Time, at last, to share my picks for the year. Honestly, what follows has been up on the Time Out New York website for more than a week now (here and here). But in forcing myself to actually observe a rare week off from work (Dec. 24 to Jan 1.), I included blogging in that hiatus. Here, as they appeared in the magazine, are my highly idiosyncratic classical best and worst picks, top 10 classical CDs, top 10 pop CDs and "worst pop CD," as well as two concerts from the pop music staff's composite list of the year's top live shows. (In a few instances I've minutely tweaked what appeared in print, a slightly rushed job that would have benefited from one more patient pass.)
CLASSICAL: THE BEST (AND WORST) OF 2008
The Elliott Carter Centenary
How heartening it was to see nearly every sector of New York's musical community, in organizations large and small, celebrate the achievements of the nation's foremost living composer -- and how truly astonishing it was to find Carter turning out fresh, invigorating new pieces for a great many of the concerts in his honor.
The New York Philharmonic visits Pyongyang
The political sphere unsurprisingly failed to reach instantaneous harmony the moment Lorin Maazel gave his first downbeat in North Korea. Even so, everything about the orchestra's unprecedented 48-hour mission was historic -- and the entire world paid attention to a symphony orchestra for the first time in ages.
Satyagraha at the Metropolitan Opera in April
Everything we could have dreamed the Met might become was realized in this extraordinary presentation: The singing and playing were on par with the company's usual high standards, the production was visionary, the message was timely and the composer, Philip Glass, got the biggest ovation of all.
Messiaen organ cycles by Gail Archer and John Scott
Born one day before Carter, Messiaen passed away well before his 100th birthday. Thankfully, plenty of artists kept his music alive this year, including these two organists. Archer played her series all over town, while Scott stayed home at St. Thomas Church.
(Le) Poisson Rouge arrives
Booking without boundaries hit Bleecker Street when this chic new establishment opened in the former Village Gate.
The Mortier meltdown at New York City Opera
New York opera lovers spent the whole year looking forward to the arrival of Gerard Mortier at Lincoln Center, with an eagerness that increased with each initiative the company announced. It all came crashing down in November, when we learned that due to a budget shortfall, Mortier would not be coming after all. Now we're holding our breath to see if NYCO survives to mount a season.
Things are tough all over
City Opera wasn't the only company having a hard time this year. Dicapo Opera scrapped its planned New York premiere of Tobias Picker's Fantastic Mr. Fox, and even the Met lopped several highly anticipated productions and revivals off its 2009-10 season -- the most painful loss was John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles.
George Steel departs for Dallas
There was no reason to think that Steel, the intrepid curator whose programming made Columbia University's Miller Theatre an epicenter of creative buzz, would be here forever. Still, it was a sad day when he departed to take over the Dallas Opera in October.
VIM: Tribeca R.I.P.
This upstart concert series was building an impressive head of steam with its unique, artist-driven offerings. Then the gallery that housed it imposed new rules -- and the series abruptly ended in January.
Best Albums of 2008
MUSIC: THE BEST (AND WORST) ALBUMS OF 2008
1. Nas Untitled (Def Jam/Columbia)
Not Illmatic II. Not as unfettered as The N!99#r Tape.* Still, here’s the sound and spirit of the year that brought Obama to the White House.
[*Yes, I'm still disguising the title to make sure this blog isn't blocked anywhere. Sorry, Nas.]
9. Hercules and Love Affair Hercules and Love Affair (DFA)
No dance record -- no record, period -- evoked the disco era’s mix of joy, pain, sweat and sex better than the one by Andrew Butler, Antony & Co.
10. Miles from India Various artists (Times Square)
What might have been an exercise in colonialism instead used Miles Davis’s canon to prove jazz remains a uniquely pluralistic culture.
[Bonus track: My recent eMusic review of this set.]
Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy (Geffen)
After long insisting he would sell no whine before its time, Axl finally revealed just how bare his cellar was. Next stop, Ernest and Julio Gallo pitchman? (Google it.)
[Thanks to the Time Out music page (and specifically the efforts of my colleague Colin St. John), you can listen to sample tracks from my top 10 through the imeem player I've borrowed and embedded below -- just be careful about playing the Nas, Lil Wayne and T.I. cuts around children and sensitive coworkers. I also recommend following the link to check out the best/worst picks from my TONY colleagues. Who'da thunk it would be El Guincho who stirred up the most collective admiration from our especially peculiar hivemind?]
The Best Shows of 2008
The Cutting Room, June 17
Armed with a piano, a guitar and a brimming glass of red, the veteran prog singer had a standing-room crowd spellbound.
[This gorgeously moody image of the event posted on Flickr by Peter Drubetskoy, a.k.a. Skyredoubt.]
Nokia Theatre Times Square, Sept. 6
These reunited grindcore forebears reigned over a blistering bill.
[This fierce portrait of Jeff Walker during the Nokia show is part of a Flickr set by Ryan Muir, whose intense images also ran on Brooklyn Vegan.]
Here's wishing a safe and happy New Year to all. More personal thoughts on the year we're leaving behind, coming soon.