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Brooklyn Rider, Colin Currie, Storm Large, Yo-Yo Ma, Lisette Oropesa, Conrad Tao, Daniil Trifonov, Emmanuel Villaume, Andrew von Oeyen & Alisa Weilerstein

Best of 2018

As 2019 begins, 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 from 2018 and we’re delighted to have found many of our artists celebrated. Whether it is 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!

New York Times Best of:
Best Surprises

DANIIL TRIFONOV
I expected beautiful Chopin from this young Russian pianist, a brilliant virtuoso with poetic sensibilities, in two programs early this year that were part of his Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall. But I was impressed by his formidable playing of nine daunting 20th-century works in the ambitious concert with which he ended his series. Called “Decades,” the program offered Mr. Trifonov’s personal survey of the century, with works by Berg, Prokofiev, Bartok, Copland, Messiaen, Ligeti, Stockhausen and more. We are used to watching him play challenging concertos and études effortlessly. But on this night, Mr. Trifonov let us see him sweat.

Jaap van Zweden feat. CONRAD TAO
When the New York Philharmonic chose Mr. van Zweden as its music director, the orchestra went for a maestro known for powerful accounts of repertory staples. His commitment to contemporary music seemed less certain. As if in defiant reply, he opened each of his first three Philharmonic programs this fall with the premiere of a commissioned work.

Mr. van Zweden began with a boldly unconventional piece by a young American: Ashley’s Fure’s dark, strange, exploratory “Filament” for orchestra, three instrumental soloists and a chorus that moves around the space. For almost 15 minutes, David Geffen Hall was turned into a haunting aural environment through Ms. Fure’s mystical, atmospheric music, by turns dreamy and dangerous. The following week, Mr. van Zweden led Conrad Tao’s “Everything Must Go,” written as a curtain-raiser for Bruckner’s sprawling Eighth Symphony. Combining seriousness and youthful abandon, Mr. Tao grappled with Bruckner’s symphony in his restless piece. A Dutch modernist master, Louis Andriessen, provided the third premiere, “Agamemnon,” a teeming, raucous, strangely alluring 20-minute score.

In another encouraging sign, Mr. van Zweden introduced and hosted two contemporary music initiatives, presenting Mr. Tao in an eclectic “Nightcap” program at the Kaplan Penthouse, and Mr. Andriessen in a substantive “Sound On” concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center. What’s still open to question, actually, is Mr. van Zweden’s approach to the staples that are supposedly his specialties. My reactions have been mixed, at best, to his accounts of that Bruckner symphony and other works including Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and Debussy’s “La Mer.”

Best Performances
YO-YO MA
Few pleasures could equal the spectacle of this masterly musician playing all six of Bach’s suites for solo cello in a space where the composer worked, St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig, Germany. Given on a September evening with honesty, straightforwardness and lack of exaggeration, the music was milked for neither laughter nor tears, with a tone like wire coated in silk. Mr. Ma’s final three suites, in particular, radiated visionary focus and fervor.

Best Pianists
DANIIL TRIFONOV
The 21-year-old Daniil Trifonov arrived at Lincoln Center in 2012 with a dazzling yet nuanced account of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. Igor Levit, shortly after his 27th birthday in 2014, fearlessly played Beethoven’s late piano sonatas at the Park Avenue Armory with maturity beyond his years.

In those New York debuts, Mr. Trifonov and Mr. Levit already showed the makings of greatness. But they truly blossomed this year with performances – onstage and in the recording studio – that surpassed their past achievements and brought their artistry to thrilling heights.

Mr. Trifonov concluded his Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall in May with “Decades,” a survey of 20th-century piano music and a departure from the Romantic repertory that made him famous. I won’t forget Stockhausen’s “Klavierstück IX”: Mr. Trifonov hunched over, sweat dripping from his long hair, hands hesitating ever so slightly before landing, confidently, on the keyboard with a mighty chord. It was the first time I’d ever seen him struggle, and the moment I realized he was capable of much more than showy war horse concertos.

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WQXR Best ofs


Best Classical Albums
LAWRENCE FOSTER, Kevin Short, Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille  – Mephistopheles & Other Bad Guys
Bass-baritone Kevin Short unleashes opera’s most nefarious antagonists (Faust’s Mephistopheles chief among them) on this cleverly-conceived album, sowing menace with his gruff, full-throated tone.

