2008 Wrap-Up (Sam): 2008’s Top U.S. Orchestras – Plan Vacations Accordingly

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MP3: Shostakovich – Symphony No. 5 – Iv. Allegro Non Troppo by Bernstein & the NY Phil


In 2008, the Brit music mag Gramaphone ranked the top-world orchestras with the help of critics and musicians. We could, of course, head to Amsterdam, Berlin, or Vienna to capture the best of the best, but our home turf is rich. Here’s my take on performances that will bring the 2008-2009 season to a wondrous, raucous close.



1. Chicago Symphony Orchestra (pictured right)

We read excellent things about the CSO’s brass, which is, at times Baltimore’s Achilles’ heel.  In Chicago, immerse yourself in contemporary classical. See the noble father-and-sometime-bully, Pierre Boulez conduct a unique “American” homage: the work of Stravinsky who expatriated to Cali, Edgard Varèse, French transplant to New York, and Elliot Carter — the true American centenarian — born on Dec. 11, 1908.  Celebrations and new compositions are being mounted everywhere.


This Carter-champion, Boulez, himself is 83, so witness this living master while the getting is still good: Feb. 26th – Mar. 3rd.


2. Cleveland Orchestra


Two helpings of Leós Janáček: Glagolitic Mass on Jan 22-24. This Pan-Slavic mass soars like few of modern note.  Leós clocked time with liturgy. At an age when we agonized over pimples and first kisses, Leós was a chorister at an Augustinian monastery — where he went on to compose anthems and take over the whole choir.  As for the great Glagolitic, just hear what a man of 72 can do.


Taras Bulba on Feb 26-March 1 – appetizer to Beethoven’s #7, in the very capable hands of Kurt Masur.  Like Nikolia Gogal’s short novel of Cossaks bound for war, then you’ll want to hear Leós’ take.


los-angeles-philharmonic3. Los Angeles Philharmonic

This ensemble celebrates its 125th season. Here are 2009’s two main kickers: Martha Argerich plays Ravel (March 12-14).  While I’ve not heard the Argentine pianist in the flesh, fellow performers rave.  My fave local pianist, Michael Sheppard, says she’s the one living pianist he’d go out of his way to see perform. (Now, I did see him at last year’s Leon Fleisher 80th Birthday Celebration — Shriver Hall at Johns Hopkins not being out of his way, one supposes.) The cherry on top: the LA Phil plays Shostakovich #5.


Plus, April 9-19, the Finn conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts his last shows with the L.A Phil.  Why?  He wants more time to compose.  The young Bernstein who manned the baton at the NY Philharmonic until 1968, left for this same reason…which led to his composing his massive Mass just performed by our own BSO.  We wish Salonen the same success.


4. Boston Symphony Orchestra


A season heavy on Mozart and Brahms.  For me, that’s like adding a little too much cream in a good pour of Zeke’s coffee.  That said, here’s when you should head to Boston:


April 23-25: Former Baltimore players’ fave conductor, Russian powerhouse, Yuri Temirkanov, conducts this “other” BSO.  I was thrilled to hear the Meyerhoff tremble when Yuri conducted Shostakovich (before he left us in 2006).  Such demanding performances that one night, the principal cellist, Ilya Finkelshteyn, collapsed onstage. All the musicians made the grab, not for the fallen man, but for his cello, a Francesco Gofriller. Wouldn’t you catch the cello that’s over 280 years old first?


But do catch Yuri’s Shostakovitch #9…and enjoy his crazy juxtaposition with Ravel’s strangely whimsical homage to the fallen of WWI: Le Tombeau de Couperin.


Better yet, glorify your spirit with Yuri’s return to Baltimore, his brief March 26-29th visit. He conducts Vadim Rapin in Brahms’ Violin Concerto and Prokofiev’s #5. 


5. New York Philharmonic


In February, Lorin Maazel takes the NY Phil on a working vacation. I don’t blame him.  Wouldn’t you like to hit Palm Beach, Puerto Rico or even Atlanta right about now?  Blustery Baltimore can take comfort that its BSO players don’t defect like migratory birds. But NYC isn’t missing much.  Or is it that Maazel holds little esteem for warm climate audience: thinking pleasure music is all they crave?  Let them have their Schumann and keep their Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.


san-fran-symphony6. San Francisco Symphony


I almost heard them in 2005, but Baker’s End beach robbed me of the pleasure.  After a near-transubstantiating tryst with the Pacific — she’s like Kali or Pele, and militantly female — I couldn’t tear myself away.  I scaled the serpentine cliffs with men I’d earlier seen copulating in the coves, as high tide licked our feet.  I could not speak, but watched the sun nestle in the knees of the hills.  I wept without sound and pushed away my lover. He should have floored the gas pedal and run us straight to the symphony hall — if he’d known what was good for us. He wanted dinner instead.  I should never have seen him again. 


So, definitely, I’d just as soon catch Martha Argerich here on March 7.  Or listen to Jean-Yves Thibaudet crack Piano Concerto #2 from Liszt…followed up by the suite from the opera that made Shostakovich the enemy of the Russian state.  Catch that, Comrade, on March 12th or 14th.


Start your own Classical Roadshow 2009, mix and match…And remember, it’s not just corrupt banks that collapse in times of recession: get thee to an orchestra!


[Author’s note: To the best of my checkbook’s ability -- and my ability to work my financial day job from remote locations -- I propose to bring you as close to a front row seat to some of these 2009 hallmark U.S. shows as I can.  Stay tuned…when Aural States goes on the road.]

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One Response to “2008 Wrap-Up (Sam): 2008’s Top U.S. Orchestras – Plan Vacations Accordingly”

  1. E.K. says:

    Philadelphia didn’t make the list? But I’m glad to see the San Fran on it. Classical needs to move further and further west and then sneak around East again. I was envious of your going to my hometown on the Lake, but now that I see the program, I’m even worse off. Maybe Boulez will storm off the stage in protest once again.

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