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
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.