MUSIC AND DANCE : 91 YEAR IN REVIEW : The Beckmesser Awards of 1991
It was a happy, sad, frustrating, exhilarating, discouraging, encouraging, soothing, frazzling, stimulating, depressing, uplifting, bracing, painful, provocative, dull, exciting, hysterical, lackadaisical, exceptional, humdrum year. Just like 1990.
To commemorate the high--and low--points, The Times proudly and shamelessly presents the 23rd annual awards dedicated to the spirit and memory of Nurnberg’s immortal , most noble , most misunderstood humanitarian, critic, musicologist, lutenist, poet, bon vivant and guardian of public virtue, Sixtus Beckmesser.
Let us know if we have overlooked anything.
Hero of the year: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at 235, in spite of everything.
Classiest celebrant: Gerard Schwarz at the Dec. 5 memorial concert presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Year’s most comforting orchestral revelations: The tour concerts in Orange County and Los Angeles by Christoph von Dohnanyi and his (very much his ) Cleveland Orchestra, which reminded us that passion need not preclude precision.
Most poignant musical discovery: John Corigliano’s elegiac Symphony, introduced to Southern California at an AIDS benefit by the Pacific Symphony.
Maybe-we-are-coming-of-age-after-all award: To Music Center audiences for proving after all these years and all those false starts that, for better or worse, Los Angeles can support a major opera company--not just a glitzy phantom.
Whiskey-per-tutti award: To the Music Center Opera for its ripsnorting “Fanciulla del West,” not to mention its thoughtful “Turn of the Screw” and often stimulating “Don Giovanni.”
Operatic maestro of the year: Charles Dutoit, whose work in the pit for the Music Center’s “Les Troyens” almost made one forget the bizarre silliness on the stage.
The Ewing-Salome prize for best casting surprise: To Marilyn Zschau for proving that she commands the range, the stamina and the intelligence to be a compelling Elektra.
Best Philharmonic news (and, despite a lot of fiddling, there wasn’t that much to toot about): The long, dry days during which the orchestra has had to tend to business without the focus, stability and inspiration of a resident music director will end late in 1992.
Some-composers-should-do-more-conducting award: To Witold Lutoslawski, whose rare visit to Los Angeles offered a welcome though temporary respite from Philharmonic doldrums.
Most promising debutants on the Philharmonic podium: An unheralded firebrand from Italy, Daniele Gatti, and a formidable young maestro from Austria, Franz Welser-Most.
Year’s most exciting young pianist in recital: Yevgeny Kissin, age 20.
Year’s most exciting not-so-young pianist in recital: Shura Cherkassky, age 80.
The song-cycle-isn’t-dead-after-all award: To William Bolcom for “I Will Breathe a Mountain,” sensitive settings of various poems by women, commissioned and performed (at Ambassador) by Marilyn Horne.
The Johannes Henken award for just attention to unjustly neglected music: To Gidon Kremer, who championed works of Arthur Lourie in May and December.
The Daniel von Cariaga awards for pianistic and lyrical adventure: To Elisso Bolkvadze, who offered a dazzling debut recital at Ambassador, and to the ever-enterprising Long Beach Opera, which provocatively exhumed Mozart’s “Lucio Silla.”
It-doesn’t-have-to-happen-in-L.A. award: To Yoav Talmi, the San Diego Symphony and soprano Georgine Resick for their exquisite performance of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs.
Best demonstration of aesthetic renewal: The slicker, tougher Ojai Festival, as refined and redesigned by a progressive board and a discerning artistic director, Christopher Hunt.
Happiest balletic return to Southern California: The mini-season in Orange County by the Royal Ballet of London, which under Anthony Dowell may at last be recapturing past glories.
Most interesting potential addition to the standard ballet repertory: The brooding “Winter Dreams” of Kenneth MacMillan, introduced by the Royal Ballet.
Music critic with the best sense of timing: The intrepid skunk who made his flagrant, fragrant entrance at Hollywood Bowl just as the Institute Orchestra intoned the fate motive of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth.
The Gorgonzola award for disgruntled post-perestroika candor: To the ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, 66, who mustered a few choice words for her alma mater in a Moscow News interview in July: “I was thrown away by the Bolshoi. . . . A creative person has no opportunities here. . . . Everybody supports the dictator. . . . The Bolshoi Theater has always been the symbol of all things Soviet: fear, lies, slavery and omnipotence. . . . I am sorry I didn’t follow Nureyev and Baryshnikov. . . . Perhaps someday something good may yet appear in Moscow. Cheese, for instance.”
This-is-lovely-but-enough-is-enough-already award: To every dutiful Tomaso, Richard and Harriet who Mozarted us to death while celebrating the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death.
Ballet-is-barely-alive-and-not-very-well awards: To the Joffrey Ballet, limping along despite fiscal and artistic crises that forced cancellations in New York and discontinuation of its Music Center alliances; to American Ballet Theatre, limping along despite fiscal crises, major cancellations here and elsewhere and a general lowering of aspirations; to the Music Center, which no longer seems to care about dance.
