With over 1,500 concerts to choose from, it’s not easy to make a short list of performances that really stood out head and shoulders above the others — most of which were of very high quality themselves. So here’s a medium-short list: twenty-five outstanding performances I covered for ClevelandClassical.com with a few quotes from concert reports about each event. I’ll put them in chronological order. If you have a highlight to nominate that’s not on this list, please leave a comment below!
Chanticleer’s High School Choral Festival in Akron (October 7). In conjunction with the male chorus’ appearance on the Tuesday Musical Series, the singers coached six local choirs all day and joined them for an evening concert culminatng in a 250-voice massed choir. “This was an impressively organized day that must have made a lasting impression on all participants. It left us feeling quite happy about the future of choral music. It’s in good hands in the Akron area!”
Organist Olivier Latry (Notre-Dame, Paris) at Holy Trinity, Akron (October 9). “This was everything an organ concert should be – astonishing yet completely tasteful playing, great repertory and sometimes just plain fun”.
The Rose Ensemble at St. Stanislaus in ‘Il Poverello: the life and deeds of St. Francis of Assisi’ (October 11). “In an era accustomed to sensory overload, when stage productions are hard put to compete with the technological wizardry available to film makers, it’s refreshing to spend a couple of hours in a vivid world created simply through the interaction of words and music.”
Jennifer Koh on the Oberlin Artist Recital Series (October 29): “…as close to perfect violin playing as one is likely to hear. Jennifer Koh drew a capacity audience into the special world of solo violin music on Thursday evening with her gracious stage presence, gorgeous tone, flawless intonation, right on interpretations and virtuosity deployed only in service to the music. One left Finney Chapel knowing that this had not been an everyday experience”.
The Cleveland Orchestra with Alicia Weilerstein (November 20). “Alisa Weilerstein did heroic double duty last Friday evening at the second edition of the new ‘Fridays@7’ series. Many another cello diva would have packed up her instrument and headed home after appearing as soloist in the Dvorak concerto. But not Alisa. She seamlessly moved into the role of collaborator for the second half of the evening, joining Jamey Haddad and Friends in a 70 minute set of Brazilian, Jazz and Tango inspired music in the colorfully lit Grand Foyer”.
CityMusic Cleveland with Joel Smirnoff at Fairmount Church (December 9): “On a dark and windy night, with dire predictions of a major winter storm on its way (didn’t quite happen), what better refuge than a warm, brightly lit church and an free concert of some of Mozart’s most charming small orchestra music?…CityMusic Cleveland does a great service in bringing classical orchestral music to the community…audiences can look forward to an evening or an afternoon of predictably high quality music by young professionals”.
Alicia Weilerstein and Inon Barnatan on the Mixon Hall Master’s Series at CIM (January 26). “…Weilerstein and…Bartanan would make a killer mixed doubles team if they ever decide to collaborate with racquets rather than with musical instruments…the cellist and pianist read each other’s minds completely, anticipated every move the other was thinking of making, served up aces, engaged in stunning volleys at the net and no errors were called”.
St. Olaf Choir at Severance Hall (February 1). “Quite simply put, it’s one of the best choral ensembles we’ve heard in the United States. The Choir’s beautiful, clear tone, perfect diction, excellent intonation and fine blend held our interest all evening in a 2-hour program completely devoted to religious music, or at least music with spiritual messages.”
The Cleveland Orchestra with Pierre Boulez and Pierre-Laurent Aimard (February 4): “How does he do it? Pierre Boulez being the ‘he’, and ‘it’ being the simultaneous achievement of such clarity, transparency, substance, spaciousness and color in French orchestral music — and all with his bare hands?…Boulez did it again at Severance Hall on Saturday evening with a bit of help [in both Ravel concertos] from the three hands of Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the brilliance of The Cleveland Orchestra, whose propensity for playing chamber music in groups of a hundred or so is well known and really paid off on this occasion”.
Logan Skelton on the Tri-C Piano Series at First Baptist, Shaker Heights (February 7). “Sometimes brilliance of programming and execution come together and spark extraordinarily memorable concert experiences…Skelton established himself as a pianist of quietly expressed but formidable technique, always used at the service of thoughtful interpretation of the music at hand.”
Paul O’Dette on CWRU’s Chapel, Court & Countryside Series (February 13): “Within the relatively quiet sonic parameters of the lute, Paul O’Dette managed throughout the evening to create great drama and contrast through skillful handling of color and dynamics and produced an impressive variety of timbre through the subtlety of his voicing. His ability to create a singing line with destination, tension and release, is nothing short of amazing. It’s as though every note is carefully calculated to fall precisely into a musical plan. And all of this finesse comes from the hands of a big bear of a man who is just about as far from one’s idea of an early music scholar as can be imagined”.
