Best Of 2020

Renowned violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter halted her performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra when she saw a first-row audience member at Music Hall recording her concert on a smartphone. When Mutter asked her to stop, the audience member refused and tried to argue with her. CSO president Jonathan Martin jumped up from his seat and escorted the videographer out. Mutter got rousing ovations for insisting that the filming stop — and for her radiant performance. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Music Hall, 1241 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, cincinnatisymphony.org.

Arts & Culture
Illustration: Taylor Speed


The Esquire Theatre
Photo: Emily Palm
The Esquire Theatre

The Esquire’s decision last year to regularly book special-event movies, including revived classics and cult films, has been a boon for film buffs who not only want to see something more than new first-run titles on the big screen but also desire chances to discuss what they’ve seen. They want to take film seriously as an art form. And nobody is doing a better job of offering them that opportunity than Joe Horine, a consultant for the Esquire as well as an adjunct film professor at the University of Cincinnati. Among his scintillating programming at the theater are his “Deep Dive” excursions into such classics as Rear Window, Chinatown and Alien. By frequently stopping the film to discuss an important scene or dialogue exchange and to take questions and comments from his audience about the significance of what they just witnessed, he lets his screenings go for three hours or more. And everyone who comes stays riveted the whole time. Because a Deep Dive event takes so much planning and preparation, Horine can’t offer them that often. Check the Esquire’s website frequently for advance notice — if you’re a film buff, these are not to be missed. Esquire Theatre, 320 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, esquiretheatre.com.

As Creatures: When Species Meet enveloped the galleries of the Contemporary Arts Center in May 2019, Steven Matijcio — CAC’s former head curator — set out to examine the delicate balance between art-making humans and their animal counterparts. (Though he left months earlier, When Species Meet marked Matijcio’s last CAC show.) A lighthearted clip from artist William Wegman and one of his famous weimaraner dogs, Man Ray, made an appearance, as did a series of vibrant, abstract works painted by actual elephants through the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project. Staying away from pieces where animals were merely subjects, Creatures favored those where they were active participants in art making. In one case, the process was best seen in real time: Brian Jungen’s geometric “Plaza 19,” a plywood and carpet-square model of the Terrace Plaza Hotel on Sixth and Vine streets downtown, was clearly a cleverly designed ruse to bring a bunch of very cute, very adoptable cats and kittens into the museum. Although Jungen has created similar installations where cats live 24/7, these felines from the SPCA played, explored and lounged in the plaza’s comfy cubby holes on Saturday afternoons, many of them finding new homes with art- and cat-loving CAC visitors. Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, contemporaryartscenter.org.

Cincinnati breaks the mold as a mid-sized city with a world-class orchestra, opera company and chamber music organization. All three of which celebrated anniversaries during their respective 2019-2020 season: the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra hit 125 years, the Cincinnati Opera turned 100 and Chamber Music Cincinnati ushered in 90 years. And, in their own ways, each organization championed lineups that not only referenced their past, but also looked toward the future. Of particular note, the CSO kicked off their observance with “Look Around,” a multimedia production created by composer Shara Nova and poet/rapper Siri Imani — who recited her poem “Lost Generation” — that took over Washington Park to great success with over 600 performers. Renowned pianist and composer Stewart Goodyear made his CMC debut by playing all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in the course of one day. And though the Cincinnati Opera technically hits 100 this June, the party started early last fall with a sold-out concert at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the company’s home from 1920-1971. It makes sense, then, that they would bring back The Barber of Seville and Aida for their 2020 summer lineup, both of which were performed in the company’s first two seasons at the zoo. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, cincinnatisymphony.org; Cincinnati Opera, cincinnatiopera.org; Chamber Music Cincinnati, cincychamber.org.

2. Taft Museum of Art

3. 21c Museum Hotel

2. Contemporary Arts Center

3. Taft Museum of Art

2. “Cincinnati Toy Heritage”

3. “Charley Harper’s Beguiled by the

Wild”

4. “Ezzard Charles: The Cincinnati Cobra”

5. “Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon”

6. “Faces of Homelessness”

7. “Dream Big and Fly High”

8. “Swing Around Rosie”

9. “Homecoming (Bluebirds)”

10. “Democracy!”

Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of bestselling memoir Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, which was adapted into a film starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan, spoke to a sold-out crowd at the Aronoff Center in October 2019. Sponsored by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, it was the first of what will be an annual Mary S. Stern Lecture. CityBeat’s Steven Rosen, who attended the lecture, wrote that the author, public-interest lawyer and MacArthur Foundation fellow was “impassioned, eloquent and charismatic,” as he urged listeners to be active in reforming the U.S. justice and incarceration system, end the death penalty and work to “erase the pernicious effects of racism toward African Americans on America’s past and present.” He received a standing ovation following his lecture, and his powerful words — and statistics — are likely to resonate long after for audience members. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, various branches, cincinnatilibrary.org.