by Jeffrey Rossman, William Thomas Walker, Marvin J. Ward & John W. Lambert

Recapping an entire year is a somewhat daunting task, but as the new season looms, we take a look back at 2002-3, culling the events that stood out beyond the norm among the 600+ reviews and other articles provided by CVNC. In view of the extent of our work since our last “Best of…” feature, we shift formats this year, presenting our selections in list form, chronologically arrayed, with comments on some of them from individual writers. Ward observed that his – and other writers’ – predilections are reflected in the choices, and that’s certainly true; Ward also notes that concerts omitted here were not necessarily inferior. And Walker was aware of the challenges, writing that it was virtually impossible to pick only five events from among the many attended, some on series not heretofore covered by CVNC (or at our writers’ prior platforms). Readers might want to know that CVNC critics request the concerts they review and are rarely pressed into covering artists or programs that don’t interest them, so there is a measure of selectivity in the process from the outset.

Initials indicate the contributor(s), and links to the reviews are provided. At the end, there are some salutes, bouquets and tributes. Robert W. McDowell and Scott Ross, our theatre critics, will present their annual awards list at a later date. We urge our readers to attend and support live presentations of classical music, opera, dance and theatre in North Carolina.


French Sacred Vocal Gems at the University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill. The well-built program of rarely heard music, with Debussy’s Prix de Rome cantata “L’Enfant prodigue” filling the entire second half, was lovely; the performances stunning. (I also heard two of the musicians, Emily Laurance and Tom Gregg, in a wonderful program on the “Sights and Sounds on Sundays” at the NC Museum of Art on March 16, 2003, a series that conflict of interest prevents me from reviewing.) (MJW)

Unexpected humor was just one of the revelations in the UNCG Artist Faculty Chamber Music series performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire; the concert deserved preservation on a CD recording. (WTW)

The Gilda of Lucy Tucker Yates was just one of the delights of the Piedmont Opera Theater’s performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto in Winston-Salem. (WTW)

Ruth Laredo at Elon University. Hearing this magnificent pianist play the wonderful sounding restored 1923 Steinway D that sits on the stage of Whitley Auditorium, the school’s lovingly restored former chapel, was a memorable occasion, and the program she chose was also a real treat. (MJW)

Steinway Tour performances in Carswell Recital Hall at Meredith College. This was an opportunity for the fine Meredith music faculty to showcase their talents in an exciting long weekend that was also an interesting event in its own right due to the visiting instruments. The performances were all excellent and led subsequently to the issue of a souvenir CD. (MJW)

“Milestones 2002” UNC and Duke faculty joined forces for a brilliant reading of John Adams’ “Gnarly Buttons” and several other modern works. This was the first of three “Milestones” concerts that showcased wonderful and ongoing collaboration between the area’s great music departments. (JR)

The Miró String Quartet played splendidly in a RCMG concert that was the formal debut of a complete set of new string instruments made by Frank Ravatin of Vannes, France. (WTW)


Playing with a new maturity, the St. Lawrence String Quartet with its new cellist, appeared in Pinehurst. (WTW)

Walker’s birthday treat was a rare recital by famed Beethoven specialist Claude Frank in some Romantic repertory at the N.C. School of the Arts. (WTW)

An auspicious concert brought virtuoso Dmitri Sitkovetsky to Greensboro as a candidate for MD of the GSO. His appointment has excited both the orchestra and the community, filling them with anticipation for the orchestra’s advancement to the next level of excellence. (WTW)

The Virginia Opera Company’s production of Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, seen in Richmond, was outstanding in every way. (WTW)

Peter Perret directed the Winston-Salem Symphony in outstanding and stylish performances with piano soloist Pascal Rogé. (WTW)

Opera Carolina’s Southeastern premiere of Carlisle Floyd’s splendid opera, Cold Sassy Tree, featured some of the singers who created their roles in the Houston world premiere. (WTW)

One of our generation’s foremost Beethoven and Schubert interpreters, Richard Goode, gave a recital worthy of the Great Artists Series’ name. (WTW)

In Pinehurst, composer-conductor Dennis Russell Davies led the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra in memorable performances that included Haydn. (WTW)

