NY TIMES: 2004 in Retrospect

The Voices That Carried the Year
OPERA lovers do a fair amount of hand-wringing over the state of singing today. My own pet peeve has been the decline in big voices, especially Verdi singers. But 2004 had indications that it may be time to focus on the good.
The tenor Rolando Villazón offered a debut CD of Italian arias early in the year and a New York recital debut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in October that included nearly everything else. He has the whole package, including smarts, language ability and, most important, a real, audible connection with the music.
Another tenor’s very versatility might actually have obscured some of his light: Marcello Giordani was superb as Enzo in “La Gioconda” with the Opera Orchestra of New York in April. For heaven’s sake, give this man some Verdi at the Metropolitan Opera.
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Musical Chairs, Podiums, Festival Tents
THE revolving doors of the classical music world were in full spin in 2004, with staffing changes that will affect musical menus for years to come. Will the opera house/orchestra/festival in question dedicate itself to provocative new works or comforting chestnuts? Will it seek out relatively unknown talents or rely on famous and costly big names?
Among the most watched arenas is the Metropolitan Opera, where Peter Gelb was named the next general manager, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where the Met’s musical leader, James Levine, arrived this season.
Gérard Mortier alighted at the Paris Opera as director. Clive Gillinson will depart the London Symphony Orchestra to take over Carnegie Hall in July 2005. The pianist Wu Han and her husband, the cellist David Finckel, were named artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, although their programming hand will not be felt until 2006. Thomas W. Morris retired as executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra, succeeded by Gary Hanson. Peter Ruzicka said he would bow out as director of the Salzburg Festival in 2006. Daniel Barenboim, music director of the Chicago Symphony, and Leonard Slatkin at the National Symphony announced their future departures. James Conlon will replace Kent Nagano at the Los Angeles Opera in 2006, when Mr. Nagano goes to the Montreal Symphony.
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An 80-Minute Symphony and a Bare Soprano
PERHAPS I’m naïaut;ve, but despite the well-publicized troubles of the classical music business – contentious negotiations with players’ unions at the major orchestras, shortfalls in fund-raising, cutbacks in programming – the vitality, quality and variety of performances during 2004 make me quite encouraged about the state of classical music.
Take opera. In February, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, introduced Thomas Adès’s ingenious adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” an audacious work by a young English composer so fired by his concept that he simply did not care about practicalities.
Pamela Rosenberg, the lame-duck general manager of the San Francisco Opera, proved a model of how to cope with severe financial setbacks. Though forced to trim the company’s programs by nearly one-third, she managed in October to achieve another milestone, the overdue American premiere of Gyorgy Ligeti’s 1978 opera “Le Grand Macabre,” an apocalyptic romp by a living master.
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At Disney, Wagner Over a Weekend
NO matter how late you get to Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” the old joke goes, there are always two more acts. Artful procrastinators met their match with “The Tristan Project” in Los Angeles early this month: not just two more acts, two more days. Wagner’s five-plus hours of opera luxuriated over a Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Disney Hall, with one act per performance, each prefaced with music by Debussy, Berg or Saariaho.
Everybody had something to learn from this Los Angeles Philharmonic event. Gone for listeners was the experience of a long, difficult and ultimately rewarding ascent. The marathon became the measured walk, leaving the mind time to freshen itself for each phase of this astonishing work.
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At Last, New York Gets to Brag
Published: December 26, 2004
PERIOD-instrument players and early-music singers who live and work in New York have been saying for years that they are tired of hearing how much livelier the early-music scene is in Boston. And although they knew, in their heart of hearts, that the claims for Boston were not entirely untrue, they also took the view that a big, splashy event – something on the order of the Boston Early Music Festival – could show their work in higher relief.
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