1. BEST PERFORMANCE
Conductors can’t be pop heroes these days, when orchestras are supposedly lumbering into extinction. Nobody seems to have told Gustavo Dudamel, or the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, or the citizens of Venezuela, a substantial number of whom showed up last month to hear a crackling Beethoven’s Fifth. A few weeks later, Dudamel, the 26-year-old music-director designate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was back to make his New York Phil debut and prove that he could galvanize his elders as well.
2. BEST REGIME CHANGE
Alan Gilbert at the Philharmonic
We’ll already be getting tired of the next president before Alan Gilbert takes over the New York Philharmonic in 2009, but even now you can feel the future stirring. The 40-year-old grew up here, both his parents playing in the violin section. In recent years, he has regularly guest-conducted Mom and Dad’s colleagues, and each time the relationship audibly deepened. Last spring, he masterfully guided the orchestra through György Ligeti’s scary, gorgeous Violin Concerto. He’s back in March, not as guest but as boss-in-waiting.
3. BEST TIP OF THE HAT FROM ONE CULTURE CAPITAL TO ANOTHER
Berlin In Lights
In November, New York— led by Carnegie Hall—treated Berlin as a prodigal fatherland, importing Weimar songs, agitprop, beard-stroking avant-gardism, multiethnic electronica, and, of course, symphonies, courtesy of the ever-triumphant Berlin Philharmonic. Then there were exhibits, panels, screenings—a battery of programs that made one think with a chuckle: Where but in New York? Oh, right: Berlin.
4. BEST OPERA PERFORMANCES
Janácek’s opera offers abundant village misery, but Karita Mattila made a joyous evening of it by bringing to the title role her unerring ferocity and resignation. In this case, she shared the stage with the formidable sexagenarian soprano Anja Silja, who sang Jenufa’s stepmother. Silja, as famous for her marriages and miniskirts as for her outsize soprano, has found the perfect role for her second act. Together, the women gave off a steel mill’s worth of sparks.
5. BEST NEW TALENT
Nico Muhly at Zankel Hall
The music that Nico Muhly loves rings clearly through his style of nonchalant invention: English Renaissance choral music, sixties minimalism, lush electronica, and dense, bleak, intellectual pop. But he’s not mired in influence, and Muhly has the confidence to start a piece slowly and let it gradually achieve insanity.