Cleveland Orchestra—All Wagner program with Franz Welser-Möst (February 18): “full of nobility and excitement, rich in orchestral tone and color and yet so transparent that one could hear every level of detail. The Valkyries often have a wild ride through this piece; this performance was spacious and worthy of the warrior-maidens who are retrieving slain heroes from the battlefield. Need we add that the horns, trombones and tubas in particular were just about as fine as you’ll ever hear?”
Pomerium at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist (March 1). “After nearly four decades, the thirteen singers, led by their founder,Alexander Blachly, have accumulated years of ensemble experience but still manage to bring a fresh and newly-minted sound to the repertory of one of the most creative eras in music history”.
The Cleveland Orchestra/Zurich Opera’s ‘Così fan tutte’ at Severance Hall (March 8): “Opera is primarly about singing, and ‘Così’ offered marvelous pairings of vocal artists…but opera is also frequently about acting, and this was a superb ensemble in that regard as well…Franz Welser-Möst was once again in his element as an expert opera conductor, setting perfect tempos, making seamless transitions and pacing the music so skillfully that everything moved along but nothing was rushed”.
Apollo’s Fire’s Mozart Celebration with Sergei Babayan at Severance Hall (March 13). “Apollo’s Fire went all out on personnel for their season finale, fielding an orchestra of forty musicians…an eloquent and finely nuanced performance…Babayan’s playing was flawless — and apparently effortless — and his interaction with the ensemble was completely sensitive.”
Akron Symphony in Mahler’s 9th both at E.J. Thomas and Severance Hall under Benjamin Zander (March 20 & 21): In neither performance did the Akron Symphony hold anything back from Zander, who dug deeply into the score and demanded probably more sheer, resonant sound from the ensemble than it knew it had at its disposal. But that’s Zander’s philosophy of life — giving birth to possibility, and it certainly worked on any number of musical levels on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The hundred and some musicians played, as sportspeople say, “out of their minds”, producing a performance notable not only for the contributions of individual soloists but also for fine section teamwork and whole orchestra ensemble”.
Yefim Bronfman on the Mixon Hall Master’s Series at CIM (March 24): “…a consummate pianist who can unleash extraordinary power and technical fireworks one moment, then turn around and lavish tender and expressive care on a lovely miniature. And he can do everything in between those poles as well.”
Voces Intimae at Oberlin (March 25). “Pianist Riccardo Cecchetti, violinist Luigi de Filippi and cellist Sandro Meo are fine and versatile individual musicians who come together to produce masterful readings of music from the Viennese classical period on period instruments without indulging in the fussiness and sterility that sometimes characterizes early music ensembles”.
Baldwin-Wallace Bach Festival: ‘St. John Passion’ (April 17). “..one of the most energized and efficient versions of the work we’ve ever experienced…Dwight Oltman kept things moving along from beginning to end and shaped an admirably paced account of this dramatic work with the help of a highly trained chorus…fine recitativo singers…a well-matched group of aria soloists…excellent instrumental players…a responsive orchestra and a tireless continuo section.”
Cleveland Orchestra with Bernard Labadie (April 29 & May 1): “…Labadie pulled out his apparently magic wand at Severance Hall last weekend and cast a spell over members of the Cleveland Orchestra (Barocco!), transforming one of the Big Five into a first class baroque ensemble — one that played with razor-sharp ensemble and intonation, and with thoroughly ear-engaging timbres”.
Akron Baroque at First Congregational Church (May 18): “a well chosen and expertly performed selection of Baroque curiosities and a rare, professional performance of an old warhorse…Informed but not by shackled by historic performance practice, Akron Baroque produced an unfussy and thoroughly accessible concert of little heard but instantly attractive music”.
Baldwin-Wallace Art Song Festival: Lawrence Brownlee (May 20). “a really inspiring recital (one of the teamsingers near me exclaimed, “that’s it — I’m going right back to the practice room”). Not only did Lawrence Brownlee bowl everyone over with the high notes that you expect from an operatic tenor, he sang the whole range of this evening’s repertory with astonishing conviction and sensitivity”.
Opera Cleveland’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ (May 23). “This Lucia was so well conceived, coordinated and executed that I left the theater completely satisfied by what I saw and heard. Bravo, Opera Cleveland. You should franchise this production”.
Cleveland Orchestra—Bruckner 8 with Franz Welser-Möst (May 27): “In a work with dozens of possible climaxes, Mr. Welser-Möst masterfully structured the performance so that not all the big moments were equal, and as if to underline the subliminal unity of the work, observed a long moment of meditative silence between movements (no tuning!)…There are many ways to end an orchestral season; this was one of the best.”
The Cleveland Orchestra—Composers Connect (June 5): “In a season remarkable for the number of innovations the Cleveland Orchestra has introduced, its Composers Connect event on Saturday, June 5 was a standout. The brilliant decision to revisit four works by the Orchestra’s Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow Program in a free, evening-long festival complete with breaks for food, drink and an arresting musical interlude, packed the house with an enthusiastic crowd that lowered the usual Severance Hall audience demographic by a generation or two.”
See the other ‘Picks of the Season’ posts for nominations by our readers and staff writers.