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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.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Year In Reviews: Classical and New Music Concerts 2013

Superconductor looks back on the best of the concert hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Boston's Symphony Hall in 1912. Now there's a frozen yogurt place across the street.
Here at Superconductor I go to a lot of concerts. I hear a lot of music. Here's our list of thirteen performances in 2013 that were memorable and worth a second look. Ladies and gentlemen, (some more of) the best concerts and choral performance of last year.

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra cond. Mariss Jansons
Mahler's First Symphony at Carnegie Hall.
"Mariss Jansons found a unique solution to the problems presented by this work. He focused on the small, leitmotivic themes that make up the fabric of the opening movement and also help to define the three that follow. Each detailed theme, the shimmering, descending woodwind and string figures, the jaunty melody for the cellos, and even the "ting" of the triangle were subject to this same process, laid forth in sparkling detail for the listener's consideration. The little moments germinated the big climaxes of the movement, exhilarating the audience."

The Collegiate Chorale cond. James Bagwell
Glass and Golijov at Carnegie Hall.
"In the opening Call, rain-sticks spattered and flutes played long lines to evoke the mystery of the sea. T They were joined by soloist Biela da Costa, a Venezuelan jazz singer who alternated between poetic discourse and vocal melismas, giving an almost operatic quality to this multifaceted, polyrhythmic music. With the first proper movement (First Wave) the chorus entered, proclaiming the title "O-ce-Ah-na" in a four chord figure that resembled the crashing weight of water."

Stockhausen Oktophonie
Electronic music at the Park Avenue Armory.
"The first waves of sound were low, heavy pulses of bass, shuddering and shimmering through the floorboards of the room. These were joined by keening glissandos, the tap and tump of marimbas and percussion, and the odd chord. The music and strange environment left the listener with a feeling of weightlessness, straining at the dim, overhead light show that was occasionally interrupted by sodium and crimson beams of illumination..."

Boston Symphony Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink
Mahler Symphony No. 4 at Symphony Hall
"Mr. Haitink conducted the Fourth with a thorough understanding of that subtext, gearing the first three movements toward the expression of Mahler's ultimate intent. The first movement, trading off between a bold, almost naïve woodwind melody and a lilting, sad theme for the strings culminated in a mighty climax of trumpets that (oddly enough) anticipates the main theme of the composer's Fifth while also dropping references to the three that came before."

Detroit Symphony Orchestra cond. Leonard Slatkin
Four symphonies by Charles Ives at Carnegie Hall.
"This is Ives the gleeful rule-breaker, unafraid to let a fresh musical idea interrupt a still developing theme. He  cheerfully juxtaposes familiar ideas to create new collage-like sounds. For example, the first movement featuresa few bars of the Meistersinger overture, colliding with the dotted rhythms of Beethoven’s Fifth and the cheerful romp of "Turkey in the Straw."

Brooklyn Philharmonic w. Erykah Badu
The singer at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
"Ms. Badu entered, regal in a morning coat, an enormous decorative necklace, tie-dyed leggings and an honest-to-God opera hat. A green mug of something (possibly tea) balanced delicately in her long fingers. She set the tea down, stepped to the mic and proceeded to deliver a searing rendition of "The Healer" that electrified the audience."

New York Philharmonic: A Dancer's Dream
Stravinsky at Avery Fisher Hall.
Orchestra players, clad in fake beards and furry Russian hats shared drank tea from a samovar, got up and danced with their instruments and made use of a "peep show" booth conveniently located near the brass section. Mr. Gilbert took the role of the Magician who brings the titular puppet to life, sporting a spangled frock coat and creating the illusion of his baton floating magically above the orchestra.

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra cond. Gianandrea Noseda
Rossini and Beethoven at Avery Fisher Hall.
"Under Mr. Noseda's skilled leadership, this was a harrowing ride. The work opens with the doleful setting of the words "Stabat mater dolorosa", given grim, almost skeletal accompaniment and putting the low voices of the Concert Chorale of New York forward to tremendous effect."

New York Philharmonic cond. Esa-Pekka Salonen
Ravel, Salonen and Sibelius at Avery Fisher Hall.
Mr. Salonen achieved a delicate web of strings in the second movement, leading the slow passages with absolute clarity and precision, his baton cutting the air in great gestures at the brassy climax. In the finale, skittering string figures recapitulate later as a mighty, but still playful fugue, answered by the horns playing a series of intervals like great bells of celebration."

Cleveland Orchestra cond. Franz Welser-Möst
Beethoven and Messiaen at the White Light Festival
(The Grosse Fugue)is stormy, at times excruciating music, a crie de coeur from the last years of the composer's life. The Cleveland strings bit cleanly into the complex texture, tossing melodic ideas back and forth in the opening figures and then creating a propulsive, hard-driven performance of the main fugue itself.

American Symphony Orchestra cond. Leon Botstein
A Retrospective of Elliot Carter at Carnegie Hall.
"On Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra celebrated the memory of this great composer, who died on November 5 of last year at the age of 103. The carefully curated program offered six of Carter's pieces, spanning eight decades of his output and giving a glimpse at the wide variety of styles and music created over a long compositional career. "

Philadelphia Orchestra cond. Michael Tilson Thomas
Brahms First Piano Concerto, Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique.
"Working without a score, Mr. Tilson Thomas conducted an authoritative reading of the first movement that brought out the work's bold orchestral colors and still had plenty of rhythmic snap. The Philadelphians responded with that trademark sound, full and sweet cellos supporting noble brass and pin-point ornamentation from the woodwinds. "

MET Orchestra cond. James Levine
Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer, Seventh Symphony.
"The Seventh is a program symphony without a specific written synopsis: a five-movement journey from darkness to light, filled with a wealth of rich, naturalistic detail along the way. As Mahler pushed the envelope of orchestral expression to depict a nocturnal landscape, Mr. Levine opted for brisk, energetic tempos and a limpid orchestral sound that allowed hidden leitmotifs, quotations and musical in-jokes (including references to both Wagner and Strauss) to emerge with the utmost clarity."

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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.