End of Year 2014 'Best Of' Roundup

Osvaldo Golijov, Sir Andrew Davis, David Robertson, Donald Runnicles, Bramwell Tovey, Julian Wachner, Yefim Bronfman, Jeremy Denk, Stefan Jackiw, Jennifer Koh, Gil Shaham, Yo-Yo Ma, Alisa Weilerstein, Béla Fleck, Brooklyn Rider , VOCES8 , New York Polyphony


As the end of 2014 approaches, we honor all of our artists and their accomplishments and wish them a fulfilling year ahead. Opus 3 Artists has culled through the many "best of" lists and we're delighted to have found many of our artists celebrated. Whether it is Americana music, best classical compositions, greatest classical performances, or the best albums, our artists are lauded for their hard work and talent. Hats off to our Opus 3 Artists! 


NPR Best Of:

NPR Best Classical Albums

John Luther Adams - Become Ocean

This is the piece of classical music of 2014 that has crossed over to a mainstream audience, and rightly so. Put it on speakers and people will stop what they're doing to say, "What is this? I love it!" Written as a meditation on rising — and ultimately all-consuming — tides, Adams has created a work that is both an orchestral showpiece (written, actually, for three juxtaposed mini-orchestras) and a completely haunting inner journey. The Seattle Symphony should be hugely proud of having commissioned Become Ocean and their stellar performance under conductor Ludovic Morlot. — Anastasia Tsioulcas


John Adams - City Noir

Before all the controversy about the Met Opera performances of The Death of Klinghoffer, this John (Coolidge) Adams album highlighted a very different facet of his work. It pairs the orchestral City Noir (a cinematic, jazzy and cool homage to 1940s and '50s Los Angeles) and the fresh and exciting Saxophone Concerto featuring the outstanding Timothy McAllister. The performances by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, led by David Robertson, are invigorating and top-notch. — Anastasia Tsioulcas


NPR Top Ten Folk and Americana Albums:

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, 'Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn'

Though they'd worked together in other settings, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn had never recorded a straight-up duo project until this self-titled album. Because they're also a married couple, Fleck and Washburn know each other well, both as people and as masters of the banjo. That understanding allows for a depth of intimacy and exchange that would be hard to come by otherwise. In traditional and original songs alike, there are so many musical winks and nods sneaked into this charming, imaginative set that each subsequent listen reveals something new.


Rosanne Cash, 'The River & The Thread'

Rosanne Cash took an eight-year break between albums of original material, but the wait was worth it when The River & The Thread dropped. The introspective, retrospective song cycle traces the geographical, historical, cultural and familial heritages to which Cash finds her own life tied, even as she's labored to make her own way through the world.


New York Times Best Of: 

Best Classical Music Events of 2014

‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ After all the controversy, and the demonstrations from hundreds of protesters, audiences at the Metropolitan Opera were finally able to hear “The Death of Klinghoffer” rather than just hear about it. In the Met’s grimly realistic production, by Tom Morris, the composer John Adams’s opera, with a libretto by Alice Goodman, came across as a searing yet ruminative work that explores a horrific event and the seething tensions behind it. David Robertson conducted magnificently. The only wrong call by Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, was canceling the live in HD telecast as a gesture of compromise to the Anti-Defamation League. Still, he and the Met deserve credit for presenting the opera, which, is, tragically, all too timely.


Seattle Symphony, Carnegie Hall Over four years, the Spring for Music festival brought major and regional orchestras to Carnegie Hall for a weeklong series. The ensembles were chosen for the creativity of their proposed programs. Sadly, this was the final festival. The standout was the Seattle Symphony, thriving under its dynamic music director, Ludovic Morlot. The program offered John Luther Adams’s mesmerizing “Become Ocean,” a 40-minute work that evokes the sea; Varèse’s “Déserts”; and, another oceanic piece, Debussy’s “La Mer.” The performances were spectacular.


The Biggest Classical Music Stories of 2014

Speak Softly, Carry a Big Baton Award To Robert Spano, the music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, who publicly backed his musicians when they were locked out without pay this fall in a labor dispute with the management of the orchestra’s parent association, the Woodruff Arts Center. Music directors typically stay neutral in these situations. But Osmo Vanska, the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, broke tradition by signaling support for his players during the Minnesota lockout, and Mr. Spano went even further in Atlanta, warning the orchestra’s management not to damage the ensemble artistically. (Notably, the presidents of both locked-out orchestras wound up leaving their jobs.)