MARIN ALSOP, BALTIMORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA – Sergey Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet, Complete Ballet
Clocking in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, Prokofiev’s epic ballet can be difficult to swallow in one sitting. Not so with this eminently accessible rendition by Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which suffuses the music’s hyperactive rhythms and brazen posturing with effervescence and levity.

MARISS JANSONS, BAVARIAN RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA – Schubert: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944, “The Great”
Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra expertly corral the meandering themes and gargantuan climaxes of Schubert’s longest and final symphonic work in this refreshingly cogent and intimate live recording.

YO-YO MA – Six Evolutions: Bach Cello Suites
Ma’s third recording of Bach’s monumental Cello Suites is defined by the grace, simplicity and wisdom associated with the best of the autumn years. His tone retains every bit of its patented richness, but his playing, especially in its sense of rhythm and rubato, is freer, shaded with new subtleties, subtexts and revelations.

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Chicago Tribune Best ofs

Best Recordings
YO-YO MA – Six Evolutions: Bach Cello Suites
The singular cellist takes on a landmark of the solo repertory for his third and what he asserts in the liner notes “will be my last recording of the suites.” That remains to be seen, but, regardless, the tonal depth, intellectual clarity and emotional directness of this version radiate from every track. Music scholar Nicolas Slonimsky called Bach the “supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music.” In this recording we hear those laws articulated – passionately, by Ma.

Best Jazz Concerts
AMIR ELSAFFAR AND THE RIVERS OF SOUND ORCHESTRA
Musical languages intertwined when former Chicago trumpeter and bandleader ElSaffar led his Rivers of Sound Orchestra in its Orchestra Hall debut. For more than a decade, EdSaffar has been studying the music of his Iraqi heritage and imbuing it with jazz syntax. But elements of blues, classical and other idioms also emerged in this concert, as Western and non-Western sounds embraced one another. Yet for all the far-flung instruments on stage, the music proved as texturally transparent as it was harmonically complex, as intricately conceived as it was freely improvised.

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The New Yorker Best ofs

Notable Performances
DANIIL TRIFONOV at Carnegie Hall
Having made his name in thunderous Russian repertory, the wizardly Trifonov is now expanding his horizons. In a recital at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he darted decade by decade through the twentieth century, exploring such unaccustomed fare as Copland’s Piano Variations, Stockhausen’s Klavierstück IX, and Ligeti’s “Musica Ricercata.” I was most struck by his diaphanous, ecstatic rendition of Messiaen’s “Le Baiser de l’Enfant-Jésus”—playing of unreal beauty.

Notable Recordings
YO-YO MA – Six Evolutions: Bach Cello Suites

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The Times Best ofs

Best Albums
DANIIL TRIFONOV, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Philadelphia Orchestra – Rachmaninov
Rachmaninov’s most popular concerto, coupled with his least appreciated, gets Horowitz-like brilliance and weight from the young Klaviertiger, in a dazzling collaboration with the French-Canadian conductor’s “Fabulous Philadelphians”.

ISABELLE FAUST – Schubert
Schubert’s masterly Octet in F, D803 – modelled on Beethoven’s early Septet and in fact surpassing it – gets fresh insights from the creme de la creme of chamber musicians, led by Faust.

ALISA WEILERSTEIN, Trondheim Soloists – Transfigured Night
If Schoenberg’s classic Verklärte Nacht doesn’t make the listener swoon, the piece lies dead. In an exceptional reading, the American cellist Alisa Weilerstein and the youthful Trondheim Soloists, gutsy and passionate, ride its late romantic waves, tracing the path of Richard Dehmel’s fruity poem about two lovers, a moonstruck forest, and the baby in the woman’s womb. Two sprightly Haydn cello concertos complete the album, a triumph of vivacity and ensemble playing.

