Counting Down…Best of 2020

Hello everyone — haven’t posted here in a while, but with the continued closure of live music and performance venues around the US, including (sadly) here in Chicago, I just felt like there really wasn’t much to update. With the conclusion of 2020 upon us, I still thought it would be useful to continue my annual “Counting Down” posts (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015), although this year features a lot less content than usual 😦 .

5. Blomstedt conducts Mozart Piano Concerto 23 and Brahms 2. Herbert Blomstedt is one of my favorite conductors today, and it’s always a treat when he comes to Chicago to conduct the CSO, especially in the core repertoire with which he is well-acquainted. Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 (played by Bertrand Chamayou) and Brahms Symphony No. 2 are two such pieces, and the fact that this was the very last live concert I attended before the shutdown makes this an even more poignant entry in the list.

4. Beethoven Festival: Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique perform Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 6 and 7. So 2020 was supposed to be the big Beethoven 250th anniversary year, in celebration of his birth in 1770….basically meaning that orchestras everywhere were supposed to be playing a whole lot of Beethoven. As such, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique came to Chicago in late February to the Harris Theater to perform all 9 of the Beethoven symphonies for a “Beethoven Festival”, and I managed to catch the final concert of the Festival, where they performed Nos. 6 & 7. This was actually my first time hearing the 6th (“Pastoral”) live in concert, in the “historically informed” performance tradition no less!

Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the ORR take a final bow after Beethoven’s 7th.

3. Muti conducts Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 2 & 5. Continuing the Beethoven discussion, in terms of the CSO’s season, that also meant going through all nine of the Beethoven symphonies, and while the remainder of the season was cut short due to the virus, at least we got to hear Nos. 2 & 5. This also served as the last set of rehearsals/concerts led by Maestro Muti here in Chicago before the pandemic hit. It was super cool to hear the approach that Maestro Muti and the CSO took for these two symphonies, which was a different approach than that of Gardiner’s. For me at least, I still do prefer the “modern” orchestra sound over the “Baroque”, and I liked how Maestro Muti shaped the interpretation of the symphonies to be closer to the classicism period rather than full-on “Romantic” (although you can’t really escape from romanticism when talking about Beethoven 🤷‍♀️).

following the score for Beethoven’s 5th during rehearsals!

2. Yo-Yo Ma plays Dvorak at the Civic Centennial Celebration. One of my classical music bucket list items has always been to hear Yo-Yo Ma play the Dvorak cello concerto. He’s played this piece so many times, and his recording with Lorin Maazel and the Berlin Philharmonic is a true staple in my iTunes library, so when I heard that he was due to play this with the Civic Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen for their Centennial celebration in 2019, I was super stoked! But then, the CSO strike occurred, and that event was eventually rescheduled to March of this year, eventually ending up as one of the last scheduled concerts at Symphony Center that I got to attend. It’s incredible being able to hear Ma play and see his intensity (but also his pleasant cheerfulness and sheer joviality with his colleagues) up close, especially with the Dvorak, which I believe is the best piece written for the cello.

the end of a fantastic concert celebrating the Civic’s 100th anniversary!

1. Without a singular doubt, the number one item on my list this year is…Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, performed by an incredible cast (Anita Rachvelishvili, Piero Pretti, Luca Salsi, Sasha Cooke, Ronnita Miller), the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and led by Maestro Muti. If there was any consolation for not being able to travel during this (incredibly horrible) year, especially to Ravenna in the summer, where the same opera (along with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci), was being taught for the annual Academy, it would definitely be this week in February. I am not as familiar with the “verismo” genre as I would like to be, so what better way to get “introduced” than by sitting through the always insightful rehearsal process (whether separately with the chorus/vocalists to the full orchestral ensemble) and learning the many ins, outs, nuances and details of Mascagni’s lush score and Targioni-Tozzetti’s/Menasci’s libretto (with aspects of the unique Sicilian dialect interspersed throughout). This opera may only be one act, but it’s also heart-wrenching and captivating from beginning to end. If you want to relive the experience, you can actually hear an audio recording of the February performances here on the CSO’s website — definitely check it out if you can!

scored some nice box seats to the final performance 😀

In other news, since there hasn’t been much to focus on in terms of live concerts, I’ve been either just doing school stuff, listening to new recordings, reading through some books, and…doing some Italian transcriptions! Yup, I actually transcribed an old letter of Rossini’s for Ricordi’s online digital archive earlier in the summer, and I’ve been meaning to do some more for the project — hopefully if things free up at school, I can get back to this because it’s actually pretty fun trying to decipher and “decode” what the writer wanted to convey, with respect to the context and the time period. For example, in the letter I did, Rossini was granting publishing rights for his operas Otello, Mose in Egitto, and Maometto II.

Rossini’s letter in 1863 – transcribed by none other than yours truly!

Anyways, here’s hoping that 2021 is a better year for all — as for me, I’ll be kicking it off tomorrow with the annual Neujahrskonzert, conducted by none other than Maestro Muti! It’ll be the sixth time he’s conducted this concert, and this upcoming year is particularly special in that it will mark 50 years since his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic (1971, with Donizetti’s Don Pasquale). I’ll be sure to write a new post on the concert in the coming days…until then, happy new year to everyone and good riddance to 2020!

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