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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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 in Review: The Five Best Orchestral Concerts

Our year-end wrapup continues with the best of the concert hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
When Lorin Maazel (left) dropped out of a planned pair of April concerts,
two substitutes (Valery Gergiev and Fabio Luisi) were brought in.
This image was the result and it's my favorite photoshop I did this year.. Photo alteration by the author.
Here at Superconductor, we go to a lot of concerts. And these are five that stood out in 2014 as our year-end best of rolls forward. From the Civil War hymns reimagined by David Lang (and played in the bowels of an aircraft carrier)  to the symphonic weirdness of Carl Nielsen heard at Avery Fisher Hall, these are the five finest from an interesting year at the symphony. Chronological order.

"The appearance by the Grim Reaper paved the way for the somber slow movement, a lengthy set of variations that Mahler uses to explore every musical possibility within its principal theme. Here, Mr. Eschenbach slowed down once more, taking a leisurely tour through the winding paths of cellos and bass clarinet and stopping occasionally to lead two stupendous emotional climaxes.

"Although the opening five minutes of Become Ocean recalled the first pages of Wagner's Das Rheingold before the entry of the cellos and the singers, this performance revealed hidden depths and colors in the composer's sonic tidal wave."

"There is something ritualistic and frightening about the work's opening, a chorale on the Stephen Foster song "I'll be a soldier." Led by three young sopranos, the Manhattan Girl's Chorus marched into their places, their serious faces and small voices echoing the cries and barked orders that once resounded in this very space."

The Philharmonic players responded with robust horn playing and a sweeping carpet of strings, the orchestra sounding focused and intent. The march strutted and swung, finally rising to a tremendous fortissimo before crashing into an enormous, dissonant chord. At that point the "marching band" picked itself up and recapitulated the entire opening statement, led by the chorus of horns and bulidling quickly to a second, hall-shaking climax."

"There is a slow movement, but it is deceptively short, as if Nielsen had written it down and stopped in the middle for something more interesting. That proved to be the magnificent finale, a Theme and Variations tossed happily around the orchestra. The simple main idea bears fruit for every imaginable instrumental combination, from a contrapuntal figure in the low strings to a bumptious argument between timpani and heavy brass."

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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.