The cream of the classical music crop, as chosen by Limelight readers in 2012.
What a year! In 2012, a glittering host of artists toured our shores, with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter making her Australian debut, our national string quartet winning new plaudits, an emotional homecoming tour for our greatest conductor and much, much more.
This year, more than 4,000 music lovers voted for the recitals, operas, recordings and music personalities with the most stellar impact on classical music. Presenting the winners for 2012…
Music Personality of the year
Best orchestral concert
The Australian Chamber Orchestra
Beethoven: Symphony No 9, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage
Brahms: Geistliches Lied
Messiaen: Prayer of Christ ascending towards his Father (national tour)
How does a chamber orchestra of strings dare to take on Beethoven’s colossal Choral Symphony? With the help of 30 singers from England’s Clare College, Cambridge, stellar soloists including British soprano Lucy Crowe and Australian mezzo Fiona Campbell, and an expanded period-instrument orchestra led by Richard Tognetti on violin and conducting, bringing the body count to 84. The result was a crisp, refreshing and uplifting Ninth, with Ode to Joy the rousing culmination of the ACO’s Beethoven cycle.
Adelaide Symphony & Festival Chorus/Kristian Järvi
Bernstein: Mass (Adelaide Festival Centre)
Vienna Philharmonic/Christoph Eschenbach Schubert Symphony No 8 Unfinished; Mahler Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Matthias Goerne bar)
Queensland Symphony Orchestra/Johannes Fritzsch
Bartók: Bluebeard’s Castle (Lisa Gasteen s, Daniel Sumegi b (QPAC)
Hamburg Philharmonic/Simone Young
Mahler: Symphony No 2 Resurrection (QPAC)
Best chamber music concert
The Australian String Quartet/Brett Dean: Legacy
When violinist Kristian Winther and former ACO violist Stephen King replaced departing members of the Australian String Quartet at the start of the 2012 season, all ears were on the Adelaide-based ensemble as they developed their new sound. Almost a year later, their signature warm, focused and unified tone is not only a result of the new recruits’ attuned musical chemistry with violinist Anne Horton and cellist Rachel Johnston, but must also be attributed to the acquisition of a set of four rare Italian Guadagninis, to the tune of $6m. Sure enough, the ASQ sounded like a million bucks when they debuted the instruments in a program featuring Brahms and Beethoven, alongside Brett Dean’s deeply moving Epitaphs, with the composer on viola.
Tafelmusik: Music of the Spheres (Musica Viva)
Ensemble Offspring: New Radicals (Utzon Room)
Steve Reich with Synergy et al: Reich Music for 18 Musicians, Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings etc (Sydney Opera House)
Amarcord: The Singing Club (Musica Viva)
Best solo performance
Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin
Iconic German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter made her long-awaited Australian debut with the Beethoven concerto she first performed with maestro von Karajan at the tender age of 16. It’s “the crown of the repertoire,” she told Limelight, and “very much a partnership where sometimes the violin does also accompany”. Sydney Symphony and Vladimir Ashkenazy were powerful, superlative partners as Mutter’s Stradivarius resonated through the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. A highlight of the orchestra’s 80th anniversary season.
Best opera production
La Traviata, Opera Australia
In the wrong hands, Sydney Harbour’s night of nights and one of the most talked about operatic events on the world stage easily could have turned into La Travesty. The waterborne stage might have sunk; the fireworks could have gone off at the wrong time; the chorus’s water taxi could have taken a wrong turn; the 9m-wide Swarovski-studded chandelier suspended in mid-air could have crashed to the ground, Phantom of the Opera style. Anyone who thought that all these ostentatious elements combined would result in a tacky blingfest was proved spectacularly wrong: Francesca Zambello’s direction commanded the unique environment, and amplification of her superb cast was pristine. The perfect night out at the opera.
Double Bill: Master Peter’s Puppet Show & What Next? Victorian Opera
Griselda Pinchgut Opera
Elektra Perth Festival
The Marriage of Figaro Opera Australia
Best Performance in an opera (new category)
Emma Matthews, soprano
Violetta in La Traviata
A red-headed scarlet woman in a pink party-dress hoisted into the air on a crystal chandelier to raise a glass to the stunning Sydney Harbour skyline. The vocals were every bit as stunning as the visuals: if Emma Matthews is scared of heights, she didn’t let on. Soaring above the stage, the soprano tossed off Sempre Libera’s coloratura acrobatics with a coquettish shrug, building with bell-like clarity to the high E-Flat (thankfully without shattering her champagne flute). Her stage presence was as bubbly as the drink in her hand. But there was depth, too, in intimate duets with Italian tenor Gianluca Terranova, and in her tour-de-force death scene. An unforgettable role debut.
Best classical recording
Sydney Symphony / Ashkenazy
SSO Live 201201
This live recording captures the crowning achievement of Vladimir Ashkenazy’s sprawling, two-year Mahler cycle with Sydney Symphony. It’s a performance remarkable for its noble breadth, enlivened by sheer energy and bite in the bold, vivid orchestration. Limelight critic Greg Keane praised the Rondo Burleske as a “manic, virtuoso showpiece for the Sydney Symphony players”, and declared the disc his “pick of the crop in the SSO cycle. I find it absolutely stunning from first note to last… The string playing is some of the best I’ve ever heard from the SSO”.
Joseph Tawadros with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ABC Classics)
Sally Whitwell (ABC Classics)
Best new composition
Elena Kats-Chernin had already begun work on a 2011 Brisbane Festival commission when the Queensland floods struck. She immediately started from scratch to create Symphonia Eluvium (Symphony of the Floods), a heartfelt work for large orchestra, choir, organ and piano. “I took everything the orchestra has to offer, because nothing is big enough to fully express the magnitude of the floods,” said the composer. The music stands as a testimony to great loss and destruction, the bravery of ordinary folk and the determination to rebuild. Many of the members of Queensland Symphony Orchestra were affected by the floods, and played passionately to their community in the world premiere conducted by Asher Fisch.
Australian Festival of Chamber Music
This is the third Limelight Award for this nine-day, all-you-can-eat buffet of chamber music, which sees local and international performers take over sunny Townsville in July and August (though in 2013 the AFCM heads north to Cairns). Directed by London-based Australian pianist Piers Lane, the festival this year gathered together musicians as diverse as Composer-in-Residence Nigel Westlake, singer Katie Noonan, stalwarts the Goldner String Quartet, classical guitarist Karin Schaupp, UK pianists Jonathan Plowright and frequent Yo-Yo Ma duo partner Kathryn Stott, and Holland’s Storioni Trio, with Adelaide’s Natsuko Yoshimoto stepping in for their injured violinist.
Emily Sun, violinist
This young violinist first came to our attention in the acclaimed music documentary Mrs Carey’s Concert, with the then 16-year-old Emily as a shy but brilliant soloist. Five years on, she has grown into a poised performer, with Richard Tognetti inviting her to lead high-school string players in the inaugural ACO Academy. In January this year she returned from London, where she is on scholarship at the Royal College of Music, to play for 6,000 people at Symphony in the Domain. She chose Bruch’s Violin Concerto, the same work that made her the darling of the film, and dedicated the performance to her father Daniel Sun, a composer who died when she was five years old. “I feel as though I am carrying on his legacy as an Australian-Chinese musician,” she told Limelight.
Daniel Smith, conductor
Kiandra Howarth, soprano
Daniel Carter, conductor
Nicholas Russoniello, saxophonist