Finest Classical Music of 2019 – The New York Occasions



These, in chronological order, are the performances that almost all stubbornly refused to give up me because the yr went on.

The Metropolitan Opera swept in 2019 with a real gala efficiency: this Cilea potboiler, in a straightforwardly luxurious David McVicar manufacturing carried out by a spirited Gianandrea Noseda. Anna Netrebko was commanding but tender within the title position, one among her finest components so far. (She added one other to that pantheon in London in March, with a fervent Leonora in Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino.”) Anita Rachvelishvili smoldered on the Met as Adriana’s malignant enemy; Piotr Beczala elegantly trumpeted as the person desired by them each. It was old school spectacle, in one of the best ways.

After surprising the classical world with the announcement that he’d be the subsequent music director of the San Francisco Symphony, this broadly admired conductor and composer — who had beforehand indicated he was firmly out of the operating for a brand new podium place — got here to California in January to guide his new band. The charged, time-crossing program of works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Strauss and Sibelius, performed with unified dedication, boded effectively.

This new work by the composer and trumpeter Nate Wooley was for quartet, however its major temper was loneliness. Carried out at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn on a cold February evening, with Mr. Wooley alongside Susan Alcorn, Mary Halvorson and Ryan Sawyer, it did evince a way of camaraderie amid gloom, of quiet exaltation and dread within the face of the good past.

Addio, we stated in March, to Sonja Frisell’s eye-wideningly gargantuan, lovably hoary, undeniably dramatic Met staging of Verdi’s Egyptian traditional. After 31 years and practically 250 performances, it was stepping apart, to get replaced subsequent fall by a Michael Mayer manufacturing that can, almost definitely, contain loads much less stone-styled plaster and pseudo-weathered hieroglyphics. Each can be missed, as will the hordes of often-recalcitrant horses within the Triumphal Scene.

Meredith Monk’s solely true opera — an virtually completely wordless, ethereal and lyrical parable of exploration — hadn’t been carried out because the early 1990s, and, like the opposite theatrical items she’s masterminded, it had by no means been tried by new artistic forces. Enter Yuval Sharon, a proficient director who was entrusted by Ms. Monk with reviving “Atlas.” This he did, in June, with each admirable ambition and important modesty, and with the great sources of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which paid for the large sphere, 36 toes in diameter, that appeared to drift over the stage and served as each enjoying house and projection display.

I had heard concerning the success of this famous person cellist’s efficiency of the six Bach solo suites for his instrument on the 18,000-seat Hollywood Bowl in 2017. Nevertheless it simply appeared unimaginable that this intimate, delicate music, performed virtually with out pause for practically two and a half hours, might scale to such environment. However now I’m a believer: When he repeated the feat in June at Millennium Park in Chicago, many 1000’s of individuals — together with me — had been silently riveted putty in Mr. Ma’s arms.

Throughout an particularly sturdy Salzburg Competition this summer time, together with a poignant “Alcina” with Cecilia Bartoli, this was unforgettable: George Enescu’s hardly ever carried out Oedipus opera, an ideal match for the director Achim Freyer’s surreal, symbol-laden, fastidiously childlike fashion. The stage was coated in his signature faux-naïve chalk drawings — and puppets, large rag dolls, major colours, cranium masks, the juxtaposition of elongated and squat figures, expressionistically daring make-up and glacial motion. All of them conjured a fairy-tale nightmare, whereas Ingo Metzmacher expertly unleashed the Vienna Philharmonic’s full radiance.

After “4.48 Psychosis,” Philip Venables and Ted Huffman’s brutal operatic examine of psychological sickness, impressed in New York in January, expectations had been excessive for his or her new piece, the spotlight of Opera Philadelphia’s O19 pageant in September. Written for 2 singers and 4 cellos, and carried out on an almost naked stage, “Denis & Katya” was a stark but delicate examine of the voices surrounding a real-life tragedy: the dying (probably by the hands of Russian safety forces) of two teenage lovers holed up with weapons in a cabin in 2016. By no means didactic, it however advised, by way of tense, delicate music, musings on language, storytelling, social media and creative ethics.

