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Monday, December 31, 2012

Cataclysmic Concerts: The Best of 2012

The year in concerts, recitals and chamber music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Some say the world will end with fire. But this didn't actually happen either.
Image from The Day After Tomorrow © 2004 Centropolis Entertainment/20th Century Fox. 
With the exception of a certain often-mentioned iPhone alarm (that disrupted a Jan. 11 concert by the New York Philharmonic) there weren't too many in-concert disasters in 2012.  Or maybe I spent the whole year going to the wrong performances?

Here is a "dozen sampler" of shows that stood out in 2012, from avant-garde chamber works to a unique walk in a freezing cold garden of song. This is  part of our ongoing Year in Reviews series here on Superconductor. 

Berlin Philharmonic: The "completed" Bruckner Ninth at Carnegie Hall.
"The questions asked by the descending opening theme of the first movement are answered by a dissonant, raging theme from the trumpets and horns. The whole is expressed in a gigantic double fugue over a thick texture of strings. Sir Simon Ratle and his orchestra poured themselves into this music."

San Francisco Symphony: American Mavericks
"Michael Tilson Thomas chopped fruits and vegetables, preparing a smoothie with the blender. He added a banana, and tasted it again. Eventually, he added some blocks and stones to the piano, playing tonal clusters on the strings. (Later, another musician tried the smoothie.)"

aron quartett at the Austrian Cultural Forum
"The aron quartett played the four movements with grit and earnest, with long melodic lines that unfolded from instrument to instrument. Plucked, scraped notes alternated with winding themes tossed from player to player in a performance that made a good case for more New York performances of Erich Zeisl's catalogue."

De Profundis at Weill Recital Hall
"Jacob Druckmann's Valentine had bass soloist Donald Palma playing his bull fiddle with hands, a timpani stick, and of course, the bow. Whispered, muttered performance instructions were part of the work, as Mr. Palma slapped, whacked, stroked, rubbed the strings, adding expressive sounds by hitting the belly of his instrument and occasionally playing on the bridge and tailpiece."

Uuccello at Bargemusic
"Next, the Mahavishnu tune "Open Country Joy," from that group's Birds of Fire album.  Andrea Stewart slapped and drummed on a battered cello to recreate Billy Cobham's percussive groove. Mr. Haimovitz took the role of violinist Jerry Goodman. Leanna Rutt played the high-speed John McLaughlin guitar part. The players tore into the funky, cyclic groove, trading rapid lines over the rhythm, stopping to break down and take another chorus."

The New York Philharmonic plays Dutilleux
"This work places heavy demands on the players and an audience that seemed largely there to hear Yo-Yo Ma. Listeners were not sure what to make of the complicated, spiky writing for woodwinds in the opening movement, nor the turning, ever-evolving lines played by the strings. The percussion were also featured, with complex figures for a vast battery of instruments evoking the Asiatic ideas of Olivier Messiaen."

The MET Orchestra: The Alpine Symphony
"Semyon Bychkov proved himself an able mountaineer from the very first bars, when he made the opening, amorphous bass chords a fertile ground for the work's main leitmotifs. When the offstage horns (depicting a hunting party) came in both on cue and perfectly balanced, it pointed the way to a thrilling journey ahead."

The New York Philharmonic plays Mahler's Symphony No 1
"Under Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Mahler's massive double arch of sound was strong and firm, with the orchestra playing enthusiastically through the repeat. At the end of the movement, the horns are directed to lift the bells of their instruments, and even stand up. However, with the mighty sound issuing from the back of the stage, no such theatrics were needed."

The Philadelphia Orchestra plays the Verdi Requiem 
"Newly installed music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin achieved terror with a huge burst of sonic energy in the Dies Irae, the work's most famous section. He was aided by a potent performance from his new orchestra, which sounded renewed and enthusiastic as they unleashed Verdi's particular brand of hellfire."

Pierre-Laurent Aimard at Carnegie Hall
"Mr. Aimard shifted gears continuously, from the habañera rhythms of La Puerta del Vino to the hopping, deliberately awkward rhythms of General Levine. Ondine provided contrast again in its bold, swelling arpeggios, played with liquid ease and careful pedal-work."

"The players, groomed in the Venezuelan government's ballyhooed El Sistema program have a tremendous sense of what it takes to play as an ensemble. And  Mr. Dudamel, formerly of their ranks conducts these vast forces without a score, using an easy a command born of long familiarity and musical collaboration."

Winterize at Brooklyn Botanic Garden
"Christopher Ryan Herbert projected the emotions behind this descent into madness, capturing the irony of the cycle's more fantastical moments and the self-flagellating character of Schubert's protagonist. From the steady tramp of 'Gute Nacht' through the manic determination of later songs like 'Mut,' this was a consistent, and sometimes harrowing performance."
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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.