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YEAR IN REVIEW 1995 : PERFORMING ARTS: CLASSICAL MUSIC, DANCE, OPERA : The Beckmesser Awards of 1995

Martin Bernheimer is The Times' music and dance critic

It was a happy, sad, frustrating, exhilarating, discouraging, encouraging, soothing, frazzling, stimulating, depressing, uplifting, bracing, painful, provocative, dull, exciting, lackadaisical, exceptional, humdrum year. Just like 1994.

To commemorate the high--and low--points, The Times proudly and shamelessly presents the 27th 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.

Cheers

A-new-boss-can-make-a-difference award: To Michael Tilson Thomas, the Angeleno the Los Angeles Philharmonic didn’t want, who is making imposing waves in his first season as music director of the San Francisco Symphony (succeeding the blandly competent Herbert Blomstedt); and to Leonard Slatkin, another Angeleno without much honor in his own city, who is making imposing waves as he becomes music director of the National Symphony in Washington (succeeding the prestigious but technically dubious Mstislav Rostropovich).

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Glad-we-have-him award: To Esa-Pekka Salonen, for his fresh approach to programming at the Philharmonic, for his championing of the new and the little known, for his fidelity to his roots, for his revelations in Bruckner.

Wish-we-had-more-of-him award: To Simon Rattle, an ever-welcome principal guest who got away.

Good-theater-doesn’t-have-to-be-predicated-on-truth award: To Terrence McNally, for a most engaging, quasi-imaginative essay on the care, feeding and destruction of an operatic ego in “Master Class,” which pretends to be about Maria Callas at Juilliard.

Opera-is-alive-and-well-in-Los-Angeles award: To the Music Center forces that mustered a stirring production of Verdi’s seldom-heard “Stiffelio,” and a delightfully stylish “Don Pasquale.”

Opera-is-alive-in-Orange-County award: To Opera Pacific, which enlivened a generally dull and dutiful year of conservative opera with a fine, unabashedly old-fashioned “Carmen.”

Opera-is-alive-in-Long-Beach award: To Michael Milenski, who assembled a marvelously inventive and witty “Turk in Italy” within a mini-season of diminishing returns.

Orange County hero of the year: Yo-Yo Ma, who brought rare sophistication and flair to the opening of the Pacific Symphony season under the redoubtable Carl St.Clair.

Dark-horse maestro of the year: Jorge Mester, who led the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra in a performance of the Prokofiev Fifth so heroic that one almost forgave his poses in the orchestra’s silly season brochure and almost overlooked the irony that this is only a part-time ensemble with a limited audience.

Keep-the-faith award: To the optimistic guardians of optimism and adventure at the Ojai Festival.

Yes-she’s-as-good-as-her-reputation award: To Cecilia Bartoli, who extended her local love affair to lucky Escondido and Costa Mesa.

The Jack Benny Award for fine fiddling: To Joshua Bell, who proved at Hollywood Bowl that even the Tchaikovsky Concerto sounds like great music when the cliches are performed with introspection as well as flamboyance.

Sometimes-it-works-in-spite-of-itself award: To the Beaux Arts Trio and maestra Sian Edwards for their collaboration in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in the wide-open amplified spaces of the Bowl, celebrating the ensemble’s 40th anniversary.

The Celibidache Prize for best performance by a dancer masquerading as a conductor: To Yuri Temirkanov for his interpretation of Stravinsky’s Petrushka with the Royal Philharmonic at Cerritos.

Year’s most promising operatic debutants: Evelino Pido, who came out of nowhere to enforce uncommon elegance and brio in “Don Pasquale” at the Music Center, and Vladimir Bogachov, one of many visiting Russians, who proved that authentic Otellos are not an extinct species after all.

Jeers

Year’s-most-painful-loss award: The closure of Ambassador Auditorium.

Not-so-glad-we-have-him award: To Esa-Pekka Salonen, for his all-too cool objectivity and haste when dealing with Mozart, Beethoven and their ilk, for his frequent insensitivity as a concerto accompanist, and for his willingness to sit out the Bowl season.

Culture-is-a’crumbling award: To the guardians of the San Diego Symphony, who once again treated that excellent orchestra as if it were an expendable provincial band.

