At this time of year, I’m particularly glad I’m not a professional critic assigned to assemble a “top ten” music list for 2012. Instead, what you’ll find is a year-end offering of highlights from my personal musical journey throughout the year.
I alone bear responsibility for my selections, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention David Nice, whose insightful commentaries have taught and continue to teach me so much; the good people of and associated with Contemporaneous, with their passionate commitment toward everything they undertake; and composer John Metcalf, who, with his lovely piece Mapping Wales and his welcoming spirit, opened the door.
I also want to recognize the composers and conductor who participated in This Composing Life and This Conducting Life profiles during 2012: Molly Joyce, Jesse Alexander Brown, Lembit Beecher, Dylan Mattingly, and David Bloom. It was a pleasure and privilege to present each of them on Prufrock’s Dilemma. Thank you all!
A PRUFROCK’S DOZEN+ OF RECORDINGS AND DVDS OF NOTE (in alphabetical order)
*Mahler, Gustav Symphony No. 9 (Abbado/Lucerne, DVD) (For David Nice’s indispensable notes of a livestream of the performance, click here. This DVD offers, among other things, the extraordinary experience of watching Abbado conduct Mahler’s Ninth from a position like that of a member of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.)
*Shostakovich, Dmitri Symphony No. 4 (David Nice wrote on The Arts Desk, “There are noises throughout the symphony which any composer writing today would kill to discover: the clashing semitonal drone of two low-register horns, mutant birdsong from the E flat clarinet, the deathly clickings of side-drum, woodblock and castanets at the shadowy end of the scherzo.”) (There are numerous releases of this symphony. This year saw the release of a well-received recording by Salonen/LA Philharmonic. For a list of recordings, click here.)
Special Mention on Recordings
New Amsterdam Presents, which suffered terrible losses during Hurricane Sandy, is at the beating heart center of new music in New York and beyond. (Donations may be made online here.) Roomful of Teeth’s excellent debut album is emblematic of New Amsterdam’s importance to the new music world.
Postscript on Recordings: For those who may be wondering, Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote is not included on this year’s list only because I’ve not yet completed my self-appointed assignments to finish the book and, thereafter, listen with the score and program notes in hand. It’s a splendid piece, so readers should not feel the need to wait for me to complete my assignments (you’ll find it on the Spotify playlist). David Nice writes about a live performance of this “billowing phantasmagoria” here.
PERFORMANCES AND ENSEMBLES OF NOTE
Traveling to Wales to attend three days of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music was an unforgettable experience. The Festival’s Artistic Director, composer John Metcalf, is the person who started me on my journey into contemporary classical music, so it was particularly meaningful to be able to attend the Festival in person. The three concerts, each of which was superb, are listed and hyperlinked to what I wrote about them at the time.
For the complete series of posts about the trip to Wales, click here.
The stars have converged in a way they seldom do with this ensemble. The passion, energy, and sheer talent of this group are a rare and astonishing combination. I’m immensely grateful that Contemporaneous performs in the Hudson Valley, in addition to New York City (and points beyond), for I’m well aware that we won’t see its like again anytime soon. Three Contemporaneous concerts in 2012 I’d like to highlight are listed below, each hyperlinked for more information:
I wrote at the time: The sounds of Contemporaneous performing Judd Greenstein’s Vayomer Shlomo and Steve Reich’s Tehillim are still in my head this morning. . . . The rhythmic complexities and sheer stamina required for Tehillim, in particular, were daunting, yet the four singers (Lucy Deghrae, Milena Gligic, Marie Marquis, and Celine Mogielnicki) conquered all. In both pieces, the individual singing (such heavenly voices!) and ensemble work were dazzling.
I wrote at the time: The program was beautifully chosen, including the world premiere of Conor Brown’s magnificent piece Scrolls . . . and concluding with Donnacha Dennehy’s astounding Grá agus Bás. The performance, and David Bloom’s conducting, of these fast-paced, rhythmically complex pieces was superlative. Special applause must go to Finnegan Shanahan for his stunning sean-nós vocal work in Dennehy’s Grá agus Bás.
I also wish to congratulate Contemporaneous on its debut at Lincoln Center’s Merkin Hall this year as part of the Tribeca New Music Festival. For details of that performance, conducted by David Bloom, and which included Dylan Mattingly’s Atlas of Somewhere on the Way to Howland Island (on the Stream of Stars CD), click here.
In New York City
I attended a number of concerts in New York City (my record was three in one day, but that’s far from standard). Two stand-outs for well-conceived programs that were beautifully performed are below:
*Britten Sinfonia (Thomas Adès, conductor and piano)
The first half of the program traced the influence of François Couperin, beginning with Couperin’s Les baricades mistérieuses (both the original and as arranged by Adès), followed by Three Studies After Couperin by Adès, and Le tombeau de Couperin by Maurice Ravel. The second half of the program included three Stravinsky compositions (Airs du rossignol et Marche chinoise and Suites Nos. 1 and 2), and closed with Adès’s Concerto for Violin, Concentric Paths. The stellar performances of each piece made for a fully satisfying whole.
The concert I attended was one of three thematically linked to exhibitions at the Met, in this case, The Steins Collect. The program included Stravinsky’s Concertino for String Quartet, Germaine Tailleferre’s String Quartet, Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, “Alice Toklas” from Virgil Thomson’s Five Ladies for Violin and Piano, and Fauré’s Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 45. The Fauré was surely the highlight, but, aside from Thomson’s inconsequential (but mercifully short) contribution, the music was interesting throughout and beautifully played (see listing for March 31, 2012).
Bard College has been the epicenter for most of the great musical experiences I’ve had in 2012. In addition to Contemporaneous concerts, here are some notable events I attended:
Bard’s summer music festival is a beautiful thing. Even if you think you’re not interested in the particular composer (I didn’t think I was much interested in Saint-Saëns), the context the Festival provides makes the experience gloriously rich. The concerts I attended this year were no exception, as you can see here and here.
*American Symphony Orchestra, Concert One (featuring winners of the Bard College Conservatory of Music Concerto Competition)
I wrote at the time: Wonderful concert tonight at Bard . . . . The terrific soloists were Contemporaneous’s own Dávid Adam Nagy on bassoon and Péter Blága on tuba, each of whom was a winner of the Bard College Conservatory of Music Concerto Competition. . . . Blága . . . showed off the full range of the tuba’s sound palette in Menachem Zur’s Tuba Concerto, with Zur on hand to take a bow. Nagy, to me the Benny Goodman of the bassoon, showed off his early 19th C classical canon chops in two pieces by Carl Maria von Weber: the Bassoon Concerto in F Major and the Andante and Rondo Ungarese. Amazing to watch Nagy totally in command of notes flying everywhere at the speed of light, particularly at the end of the second piece.
This was the first time I’d ever heard Monk live, and almost the first time I’d heard anything of Monk’s. After the concert, I wrote: “Transcendent would not be too big a word. No, I think just the right word, for Meredith Monk at Bard.”
For a Spotify playlist of recordings of many of the pieces on the list, click here. (Recordings on the Spotify playlist are not always the same as those indicated in the links. For example, while I have included Mahler’s Ninth, conducted by Claudio Abbado, the orchestra is the Berlin Philharmonic, not the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.) Also on the playlist are pieces by composers and performers I heard at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music, as well as the Festival’s Artistic Director, John Metcalf. Ars Nova Copenhagen is represented in four pieces on the Lang album and in Anne Boyd’s As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams. Qigang Chen is represented by his Reflet d’un temps disparu and John Metcalf by his Paths of Song and Mapping Wales.