The Top 10 Classical Music Stories of 2010

The good, the not-so-good, and the departed
By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  December 21, 2010

WELCOME RETURN: Despite continuing health problems, James Levine rebounded this fall, with both the BSO and the Met.

The most important story in classical music last year was big news not only for what happened but for what didn't. James Levine, the music director of Boston's biggest and best-known classical-music organization, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was out for most of the spring BSO season and for all of the Tanglewood summer season recuperating from major back surgery. There were calls for him to resign; an editorial in the Boston Globe questioned whether he was healthy enough to continue. But though he's still frail and walks with a cane, his performances since his return — Wagner, Mahler (a magnificent Resurrection Symphony), a great Schumann Symphony No. 2 (part of a BSO Schumann 200th-birthday retrospective), and the first part of a retrospective of John Harbison symphonies — have been on the highest musical level. The best grand opera in Boston this year was surely the HD theatrical telecast live from the Metropolitan Opera of Levine conducting Plácido Domingo in the title role of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. The BSO released a wonderful CD set of his live Mozart symphony performances, and the Met, in honor of his 40th anniversary there, has released two huge box sets of CDs and DVDs with a small fraction of his nearly 2500 live opera performances. Boston is lucky to have him, and I hope he's around for a long time to come.

This was a great year for contemporary music. Levine and the BSO did the Harbison cycle and Elliott Carter's exquisite newly commissioned Flute Concerto (with Elizabeth Rowe); David Hoose and the Cantata Singers introduced Yehudi Wyner's major newly commissioned choral work, Give Thanks for All Things; and the New England Conservatory celebrated Christian Wolff and Gunther Schuller. But if I had to choose only one event, it would the final concert in the Boston Conservatory's tribute to Pierre Boulez on his 85th birthday. Eric Hewitt leading 11 of the area's most brilliant players in the first American performance of Boulez's astonishing 48-minute Dérive 2 (last updated in 2006) would be an outstanding achievement in any year.

The Discovery Ensemble — a chamber orchestra made up of superlative young players, many just out of school — and its gifted music director, Courtney Lewis (now assistant conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra), have been offering some of the best orchestral music heard around these parts, in imaginatively conceived programs combining classical and modern music. Their notable achievement was capped by this year's towering performance of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. The group have the noble mission of going into inner-city schools and exposing the kids, most of them for the first time, to classical music. Large adult audiences are only beginning to discover Discovery Ensemble's grown-up delights.

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  Topics: Classical , Peggy Pearson, Classical Music, James Levine,  More more >
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