What-me-worry? award: To the citizens of San Diego, who can’t get enough of “Phantom of the Opera” but don’t seem to care much about their endangered orchestra.

Die-Frist-ist-um award: To the Music Center forces that mustered that batty modernist perversion of “Der Fliegende Hollander” envisioned by a stranger from another paradise named Julie Taymor.

Much-ado-about-dangling award: To Elizabeth Streb, for her acrobatics-as-art demonstration at the much ballyhooed reopening of the Tempo Contempo museum.

Year’s best proof that a poignant subject doesn’t necessarily make poignant art: “Still/Here,” the AIDS extravaganza danced by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane company.

How-the-mighty-can-fall award: To the Royal Danish Ballet for allowing Peter Schaufuss to destroy its model production of “La Sylphide,” seen in Orange County.

Catch-me-I’m-falling-again-and-again award: To John Clifford, who made lots of loud promises about the elaborate revival of his Los Angeles Ballet, then retreated and retracted as quietly as possible.

Tis-the-season-but-will-it-ever-end? award: To the impresarios who gave us “Nutcrackers” ad nauseum this year, and to those who canceled when Scrooge took over the box office.

Just-because-you-know-so-much-about-it-doesn’t-mean-you-should-conduct-it award: To Gilbert Kaplan, who dared lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic through the extended convolutions of the Mahler Second at the Bowl.

Just-because-you-know-a-little-about-it-doesn’t-mean-you-should-play-it award: To Chick Corea, who noodled and doodled his way through a Mozart concerto at the Bowl with laissez-faire leadership from the talented but over-extended Bobby McFerrin.

Year’s silliest shipment of coals to Cahuenga: The importation of a flock of semi-professionals from Italy for Mozart’s “Zauberflote"--all of it--at the Bowl, where the collective attention span is short even when great artists are at work.

Foreign company available for the largest number of cancellations: The Kirov Ballet.

Year’s most bemusing discord: The confrontation between the protectors of George Frideric Handel, who lived at 25 Brook St. in Mayfair, and the heirs of Jimi Hendrix, who lived next door (some time later). The Handelians don’t want to allow the Hendrixians to erect a plaque that might besmirch the Baroque master’s image.

Quotable Quotes

The Zoe Caldwell Award for extension of the Maria Callas lore: To the late Peter Heyworth, biographer-critic par excellence, who unearthed the following exchange between Otto Klemperer and the deathless diva. Maestro: “Your Lucia is marvelous. Your Aida . . . your Norma. But your Alceste--forgive me for saying so, is no good. . . . We must do something together.” Diva: “It would be an honor.” Maestro: “What would you like to do?” Diva: “Alceste, of course.”

I’m-all-right-Ivan award: To Oleg Vinogradov, embattled director of the Kirov Ballet, who uttered these eternal verities prior to his arrest for allegedly accepting kickbacks from promoters: “I don’t find it necessary to take all too seriously things that people write, particularly people who one day report about crimes or other events, and then the next day write about ballet.”

We-learn-too-late award: To Peter Hemmings, British boss of the Music Center Opera, who told opera conferees about customer complaints after he imported Peter Sellars’ updated “Pelleas et Melisande” from Amsterdam: “The sight-lines at the top of the set were poor for the balcony. The balcony were not pleased.”

The Ernestine Schumann-Heink Award for anatomical wit and recrimination: To Jessye Norman, for suing Classic CD Magazine after it claimed she got stuck in a revolving door and told her would-be rescuers she couldn’t turn sideways--"Honey, I ain’t got no sideways.” In the first place, the self-deprecating remark, dressed in a different accent, has been attributed for decades to a certain German contralto who habitually knocked over music stands on her way to the front of the stage. In the second place, the newly remodeled Norman has sideways. And she doesn’t talk that way.

I-take-that-back award: To James Levine, who now embraces a translation system that flashes the text on tiny screens mounted atop each seat at the Met. “Over my dead body,” the self-same music-director had declared years ago when asked about the use of super-titles.

