The best (and worst) of 2010

An audacious New York Philharmonic event set the year's tone.

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  • Photograph: Chris Lee

    bestworst2010macabre

    Le Grand Macabre

  • Photograph: Murat Eyuboglu

    bestworst2010penelope

    Penelope

  • Photograph: New Catalogue

    bestworst2010littledeath

    The Little Death

  • Photograph: Stephen S. Taylor

    bestworst2010victoire

    Victoire

Photograph: Chris Lee

bestworst2010macabre

Le Grand Macabre

The best albums

Sarah Kirkland Snider Penelope (New Amsterdam)
A potent melding of classical poise and alt-pop punch, this dreamy song cycle was the year's most affecting creation. Accompanied by new-music dream team Signal, vocalist Shara Worden mesmerized.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Shostakovich Symphony No. 8 (Naxos)
A shattering account of Shostakovich's urgent, anguished Eighth Symphony proved that conductor Vasily Petrenko is building a cycle for the ages.

Stephen Hough Chopin Late Masterpieces (Hyperion)
The Chopin bicentennial produced a flood of new CDs, but none more comprehensively considered or artful than this keenly balanced survey by a philosophical poet of the piano.

Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout Dichterliebe (Harmonia Mundi)
Schumann, the year's other 200th-birthday boy, inspired the newest treasure from the consistently absorbing tenor Padmore, eloquently partnered by Kristian Bezuidenhout on a period keyboard.

Scott Johnson Americans (Tzadik)
Any new release from this exacting guitarist and composer is cause for celebration; that the titular work on this one turned out to be among his most provocative creations was a substantial plus.

Jeremy Denk Plays Ives (Think Denk)
This fascinating pianist's debut recital CD was brash, intelligent and uncompromising—in other words, an accurate reflection of the artist who made it. More, please, and soon.

Matt Marks The Little Death, Vol. 1 (New Amsterdam)
Teen spirit—in both the spiritual and earthy sense—animated this flamboyant electropop opera, exuberantly voiced by Marks and soprano Mellissa Hughes.

Stile Antico Puer Natus Est (Harmonia Mundi)
Even Scrooge would embrace this transporting survey of Tudor English Christmas music, sublimely sung by a young English choir whose every new release demands hearing.

Victoire Cathedral City (New Amsterdam)
Beyond the blissful tunes we knew from last year's EP, the long-awaited full-length debut from Missy Mazzoli and her "bandsemble" brought a clutch of newer pieces even more beguiling.

Yuja Wang Transformation (Deutsche Grammophon)
More than a flamboyant showcase for finger-busting chops, this bright young pianist's second album was also a sterling example of enlightened thematic programming.

The best events

Le Grand Macabre at the New York Philharmonic
In one bold gesture, Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic cemented their commitment to contemporary music while also changing the playing field for opera in New York.

A Quiet Place at New York City Opera
George Steel's fervent advocacy, Christopher Alden's sharp production, Jayce Ogren's lively conducting and a vibrant cast forced a reassessment of Bernstein's long-rejected opera.

Persephassa on Central Park Lake
In this masterstroke by Make Music New York, audience members in rowboats floated serenely in the summer sun, surrounded by percussionists playing elemental sounds by Xenakis.

The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera
William Kentridge's eye-popping visual realization and Valery Gergiev's potent conducting struck precisely the right note for the Met premiere of Shostakovich's bratty farce.

Varse: (R)evolution at the Lincoln Center Festival
French-American maverick Edgard Varse's canon packed houses during this comprehensive survey by the Phil, International Contemporary Ensemble and others.

Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera
James Levine's absence during a run of Berg's masterpiece warranted concern, but Fabio Luisi provided supple leadership with insights all his own. In the title role, Marlis Petersen was riveting.

Der Ferne Klang at Bard SummerScape
Neither Leon Botstein's conducting nor Thaddeus Strassberger's production were beyond reproach; still, how good to see Schreker's opera staged after a century of neglect.

White Light Festival at Lincoln Center
In a unique series concerned with spirituality, pursuing an agenda driven more by the heart than by the ledger yielded substantial dividends, artistic and otherwise.

Darmstadt Essential Repertoire at Issue Project Room
For the third year running, this scrappy, DIY festival unearthed and celebrated seminal contemporary works from a healthy variety of idioms.

New Amsterdam Records, all year long
Beyond a trifecta of discs on the top-ten list and further must-hear albums by Corey Dargel, William Brittelle, Newspeak and Ted Hearne, this vital local label mounted a steady stream of trailblazing live events.

The worst

Das Rheingold at the Metropolitan Opera
The start of the Met's much ballyhooed new Ring cycle wasn't a total wash—Eric Owens as a revelatory Alberich made sure of that, almost single-handedly. Yet despite all the glitz, Robert Lepage's staging delivered so much less than it promised, its dull, flat tone lacking in both spark and humanity. (It probably looked great on a movie screen, though.)

Report card

New York's art-music community was flush with healthy ideas in 2010—even if long-term career prospects weren't among them. As ever, indies like New Amsterdam and Darmstadt spurred innovation; what's heartening is how the big fish have finally begun to respond.

Final grade: A-

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