WRTI Classical hosts share some of their Favorite Things of 2022
It’s become a familiar preamble to the last half-decade of year-end “best of” lists: classical music is more important than ever as a source of succor, inspiration and connection in increasingly turbulent and isolated times.
So maybe it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. These albums and experiences represent just a handful of the myriad musical moments that have stopped us in our tracks, brought tears to our eyes and lifted us to our feet with rousing applause in 2022 — offering untold meaning to our lives on and off the radio. We’re so honored and privileged to share them with you every day on WRTI. Here’s to many, many more in 2023 and beyond. — Zev Kane, Classical Program Director
Mike Bolton, Classical host
Album: Víkingur Ólafsson, From Afar
It’s from afar, but you want to be as close as possible! For me, Víkingur Ólafsson’s musicality and keen curatorial skills are breathtaking. The 38-year-old Icelandic pianist had the audacity to record his entire album From Afar twice — once on a grand piano and again on an upright. It’s an incredibly personal anthology, dedicated to Hungarian composer György Kurtág, and a recital so intimate, we feel like we’re in his living room and he’s playing just for us.
Experience: The return of opera to The Academy of Music
Opera in the Academy of Music has been part of my life since 1986, when I saw my first live opera, Boris Godunov. Not being able to see opera and hear live singers in the oldest continuously used opera house in America left a hole in my soul during the pandemic. Opera Philadelphia’s triumphant return to the Academy in 2022 (Verdi’s Rigoletto and Rossini’s rarely-performed Otello) reminded us how much we missed live opera in the Grand Old Lady of Locust Street.
Kevin Gordon, Classical host
Album: Schumann, The Symphonies / Daniel Barenboim
Daniel Barenboim continues his musical maturation with a terrific recording with the Staatskapelle Berlin. For this recording he’s chosen the four symphonies by Robert Schumann, and his 80 years haven’t slowed his interpretive energy. His tempos are lively and the performances have a delightful spontaneity. The last time Barenboim tackled these symphonies was 1977, and the differences and similarities in those performances make for fascinating listening.
Experience: Ching-Yun Hu at Academy of Vocal Arts
A performance where you have to count the keys at the end to make sure they’re all still there is exciting. On July 30, pianist Ching-Yun Hu opened the 10th Annual Philadelphia Young Pianists Academy competition with an all-Liszt program at the Academy of Vocal Arts. To see and hear a diminutive woman transform into a giant onstage — chewing up the keyboard and leaving the audience breathless with a dazzling performance of knuckle-busting works — stayed with me for days.
Zev Kane, Classical Program Director
Album: The Clarinet Trio Anthology
The clarinet, cello and piano each can steal the limelight in any musical context, but when configured together as a clarinet trio, they’re asked to show off their softer sides, collaborating, complementing and riffing. Clarinetist Daniel Ottensamer, cellist Stephan Koncz and pianist Christoph Traxler trace the history of this delightfully esoteric form of chamber music from its origins in the late 18th-century to the present in this nearly eight-hour long “anthology” — traversing 27 works by 25 composers — with playing as technically assured as it is inspired.
Experience: A Thousand Thoughts - A Live Documentary with the Kronos Quartet
It should have come as no surprise that Kronos Quartet offered a revelatory experience when they visited the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society in January, but I was blown away nonetheless by the San Francisco-based group’s astounding ingenuity and skill. Part film screening, part lecture, part concert, Kronos and documentary filmmaker Sam Green reflected on the ensemble’s vaunted legacy in a brilliantly hard-to-characterize performance graced with the humility, humor and heart that has made them such invaluable ambassadors of the avant-garde for the last half-century.
Susan Lewis, Consulting Producer
Album: Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Song
Listening to Song, Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s wonderfully eclectic collection of music for cello, feels like traveling with a friend through the many moods this year has brought. Among the varied works are traditional folk tunes evoking a sense of home, playful Beethoven variations for piano and cello, and a set of new preludes by contemporary composer Edmund Finnis. The album also illustrates his joy in arranging music for his instrument – including “Myfanwy,” said to be his grandmother’s favorite song,and Burt Bacharach’s “I Say a Little Prayer.”
