As we reach the end of December, it’s traditionally time for a retrospective look at the year that is just completed. Since 2012 was the first full calendar year of All is Yar‘s existence, it’s an especially important one for me. I’ve been fortunate — dare I say “blessed” — to have been able to experience more performances than I would’ve guessed at the beginning of the year — most of them somewhere between really good and truly awesome.
After some very detailed number-crunching, extremely scientific analysis, and deeply meditative internal reflection (OK, maybe more like some quality time with a green tea and some scotch), I decided to follow tradition and write-up a list of stuff I thought was worth mentioning. So cozy up to a loved one, grab a glass of your favorite beverage, and get yourself ready for . . . (cue trumpet fanfare) . . . the first-ever ”All is Yar‘s Most Favorite and Noteworthy Classical Music Stuff of the Year”.
Best Orchestral Performance: Simon Rattle conducting the LA Phil in works by Ligeti, Wagner, and Bruckner
- Sir Simon led a performance so gripping, so absolutely awesome, it didn’t even matter that the concert featured three of my least favorite composers.
- First of all, we’re a talking Le Sacre du Printemps here, pretty much my favorite orchestral work ever. Secondly, the performance by the Mr. Dudamel and the LA Phil was as good as I’ve heard from that combination, so good in fact that I had to see it twice (hence the parenthetical plural “Concert(s)” above). Third, we got the added bonus of a bright new work from Mr. Stucky. Fourth, did I mention the concert included Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which is pretty much my favorite orchestral work ever?
Best Performance of a Work I Don’t Need to Hear Again for a Long, Long Time: Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony do Franck’s Symphony
- Really, CSO?? You don’t come to Southern California for more than a generation, and this is what you bring along?!! I mean, it sounded great and all, but . . . come on, man!
The “We’re So Cool, Even Plácido Wants to be One of Us” Award: Baritones
- So many good ones graced local stages this year, I am almost scared to try to name them, but I’ll try, more or less in the order I heard them this year (and I’ll include bass-baritones in this mix too): Thomas Hampson, Vitalij Kowaljow, Matthias Goerne, Liam Bonner, Mariusz Kwiecien, Željko Lučić, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Eric Owens, and yes, Plácido Domingo.
Favorite singers who weren’t baritones:
- Tenor Brandon Jovanovich is gonna be the next big thing — if he isn’t already.
- I really enjoyed the three different portrayals of Zerlina in Don Giovanni as sung/acted by Anna Prohaska, Roxana Constantinescu, and Micaëla Oeste, but of the three, I’m gonna say that Ms. Constantinescu was my favorite.
Favorite younger composer: Timo Andres
- In a couple of appearances with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Mr. Andres first teased us by playing his Sorbet at a Westside Connections concert, and then followed it up with a performance of a newly commissioned work, his reinterpretation of the Mozart 26th Piano Concerto, and a dazzling rendition of Mahler as an encore.
Favorite performance of a world premiere: Los Angeles Children’s Chorus performing Daníel Bjarnason’s The isle is full of noises
- With James Conlon leading them as guest conductor, Anne Tomlinson’s young charges were absolutely radient in this rich new work by the Icelandic composer.
Silliest classical music fun: A weekend that featured the LA Phil in a Symphony for Youth concert and Long Beach Opera in a surreal double-header
- John Monastero clowning around to The Planets, a Martinů opera about falling in love with a hanged corpse, and a Poulenc opera where boobs play an integral role. . . . Can’t get much more silly than that.
Silliest classical music fun, marketing division: St. Louis Symphony’s “Save Powell Hall” campaign
- In an era when so many orchestras’ front offices are THE problem, Jonna Robertson and the marketing folks at the SLSO prove that being bold and clever can serve both artistic and box-office interests.
Lucky to catch them when I did: Tokyo String Quartet
- Before the foursome disbands at the end of this season, I was lucky enough to be in Chicago to catch them at Ravinia in a probing and spirited concert of works by Haydn, Webern, and Beethoven.
Most annoying operatic experience: Rigoletto as done by the LA Phil and Gustavo Dudamel at the Hollywood Bowl
- I was so flummoxed by this concert performance that I never was able to write a coherent review. The short version is this: The orchestra was very good and Željko Lučić was undeniably excellent in the title role, but the rest of the cast was merely okay and what little stage direction existed was disjointed and inconsistent. Oh, and the Bowl’s amplification was not great, even by its usual less-than-remarkable standards.
Favorite operatic experience: Albert Herring as done by Los Angeles Opera and James Conlon
- At first blush, it might seem that Britten’s chamber opera might get lost in the vast expanse of the Dorothy Chandler, especially using Santa Fe Opera’s detailed but smallish sets. It turned out that there was no need to worry: Mr. Conlon led a wonderful performance featuring a wonderful, well-balanced cast that did justice to the music AND the comedy.
- Coming in second: LA Opera’s Simon Boccanegra featuring Mr. Domingo in the title role.
Favorite outdoor concert:
- LA Phil, Nicholas McGegan, and Alison Balsom in a night of Haydn at the Hollywood Bowl
- Runner-up: Southwest Chamber Music’s summer concert at the Huntington featuring the Ravel String Quartet and Vietnamese instrument virtuoso Vân Ánh Vanessa Võ (among other stuff)
Upon further review, the ruling on the field has been reversed:
- In the hours and days after Marino Formenti’s January recital for the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, I thought his rendition of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations was odd but interesting. The more time passed, the more I thought it was just odd — really odd. Throw in a tedious new work by Evan Gardner, and in retrospect, it’s a few hours of my life I would have liked to have gotten back.
Finding a Principal Flute is hard to do:
- Just as it looks like the Pacific Symphony has finally been able to keep a Principal Flute for more than a season, the LA Phil decided to let theirs go and then, in their first attempt to replace him, couldn’t.
Because I may be happily married, but I’m not blind:
- In a season featuring many musicians who are both talented and beautiful, I’d say Ms. Oeste was the loveliest.
You can’t do everything: Things I was hoping to see but didn’t (in no particular order) . . .
- The Rake’s Progress in Santa Barbara care of Music Academy of the West, wildUp!, Jacaranda, Monday Evening Concerts, Pacific Symphony, New York Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Cleveland Orchestra in Costa Mesa, Philadelphia Orchestra while I was actually in Philly, Dallas Symphony when I was visiting Dallas, Ojai Festival, Da Camera Society’s Chamber Music in Historic Places, the LA Phil’s Chamber Music Society, Camerata Pacifica, and much more!
That’s it for now . . . Happy New Year, everyone!