Upbeat Award To the Seattle Symphony, which brought John Luther Adams’s “Become Ocean,” which it commissioned, to Carnegie Hall just after it won a Pulitzer Prize, and then mixed things up with a viral video featuring Sir Mix-A-Lot performing “Baby Got Back.”


Youthful Mastery on Display in 2014

In July, for the second year, Carnegie Hall assembled the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America in rehearsals at the State University of New York at Purchase, this time conducted by David Robertson. The level of artistry achieved here in two short weeks at the start of a national tour was in some ways the most astonishing of all, since these players, 16 to 19, were not all aspiring musicians (conservatory students were not eligible) but in many cases merely young people who loved to make music.


New York Times Holiday Gift Guide:

New York Polyphony - 'Sing Thee Nowell'


WQXR: 10 Imagination-Grabbing, Trailblazing Artists of 2014:

Julian Wachner

Julian Wachner has been around the scene for a while, best known currently for being music director at Trinity Church on Wall Street - a job that entails leading the choir, playing the organ and conducting both the resident baroque orchestra and modern orchestra (NOVUS). This past year has seen him break into the international scene in a spectacular way, filling in last minute to conduct Handel's Partenope at the San Francisco Opera, leading concerts at Carnegie Hall and several new albums featuring his compositions. His music is unabashedly modern, but with a sensitivity and inventiveness that comes from his mastery of all ages of music. Have a listen to the first movement of his Symphony No. 1, released this year, to get a taste of this great composer you should be listening to more often!.


Brooklyn Rider

When my teenage years came to a close and fangirling about *NSYNC was no longer all that socially acceptable, Brooklyn Rider was there for me like the sophisticated badass boy band that they are, fedoras, facial hair, and all. Naturally, I waited in deep anticipation of "Almanac" this year, but nothing really prepared me for the fresh sounds that came skipping out of my speakers: namely, the dreamy beauty of Aoife O’Donovan’s Show Me, and the spot-on grooviness of Shara Worden on Colin Jacobsen’s Exit that yielded audible gasps from my kitchen as cake batter sat neglected when I had no choice but to dance along.


Classic FM - Best Albums of 2014:

Daniel Hope - Escape to Paradise

Remarkably, this is the third time in three years that Daniel Hope has featured in our top 5 albums of the year (actually, he's getting progressively worse - no. 1, no. 2 and now no. 5? Come on Hope, sort it out...), and this time it's a sassy set of Hollywood classics. the majority of this is delightful to listen to and Hope is clearly having a ball, but with John Williams' 'Schindler's List' he does remind us of what a powerfully emotional violinist he can be.


Alisa Weilerstein - Dvorak Cello Concerto

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein has thoroughly burst onto the scene for good - after a stunning Elgar release last year, she's back in 2014 with another heavyweight concerto. She brings much elegance and power to this Dvorak, suggesting that she's not intimidated by the 'biggies' - we can't wait to see what comes next.


VOCES8 - Eventide

A young, impeccably tailored vocal ensemble such as Voces8 might be seen as being almost too polished, but interesting releases like Eventide show that they're destined for great things. Spaciously recorded, sensitively performed and with some sublime repertoire (always nice to see Tallis performed alongside Whitacre), this is all the evidence you need - Voces8 are sticking around.


Minnesota Public Radio Holiday Gift Guide:

New York Polyphony - Sing Thee Nowell:

The warm, resonant tone of vocal quartet New York Polyphony shines on this recording of mesmerizing medieval chants and newer tunes in surprising and intriguing arrangements.


Handel & Haydn Society - Handel: Messiah

Another CD of the Messiah? Yes, and this one's very special: the almost-200-year-old Handel and Haydn Society brought Handel's masterwork to America, and have been performing it annually since 1854. This fresh recording captures the ensemble's familiarity with the piece, and illustrates its importance in Boston's cultural history.


The Sunday Times Best 100 Recordings of 2014:

Alisa Weilerstein - Dvorak Cello Concerto:

DVORAK Cello Concerto Alisa Weilerstein, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, cond Jiri Belohlavek (Decca)

With this impassioned reading of arguably the greatest cello concerto, the young American challenges the greats. 


