Our critics’ picks for the top arts events of Palm Beach’s curtailed 2019-20 season.

Before the coronavirus torpedoed close interactions, the 2019-20 season delivered many memorable moments. Our critics recall their favorites.


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Miami City Ballet’s Program 3


Kravis Center


Feb. 21


Miami City Ballet’s Program 3 was a journey of discovery through works, which were not new, but were re-imagined ("Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes"), re-interpreted ("Nine Sinatra Songs") and re-designed ("Firebird").


With original choreography from George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and music by Igor Stravinsky, "Firebird" was the main event and it was a visual splendor. This production was the most successful and impressive re-design of an old ballet I have seen.


The creative direction imploring high-tech projection and lighting techniques for the 21st century from Wendall K. Harrington was award-worthy, as were the costume and set designs by Anya Klepikov.


The performance of the "Firebird," herself, was perfection. Nathalia Arja embodied her character with passion, commitment and technical prowess. Her nuanced, final solo left us wanting more, as the image of her in profile, with her upper body arching toward the sky, traveling backward en pointe into the wings, will stay with me for a long time. It is no wonder this performance catapulted Arja to principal dancer. Brava.


— Donna Murray


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Hamilton


Kravis Center


Jan. 18-Feb. 16


Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tour-de-force reinvention of the American musical packed a punch on every level, from its propulsive multi-genre score to its irreverent yet patriotic storytelling and powerful performances. The show set a high bar for any musical that seeks to follow it.


— Jan Sjostrom


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The Body Says, I Am a Fiesta: The Figure in Latin American Art


Norton Museum


Oct. 4-March 1


The exhibition, which explored depictions of the body by Latin American artists, was more than just another show. Wreathed by an array of programs, it heralded the Norton’s multi-year initiative to re-evaluate the contributions and impact of Latin American artists. The exhibition, which featured many strong works, was drawn largely from the Norton’s own collection.


— Jan Sjostrom


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Koresh Dance Company


Kravis Center, Rinker Playhouse


March 5


Contemporary or modern dance is in the process of a great changing of the guard. The master artists who founded or propelled the art form from its infancy through its adolescence have all, for the most part, passed on. This leaves a vacuum. Who will lead the field into the next phase of its development?


The first choice would have to be Philadelphia-based choreographer Ronen Koresh, whose . Koresh’s 60-minute work "La Danse" is indeed nothing short of a masterwork.


The dance is made up of densely constructed solos, duets and ensemble works that roll by like a force of nature that gathers momentum from one section to the next. "La Danse" features absolutely incredible dancing, at times high-flying and airborne, at times loving and intimate and yet complex, and detailed down to the flick of a wrist or a finger.


The dancers of the ensemble are of the highest order, the choreography masterful and the house full and enthusiastic. Koresh Dance Company bodes well for the future of modern dance in our time!


— Demetrius Klein


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The Jupiter String Quartet


The Society of the Four Arts


Jan. 12


One of the most riveting performances this season was the Beethoven-inspired concert performed by the Jupiter String Quartet at The Society of the Four Arts.


Violinists Meg Freivogel and Nelson Lee, along with violist Liz Freivogel and cellist Daniel McDonough gave a rousing performance of pieces ranging from Ludwig van Beethoven’s "String Quartet No. 15" in a minor, op. 132 to the infamous Franz Schubert "Death and the Maiden" quartet. What still lingers after so much time has passed is that feeling of being witness to some truly amazing artistic prowess.


This ensemble gives every ounce of passion, virtuosity and technical ability that an audience can handle, and it was spectacular to witness the physicality in the ensemble, particularly that of violinist, Meg Freivogel. As individual players, the Jupiter String Quartet has crafted a unique sound that allows for soloistic playing and virtuosic moments, but also blends as a smooth and velvety presentation in the quiet passages. The afternoon concert was truly the most exciting.


— Sarah Hutchings


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Rembrandt: The Sign and the Light


The Society of the Four Arts


Dec. 7-Feb. 2


Who knew that the 17th century Dutch master was better known for his innovative prints than his paintings during his lifetime? Anyone who visited this show, thanks to Four Arts curator Rebecca Dunham’s enlightening labels for the 69 prints from a private collection spanning Rembrandt’s career.


Michel Witmer, head of the fine art committee, arranged loans of paintings from his own and other lenders’ collections. The exhibition was enhanced by displays of print-making processes and demonstration prints made by local artists organized in collaboration with IS Projects.


— Jan Sjostrom


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Midori and Jean-Yves Thibaudet


Regional Arts series, Kravis Center


Jan. 5


This somewhat abbreviated season was still able to honor the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven's birthday with some outstanding concerts. At the Kravis Center, renowned soloists Midori (violin) and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano) teamed up to play two early sonatas for violin and piano as well as the towering "Kreutzer" sonata. In all three works, the artists melded their talents, honoring the genius of Bonn with solid performances. Their visceral approach to the "Kreutzer" must have warmed more than one heart on that cold first Sunday afternoon of the year.


