Jennifer Koh, Teddy Abrams, Yo-Yo Ma, Brian Jagde, Lisette Oropesa, Conrad Tao, Asher Fisch, Christine Goerke, Anthony Roth Costanzo & Branford Marsalis
Best of 2019
Best classical albums of 2019: World premieres, historic revivals and enticingly eclectic music
Jennifer Koh: “Limitless” (Cedille Records). In a bold and stylistically diverse recording, violinist Koh plays a series of duos with the composers of eight works included on this two-CD set. Where else is one likely to encounter music of contemporary composer-pianist Missy Mazzoli, soprano Lisa Bielawa and MacArthur Fellows Vijay Iyer (piano) and Tyshawn Sorey (glockenspiel) in a single project? The sounds are every bit as eclectic as one might expect, a testament to Koh’s adventurousness and the creativity of all involved.
Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra: Mahler Symphony No. 1 in D Major (BIS). The Minnesota Orchestra’s Mahler Symphonies cycle arrives at the composer’s least ostentatious and most cohesive work in the form, his First Symphony, “Titan.” Though Mahler at certain junctures attached various literary allusions to the work, it’s so tautly constructed and openly expressive as to need no such linkages. Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra offer a keenly sensitive performance that preserves musical detail while encompassing the work’s grand scheme.
Rachel Barton Pine: Dvorak, Khachaturian Violin Concertos (Avie). Violinist Pine turns in vigorous readings of two landmarks of the concerto repertoire, accompanied by Teddy Abrams leading the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The Khachaturian, in particular, benefits from Pine’s grit and drive as performer. Her artistry continues to deepen.
Yo-Yo Ma: Salonen Cello Concerto (Sony Classical). Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonon’s Cello Concerto unfolds on an epic scale, from the immensity of the orchestration to the vastness of its musical gestures. It all may seem a bit lush for some tastes, but the intense colors Salonen draws from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the ardor of cellist Ma’s performance sweep the listener along in their wake.
Best Of 2019: OperaWire’s Top 11 Singers Of The Year
11. Brian Jagde
“His voice resounded with sonority and ease” – OperaWire
It was quite a year for American Brian Jagde as he solidified his status as one of the most acclaimed spinto tenors of his generations, debuting five roles in one year.
It all started at the Teatro Massimo di Palermo where he headlined a new production of “Turandot,” role for which he has garnered great acclaim. Performances of the run were broadcast worldwide. He followed that with his role debuts as Luigi and Turiddu in “Il Tabarro” and “Cavalleria Rusticana” with the Dresden Philharmonic. Concert performances were recorded for a future release on Pentatone.
Then came his house debut at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in his role debut as Enzo in “La Gioconda,” an opera that had not been performed at the house since 2005. OperaWire noted his performance was “youthful” and that was later seen when “La Gioconda” was broadcast live in cinemas.
In the summer he went to Paris for his house debut in “La Forza del Destino.” The role of Alvaro marked his fourth role debut of the season; he performed it a whopping 10 times during the run. In the fall, he opened the Dutch National Opera’s 2019-20 season in an acclaimed production of “Cavalleria Rusticana.” It marked the first time the tenor would perform the role in a staged production and reviews were outstanding, calling his performance “solid” and noting “he posses a dark, round, beautiful voice, with potent high notes.” The production was recorded on radio and video and is set to be broadcast on Takt1.
His final role debut of the season saw him return to the San Francisco Opera where he sang his first Des Grieux in “Manon Lescaut.”
The year also saw Jagde become an ambassador for Opera for Peace and Opera America and also performed benefit concerts for Time’s In and the Kaufman Center. His performance in “Das Wunder der Heliane” was also released on DVD and was nominated for the International Classical Music Awards.
In 2020, Jagde makes his Wiener Staatsoper debut and returns to the Metropolitan Opera house for his principal role and his first HD performance in “Tosca.”
3. Lisette Oropesa
“She moved effortlessly between nimble, fluttering coloratura and arching lyrical phrases” – OperaWire
Last year, Oropesa scored some of the biggest successes of her career, elevating her international status. And this year she became a bonafide star winning the Beverly Sills Award and Richard Tucker Award for which she headlined a starry gala at Carnegie Hall.
The soprano started the year coming off at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma where she opened the 2018-19 season. She then went back to her hometown for a Starry Night gala in Louisiana, followed by her house debut at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in her role debut in “Rodelinda.”
