Sunday, December 29, 2002

Look Back at 2002 in Classical Music

Great performances thrilled large and small crowds

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It was a momentous year of great classical music performances, of risk-taking programs, of breaking ground, of saying goodbye - and of deciding to stay.

The year saw two significant passings: Girl singer and local icon Rosemary Clooney, who died on June 29, and, in March, Dorothy DeLay, who was the teacher of the world's greatest violinists and a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Marking milestones, the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra turned 10 and the Linton Music Series turned 25.

Classical music made news, and much of it was good. Thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Corbett Foundation in February, Cincinnati Opera broke ground on new four-story suite of offices and rehearsal space in the North Wing of Music Hall. While other orchestras were posting huge deficits, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra continued its string of balanced budgets. When it opened its 108th season in September, its musicians were playing under a new two-year contract.

In September, CCM faculty member Xian Zhang beat 362 conductors over 20 months and five continents in the first worldwide conducting competition sponsored by philanthropist Alberto Vilar and conductor Lorin Maazel, who called her "uniquely gifted."

CCM opera department chair Malcolm Fraser retired after an incredible 16-year run in which he staged six operas annually, launched a summer program in Lucca, Italy, and helped CCM win 26 awards for the best college opera productions in North America (National Opera Association).

In June, a sigh of relief went up at CCM when Douglas Lowry, dean since August 2000, announced he would stay. The dean was being courted for the top post at the Flora L. Thornton School of Music at his alma mater, University of Southern California

Here's a look back at some classic highlights, in chronological order:

1. Vienna boys: In January, singers Donald Smith, 13, and Ryan Slone, 11, left their West Chester homes to settle in at the Vienna Boys Choir school in Austria, just the second and third Americans to join the Vienna Boys Choir in its 500-year history. En route to Vienna, CBS-TV flew them to New York for a Jan. 2 interview with Bryant Gumbel on The Early Show.

2. Major player: A hard-hat tour of Dayton's $121.5 million Benjamin and Marian Schuster Center for the Performing Arts in March - a year before it opens - revealed a breathtaking work in progress. "I'm dying to hear music there," said architect Cesar Pelli, who also designed Cincinnati's Aronoff Center. The Schuster Center is destined to become a significant regional player in the arts.

3. Dazzling combo: Two of the country's finest soloists - French hornist David Jolley and tenor John Aler - wowed the crowd at the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra in March, in a rare performance of Benjamin Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Chamber Orchestra led by charismatic maestro Mischa Santora.

4. String master: In May, Indiana-born violinist Joshua Bell visited the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra fresh from playing the Grammy Awards, for a remarkable performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto with music director Paavo Jarvi. Unfortunately, Mr. Bell, a last-minute replacement for the injured violinist Pamela Frank, was called away after one performance when his father fell ill and later died.

5. Amen: A highlight of the Cincinnati May Festival was Adolphus Hailstork's oratorio, Done Made My Vow, a hymn to the African-American experience that did not fail to move anyone who heard it. After a year of slow racial healing in Cincinnati, the May Festival's 129th season celebrating diversity - "Beethoven, Bernstein and Brotherhood" - was an unprecedented gesture that was noticed by the New York Times, London's Financial Times and National Public Radio.

6. No. 1 maestro: Paavo Jarvi concluded his first season as music director with an inspired performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 1, Titan, in May. He was joined by the distinguished American soprano Barbara Hendricks, who made a rare U.S. appearance in Strauss' Four Last Songs. But the crowd was paltry. Despite a record-breaking $2 million in ticket sales last season, CSO management failed to fill even half of Music Hall's seats on a regular basis. This year, subscriptions are down. OK, it's the largest concert hall in the country. But with so many empty seats, will Cincinnati be able to keep its No. 1 maestro?

7. Walking tall: In July, the Midwest premiere of Cincinnati Opera's production of Dead Man Walking riveted the audience, moved many to tears and left others sitting in stunned silence. A true musical triumph, it was the most powerful cultural event in Cincinnati this season, perhaps in this decade. The opera, based on Sister Helen Prejean's true journey as a spiritual adviser to a death row inmate, tackled the difficult issue of the death penalty with unblinking power.

8. Thrills and chills: It took 93 years to get here, but Cincinnati Opera's production of Richard Strauss' Elektra was a triumph. The production was staged by Nicholas Muni, who had blood spurting out of chutes down the front of the family castle. The superb ensemble included Metropolitan Opera star and onetime CCM student Deborah Polaski, whose performance will be remembered as one of the most significant ever to grace Music Hall's stage. The risk-taking combination of Elektra and Dead Man Walking attracted big crowds and 14 out-of-town critics - a first step in putting Cincinnati on the "cultural destination" map.

9. The sound of music: In October, Erich Kunzel, 67, reminisced about 25 years as head of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (founded in 1977). Who would have guessed that the combination of Mr. Kunzel and the Pops would result in more than 70 recordings - including 52 chart-topping CDs and more than 8 million albums sold - three tours to Japan (and one to Taiwan), sold-out stints in Carnegie Hall every two years, a "six-pack" of holiday shows for PBS, and musical collaborations that range from opera divas to chickens and pigs?

10. The magic clarinet: In December, Grammy-winning clarinetist and Woodward High grad Richard Stoltzman made his only area appearance in Corbett Auditorium with the American String Quartet for the Cincinnati Chamber Music Society. With Mr. Stoltzman taking the lead, Mozart's Clarinet Quintet was an exquisite performance to rival any heard anywhere.


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