The 2014 Violinist.com Holiday Gift Guide:


Jennifer Koh and Jaime Laredo
Two x Four

Violinist Jennifer Koh plays with her former teacher and mentor, Jaime Laredo, in a program that relates Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D minor (which we lovingly call the Bach Double) to three modern works by living composers David Ludwig, Anna Clyne and Philip Glass.


Gil Shaham
1930s Violin Concertos, Vol. 1

In about 2009, violinist Gil Shaham realized that most of his favorite violin concertos were written in the 1930s, that tumultuous decade between two World Wars. After performing these concertos live with orchestras around the globe over the last five years, he has set about recording them. In this two-CD set, Shaham performs concertos by Barber, Berg, Hartmann, Stravinsky and Britten, recorded with the New York Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden, Sejong, BBC Symphony and Boston Symphony.


Renaud Capuçon
Franck, Dvorak, Grieg: Sonatas for Violin and Piano

In a Romantic mood? Here is some exquisite music, all composed 1886-1887, exquisitely played by French violinist Renaud Capuçon and pianist Khatia Buniatishvili. Tracks include: the Franck Sonata, Grieg Sonata No. 3 and Dvorák "Romantic Pieces" Op. 75.


Textura Top 20 Albums of 2014:

Brooklyn Rider: The Brooklyn Rider Almanac
On its two previous albums, Brooklyn Rider coupled new compositions with material from the classical repertoire. The Brooklyn Rider Almanac boldly departs from that strategy by featuring specially commissioned work from a diverse array of composers. The result is an adventurous, seventy-eight-minute collection that draws upon figures who largely operate outside of the classical world, people such as Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, Deerhof member Greg Saunier, and jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, and the quartet attacks the material, which understandably extends into stylistic areas other than classical, with its customary vigour.


Maya Beiser: Uncovered
Anyone suspecting Maya Beiser might be slumming in releasing a collection of classic rock covers will most assuredly have that notion dispelled after listening to Uncovered, as the New York-based cellist brings the same level of conviction to the recording's ten performances as she would to something in the classical repertoire like John Tavener's The Protecting Veil. The set-list reveals Beiser to be a child of the ‘60s, someone who grew up as captivated by Hendrix and Joplin as Bartok and Stravinsky. To these ears, the high point arrives halfway through in a gorgeous version of King Crimson's “Epitaph,” which Beiser fashions into a majestic and powerfully moving set-piece that one guesses would make Robert Fripp proud.

Best of iTunes 2014 

Become Ocean - John Luther Adams & Ludovic Morlot and Seattle Symphony  

Uncovered - Maya Beiser  

Boston Globe

Jeremy Eichler’s 2014 classical music picks

Brahms’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor Stefan Jackiw (violin), Anna Polonsky (piano). Rockport Chamber Music Festival.


Chicago Sun Times

THE BEST OF 2014: Classical music and opera 

2014 was a year of much news in the local classical and opera worlds — the naming of a new president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, the announced departures of three of the CSO’s principal wind players and the return of the fourth, a new young program director at classical mainstay WFMT-FM (98.7), the collapse of the International Beethoven Festival after younger musicians revealed that they had not been paid, and the high level of music-making by names great and less known. Here are but 10 of the many events that stood out this year.

Heavier works at Lyric.
Lyric’s new production of Dvorak’s “Rusalka” with Ana Maria Martinez and Eric Owens (February-March) made clear that this opera is much more than just the source of “The Song of the Moon.” With music director Andrew Davis, a brilliant devotee of Czech music, in the pit, we had two hours-plus of rare heartbreak. Joyce DiDonato and Amanda Majeski shook the rafters and our psyches in Mozart’s “La clemenza di Tito” in March, and Sondra Radvanovsky and colleagues are doing the same right now in Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena.” Not to mention the powerful stagings and young casts of “Don Giovanni,” “Il Trovatore” and “Porgy and Bess.”


