Classical music: There may have been fewer concerts, but plenty were exceptional
Classical music in the Capital Region thrived this year despite budgetary pressures that forced some venues to offer fewer concerts. Still, with so many excellent venues, favorite artists returned and a handful of international artists made their debuts. Concerts attracted large and even sold-out crowds.
It was opera companies that took a bold approach to try something new. Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre debuted at Proctors to mix video with the singing. Opera Saratoga tried a new production team. Boston Early Music changed leads barely weeks from opening. Seagle Colony tried Tchaikovsky and Glimmerglass Opera offered Wagner for the first time.
Everyone else stayed the middle course with instrumentalists, especially pianists, who were in the forefront. They included Yefim Bronfman, Emmanuel Ax, Kirill Gerstein, Gabriela Montero, Jeremy Denk in two recitals and Garrick Ohlsson.
Cellists Yo-Yo Ma, Sophie Shao and Johannes Moser, clarinetist Pavel Vinnitsky, percussionist Colin Curie and violinists Cho-Liang Lin, Gil Shaham, Elizabeth Pitcairn and Sarah Chang also performed. The Irish Tenors and Chanticleer were the lone vocal groups.
A few artists made their debuts and performed brilliantly. They were pianists Danill Trifonov, Eric Zuber and Vladimir Feltsman, flutist Marina Piccinini and clarinetist Anthony McGill. Three piano duos also debuted: Andrey Ponochevny/Elena Zyl; Findlay Cockrell/Louis Lohraseb; and Orion Weiss/Anna Polonsky.
Youth was served to show classical music has a strong future: pianists Ryan Reilly and Iryna Arbatska, and violinist Anna Lee. The Young People’s Chorus of New York City delighted and the popular YouTube sensation, the Piano Guys, promoted classical music to a sold-out Egg crowd.
Chamber music groups in various combinations were also a strong presence. They included the Emerson, Miro, and Escher string quartets, pianist Wu Han with cellist David Finckel, the Horszowski Piano Trio, the Harmonic Brass of Munich and the New York Philharmonic Brass.
Two period ensembles, Rebel and the Sarasa Ensemble with soprano Dominique Labelle brought the period alive. Alturas Duo had a South American sound, and Turtle Island Quartet with vocalist Tierney Sutton was all jazz.
Chamber orchestras especially impressed with three making debuts: A Far Cry, Swedish Chamber Orchestra with conductor Thomas Dausgaard, and Estonian National Symphony with conductor Nikolai Alexeev. The Knights also returned.
Changes and plaudits: the Emerson introduced its new cellist; the Tokyo String Quartet said farewell; Jeremy Denk was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant; Richard Danielpour’s Saratoga Performing Arts Center commission was premiered; and the Albany Symphony Orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall and garnered a Grammy nomination.
Leslie Kandell chose her favorite Tanglewood concerts and Geraldine Freedman chose the rest. In chronological order.
Guitarist Vladimir Gorbach (March 2, Massry Center). A fabulous artist whose flawless technique and personal style made the music sound like a conversation between himself and his instrument.
Rebel (March 18, deBlasiis Chamber Music series). In the hands of this exuberant and poetic baroque ensemble, 18th century music sounded as if it was just composed.
Pianist Kirill Gerstein (March 29, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall). The 2010 Gilmore Award winner awed with his aplomb playing jazz and classical music equally brilliantly.
Too close to call were the Swedish Chamber Orchestra (April 22) and Estonian Symphony Orchestra (Nov. 11) who through their superb conductors made for memorable evenings of exceptional playing and musicality of the highest order. (Both at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall)
Opera Saratoga’s “HMS Pinafore” (June 23, Spa Little Theatre) was sensational for its singing, dancing and exceptional and inventive production values.
Boston Symphony Orchestra (July 13, Tanglewood) was fabulous playing Bernstein’s original “West Side Story” score to the film. Equally impressive was to discover that it was Bernstein’s tunes not just Sondheim’s lyrics that make this America’s definitive musical.
Boston Symphony Orchestra under guest conductor Carlo Montanaro (July 27, Tanglewood) thrilled in Verdi’s Requiem to convey the work’s contrast, sweep, rubato and precision. There was not a single cough in the audience.
Philadelphia Orchestra (Aug. 7, Saratoga Performing Arts Center). Between violinist Gil Shaham’s special grace and the orchestra’s virtuosity under favorite conductor Stephane Deneve, the opening night’s audience could only stand up and cheer.
Pianist Danill Trifonov with the Philadelphia Orchestra (Aug. 24 at SPAC). He left the audience breathless with his artistry, technical wizardry and youthful exuberance.
Flutist Marina Piccinini (Nov. 2, Zankel Music Center). An incomparable instrumentalist, who made everything sound effortlessly natural.
— Gazette reviewer Geraldine Freedman