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Top U.S. Orchestras 2009: Live Review – Kurt Masur Drives Cleveland Symphony…Throttle – Wide Open (2009.02.26)

masurKurt Masur drove the Cleveland Symphony like a Maserati GranTurismo. He didn’t come screaming off the factory lot. A conducting legend doesn’t have to. But, by the time he brought the players into the grand galloping finale of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, the fortississimo seemed to be driving itself.

Now, I admit I’ve never driven a GranTourismo. But I’ll take Ben Harper of Bloomberg’s word for it: true Romance. Same goes for the Cleveland Symphony under the baton of Maestro Masur. And the interior of Severance Hall, like a sexy auto, shone with silver leaf and mocha-butter walls — a perfect Art Deco sounding board for every single note.

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Aural States tours the creme de la creme of US orchestras

usa_chicago_orchestrahall_3So begins an epic journey.  You may have noticed our classical specialist Sam Buker finished off 2008 with a round-up of the top US orchestras as rated by esteemed UK mag Gramophone.

Well, she has taken a bit of her own advice and begun trekking around the country to hear some of the singled-out orchestras.  This weekend, Sam will hit up the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (pictured left) performing modern American masters including Edgard Varèse’s Amériques with conductor emeritus Pierre Boulez followed by the Cleveland Orchestra featuring guests conductor Kurt Masur and pianist Louis Lortie performing Beethoven’s Symphony Nr. 7 and Piano Concerto Nr. 1

Any classical aficionado will readily profess some strong preferences on orchestras, something that is critical to interpretation and repertoire selected for any given season.  Finding your spiritual match is fantastically rewarding and can leave you with blissful, life-affirming performances.  We’ll see how these top-rated orchestras match up with Sam’s tastes!

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.


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