The Washington Post Sunday
Performances soared above the fray
In the classical music world, 2018 was a year of new appointments, overhyped anniversaries and #MeToo revelations. But through all the ups and downs, it was the performances that keep us coming back for more. Here’s my 10-best list; what’s yours?
1. The Verdi Requiem
This passionate, uneven, desert-island raging against death deserves to be at the top of a list in any case. But this year, not one, but two D.C. performances made it onto my lifelong best-ever list. Gianandrea Noseda’s reading with the National Symphony Orchestra and the combined forces of the Choral Arts Society and the Washington Chorus was like nothing I had expected from him: gracious and lithe and buoyant and quietly eloquent. And the diminutive In Series opened its first season under a new artistic director, Tim Nelson, with his daring dramatization, which juxtaposed an eight-singer Requiem with excerpts from “King Lear.” Called “Viva V.E.R.D.I.,” the production revealed anew not only how inherently dramatic this music is, but also how powerful it can be to strip away the masses of large ensembles that usually perform it and expose its vulnerability — and humanity.
Call it a musical, call it opera — I call it great. I was happy to join the bandwagon of fans who got to know the album more or less by heart and then squeezed into the Kennedy Center for the show’s much-anticipated summer run, and who happily hailed its winning a Kennedy Center Honor in December.
3. Missy Mazzoli
In a year in which the field finally seemed to be waking up to the historic neglect of female composers, and initiatives such as the Composer Diversity Database seemed actually poised to bring about change, the 38-year-old Missy Mazzoli continued her ascendance as one of the most prominent and badass voices in the field. Her latest opera, “Proving Up,” premiered at the Washington National Opera in January, and she was named composer-in-residence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for a two-year-term starting in July.
4. Julia Bullock
This luminous soprano combines book smarts and artistic intelligence in programs that stimulate the ear and the mind, offering perspectives on womanhood, race and beautiful singing. I loved her D.C. appearance in 2014; I loved her no less at her National Gallery recital in May and only wish I could make it to New York for every one of her performances as artist-inresidence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 5. SHIFT: A festival of American orchestras
I had a lot of critical things to say about the presentation of this festival, produced by Washington Performing Arts and the Kennedy Center for the second year in a row. But the four orchestras featured, including smaller ones such as the Fort Worth Symphony and the Albany Symphony, offered a vitality and range that fully justified the exercise. The organizers are wise to take a year off and give more thought to how to let audiences know what they’re doing before the next SHIFT in 2020.
6. Mitsuko Uchida/Kathleen Battle
We talk a lot about new artists and initiatives, but the stars sometimes show they’re stars for a reason. Mitsuko Uchida gave a radiant and memorable reading of Schubert, and Kathleen Battle put heart, soul and still-silvery high notes headlining a wonderful program of spirituals.
Violinist Hilary Hahn and cellist Yo-Yo Ma both revisited the composer that has played such a significant role in their respective careers, in Washington Performing Arts recitals.
8. In praise of youth
This summer, tenor Ian Koziara’s turn in the title role of “Idomeneo” at the Wolf Trap Opera epitomized the excellence and true artistry among the many talented artists pouring sweat and heart into young-artist programs across the country. This is partly because of the tremendous dedication of people such as Kim Pensinger Witman, who has maintained the Wolf Trap Opera at the top of the training-program field for so many years, and who this year announced her retirement.
9. “The Barber of Seville”
The Post didn’t cover the “Barber of Seville” at the Washington National Opera this year, but to judge from the glowing descriptions in the many, many, many responses we received about our lack of coverage, it was not only the greatest opera event of the year, but also possibly the greatest production of “Barber” ever.
10. Wu Man
The pipa player Wu Man has done a tremendous amount to raise the profile of her instrument (a Chinese folk instrument) and expand its repertoire. This year, she left a mark on Washington with two significant concerts. One featured a family troupe of musician-puppeteers from northern China, now in its 11th generation, a tradition unfamiliar to most of the audience. The other, “A Chinese Home,” was a multimedia and multigenre exploration of Chinese tradition with the Kronos Quartet.