The Year in Classical & Dance

10. New York City Ballet’s Opening-Night Gala Performances
Ballet had a year of grand landmark performances, like Julio Bocca’s final work with Alessandra Ferri in ABT’s Manon, and Christopher Wheeldon’s dark Klavier at City Ballet. So it’s surprising that two of the most heart-stopping pieces this year were not full-length works but excerpts performed at City Ballet’s winter gala. In Jorma Elo’s Slice to Sharp, an all-star sextet (featuring standout corps girl Ana Sophia Scheller) deftly navigated staccato steps through a bright Vivaldi score. And in Alexei Ratmansky’s ballet noir Middle Duet, Maria Kowroski (she of the never-ending legs) and Albert Evans were absolutely transfixing.

Gould at work, from Hereafter.Photo: Courtesy of Idéale Audience International

9. ‘Glenn Gould: Hereafter’
Amid the hundreds of opera productions out on DVD this year, there’s a fascinating new documentary by Bruno Monsaingeon: Hereafter, shown last month at Lincoln Center’s ten-film festival devoted to the late pianist Glenn Gould. It’s an ingenious concoction of archival material and mysticism—the film gives the illusion of being narrated by Gould himself, as his infallible fingers spin the strands of a Bach fugue into golden threads.

8. ‘L’elisir d’Amore’ at New York City Opera
While we were all waiting for the Met’s next golden age to get started, City Opera’s L’Elisir d’Amore was the year’s most enjoyable new show. Director Jonathan Miller doesn’t always hit the bull’s-eye, but he did here, relocating Donizetti’s warmhearted comedy to the American Midwest and turning Italian peasants into small-town Americans, circa 1958. It was all done with keen wit and a sense of the piece’s underlying sweetness, and the personable cast obviously relished the fun.

7. András Schiff’s Mozart-Birthday Concerts
Maybe the brightest candle on Wolfgang’s 250th-birthday cake was lit by Schiff. In six concerts at Carnegie and Alice Tully halls, he played a dozen piano concertos with his handpicked Cappella Andrea Barca chamber orchestra and topped that off with an all-Mozart solo recital at the Metropolitan Museum. Few musicians better understand how Mozart’s exquisitely balanced design and texture disguise the expressive undercurrent that drives the musical argument forward, and even fewer pianists have the mechanics and mind to make it all sound so magical.

ABT's Ethan StiefelPhoto: Rosalie O'Connor/Courtesy of American Ballet Theatre

6. City Center’s “Kings of the Dance”
The Three Tenors With Muscles idea behind “Kings of the Dance”—that is, put ABT’s Angel Corella and Ethan Stiefel, the Royal Ballet’s Johan Kobborg, and the Bolshoi’s Nikolay Tsiskaridze on one program—sounded iffy. But though there was plenty of kitsch, the dance on view was refreshing, charming, and a great reminder that the guys can be as compelling to watch as the girls. Our hometown boys outdid themselves, Stiefel in a new piece by Nils Christie and Corella as the twisted teacher in an Ionesco adaptation.

5. Audra McDonald
You could call Audra McDonald the prima donna of crossover, but that’s too facile. Her preferred area is popular musical culture, and her concert of Broadway songs at Carnegie Hall last April was choice. Most of her selections (“I Could Have Danced All Night,” from My Fair Lady) are identified with the names who introduced them, but McDonald made each one her property by applying her saucy wit, shining tone, and technical virtuosity.

4. Juan Diego Flórez
An amazing number of first-class tenors are receiving honors these days. The crown prince hereabouts, Flórez, was one good reason to see the Met’s patchy Don Pasquale last April and an even better one to catch the snazzy new Barber of Seville. The Peruvian tenor’s smallish voice and typically Latin nasal buzz restrict him to the lyrical bel canto repertory, but there he reigns supreme, for his elegance, precision, and charming stage presence.

3. Angela Gheorgiu in ‘La Traviata’
Until now, Gheorghiu had never captured audiences here as completely as she did in London, where she became a star in 1994 as Violetta in La Traviata. This year, she finally turned the trick at the Met, again as Violetta: The pathetic image of a fragile courtesan with a delicate cameo face was riveting, and her wine-colored voice commanded the score’s feverish coloratura and its lyrical heartbreak. Her lady of the camellias is a worthy successor to Garbo and Callas.

