Further Look Back at 2003 by Bruce Hodges.
Our editorís request
for a brief comment on the most memorable
performance of the year had me recalling many
others with great pleasure. So herewith is
a complete list of the experiences that stood
out, most of them for many reasons, including
keeping me awake for hours after they had
ended. (Some of them still do.) Aside from
the top two, they are in no particular order.
Links are provided where reviews exist.
Debus, conductor, Oper Frankfurt, Ensemble
Modern, Lincoln Center Festival, John Jay
Theatre, New York City.
This year, as far as contemporary operas go,
it would be hard to top Poul Rudersí The
Handmaidís Tale, but friends are still
talking about this and shaking their heads
in disbelief. Achim Freyerís utterly startling
staging made the most of a work that is pretty
startling to begin with.
Sandstrom: High MassPhilip
Brunelle, conductor, VocalEssence, World Voices,
Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A scorching, profoundly moving piece that
might be performed more often were it not
so difficult. Brunelle should be commended
not only for his breathtaking reading, but
also for identifying the piece as notable
in the first place.
Gergiev, conductor, Kirov Opera of the Mariinsky
Theatre, Lincoln Center Festival, Metropolitan
Opera House, New York City.
Gergiev unearthed an underrated masterpiece,
and with the help of the brilliant Semyon
Pastukh, gave it a riveting production.
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor, Los Angeles
Philharmonic, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los
Angeles, California. These
emotional performances made a divine beginning
to the orchestraís inaugural season in its
new home, and offered a breathtaking display
of the roomís incredible sonics.
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor, Los Angeles
Philharmonic, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los
With Thomas at his spellbinding best and the
Los Angeles orchestra in blazing form, these
concerts will be remembered as some of the
true blockbusters in a hall that must now
be considered one of the best in the world.
6. Karita Mattila,
soprano, with Martin Katz, piano.
Carnegie Hall, New York City. Fresh from
her vivid Jenufa at the Metropolitan
Opera, Mattila wowed us with Duparc, Dvorak,
Rachmaninoff and Sibelius (and that salmon-colored
dress) during an evening that seemed just
about perfect. Letís not forget her hilarious
encore, Golden Earrings (yes, Peggy
Jenufa. Vladimir Jurowski, conductor,
Metropolitan Opera, New York City. Despite
tons of gorgeous music, this work is still
off the radar for most listeners. Jurowski
led a masterful, hypnotic vision with two
contemporary stars, Karita Mattila and Deborah
Polaski, leading the charge. Never mind the
derisive comments on that boulder in Act II;
the fact is, Iím still thinking about it.
Nonken, piano, Miller Theatre, New York.
An oasis of shimmering meditation in a busy
fall season, Nonkenís delicate afternoon demanded
that we pause, in a world in which it is increasingly
hard to do so.
The Handmaid's Tale
Antony Walker, conductor, Minnesota Opera,
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, St.
Arguably the operatic event of the year, Poul
Rudersí brutal rendering of Atwoodís novel
was given a swift and chilling production.
Memorable singing and star turns by Elizabeth
Bishop and Joyce Castle only added to the
gamelan performance, Messiaen: Turangalila
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor, Philadelphia
Orchestra, Gamelan Semara Santi of Swarthmore
College, Carnegie Hall, New York City.
In one of the most intelligent bits of programming
of the year, Eschenbach prefaced a modern
masterpiece with a bracing display of Balinese
music, and the result ignited like a rocket.
And ten more, just because
it was that kind of year.
Sciarrino: Chamber Music
Joel Sachs, conductor, New Juilliard Ensemble,
Paul Hall, Lincoln Center Festival, New York
City. It might
win the award for "Quietest Concert of
the Year." A hushed coda to Oper Frankfurtís
astounding Macbeth, this beautifully
gauged and performed sampling only confirmed
that like many great composers, Sciarrino
perceives sound in a way like no one else.
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta,
Ligeti: Violin Concerto, Beethoven: Symphony
Simon Rattle, conductor, Berlin Philharmonic,
Tasmin Little, violin, Carnegie Hall, New
York City. In
his first appearances in New York with the
orchestra, Rattle updated two classics with
many magnificently played insights. The stunning
Ligeti, with its starring role for ocarinas,
also turned some of us into Tasmin Little
Pelleas et Melisande (in concert).
Bernard Haitink, conductor, Boston Symphony
Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, New York City.
Haitink has some kind of supernatural rapport
with Debussy, and with an all-star cast that
included Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Simon Keenlyside,
Gerald Finley, Nathalie Stutzmann, John Tomlinson
and Alfred Walker, the sold-out evening was
James Conlon, conductor, Minnesota Orchestra,
Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Any night this work is on the menu is an event,
and Conlon only raised the stakes by making
it his Minnesota Orchestra debut. The thrilling
result aside, you have to hand it to him:
heís got nerve.
The Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden
Valery Gergiev, conductor, The Kirov Opera,
Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center Festival,
New York City.
Another rarity unearthed by Gergiev and given
an incandescent production. No sleight to
favorites like say, La Traviata, but
would there really be any harm in seeing this
oh, once every fifty years?
and Nono: Choral works
Leon Botstein, conductor, American Symphony
Orchestra, Concert Chorale of New York, Avery
Fisher Hall, New York City.
Forbidding names to some, these two composers
were easy to like in this lucid, compelling
afternoon, made more so with Botsteinís scholarly
but unpretentious presentation.
Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn, Stravinsky:
Symphony of Psalms, Augusta Read Thomas: Chanting
to Paradise, Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 ("Reformation").
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor, The Philadelphia
Orchestra, The Philadelphia Singers Chorale,
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia.
In an outstandingly played, not to mention
generous concert, Thomasí marvelous new piece
held its own among veterans, and the line-up
only confirmed Eschenbachís superlative programming
De Profundis, North American Ballads.
Lisa Moore, piano, Joeís Pub, New York City.
The intimate club atmosphere proved to be
the perfect venue for an equally intimate
evening, with Moore turning gender expectations
on edge with her astonishing rendition of
De Profundis. For those who couldnít
be there, fortunately she also released her
equally memorable recording.
Songs from Jewish Folk Poetry, Symphony No.7
Valery Gergiev, conductor, Kirov Orchestra,
Carnegie Hall, New York City.
In the highlight of the Kirovís fall set here,
the energy of Gergiev and this terrific group
pretty much blew everyone out of the hall.
Not an unpleasant sensation, mind you.
look back at 2003 by Peter Woolf
Peter Woolf is a former
editor of Seen & Heard and
currently edits Musical Pointers.
Here he offers a typically esoteric look back
at some of the concerts, festivals and operas
which were reviewed less widely during 2003.
was launched in 2002, and features musicians,
events and recordings which are less likely
to be covered by the leading paper publications.
In part, its aim is to point to the future
with an emphasis on younger performers, student
productions and recording companies, with
a bias towards contemporary music and the
exciting contemporary developments in early
music. Its emphasis is less on established
concert venues and admirably meets its founderís
mission statement of looking at developments
in classical music that are invariably overlooked
Editor, Seen & Heard
Avoiding, all too easily,
this year's offerings at the mainstream venues
and chief opera houses, which were well covered
elsewhere, my most memorable live events in
2003 cluster around unusual opera and near-opera
productions (students regularly outshining
their elders), early music and a few special
20th Century programmes. Of the latter, I
choose three enterprising piano events which
deserved far larger audiences; Ian Pace's
marathon recitals (premieres of Rihm's
to launch the London Jazz Festival.
There were several wide-ranging and rewarding
festivals in London, with fascinating juxtapositions
A good opera season at Holland Park reminded
us that London's own "country house opera"
compares well with more fashionable others;
Opera Holland Park's
was a really great production which demands
revival and filming for DVD. Revivals of the
Beggar's Opera) were triumphant at Wilton's
Music Hall, as too was Cavalli's
by venetianOpera - Wilton's is an operatic
venue which should not be passed over. Handel
oratorios gained new leases of theatrical
life at Oxford (WNO's
and, most notably of all, at the Guildhall
School of Music and Drama (a great, innovative
showed how students at a Swiss opera school
could bring new life to a very British favourite.
Early music is in the ascendant with too many
choices to cover; of many delights at
Wigmore Hall I single out the Hugo
a surprise recital, and for early music novelties
Tverskaya with Sonnerie.
is an annual must, and Trinity College of
Music's expansion, move to Greenwich and linkage
with Blackheath Halls and Laban
to make South East London a formidable
destination, easily reached from the centre
of the capital. At Blackheath Halls
some perfectly conceived and achieved concerts
were given by Endymion
to name but a few, and their Prokofiev's
complete chamber music
weekend was an important contribution to his
2003 anniversary year. I hope that clicking
on the links to some of them may prove
interesting in itself, and point readers the
way to encourage exploration further afield
in search of the riches of live music (most
of the reviews have also links to CDs too).
"Music is the best school for life and at
the same time a means of escape from the world"
(Parallels & Paradoxes, Barenboim
& Said). Good listening and reading, and
serendipitous discoveries during 2004.
Emeritus editor, Seen
& Heard and Founder/Editor of