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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

¡Ay Marimba! The Worst of 2012

At least the Mayans were wrong.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The end of the world, Mayan-style....
Although there was no Mayan apocalypse, 2012 had its share of catastrophes on and off the stage in the world of classical music and opera. Here's our annual look at bad performances, worse managerial decisions, and the aftermath of one significant natural disaster.

2012 will forever be remembered around the Superconductor offices as the Year of the Ring Tone. It was on January 11th when a New York Philharmonic audience member had the alarm on his iPhone start playing the "Marimba" ring tone in the fourth movement of Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony. That story went viral, and might be one reason you are here reading this list of the worst things about the last year in classical music. (We'll get to the happier stuff in the next few posts.)

Let's start with the Metropolitan Opera.

...and Wagner style. Deborah Voigt (on horseback) goes to her doom in Act III of
Götterdämmrung. Photo by Ken Howard © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
Peter Gelb vs. WQXR and Opera News.

The Met finished unveiling its new Ring Cycle in January with Götterdämmerung. That opening night had a number of problems, including statues of Bryn Terfel (Wotan) Stephanie Blythe (Fricka) and Dwayne Croft (Donner) whose heads exploded at the climax of the Ring. (In later performances the popping heads were replaced by a "crumbling" effect for the statues, one which was also featured in the documentary Wagner's Dream._


That problematic premiere led to some negative reviews (including the one on this blog) but nobody could anticipate what would happen in April. That was when the Met contacted the classical music radio station WQXR, with an objection to the blog post Three Things We Learned From Peter Gelb Today by Olivia Giovetti. 

According to a May 1 report by Dan Wakin in the New York Times, the Met threatened to withdraw its sponsorship from the radio station. The post was removed from the website.

All this was warm-up for what happened on May 22, when the Times ran a story indicating that Opera News, the 76-year old magazine that is published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, would no longer run reviews of Met productions. The opera company had objected to a Brian Kellow editorial in the magazine as well as the negative review of that same Götterdämmerung performance, written by critic Fred Cohn.

24 hours later, the Met reversed its decision, and Opera News continues to review performances at North America's biggest opera company.

Prima Donna at New York City Opera
The New York premiere of Rufus Wainwright's opera takes the dubious honor of worst opera production of 2012. Staged by the "new" City Opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the show was slow, stiff, dull, and worst of all, clichéd.

Orchestra Lockouts
Although New York's arts organizations avoided full-scale labor wars in the last year, the continuing struggles between orchestras and musicians unions continued to rock the world of art music. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra locked out their players in an attempt to reduce their number of players, musicians' salaries and pension benefits.

Gergiev vs. Brahms
I only caught half of Valery Gergiev's assault on Brahms' symphonies and piano concertos in October. That one concert with the London Symphony Orchestra at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, was more than enough.

The Carnegie Hall Crane
The incredible devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy is the biggest New York story of the year. The storm surge and flood waters caused millions of dollars in property damage, destroying whole neighborhoods in the city's outer boroughs. Eventually the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera reopened--the latter, fittingly enough, with Thomas Adès' The Tempest.

For music lovers, the biggest story post-Sandy was the enormous construction crane that broke loose on  W. 57th St., right across the street from Carnegie Hall. For over a week the Hall that Music Built was closed, and concerts were either cancelled or postponed until later in the season. Eventually, the huge crane was lashed down and dismantled. Although no lives were lost on 57th St., the hanging steel finger of doom over this city's most beloved concert hall was a daily reminder of the impact of this catastrophic storm.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.