Goat-cart-ballet award: To one Rebecca Morris, who asked this probing question in American Theatre magazine while interviewing Hope Clarke, the dancer-choreographer directing a revival of a certain Gershwin opus: “So how much will the opera singers playing Porgy and Bess have to dance?”

Curious and Curiouser

Year’s finest Pavarotti flip-flap: The tenorissimo’s pre-performance proclamations about celebrating his 60th birthday by returning to “La Fille du Reginment” at the Met, nine High Cs and all. The proclamations were followed by a performance in which the top tone turned out to be a strained B, and this was followed by a performance in which he cracked and went home early, pleading phlegm, and this was followed by two performances in which an understudy took over.

How-the-mighty-will-fall-if-the-price-is-right award: To James Levine, heretofore a super-serious conductor, who agreed to take over where Zubin Mehta left off as accommodating maestro for the Three Tenor circuses.

Ongoing quandary award: To the landlords who have decreed it is all right for the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to be dark most of the summer.

Sign-of-the-times award: To the nonchalant yuppette in Row E at the San Francisco Opera who answered the ring of some long-distance Nibelung on her cellular phone during “Die Walkure.”

Year’s best acoustical cover-up brouhaha: The fuss about that dastardly concrete floor “left by mistake,” we are told, beneath the stage at Carnegie Hall--long denied, and now, upon its embarrassing discovery, hastily removed.

Fame-is-where-you-find-it award: To Rachel Worby, who has aroused only modest attention as a conductor, even at the Hollywood Bowl, but found instant celebrity in a book revealing much about her tattoo and her sex life with her husband Gaston Caperton, governor of West Virginia.

The Un-Pulitzer Prize for double standards: To the Pulitzer board, which enlisted one critic plus four composers to judge the music entries, but allowed a jury of critics only--nary a playwright in sight--to award the drama prize.

Fakery-isn’t-what-it-used-to-be award: To the imaginative creator of “The Great Composers’ Fake Book” ($19.95, Amsco), which, according to the back-cover blurb, offers “a fantastic collection of masterpieces . . . written in lead sheet format commonly used by jazz musicians.” Among the masterpieces heralded is “ ‘La donna e [sic] mobile’ from ‘Don Giovanni.’ ” The next volume, no doubt, will offer “La ci darem la mano” from “Rigoletto.”

Year’s silliest marketing ploy: A Teldec CD called “Sensual Classics, Too,” overtly aimed at gay consumers.

Necrophilia-uber-AllesG award: To the Terpsichorean zealot at a London auction who paid more than $18,000 for a battered pair of ballet slippers once worn by Rudolf Nureyev (after similar souvenirs fetched similar sums at a Nureyev auction at Christie’s in New York).

Year’s most generous defenders of conspicuous consumption: The aficionados who paid up to $184 for one of the new up-front seats at Hollywood Bowl, where the listening ain’t easy.

The Howard Stern Award for gregarious self-promotion: To Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who played a Liszt piano concerto at the Bowl (very nicely) and then showed up at the record booth near the exit to sell and sign CDs as the passing fans headed for the parking lot.

So-why-did-they-pay-award: To the Music Center Opera, which has helped finance productions of “Aida,” “The Death of Klinghoffer,” “Simon Bolivar” and “Pikovaya Dama,” but never staged any of these works.

Clothes-make-the-man award: To Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who showed up in court wearing a robe with four golden stripes on each sleave--modeled, he said, on the Lord Chancellor’s costume in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Iolanthe.”

You-heard-one-Mozart-you-heard-all-Mozart award: To station KCRW-FM, which, according to the wisdom of Solomon, plugged the Music Center “Entfuhrung aus dem Serail” with strains of “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.”

Milestones

Year’s least surprising departure: The ousting of Yuri Grigorovich as head of the Bolshoi Ballet, for political as well as artistic reasons.

The-other-Luciano-has-a-birthday-too award: To Luciano Berio, at 70. Comparably happy returns to Charles Mackerras at 70, to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Frank Sinatra at 80, and to Michael Tippett at 90.

Final installments: Fernando Bujones’ last performance with American Ballet Theatre, after a distinguished but on-again, off-again career; the disbanding, after 25 years, of the Cleveland Quartet.

Local academia’s greatest Los Angeles loss: The retirement, at 70, of Daniel Lewis from the podium of the USC Symphony Orchestra.

Most crucial changing of our operatic guard: The parting of the ways between the Music Center Opera and Randall Behr, a useful routinier overexposed as heavyweight maestro for all seasons.

Ave atque vale (in no particular order): Annie Fischer, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Pia Tassinari, Thomas Hayward, Aldo Protti, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Eduardo Mata, Josef Gingold, Keith McDaniel, Conrad Strasser, Nina Tikanova, Francis Lopez, Leigh Bowery, William Dillard, Alexander Gibson, Ezra Rachlin, J. Edgar Joseph, Luben Vichey (Lubomir Vichegonov), Catherine Sweeney, Geoffrey Parsons, Christopher Palmer, Jerry Zimmerman, Clement J. McNaspy, Frederick Fuller, Luther M. Noss, David Garvey, Anita Priest, Uta Graf, Max Rudolf, Franz Allers, Ann Ayars, Frank P. Haven, Leonard Shure, Otis Stuart, Harold Zabrack, Frieda Belinfante, Sidney Cowell, Marcella Giulini, Henry Solomonoff, John Colman, Michael Dash, Loyce Houlton, Nikita Talin, Carel Birnie, Onoe Baiko, Ron Richardson, Burl Ives, Douglas Allan, Joseph Villa, Gilbert Moses, the Houston Post, Jerry Zimmerman, Litia Namoura, Lon Chaney, Sinclair Lott, Noel Mangin, Talley Beatty, Donald Morgan, Margaret Avery Rowell, Peter Pratt, Heinrich Sutermeister, Louis Krasner, Adele Marcus, David Fox, Christopher Chadman, Reza Abdoh, Thomas E. Binkley, Ann M. Lingg, Ned Treuenfels, Paul Callaway, Henning Kronstam, Alexander Godunov, Margaret Kahn Ryan, Ulysses Kay, the Baltimore Evening Sun, Keith Humble, Johana Harris, Jean-Louis Morin, Angiola Sartorio, Jean Giraudeau, Julius Burger, Anne Ratner, Ginger Rogers, Francisco Moncion, the Milwaukee Sentinel, Efrem Kurtz, Edward S. Naumburg, Lar Roberson, Gunter Bialas, New York Newsday, Alan D. Marks, Charles Bruck, Dennis Love, Miklos Rozsa, Joseph Mazo, Lee Cass, Laurinda Almeida, Irwin Bazelon, Florindo Andreolli, Maria Markan, Maurizio Rinaldi, Adelaide Saraceni, Rita Talarico, Peter Brinson, Seda Suny Sorvillo, Christopher de Marigny, James Truitte, Jurgen Schneider, Katherine J. Dolan, Philip Semark, Jody Hulse, Anatole Fistoulari, Thomas Kahn Gardner, Vaclav Neumann, Murray Dickie, Bonnie Bird, Rita Telarico, Roy Hemming, Laurindo Almeida, Uta Maria Flake, Lonna Arklin, William Pearson, Howard Swan, Erich Kunz, Gertrude Grob-Prandl, Marga Hoeffgen, Hanna Janku, Douglas Allen, Rebecca Bobele, Shawn Avrea, Kelly Michaels, Daniel Forlano, Bruce Merrill, Marion B. S. Rice, Timothy Jenkins, Aube Tzerko, Fred Fehl, Savino Savini, Frederic Lloyd, Christopher Keene, Lillian Fuchs, Susan Braun, Eleanor Aller Slatkin, Ray Loynd, Shirley Silverman, Salvatore Aiello, Frances Cole, Virginia Majewski, Sheldon Steinberg, Golfredo Corradetti, Kingsley Amis, Ralph Herbert, Erica Morini, Minna Lederman Daniel, Isang Yun, Alan Bush, Karel Berman, Martha Hill, George Prideaux, Pete Welding, Alexis Dolinoff, Terry Markwell, Kenneth MacDonald, Violetta Boft, Leon Lishner, Louise W. Kahn, Maurice Allard, Frederic Waldman, Danny William Abreu, Robert Fizdale, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Nina Verchinina*


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