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31.12.09

Top 10 Live "At-Large" Performances of 2009

We list our favorite performances in chronological order, because you can’t rank live performance. Although this year, I probably could—because there was one staggering-amazing, one heart-wrenching, one eye-opening, and then seven very good performances among the ten concerts below. I don’t expect to hear Mahler’s Fourth Symphony ever again in quite as exciting a performance as Daniele Gatti delivered with the Munich Philharmonic. Heinz Holliger made Haydn burst onto the scene as if he had never ceased being the most relevant classical composer. Barbara Frey’s Jenůfa made me cry both times I saw it while also musically being the best offering the State Opera Orchestra has produced in some time, no doubt thanks to Kirill Petrenko.



January 27th, Salzburg, Mozarteum:


Holliger & Haydn

Martin Fröst played the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A, K622 on the basset clarinet it was intended for and Carter’s Clarinet Concerto after intermission. Fine stuff, with the Camerata Salzburg, but most successful and remarkable was the conducting of Heinz Holliger. I thought of him as a instrumentalist and composer, known for his conducting primarily in modern repertoire. No revelation that his Carter was excellent. But how absolutely smudge-free the muscular neo-classicism of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin shone through French romanticism—-full bodied and delicate-—was truly special. And the concluding Military Symphony by Haydn was worthy of hyperbole...

Mozart’s Birthday in Salzburg: http://www.weta.org/fmblog/?p=467


January 22nd/23rd, Munich, Herkulessaal:


Polyptyque & Bach with Röhn & Hengelbrock

Frank Martin is not a completely obscure figure, but unknown enough to be considered one of the hidden and neglected gems among 20th century composers. If his time hasn’t yet come, it will—and works like “Polyptyque -- Six Images de la Passion du Christ” (for violin solo and two string orchestras, commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin) will either be the cause or beneficiaries of that change in perception.

The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in two concerts on January 22nd and 23rd under Thomas Hengelbrock featured the six movements of Martin’s concerto alternating with Bach chorales. The 45 voices of the Bavarian Radio Chorus combined with the delicately performing orchestra formed a foundation from which the six concerto movements could rise and set them in a contextthat the audience could appreciate. Such mix-and-(mis)match programs, at their best, can enhance the experience of both, old and new. That certainly was the case here. Soloist Andreas Röhn, concertmaster of the BRSO, had a big part in that: His performance further underscored the level of individual excellence of that orchestra and the work's challenge had the soloist come out in Röhn—a student of Gingold and Szeryng and Carl Flesh-Prize Winner, after all. A Mozart Requiem followed.

Ionarts at Large: Mozart's Requiem with the BRSO



February 26th/17th/28th, Munich, Gasteig:


MPhil-Mahler-Gatti-Mahvelous!

After the Lulu Suite—so much more easily appreciable than the overlong completed version of the opera—it seemed clear that Berg, not Mahler, would be the highlight of this concert. As if this didn’t already sound close to hyperbole, it should be telling about the quality of the concert that the Mahler turned out the highlight, after all. For that it would have to have been the best Mahler Fourth I have heard—and it was...

Ionarts at Large: A Mahler Supreme & a Lulu to Die For


May 15th, Munich, Herkulessaal:


American Nights @ MusicaViva with Kristjan Järvi and the BRSO

Udo Zimmermann seems to feel naughty for throwing this tonal bone to the listener. The liner notes spend considerable time justifying the daring occurrence of--wait for it...: harmony! As a truly modern European composer one would not want to be considered a reactionary, after all. Perhaps Zimmermann is right about being worried. (“Is that allowed? Is this an Anti-Concerto” the notes disingenuously question and eagerly postulate. ) After all, this ‘taking the listener by the ear’, gently, and harmonically pulling him his way… this acknowledgment of purpose (in instrumentation and structure) is the very negation of Zimmermann’s (and the whole avant-garde music scene’s) underlying and often trumpeted notion of the “paradigm shift” that had allegedly occurred in our listening habits.

The concerto is gorgeous, even when it gets busy, noisy, and tangled. The heartfelt reception and genuine applause must have been quite different than the usual, cool admiration. Via perceptible ideas and motifs, through recognizability and musical craftsmanship Udo Zimmermann has arrived, if not at truth, so at least in reality. A warm “welcome back”.

