Given the drop in attendance, the lowered endowment/grant amounts and the sometimes retrenchment of ambitious schedules, most classical music series survived well enough in 2003 to keep their core audiences — and then some. At the same time, they presented some interesting new pomegranates as well as delivering stirring accounts of many older chestnuts.
The Ensemble Music Society continues to thrive, running counter to a burdened economy, by sustaining filled houses at the Indiana History Center Theater. Last April’s appearance of the Korean-turned-American Ahn Trio — three piano/violin/cello playing sisters, including a pair of twins, providing a gap-bridging evening of new stuff, some pop leaning, all substantial — has to be among the more memorable evenings (who says I don’t like contemporary music?). At the other end of the chamber spectrum, Suzuki and Friends — a series also playing at the IHC but not of late faring so well in turnout — presented last March a remarkable, all-Schubert program (a latter-day “Schubertiade”) featuring 10 of the Viennese master’s greatest songs, with guest soprano Christine Brandes accompanied by pianist Zeyda Ruga Suzuki. Including two chamber works, the program offered a too infrequent glimpse of some of Western music’s finest little jewels. March 7 proved an estimable Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra evening, providing the best of its American contemporary offerings — with the smallest sized of any Hilbert Circle Theatre audience I can recall. Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 5, Requiem, Bardo, Nirmanakaya (1999) — a behemoth work set to various religious texts and employing five vocal soloists, two choirs and a large orchestra — was the program’s sole offering. And it was beautiful, with Glass having moved beyond his characteristic minimalism to … I don’t have a name for it, but it is something better (who says I don’t like contemporary music?). Last February, Theodore Shapiro’s Avenues (Concerto for Piano and Orchestra) exemplified more typical ISO-offered new American fare. With pianist Awadagin Pratt and conductor Gerard Schwartz, Shapiro’s piece attempts originality and gets only novelty. The mostly cacophonous work was mostly a bore (who says I like contemporary music?). On June 27, the Festival Music Society launched its annual Early Music Festival with a noteworthy appearance by the Minnesota-based Rose Ensemble. They delivered outstanding a cappella singing of Tudor English (1485-1603) sacred music. The ensemble’s “white” (i.e. vibratoless), pitch-perfect singing rendered harmonies as near perfect as they can get.
More ’03 highlights:
• June 5-7: ISO performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, Mario Venzago conducting and Garrick Ohlsson pianist. The most moving reading of the work I have ever witnessed, it exuded a warm glow throughout. • Sept. 18-20: Hilary Hahn’s performance of the Elgar Violin Concerto; ISO, conductor David Lockington. Hahn’s has been the best violin playing since silver medalist Sergey Khachatryan captivated last year’s Indianapolis Violin Competition audiences. • Oct. 3-4: Mahler 10th Symphony reconstruction by Rudolf Barshai; ISO, Barshai conducting. The last three movements contain the finest symphonic writing from Mahler’s last years.