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20 Top Picks

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I found 2013 to be a great year for discovery and experience in the arts, from theatre and music to television, film, and books. So, like many other writers, I have compiled a top 20 list of my favorites, with the hope that they might resonate with readers and perhaps provide pleasure and enlightenment for those motivated to dig further.

Television

Doctor Who. In this year of the series' 50th anniversary, I rediscovered Dr. Who, thanks to the magic of Netflix. 2013-12-11-Dr.Whos300px.jpgHow wonderful to be reminded of the many incarnations of the Doctor. Among them, there was Christopher Eccleston, who regenerated into the Doctor in 2005; then the great David Tennant, my favorite Doctor after Tom Baker; and now Matt Smith to whom I am almost reconciled. And, of course, soon to come will be another new Doctor played by Peter Capaldi. Brilliant scripts, dazzling music, profound philosophy, cheeky humour, special effects wizardry, and stunning acting. It was and remains the complete package. Click here for a link to my blog 'Why Time Lords Are Absolutely Essential.'

Breaking Bad. Our son Thomas introduced us to this one and it's really weird and totally hypnotic. A sort of Coen Brothers meets Robin Williams having lunch with Alfred Hitchcock with dessert served by Quentin Tarantino. Totally original.

Film

Amour which won the Oscar for best foreign film. It should have won the Best Oscar for everything! What a silly category. The story is compelling and tragic but so full of life. The use of music is original, with the beauty of Schubert's piano music, continuously interrupted, serving as a metaphor for the lives we witness. It had such a profound impact on me that I couldn't even speak about it for days.

Live Performances

The Globe Theatre in London, 3 performances!! What a joy. In a reconstruction of Shakespeare's original theatre and almost on the same site, the company presents Shakespeare and contemporary playwrights to contemporary audiences with a style and energy that sweeps all before it. We saw:
2013-12-11-Globetheatre300copy.jpg• A dark and committed Macbeth, with Judi Dench spied seated watching in the audience.
A Midsummer's Night Dream. Crazy, beautiful, and sexy.
Twelfth Night, which is now playing to packed crowds on Broadway with Mark Rylance, who I consider the greatest stage actor in the world. If you want to be reminded what performance is really all about, what magic, energy and transformation are possible, this is a must.

Richard II with David Tennant. It's a long way from Doctor Who but, wow, can he act. Vulnerable, poetic, deeply into the philosophy of Shakespeare's tragic king. A Royal Shakespeare Company production at Stratford-on-Avon, now at London's Barbican Centre.

Alan Cumming in a total re-adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth set in a lunatic asylum as a one man show!! Sound improbable? Well, with Cumming as a genius actor, it was one of the greatest nights in the theater ever. It played on Broadway earlier this year.

Murmurs with Victoria Thierree Chaplin & Aurelia Thierree. Circus reimagined as part of the Lincoln Centre festival. Breathtakingly magical. No clowns, no animals. Just poetry and choreography that had dancers balanced and frozen in impossible angles at the ends of tables. Just beautiful storytelling.

Luciana Souza. One of the great jazz vocalists and song writers in the world (and an NEC alumna) performing Hermeto Pascoal's Chorinho Pra Ele a fiercely virtuosic piece sung in unison with a fiercely virtuosic guitar.

Schubert C Major Quintet with Laurence Lesser and the Borromeo String Quartet giving a transcendent performance of perhaps the most moving chamber music work of all time in NEC's First Monday at Jordan Hall series.

2013-12-11-masterclassplaying300pxco.jpgLeonidas Kavakos, who I find to be the most interesting violinist on the circuit today, giving a masterclass at NEC on Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto. Picking up his violin and demonstrating the power and energy of playing "ugly" as the composer intended, making beauty all the more extraordinary.


La Donna del Lago at Santa Fe Operasung by the great American mezzo Joyce DiDonato conducted by Stephen Lord, NEC's Artistic Advisor for Opera. DiDonato sang Rossini's coloratura music with the ease and grace of a virtuoso violinist playing Paganini.

Boston Ballet Next Generation in Fanfare, Jerome Robbins' choreographic setting of Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. All the dancers were under the age of 18 as were the orchestra players who were NEC students. I was on stage in costume for this one, serving as narrator. It was one of the happiest performances of my life.

2013-12-11-GabrielChodos200.jpgGabriel Chodos (in photo left) playing Beethoven's Piano Sonata Opus 111. I have no idea how you would even begin to study such a work, but our faculty member Gabriel Chodos gave a performance that united all his years of living, and experience, and reading, and thinking into something so timeless and "right," that I wondered if he was playing at all, or if the piano had direct communication with the composer.

Marilyn Horne giving a generous, humor filled series of masterclasses to our students that left you smiling with the joy of discovery and performance.

The United States Premiere of Tan Dun's Concerto for Orchestra, with the NEC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff, our Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood Director of Orchestras. A wonderful new work which our students ate up, and which showcased them at their virtuosic best.

2013-12-11-LizTobiascopy300px.jpgThe singer Liz Tobias performing songs by Billy Eckstine. Now this is a young singer who is going to make it big time. A great voice, wonderful stage personality, and a driving mission to push her talent to the extremes. Watch out for her. Listen to her below. The song is Jelly Jelly and the performance features the NEC Jazz Orchestra, Ken Schaphorst conducting.

Books

Now this one surprises even me but... I have been getting into Proust's In Search of Lost Time, spurred on, in part, by the centennial attention the first book, Swann's Way, has been getting this year. 2013-12-11-SwannsWay300px.jpg I've discovered that the Proust reader has to think of time and life differently--"n'est pas vite, plus lente"--and suddenly the work starts to fall into place, the philosophy, the ideas, and the great reinvention of time itself. As a way in, try Alain de Botton's amazingly perceptive book, How Proust Can Change Your Life.


Julian Barnes. Always a writer worth getting to know. His most recent book Levels of Life, all about ballooning, bereavement, and love, contains one of my favorite love stories of all time--the real life liaison between Captain Frederick Burnaby and the French actress Sarah Bernhardt. I fell in love with Sarah, and I think my wife fell in love with Captain Fred...!