Performers pivoted and voices rose, sounding notes of optimism on the classical scene
By Rob Hubbard
Special to the Star Tribune | December 23, 2021
KYNDELL HARKNESS, STAR TRIBUNE
1. “Voices Rising: A Choral Affirmation of Black Lives,” June 16: VocalEssence’s G. Phillip Shoultz III led singers from 12 Twin Cities choirs in a powerful program of new works, bursting with positivity, yet clear-eyed about the work required for change. It’s still available on YouTube.
2. “Albert Herring,” Minnesota Opera, May 19-June 5: The company’s first opera since COVID’s arrival was a triumph both musically and cinematically, with Benjamin Britten’s comedy about escaping social convention presented as if in one long intimate shot.
3. Season opener, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Sept. 10: No group of musicians I encountered this year seemed (and sounded) more excited to be reunited with audiences than the SPCO, which offered a seven-work buffet bursting with passion, energy and expert musicianship.
4. Complete Beethoven String Quartets, the Danish String Quartet, Nov. 5-11: One of the world’s hottest string quartets settled into St. Paul for a week and went deep into the heart and mind of Beethoven, charting his evolution from classicist to revolutionary.
5. “Interstate,” Minnesota Opera, Oct. 9-23: Acting as both librettists and performers, Jennifer Cresswell and Kathleen Kelly joined composer Kamala Sankaram to create this gripping two-character online opera about a serial killer, her childhood friend and the consequences of abandonment.
6. “Schubert Revealed,” David Finckel, Wu Han and friends, June 3-10: The first couple of chamber music invited some outstanding collaborators along for a weeklong, five-concert immersion in Franz Schubert’s works for strings, voice and piano at an otherwise empty State Fairgrounds.
7. Paul Jacobs, April 13: As protesters braved tear gas and truncheons in Brooklyn Center, America’s preeminent organist offered sonic salve to a metropolis under curfew, summoning the power of Bach and Handel from Northrop’s mighty organ.
8. Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Minnesota Orchestra, March 19: Orchestra Hall was still absent an audience, but the flamboyant French pianist was playing Ravel (beautifully) and Osmo Vänskä was conducting Beethoven’s bouncy, breezy Fourth Symphony in what felt like an optimistic celebration of spring.
9. Jamie Barton and Jake Heggie, May 12: Barton is one marvelous mezzo, and this online Schubert Club recital with composer Heggie at the piano addressed what we’ve lost during the pandemic, but also what we should endeavor to treasure.
10. Outpost, Feb. 1: Soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw and Minnesota Orchestra violist Sam Bergman have a wonderful way of presenting new music, mixing some powerful pieces with stories, standup and science.