The world of classical music is often compared to a museum, but over the last twelve months it has proved to be a living, breathing and sometimes gasping art form.
Throughout 2011 we’ve seen the inauguration of new festivals, the resuscitation of old ensembles and the collapse of much beloved institutions. Along the way, venerable maestros have stepped aside to usher in new talent, and observers tried to introduce young and underrepresented voices to audiences. Here are our top five stories of 2011:
1. Financial Woes All Around
Whether or not it’s a fair categorization, concert and opera tickets are often considered luxuries for the upper crust. However, this year orchestras and opera companies suffered financial woes more in line with the 99 percent. The Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy, the New York City Opera had to give up its Lincoln Center home and most recently Opera Boston announced its closing.
2. Signs of Rebirth
Despite these high profile woes, 2011 has seen ensembles rebound. The Detroit Symphony ended its strike and agreed to a three-year contract. And locally, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, which all but shut down in 2010-11, programmed an ambitious and inventive 2011-12 season with its new leader, Alan Pierson. Meanwhile, the established Orchestra of St. Luke's opened a new venue, The DiMenna Center for Classical Music, providing New York-based musicians with much needed rehearsal space
3. Aging and Ailing Maestros
While figures such as Pierre Boulez (86), Bernard Haitink (82) and Elliott Carter (103) don’t seem to age at all, the fragile health of other maestros caused international incidents this year. Riccardo Muti’s tenure at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra started on unsure footing as he recovered first from a stomach ailment and then several broken bones suffered during a fainting spell. Muti has since returned to the podium—with a new pacemaker—but his contemporary, James Levine, the music director of the Metropolitan Opera, has not yet taken up his baton. Levine’s absence has forced the Met to scramble for replacements—most frequently turning to its new principal conductor Fabio Luisi.
4. New-Music Series Emerge
Opportunities to see new compositions and contemporary music seem to expand each year, and 2011 continued that trend. Several new music series such as Merkin Hall’s Ecstatic Music Festival, the Park Avenue Armory’s Tune-in Music Festival and the American Composer’s Orchestra–founded Sonic: Sounds of a New Century proved that contemporary composition is a vital part of New York City’s music scene.
5. Women Composers Get Short Shrift
However, amid all the new compositions, one group of composers seems to be underrepresented. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross’s revelation that the New York Philharmonic wasn’t performing any works by female composers during the 2011-12 season sparked a small furor last winter. The new music Web site Sequenzia 21 offered some programming suggestions to alleviate the oversight. A less forgiving post at New Music Box challenged the Phil’s oversight. WQXR blogger Olivia Giovetti chimed in with her own response debating whether symphonies should provide an affirmative action-type model when it comes to programming.