— Márcio Bezerra


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Puccini’s "Turandot"


Palm Beach Opera


Kravis Center


Jan. 24


High-energy singing from an excellent cast, along with Keturah Stickann’s relatable staging of the tale about a man-hating princess who poses three riddles to suitors on pain of death for failing, contributed to the success of Palm Beach Opera’s production of Puccini’s final, uncompleted masterpiece, "Turandot." But it was Alexandra Loutsion’s sumptuous-voiced, many-faceted delivery of the title character that remains most vivid, months after the actual performance.


Loutsion’s ice princess transcended clichés, imparting an unexpected touch of warmth and vulnerability. Terrifying in her phrases of cruelty, she moderated her sound to express tenderness and humanity beneath the heroine’s protective outer shell. Tenor Stefano La Colla gave a competent rather than memorable rendition of the opera’s hit tune "Nessun dorma," but in his scenes with Loutsion, he provided electrifying high notes, and enacted the handsome prince Calaf with ardor and credibility.


Leah Crocetto spun creamy-toned phrases of her own as the slave girl Liu, who sacrifices herself to save the prince she secretly loves, while the addition of three delightful acrobats to the proceedings kept the viewer engaged and involved in the kinetic and colorful spectacle on stage.


— Robert Croan


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American String Quartet


Flagler Museum


Feb. 26


In a season the Flagler named Best of the Best, the concert featuring the American String Quartet was a cut above the others. The seasoned ensemble offered works from Ludwig van Beethoven's three creative periods, including the "String Quartet No. 14," in C-sharp minor, Op. 131. The group member's orchestral sound and attention to detail had an extra element that can only be explained through their 45 years performing together. Through their gestures, phrasing and sense of balance, they played as not as a quartet, but as if they were one person.


— Márcio Bezerra


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Branford Marsalis Quartet


The Society of the Four Arts


Jan. 19


One of the highlights of the shortened season at The Society of the Four Arts was a performance by the Branford Marsalis Quartet in January. The desire to bring more jazz to the Palm Beach institution was met with noticeable approval by the Sunday afternoon audience.


Featuring Marsalis on saxophones, Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass, and drummer Justin Faulkner, the quartet thoroughly impressed the audience with a program of early jazz and more modern selections that showed the continuity of the tradition.


The best example of this mission was the arrangement of Irving Berlin’s "Cheek to Cheek" that began in a convincing arrangement that placed old and more modern approaches "cheek to cheek." The secret sauce was avoiding purely period style and the wildness of modern jazz. The whole concert was a reminder that serious jazz playing could still be fun. With the recent loss of the patriarch of the Marsalis family, it is comforting to know that his legacy lives on his extraordinarily talented progeny.


— Michael O'Connor


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Miró Quartet with cellist Clive Greensmith


Chamber Music Society of Palm Beach


Norton Museum


March 10


Hearing the classics performed is a regular part of concertgoing, but it’s exciting when an ensemble brings a lesser-known work to the stage. The Miró Quartet and cellist Clive Greensmith’s ad hoc quintet opened the program with Boccherini’s relatively obscure "Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid," a fun, lively piece full of charm and wit, but also with passages of striking reverence. Miró and Greensmith sold every humorous moment and musical change of scene in the ten-minute work beautifully, and this was the perfect complement to the weighty emotional journey of Schubert’s "Cello Quintet in C Major" (D. 596), which they traversed with equal artistry.


— Michael Broder


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Ehnes Quartet


Chamber Music Society of Palm Beach


Norton Museum


Jan. 29


In what seems eons ago and as the "Star Wars" narrative begins, "In a galaxy far, far away," my most enjoyable concert was that of the Ehnes Quartet. One supposes that as musical heroes go, string quartet players are the last place to look for examples. But the necessary combination of individual virtuosity mixed with group collaboration is an ideal model for many things, music not withstanding.


The Ehnes Quartet played an all-Beethoven program that, in retrospect gave the listeners a literal tour of his life. From an early opus 12 to the Op. 59 "Razumovsky" quartet to the encore Op. 130 "Cavatina," Beethoven, it seems, is a composer who never seems content with his place in the world. The musicians illuminated this trajectory in a marvelous way, reminding the listeners that what makes a great composer is the willingness to see new vistas even as old ones enrich the corpus he has created.


Upon reflection, string quartet players are at once a summary of the possibilities when great musicians get together and play great music. For they are asked to manage a discourse that sometimes allows them to display great virtuosity as individuals but also asks them to channel that virtuosity toward the common good. Insofar as that model exists, the Ehnes Quartet exemplified it in a way that will not soon be forgotten.