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NPR Best ofs

Best Songs
ANTHONY ROTH COSTANZO – “Liquid Days”
Costanzo is a stellar countertenor — that’s a male singer who sings in falsetto to achieve the range of a female alto — and this is a stellar piece of music, juxtaposing Philip Glass’ signature celestial ostinatos with David Byrne’s temporally focused text (“Love needs a bath / Love could use a shave”), which Costanzo delivers with elegance and sweetness, but with a plainspoken, steely core that is enormously appealing. The video is a thing of beauty, too: It’s a gorgeous sequence with dancer Ron “Myles Yachts” Myles, shot under a highway overpass, that speaks to the strange, singular beauty of heaven meeting earth.

Magos Herrera & BROOKLYN RIDER – “Volver A Los 17”
You don’t need to be a Spanish speaker to feel the tension and release that haunts this performance of a 1960s classic from Chile. Magos Herrera, the smoky-voiced jazz singer from Mexico, practically whispers the verses, their poetic images swirling around the idea of returning to your 17-year-old self, whose feelings trumped reason and for whom every moment was electric with possibility. In the contrasting refrain, set to the buoyant Chilean dance beat called the cueca, Herrera’s voice lightens to a wry smile as she sings of ideas entangling like ivy growing up a wall. She gets way under the skin of the song, recalling great communicators like Edith Piaf or Billie Holiday. And she’s backed by Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet of boundless imagination that has honed its world-music chops playing in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. Strings pulse like anxious heartbeats and slither between and around Herrera’s vocals. This is an intimate song to share intimately.

Best Albums AND Best Classical Albums

Magos Herrera & BROOKLYN RIDER – Dreamers
True artists take risks. While it may sound incongruous to pair a Mexican jazz singer with a classical string quartet, the gamble paid off spectacularly in Dreamers, featuring Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider. One is tempted to think of Herrera as the star of the album, but that wouldn’t tell the whole story. While her smoky, beguiling voice has never sounded more expressive and grand, Herrera’s fellow musicians are no mere “backup band.” Brooklyn Rider, along with percussionists Mathias Kunzli and Gonzalo Grau, are as much in dialogue with the singer as they are offering evocative moods and textures in an album steeped in Latin American culture.

The album’s title alone connotes its socially conscious threads. “Niña,” with a text by Mexican poet and diplomat Octavio Paz, captures the unexpected power of children, while the fevered love song “Tu y Yo,” is set to words by the pioneering Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. Other songs flash back to the nueva cancíon movement in Latin America in the 1960s when songwriters paired socially poignant lyrics with folk-infused melodies. The best of these is the haunting “Volver a Los 17,” which argues for feelings over reason, and weaves the Chilean cueca dance into its lilting refrain. Herrera, who is a spokesperson for the United Nations campaign Unite to End Violence Against Women, has given us a vocally resplendent album, one for the head and the heart.

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CBC Music Best ofs

Favourite Canadian Recordings
BLAKE POULIOT, Hsin-I Huang – Ravel – Debussy: Sonates
Let’s take a quick look back at Blake Pouliot’s 2018: he won the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s 2018 Career Development Award ($20,000), he won the Canada Council’s Virginia Parker Prize ($25,000), and he won a three-year loan of a 1729 Guarneri del Gesù violin (priceless). Oh, and he released this debut recording.

The 24-year-old violinist, who isn’t afraid of sequins or ascots, lets his personality shine brightly through these French works. We can’t get enough of his colourful slides and articulations in Ravel’s Tzigane, or the intensity he brings to the Debussy. If this year is a sign of things to come for Pouliot, then we know whom to watch for in 2019.

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Gramophone Best ofs

Recordings of the Year
PATRICK SUMMERS, Joyce DiDonato, Dallas Opera Orchestra – Heggie “Great Scott”
Perceptions of Jake Heggie’s music was the subject of Edward Seckerson’s inaugural column for us last year, here’s a chance – which he urges you tot ake – to experience it for yourself.

DAVID ROBERTSON, Kirill Gerstein, St Louis Symphony Orchestra – “The Gershwin Moment”
Kirill Gerstein’s famed virtuosity meets his jazz background to produce a thrilling, hugely enjoyable and well thought-out celebration of Gershwin’s music.

ISABELLE FAUST, Kristian Bezuidenhout – JS BACH Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord
Isabelle FAust and Kristian Bezuidenhout’s experience in performing these works together pays dividends once in front of the mics on this wonderful set.

EDGAR MOREAU, David Kadouch – Franck, Poulenc – Cello Sonatas
Well-known favourites and less familiar works are given equally excellent advocacy by the ever-impressive young French cellist Edgar Moreau and pianist David Kadouch.

MARISS JANSONS, BAVARIAN RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, Tatiana Pavlovskaya, Oleg Dolgov, Alexey Markov – Rachmaninov
This superlative performance of Rachmaninov’s choral symphony The Bells is one of thos estratospherically accomplished, ‘cosmis’ ones that Jansons says he is always trying to attain…

COLIN CURRIE GROUP, Synergy Vocals – Reich – Drumming
One of minimalisms’s most significant – and most epic – works is given a mesmeric performance by Colin Currie and colleagues, who beautifully handle its rhythmic patterns and phasing.

DAVID ROBERTSON, Leila Josefowicz, St Louis Symphony Orchestra – Adams Violin Concerto
Leila Josefowicz returns to the Adams concerto on record 16 years since her last version, and triumphs, bringing to it thrilling drama, individuality and insight.

YO-YO MA – Six Evolutions: Bach Cello Suites
The acclaimed virtuoso’s third traversal on record through Bach’s profound Solo Cello Suites is one rich in character and sensitivity; personal and keeping reflective music-making.

ALISA WEILERSTEIN, TRODNHEIM SOLOISTS – Haydn Cello Sonatas/Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht
The inspired Alisa Weilerstein pull off an unusual and illuminating parting-but then as someone who has paired Elgar and Carter concertos, what do you expect?”

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OperaWire Best ofs

11 Singers Who Had A Year To Remember
11. CHRISTIAN VAN HORN
The American Bass-Baritone won the Richard Tucker Award and headlined the annual gala, which was seen worldwide on Medici. He opened the second annual Opera Philadelphia Festival in a highly acclaimed new production of “Lucia Di Lammermoor” and also opened a new production of “Faust” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He concluded the year with a return to the Metropolitan Opera in “La Bohème” and also took on his first title role with the company in “Mefistofele.”

1. LISETTE OROPESA
The Cuban-American soprano has had a solid career to this point, but 2018 seemed to propel her to that next level of stardom.

On stage, Oropesa led some of the most acclaimed productions of the year, kicking things off with a return to the Metropolitan Opera in “Hansel and Gretel.” She then returned to the Bayerische Staatsoper and opened a new production of “Orfeo ed Euridice” at the LA Opera to enormous success.

But her major breakout came in the summer in a new production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Teatro Real. The production was streamed worldwide to thousands of audiences and it featured the soprano’s first encore in any production.

Soon after that, she made her Pesaro debut in the title role of the rarely performed Rossini work “Adina.” Her successful summer came to an end at the Arena di Verona where she was featured in a Verdi Gala. Oropesa’s banner year continued as she was called to open the new production of “Les Huguenots” at the Opéra de Paris at the last minute. This production scored her rave reviews and was also featured in cinema.

Soon after her success in the production she was called to make her Teatro alla Scala debut, where she will open a new production of “I Masnadieri” next year. Her year concluded with her role debut as Adina in “L’Elisir d’Amore” and opening the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in a new production of “Rigoletto.” Oropesa also released her second solo album “Aux filles du désert.” And it is for all of these reasons that she landed on our top spot this year.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer Best Ofs

A remarkable year for classical music in Cleveland: 2018 Year in Review
YO-YO MA
Not every solo artist has the power to pack Blossom Music Center for a night of Bach. That, though, is exactly what legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma did last summer. For well over two solid hours last August, Ma held an enormous audience spellbound as he journeyed afresh through the rich realms that are Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello.

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Boston Globe Best Ofs

Zoë Madonna’s best classical albums of 2018
BROOKLYN RIDER & MAGOS HERERRA: DREAMERS
To be a dreamer is now political. A Mexican jazz singer teams up with an American classical string quartet for an album that knows neither walls nor borders. Herrera’s smoky single-malt voice wends its way through the words of poets including Octavio Paz, Federico García Lorca, and Violeta Parra; on the wordless “Milonga Gris,” she vocalizes with the electric verve of a tenor saxophone.