It might have gone so, so improper. A French Baroque opera that places an aesthetic gloss on colonial encounters, refitted with road choreography: a recipe for awkwardness, at finest. That it was as a substitute one of many freshest, most charismatic and poignant performances I’ve ever seen speaks to the conceptual focus of Clément Cogitore, an artist and filmmaker making his debut as a stage director, and Bintou Dembélé, a pioneer of French hip-hop dance (and to the eager instincts of Stéphane Lissner, the chief of the Paris Opera, the place I noticed it in October). The solid of singers and dancers was excellent, led vibrantly by the conductor Leonardo García Alarcón and his Cappella Mediterranea ensemble.

After main an intense “Idomeneo” in Salzburg — the newest in his slew of latest coups at that pageant — Teodor Currentzis did it once more. In November on the Shed, this Greek-born, Russian-incubated conductor and MusicAeterna — the orchestra and choir of estimable ardour and cultlike devotion to Mr. Currentzis — introduced each grace and actually spine-tingling ferocity to Verdi’s Requiem, a piece that even in good performances can have an viewers checking its watches. An accompanying movie by Jonas Mekas, the nonagenarian avant-gardist who died in January, suffered from some banal, repetitive imagery, however MusicAeterna made a trendy impression by itself, even given the traces of amplification required by the looming house.

Anthony Tommasini

Although it was only a coincidence of planning, the summer time seasons of each Opera Theater of St. Louis and the Glimmerglass Competition, in Cooperstown, N.Y., featured premieres of highly effective new operas about up to date struggling African-American households. This double, authentic and well timed triumph was some of the encouraging developments of the yr in classical music.

Written by the composer Terence Blanchard and the librettist Kasi Lemmons, from a memoir by Charles M. Blow (an Opinion columnist for The New York Occasions), this opera tells of a childhood formed by cycles of violence, powerful motherly love and the lasting wounds of sexual abuse. Mr. Blanchard, an acclaimed trumpeter and movie composer, aptly described his vibrant, moody rating as an “opera in jazz.” The story’s risky hero was introduced as each a weak boy (Jeremy Denis, on the premiere) and an indignant 20-year-old (the exceptional bass-baritone Davóne Tines, in a wrenching efficiency). The Metropolitan Opera has announced its intention to current the work in a coming season.

The composer Jeanine Tesori, finest recognized for her Tony Award-winning musical “Enjoyable Residence,” and the librettist-director Tazewell Thompson inform the story of a striving black household in Harlem with a rebellious teenage son who’s incensed over police intimidation of younger black males. In a twist, the devoted however flummoxed father is a police officer. Ms. Tesori’s sturdy but delicate rating is mixed with Mr. Thompson’s grimly elegant and snappy phrases — among the finest librettos I’ve heard in a protracted whereas.

The principle occasion of “Caramoor Takes Wing,” a celebration of birdsong on the vigorous Caramoor pageant in Katonah, N.Y., was this pianist’s good efficiency of Messiaen’s full “Catalogue d’Oiseaux” (“Catalog of Birds”). It’s a staggeringly tough suite of 13 items lasting greater than two and a half hours, into which the composer integrated his personal transcriptions and transformations of chook calls. Mr. Aimard carried out it in three installments over two days in open-air areas. Naturally, precise birds in close by bushes sang alongside, which might have delighted Messiaen.

Although it’s nonetheless early to inform what long-term creative objectives Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Metropolitan Opera’s new music director, has in retailer, this yr he led persistently distinguished performances, particularly a ravishingly and revelatory account of this Debussy work, with an interesting solid.

Jaap van Zweden arrived as music director of the New York Philharmonic with a popularity for daring performances of ordinary repertory. But he has been extra spectacular, to this point, in 20th-century and up to date works, particularly his blazing, probing accounts of Schoenberg’s monodrama “Erwartung” and Bartok’s one-act shocker “Bluebeard’s Fort,” paired in an creative semi-staged manufacturing.

In two packages over three days, in elegantly intimate rooms on the Park Avenue Armory, this soprano, some of the restlessly adventurous artists of our time, gave a pair of extraordinary performances. The primary, dedicated to works by John Zorn, featured the composer’s wild 25-minute track cycle “Jumalattaret.” Ms. Hannigan conquered its fierce challenges in a mesmerizing efficiency with the stalwart pianist Stephen Gosling. On the second program, joined by members of the Emerson String Quartet, she took an enraptured viewers on a journey by way of landmark 20th-century vocal works by Cage, Berio, Nono and Schoenberg.

