Sunday, December 30, 2001

Classical music

Symphony hit high note with Jarvi's debut

        Like everything in America, the classical music world was deeply affected by Sept. 11 and by the nation's economic downturn throughout 2001.

        The financial fallout was felt by several North American orchestras. The 123-year-old San Jose Symphony, in the heart of Silicon Valley, shut its doors in October. Troubles were reported at the 120-year-old St. Louis Symphony and the Toronto Symphony, which were both struggling with $7 million deficits, and even at the venerable Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

        In April, the local music scene was rocked by unrest in Over-the Rhine, home of Music Hall.

        But like most American orchestras, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is weathering the times. The economy has affected its endowment (down to $76 million from $90 million), but the orchestra is riding the crest of having a new maestro, who is attracting a noticeably younger audience.

        Among the comings and goings this year, May Festival maestro James Conlon announced he will leave the Paris Opera when his contract expires in 2004; and Cincinnati native James Levine was named the next music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to begin the same year.

        In May, Eiji Hashimoto, a rare master of the harpsichord, gave his final performance as a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music — J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major — before retiring after 33 years.

        And Isaac Stern, one of the great violinists of the 20th century, died at age 81 in September. The virtuoso saved Carnegie Hall from the wrecking ball and helped the careers of many violinists, including Itzhak Perlman.

        Finally, classical music entered the digital age this year, when The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians — all 25 million words of it — went online.

        Here's the classical countdown:

        1. Ode to Joy: Paavo Jarvi took his first bow as the CSO's 12th music director three days after Sept. 11. His soloist and national critics could not get here, the welcoming gala was postponed, and his last-minute program changes included Barber's poignant Adagio for Strings for the victims who perished.

        Nevertheless, it was a triumphant debut for the 38-year-old maestro, with thrilling performances, a cheering audience and three standing ovations. The beginning of a new era was marked by a historic live telecast from Music Hall.

        2. Symphonie fantastique: Maestro Jarvi's debut recording with the CSO — Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique and “Love Scene” from Romeo et Juliette — was released in August, and critics are raving. Could there be a Grammy in the CSO's future?

        3. Requiem aeternam: In October, 250 Tristaters in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and May Festival Chorus performed Benjamin Britten's War Requiem led by Maestro Conlon at New York's Carnegie Hall four weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center.

        “Maybe this is something the city needs, to be able to listen and be involved, and cry, and let it wash through them. The music is so marvelous, it just takes you there,” said Candi Fetzer, 51, a May Festival soprano who lives in North Avondale.

        4. Hallelujah Chorus: For the third consecutive year, Cincinnati Opera Summer Festival broke records with the highest gross ticket income in history ($1.3 million). The company's two new “festival weekends” attracted opera lovers from as far as Minneapolis.

        And for gripping theater, nothing in the city could beat the heart-stopping drama of Cincinnati Opera's double bill, Bluebeard's Castle — Erwartung.

        5. Myself I Shall Adore: In June, opera diva Kathleen Battle made a homecoming to Cincinnati for a rare recital to benefit the Allen Temple Foundation. The afternoon began with a prayer, in light of the then-recent civil unrest, for a concert “of peace and healing.” It ended with a radiant Ms. Battle dishing out no fewer than six encores for her adoring fans.

        6. Song Without Words: The most spectacular performance of this year's concert season was not in Cincinnati, but in Oxford. In April, Mr. Perlman made Miami University the final stop on his recital tour, a tribute to virtuoso Jascha Heifetz.

        The next time Mr. Perlman appears in Oxford, he may not have to play in Millett Hall, a basketball arena. In August, the school announced it has contracted a team of experts in acoustics, theater design, structure, cost control and landscape to conduct the first phase of planning for a new Center for the Arts.

        7. Strike up the Band: Music is slowly returning to public schools, because parents and students want it and administrators are acknowledging its benefits, the Enquirer reported this month. More than 15 schools contacted said they're hiring teachers, starting programs or teaching music to more kids than a decade ago.

        After the story ran, the Corbett Foundation awarded $26,500 to Withrow High School to help bring back its band program, absent more than 15 years.

        8. Farewell Symphony: In May, violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, classical music's answer to a punk rocker, added pizazz to the final concert of outgoing CSO maestro Jesus Lopez-Cobos.

        The maestro's final season included a European tour (Jan. 27-Feb. 11), where the orchestra played in Poland and Spain for the first time and made return trips to the famous halls of Munich and Berlin.

        9. Pomp and Circumstance: In April, The American Classical Music Hall of Fame brought out bells and whistles for its fourth induction ceremony, held in Corbett Auditorium at CCM. Cameras clicked as piano virtuoso Van Cliburn, band legend Frederick Fennell, American composer George Crumb and members of the Juilliard String Quartet picked up their gold medallions.

        10. 1812 Overture: Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops' new recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, which came out in May, is a high-tech blast to the future. Recorded in Direct Stream Digital, listeners get a bigger bang for their buck than with the Pops' best-selling 1812 of 1978 that helped launched Telarc recording company. “You'll feel the cannonballs zip dangerously close over your head,” says Telarc's special effects guru Michael Bishop.


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