The Best Classical Music Performances of 2017
LOU HARRISON’S CENTENNIAL The centennial of another American maverick — the composer, pacifist, instrument maker, explorer of Asian music as well as also gay pioneer Lou Harrison — was celebrated This particular year, including at an exhilarating concert at Trinity Wall Street featuring a chorus as well as also percussion ensemble via Rutgers University. Their account of “La Koro Sutro,” a 1971 choral setting of a Buddhist scripture translated into Esperanto, the synthetic universal language, showed Harrison finding wondrous commonalities between Eastern as well as also Western culture while speaking in a modest, authentic musical voice. The concert was a rallying cry for peace as well as also tolerance.
DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY Finally, I must mention the great Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who died on Nov. 22 at 55 after a long struggle with brain cancer. His courageous as well as also unforgettable recital at Carnegie Hall in February, mostly devoted to Russian songs, may not have been overtly political. Yet Mr. Hvorostovsky addressed timeless human issues of impermanence, love as well as also death through the songs he sang so beautifully.
The Best Opera as well as also Vocal Performances of 2017
O.K., I cheated a little with the numbers. So call these, in chronological order, my 10-ish favorite opera as well as also vocal performances of the year — the most joyful, moving, provoking. ZACHARY WOOLFE
‘DUST’ This particular is actually so satisfying to see the enigmatic, wry as well as also wistful works of Robert Ashley increasingly entering the repertory within the years after his death in 2014 — as well as also even being done by young artists at conservatories, as “Dust” was in February at the Mannes School of Music. Embodying ragtag park denizens, Mannes students meticulously captured Ashley’s singsong, half-speaking style as well as also his deadpan ruefulness. Another victory for contemporary music at Mannes: A few weeks later, the school announced which This particular might partner with John Zorn as well as also house the latest iteration of his performance space, the Stone.
‘LA SERENISSIMA’ The too-little I heard at Carnegie Hall’s rich February festival, celebrating the Venetian Republic, was all superb, including Vivaldi’s “Juditha Triumphans,” in a performance of Technicolor vividness by Andrea Marcon as well as also the Venice Baroque Orchestra, as well as also an elegantly restrained take on Monteverdi’s “L’Incoronazione di Poppea” via Rinaldo Alessandrini as well as also Concerto Italiano. (John Eliot Gardiner’s “Poppea,” part of a splendid Monteverdi trio at Lincoln Center in October, was more lavish as well as also just as memorable.)
THREE TENORS No, not together, alas. however nevertheless a trio of magnetic stars I relished over the course of the year: Vittorio Grigolo, singing to ensure which you could practically hear him sweat at the Metropolitan Opera in “Werther” in February as well as also “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” in September; Javier Camarena, his voice a golden smile through the long, slow lines of “I Puritani” at the Met in February; as well as also Jonas Kaufmann, whose hooded, mahogany sound was uniformly secure throughout his first “Otello,” the pinnacle of the Italian repertory, at the Royal Opera House in London in June.
THE MET’S 50TH This particular was a party, plain as well as also simple: a all 5-hour celebration of the company’s 50th anniversary at Lincoln Center at the end of the season in May, as well as also I might have been happy to stay longer. Punctuated by witty as well as also insightful archival as well as also interview footage about the “brand new Met” were Stephanie Blythe as well as also David Daniels in Handel, Susan Graham as well as also Matthew Polenzani in Berlioz, Piotr Beczala in Verdi as well as also Anna Netrebko in “Macbeth” as well as also “Madama Butterfly,” among (many) others. as well as also, of course, Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s surprise appearance within the midst of cancer treatment to sing (with gusto) an aria via “Rigoletto.” An evening of pleasure — as well as also reflection on a beloved, if vexed, theater — more than the sum of its parts.
‘DAS RHEINGOLD’ Alan Gilbert intended to include Messiaen’s “Saint François d’Assise” among the programs closing his tenure as the brand new York Philharmonic’s music director; stymied, he chose Wagner instead, as well as also to mesmerizing effect. Without frills or fuss, he shaped a riveting family drama, a plausible potboiler worthy of Arthur Miller, having a cast including a world-wearily granitic Eric Owens, as Wotan, as well as also Christopher Purves, eloquently as well as also chillingly human as Alberich.
JOHN KELLY’S JONI MITCHELL When I had last seen Mr. Kelly’s uncanny evocation of Ms. Mitchell, in 2009, he was in full Joni costume, flowing blond wig as well as also all. In June, at Joe’s Pub, he wore his own clothes as well as also hair, however his voice — airy, languid, day-dreamy — still conjured her, in a homage sweeter as well as also more poignant than ever.
A SALZBURG DUO My 10 days at the Salzburg Festival This particular summer were filled with music, however two opera productions stuck with me: William Kentridge’s teeming “Wozzeck,” a savage indictment of war’s ravages, as well as also Peter Sellars’ spare, just-as-savage “La Clemenza di Tito,” a racially charged transmutation of Mozart to contemporary Africa. Within them were two star-doing performances: Marianne Crebassa, artfully agonized as Sesto in “Clemenza,” partnering with an onstage clarinetist in a performance of the aria “Parto, parto” which made visible as well as also audible the progression of a mind as well as also heart; as well as also Asmik Grigorian as a girlish, irresponsible, daringly unsympathetic Marie in “Wozzeck.”
‘THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL’ The event of the year: A work which wasn’t perfect however was dazzling as well as also proud, impossibly grand as well as also surprisingly subtle. Highest note in Met history as well as also all, Thomas Adès’s score was a force of wild virtuosity as well as also ever-mounting anxiety; diction as well as also characterization did fall by the wayside, however neither so much as some critics might have had you think. Tom Cairns’s alert, savvy production, which opened in October, slyly formed a playing space both domestic as well as also theatrical, doing This particular clear which This particular is actually a piece which is actually messing with opera without quite parodying This particular. This particular indicts the art form for its stagnancy, then proceeds to show just what This particular can do when This particular’s operating on all cylinders.
‘ARABELLA’ This particular Strauss opera has never been among my favorites. Yet when I saw This particular in October at the excellent Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, having a committed cast led by Erin Wall, Tomasz Konieczny as well as also Jane Archibald, I found This particular newly powerful. There’s such realism, clarity as well as also compassion (to say nothing of beauty) in how the creators show Arabella’s maturation happening before your very eyes as well as also ears; as well as also vanishingly rare in opera is actually the formation of real, adult love.
‘THE MOTHER OF US ALL’ Gertrude Stein as well as also Virgil Thomson’s surreal, endlessly evocative Americana fantasia about Susan B. Anthony as well as also the struggle for women’s suffrage gets no less timely, nor painful. A community-sourced, chronology-crossing staging by R.B. Schlather brought the performers among the audience in November at Hudson Hall in Hudson, N.Y., an intimate setting for the unforgettable exhaustion of Michaela Martens, whose Susan B. had both near-mythical stature as well as also soccer-mom immediacy.
A Musical Turn to the Environment
Two environmentally focused musical outings of moderate profile hardly establish a definitive trend. however This particular was fascinating This particular year to encounter such pieces by the American composers Seymour Bernstein as well as also Sebastian Currier.
Mr. Bernstein’s “Song of Nature” (1996), based on an essay by Emerson, was presented by Musica Viva together with Brahms’s “A German Requiem” in May as part of a program called “An Elegy for All Humanity.” (What does seem to be a trend is actually the use of Brahms’s requiem as part of a larger concept, at least since Lincoln Center’s presentation of the English chorus master Simon Halsey’s program, “human requiem,” last October.)
Mr. Currier, writing on a commission via the Minnesota Orchestra to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, produced “Re-Formation,” a sort of choral symphony for performance in Minneapolis in November. The work begins by celebrating Martin Luther, through his use of Psalm 46 for his hymn “A Mighty Fortress is actually Our God,” as well as also Mendelssohn, through his use of which hymn in his “Reformation” Symphony.
Then This particular turns to the dire state of the planet, having a text by Sarah Manguso (“Black sky, …/Black sea, …/Black earth.”) “Re-Formation” turns the tables on the psalm’s notion of God protecting his creatures amid threatening elements to suggest which God’s subjects today have to protect his creation. JAMES R. OESTREICH
A Funky Updating of Minimalism
Jung Hee Choi has absorbed much via her years of study with the Minimalist composer as well as also performer La Monte Young as well as also the singer as well as also visual artist Marian Zazeela. Some of the lessons are easy to spot — as in video pieces which hark back to the hallucinatory effects pioneered by Ms. Zazeela. however Ms. Choi has also been innovative.
In 2011, she brought a change into the musical lives of her gurus: a brand new composition to play at their Dream House space in Lower Manhattan. Its current title — “Tonecycle for Blues Base 30 Hz, 2:3:7 Ensemble product with 4:3 as well as also 7:6” — bears traces of Mr. Young’s obsession with the whole-number ratios of just-intonation tuning. however the approach to blues in Ms. Choi’s piece sounds unlike anything in Mr. Young’s catalog, even the more vernacular touches of his Forever Bad Blues Band, recorded within the 1990s.
Heard in its latest iteration, This particular October, the deep groove of the work’s slow-tempo “ektal vilampit” section had a unique majesty. Heaving funk progressions via a fretless bass mingled with tabla percussion as well as also sustained vocal tones of pristine calm. Fans of Minimalism often speculate about the opening of a vault said to hold material recorded over the decades by Mr. Young as well as also Ms. Zazeela. however they should also be hoping for a Discharge or two via Ms. Choi’s recent exhibitions. SETH COLTER WALLS
An Opera which Resonated This particular Year
The Metropolitan Opera’s brand new production of “Der Rosenkavalier” was a major event via the start: This particular was Renée Fleming’s farewell to one of her signature roles. however the staging, updated to the early 20th century by Robert Carsen, ended up particularly resonant with the biggest news stories at the bookends of 2017.
When Mr. Carsen’s “Rosenkavalier” had its premiere at the Met in April, the Trump presidency was in its infancy as well as also liberal America was searching its soul within the aftermath of the election. What the comedy series “Broad City” had described as the country’s “caramel as well as also queer” future suddenly seemed newly fragile. This particular mood lent special punch to the opera’s ending, which depicts just how easily a way of life can vanish. After the soaring love duet, the set’s velvet walls came apart to reveal a bare stage with soldiers marching toward the audience (as well as also presumably into World War I) before dropping dead, as if felled by gunfire.
today the end of the year has brought a watershed of cads getting their comeuppance for sexual misbehavior. Harvey Weinstein as well as also his ilk resemble Strauss’s Baron Ochs, whom the bass Günther Groissböck portrayed not as the usual buffoon however as a dangerous predator. Ochs brags which “some women like to be seized” by powerful men like him before being brought down in disgrace near the end. JOSHUA BARONE
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