Far be it from me to deliver the best-and-worst of 2013 in classical music. That involves torturous pigeonholing of events that rarely find themselves at one polarity or another.
Besides, what everybody wants from these lists is to keep current. So here is a list of significant events, both good and bad, that may have gotten lost in the shuffle. And there's much shuffling in this town, whether among local performers or the classical recording and video industry that seems, despite all odds, to be thriving. Read on:
Videos gone viral. The most famous (bit.ly1cTRLfG) was the Philadelphia Orchestra playing a Dvorák string quartet in a grounded airplane in China - meticulously in tune despite the acoustics. But the oddest video (bit.ly/19AtcUe) showed pianist Maria João Pires finding herself in the middle of a concerto she didn't anticipate or rehearse - and with conductor Riccardo Chailly telling her to just play it anyway. Some suspect that the video was rehearsed. But the image of Pires holding her head in her hands and saying, "I have a problem" can't be faked.
Rossen Milanov. Those who miss the departed Philadelphia Orchestra associate conductor can still hear him with Symphony in C in Camden and the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. But his recently acquired Spanish orchestra, the Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias (OSPA for short) has yielded a fine recording of Stravinsky's Petrouchka and Falla's Three Cornered Hat that have all his best characteristics - incisive but buoyant rhythm, strongminded phrase-shaping. Find it on iTunes.
Qobuz.com and Pristineclassical.com. Both based in France, these two music websites feel increasingly valuable in our digital age. With the fragmentation of the classical industry, Qobuz offers a window on artists and recordings on the European continent. Pristine is all historic recordings - but remastered so masterfully that you'd think they're quite nearly modern. Also, the Philadelphia Orchestra is well represented, partly because many of the remasterings are done by our very own Mark Obert-Thorn.
Igor Levit. Igor who? Seemingly out of nowwhere, this pianist, a recent graduate from the Hochschule für Musik in Hannover, makes his recording debut on Sony Classical with the last five Beethoven sonatas, a staggering technical and intellectual achievement, not just with the sort of freshness you'd expect from a young pianist, but also with the kind of strategy that keeps Beethoven's long, difficult spans of music aloft. No matter how many recordings you have, there should be room for this one.
Delius Double Concerto. Philadelphia's Delius Society, an organization that gives a handful of concerts each season at the German Society, rehabilitated one of the composer's biggest but most neglected works - the Double Concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra. By taking away the composer's beautiful but diffuse orchestration and replacing it with a piano transcription, ideas that seemed buried under layers of sound came to the fore. A revelation.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Now in his second season as Philadelphia Orchestra music director, Nézet-Séguin presides over concerts that are invariably exciting. Elsewhere, though, his work may be more distinguished, most recently with a London Philharmonic recording of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde that goes to great emotional depths thanks to mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly. With the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Nézet-Séguin recently premiered Mark-Anthony Turnage's crazy, jazzy Piano Concerto with Marc-André Hamelin. We could use programming like this.
Spira Mirabilis. A new disease? No, a chamber orchestra that comes together periodically, thrashing out interpretations of major symphonic works democratically, without the help of a conductor. The talk of Europe but not heard here, the group is now the subject of a documentary, published on DVD by Idéale Audience, that has a full performance of Schumann's Symphony No. 1. Similar organizations in the United States can sometimes lack strong interpretive ideas. But this one burns from within.
Wagner at the Met. Considering how Wagner-deprived Philadelphia has been, a good catch-up for what we've missed over the decades is this 25-disc Sony boxed set, released in conjunction with the composer's 100th anniversary year with nine live opera performances from 1936 to 1954. All the performances have pluses and minuses - the text-attentive singers were often great but the scores were also cut - but it's a near-ideal foundation for forming your own ideas as to what makes a great Wagner performance.