That was followed by her La Monnaie debut in a concert performance of “Robert le Diable.” The opera marked her second major Meyerbeer opera in less than a year and her role debut as Isabelle. After having won the two major awards, the soprano returned to the U.S. in a production of “Don Pasquale” at the Pittsburgh Opera, which was her only major assignment in the states for the 2018-19 season.
In the summer Oropesa was featured on the OPERA NEWS cover and in Vogue Magazine as she went on to headline three major productions.
First she made her highly anticipated Teatro alla Scala debut in Verdi’s “I Masnadieri” for which OperaWire noted, “her striking performance as Amalia demonstrated that she has graduated fully from soubrette roles to more demanding lyric ones without losing any of the astonishing flexibility of her voice.” That production would travel to the Savonnlina Festival where she debuted and would later be broadcast on Rai TV.
She followed that up with two productions of “La Traviata.” First Oropesa traveled to Greece for Greek National Opera debut and then to headline Franco Zeffirelli’s last “La Traviata” production in a broadcast.
Her 2019-20 season began at the Metropolitan Opera where she returned in her first major diva role as “Manon.” The run featured a live in HD broadcast on Oct. 27, 2019.
The year also saw Oropesa return to the Washington Concert Opera for a performance of “Hamlet;” she also won the Giulio Gari Foundation Award. Finally Oropesa made her debut in Sao Paulo at the close of 2019.
In 2020, Oropesa will to expand her repertoire at the Paris Opera, singing her first Rosina in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.”
Limelight’s Opera Recording of the Year 2019
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
Stuart Skelton t, Gun-Brit Barkmin s, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Asher Fisch
Asher Fisch has been nurturing and honing the West Australian Symphony Orchestra into a classy ensemble, culminating in this gala event for its 90th anniversary.
Gun-Brit Barkmin offers a formidable Isolde, the Narration capped by a gleaming high B. Her firm lower register easily copes with those taxing low notes, a fine match for Stuart Skelton’s polished mahogany baritonal hue. His Tristan is most remarkable in its range of expression from gentle caress to roaring rage. “Daylight’s” knight of honour all gruff and clipped of manner hiding his true-self behind a shield of duty – the “night-time” lover shaped with the most subtle means. He sings very much “on the words” but doesn’t disturb the line. A towering performance from a great singing actor.
Ekaterina Gubanova is a fine Brangäne, her warning from the tower sending chills down the spine. Boaz Daniel’s Kurwenal is especially fine in Act Three and Ain Anger nobly intones King Marke. The orchestra cover themselves with glory; supple strings, superb winds and solid, well-blended brass. Fisch shapes the whole with a firm grasp of the architecture; a lithe and supple reading. Its refreshingly clear textures illuminate the work from within. ABC Classic has captured the event with remarkably fine engineering – the voices ideally balanced, forward but not too close – the orchestral image startlingly transparent and firm.
New York Magazine
The Best Classical-Music Performances of 2019
7. Der Ring des Nibelungen
In Wagner’s epic of greed, family loyalty, and betrayal, Brünnhilde is the disappointing daughter, the warrior paralyzed by an eon of solitary confinement. But when Christine Goerke sang the role in the Met’s latest Ring cycle, the character’s downfall was the singer’s triumph. It’s a punishing role, full of hollering and heroics, as well as stretches of intimate regret; decades can go by between one great Brünnhilde’s peak and the next. So those of us lucky enough to hear Goerke in her prime will treasure the memory until we become insufferably nostalgic.
Philip Glass’s 36-year-old opera (part three of his great men trilogy, after Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha) finally floated into the Met on a cloud of blissed-out anticipation. Part of that was owed to to countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, who is as gifted a showman and marketer as he is a singer. Glassians knew what not to expect: arias, action, relationships, conflict, or even a comprehensible libretto. Instead, director Phelim McDermott turned the honeyed score into an interpretive juggling act, a pageant of costumes and crowns, a slow-motion dance, and an argument for transcendent superficiality.
The New York Times
I had heard about the success of this superstar cellist’s performance of the six Bach solo suites for his instrument at the 18,000-seat Hollywood Bowl in 2017. But it just seemed impossible that this intimate, subtle music, played almost without pause for nearly two and a half hours, could scale to such surroundings. But now I’m a believer: When he repeated the feat in June at Millennium Park in Chicago, many thousands of people — including me — were silently riveted putty in Mr. Ma’s hands.
