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Pianos, Sopranos, Pixels and Puppets

12.19.08
David Robertson, Jeremy Denk
The New York Times

IN his book "This Is Your Brain on Music," Daniel J. Levitin writes that "the thrills, chills and tears we experience from music are the result of having our expectations artfully manipulated by a skilled composer and the musicians who interpret that music."

With familiar repertory, expectations need to be not only manipulated but surpassed for the performance to graduate from the merely enjoyable to the profoundly affecting. A rendition of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations by the pianist Jeremy Denk at Symphony Space during its annual Wall to Wall event was entrancing from the first notes of the famous Aria, a magical experience that was one of the best solo performances this year.

As the centennial of Messiaen's birth, 2008 was prime time for fans of his kaleidoscopic music. Highlights of the bonanza included a blazing rendition of the 75-minute "Turangalila Symphony" at Carnegie Hall, with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra led by David Robertson. A performance of Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center - with Paul Watkins, cellist; Gilbert Kalish, pianist; Daniel Hope, violinist; and David Shifrin, clarinetist - was another spine-tingling standout.