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Feast of Music's Year in Review: 2013

FoM Year End 2013

Photo credits: Pete Matthews, Ryan Jensen (SubCulture)

It was definitely a banner year for both New York City's music scene and Feast of Music. Here at FoM, we provided over 450 reviews, previews, op-ed's, and ticket giveaways over the course of 2013, and are happy to report that those numbers will be increasing even more during the new year. Taking a look back at 2013's roster of events, a collection of FoM's staff took the time to crown their favorite performances of the year, and give our readers a hint of what they're looking forward to in 2014.

Happy New Year from all of us at Feast of Music! 

Pete Matthews, Editor-in-Chief

Performances of the Year:

Two Boys at the Metropolitan Opera
Nico Muhly's Two Boys will someday be remembered as a landmark event in the history of opera: a rich, relevant work that is the first to address the ever-increasing percentage of our lives spent online. Which, for better or for worse, has become the real world for many of us—the place where we go to connect, to share, to dream. Even to find love. Two Boys triumphs not so much for its inherent qualities, but for what it represents: the passing of the torch to a new generation of creators who are re-embracing opera's essential role as a mirror for our time and document for the future.

Wagner's 200th Birthday Events in Germany
A memorable 10-day tour through Germany, culminating in my first-ever visit to Bayreuth, where I attended a gala concert in the Festpielhaus on May 22, the 200th birthday of Wagner's birth. Other memorable events were a gala concert in the Dresden Semperoper with Jonas Kaufmann and the Dresden Staatskapelle; Tannhauser performed in its original setting, the Wartburg in Eisenach; and performances of Wagner's early operas Die Hochzeit and Die Feen in Leipzig, the city of his birth.

Bonnaroo 2013: Thursday; Friday; Saturday; Sunday
With over 130 acts running the gamut from New Orleans jazz and gospel to indie rock and electronica, Bonnaroo has such an embarrassment of riches that the only issue becomes choosing who to see. Wu-Tang Clan or Wilco? Björk or Beach House? And, what other festival puts Animal Collective on at 2 a.m.??? But the one act that stood head and shoulders above the rest was the 71-year-old Paul McCartney, who played a 38-song set Friday night in front of 100,000 people that lasted some two and a half hours. After three encores, McCartney seemed as fresh and energetic as he did at the beginning of the night, as if he were living some kind of fever dream he didn't want to be woken from. For those of us who were seeing him for the first and perhaps only time, the feeling was mutual.

Caroline Shaw Winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music
Much like when Bang on a Can's David Lang won his Pulitzer in 2008 for the little match girl passion, Caroline's win for Partita for 8 Voices signaled a coming of age for the contemporary classical movement in NYC. In addition to making Caroline the youngest (and only fifth woman) Pulitzer-winner, it was also, happily, the first-ever Pulitzer for New Amsterdam Records, which put out the album the day before Sandy wreaked havoc on its Red Hook studio. And, as our recent conversation with her showed, she's taking it all in stride.

Written on Skin at Tanglewood
Hailed as the greatest opera written in the past quarter-century, Benjamin's opera lived up to the hype, made even more remarkable by the fact that it was performed entirely by fellows from the Tanglewood Music Center, with Benjamin himself conducting. Written on Skin is proof positive that tonality doesn't equate to retrograde, that language still wields raw power, that any music this visceral and this dramatic will remain with us as long as there are stages.

New York City Opera's Anna Nicole at BAM
City Opera went out with a bang with this brilliant premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's opera about the former Playboy model-turned-golddigger. Given the material, Anna Nicole could have easily slipped into salacious satire, and indeed there were plenty of laughs peppered throughout Richard Thomas' sparkling libretto. But wisely, the creators portrayed Smith as a tragic heroine struggling to pull herself and her young son out of poverty in only-in-America fashion: by milking the celebrity mill for all its worth. Call her a Cio-Cio-San for our times.

St. Louis Symphony and Chorus Perform Peter Grimes at Carnegie Hall
For all of the wondrous music that passes through this town on a regular basis, there are precious few performances that rise to the level of sheer genius. This performance of Grimes was one of them. Performed on the 100th anniversary of Britten's birth, David Robertson and the SLSO and Chorus gave an electrifying performance of this masterpiece, featuring the extraordinary tenor Anthony Dean Griffey in his signature role.

