The Year in Classical Music

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Classical music celebrated the birthdays of Felix Mendelssohn (200th) and Henry Purcell (350th) and the 250th anniversary of the death of Georg Fredrich Handel and the 200th of Franz Joseph Haydn. But 2009 was also a time of remarkable change in the classical music world.

In 2009, when mainstream America thought about classical music, it seems they thought of little but Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel. "Dudamel-mania" swept the nation -- and his premiere as conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic undoubtedly raised classical music's profile. But here in New York the bigger story is the emergence of Alec Baldwin as the hippest classical music fan in ages.

Baldwin, who is perhaps best known for his role on the TV show "30 Rock" and frequent guest-host stints on "Saturday Night Live," started as the announcer for the New York Philharmonic this fall. The actor has said that he has long loved classical music. He even told The New York Times that he envies one of us our job.

But in addition to putting Baldwin's brand on it's classical broadcasts, the Philharmonic got a young new conductor of its own.  New York-born Alan Gilbert took the reins as music director this fall. Certainly the 42-year-old Gilbert has a few years on the fresh-faced, 28-year-old Dudamel. Nonetheless, he is a departure from the older image most folks have of a conductor.

New York City Opera returned home this year, after spending a season in exile while the State Theater was renovated. That space was reborn, after $107 million in upgrades, as the David H. Koch Theater and George Steel took over as artistic director of the company.

Finally, one big story that shouldn't be lost is the transition of commercial classical music radio stations to the not-for-profit side of the ledger. This story wasn't limited to our fair station moving from The New York Times to WNYC. In Boston, WCRB was bought up by the public radio and tv outlet, WGBH, for an estimated $14 million.

In a story on the artists we lost in 2009, we regretfully failed to mention Lukas Foss, the composer and conductor who died in Manhattan in February. Foss was a link to the New York of Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. He also took over the Brooklyn Philharmonia in 1971. Although the orchestra has had to pare back its ambitions this year, Foss raised the bar for the organization considerably.

NOTE: This article has be updated with a correction. 2009 marked the 200th anniversary of Haydn's death, not the 250th as originally stated.

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Comments [6]

Lorna Salzman from Brooklyn

(minor correction: Trumpet Concerto announced followed by baroque string trio; nt corrected at completion of piece).

Voice of old time EQXR announcer: Ben Grauer.

Nov. 15 2011 11:28 AM
George Jochnowitz from New York

In 2009, I attended a concert of recently discovered music by Mendelssohn, which you hosted. Whatever happened to the music? Some of it was wonderful. I especially loved a trio for violin, viola and piano. Will nobody ever hear any of this music again?

May. 14 2010 07:57 PM
Lee from New York

Please correct the spelling of Aaron Copland's name.

Jan. 05 2010 11:00 AM
franklyn commisso

Let's not ignore the fact that some pioneers of the baroque/galant transition also had 300th anniversaries:

Frantisek Benda - concertmaster to the court of Frederick the Great

Franz Xaver Richter - symphonic pioneer at the electoral court of Mannhein

Charles Avison - promoter of Scarlatti and string concerto composer in England

Jan. 04 2010 11:09 AM


Our dates and yours are correct. 2009 is the 250th anniversary of Handel's death and the 200th anniversary of Hadyn's death.

Jan. 04 2010 10:21 AM
Steve from Bronx, NY

The first paragraph contains an error corrected as follows: 2009 was not the 250th anniversary of the death of Haydn, but the 200th. Perhaps more responsible than any other for developing the form of "classical" music as today we know it (piano trio, string quartet, symphony), Haydn stands as one of the five greatest composers who ever lived.

Jan. 01 2010 10:00 PM

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