Year in Review 2009: Classical music

Each year, the Capital Region’s classical music scene impresses with its depth and variety. In 2009,

Each year, the Capital Region’s classical music scene impresses with its depth and variety. In 2009, youth was the focus. Whether the venue featured chamber music or soloists, orchestras or operas, the performers were frequently under 25 if not under 15.

The Albany Symphony Orchestra was a great place to find these “rising stars.” Among its performers were the Chimeng Quartet from Bard College; violinist William Hagen (15); pianist Sun-A Park (20); tap dancer Ryan VanDenBoom; several young flutists and snare drummers; 86 fifth-graders; and pianist George Li (14).

At other venues, youth was served with appearances from Russian pianist Ilya Kazantsev, many of the Harlem Alumni Ensemble, Albany Pro Musica’s annual high school choral festival, the Vienna Boys Choir, and “Louis and Friends” — a group of mostly high school aged musicians who staged a Mozart opera.

Singers in recital were in the news. Soloists included mezzo-sopranos Sasha Cooke and Michelle DeYoung, baritone Steven Marking and the return of the Three Irish Tenors.

Opera revivals included the rediscovery of George Washington’s favorite opera and operas by Monteverdi and Meyerbeer.

Several chamber music ensembles made debuts and included the New Saxophone Quartet, Eight Strings and a Whistle, Excelsior Trombone Ensemble, A Little Nightmare Music duo, Synergy Brass Quintet, Burning River Brass, Harmonious Blacksmith, and the Phoenix and Kansas City Chorales.

Other debuts were the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra, the Dublin Philharmonic and soloists including pianists John Kamitsuka and Juana Zayas, flutist Alexa Still, violinist Arabella Steinbacher, cellist Sol Gabetta, and superstar Alec Baldwin, who narrated.

Many old favorites returned. These were pianist Emanuel Ax in two recitals; guitarists Jason Vieaux and Eliot Fisk; saxophonist Harry White; pianists Andre Watts, Garrick Ohlsson, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yefim Bronfman, Wei-Jen Yuan, and Kirill Gerstein; violinists Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham and Julia Fischer; cellist Yo-Yo Ma; and several chamber music ensembles, such as the Emerson and Tokyo String Quartets, Les Violons du Roy, the Albers Trio, the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, and the Five Browns.

The Mendelssohn Club enjoyed a 100-year centennial, the Luzerne Music Festival suffered the loss of its founder, cellist Bert Phillips, and Schenectady County Community College commissioned its first piece.

New ventures also included a concert version of an opera for the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra and programming inspired by the Hyde Collection’s Degas exhibit for the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra and the Saratoga Chamber Players.

Attendance records were at a high for the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and at many other venues, although some opera companies suffered a slight decline.


In chronological order, these are the top 10 classical music concerts of 2009 in the Capital Region, as chosen by classical music reviewers Geraldine Freedman and Leslie Kandell.

East Coast Chamber Orchestra at Union College, Jan. 5: Music making that’s a labor of love. (Freedman)

New Old American Company in “The Poor Soldier” at Schenectady County Community College, Jan. 24: This revival of an 18th century English opera was a remarkable local effort of scholarship, ingenuity and imagination. (Freedman)

Pianist Emanuel Ax at Union College, two recitals, on Jan. 26, Nov. 5: He treads the path to perfection. (Freedman)

Violinist Julia Fischer/pianist Milana Chernyavska at Union College, April 30: A virtuosic spinner of golden tapestries with a soul mate for a partner. (Freedman)

“Madama Butterfly” at Lake George Opera, July 3: Visually beautiful and sensationally sung. (Freedman)

Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood under conductor James Levine, July 19: A performance of transcendent masterpieces (Mozart’s last three symphonies) played right. (Kandell)

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Emanuel Ax, Mark Morris Dance Group at Tanglewood, Aug. 5: A fabulous partnership. (Kandell)

Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 6: A glorious opening night of music making. (Freedman)

Baritone Steven Marking at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, Sept. 27: A gem of a singer. (Freedman)

Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall under conductor Kazem Abdullah and percussionist Evelyn Glennie, Oct. 18: Inspired, compelling, and musically fiery. (Freedman)

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