Sunday, December 31, 2006

Looking back: Classical music

By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer, December 31, 2006

Music lovers enjoyed an array of great performances in 2006, ranging from early music to Peter Frampton. Programs around the world highlighted the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth and Shostakovich's centennial, and Cincinnati was no exception.

In the news, string quartets became endangered. First, the 60-year-old Oxford String Quartet at Miami University lost a violinist and the school refused to refill the position. (The trailblazing quartet is still hanging on with guest musicians filling in.) And at Northern Kentucky University, the Azmari Quartet had a moment of panic when the school announced it was abandoning the resident post. Supporters rallied to fund the region's only surviving quartet in residence.

In February, we learned that, although Cincinnati was once a jazz mecca where the nation's greats played, that legacy is endangered today.

And this fall, the 112-year-old Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra updated its old-world image with some high-tech additions, including its first-ever DVD of a live performance (Paavo Järvi's inaugural concert as music director). The orchestra introduced a new principal timpanist for the first time in 39 years, Patrick Schleker. And Elizabeth Freimuth began her first season as principal horn.

Expect more new faces. Tonight, after 41 years, cellist Carlos Zavala is retiring after his final New Year's Eve concert.

Here are 10 of the year's most memorable performances:

Pulling out the stops - In January, fans of organ music who were lucky enough to get in the door of Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church were treated to a dazzling display from French organist Olivier Latry. The master, whose regular gig is at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, called upon a full orchestral palette, in a mesmerizing, inventive and majestic journey that seemed to use every color of the organ's spectrum.

La Renée in Dayton - Opera star Renée Fleming brought her glamorous image and spectacular artistry to the Dayton Philharmonic in February, conquering the crowd with Richard Strauss' "Four Last Songs" and some obscure, somber Italian opera arias. She charmed most though when she brought out chestnuts like "O mio babbino caro."

Mahler in March - Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection," in March was one of the most electrifying readings by Järvi in his five-year tenure, a journey that was at once fiercely intense and wonderfully relaxed. The CSO shared the stage with the May Festival Chorus, Finnish mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi and soprano Latonia Moore. The sprawling work had not been performed at the symphony since 1980.

Finding joy in laments - Catacoustic Consort released a debut album of 17th-century laments, a magical discovery of intimately scored music singing of loss and love. As in her local concerts, Annalisa Pappano, a Glendale-based master of ancient instruments such as the viola da gamba, assembled a group of acclaimed early music specialists.

Mozart in May - It wasn't just the vocal fireworks of soprano Mary Dunleavy or the Hollywood glamour of actor Michael York. Cincinnati May Festival's three-hour concert staging of Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio" was a thrilling evening of great operatic singing that ended in a roaring, 10-minute ovation. James Conlon presided over the singspiel using a new script that he commissioned.

Frampton plays alive - Peter Frampton's Cincinnati Pops debut in June was a Frampton lovefest for the thousands of fans at Riverbend, who clapped, danced and sang along with '70s hits from the best-selling live album of all time, "Frampton Comes Alive!"

Chamber opera - Mozart's opera, "Cosi fan tutte" was given a hilarious new interpretation by the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra in Patricia Corbett Theater. Staged by Robert Neu and conducted by Mischa Santora, the production starred a young cast of fresh-voiced singers, all students or graduates of the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music.

High notes - At Cincinnati Opera, Evans Mirageas' first season as artistic director turned out to be a triumph. It culminated in Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann," an evening of feasts for the eyes, imaginative staging and the spectacular company debuts of Vinson Cole as Hoffmann and Sarah Coburn as Olympia the doll.

Sweet clarinet - The Linton Music Series opened its 28th season of "music making among friends" in October with an old friend - clarinetist Anthony McGill, former associate principal clarinetist of the Cincinnati Symphony - and a new partnership with the Azmari String Quartet. Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, one of the gems of the clarinet literature, was the afternoon's highlight.

Epic symphony - Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony delivered a searing reading of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7, "Leningrad," in November, for the centennial of Shostakovich's birth. The sheer power of this shattering music in Music Hall's spacious acoustic was an aural experience unlike any other, I would venture, in the country.

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