Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Best of 2009: Performances

Time for a late catch-up of favorites, in several parts. No time like the sick-on-the-couch present.

Best live performances of 2009.

10. Next to Normal. A tuneful rock musical, anchored by marvelous performances and a gut-wrenching story.

9. International Contemporary Ensemble's production of John Adams. Vibrant reminder of just how good Adams's music is and how many ways it's good, from the shimmering textures of Shaker Loops to the quirky humor and sweet nostalgia of his Gnarly Buttons, played with precision.

8. Finian's Rainbow. Marvelous score, one of the best, in a no-frills, consummate performance.

7. Andras Schiff, The last Beethoven sonatas. One of the more compelling renditions of Beethoven, unmatched in the intensity of the quietest moments. The silence that hung in the audience after the last sonata's gentle conclusion was perfect.

6. West Side Story, Broadway. This revival not only gives a powerful reminder of just how good that score is, but also manages to nail the awkward pain of young love perfectly.

5. Grizzly Bear. Thrilling new indie band in a low-key, high-quality, intimate stage performance. Being something of an ignorant fan, it was like confirmation of their promise, even if the format of a classical-style concert was odd.

4. Stile Antico. One of the most stunningly clear, intimate vocal ensembles, in a marvelous program of simple Tallis and extravagant Byrd.

3. St. Louis Symphony. A marvelous program (luminous Wagner, Adams's dark, compelling Guide to Strange Places, Zimmerman's hypnotically spare Canto di Speranza, soaring rendition of Sibelius 5), conducted with vitality by Robertson.

2. Newport Music Festival. Marvelous performances, from the intimate music of The Low Anthem and Iron and Wine to the sheer joy and tunefulness of The Decemberists to the unmissable singalong with Pete Seeger. Next time, bring sunblock.

1. Our Town, Off-Broadway. Rarely is theater this compelling, this emotional. David Cromer's minimalist reworking of Wilder's classic feels fresh, its nostalgic aspects retain all their power, particularly in the stage manager's simple, direct delivery makes it feel honest rather than applied, but the intimacy of the characters is so engrossing and human. Marvelous.


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