The arts world tends to think in terms of September-to-June seasons, rather than calendar years, but it's still fun to look back on the past 12 months and relive the performances that offered extra satisfaction.
Although I may have missed some great stuff along the way — it's pretty near impossible to catch everything packed into a given year — I experienced plenty of rewarding activity on the classical music and theater scenes.
Here are my picks for the best performing-arts events in Baltimore during 2013.
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: "Hairspray." With John Waters serving as narrator, you just knew this concert version of the hit musical was going to be fun. He provided fresh humor and cool insights into the show, while the BSO and a terrific cast, deftly conducted by Jack Everly, performed with contagious spirit.
Everyman Theatre: Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County." The company inaugurated its handsome new venue with this juicy play about a supremely dysfunctional family. Directed by Everyman's guiding light, Vincent Lancisi, the vibrant staging showcased the fine resident ensemble, along with marvelous guest artist Linda Thorson as the manic matriarch.
Shriver Hall Concert Series: Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin. This recital by one of today's most insightful and technically gifted keyboard artists included soaring Bach, incendiary Rachmaninoff and a brilliant, droll piece by Hamelin himself. Every one of the piano's 88 keys seemed to get a vivid workout.
Baltimore Chamber Orchestra: Oboe Concertos. The ensemble, led by Markand Thakar, welcomed the BSO's principal oboist, Katherine Needleman, who gave radiant accounts of concertos by Bach and Vaughan Williams. And on its own, the orchestra did shining work in music by the under-appreciated Ernest Bloch.
BSO: Act 1 of Wagner's "Die Walkure." Marking the Richard Wagner bicentennial, the orchestra offered a stirring hour of the composer's mammoth "Ring" Cycle. Singing by soprano Heidi Melton, tenor Brandon Jovanovich and, especially, bass-baritone Eric Owens hit the spot. BSO music director Marin Alsop was at her most dynamic, and the ensemble did some potent playing.
Shriver Hall Concert Series: Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, pianist Yefim Bronfman. Two major international stars on a single bill yielded superb results in an unusual recital of songs by Mussorgsky, Bartok, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Marc-Andre Dalbavie. Richly communicative at every turn.
Pro Musica Rara: "The Musical Offering." An intriguing look at connections between Bach and Frederick the Great culminated with Bach's complex "Musical Offering," based on a theme attributed to the monarch. Cellist Allen Whear, the ensemble's artistic director, provided exemplary commentary on the music; he and his colleagues communicated its contrapuntal richness warmly.
BSO: Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11 ("The Year 1905"). In his BSO debut, conductor Dima Slobodeniouk tore up the place with a penetrating account of this evocative, disturbing piece, and he got the most soul-shaking playing out of the orchestra since its best days with former music director Yuri Temirkanov.
Hippodrome: Matthew Lombardo's "Looped." This lightweight play finds the divine, ever-so-slightly difficult Tallulah Bankhead trying to do post-production work on the 1965 movie "Die! Die! My Darling!" Veteran actress Stefanie Powers, who actually costarred with Bankhead in that movie, had a field day impersonating her, and also tapped into the complex woman beneath all the gravel-voiced "Dah-lings."
Peabody Conservatory: "Defiant Requiem." This shattering multimedia production created by Baltimore-born conductor Murry Sidlin commemorates Jewish prisoners who performed Verdi's "Requiem" in the Terezin concentration camp. With forces from Peabody and guest artists, Sidlin delivered a potent account of the Verdi work, interwoven with commentary and video of Terezin survivors.
Center Stage: Bruce Norris' "Clybourne Park." This sequel of sorts to Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" is hardly the last word on race, but the sharp-edged play cuts into of a lot of troubling contemporary issues. A strong cast, directed by Derrick Sanders, brought out the work's many strengths.
Concert Artists of Baltimore: Scott McAllister's "X." Edward Polochick led the vibrant ensemble in a typically imaginative program of Ravel, Vaughan Williams and Ginastera. The kicker was a sizzling performance featuring principal clarinetist David Drosinos in McAllister's cool concerto "X," which manages to incorporate Mozart and Kurt Cobain.
Music in the Great Hall: Fleisher Duo. Any opportunity to hear eminent pianist and Baltimore icon Leon Fleisher is a big deal. His recital for the Great Hall series, shared with his wife, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, was especially memorable for his playing of Leon Kirchner's "L.H." Together, the Fleishers offered exquisite Schubert and surging Ravel.