Stockhausen's OKTOPHONIE at the Park Avenue Armory
Completed in 1991, OKTOPHONIE was originally the musical accompaniment to Dienstag (Tuesday), part of Stockhausen's massive seven-opera cycle, Licht. Performed in the cavernous Wade Thompson Drill Hall by Stockhausen's own collaborative muses Kathinka Pasveer and Suzanne Stephens, it was "like a surviving capital from a cathedral ruin." With continuing advancements in sound technology and the explosion of EDM as a major cultural phenomenon, could it be that Stockhausen is finally having his time?

New York Philharmonic Performs 2001: A Space Odyssey
Featuring the full New York Phil and Musica Sacra performing music by Johann and Richard Strauss and Ligeti, Alan Gilbert led this experiment in multimedia performance that exceeded almost everyone's expectations. Kubrick, who was born in the Bronx and was a major classical buff, no doubt would have been tickled to hear his hometown orchestra play along to his masterpiece.

Fun Fun Fun Fest 8, Austin, TX
Over three days, more than 90 acts covering an impossibly wide array of genres—hip hop, electronica, metal, indie, hard core, etc.—filled Austin's Auditorium Shores. If that wasn't enough to keep your attention, there was a skate/ride park, a comedy tent, a mechanical bull, a professional wrestling ring, and the one and only taco cannon. And, if you were somehow still standing at the end of each 10-hour day, there were dozens of after-shows in clubs throughout Austin, free to festival-goers. Among the many highlights were sets by Television, Pelican, Lupe Fiasco, Slayer, and the Patron Saint of Austin himself, Daniel Johnston.

Looking Ahead to 2014:

While New Yorkers have grown accustomed to seeing the Vienna Philharmonic every season at Carnegie Hall, this year they'll be in residence for three full weeks with the inaugural Vienna: City of Dreams festival. In addition to performances by the Vienna Philharmonic and concert performances of Wozzeck and Salome by the Vienna State Opera, there will be lectures, chamber music concerts, and other related events all around NYC.

Michael Cirigliano II, Content Editor

Performances of the Year:

Detriot Symphony at Carnegie Hall's Spring for Music Festival
It will be sad to say goodbye to Spring for Music in 2014, as it was one of the only chances for some of the less-mighty orchestras of the country to visit midtown's fabled hall. After the Oregon Symphony declined their return invitation due to financial problems, Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony stepped up to the plate, performing a mix of Rachmaninov, Ravel, and Weill's underperformed masterpiece, The Seven Deadly Sins, before an enthusiastic audience of New Yorkers and Detroiters. Oh, and if you've never seen Storm Large perform live, you'll want to rectify that issue as soon as possible.

Lincoln Center's American Songbook: Kristin Chenoweth 
Surely the next person to attain an EGOT (she's halfway there), there isn't much that Kristin Chenoweth can't do. A classically trained soprano that has conquered Broadway, the Metropolitan Opera, television, and film, Chenoweth was an obvious choice for this year's American Songbook series. Over the course of 90 minutes at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall, she tore through over a dozen classic tunes before ending the evening with a tender, muted rendition of "Edelweiss"— accompanied by a sole double bass—that didn't leave a dry eye in the house.

Yale in New York at Zankel Hall
A mix of faculty, alumni, and current students from the Yale School of Music's string program descended on Zankel Hall, giving an electrifying performance of Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and composition alum Matthew Barnson's new work, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying. The evolution from Strauss' post-World War II lament to Barnson's ethereal whispers was delivered in a remarkably polished performance, led by violinist Ani Kavafian. The fact that the hall was less than half full will remain one of 2013's greatest mysteries. 

Looking Ahead to 2014:

Please, powers of the universe, I invoke thee—let's get through 2014 without another symphony or opera company going on strike, being mistreated by management, or flaming the fires that herald the media's ever-present notion of the impending "death" of classical music. Sure, the loss of New York City Opera was worrisome; the fact that the players of the Minnesota Orchestra were locked out of their jobs for all of 2013 by an uncompromising (and incredibly well-paid) management and board was infuriating; but the San Francisco Symphony musicians striking and canceling an East Coast tour because of a pay raise that wasn't in line with their desired "cost of living" was, well, eye-rolling. Here's to hoping 2014 brings a tectonic shift in the business paradigm of classical music; it honestly can't come soon enough.  

Nick Fernandez, Assistant Editor

Looking back at 2013, I was pleased to revisit the large strides jazz musicians made both by breaking into the mainstream public consciousness and expanding the genre's role in the contemporary-art and -music scene.

