Correction: An earlier version of this list incorrectly said that Neeme Jarvi conducted the Shostakovich Sixth Symphony with the National Symphony Orchestra on May 5. It was the Prokofiev Sixth. This version has been corrected.
Do you measure a year’s classical music highlights in terms of CD releases, or live concerts, or the new music that emerged? I’m splitting the difference: My Top 10 list for 2011 includes my five favorite concerts in Washington and five CDs of new and recent music (with Charles Ives as the one name from the past).
Charles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orchestra, May 20, Kennedy Center (Washington Performing Arts Society) The fabulous Philadelphians declared bankruptcy in April, yet their performance of the Tchaikovsky Fifth was possibly the richest musical experience of the year.
Daniil Trifonov with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra, Oct. 8, George Mason University The winner of this year’s Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Competition showed he deserved the prize with a performance of the first concerto that was sometimes disturbing, often brilliant and always compelling.
Wolf Trap Opera gala, Aug. 24, Wolf Trap Wolf Trap’s opera companies celebrated its 40th anniversary with a starry gala in which even the weakest links were pretty darn strong, and the strongest — Lawrence Brownlee, Mary Dunleavy — offered old-school excellence that’s as good as you’ll find anywhere in the opera world today.
Marc-Andre Hamelin, April 29, Strathmore (WPAS) A thinking man’s piano virtuoso, Hamelin plunged into two centuries of repertory with the ebullience of a child leaping into a swimming pool, freshening a Haydn sonata, elucidating Stefan Wolpe’s challenging passacaglia and adding compositions of his own.
Neeme Jarvi and the National Symphony Orchestra, May 5, Kennedy Center The 74-year-old Jarvi is a familiar and sometimes routine figure on international podiums, but the NSO players, always idiosyncratic, responded happily to his authority and savvy, especially in the Prokofiev Sixth.
Meredith Monk: “Songs of Ascension” A pioneer of the avant-garde vocal scene continues to break ground with this ambitious and luminous new work comprising 21 distinct musical microclimates, adding a string quartet and other instruments to her palette of extended vocal techniques.
Steve Reich: “WTC 9/11.” Kronos Quartet Unfortunately, debate about the cover art (featuring an image of a plane flying into the World Trade Center) overshadowed the reception of this poignant and beautiful new piece, which layers taped voices and sound in a musical collage about the process of remembering and memorializing the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Jefferson Friedman: “Quartets.” Chiara Quartet, Matmos Friedman, not yet 40, has written three pieces for the NSO. His wonderful second and third string quartets, insistent, beautiful and often played around the country, were finally released on a CD in strong performances by the Chiara Quartet, for whom they were written.
Ives: “Four Sonatas.” Hilary Hahn, Valentina Lisitsa A century on, Charles Ives’s music remains bracing and quirky, like a daguerreotype of an American landscape warped by a funhouse mirror. The four violin-piano sonatas here get appropriately sepia-toned and lyrical readings from thoughtful star violinist Hahn and pianist Lisitsa.
Part: “Piano Music.” Ralph van Raat Arvo Part is beloved for his shimmering, static compositions; but his work for solo piano is neither static nor well-known. The Dutch pianist van Raat changes that with a five-decade survey of the Part you didn’t know, from baroque-influenced sonatinas of 1959 to an exquisite tonal miniature from 2006, and including a ponderous concerto led by JoAnn Falletta.