Experience: The Hours at The Metropolitan Opera
The last Monday in November, my oldest son and I decided somewhat impulsively to get tickets to the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Kevin Puts’ new opera, The Hours, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and starring Renée Fleming, Joyce DiDonato, and Kelli O’Hara. The vocal power of those three superstars was indeed astonishing, but what also drew us in was Puts’ imaginative orchestral score that wonderfully evoked three different time periods and places inhabited by the three main characters.
Mark Pinto, Classical host
Album: Vladimir Ashkenazy, Bach: English Suites 1-3
Who knew Bach could be this fun? Pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy obviously had a ball making this recording of the first three of Bach’s six so-called English Suites. Never mind that Bach never gave them that name, or that they have more affinity to French Baroque keyboard style; the venerable Ashkenazy belies his age (85) with these playful, spirited and spontaneous-sounding performances of Bach’s keyboard dance suites. Can’t wait for the second installment!
Experience: Wayne Oratorio Society
After nearly three years of pandemic-induced choir deprivation, my wife and I had our first opportunity to reunite with our fellow choristers in the Wayne Oratorio Society for concerts in early November at Wayne Presbyterian Church. I wasn’t prepared for just how cathartic it was to make this kind of music again, and to witness the audience’s enthusiastic response. Of course the music itself — Gabriel Fauré’s poignant Requiem and Dan Forrest’s exuberant Jubilate Deo — helped stimulate the strong emotions I felt over the course of that unforgettable weekend.
John T.K. Scherch, Classical host
Album: PUBLIQuartet, WHAT IS AMERICAN
The titular question is posed in all caps, and PUBLIQuartet answers just as emphatically with many different ideas, touching on celebrated figures and uncomfortable truths. One of the main musical throughlines is improvisation, a key feature of Black and Indigenous musics, which are honored here in interesting ways. I lost a good amount of time listening to this album, suspended between complexity and a pop sensibility, and none of it was wasted.
Experience: The Hours at The Philadelphia Orchestra
I experienced this one from behind the Philadelphia Orchestra, as I sang in the chorus — but disclaimers aside, this was the classical music event of the year. Friends who saw it said they were in tears; I was struggling not to lose it as I waited for my next cue. The music was accessible without feeling like a retread, and interesting but not overly complex. Classical music that engaged with its audience won this year, and should keep winning if we keep doing it.
Melinda Whiting, Classical host
Album: Renaud Capuçon, Martha Argerich, Beethoven - Schumann - Franck
A new release from the Argentine octogenarian Martha Argerich is always something to savor. Though she continues to appear in concert as a piano soloist, most of her recent recordings have been collaborative adventures — and she is a searching and generous collaborator. French violinist Renaud Capuçon is of a similar mind, as their latest release together confirms. Mercurial, limpid Schumann; Beethoven rendered almost as improvisation, with humor a constant undertone in the finale; and especially Franck, alternately pensive and explosive. Here in particular, I heard whole passages in this utterly familiar work as if they were completely new to me.
Experience: Walking at sunset with The Met Opera’s Concert for Ukraine
On a brisk late afternoon in March, I’m walking along the Delaware River, radio tucked in my pocket and headphones doubling as earmuffs, immersed in the Metropolitan Opera’s moving Concert for Ukraine. I head east upriver as the Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen embarks on Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, a marvelous marriage of poetry and music expressing weariness, resignation, and the promise of ultimate rest. Lost in her luminous singing, I absently reverse course as the road ends — and turning, stop short. The western sky is aflame. Davidsen begins the final song, ”Im Abendroth.” – “At Sunset.” I can’t move. O spacious, tranquil peace, so profound in the red sky of evening. Is this perhaps death? The music fades to silence and time is suspended. Before the applause can start, the headphones are off. I want that silence to last as I gaze on a sky growing ever more radiant and hopeful, knowing the flame will fade.