The Best Classical Music Stories of 2011

Goodbye, 2011.(Photo: Erik Daniel Drost (Flickr))
Goodbye, 2011.(Photo: Erik Daniel Drost (Flickr))

To paraphrase the great Charles Dickens, 2011 was the best of years and it was the worst of years in classical music news.

Topping the “best” column were the saunas installed for the Finnish Radio Orchestra and Marin Alsop’s historic performance leading the Cleveland Orchestra. In the “worst” column were Yuja Wang’s microdress, Bolshoi-gate and the reported temperamental excesses of conductor Mark Gorenstein. And admittedly, the boundaries between best and worst often blur: the flap (no pun intended) about Yuja Wang’s dress must also appear in the “best” column, for in what other field but classical music would an orange microdress make global news? You’ve got to admit, there’s something great about that.

Before we give 2011 the old heave-ho, here’s my list of the top 10 classical music stories of 2011, with links to posts about them on the Classical 101 blog:

10. Physicist Brian Foster, with university appointments at Oxford and Hamburg and affiliated with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), has teamed up with composer Edward Cowie to create a musical work based on particle physics theory. Read: Composer’s “Particle Partitas” Turn Particle Physics Into Music

9. After decades as a top-notch “piano whisperer,” Columbus piano technician Benjamin Wiant is still nurturing thoroughbred grand pianos back to health. Read: The Piano Whisperer: Local Piano Restorer Calms Cranky Keyboards

8. Six years and countless rubles after renovations began on Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, the fabled venue reopened this fall amid allegations of fraud and embezzlement. The vastly over-budget renovation project is thought to have cost $200 million rubles – about $800 million U.S. and ten times the estimated cost of the renovations. Read: Allegations of Fraud and Embezzlement Taint Bolshoi Reopening

7. Several months after its 2010 opening, the Afghan National institute of Music made world headlines – and brought the world hope – as the first music school in war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan. Read: Kabul’s First Music School

6. Musicians in the Svetlanov Orchestra defected from the orchestra because of the allegedly abusive behavior of its conductor, Mark Gorenstein. Read: Musicians Reach Boiling Point With Abusive Conductor

5. Professional musicians on the period-instrument performance scene say that European Union regulations governing the use of animal tissues – including the cow’s gut used to make strings for “period” stringed instruments – could spell the demise of historically informed performance. Read: Where’s the Beef? Wrenching the Guts from Period Instruments

4. The musicians of the Finnish Radio Orchestra got the saunas they asked for in the orchestra’s new home, the brand-new Helsinki Music Center. Oh, and their conductor gets to use the saunas, too! Read: Finnish Orchestras Get Coffee Machines, Saunas

3. For what seemed to be a slow eternity during the off-season summer months, pianist Yuja Wang was the talk of the classical music world – not for her playing, but for the revealing orange mini-dress she wore to perform at the Hollywood Bowl. As Wang’s Carnegie Hall debut recital approached a couple of months later, reports indicated that Wang hoped critics would devote more attention to her playing than to her wardrobe. Read: Yuja Wang Set to Make Carnegie Hall Debut

2. Conductor Marin Alsop shattered another glass ceiling in November when she became the fourth woman ever to conduct the famed Cleveland Orchestra. Read: What To Do About Gender Inequity in Classical Music?

1. The flash mob that turned the Central Market in Valencia, Spain, into a momentary opera house actually took place in 2009. But an event that brings that much culture and joy to a day in the lives of others deserves a rerun. If you didn’t see the video of this flash mob in action the first time around, watch it now: Opera at the Vegetable Stand

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