A pianist recited Yiddish poetry during a Washington, DC recital, the Seattle Symphony premiered a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece about the environment, and Anna Netrebko made a surprising transformation as Lady Macbeth – these were a few of the high points of 2014, according to three top music critics.
Joining host Naomi Lewin for this discussion of the year's highs and lows of classical music are Anne Midgette, the classical music critic of the Washington Post; David Patrick Stearns, classical music critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer and for WQXR's Operavore blog; and Zachary Woolfe, freelance classical music critic for the New York Times.
Midgette noted that Evgeny Kissin's poetry-infused recital was part of a larger trend of artists making more personal, introspective statements in concert halls. But she also lamented the way in which classical music in America seemed disconnected from broader national discussions of race and social change. And when debates did turn up in classical music, they proved one-dimensional. Midgette was particularly "saddened at the level of discourse" around John Adams's opera The Death of Klinghoffer, which drew protests at the Met.
Our other panelists agreed. "I thought the [Klinghoffer] debate was such a straw man," said Stearns, "because most of the protesters didn't know much about the piece." All of the critics agreed that serious pros and cons about the opera needed to be raised but often weren't.
The Met's eventful year also featured an epic struggle to cut costs and to reach contract deals with its unionized employees; the eventual outcomes didn't entirely solve the company's financial challenges, said Woolfe.
Poor labor-management relations were an ongoing national story in 2014. But the year saw many causes for optimism, say the panel, including some inventive programming at Philadelphia and Seattle orchestras (the latter of which premiered John Luther Adams's much-discussed Pulitzer Prize winner Become Ocean); new leadership at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC; and the continued emergence of China on the orchestra landscape.
Listen to the full discussion above and tell us in the comments below: What were your highs and lows of 2014?
Bonus audio: Our guests consider the changing marketing of classical concerts: