We’ve had a flurry of Philip Glass reviews in the last two weeks on Bachtrack, from the opera house to the concert hall, and he’s dividing opinion among our reviewers. While Ninfea was impressed by the theatrical side of his latest opera The Perfect American at its ENO première, the music was less notable – Glass’ “low-key attitude” to composition might be “refreshing in our culture of the artist-as-genius”, but surely the score still has to capture the attention. Over in San Francisco, Jeffery heard his music for the Cocteau film La Belle et la Bête with the Philip Glass Ensemble, but his query was with the medium of “film-opera” which Glass adopted.

Philip Glass © Jim Ball
Philip Glass
© Jim Ball
On the other hand, Alexandra had little to complain about on hearing the man himself at the piano in St George’s Bristol, in an impressive and rare solo performance of many of his fabled keyboard works. Bruce Brubaker was also playing some of the Glass Etudes the other week at Kings Place in London, but I found myself significantly more captivated by his rendition of Alvin Curran’s striking Hope Street Tunnel Blues III. His fellow minimalist Michael Nyman has just had all his string quartets performed too, though Melissa found the two she heard “curiously old”, by new-music standards.

The headline string quartet event of late, though, was without doubt the Emerson String Quartet’s first concert with new cellist Paul Watkins, which Andrew was lucky enough to catch at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival last week. Did the new boy prove himself? “The answer is a resounding yes” – he gave a performance so assured it sounded “as if he’d been playing alongside [outgoing cellist] David Finckel all these years”. In Dresden, meanwhile, the Doric String Quartet may be newer kids on the block than the 34-year-old Emersons, but Matthew insists that it’s not fair to consider them merely a “young string quartet” – they’re simply too good for that.

James Levine at Carnegie Hall © Steve J. Sherman, May 2013
James Levine at Carnegie Hall
© Steve J. Sherman, May 2013
Perhaps a yet more anticipated event than Paul Watkins’ arrival was the return of James Levine in New York following illness, and David caught his visit to Carnegie Hall with an on-form MET Orchestra. A monumental audience reaction for this greatly popular figure was “deafening, protracted, and earnest” – and “undoubtedly deserved”. Another monumental occasion we made it to was Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s final concert as principal conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, and he went out in great style with a breathtaking Mahler 2. Remarkable in quite a different way was an unlikely European première from the Philharmonia, of Shostakovich’s unfinished opera Orango.

But the Philharmonia and Esa-Pekka Salonen have been up to more than this lately: they also celebrated The Rite of Spring’s centenary with an “animalistic”, overwhelming performance last week. As you’d expect, Rite reviews have been pouring in: we’ve heard it in Hong Kong as well, and even in an arrangement for solo piano with Vicky Chow in New York. What’s more, Akram Khan’s new choreography iTMOi premièred at Sadler’s Wells, taking an indirect approach to this masterpiece, but creating something vivid and unique. Certainly, The Rite of Spring is a piece still sounding very fresh, even after a hundred years.

Komische Oper Berlin, The Magic Flute © Iko Freese
Komische Oper Berlin, The Magic Flute
© Iko Freese
New life has also been breathed into a number of older operatic works: even a piece as familiar as Die Zauberflöte can sound and look brand new with the right production, as Zerbinetta found at the Komische Oper in Berlin. Both this year’s 200-year-olds Verdi and Wagner also enjoyed successful new productions: Verdi’s Nabucco, in a shopping mall, was a success in Tokyo, while Wagner’s Lohengrin was brought to its composer’s own time in Welsh National Opera’s new production. A very contemporary Marriage of Figaro from Christopher Alden was less successful in Los Angeles, while in Oslo Stefan Herheim’s Salome – the piece that began the 20th century, some say – proved that even a perenially modern work can be modernised. Fans of more traditional things have much to enjoy at the moment from the summer opera season, and David and Roger both made the trip to Grange Park near Winchester to hunt out some opera in a more glamorous location.

All of this, and I haven’t mentioned our four reviews of the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, Dan’s thoughtful critique of Marc-André Hamelin “the technician”, a Highland Fling in Aberdeen, a pair of anniversaries celebrated with American Ballet Theatre, or a log being chopped with an axe by London Sinfonietta percussionist David Hockings. Or much else besides. It’s been a busy fortnight.