2. The Berlin Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall
Nearly a full year on, concertgoers are still harking back to the Berlin Phil’s four concerts at Carnegie last January. The maestro now in charge of that orchestral Mercedes is Sir Simon Rattle, beloved in England but a controversial figure in Berlin, where many still pine for Herbert von Karajan. Rattle has different priorities, argued persuasively: a commitment to new music, confrontational approaches to classics, and an outreach program that takes the orchestra into new communities. One constant is the BPO itself, a super-virtuoso instrument.

1. ‘Ainadamar’
No one writing music today crosses stylistic barriers with more lyrical bravado and sheer compositional nerve than Osvaldo Golijov. Last January and February, Lincoln Center celebrated the Argentine composer’s work, music that blends his Latin and Jewish musical roots into a hypnotic, seductively melodious, instrumentally scintillating brew. It bubbled up most memorably in the one-act opera Aindamar, a meditation on poet-playwright Federico García Lorca and the Spanish Civil War. The best news: Golijov is now at work on a full-length opera for the Met.

David HallbergPhoto: Courtesy of the American Ballet Theatre

Honorable Mentions
David Hallberg , at 23, was deservedly promoted to principal at American Ballet Theatre, exceeding expectations and showing versatility and incredible nuance in diverse roles. Former exile and Russian icon Mstislav Rostropovich, hand planted firmly on hip, conducted the amazing Maxim Vengerov and the Philharmonic through Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Daniel Barenboim played a pairing of Schoenberg and Beethoven in a concert with the Boston Symphony under James Levine—a tour de force featuring two tough scores by composers who never coddled the public. Steve Reich@70, the big birthday party organized by bam, Carnegie, and Lincoln Center plus the Whitney Museum of American Art. Theo Bleckmann and Fumio Yasuda’s CD of standards reinforced Bleckmann’s fast-rising reputation. Mike Patton (former front man of Faith No More) premiered a John Zorn piece at the Miller Theatre, an extremely unsettling vocal solo of earsplitting guttural screaming, vomit noises, and occasional spitting, getting excellent audience reaction, including covered ears, laughing, and one lady who kept saying, “Oh, my God, oh, my God.” Tiler Peck and Daniel Ulbricht—she’s in the corps, he’s a young soloist—sparkled in Peter Martins’s Friandises at New York City Ballet.

Industry Star: Ara Guzelimian
Yes, yes, Peter Gelb shows promise, but his new Met Opera is still incubating, whereas Ara Guzelimian’s vision has been a clear and present force in the classical-music world. As Carnegie Hall’s senior director and artistic adviser for eight years, Guzelimian was, in the words of one industry insider, “the power behind the throne.” Before he announced in August that he’s leaving to become dean of students at the Juilliard School, he was a driving force behind this year’s extraordinary Steve Reich celebration. He also kept Carnegie together through the premature deaths of a pair of beloved directors—Judith Aaron of cancer in 1998 (at age 56) and Robert Harth of a heart attack in 2004 (at 47)—and lots of turnover between the two. Even though he’s left Carnegie, Guzelimian will keep bringing his even-keeled, dignified, warm temperament and intellectualism to the stage there as host of the Making Music series, interviewing composers like John Adams and Pierre Boulez. He took the new job, he’s said, because he wants to turn his focus to artists who are, well, still trying to get to Carnegie Hall. It’s a coup for Juilliard—not least because just two weeks ago the institutions announced a new partnership. —Alicia Zuckerman

Still a Young Turk of the keyboard when he left the New York recital scene ten years ago, the Croatian pianist Ivo Pogorelich returned to the Metropolitan Museum as a full-fledged middle-aged eccentric with a bizarre stop-and-start take on late Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, served up with willful vulgarity and incoherent chatter. Once a provocatively divisive musical personality, Pogorelich has matured in all the wrong ways, delivering performances that seem like assaults on the music rather than valid interpretations. I wonder whether even the most devoted supporters of his early career would put up with his weirdness today.

The Year in Classical & Dance