On a national scale, artists like Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper continued to garner accolades and show the world that jazz can remain stylistically current, but my favorite contribution came from Brooklyn-based composer-bandleader Darcy James Argue. This year he delighted NYC audiences with music from his 2013 release, Brooklyn Babylon—an innovative and wide-reaching album that speaks to both the relevancy and depth of the big-band tradition, and a strong demonstration of the genre's ability to continue growing in relevancy.

Performance of the Year:

Fred Hersch: My Coma Dreams at Miller Theater
On a more academic note, I was pleased to see pianist-composer Fred Hersch continue to promote his work of jazz theater, My Coma Dreams. Hersch combines improvisation, dialogue, and visual art in a thoughtful self-exploration of his months-long coma. The opus shows the great contributions jazz artists can offer to the discussion of large-form, interdisciplinary works. Plus, it's funny and full of happening grooves!

Looking Ahead to 2014:

Coming up right as the calendar changes is the ever-popular Winter Jazzfest, running from January 7–11 at several venues throughout the city. Both the artists and locations range from familiar figures (Ravi Coltrane and the Blue Note Jazz Club) to fresh newcomers (Aruán Ortiz and SubCulture); the variety and sheer number of performances is sure to sate even the most fervent fans.

Melanie Wong, Promotions Manager

Best Performances of 2013:

San Diego Symphony at Carnegie Hall
Music Director Jahja Ling glowed as he led an exuberant San Diego Symphony in their Carnegie Hall debut earlier this year. In what was one of the best performances I saw all year, the symphony displayed a fiery energy well beyond that of many of today's leading orchestras. Beyond the symphony itself, it was a thrill to finally see Lang Lang, an artist unconstrained by classical music's traditional boundaries, whose theatric performance was altogether fascinating, flawless, and memorable.

Erykah Badu's "You're Causing Quite a Disturbance" at BAM
Also notable was the fusion between neo-soul queen Erykah Badu and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. It was an evening that had audiences dancing and singing along, while a talented orchestra delivered technically challenging and deeply emotional music alongside soul singing and rapping. Truly an unforgettable experience—one that I hope will be replicated many times over in the coming years.

Polyphonic Spree at Bowery Ballroom
On the other end of the spectrum, the Polyphonic Spree literally lit up the Bowery Ballroom this year in an extraordinary light show that kept the crowd jumping into the wee hours of the morning. Lead singer Tim DeLaughter dedicated the show to former Tripping Daisy drummer Ben Curtis, who was diagnosed with cancer in February of this year. Polyphonic Spree naturally exuded joy in a way many artists can only dream of recreating.

Looking Ahead to 2014:

In January of this year, there will be some incredible giveaways at Feast of Music. Giveaways are already slated for esteemed jazz guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel at Jazz Standard; the a capella soul masters The Persuasions at SubCulture; and the famed Brandon Boyd (of Incubus) at Irving Plaza. Check back to our Facebook page, Twitter, and, of course, FoM itself for weekly chances to win tickets to some really great shows!

Caroline Sanchez, Staff Writer

Best Performance of 2013:

Squarepusher at (le) Poisson Rouge
An absolutely spectacular performance—Squarepusher's two-night stretch at (le) Poisson Rouge this past July is easily my most memorable electronic performance of 2013. Tom Jenkinson brought all aspects of his musical ability to the stage that night, turning music that was melodically and rhythmically complex into a show that left the audience stunned. A large part of what made the night so memorable was the integration between audio and visual, and how easily the light show was able to reflect the intensity with which Jenkinson played. Coupled with the intimacy of the venue at LPR, Squarepusher's show was physically immersive and mentally stimulating. If there is any way you can see him perform this coming year, I strongly recommend that you do.

Looking Ahead to 2014:

Nearly every part of the U.S. had its share of the festival season in 2013, including the East Coast where, for the second year, the Firefly Music Festival took over the woods in Dover, Delaware. Considering my overwhelming experience at this year's events, the festival's line-ups—which have included Tom Petty, The Killers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and dozens of others—and the local amenities (such as being sponsored by Dogfish Head), Firefly is the festival announcement that I am most looking forward to in 2014. Red Frog Events has the foundation to make 2014 the biggest year yet for the Firefly festival and to truly coin their event has the East Coast's "premier music experience."