Ionarts at Large: American Night at Munich’s Musica Viva


June 5th/6th/7th, Munich, Gasteig:


Faust for Schnittke, Schoenberg for Brahms

Rarely have I encountered a concert program seemingly so tailored to my (very mildly eclectic) tastes as that of the Munich Philharmonic earlier this month. Andrey Boreyko conducted Schnittke’s wild and whacky Faust Cantata—the closest (and maybe close enough) we’ll likely come to the composer’s opera “Historie von D. Johann Fausten”—and the Brahms G minor Piano Quartet.

The Faust Cantata, which would become the third act of the opera, shows Schnittke at his most effective... From the Matthew Passion to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Schnittke covers all your grand theatrical desires in this work. Undoubtedly one of the best treatments of Faust in music. The low growling, seedy prowling Malgorzata Walewska was the sordid hit amid a very fine completed by Artur Stefanowicz as Mephisto and bass Arutjun Kotchinian as Faust.

Ionarts at Large: Ravel & Schnittke in Munich


Munich, April 8th, Munich, National Theater:


On the Searing Pain of our Horrible Best Choices: Barbara Frey’s Jenůfa

You could sit through Barbara Frey’s Jenůfa (Bavarian State Operaand completely miss out on the fact that you have witnessed greatness. It doesn’t take much exhaustion, a touch of uncharitable mood, or slight dullness of mind to not pick on the subtleties that lift this production so far above others. A theater director by day, Mme. Frey went for the most human, most realistic approach to the drama, taking Janačék’s music and libretto seriously. The result was un-operatic in that it lacked grand gestures and pathos. And precisely that made it a terrific, terrifying experience that snuck up on the audience at any given, but never the most expected, moment... Kirill Petrenko elicited the most emotional--best--performance from the Bavarian State Orchestra this season...

Ionarts-at-Large: Munich Opera Festival Recap


Dublin, September 20th, Irish Museum of Modern Art:



Elizabeth I and Philip II Horsing Around Early Music

...Later during the final rehearsal, Queen Elizabeth, who barely reaches up to Caitríona O’Leary’s belt, pipes the tune of Greensleeves in duet with O’Leary, which sounds absolutely adorable and moderately musical. Then the little Queen gets her wig affixed while rummaging through her Hello Kitty bag and Philip II chats with Kate, the make-up artist, and crinkles his nose as her brush applies white powder to his face...

eX Shipwrecked Queen Horses Around in Dublin


Munich, October 10th, Gasteig:


BRSO, Jansons, and Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra

Composed between 1950 and ’54, at a time when the composer was moving from neo-classicism to something closer resembling Bartók’s folk-modernism, the work is gripping, short on dissonance and long on sharp contrast and driving rhythms. This is music of a rare invigorating quality, full of different shades, timbres, and various levels of textures without being a saturated Technicolor bonbon: clarity and a sense of cool remain even during the glowing brass passages and the intoxicating finale. What an awe-some concerto to explore—and to explore as fine an orchestra as the BRSO with.

Ionarts-at-Large: Midori, Jansons, And Most of All: Lutosławski


Munich, October 15th, Prinzregententheater:


Schubert by Way of Webern

The Munich Chamber Orchestra (MKO) is a local musical force to be reckoned with... why I have not made it to any of their concerts in the last two years, I do not know...

Where is Anton Webern in his Schubert song orchestrations? In the unfailing tastefulness, the clarity, the absence of anything not essential. It’s as if Webern, by orchestrating them, further parsed the songs’ accompaniment down. The result levitates above the singer like a mobile suspended from silver threads the thickness of hair. The brief, dotted touches of color are already pure Webern, even though these are youthful works compared to his more famous orchestral transcriptions. Every note becomes audible, it’s Schubert as nouvelle cuisine...

Ionarts-at-Large: Munich Chamber Orchestra Opens Season in the Hereafter


Munich, December 1st, National Theater:


Bel Canto with Buster Keaton

The review of the Bavarian State Opera's new "L’Elisir D’Amore" is forthcoming, and it will be glowing. What a terrifically entertaining show... you couldn't do better going to the movies, in terms of laughs, tears, and total diversion. When Rolando Villazon will take over as Nemorino in the next run of performances, he will have a hard time matching the sensitive, graceful, hilarious and melancholic, touching... in short: divine performance of Giuseppe Filianoti. Nino Machaidze was an Adina to match, Patrick Bannwart's stage and David Bösch's direction an instant hit. Great theater with music which, no offense, Donizetti, is precisely the way to treat this sort of repertoire.

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