Great performances of 2011

Before we dive into 2012, let’s look back at memorable performances of the past year.

 You have your own list.   Here’s mine.

GOOD-BYE, CHRISTOPHER  Whatever RPO musicians might have felt about the retirement of their longest-serving music director Christopher Seaman, they played their hearts out in Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Brahms’ second symphony, and Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.   I’m not sure when exactly during the performance the concert became an event.  Was it when Rochester Oratorio Society members emerged, waving flags and singing?  Or when the huge Union Jack lowered from the ceiling?   Or when former RPO music director David Zinman pulled out an iPhone to videotape the spectacle from the balcony?   Conductor Laureate Seaman will return to lead the RPO and celebrate his 70th birthday with Rochester audiences on March 8th.

CELLO MAN  “It’s a big play,” said Steven Doane on the challenges of Benjamin Britten’s first Cello Suite, Op.72.   Doane’s instrument seemed to fuse with his body as he mesmerized a lunchtime audience with Britten’s acidic, modern masterpiece, performed from memory, during a “Live from Hochstein” broadcast in October.  Rarely have I seen a musician with such command.  Doane will record all of Britten’s music for solo cello over the next few years.

GUNNS, CABARET-STYLE   Baritone Nathan Gunn and pianist Julie Gunn offered cabaret music and intimate stories in a summer benefit concert at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York.  Here were two beautiful people, in a total marriage, singing of love.  Irresistible.

HAPPINESS IN THEATER IS NOT ENTIRELY A MATTER OF CHANCE  Two Rochester composers, Lindsey Warren Baker and Amanda Jacobs, re-imagine Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice as an elegant musical that’s more light opera, less Spiderman.  In September, they swept the awards at the 2011 New York Musical Theatre Festival in NYC, a springboard for new American shows.  Next stop: England?  This summer, maybe.

ITALIAN DELIGHT  Pianist Francesco Nicolosi and a Florentine chamber orchestra paired piano concertos by Paisiello and Mozart under the arched dome of a medieval Tuscan church.  Their June performance was deft, balanced, and perfectly charming.  

VOICES  William Weinert led Rochester’s vibrant professional chamber chorus through an incandescent, disciplined performance of motets at St. Michael’s Church in Rochester.   After the afternoon concert ended, a friend and I stayed for an evening mass in hopes of hearing Voices sing Brahms’ motet Schaffe in mir, Gott one more time.  We were not disappointed.  The ensemble will offer more Bach motets in 2012.

LIGHTS! CAMERA! ORCHESTRA?  During Rochester Fashion Week, models in furs and spandex paraded before a thousand onlookers while Arild Remmeriet led a poorly-amplified Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra through Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony.  The marriage of style and classical music in an airport hanger was a first for everyone involved, and it remains to be seen if the partnership will continue in 2012.  The annual fashion week is one of the fastest-growing charity events in Rochester; proceeds benefit at-risk youth.

THE BEST KEPT SECRET IN WEST VIRGINIA   The Laureate Wind Quintet, an ensemble of faculty woodwind players at West Virginia University, toured in November, offering virtuosic solos, fascinating commentary, and vital ensemble playing in high schools and community venues across Western New York.  Halfway through a November 29th chamber music concert, a friend leaned over to me and whispered, “Everyone who isn’t here right now is an idiot.”  That’s a little harsh.  But they were really good.

MAHLER’S “RESURRECTION”    In a bold move, new RPO music director Arild Remmereit programmed an earth-shattering symphony of huge proportions that included a full-bodied orchestra, a large chorus, two ethereal soloists, and a long, majestic climax.  The Norwegian newbie’s first season gamble paid off.  When word got out, people were turned away at the box office. I was privileged to sing in the chorus, and I know Rochester music lovers will be talking about Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony for years to come.

What were your most memorable live performances of 2011?