COLIN CURRIE GROUP: DRUMMING
Handpicked by adventurous Scottish percussionist Colin Currie, the Steve Reich-specializing percussion ensemble presents an ecstatic rendition of Reich’s minimalist monument on its first album. With gleaming, clear overtones and smart dynamic shifts, this recording absolutely transports.

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Houston Chronicle Best Ofs

Houston’s best classical music performances in 2018
INON BARNATAN, Houston Symphony
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had good reason to cram as much keyboard brilliance as possible into his Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major (K. 482). Aged 29 and essentially composing for hire — this was around 1785 — he found promoting his own concerts all the incentive he needed to create dazzling music. The Israeli-born Barnatan might know how he feels. During “A Mozart and Brahms Thanksgiving,” the 39-year-old pianist tackled the concerto’s first movement with such friskiness his interplay with the orchestra verged on telepathic. In the second, he unfolded one of Mozart’s most exquisite melodies into a series of equally delectable variations before it was time to cut loose. The galloping third movement boiled down to a footrace between soloist and ensemble; Barnatan won by rocking his body to and fro so hard Jerry Lee Lewis would have been impressed. His encore, an immaculate rendition of Johann S. Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” gave the audience one final reason to offer thanks.

STORM LARGE, Houston Symphony
Honorable Mention: As “Anna,” the Pink Martini singer’s sardonic facial expressions told half the story of “Seven Deadly Sins,” Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s satirical “sung ballet” about a sensible woman and her hedonistic alter ego adrift in 1930s America. Her husky vocals did the rest; props to barbershop-ish male quartet Hudson Shad as Anna’s tsk-tsking family, too.

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TheaterJones Best ofs

10 Favorite performances of 2018
EMANUEL VILLAUME, The Dallas Opera
TDO’s Carmen was simply magnificent but once again hampered by the set crowding the action. However, it featured two very different but equally wonderful conductors. One was Emanuel Villaume and substituting for him was Pierre Vallet, who will hopefully return in the future. The highlight of this Carmen was Stéphanie d’Oustrac, who simply owns the role and the first performance of Don Jose by tenor Stephen Costello. Bravi to both.

EMMANUEL VILLAUME, The Metropolitan Opera
New York’s Metropolitan Opera mounted Bizet’s Pearl Fishers with a masterful Emmanuel Villaume in the pit working against a cramped vaguely Asian cityscape dominated by a roadside-style billboard with a woman’s face advertising nothing discernable. Villaume also conducted a dynamite performance of Puccini’s Tosca, stepping in the James Levine.

EMMANUEL VILLAUME, ANDREW VON OEYEN, The Dallas Opera
The Dallas Opera presented its orchestra in a concert conducted by Music Director Emmanuel Villaume It was not a surprise that they played at the level of most if not all professional orchestras. The surprise was the performance of Rachmaninoff’s ever-popular third piano concerto by the pianist Andrew von Oeyen. For once, a pianist played the music and not the flash in a revealing performance.

MICHELLE DEYOUNG, Jaap Van Zweden, Dallas Symphony Opera and Chorus
The highlight of the DSO this season was undoubtedly on Feb. 24 when they played a mind-blowing performance of Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 2. Outgoing Music Director Jaap Van Zweden was at his very best, as were mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung and the Dallas Symphony Chorus, under the direction of Joshua Habermann.

DONALD RUNNICLES, Dallas Symphony Opera
In January, the DSO gave a memorable performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with violinist Nicola Benedetti as soloist, Sibelius’ rarely heard Symphony No. 7, and Beethoven’s masterful Leonore Overture No. 3. Maestro Donald Runnicles was terrific. Some thought that he might make a good replacement for Van Zweden when the concert was over.

MIGUEL HARTH-BEDOYA, Fort Worth Symphony
The Fort Worth Symphony gave us the chance to hear Joaquin Achúcarro, the 85-year-old Basque pianist. He has been on the faculty of Southern Methodist University since the 1980’s. Combined with the orchestra’s Peruvian-born music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya on the podium, the all-Spanish program was appropriate. Achúcarro played Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and Albéniz’s Rapsodia Española feature a piano soloist, with extensive and challenging music to play, but is a part of the orchestra. The rest of the program was more ordinary but Achúcarro’s performance will always stick in my memory.