Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Classical Music Highlights for 2014 Include 'Elixir of Love,' Renee Fleming

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Classical Music Highlights for 2014 Include 'Elixir of Love,' Renee Fleming

Article excerpt

In classical music and opera, 2014 had plenty of high notes and beautiful harmonies. Of course, a few clinkers showed up here and there. Here's a sampling of some of the best and a couple of the worst moments in a memorable year.

The year's leitmotif * It's all about the anniversaries. Among other notable dates, the city of St. Louis is 250. The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is 135. It's SLSO music director David Robertson's 10th season, and the 20th for concertmaster David Halen, Amy Kaiser and the In Unison Chorus, while the Youth Orchestra is 45. Union Avenue Opera is 20. 2015 brings a couple of other biggies: Opera Theatre of St. Louis turns 40, while the St. Louis Chamber Chorus arrives at 60.

Most moving orchestral program * On Nov. 22-23, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra music director David Robertson, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, tenor Paul Groves and principal cello Daniel Lee made heart-meltingly beautiful music together, with a lot of help from Robert Schumann, Gustav Mahler, and the SLSO. I went back to hear it a second time.

Most satisfying opera production * The sweet update of Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love" at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, set in what appeared to be "The Music Man's" River City, was light and well-sung with the talents of tenor Ren Barbera, soprano Susannah Biller, baritone Tim Mix and bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi, led with elan by music director Stephen Lord.

Most disappointing opera production * Mozart's "The Magic Flute" at OTSL. As designed and staged (but mostly designed) by Isaac Mizrahi, Mozart's fairy-tale opera focused on looks, not singing, and distracted from the music, making the singers mere backup for dancers.

Is it legal to have this much fun on the concert stage? * Michael Daugherty's "Hell's Angels" gave the mild-mannered musicians of the SLSO's bassoon section the opportunity to play both outlaw bikers and some seriously challenging music. A highlight: The bling- encrusted pink bandanna tied to Felicia Foland's instrument.

Great choral music * On Dec. 21, at First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood, Philip Barnes and the St. Louis Chamber Chorus gave a program that sums up what they're about: a carefully chosen, beautifully sung selection of music, much of it unfamiliar, including a pair of commissions. Few cities, particularly of the size of St. Louis, have anything to match them.

Venue of the year * The bone marrow transplant infusion center at St. Louis University's Cancer Center on Dec. 14, where a pair of SLSO musicians principal harpist Allegra Lilly and violinist Ann Fink played a recital for patients awaiting a medical miracle. Patient Clifford Burnett got to request a favorite song, Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic." It sounded great.

Recording of the year * Robertson, saxophonist Timothy McAllister and the SLSO returned with a disc on Nonesuch of music by John Adams, "City Noir." It's got a well-deserved Grammy nomination for Best Orchestral Performance.

Best ensemble opera * Francis Poulenc's "The Dialogues of the Carmelites" at OTSL. Director Robin Guarino led a group of singers, including Christine Brewer, Kelly Kaduce, Ashley Emerson and others, in an exercise in bonding for the powerful true story of nuns martyred for their faith in the French Revolution.

Musical creativity award * To conductor Ward Stare and SLSO principal percussion William James, who figured out how to make the sound of a descending and striking guillotine blade using stuff they had lying around at home, or found in a junkyard, for "Dialogues," instead of the usual amplified paper cutter.

Serious fun * "27," by composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Royce Vavrek gave us five singers, one prologue and five acts to paint a picture of the lives of Gertrude Stein (Stephanie Blythe) and Alice B. Toklas (Elizabeth Futral) and their friends in Paris. Toklas never looked so good; Futral (singing, dancing, making the story come alive) never looked so plain. …

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