Best of 2007
A stirring visit from Italy, "Jenufa" got its due, and student players aced the test.
Sunday, December 30, 2007; Page M09
1. The La Scala Philharmonic, conducted by Riccardo Chailly (Oct. 10, Music Center at Strathmore): Chailly has been conducting this house orchestra for Milan's celebrated Teatro alla Scala for almost 30 years, and they share an organic approach to musicmaking that is provincial in the best sense of the word -- the product of a shared time, place and culture, as they proved in a brilliant program of Italian music.
2. Janacek's "Jenufa," performed by the Washington National Opera (opened May 5 at the Kennedy Center Opera House): An excruciating masterpiece of music theater in a production that fit it exactly -- cast from strength, conducted with absolute sympathy and authority, and shot through with a sense of catharsis that called the ancient Greeks to mind.
3. The National Orchestral Institute (June 30, Clarice Smith Center): Okay, so the players were all "students," mostly in their teens and early 20s. Nevertheless, the NOI's closing concert -- including Shostakovich's fiendishly difficult Symphony No. 4 -- ranked with anything I heard this season from either the National or the Baltimore symphony orchestras.
4. Susan Graham singing French music (Jan. 26, Kennedy Center Terrace Theater): Graham is a wonderfully adaptive mezzo-soprano who inhabits any song she chooses to make it her own, as she proved in a startlingly lovely and surprisingly comprehensive survey of 19th- and 20th-century French song, from Bizet to Messiaen.
5. Ivan Fischer conducting the National Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven (Nov. 1, Kennedy Center Concert Hall): Fischer, who will become the NSO's principal conductor next fall, led brisk, meticulous, supercharged performances of some of the most familiar music -- the Fifth Symphony and the Violin Concerto -- and made it seem brand-new.