Tuesday, December 30, 2014
14 Musical Moments from 2014 (Part 2)
8. Tetzlaff Plays Bartok
The German violin soloist Christian Tetzlaff played Bartok's monumental 2nd Violin Concerto with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony in a stunning performance that was both virtuosic and soulful.
9. Vladimir Jurowski
I was able to see my favorite conductor in the world, Vladimir Jurowski, twice this year. The first opportunity was in May, during his debut with the New York Philharmonic where he conducted Szymanowski's Violin Concerto #1 with Nicola Benedetti as soloist and Prokofiev's Cinderella ballet. The concert was on my birthday during my first visit to Avery Fisher Hall, with press seats kindly provided by the Philharmonic which made me feel like I had made it in New York City without even having to move there. The second Jurowski sighting was in October when he conducted the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Hall in a great, ear-shattering performance of Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony.
10. Peter Grimes
As the capstone to a Benjamin Britten festival in June, the San Francisco Symphony presented a "semi-staged" production of Peter Grimes which was so outstanding it left both performers and audiences in a state of shock. The cast was as strong as any in the world, with Elza van den Heever and Stuart Skelton leading the way, the chorus sublime, the orchestra under Tilson Thomas perfection, and the understated staging by James Darrah absorbing and powerful.
11. Don Giovanni
The young Los Angeles director James Darrah pops up twice in a row on this list because after finishing Peter Grimes, he hopped over to the Merola Opera Program for a staging of Mozart's Don Giovanni at Everett Middle School in July. Set in a successful young artiste's loft, the production was inventive, musical, and at times genuinely shocking. The student singers in the cast sang and acted with complete conviction.
12. Wild Rumpus
The Bay Area suddenly has an abundance of contemporary chamber musical groups started by young performers and composers, and Wild Rumpus became an instant favorite after I heard a program at Old First Church in September. Attending an open rehearsal in November with the group practicing world premiere compositions at the Center for New Music in November just confirmed that this is a smart, interesting group of musicians.
The San Francisco Opera opened their fall season with Bellini's Norma which made me fall in love with the opera all over again after one too many bad/mediocre productions over the years. This production was silly and serviceable, but the conducting by Nicola Luisotti of the SF Opera Orchestra was exciting, and the singing by Sondra Radvanovsky, Russell Thomas, a beefed up SF Opera chorus, and especially Jamie Barton was Golden Age exceptional.
14. Dvorak's Stabat Mater
The Czech Philharmonic, complete with four vocal soloists and a huge chorus, performed Dvorak's achingly beautiful Stabat Mater at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall in November. Jiří Bělohlávek, the founder of the orchestra, conducted smoothly and there was a standout performance by tenor soloist Jarosla Brezina. The final movement of the 90-minute work had me in tears.