In classical field, hype sometimes outshined artistry. A look back at pop and classical music, recordings. 1987 - THE YEAR IN THE ARTS
New York — In the field of serious music, the year past was marked more by publicity-mongering events than by performances, premi`eres, and debuts of note. Nevertheless, some evenings of excellence stick in the mind of this critic. My list is topped this year by the highly publicized world premi`ere of John Adams's first opera, ``Nixon in China,'' at the Houston Grand Opera in October. It was so much a media event - because of the subject matter, because of John Adams's increasing popularity, because enfant terrible Peter Sellars was directing, because of the opening of the two-opera-house Wortham Center - that it threatened to become a circus rather than a serious musical undertaking. But the work is tremendously impressive and the production bold and exciting.
Another highly publicized event - Soviet emigr'e pianist Vladimir Feltsman's Carnegie Hall debut - was handled with so little respect for music and for the hall, that I chose to avoid the event altogether. Perhaps in a year or two, when the carefully orchestrated sideshow that would turn him into a political icon has subsided, we will finally be able to assess him as an artist.
Back in the realm of opera, I would note the production of Philip Glass's haunting ``Satyagraha'' at the Lyric Opera of Chicago - a daring undertaking for this conservative, singer-oriented house. It was an artistic triumph for the company and another affirmation of this particular work's power to bewitch its audiences.
The new opera company in Los Angeles mounted a stunning production of Prokofiev's rarely staged ``The Fiery Angel.'' In New York last May, Czech soprano Gabriela Benackova enchanted a sold-out house in a concert performance of Dvorak's opera ``Rusalka'' by proving once again that hers is one of the most beautiful voices on the international scene today. Just a few weeks ago, young soprano Alessandra Marc made it known in a concert performance of Respighi's ``La fiamma'' that an instrument of unsurpassed beauty and impact was ready to begin staking its claim on the international scene.
It has been an off year for the Met, with a particularly dour production and cast for Verdi's ``Il Trovatore.'' But last season, Agnes Baltsa offered a startlingly different, compelling, and magnficient Carmen in the Bizet opera.
Finally, the Boston Symphony, under the baton of its music director, Seiji Ozawa, offered a stunning concert reading of Strauss's ``Elektra'' in both Boston and New York. The resplendent Carnegie Hall performance was particularly distinguished by Christa Ludwig's guilt-wracked, maniacal Klytaemnestra and Hildegard Behrens's inexhaustible, majestical Elektra.
In non-operatic events, of particular interest was the return to the New York Philharmonic podium of Sir Colin Davis in three superb concerts, of which the reading of Berlioz's ``La Damnation de Faust'' was particularly remarkable. Sir Georg Solti celebrated his 75th birthday season with his Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and though his birthday ``party'' was not an artistic event, per se, it was cherishable as an outpouring of love between maestro, orchestra, and adoring public.
Finally, the music world lost two giants this year - guitarist Andr'es Segovia, active to the end, and violinist Jascha Heifetz. The former put the classical guitar on the map as a viable concert instrument; the latter was one of the great instrumentalists of all times. Both leave behind an impressive recorded legacy.
Thor Eckert Jr. is the Monitor's music critic.