Dutch composer Louis Andriessen’s Dante-esque musical and metaphysical roller coaster about life and death, metropolitan heaven and hell received its U.S. premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall in April, getting my vote for the greatest opera of the century so far.
After a 19-month absence, Esa-Pekka Salonen had an exceptional homecoming in November. His first appearances as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s conductor laureate were titillating (Magnus Lindberg’s “Graffiti”), shocking (Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle”), revelatory (Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis) and exhilarating (Wagner with and without baritone Bryn Terfel).
Los Angeles Opera finally produced Wagner’s four-part epic last spring and the town celebrated big time with a Ring Festival. The cycles weren’t perfect. The singing was uneven; there was controversy over Achim Freyer’s fantastical staging. But by the end, crowds were large and celebratory.
Gustavo Dudamel had highlights and headaches as he finished his first season as music director of the L.A. Phil with a U.S. tour in the spring that wowed audiences but bothered critics. He began his second season with a happy gala and a rapturous account of Messiaen’s “Turangalila” Symphony. But what stood out most was his invigorating Hollywood Bowl concert performance of “Carmen.”
To celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the city of Hanoi, Southwest Chamber Music, the intrepid Pasadena new music ensemble, instigated the largest cultural exchange ever between the U.S. and Vietnam, which included residencies in Hanoi and here. The Vietnamese were held rapt by an intense, luminous 29-year-old American composer, Alexandra du Bois. Americans learned of a brilliant 40-year-old Vietnamese experimentalist, Vu Nhat Tan.
On his 85th birthday in March , Pierre Boulez conducted a glorious performance of Szymanowski’s Third Symphony in Vienna (now on CD). A week later in L.A. at REDCAT, 87-year-old Japanese soprano Michiko Hirayama gave a sprightly performance of Giacinto Scelsi’s weird “Canti del Capricorno,” written for her almost 50 years ago.
Plácido Domingo did not have such a hot start to 2010. In March, he underwent surgery for colon cancer, but he was back in the saddle for the L.A. “Ring” cycle in the spring. In September, he sang the title baritone role of “Rigoletto,” created the heart-warming tenor role of Pablo Neruda in the world premiere of Daniel Catán’s “Il Postino and conducted “Marriage of Figaro” all career firsts.
After Gustavo Dudamel pulled a neck muscle during the first half of a concert in May, the orchestra’s 23-year-old associate conductor, Lionel Bringuier, went on stage to lead a personal, compelling performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony, which he had never conducted before.
Georg Friedrich Haas’ incomparable string quartet, “In iij. Noct.” (In the Dark), was played in a pitch-black Pasadena Neighborhood Church by the JACK Quartet. What began as unsettling and creepy turned increasingly silky, sensual and downright racy.
In a superhuman recital in Santa Barbara, an unassuming Midwestern piano professor, Christopher Taylor, was athletically heroic in Frederic Rzewski’s epic “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” followed by Bach’s exhausting “Goldberg Variations.”
Scalping with a scallop. The Patina Group’s fleecing of arts patrons has come to this: In the Disney Hall cafe, a moldy orange will set you back a buck and a half. A new Lincoln Center Patina restaurant is already infamous for its $24 single scallop appetizer. A family circle seat for a multimillion-dollar production of a Wagner opera next door at the Met is $25.