Inside and out with Grant Park
The Grant Park Music Festival had at least two historic evenings in an early week of its 80th season: the Blues Festival driving a mammoth “Romeo and Juliet” by Berlioz — orchestra, chorus, and soloists — inside and into the wholly appropriate Auditorium Theatre (in its own 125th year) and on-again off-again storms sending audiences under and out of cover as an outdoor program a few nights later started and stopped and started and stopped again. Young violinist Stefan Jackiw, whose opening-night concert last season was canceled altogether by the mayor due to a storm threat that never brought a storm, was able to squeeze in a spirited performance of Mozart’s “Turkish” Concerto before the last lightning bolts, but that was about it.


Guests in the house
The policy on CSO guest artists is in transition as music director Riccardo Muti lets his preferences be known and the orchestra’s parent awaits new administrative leadership. Three standouts included in February the continuing role of young Romanian and American conductor Cristian Macelaru, originally heard here a couple seasons back as a substitute for Pierre Boulez and, in May, British piano marvel Paul Lewis as May soloist in Beethoven’s Third Concerto (he’ll play the “Emperor” here next month) with venerable guest conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi. And last-minute sub (for an ailing Jaap van Zweden) Donald Runnicles led an astonishing Mahler Fifth — a piece one does not always expect anymore to be astonished by — in October. 

Boston Classical Review

The Top Ten Performances of 2014 

Bramwell Tovey and the Boston Symphony Orchestra: Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem
When heard live, Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem can be breathtaking, and this performance from October was certainly that. British conductor Bramwell Tovey led a resplendent reading that was aided by the fine singing of bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and soprano Rosemary Joshua. But the real heroes of this performance were the singers of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. (AK) 

Jeremy Denk: Mozart Piano Sonatas and Ligeti Études
Jeremy Denk, perhaps one of classical music’s biggest celebrities these days, returned to his roots with an intimate concert at the Gardner Museum in January. His playing mined a romantic sensibility and lyricism from Mozart’s Piano Sonatas No. 8 and No. 15. Denk displayed his brilliant technique in three of Ligeti’s Études: En Suspens, Galamb borong, and the hard-driving L’escalier du diable. (AK)

Honorable Mention   
Osvaldo Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos, a setting of the Passion according to St. Mark, was first heard in Boston and Tanglewood in 2001 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Robert Spano. This January concert brought Golijov’s work back to Symphony Hall, with Spano again leading a performance that blazed with fiery energy through its zesty Afro-Cuban and Brazilian rhythms, live-wire mambos, and the vernacular charm of Spanish flamenco melody. (AK)  

Best Answer to the Naysayers
Andris Nelsons, Yo-Yo Ma and the BSO: Esenvalds, Prokofiev, et al.  To those who predicted that the BSO would play nothing but Tchaikovsky, Wagner, and Sibelius during Nelsons’s tenure as music director, the Latvian maestro answered in November with a world premiere by Eriks Esenvalds, a whimsical oddity by John Harbison, a Rachmaninoff piece (The Bells) without a big melody, and a heffalump by Prokofiev, the long and difficult Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra.  Want new music?  Soloist Yo-Yo Ma’s printed score was so new it snapped shut on him in mid-performance.  (DW) 

Most Unexpected Pleasure
Christoph von Dohnányi, Yefim Bronfman and the BSO: Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2.  This least-played, least-esteemed of Beethoven’s five piano concertos proved to be Cinderella at the ball during the BSO’s excellent three-concert traversal in March of all five works, plus other Beethoven pieces.  The composer himself called it “not among the best of my compositions,” but he might have changed his tune if he could have heard conductor Dohnányi and pianist Bronfman perform it.  Dressed in its Sunday best and enlivened by exceptional wit, refinement and sentiment, this poor relation was a delight from start to finish. (DW)

Classical Sound Advice 

Top Five Classical CDs From 2014

Maya Beiser, cello
Label: Innova Recordings CD #900

Maya Beiser has been featured on NPR, The New Yorker Magazine described here as a “cello goddess” and the San Francisco Chronicle called her “the queen of contemporary cello.” She’s commissioned and performed many new classical compositions, she was a presenter at the TED conference, her TEDtalk performance has been viewed by close to a million people, and she has appeared at many prestigious concert halls with many great orchestras. So you’d expect her latest CD to be straight, unadulterated classical, right? 

Nothing could be further from the truth! “Uncovered” is laced with potent recreations of tunes by blues greats and rock groups. Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Janis Joplin, Howlin’ Wolf, King Crimson, Muddy Waters and AC/DC with the cello taking the lead? It works!