1. A Quiet Place at City Opera: I can think of nothing that better represents the purpose, importance and specialness that is New York City Opera. It’s one thing to resurrect and present a forgotten or neglected work, and there is an inherent curatorial interest in that. But to take a reviled work and, through imagination, commitment and professional quality, demonstrate that it is a work full of greatness. This production was one of the most gripping operas I’ve seen, and the only music drama I’ve experienced that is so personally immediate and real to it’s contemporary audience.
2. The 2009 Blip Festival: Of all the musical subcultures simmering just below popular perception, this is the liveliest, most interesting and sheer fun. Punk rock energy and irreverence with space helmets, Gameboys and both an underlying sweetness and a dance aesthetic. These shows were not only incredibly fun, but the most was, for the most part, great. Blippy, crunchy sounds, pithy tunes and real and imagined memories of adolescent play. Look for the return to NYC this spring.
3. Ken Thomson & Slow/Fast at Music at First: I love Thomson’s new CD, and the live show was even better. The power and energy that the band develops was gripping and moving. Well beyond the standard of a jazz gig.
4. The Rite of Spring, Valery Gergiev and New York Philharmonic: There were pieces played during the Russian Stravinsky Festival that I actually like better, but this performance of the Rite was a kind of orchestral playing that is truly rare, right at the razor’s edge of complete chaos.
5. Persephassa, Make Music New York: Rowing around in a boat on Central Park Lake with Anthony Tommasini, on a beautiful summer’s day, listening to Xenakis. Thank you, Aaron Friedman and Make Music New York.
6. William Brittelle’s Television Landscape at The Bell House: Before Brittelle put out the greatest pop record of recent years, he played one of the greatest pop shows, complete with the kind of gestures that make it all work on stage. Someone get this man a keytar.
7. The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble plays Satoh, Xenakis and Kotik: This is a concert that still haunts my memories. The S.E.M. Ensemble is so deeply inside the masterpieces of modern and experimental music they play, and Kotik’s repetitive, hypnotic works to Gertrude Stein are tremendous masterpieces. Also, kudos to Conrad Harris for playing the violin better than I though humanly possible.
8. Christine Schäfer singing Crumb and Purcell at Zankel Hall: She began slowly, but this dialogue across the ages between two masters of song was breathtaking and spine-tingling in equal measures.
9. Music from The Arctic Circle, with the Kronos Quartet, at Zankel Hall: Because we all need a lot more hard core accordion playing in our lives. I mean that.
10. Darmstadt Institute at Issue Project Room: I hear and see a great deal of brand new music, and also a lot of the now institutionalized masterpieces of the post-WWII composers, like Ligeti, Xenakis and Boulez. In comparison, this series of shows at Issue Project Room challenged every assumption about how art is made and thought about, and was a necessary reminder that great work has been, and is being, done at the limits of what we think is possible, and that we still need to spend a great deal of time and thought to catch up to it.
The Big City is taking a brief Christmas break, although there will still be new posts up on the tumblr side. Before the end of the year, though, look for a review of a good handful of vocal recordings, a Dig This on Arvo Pärt, and a piece on 2010’s musical Man of the Year.
Best to all