Best of 2015 - Classical Music

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
December 16, 2015
Elizabeth Bloom

"The Winter's Tale," Quantum Theatre, Chatham Baroque, Attack Theatre (Sept. 16, Union Trust Building)

Three of the city's most adventurous groups in their respective art forms came together to produce a world-premiere opera...made up of old music. "The Winter's Tale" was a pasticcio of musical selections from the baroque era, mashed up with Shakespeare's text, dance and theatrical staging, all in the beautiful Union Trust Building.

This year was packed with memorable classical music performances: an ambitious microtonal music festival, a venerated composer performing his masterpiece in a fishy venue and more than one goodbye to musicians significant to the local (and national) classical music landscape. Let's get started:

Bruckner's Symphony No. 9, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck (April 10, Heinz Hall)

Music director Manfred Honeck's compelling interpretation, coupled with the orchestra's astonishing performance, gave this complex symphony both a meaningful narrative thread and a visceral impact. This repertory is right up the conductor's alley: The PSO was recently nominated for a Grammy for a recording of a different Bruckner symphony, and one can see why.

"Cosi fan tutte," Pittsburgh Opera (Nov. 7, Benedum Center)

This strong production hinged on the inventive stage direction (and vocalism) of baritone Sir Thomas Allen, who played Don Alfonso. Also noteworthy was the portrayal of Fiordiligi by former resident artist Danielle Pastin, who continues to impress with whatever role she plays.

Beyond: Microtonal Music Festival, Music on the Edge (Feb. 28-March 1, Andy Warhol Museum and University of Pittsburgh)

Pitt's new music presenter went all out for this weekend festival focused on microtonal music. Especially noteworthy were performances by Mantra Percussion and the FLUX Quartet, who together premiered MOTE co-director Mathew Rosenblum's intriguing work, "Ostatnia runda."

Pablo Villegas, guitar, Chamber Music Pittsburgh (July 9, Kelly Strayhorn Theater)

Mr. Villegas, who has appeared twice with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in as many seasons, gave an astonishing recital that tackled an array of solo guitar music from Spain and elsewhere. This marks the first time that Chamber Music Pittsburgh's three-year-old "Just Summer" series has been included in the top 10 list, and that's worth noting: Perhaps the main series at Carnegie Music Hall, which is packed with string quartets, could learn a little something from its summertime counterpart.

Smetana's "Ma Vlast," PSO, Jiri Belohlavek (Nov. 13, Heinz Hall)

It's not every day that you get to hear an eminent European conductor for the first time — particularly leading one of the great pieces of music from his homeland. So the Heinz Hall debut of Jiri Belohlavek, principal conductor and music director of the Czech Philharmonic, was a treat, and the orchestra glowed throughout this performance of "Ma Vlast." If I were to pick one other conductor making his PSO debut to bring back in future seasons, I would choose Krzysztof Urbanski, music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, who impressed in works by Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Mussorgsky.

Anonymous 4, Renaissance and Baroque (Oct. 3, Calvary Episcopal Church)

Sigh, so long, Anonymous 4. The female vocal quartet, which will cease to perform together after this month, gave a beautiful performance that surveyed its large catalog of music. The selections ranged from its core specialty, medieval chant, to more recent forays into Americana. The concert was presented by early music organization Renaissance and Baroque.

"Premieres and Pulitzers," Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (July 17, City Theatre)

PNME, celebrating its 40th season, often adds theatrical elements to performances of contemporary music, but there were no frills in concert, featuring works by the late PNME founder David Stock, Steve Reich, Dan Visconti and Roger Zahab. Nope, just strong ensemble-playing by the group that assembles only over the summer.

The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, East Liberty Presbyterian Church (Oct. 11, East Liberty Presbyterian Church)

Sigh, so long, Betsy Burleigh. The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh's well-respected music director stepped down from her position with this all-Durufle program, centered on the French composer's "Requiem," which received a deeply felt performance by the choir.

"The Winter's Tale," Quantum Theatre, Chatham Baroque, Attack Theatre (Sept. 16, Union Trust Building)

Three of the city's most adventurous groups in their respective art forms came together to produce a world-premiere opera...made up of old music. "The Winter's Tale" was a pasticcio of musical selections from the baroque era, mashed up with Shakespeare's text, dance and theatrical staging, all in the beautiful Union Trust Building.

Frederic Rzewski, "The People United Will Never Be Defeated" (April 18, Wholey's fish market)

Frederic Rzewski, one of the world's great composers, performed his piano masterpiece "The People United Will Never Be Defeated" for throngs of fish sandwich buyers and music devotees at the Strip District fish market. This remarkable spectacle, which new-music group Alia Musica Pittsburgh helped to organize, even got a mention in the New York Times' end-of-year roundup.