Best of 2016: Classical music

Community outreach efforts paid off
Ingrid Fliter was among several top pianists to perform this summer at Tanglewood.
Ingrid Fliter was among several top pianists to perform this summer at Tanglewood.

Audience support was the key factor in this year’s success for classical music organizations. Every group from chamber music presenters and opera companies to local orchestras saw either steady numbers or as much as a 35 percent increase (Opera Saratoga) in ticket sales. Glimmerglass Opera reported that its production of “La Boheme” required an additional matinee performance mid-season — the first in its 30-year history to meet demand and became its highest-earning production ever.

Much of this positive outcome is the result of inspired community outreach initiatives or programs that include everything from non-musical activities such as the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra’s “Beat Beethoven” 5-K race and its “Tasting Notes” chamber music/culinary event or the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s guided tour of Tiffany windows or nature walk during its American Music Festival to numerous but related musical events.

These include Opera Saratoga’s talk with the costume designer for one of its operas and its free “Saratoga Sings” concerts; Union College Concert Series’ film screening of an exceptional orchestra concert; Glens Falls Symphony’s composer-in-the- school talks; and Glimmerglass Opera’s pre-concert talks and connections to local museum exhibits on topics related to the company’s operas.

Also of note was that the Saratoga Performing Arts Center raised more than $5.22 million in its first fundraising campaign in 50 years and welcomed a number of new performers. These included Janni Younge’s larger-than-life puppets who “danced” to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” in the first matinee held in several decades. Choreographer Twyla Tharp’s company and the Alvin Ailey company debuted and the Philadelphia Orchestra gave a world premiere of a Michael Torke work. Elizabeth Sobol also became the Center’s new executive director replacing Marcia White, who retired.

Groups received national and even international attention: The Albany Symphony Orchestra received its second Grammy nomination; Union College Concert Series concerts were heard 13 times on American Public Radio’s “Performance Today”; stories about Opera Saratoga appeared in Opera News, The New Yorker, Dance Magazine, and La Scene Musicale. Four Seagle Colony singers were successful in the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions with one making the finals.

Commissions and grants were made to the Albany Symphony Orchestra for new pieces or upcoming projects; and to the Union College Concert Series for its “Idyll and Abyss: the Late Works of Schubert” project for three of its spring concerts.

A large number of choruses flourish in the Capital Region and this year the Hudson-Mohawk Chorale was founded under director Sue Fedak. The Burnt Hills Oratorio Society got a new director in William Jon Gray; and the Battenkill Chorale under director Janet McGhee presented a first for the area with bluegrass legend Monroe Crossing in “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass.”

Chronologically, from Geraldine Freedman and Leslie Kandell:
— Violinist Stefan Jackiw and his pianist Anna Polonsky thrilled in a perfect partnership for compelling listening of an unusual program. Jan. 31. Union College Concert Series, Memorial Chapel. (Freedman)
— The Ebene String Quartet made a conventional program a celebration of the unexpected. March 10. Union College Concert Series, Memorial Chapel. (Freedman)
— Pianist Lise de la Salle electrified and did everything well. April 20. Troy Chromatic Concert Series, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. (Freedman)
— Opera Saratoga sizzled with spontaneity and a freewheeling spirit in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” June 24, Spa Little Theatre. (Freedman)
— Pianists dazzled at Tanglewood especially Yuja Wang (July 17), Nelson Freire (Aug. 3) and Ingrid Fliter (Aug. 6). Tanglewood Music Center. (Kandell)
— Audiences who made the Philadelphia Orchestra’s final week were privileged to hear soprano Renee Fleming, violinist Joshua Bell, and jazz trumpeter Chris Botti. Aug. 17-20. Saratoga Performing Arts Center. (Freedman)
— Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Andris Nelsons unexpectedly took over the podium for Beethoven’s Ninth and made it a hit. Aug. 28, Tanglewood Music Center. (Kandell)
— Mabel Kwan at two pianos amazed and enlightened a select crowd in the premiere of a Georg Friedrich Haas piece. Sept. 22. EMPAC. (Freedman)
— Two fabulous mezzo-sopranos within five weeks boggled the ears: Magdalena Kozena (Oct. 9) and Bernarda Fink (Nov. 13). Union College Concert Series, Memorial Chapel. (Freedman)
— The Mozarteum Orchestra was exceptional but guest French hornist Radovan Vlatkovic astounded with his matchless technique and superb musicianship. Dec. 1. Troy Chromatic Concert Series, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. (Freedman)
— Two cellists, one a prodigy and one a former prodigy, hypnotized. Danielle Akta (age 13) with the Jerusalem Orchestra (March 14, Troy Chromatic Concert Series) and Yo-Yo Ma with the Albany Symphony Orchestra (Dec. 8, Palace Theatre, Albany). (Freedman)

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