My Unforgettable Performances

A listener called the other day, new to Classical 101. He told me, as many do, that he found us on the car radio dial “accidentally.” And he’s hooked.

During the conversation he asked how I got into “this kind” of music, about my background, yadda, yadda, yadda. He also wanted to know what performances I found “the greatest.”

“Great” is a difficult word to use. Here follows the performances I will never forget, which remain with me to this day.

What are YOUR favorites? This is no fun if folks don’t share. Let me know what performance, in any genre, most moved you.

The Monks at St. Joseph Abbey, Spencer Massachusetts, singing the Latin chant for Compline in the monastery chapel. 1968

Prokofiev: War and Peace The American stage premiere given by the Opera Company of Boston, directed and conducted by Sarah Caldwell in a barely restored porno theater in a rough part of Boston. The opera is as large as the novel. At the Metropolitan, on that huge stage, the action spilled over. Sarah had a postage stamp sized playing area with sticky floors. (Don’t ask.) She had a 20 voice chorus. Every moment of this was thrilling. It looked and sounded like a cast of thousands. The late Donald Gramm’s performance of General Kutuzov was the most unforgettable performance in this unforgettable performance! 1973

Yo-Yo Ma, cello The complete Bach suites at Sander Theater, Harvard. I think this was his graduate recital from Harvard. In 1974 Yo-Yo Ma was not yet super famous. He was 19. He played the Bach suites without a break and time stopped. It was the first time I understood music as meditation. WATCH above

Maria Callas Symphony Hall, Boston. Enough said. 1974

Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti in Bellini's "I Puritani"

Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti in Bellini’s “I Puritani”

Bellini: I Puritani  Dame Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti at the Met. I was a naive kid, and marched up to the box office the day of performance and said I wanna buy a ticket for tonight. The man died laughing. Then he offered me one ticket, row 10 orchestra at top price…which was… $17.50! Recordings are great but to experience those two voices together ‘live’, to hear the size of the voices and their presence was tremendous. Dame Joan patted Luciano’s tummy at the final curtain. (The applause went nearly as long as the opera.)  1976

Mahler: Symphony 2 Israel Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall with the Westminster Choir conducted by Leonard Bernstein. If we really are supposed to ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord,’ the halls of heaven and earth were ringing that day. What a great performance, played more for beauty than for drama, until the huge choral finale, with was an apotheosis that was, well, unforgettable. 1981

Judith Raskin, soprano in recital at the 92nd St. Y in New York. She sang some of Mahler’s Knaben Wunderhorn songs and Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -Leben. Up to this performance I thought German lieder was dull and pretentious. I had no idea words and music could tell a story. Raskin was slowly dying of cancer. I don’t remember her voice so much as the over all experience of following every word she sang. Unforgettable. 1982

Shostakovich: Symphony 7 Leningrad The Baltimore Symphony conducted by Yuri Temirkanov. All of the obvious drama was there but Temirkanov mined this huge score for every ounce of bite and irony. This hymn to the Siege of Leningrad was ordered up by Soviet authorities. They probably expected a noisy victory tribute. They got actual aural pain, and Temirkanov, a great conductor and a product of the Soviet system, knew how to bring out the mocking tone as much as the tragedy. 1984

There were more after 1984, but this is a good beginning.

Now -I showed you mine! You can tell us about your own favorites right on this blog.

  • Bridgid

    St Matthew Passion with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia under the baton of Roger Wagner, sometime in the mid-80s. All Roger’s Christmas concerts! Mahler 2nd with the LAMC and Philharmonic under Mehta. Othello with Domingo and Milnes with the Los Angeles Opera (then called the Los Angeles Music Center Opera) during the first or second season. Haydn’s Seasons with the Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp under Sigiswald Kuijken with his early music ensemble. Prokofiev’s Nevsky, sung while the movie was being shown, under Previn – and the click track failed and he kept right on going! Robert Carson’s Turandot at the Vlaamse Opera. These are all concerts in which I participated as a singer. Memorable concerts have been Marilyn Horne in recital in L.A., and the very first classical concert I ever attended, with a school group: Scheherazade with the L.A. Phil at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion during the late 70s.

  • Maggie

    Beethoven’s 7th symphony, the Ashland Symphony with Maestro Arie Lipsky conducting. I think its what really started my true passion for cello playing, and I’m not sure why. I got to meet Maestro Lipsky backstage before the concert started (my cello teacher is in the orchestra) and he and I talked about my studies before he had to go onstage. a few months later he gave me a cello lesson that I’ll never forget (Maestro Lipsky was principal cellist of the Buffalo Philharmonic for almost 20 years). Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, again with the Ashland Symphony and Maestro Lipsky conducting. There was just something amazing in how he conducted it that I had never seen before or since in a conductor. He was so into it that he sweated through his shirt. Of course he HAD to give me a hug and cover me in sweat. (We’ve become really great friends)

  • Jerry

    Mahler’s Ninth Symphony conducted by Otto Klemperer in Royal Festival Hall, I believe in 1969. It was the first time I’d ever heard his Ninth. I felt overpowered — incredible.

    The Columbus Symphony and chorus performance of Alexander Nevsky accompanying the movie was powerful. It’s my favorite CSO piece.

  • Jeanne

    Metropolitan Opera, either 3/31/71 or 4/12/71, new production that year of “Werther,” with Franco Corelli, Regine Crespin, John Reardon, and Gail Robinson, conduct Alain Lombard, director Paul-Emile Deiber. Beyond gorgeous.
    N.B. The 1971 Met Werther was particularly significant for Deiber personally. It marked the first time that he worked with mezzo Christa Ludwig, who became his third wife in 1972, and who survives him.