— Kevin Faulkner


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Matthew Cates, organ; Rachel Barton Pine, violin


Flagler Museum


Nov. 19


A program in the Flagler Museum’s Music Room featuring its 1901 J. H. and C. S Odell 1,200 pipe instrument nested in the room’s gilt and ivory décor impressed me not only because of its connection with Palm Beach history but also the discovery of its qualities as a concert instrument.


Matthew Cates played a selection of works by J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms, Edward Elgar and Maurice Duruflé. The organ sounded best in two Brahms chorale-preludes, Op. 122, and in Duruflé’s "Fugue on the name Alain," Op. 7. It was less effective in Bach’s contrapuntal textures and a rather clumsy transcription of two movements from Elgar’s ’Enigma Variations."


Violinist Rachel Barton Pine played a strong second half in a series of unaccompanied works for her instrument (the "ex-Bazzini ex-Soldat" Guarneri of 1742), whose tone was ideally matched to the room’s acoustics.


In Bach’s "Sonata in G minor," BWV 1001, Paganini’s ’Caprice No. 24," Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s "Deep River" (in an arrangement by Maude Powell), and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s "Louisiana Blues Strut: A Cakewalk," her virtuosity and musicianship vividly underlined her reputation as one of today’s leading concert artists.


— Dennis Rooney


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The Claremont Trio


Flagler Museum


March 10


One of the last concerts reviewed, before many arts organizations’ seasons were abruptly ended, The Claremont Trio was a stunning and unexpected performance in a grand venue. Unexpected, as the balance of the trio and the acoustics of the performance hall blended like a perfectly mastered recording.


Julia Bruskin on cello, Emily Bruskin on violin and Andrea Lam on piano performed with nuance in their sound and attention to musical detail, and it was a treat to witness such a masterful performance of this repertoire. The Claremont Trio’s interpretation of these works, ranging from a new piece by Nico Muhly, entitled "Common Ground," to Franz Schubert’s "Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, No. 1," was perfection. Every snippet of a musical idea was played with sonorous clarity and virtuosity that drew us into the heart of the performance.


— Sarah Hutchings


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Jennifer Johnson Cano in "The Tell Tale Heart" with composer-pianist Gregg Kallor and cellist Joshua Roman


The Society of the Four Arts


Jan. 29


It is impossible to forget the sound of Jennifer Johnson Cano's gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice. Her instrument rang with perfectly balanced chiaroscuro. Championing new music with precision while exhibiting prominence in traditional song repertoire, Johnson Cano’s performance was dynamic and exquisite.


— Mitchell Hutchings


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A Streetcar Named Desire


Palm Beach Dramaworks


Oct. 11-Nov. 3


This stellar production steered by J. Barry Lewis breathed life into Tennessee Williams’ towering classic with heart-wrenching, authentic performances from Kathy McCafferty as the fading Southern belle Blanche and Danny Gavigan as the bruised and brutal Stanley.


— Jan Sjostrom


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The Practice of Optimism: Sculpture by Federico Uribe


Nov. 20-Feb. 2


and "Plastic Reef"


Jan. 9 - closed by coronavirus precautions on March 16


Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens


Uribe’s art radiates joy and is full of surprises. His bold and often playful wall pieces and sculptures are made of atypical materials such as colored pencils, neckties, shoelaces, coins and bullets. His "Plastic Reef" installation set up on the East Lawn immersed visitors in a "reef" made of ocean garbage and a soundscape by Alvaro Alencar.


— Jan Sjostrom


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Carol Guzy: Odyssey of Hope: Stories that Need to be Told


Palm Beach Photographic Centre


Feb. 11-closed by coronavirus precautions on March 21


Winner of the center’s 2020 FOTOmentor Award, photojournalist Carol Guzy puts a human face on war, natural disasters, migration and other thorny issues. Curator Scott Mc Kiernan picked the best of the four-time Pulitzer Prize winner’s work as well as lesser known yet powerful images for the exhibition.


— Jan Sjostrom


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Parker Quartet


The Society of the Four Arts


Jan. 26


Excelling both by the individual talents of its members and their overall sound, the the members of the Parker Quartet presented an adventurous program at The Society of the Four Arts that featured a rather unfamiliar masterwork by Karol Szymanowskiy. His "String Quartet No. 2," Op. 56, an edgy work influenced by sublimated folk elements, received a passionate and technically flawless reading by the Parker Quartet, whose members also excelled in a jarring rendition of Ludwig van Beethoven's "String Quartet in A minor," Op. 132.


— Márcio Bezerra


***


Bomsori Kim and Juho Pohjonen


The Society of the Four Arts


Jan. 8


The sheer potency of emotion in Bomsori Kim’s performance was astounding. Backed by Juho Pohjonen’s solid playing and tasteful musicianship, the duo gave the music a charged, directed passion at every opportunity, adding unwritten swells and tapers in volume that really brought the dramatic character of the program to life. In addition to her diligent romanticism, Kim played with a faultless clarity of articulation that made old violin tricks sound brand new in their precision.


— Michael Broder