigley, the group has been nominated for Grammy Awards and toured widely. Quigley’s programming has alternated between major choral works (including Bach’s St. John Passion, St. Matthew Passions and Mass in B minor and Handel’s Messiah) and varied programs of Renaissance, Baroque and contemporary scores, many specially commissioned. Seraphic Fire concerts are consistently distinguished, one of Miami’s most reliable cultural tickets.

Former operatic tenor Raffaele Cardone started Miami Lyric Opera in 2002 as a showcase for some of the singers he taught and coached, He has presented 23 operas, some in multiple productions, Now ensconced at the Moss Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay, this small but adventurous company has regularly adhered to high vocal standards in traditional productions that are true to the composer and librettists’ intentions and milieu. Some of the young artists Cardone has presented have gone on to enjoy international careers, singing at the Met and other major houses. Miami Lyric Opera’s two decades have greatly enriched the area’s cultural landscape.

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One Response to “Top Ten Performances of 2022”

  1. Posted Jan 06, 2023 at 9:32 am by Sergio Da Silva

    Not even close!
    The best was the Das Rheingold! A remarkable experience.

    Britten’s A Midsummer’s night Dream by Britten was a good performance of a rare work.

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