Arts review of 2011 - Classical: Just when you think you've heard it all...

Yes, concert halls and opera houses worked their socks off, but there was thrilling music in a car park and off the beaten track

High notes

The Berlin Philharmonic's London residency with Simon Rattle made a Mahler-saturated audience gasp. "No music on earth can compare with ours!" sang Christine Schäfer in the Fourth Symphony.

She was right. Rattle's Mahler aside, 2011's revelations were modestly proportioned: the valedictory delirium of the Belcea Quartet and Valentin Erben's late-night Schubert, the muted ecstasy of the Arcanto Quartet's Berg, the mill-pond stillness of Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber's Des Fischers Liebesglück, the chemical pop of Lily Francis's performance of Sciarrino's Notturne brillante, the baleful isolation of Robert Holl and András Schiff's Winterreise.

Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia blazed through Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Mark Elder and the Hallé glowed in Die Walküre in concert. Core concertos were new-minted – Mitsuko Uchida's Schumann, Ilya Gringolts's Beethoven, Viviane Hagner's Brahms. Vassily Petrenko in Liverpool, Andris Nelsons in Birmingham and Kirill Karabits with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra developed yet more distinctive personalities. In Peckham, south London, Non-Classical brought The Rite of Spring to a multi-storey car park.

Low notes

Christopher Alden's faultlessly executed but hideously misconceived A Midsummer Night's Dream, Terry Gilliam's dancing-Nazis Faust, and Mike Figgis's inert Lucrezia Borgia, all at ENO, Robert Carsen's puerile Rinaldo for Glyndebourne, Havergal Brian's spendthrift Gothic Symphony at the Proms, and Mieczyslaw Weinberg's morally ambitious but musically weak The Portrait (Opera North) and The Passenger (ENO)

Heroes and villains

At the Royal Opera house, Mark Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole stood out for chutzpah and vacuity, Tarik O'Regan's Heart of Darkness for old school craftsmanship. There were stunning performances from Josephine Barstow (Queen of Spades, Opera North), Eva-Maria Westbroek (Anna Nicole and Il tabarro, ROH), Alice Coote (Cendrillon, ROH), Gerald Finley(Die Meistersinger, Glyndebourne) and Alan Oke (Anna Nicole, Heart of Darkness and Opera North's From the House of the Dead).

While Garsington Opera shivered in the sub-zero elegance of its new glass-sided home, ENO hot-housed Monteverdi's Ulysses in a perspex cube and bathed Rameau's Castor and Pollux in columns of light. In Blackheath Halls, a hyperlocal Eugene Onegin had more spirit and soul than Deborah Warner's New York-bound ENO co-production. Scottish Opera and English Touring Opera emphasised Handel's Britishness in bittersweet Second World War stagings of Orlando and Xerxes. Rigoletto acquired an American twang as Grange Park Opera drew on LA Confidential and Opera Holland Park looked to The Sopranos. The conducting in both shows was first-rate (Toby Purser and Stuart Stratford), the direction (Daniel Slater and Lindsay Posner) far superior to that in Placido Domingo's park-and-bark gala triptych.

Glyndebourne's touring Don Pasquale had more sizzle than its summer offerings. Covent Garden blew its Autumn budget on Richard Jones's handsome, well-cast Il trittico. I laughed harder at ETO's Gianni Schicchi, but listened to Antonio Pappano with awe. No conductor gets Puccini like he does – the tenderness, the sardonicism, the subversiveness. My new best friends? Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz, staged as a Borscht Belt romcom for Holland Park by Annilese Miskimmon, and Rimsky Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride (ROH), set in a boom-bust dystopia of high-rise developments and low-rent hit-men by Paul Curran.

Old faces

Claudio Abbado (born 1933), Colin Davis (1927) and Bernard Haitink (1929) brought unparalleled clarity and depth of feeling to Bruckner, Tchaikovsky and Brahms in their performances with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester and Chamber Orchestra of Europe respectively, while Pierre Boulez (born 1925) enjoyed a standing ovation for Pli selon pli.

New faces

Kate Valentine was a fierce and vulnerable Tatiana in the Blackheath Eugene Onegin. Conductor Jessica Cottis nailed the seediness and suavity of Weill's Seven Deadly Sins for Scottish Opera. The youngest and feistiest of Britain's regional companies, Northern Ireland Opera, launched its career with a site-specific Tosca in Derry and a gleefully violent Hansel and Gretel in Belfast's Grand Opera House.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent