The void left by the lack of good opera created a list dominated by contemporary performance pieces and recitals. Two shows, The Tempest: Without a Body and Necessary Monsters, were presented by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). The organization is dedicated to presenting the work of living artists and they consistently deliver challenging and provocative programs. It's become an increasingly important source of culture for me this past year. I'd also like to acknowledge the success of the San Francisco Symphony's Centennial Season programs, both onstage and within the community- this is truly a special year for the organization and their hard work is paying off handsomely.
As has been the case in the previous two years, it was difficult to narrow it down to ten- in the end I cheated.
The ranking is in order, starting with the best:
Prince played three wildly different shows, each with a unique set list. More impressively, he struck a completely different tone as a performer every night- on the first he was a sexy crooner, the following evening he was the funkmeister, and finally, in the last show (my favorite) he was a blazing guitar god for over three hours. I've never been more impressed with a musician. Prince is a genius, and in his prime as a performer.
2. The Tempest: Without a Body
Eight months later this performance by Lemi Ponifasio's MAU company, it still frequents my consciousness. It was dark, disturbing and unforgettable and I don't think I could stand to see it again. Still, I would if given the chance, because I've never seen anything else that moved me in quite the same way.
Ensemble Parallèle proved again that an opera company doesn't need tremendous financial resources to put on a great production- just talent and imagination. It's been years since San Francisco Opera did something this well. Get ready for their production of John Harbison's The Great Gatsby in February.
4. Necessary Monsters
Like The Tempest: Without a Body, Carla Kihlstedt's work also left a lingering impression long afterward. An enchanting work-in-progress that will make you think about the Necessary Monsters in your own life, see it if you have the chance.
5. The San Francisco Symphony's Mahler's 3rd
San Francisco Symphony's Centennial Season has had numerous highlights so far, but this exquisite performance was truly spectacular.
6. Yefim Bronfman
Bronfman turned in another brilliant performance this year, made all the more heroic because he didn't let on that he had seriously injured two of his fingers during it.
7. Jonas Kaufmann
He came and conquered the audience with an extremely generous performance. Never have I heard German sung with such eloquence and beauty.
8. Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Hvorostovsky's recital was an early highlight of the year. He's never sounded better and the material he chose was perfect. The encore was thrilling.
9. Goran Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra
The most fun I had at a show all year, maybe ever- and on top of that, these folks can play.
10. tie: Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester, Alexander Melnikov, & The Robert Glasper Experiment
Initially I was going to make this year's list a dozen so that I could include all three of these performances. Let's just call it a three-way tie instead because at one point each one occupied the tenth slot.
Honorable mentions are due to The Wild Bride, The Boston Symphony Orchestra, Elizabeth Rowe, Jay Hunter Morris, The St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the Keith Jarret Trio, YoYo Ma & the SFS, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, which has been consistently spectacular over the past year.