Favorite Albums of 2021

Favorite Albums of 2021

We’re living in a strange time. OK, we’ve been living in a “strange time” since March 2020, but everything now seems a bit like it’s in limbo. On one hand, our day-to-day activities have more or less returned to normal for the time being, thanks to the wide availability of vaccines and boosters (at least, in the U.S.). But on the other hand, the discovery of new, more transmissible COVID variants has sparked a renewed air of caution and concern. (Who would’ve thought that we’d all be getting a crash course on the Greek alphabet?)

Can we just be done with this already? Please?

Still, there’s been so much to be grateful for this past year. Namely, the wealth of new music released was a consistent bright spot amidst the unpredictability of it all. (Adele’s new album, anyone?) The classical realm in particular really came through with some incredible albums. Resurrected classics, dazzling contemporary music, and the presence of more diverse voices—both new and old—marked many of the releases this year.

Below are ten of my favorite albums from 2021. If you like what you hear, as always, I encourage my readers to consider purchasing the album rather than just streaming it. Apple and Amazon are convenient choices for this, but if possible, I highly recommend using Bandcamp, which donates most of the proceeds directly to the artists.

Without further ado, here are my ten choices, along with a handful of honorable mentions. In no particular order…

Timo Andres, Ian Rosenbaum, Lindsay Kesselman & Mingzhe Wang – The Arching Path (In a Circle Records)

For those who have doubts about the future of classical music—or whatever one wants to call it—listen to anything by Christopher Cerrone and you will be convinced that it is in more-than-capable hands. (See also Caroline Shaw below.) This album captures four examples of Cerrone’s kaleidoscopic sound world. Bookended by two sparkling piano pieces—Hoyt-Schermerhorn and the titular Arching Path—the middle of the album features works for slightly-larger ensemble (showcasing some remarkable performances by soprano Lindsay Kesselman, pianist Timo Andres, clarinettist Mingzhe Wang, and percussionist Ian Rosenbaum). Double Happiness blissfully ruminates on the composer’s travels to Italy, while the song cycle I will learn to love a person is an ode to the joys and frustrations of being a Millennial. Who says that classical music can’t speak to us twenty- and thirty-somethings?

(For more on this album, be sure to check out my conversation with Cerrone from May 2021.)

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Favorite Albums of 2019

Favorite Albums of 2019

I love end-of-year lists. They condense the significant happenings of the past eleven months into an accessible, easy-to-follow format. They can also celebrate the best of humanity, or remind us of the uncertainty of the times and how far we have to go in achieving a peaceful world. (Though “Baby Yoda” was one of the year’s most Googled terms worldwide, so there is hope for us!) 

In the artistic realm, I especially love reading critics’ picks for the most noteworthy classical music events and audio releases of the past year. The sheer amount of musical achievement and ingenuity is usually staggering, and this year was no exception.

With that said, here are ten of my favorite albums from 2019, along with a handful of honorable mentions. (I much prefer a “favorite” rather than “best of” approach, which acknowledges the inherently subjective nature of this exercise and puts my personal preferences on full display!) If you like what you hear, I encourage you to support the artists and purchase their work instead of just streaming it. In no particular order…

Attacca Quartet – Caroline Shaw: Orange (New Amsterdam Records/Nonesuch Records)

Ever since winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013, Caroline Shaw has quickly become one of today’s most talked-about young composers, and this past year saw the first album devoted entirely to her music. Featuring five works for string quartet (and one for string duo), this release showcases Shaw’s wondrous composition style, which delights in bright textures, sonorous harmonies, and quirky turns of phrase that occasionally collapse into chaos. Plus, nods to the works of Bach, Ravel, Mozart, Haydn, and even Shaw herself are never far off. The Attacca Quartet‘s dynamic and sensitive performances only increase the impact of this release.

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