Most dangerous villain of the year in music and dance: The recession.
The-public-is-understandably-fickle award: To American audiences that no longer storm box offices for any act or artist imported from the erstwhile Soviet Union. Even the mighty Moiseyev company danced for a lot of empty seats this year.
Onward-and-downward award: To the guardians of KUSC-FM, who are turning a once serious and sophisticated radio station into a pathetic lowbrow joke.
Deferred-attention award: To KCET Channel 28, for deciding that the Chicago Lyric Opera production of Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra” isn’t a “Great Performance” worth telecasting along with the rest of the country.
Hype-equals-art award: To the PBS geniuses who decided that Paul McCartney’s dull and amateurish “Liverpool Oratorio” belongs on the “Great Performances” series. (It may be better than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem, but that isn’t saying much.)
Noisiest performance of the year: The vulgar Scriabin Third Symphony, as blasted by the U.S.S.R. State Symphony under Yevgeny Svetlanov.
Composers-should-stick-to-composing award: To the conductor John Harbison.
Much-ado-over-little awards: To the Los Angeles media for making so much fuss over the first woman to conduct a winter subscription concert by the Philharmonic, especially since the pioneer in question (Marin Alsop) turned out to be little more than competent; to the triple-tenorissimo fanatics who went crazy over a gimmicky concert videotaped at the baths of Caracalla; to the Philharmonic drum-rollers who collected a bunch of talented free-lancers, called them the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and pretended modern civilization had taken a huge stride forward as a result.
Year’s most erratic and most eccentric conductor: Yuri Temirkanov. When he was good, he was very good indeed. When he was bad. . . .
Year’s most overrated conductor: Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta’s successor at the New York Philharmonic.
Most popular extramusical sport in Fun City: Mehta bashing. The New York Philharmonic management even played it, by implication, in ads touting Masur.
Year’s most overrated singer: Jessye Norman, who opened the Philharmonic singing Wagner (loudly but not too well) and who reportedly pleaded sudden indisposition minutes before the Sunday-matinee repetition, leaving both management and audience in the lurch.
Non-issue of the year: Multiculturalism at the Music Center Opera.
Operatic-revisionism awards: To the Music Center Opera for reducing much of Berlioz’s noble “Les Troyens” to a clumsy cartoon (remember Dido in her butchy Banana Republic uniform?); for reducing most of Rossini’s “Barbiere di Siviglia” to vulgar burlesque (remember Figaro’s reverse striptease?); for using a severed hand and penis from a gigantic statue of Agamemnon as furniture props in “Elektra”; also to Maria Ewing for turning Puccini’s Butterfly into a petulant zombie.
Exotic-kitsch-in-excelsis award: To Opera Pacific in Orange County for reducing Bizet’s “Pecheurs de Perles” to a singing comic book (at least it sang prettily).
Most alarming sign of the times: The decision to perform Verdi’s “Don Carlo” at the Kennedy Center in Washington with two pianos plus incidental electronic gurgles when the orchestra went on strike.
Good-intentions-but-poor-achievements award: To the Philharmonic authorities for their superficial, incoherent documentation of the Nazification of music during the “Entartete Kunst” commemorations.
Year’s most disturbing musical question: What happened to fiscal responsibility--and to accurate bookkeeping--at the Music Center?
Year’s most irksome balletic questions: Can the Joffrey and ABT find happiness at the Wiltern Theatre? Will audiences be able to see any dancing feet when the Joffrey and ABT play the Wiltern, given the notorious sightlines of that former movie palace? Will dance return to the Music Center at all?
Year’s shoddiest celebration: The grab-bag concert that marked the fifth anniversary of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Most unsettling prospect for music in Orange County: The proposed merger of the Pacific Symphony and the Philharmonic Society, a conflict of interests that could end up providing support for a local orchestra at the expense of exposure to international ensembles and artists.
Most frustrating arts organization: Michael Milenski’s inventive, daring, always stimulating and sometimes kooky Long Beach Opera, which teeters perpetually on the brink of financial disaster, sadly resists growth and desperately needs (but cannot seem to afford) an ongoing high-powered public-relations boost.
Year’s oddest Philharmonic concert: Bach’s “St. Matthew” Passion as sung and conducted, simultaneously, by Peter Schreier--with a repositioned orchestra compounding musical problems with acoustical distortion.
Most striking example of Wagnerian weirdness: John Nelson’s decision to play Brunnhilde’s “Immolation” scene at the Bowl without a Brunnhilde--an aberration unexpectedly repeated many weeks later at the Music Center when Jessye Norman went AWOL.
Year’s best performance of bad music: Elgar’s swollen Symphony No. 2 with the Philharmonic conducted by that presumably happy podium escapee Andre Previn.
Overwrought indulgence of the year: Mitsuko Uchida’s performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto under Kurt Sanderling, which, not incidentally, received an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Year’s strangest bird: The decadent new “Swan Lake” of the Royal Ballet.
Strange-recordfellows award: To the recording impresarios at CBS who assembled an anthology titled “Great Tenors Sing Pop Favorites.” The great tenors in question turn out to be Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Richard Tucker and, er, Mandy Patinkin.
Happiest deathday in excelsis: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 200th.
Most joyous hello: The first concert by the rehabilitated Los Angeles Master Chorale under its new music director, Paul Salamunovich, a prophet without much local honor who deserved the job years ago.
Unkindest cut of all: The sudden and seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend, if not terminate, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute.
At-least-it-survived award: To the Orange County Performing Arts Center--sometimes a sophisticated international concert hall and sometimes a provincial booking house--on the occasion of its fifth anniversary.
Happiest radio return: Carl Princi’s “homecoming” to the airwaves via a Sunday-night opera program on KKGO-FM.
Least likely farewell: The valedictory tour of P.D.Q. Bach and his bearded musicological disciple from Hoople.
Most momentous farewell: Georg Solti’s last stand as head of the Chicago Symphony: a series of sweeping concert performances of Verdi’s “Otello” with Luciano Pavarotti surprisingly effective in the heavyweight outbursts of the Moor of Venice. A composite memento has, of course, been preserved on commercial recordings.
Most drastic local vicissitude: The move at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra that marks the exit of Iona Brown as fiddling music director and the entrance of Christof Perick, who will not go so much for Baroque.
Most self-effacing departure: Leonard Stein’s retirement from the Schoenberg Institute.
Ave atque vale (the longest list in the history of these awards--and, alas, we all know why): Margot Fonteyn, Martha Graham, Oliver Daniel, Mark Haffner, Friedelind Wagner, Maria Reining, Taranath Rao, Gilbert Price, Ahmet Adnan Saygun, John Howlett, Darrell Barnett, Rodney Hardesty, Miriam Holman, Muriel Stuart, James MacDonald, William Hess, Sven Reher, Ruth Morley, Walter Klien, Burton Taylor, Richard Englund, Paul Russell, John A. McCone, Esther Fisher, Eleanor King, Gene Hill Sagan, Elie Siegmeister, Ivan Nickolaievich Kireeff, Paul Ukena, Arthur R. Kreutz, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni , Charles M. Spofford, Robert Veyron-Lacroix, Seung-Hae Joo, Alfredo Campoli, Tony Scopino, Ruth Page, Max Janowski, Michael Fardink, Philip Minor, Katya Delakova, Cladys (Jabbo) Smith, Roman Jasinski, John Connell, Willi Boskovsky, Dean Verhines, Carmine Coppola, Ron Bottcher, Elinor Remick Warren, Michael Langdon, Andre Turp, Rudolf Serkin, Claudio Arrau, Robert Kovich, Sergio Peresson, George R. Fritzinger, Jean-Baptiste Cerrone, Leonard Eisner, Jean Langlais, Edward Stierle, Carl Weinrich, Wally Toscanini, Karl Reuling, Joseph Hartney Jr., Julian Orbon, Wilhelm Kempff, Alfred E. Simon, Mildred Warenskjold, Gunnar Johansen, Michael Fardnik, Flaviano Labo, Eugenio Fernandi, Frank Valentino, Lowell P. Beveridge, Malcolm Frager, Katharine Wilkinson, James Robertson, Lucie Manen, Stuart Sebastian, Gerome Ragni, Maria Fisher, Charles Jurrist, Mary Robertson, Leo Arnaud, Reuben Straus, Robert K. Woetzel, John Hargreaves, Anneliese Landau, John Field, Hans Weisshaar, Anthony Bliss, Harlan Foss, James Low, Leonore Gershwin, Helmut Walcha, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Robert Herman, Sam Goody, Charles (Cookie) Cook, Stephen Steinberg, Rupert M. Allan Jr., Alex North, Zino Francescatti, Olga Spessivtzeva, Robert Irving, Paul Henry Lang, Jacques Karpo, Peter Bellamy, Richard Collins, Robert Goldsand, George Ashley, Frederick Fox, Jeanette Leentvaar, Gregorio Follari, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, Michael Korn, Peter Heyworth, Dorothy Berliner Commins, Andrzej Panufnik, Sylvia Fine Kaye, Dick Marzollo, Lawrence Shadur, Ming Tcherepnin, Charlotte Moorman, John Kirkpatrick, Deni Lamont, Bryden Thomson, Bruce Hubbard, Tracy Bennett, Stephen Dickson, Michael Ballard, Gino Negri, Maria Marcucci, Vito De Taranto, Attilia Archi, Seth Kimmelman, Yella Pessl, Hector Orezzoli, Stuart Challender, Emil Tchakarov.