Saturday, December 21, 2013
12 Memorable Musical Moments in 2013
As part of a completely subjective and unscientific survey, here are 12 favorite musical moments of the last year. The San Francisco Symphony offered a few great concerts in 2013, many of them involving the Symphony Chorus under Ragnar Bohlin. The evening that made me seriously delirious with pleasure back in February was Charles Dutoit conducting the orchestra and chorus in Poulenc's Stabat Mater and Berlioz's monumental Te Deum. Honorable mentions to pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi in his Symphony debut as a soloist playing Poesis with Herbert Blomstedt, pianist Jeremy Denk playing an exquisite Mozart 25th Piano Concerto, and both orchestra and chorus performing in Britten's War Requiem.
In March at the neighborhood's new SFJAZZ Center, there was an extraordinary fusion of classical/jazz/bluegrass/raga when banjo player Bela Fleck, bass player Edgar Meyer and tabla player Zakir Hussein collaborated for a three-hour set on Hussein's birthday.
Later in the month, the legendary violist Kim Kashkashian played a concert at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as part of their Chamber Music Masters educational series. She was spellbinding, performing Dmitri Shostakovich's final composition, the 1975 Sonata for Viola and Piano.
The Thrillpeddlers put original Cockettes composer Scrumbly Koldewyn back to work again, expanding and revising the early 1970s Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma, and Scrumbly was even recruited to sing and dance. The book was literally all over the map, but the songs were a constant reminder of how good Koldewyn's music at its best can be.
The San Francisco Choral Society under director Robert Geary pulled off three massive concerts this year, starting with David Lang's battle hymns in Kezar Pavilion above, a fine rendition of Haydn's oratorio The Seasons, and Rachmaninoff's Vespers. Three more disparate pieces could hardly be imagined, and the amateur choral group pulled them all off, brilliantly and in the case of battle hymns, audaciously.
I heard Schubert's bleak song cycle, Winterreise, live for the first time sung by German baritone Matthias Goerne accompanied by Christoph Eschenbach on piano. Goerne was astounding, making me momentarily reexamine an inborn antipathy for lieder and German Romantic mopiness.
My first visit to New York's Carnegie Hall happened soon after in a perfect concert for the auditorium. Simon Rattle guest conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in Webern, Berg's Scenes from Lulu, and the Secret Police Chief's aria from Ligeti's Le Grande Macabre, the latter two sung by the incredible soprano Barbara Hannigan above. They also played Beethoven's hackneyed Pastoral Symphony and the performance was so fresh and the hall's sound so warm that the piece got me weepy, the last thing I expected.
Mark Morris above was in charge of the Ojai Festival this year, and its virtual repeat the following week on the UC Berkeley campus. The bulk of the programming consisted of obscure and neglected pieces by the West Coast triumverate Henry Cowell and his students John Cage and Lou Harrison. The two concerts I caught were strange and wonderful, and it was a kick looking down a row in Hertz Theater and seeing Morris glowing with pleasure while listening to some of his favorite music live.
Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill holds a special place in the field of contemporary music because both composers and audiences trust her. Cahill has taste and intelligence and verve, making her a perfect guide into both the new and the undiscovered in music. When one of her concerts clicks, like her Old First Church recital in August featuring Henry Cowell and Ann Southam, you walk out with your brain buzzing, refreshed.
Every year the San Francisco Opera runs an intensive summer camp training program for young singers on the cusps of professional careers. This year's crop was not only one of the best in memory, but their two staged productions of Britten's The Rape of Lucretia and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro were two of the best versions I have ever seen of those two operas. Conductor Xian Zhang above right in the Mozart pulled off a miraculous performance with no orchestra pit and probably very little rehearsal.
On the big stage of the San Francisco Opera, the September world premiere of Tobias Picker's opera taken from Stephen King's potboiler, Dolores Claiborne, gave every indication that it was headed for disaster, and instead was a surprising, considerable success on a number of levels. Filling in at the last minute for Dolora Zajick who bailed out of the difficult title role with three weeks to curtain, soprano Patricia Racette saved the day in one of the great operatic coups of all time. Honorable mentions to the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Mefistofole and Bryn Terfel, Meredith Arwady and the SF Opera Orchestra under Luisotti in Falstaff.
The SFJAZZ Center has been used by a handful of classical music organizations this year while the Herbst Theatre is retrofitted, including San Francisco Performances. In November, they presented The Pacifica Quartet with pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin performing the long, modernist, insanely difficult and thoroughly mind-blowing Quintet for Piano and Strings by Leo Ornstein from 1927. It helped to immunize me from all the public Christmas music soon to come.