It is always difficult to arrive at a list of “best concerts” of the year in Cincinnati.
There are simply too many top quality events to choose from in this music-rich community.
Nevertheless, in the spirit of “Auld Lang Syne,” here are Music in Cincinnati’s choices pared down (with difficulty) to 16.
Jan. 10. Music Hall. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Paavo Järvi, conductor. Stewart Goodyear, piano. Music director laureate Paavo Järvi’s first return to the CSO since his departure in 2011 featured a meltingly beautiful performance of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 and Witold Lutoslawski’s Piano Concerto, brilliantly performed by Goodyear.
Feb. 1. Christ Church Cathedral. Catacoustic Consort. Matthias Maute, recorder. “You hear it, but you don’t believe it” was the only way to describe German recorder virtuoso Maute’s phenomenal performance of 17th and 18th century works. Joining him were Catacoustic’s Annalisa Pappano on viola da gamba, David Walker, theorbo and Elizabeth Motter, baroque harp.
March 15. Music Hall. “Classical Roots.” Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Community Mass Choir. John Morris Russell, conductor. Branford Marsalis, saxophone. Dedicated to African-Americans in uniform, the CSO’s annual celebration of African-American music made a joyful noise.
April 29. Pallet 3 Northside. concert:nova. This retrospective by concert:nova of music by American composer Steve Reich and music that influenced (or was influenced by) him was thoroughly engrossing, with everything from Reich’s experimental “Pendulum Music” and his psalm setting “Tehillim” to music by Miles Davis and David Lang.
May 11. Music Hall. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. May Festival Chorus. Cincinnati Children’s Choir. The CSO, choruses and soloists observed the 140th anniversary of the May Festival and the centenary of Benjamin Britten with Britten’s “War Requiem,” a stirring rendition that made the most of the logistics and acoustics of 3,516-seat Music Hall.
July 11. Music Hall. Cincinnati Opera. Philip Glass, “Galileo Galilei.” This inventive production of Glass’ opera about Italian astronomer Galileo marked the initiation of chamber opera by Cincinnati Opera and a new alternative venue, Corbett Theater at the new School for Creative and Performing Arts on Central Parkway.
July 28. Music Hall. Cincinnati Opera. Verdi, "Aida." From its days at the Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati Opera has owned Verdi's "Aida." The 2013 production at Music Hall was no exception. Bravi to all.
Aug. 4. Washington Park. Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestras. “LumenoCity.” Louis Langrée and John Morris Russell, conductors. The CSO and Pops led by Langrée and Russell, respectively, drew the largest audience ever to attend a classical music event in Cincinnati (and arguably, anywhere else, with an estimated 35,000 spectators). The outdoor spectacular featured a one-of-a-kind light show projected onto the façade of Music Hall. The music (Tchaikovsky, Copland, Ravel and others) was quite wonderful, too.
Sept. 22. Corbett Auditorium, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Verdi, “Don Carlos.” CCM’s Mark Gibson led a stunning concert performance of the 1867 Paris Opera version of Verdi’s “Don Carlos” (in French), with the full instrumental and vocal forces of CCM and guest artist Kevin Thompson as the Grand Inquisitor. (This gets my vote as perhaps the single best concert of 2013 in Cincinnati.)
Oct. 1. Robert Werner Hall, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Chamber Music Cincinnati/Constella Festival. Miró String Quartet. This absorbing concert featured a powerhouse performance of Beethoven’s Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130, including the Grosse Fuge (Op. 133).
Oct. 30. Harriet Tubman Theater, Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Constella Festival, “Inspired Improvisations.” Members of Cincinnati Ballet. Violinists Tatiana Berman and Eddy Kwon. This impressive multi-media event featured Berman, Kwon and dancers of Cincinnati Ballet in spontaneous improvisations, with choreography (including two world premieres) by Heather Britt, James Cunningham and James Gilmer.
Nov. 1. Music Hall. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, guest conductor. Pepe Romero, guitar. No one does it better when it comes to Spanish repertoire. Frühbeck and Romero treated the CSO audience to delectable performances of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” and Falla’s Suites 1 and 2 from “The Three-Cornered Hat.”
Nov. 3. Christ Church Cathedral. J.S. Bach, “St. John Passion.” Ensembles and artists of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Earl Rivers, conductor. Jeffrey Thompson, Evangelist. Bach’s “St. John Passion” received a subtle, but compelling staging and a performance that was peerless in every way.
Nov. 8. Music Hall. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Louis Langrée, conductor. Maya Angelou, narrator. CSO music director Louis Langrée’s inaugural concert was a triumph in all respects. Angelou provided an inspiring narration of Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” and Langrée reached back to the CSO’s first season in 1895 with a stirring performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
Nov. 22. Patricia Corbett Theater. Benjamin Britten, “Owen Wingrave.” Opera department, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Presented in tribute to the composer’s 100th anniversary, this production of Britten’s rarely performed “Owen Wingrave” (a regional premiere) was moving in the extreme.
Nov. 29. Music Hall. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Louis Langrée, conductor. Kirill Gerstein, piano. Encore Louis, this fine “hands across the sea” concert featured music by Ravel (“Mother Goose Suite” and Piano Concerto for the Left Hand) and Gershwin (“Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris”). Pianist Gerstein made an impressive CSO debut in the Ravel Concerto and “Rhapsody in Blue.”