Matt Haimovitz plays Bach Cello Suites at The Cave in Chapel Hill. This remarkable young cellist made a road trip across the country playing Bach in bars, barns, honky-tonks and other non-traditional venues and conveying reverence and love for these great works. It was a rare treat to see and hear such an artist at such close range. (JR)

Breath-taking melodies and sound dominated a wonderful Schubertiad on the Elon University campus with the duo-piano team of Richard and John Contiguglia in a rare piano four hands performance. (WTW)

The NC Symphony’s conductor parade is the subject of a feature by MJW elsewhere in this issue, but arguably the best concert of the year given by our state orchestra was one led by Associate Conductor William Henry Curry that had it all new music, a superbly-accompanied soloist of stellar quality (violinist Elissa Lee Koljonen), and a reading of Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred” Symphony that etched itself in the musical memory. (JWL)

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, presented by Duke Chapel Choir, area musicians and guest soloists, all under the direction of Rodney Wynkoop – not just my top pick for 2002-3 but my number one pick for an arts event in the Triangle for the past decade. This was an awe-inspiring experience of such emotion and virtuoso singing and playing that its effects still remain. (JR)

Violinist Kyoko Takezawa substituted for a Russian colleague and joined the marvelous young cellist Han-Na Chang for a Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concert in which everything jelled to make a perfect evening. Grant Llewellyn (a candidate for MD of the NCS) guest conducted an inspired program of Haydn, Kodály and Brahms. (WTW)

Frederica von Stade in Fletcher Opera Theater in Raleigh’s BTI Center. She is still in marvelous voice, and she still never fails to build a magnificent program and connect with her listeners in a remarkable way. She is legendary, but it was my first opportunity to hear her live. (MJW)

The grand finale of the Choral Society of Durham‘s season, which centered on music by Glass and Constant Lambert, with Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody in the middle, involved some of the most difficult music in captivity. The concert wasn’t just a resounding success – it may well have been the best performance to date by the estimable CSD. (JWL)

Elaine Funaro‘s “Nod to the 90’s” program in Duke’s Summer Chamber Music series. She’s one of the country’s finest harpsichord players; we’re lucky to have her in our midst. This was a creative and innovative dramatized and costumed recital that took us through the same decade of five centuries of music for her instrument. It was a real treat for the eyes and the ears. (MJW)

Borromeo String Quartet plays complete Bartók String Quartets. A phenomenal marathon event encompassing some of the most technically demanding string writing ever conceived. All six quartets were played with razor sharp concentration, intonation and interpretation – a nearly super-human feat. (JR)


Tie for a pair of piano trios: The Ahn Trio at UNC on September 6, 2002, and the Beaux Arts Trio, also at UNC, on April 5, 2003. Two trios at different ends of the age and cultural spectrum, but a perfect example of how great musicianship transcends age, whether playing warhorses or arrangements of “Doors” tunes. (JR)

Tie: “Outreach” is a buzzword among arts groups it tends to infer trying to do something to get minority populations into what are, for the most part, presentations of music by dead white European males. But when it comes to outreach, few ensembles do as much or as well as the Mallarmé Chamber Players, whose Langston Hughes program, presented on November 3, came close to capturing the brass ring and would have done so, handily, if the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association hadn’t trumped ’em during the spring semester, on April 27…. (JWL)

Tie for best vocal recital in a university setting: On January 26, in Hill Hall, soprano Christine Schadeburg gave a truly spell-binding performance of Schoenberg’s “Book of the Hanging Gardens,” partnered by pianist Christopher Oldfather. The other truly great recital – and all-Wolf afternoon – was given on February 18, in Duke’s Nelson Music Room, by Duke-based Susan Dunn and John Wustman. (JWL)

Salutes, bouquets & tributes (JWL except as noted):

Best post-season regional festival: Year in and year out, it is hard to beat the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, and the 26th edition was no exception. Charles Wadsworth’s Chamber Music Series continued to earn its near sell-out reputation. High standards of singing and orchestra playing made up for “grating” or “cutting-edge” stage direction in Wagner’s Flying Dutchman and Mozart’s Cosí fan tutte. The new orchestral concerts in Memminger Auditorium marked a welcome improvement in programming of symphonic literature. (WTW)

