Twenty-twenty was the year that was, however much for classical music it may have seemed the year that wasn’t. Live performance, as we knew it, came to a sudden halt early March.
In startling advance of the Black Lives Matter protests, the Los Angeles Philharmonic happened to be in the middle of its revolutionary Power to the People! festival, examining the artistic legacy of Black protest movements and the issues of racial and economic inequality. Well before the presidential election, Yuval Sharon’s innovative opera company, the Industry, had to cut short its run of “Sweet Land,” an acute questioning of America’s foundation myths, exposing our democracy’s fragility. With summer wildfires still in the future but the pandemic at our doorstep, UCLA‘s Center for the Art of Performance barely squeaked in its operatic treatment of Octavia Butler’s prophetic novel “Parable of the Sower,” forecasting the dire social and political consequences of environmental irresponsibility.
Admirable local institutions of all sizes — Los Angles Opera, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Piano Spheres, Boston Court, New West Symphony, the Wallis and REDCAT among them — rose to find innovative ways to keep the music coming online and to continue the discussion of potent issues.
But let this year’s top 10 go to classical music first responders who magnificently kept music mattering.
Yuval Sharon. “Sweet Land,” more than any other Industry project, redefined opera with its imaginative use of a downtown park and the vast yet refined scope of music by Chinese émigré composer Du Yun and Native American Raven Chacon, as well as pairs of librettists and directors. In Detroit, where Sharon was named artistic director of Michigan Opera Theater, he staged a pandemic-centric version of Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” in a parking garage. One good thing to come out of America’s disastrous coronavirus year is that this minor U.S. company is poised to become one of its most important. Meanwhile, as interim artistic advisor of Long Beach Opera, Sharon has come up with a seemingly feasible and unmissable season next year of operatic revitalization.