Two Nights on Bald Mountain

(Above: A scene from Disney’s Fantasia (1940), which popularized Night on Bald Mountain with a version by conductor Leopold Stokowski.) Modest Mussorgsky’s 1867 tone poem, Night on Bald Mountain was inspired by an old Russian legend which was turned into a ghoulish short story by Nikolai Gogol. The story centers around witches, black magic, and events which you might expect in the most grisly horror movie. Here is Mussorgsky’s description of the musical program for Night on Bald …

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Even Better Than the Real Thing

In 1984, a bold, new skyscraper emerged on the Manhattan skyline, which captured everyone’s attention and became the subject of intense controversy. The Chippendale-inspired broken pediment crown of architect Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building shocked the architectural establishment because it so profoundly violated the ruling aesthetic of the day. This bizarre new icon seemed to be cheerfully thumbing its nose at the solemn, modernist glass boxes which surrounded it. Postmodernism was born. Modernism, …

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Dylana Jenson’s Sibelius Recording

If you’ve never heard Dylana Jenson’s 1981 recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, take a moment and listen. This soulful and blazing performance is widely regarded to be one of the finest recordings of the Sibelius ever made. It’s a rare gem which deserves more attention. A child prodigy and student of Josef Gingold and Nathan Milstein, Jenson was awarded the silver medal at the 1978 …

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Brahms’ Fourth: A Symphonic Swan Song

Take a moment and consider the vast number of nineteenth century symphonies which, in one way or another, take an unequivocal journey from darkness to light. The long arc of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with its transcendent final movement, is a perfect example. In the opening of the last movement of Beethoven’s Fifth, C minor turns into C major, and the trombones (who wait through the first three movements without playing a note) suddenly add a …

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A Vibrating Wooden Box

The debate surrounding comparisons between priceless, old Italian Stradivari and Guarneri violins and the work of top-level, modern luthiers rages on. Meanwhile, the quality of some of the finest contemporary instruments is undeniable. Brooklyn, New York-based luthier Sam Zygmuntowicz has great reverence for the old Italian makers, but he refuses to be intimidated by their mystique, rejecting the notion that “mystery” surrounds their brilliance. Through extensive research, he has attempted to gain an …

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Remembering Composer Stephen Paulus

American composer Stephen Paulus passed away yesterday due to complications from a significant stroke he suffered last year. He was 65 years old. Paulus leaves behind a wide range of works, including three violin concertos. William Preucil recorded the first concerto with conductor Yoel Levi and the Atlanta Symphony in the early 1990s. That recording also features the thrilling, eleven minute adventure for orchestra, Concertante, written in 1989 (find on iTunes). In addition …

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Music and Humor

Leonard Bernstein masterfully explored the subject of humor in music in one of his Young People’s Concerts. The episode takes listeners on a musical tour from Haydn and Rameau to Brahms, Mahler, Prokofiev and Shostakovich and offers insight into why we find certain music funny. To this day, no one has done more for music education than Bernstein. Watching these programs, which originally aired on CBS in the late 1950s, you can sense Bernstein’s passion and …

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