It seems that the end of a year always results in lists — looking back and looking ahead. And invariably, my list is different from your list. There were so many other great performances that I could have added here — the Polish Festival at CCM, the Ariel Quartet, the great jazz heard every week in our community, and the high-energy shows by John Morris Russell and the Cincinnati Pops… not to mention the entire opening season this fall at the CSO, with Emanuel Ax, Hilary Hahn, Lang Lang, Gil Shaham and Branford Marsalis!
I loved it all. But here’s my column, in case you missed it, for better or worse. At the list’s end, I look back at two of the big stories in the arts that I covered, and look forward to the opening of Music Hall next October.
Choosing the best performances of the year is always challenging, partly because the quality of the music we hear in Cincinnati is consistently high. Audiences roared with approval in venues from Music Hall to Riverbend, and even New York City. This year’s choices were also poignant. Several of the most memorable concerts happened in May, just as Music Hall prepared to close for an unprecedented 16-month, $135 million renovation. That made it doubly hard to pick just 10. So here are a dozen of my favorite shows.
The CSO wows in the Big Apple: Two standing ovations for a program of symphonic warhorses is not what you’d expect from New York audiences, who regularly see the world’s most inventive musical offerings. But Louis Langrée and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra brought New Yorkers cheering to their feet – twice – for an all-Tchaikovsky program in January at Lincoln Center. With a nearly sold-out crowd in the 2,700-seat David Geffen Hall (formerly Avery Fisher Hall), the CSO’s appearance kicked off the 50th anniversary season of Lincoln Center’s Great Performers Series.
A majestic summation: Music Hall’s spacious, almost cathedral-like acoustics were ideal for Saint-Saëns’ “Organ Symphony,” which brought the CSO season in Music Hall to a magical close. At the Allen organ, Thierry Escaich’s tones provided a soft, rich carpet under the lustrous sounds of the Cincinnati strings under Langrée. The finale, which opens with monumental chords on the organ, is always a stunner, and this was no exception.
An overdue debut: The audience roared last spring when Russian-born pianist Evgeny Kissin smiled at the packed house in 3,400-seat Music Hall and then sat down at the piano to play his third encore. At 44, the former prodigy, revered for his recordings and performances, finally played the Queen City. Kissin brought fresh insights to one of the most-performed pieces of the concerto repertoire, Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto in C Minor, a warm-up for his appearance the same month with Cincinnati native James Levine and the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
A new star in the opera firmament: Soprano Nadine Sierra gave such a ravishing account of Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro,” that no one in the audience at Westwood First Presbyterian Church dared to breathe in her recital last spring. How lucky that Matinee Musicale was able to book Sierra, a stunning, 27-year-old singer who seems poised on the brink of a major career. Poised and friendly, she seemed to be as delighted to be in Cincinnati as in Valencia and Paris, where she was going next.