Together with her New York recital debut at Zankel Corridor in March, this younger Italian pianist, enjoying works by Chopin, Ravel and Stravinsky, demonstrated why she is more and more seen as some of the insightful and prodigiously gifted artists of the brand new technology. Three months later, she was again at Carnegie for a stupendous efficiency of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with Mr. Nézet-Séguin main the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Kelli O’Hara, a number one woman of Broadway, and Leif Ove Andsnes, an outstanding pianist, each stunned me throughout solo appearances with orchestras. On the New York Philharmonic’s opening evening in September, Ms. O’Hara sang Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer time of 1915.” Her gentle, shimmering voice suited this wistful music superbly. But it was her eager feeling for James Agee’s elegiac, homespun textual content that made the efficiency exceptionally transferring.

If Ms. O’Hara’s singing was a pleasant shock, Mr. Andsnes’s Apollonian account of Grieg’s Piano Concerto, with the Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Corridor, was an surprising one. He brings the affinity of a fellow Norwegian, plus lengthy expertise, to the piece. But this thrilling efficiency sounded rethought. Performed by Mr. Andsnes with readability, eloquent lyricism and fearless bravura, Grieg’s acquainted music, typically milked to Romantic extra, emerged as an intricate, even daring composition.

Based in 2013 by the pianist and conductor David Greilsammer, this ensemble has been profitable over audiences, and shaking up classical music, in Europe. For its American debut, the 40-member group, together with the dancer Martí Corbera, introduced this system “Dance of the Solar,” pairing a collection from Lully’s “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” and Mozart’s Symphony in G Minor. The musicians not solely performed the works (from reminiscence!) but additionally marched and danced. That each one music is motion got here by way of viscerally.


New works premiere each week, from transient curtain-raisers to prolonged symphonies and operas. Many are passing; just a few, nevertheless, really feel inescapable, haunting. Of the items I heard this yr, these three had been those I couldn’t get out of my head — those I might fortunately see turn out to be classics.

Audaciously conventional, Mr. Adès’s first “correct” piano concerto, as he described it, has flashes of reverential familiarity — slightly Gershwin, slightly Beethoven — although they’re practically unimaginable to put, and are distorted by way of the prism of this composer’s wry sensibility. It was written for Kirill Gerstein, with a mix of staggering virtuosity and tenderness that matches him like a bespoke go well with.

A whole lot of artwork about local weather change is ungracefully polemical. However not this earworm-rich opera by the filmmaker and director Rugile Barzdziukaite, the author Vaiva Grainyte and the artist and composer Lina Lapelyte, which gained the Golden Lion for the Lithuanian pavilion on the Venice Biennale. Its insidiously nice melodies, unimaginable to dislodge out of your reminiscence, can go away you considering our environmental disaster for days on finish.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra gave the premiere of Mr. Rouse’s remaining work a month after his dying from most cancers. He had supposed for the piece to be his final creative assertion, and it had a sweep befitting the circumstances: a touching summation of an amazing American composer’s fashion, playful, eclectic and stuffed with feeling.


Whereas the classical music business gave up on the primacy of the CD some time in the past and embraced streaming platforms, this digital-first technique often allowed for bodily editions, too. However in 2019, three main orchestral efforts had been out there digital solely.

The best three-day concert I saw this year was “Aus Licht,” the Holland Competition’s truncated tour by way of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s seven-opera cycle “Licht.” Quickly after, practically an hour and a half of thrilling audio excerpts — together with the satan’s drum line from “Samstag aus Licht” and ghostly tape-music choirs from “Donnerstag aus Licht” — was launched to 1 streaming service, Idagio, which hopes to nook the classical-streaming market. (It affords a free trial.)

Once I talked to Wynton Marsalis about his recent orchestral projects, he appeared resigned to the flip towards streaming. “Primarily stuff is digital, at this level,” he stated, earlier than describing an formidable slate of upcoming releases. His boisterous “Swing Symphony” — recorded by the St. Louis Symphony and the Jazz at Lincoln Middle Orchestra — is only available out of your digital file purveyor of selection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top