Best NC summer festival: The high standards of the renovated Eastern Music Festival were on display in the reviews of two weeks. A complete performance of all six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, directed by Anthony Newman, was the highlight of the third week, and the fifth week served as a farewell to Music Director and pianist André Michel-Schub in the roles of soloist and chamber musician. (WTW)

We salute several young artists whose performances gave signs of still better work to come:
* Alan Toda-Ambaras, cello
* Vivian Cheng, piano (cited in the second part of the linked file….)
* Olena Komirenko, violin, and Sergiy Komirenko, piano
* Kevin Cotty, trumpet
* Maia Cabeza, violin

Honorable mentions & bouquets for outstanding performances:
* Elon University’s wonderful restored 1923D Steinway was featured in an all-Bartók program played in September by Victoria Fischer as part of a CD party, celebrating the release of a recording produced entirely by students. (WTW)
* Honorable mention: Hsiao-mei Ku‘s faculty recital with guest Ray Kilburn in Duke’s Nelson Music Room featured brilliant playing in a program that ranged widely over the world and time, marred unfortunately by a surprisingly disrespectful and uninformed audience. (MJW)
* Strong musical qualities and prize-winning virtuosity were on display in Olga Kern‘s recital at East Carolina. (WTW)
* A performance of Haydn’s Creation by Peter Perret, the Winston-Salem Symphony Orchestra and combined choruses was extraordinary. (WTW)
* Honorable mention: Violinist Carol Chung and guests in a chamber music recital in Meredith’s Carswell Recital Hall. The works were both difficult and lovely. The playing was of the highest quality both technically and musically. (MJW)
* UNCG Opera Theater upheld its award-winning standards in 2003 with Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. (WTW)
Honorable mention: Janus Duo farewell recital with guests in UNC’s Hill Hall. This was a wonderful program that was also an event, a fitting culmination of long careers of teaching and performing. The playing and the precision were stunning. (MJW)
* Fiery virtuosity abounded in a Weymouth Center recital that featured two ECU faculty members, violinist Ara Gregorian and pianist Paul Tardif. (WTW)
* A marvelous solo piece for cello was the highlight of a retrospective of music by Nathaniel Stookey, given by the UNCG Contemporary Chamber Players. (WTW)
* Students of the N.C. School of the Arts Orchestra gave revelatory performances of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concert and Brahms’ First Symphony. (WTW)

Bouquets for exemplary service:
* Anita Burroughs-Price, harp, who is at once a superb artist and whose mission includes more “out-reach” in this case, to people who are ill, and often terminally than anyone else we know.
* Visitors from Bali, who performed at Duke – minus several members of their company – just before terrorism gripped their homeland.
* The Ciompi Quartet, marking its 40th anniversary this season (2003-4). Last season’s presentations involved new music and mainstream works, too, given with equal levels of commitment; here are links to the season opener, a Chapel Hill run-out, and the foursome’s grand finale.
* Rodney Wynkoop, conductor, for consistently outstanding leadership. The Maestro was responsible for several of the season’s greatest choral performances – involving music by Brubeck and Honegger – but they were not the only outstanding presentations….
* Harry Davidson, conductor, who has made the Duke Symphony Orchestra an ensemble that merits serious consideration. To chart the progress being made, see fall, winter and spring reviews.
* David Marschall, viola, like his NCS colleague Anita Burroughs-Price, turns up in unexpected places – playing new music on NCSU’s ArtsNow series, for example, and in chamber settings. His performance of Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata, with pianist Frank Pittman, was one of the most moving single events of the season.

Most courageous orchestras of the year:
* The Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, for surviving a period of financial stress and coming back stronger than ever, and with even better community support. Fall and spring concerts demonstrated the RSO’s artistic health.
* The Durham Symphony Orchestra, for surviving the apparent murder of one of its members and continuing to play.

We thank several composers whose support of CVNC and advocacy of new music by their contemporaries is noteworthy:
* Dan Locklair, whose Composer Notebook from Brevard was CVNC‘s “Feature of the Year.”
* Rodney Waschka II, whose ArtsNow series features mostly new music at NCSU. An all-electronic evening on the eve of the first anniversary of 9/11 reminded us that life indeed does go on; and a March concert involved – atypically – live players and some not-so-new music.

So those were the highlights of 2002-3, in our view. Let the music begin, in 2003-4!

(For last year’s “best of…,” click here.)