Imaginative choices for classical concerts
The classical offerings in the Capital Region this year continued to amaze with their depth, variety and high standards. Concert goers had such a choice, thanks not only to the many exceptional performance venues — two of which opened in the last couple of years — but to the ongoing imagination of the presenters. As a result, attendance was generally strong at most venues.
Orchestras were especially in the forefront of the effort to attract new audiences. One focus was to spotlight youth, as in the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s feature of four college-level cellists, and the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra’s side-by-side concert with area high-school students.
Branching out to work with other disciplines was also the theme for the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra with its Bosnian dancers, the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra with poetry read by former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, and the Philadelphia Orchestra with two New York City Ballet dancers at its residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The Albany Pro Musica also forayed into new territory with an examination of Civil War material.
The year featured several debuts, among them the Binnekill Chamber Orchestra of local professionals under conductor Brett Wery, the first Jewish Choral Festival, the first symposium on Puerto Rican music and the Philadelphia Orchestra’s new music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Also in a SPAC first was conductor JoAnn Falletta, who not only conducted the Albany Symphony Orchestra for the first time, she also brought her Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra to SPAC — the first NYS orchestra to play there. Vocalist Tony DeSare, a Hudson Falls-native, also made his long-awaited SPAC debut.
As for soloists, it was the year of the pianists, all of whom were sensational. Starting with Charlie Albright in January, the area saw performances from Yefim Bronfman, Nareh Arghamanyan, Jeremy Denk, Gabriela Montero, Diane Walsh, Valentina Lisitsa and Rafal Blechacz.
Among the handful of string players, violinist Sarah Chang departed from her SPAC norm in a debut with the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra; and violinist Jennifer Koh went it alone in the spotlight at EMPAC. Jia-Yi also gave the only harmonica recital; Bernarda Fink, one of the few vocal recitals; and Deborah Jean Templin, the only one-woman show about the Titanic.
Quartets and opera
Several string quartets performed (Borromeo, Miami, Emerson, Cecilia, Brentano), as did El Mundo and the Metropolitan Opera Brass, and orchestras from Russia and Cuba. Opera was a healthy mix of Baroque to Broadway at companies from Glimmerglass and Opera Saratoga to the Seagle Colony, Bard and Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre.
New music was always at the forefront, with orchestral commissions at the Albany and Glens Falls orchestras and new-age ensembles such as MusikFabrik and the Talea Ensemble. But everyone was talking about the Michael Gordon premiere of his “Rushes” for seven bassoons at EMPAC.
Rand Reeves of the Burnt Hills Oratorio Society also retired and Susan Fedak became its director.
Top 10 performances
Listed chronologically, as chosen by Gazette reviewer Leslie Kandell (who chose her favorite Tanglewood concert) and Geraldine Freedman (who chose the rest).
Harmonica player Jia-Yi (March 28 at the Saratoga Springs Public Library) dumbfounded with his virtuosity and musicality on an instrument few thought could do such things.
The Knights under conductor Eric Jacobsen (April 6 at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall) exemplified the best in music making with color, finesse, marvelous musicality and joie-de-vivre.
The all-Beethoven program that opened the Tanglewood season (July 6) was a replica of one performed 75 years ago. Christoph von Dohnányi eloquently conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Too close to call: The Borromeo String Quartet (April 30 at the Massry Center for the Arts) and the Miami String Quartet (July 26 at the Spa Little Theatre). Exceptional ensemble playing with emotional depth of great imagination.
Philadelphia Orchestra with Nézet-Séguin and Lang Lang. (Aug. 9 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center) A combination that could not be beat for drama, virtuosity or the sheer thrill of making music.
Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre may be young and on a tight budget, but its imaginative and fabulous performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (Aug. 12) showed the company has a big future.
Pianist Rafal Blechacz’s breathtaking and extraordinary recital (Oct. 11 at Union College’s Memorial Chapel) marked him as one of the great pianists of his generation.
Mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink (Nov. 13, also at Union College’s Memorial Chapel) is that exceptional singer who can make an audience member feel as if she’s singing only to them. She was mesmerizing.
The Albany Symphony Orchestra sounded good all year, but in a rare traditional program (Dec. 1 at the Palace Theatre), it moved up a performance notch with clarinetist David Shifrin in Mozart to create a joyous evening.
How often can one hear Handel’s “Messiah”? The performance with the Octavo Singers (Dec. 16 at Union College’s Memorial Chapel) singing the complete score made the three hours disappear.
— Gazette music reviewers Geraldine Freedman and Leslie Kandell