Derek Bermel: ‘amerikanizalodik’
“Migrations”; Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, Albany Symphony Orchestra; David Alan Miller, conductor (Naxos)
Besides being a composer, Mr. Bermel is a formidable clarinetist who in his early days played jazz and funk. “Migrations,” an album of his work, includes “A Shout, a Whisper, and a Trace,” a vibrant homage to Bartok. This, the first movement, is a dizzying melting pot of folklike rhythms, droning tunes and pungent modernist harmonies, spiked with bursts of wailing jazz. A.T.
Du Yun: ‘Give Me Back My Fingerprints’
“Limitless”; Jennifer Koh, violin (Cedille)
Part of Ms. Koh’s double-disc project of collaborations with composers who also perform alongside her, this piece rises from quietly uneasy to rabid and raw, then back again. Violin lines emerge, as if from far away, to mingle with Ms. Du’s earthy, murmuring, sometimes choking voice. Z.W.
Frederic Rzewski: ‘Which Side Are You On?’
“American Rage”; Conrad Tao, piano (Warner Classics)
Conrad Tao’s “American Rage” is a timely collection of flinty contemporary American pieces. It’s also a personal statement of protest from a young, outspoken American pianist and composer, the child of Chinese immigrants. Here, he captures both the angry idealism and the ingenious daring of Mr. Rzewski’s “Which Side Are You On?” in a teeming, and beautiful, performance. A.T.
San Francisco Chronicle
In classical and new music for 2019, women had all the best tunes
Betsy Jolas, chamber music
The music of the 92-year-old French composer — fragrant, lyrical and inventive — is drawn from an unorthodox array of influences. French Impressionism is a big one, but Renaissance polyphony and European modernism also pop up. Two of Jolas’ works, including a set of lustrous wordless songs for cello and piano, formed the centerpiece of a memorable recital presented by Cal Performances on March 10 featuring pianist Nicolas Hodges, violinist Jennifer Koh and cellist Anssi Karttunen.
The Many Sounds of Jazz in 2019: A Listener’s Guide
The greatest solo this writer heard on record in 2019 came courtesy of a familiar name, Branford Marsalis, who in the past two decades has built up one of the most versatile and volatile working bands in jazz. The saxophonist’s tenor feature on “Life Filtering From the Water Flowers” — a rubato mood piece from his quartet’s latest LP, The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul — is a thing of gnarled beauty, the sound of world-class virtuosity wielded in service of unguarded pathos, that must be heard to be believed. On the other tracks, the band touches on poetic balladry, turbulent free jazz, and more, making for a well-rounded program that never feels like a mere showcase for its accomplished leader.
The Most Soothing & Punishing Albums Of 2019 (Under Punishing)
Pianist Conrad Tao is fuming. His album American Rage pounds its fists in rebellion, points its fingers in accusatory fury and proposes only flashes of elegiac serenity and hope. Pent up anger bursts out of Frederic Rzewski’s Which Side Are You On, an explosive twist on an old labor song which still resonates vividly, as it did during this summer’s mine worker protests in Kentucky. Julia Wolfe’s Compassion, written after 9/11, howls in anguished stacks of pounded block chords, while Aaron Copland’s war time Piano Sonata offers a bleak canvas of loss and promise. Sometimes, Tao says, you just need to “make a ruckus.”
2019’s 10 best symphony and opera performances
The abrupt cancellation of soloist Leila Josefowicz couldn’t spoil yet another triumphant homecoming by Christoph Eschenbach, as the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate adroitly steered fill-in Jennifer Koh around the hairpin turns and dreamlike passages of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Violin Concerto. And conducting Anton Bruckner’s majestic, hour-long “Romantic” symphony, the 79-year-old maestro was clearly in his element.
Trifonov Plays Tchaikovsky
World-class guest artists are routine in Houston, but audible gasps of the sort that roguishly handsome pianist Daniil Trifonov caused upon completing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 certainly aren’t. Combining staggering technical prowess with fierce emotional intensity, the 28-year-old Russian native instilled one of the piano repertoire’s most familiar pieces with a revelatory, almost primal life force.
ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Coming of age in the late ’00s and early ‘10s as a celebrated concert-hall wunderkind, pianist and composer Conrad Tao also spent countless hours jacked into the Internet’s carnival of memes and mixed media, where he picked up a playful, somewhat anarchic (but never trollish) attitude towards music. Now, whether pinch-hitting as soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, playing a barefoot recital at Carnegie Hall, helping choreographer Caleb Teicher tear up the floor at Jacob’s Pillow, releasing an album of “American Rage,” or creating chamber-music alchemy with the JCT Trio, he faces the world with open mind and heart.