Underwhelming Tenors and Dancing Orchestras: Anne Midgette's 2012 Music Survey

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Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette shares some of her musical favorites from the past year -- including a dancing orchestra (seriously, watch the video). And, she takes aim at some opera crossover artists who aren't living up to their own hype. 

Anne Midgette Answers Soundcheck's 2012 Music Survey:

1) Favorite Album -- Jeremy Denk, Ligeti/Beethoven

2) Favorite Song -- Derek Bermel/Alarm Will Sound, Canzonas Americanas, Michael Harrison, Time Loops

Hard category for classical music - I didn’t hear that much that was actually written in 2012. I’ll use the pop standard and talk about new works released on CDs this year. In the Post, I misattributed Derek Bermel’s Canzonas Americas to new amsterdam records; it was actually Cantaloupe. I liked that a lot, and I liked Michael Harrison’s Time Loops, also on Cantaloupe, so I’m making up for my neglect of Cantaloupe with two mentions today.

3) Favorite new band / newcomer -- Valentina Lisitsa

She’s been around for a while but 2012 saw her reach a whole new level. Royal Albert Hall recital was released within a month as a CD on Decca. Lots of hype but lots of talent (in the US she got more recognition as Hilary Hahn’s partner on the Charles Ives sonata CD released in 2011).

4) Biggest Musical Surprise -- University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra, "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" by Claude Debussy

My biggest musical surprise was the moment in May when the University of Maryland’s student orchestra came out in street clothes onto an empty stage and proceeded to dance their way through Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun, with movements they had worked out with MacArthur Foundation awardee Liz Lerman. You wouldn't think that an orchestra could sound so great while moving around the stage, and people commenting on the YouTube video of the event (which has gained some traction over the months since) said -- as I predicted they might in my review -- that it must have been staged to pre-recorded music. It wasn't.

5) Biggest Musical Disappointment - Vadim Repin at the Washington Performing Arts Society, Hillary Hahn and Haushka

The usually brilliant violinist Vadim Repin, whose appearance I was looking forward to, gave a completely underwhelming recital for the Washington Performing Arts Society (and, I gather, went on to do the same at Carnegie Hall). I was also really disappointed hearing Hilary Hahn and Haushka improvise live at the Birchmere, after I’d gotten caught up in the possibilities of their new recording; and I was disappointed by ACME’s performance at the Library of Congress, which I’d been anticipating eagerly.

6) Music Trend of 2012 -- Orchestras facing the music

Alas, orchestras having to face the music and pay the piper - so many 2012-13 seasons started by not starting at all, thanks to labor unrest and lockouts. This may be the year everyone really started facing the fact that the future of music is going to look different than music’s past -- and that it’s possible to say that without being critical of music!

7) Most Memorable Concert -- John Cage Festival in Washington, D.C.

Not one concert, but the week-long John Cage Festival in DC in September. It was one of DC’s strongest-ever contemporary music offerings (if you could call Cage “contemporary”) and it offered a wonderful compendium of Cage’s music performed by some major performers -- Margaret Leng Tan, Irvine Arditti, red fish blue fish, etc. It also helped establish Cage as a presence in the ears of listeners in a big way: a luxury to be able to hear that much music in a concentrated period by a recent master.

A parenthetical shout-out to the National Symphony Orchestra’s first performance of Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs - talk about a modern masterpiece.

But I have to add it was a great year in Washington, where I do most of my concert-going these days. I heard a lot of things this year that really made me smile, from the Takacs Quartet playing Britten’s first quartet to a fantastic concert by So Percussion. I thought I’d mention this since I’m often criticized for not liking anything.

8) Worst music (song or album) -- Opera crossover artists

The first things that come to mind are opera crossover artists like Nathan Pacheco, the latest pretty-boy (whose press release claimed he could go toe to toe with any great tenor of the past - don't know how his toes would do, but his voice sure doesn't match up), or Andrea Bocelli, who released a new Romeo and Juliet. Placido Domingo did a new duet album with a bunch of serious artists of various stripes that still teeters on caricature territory.