Hilary Hahn: In 27 Pieces

Earlier this month, violinist Hilary Hahn and accompanist Cory Smythe picked up a Grammy award for their 2013 album, In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores. The recording came in first in the Best Chamber/Small Ensemble category. Don’t be deceived by the album’s title. This isn’t yet another CD of violin showpiece warhorses. It’s a collection of completely new music born out of an intriguingly fresh idea. Hahn noticed that, while the violin repertoire …

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Exploring the Lullaby

The lullaby is universal and timeless. It’s one of the clearest expressions of the deep bond between mother and young child. Its gentle, repetitive, rocking rhythm lulls infants to sleep. The simple expression of its melody evokes warmth and security. At the same time, many lullabies contain an inexplicable hint of sadness. From Franz Schubert to George Gershwin to U2, music history is full of lullabies. Here are five of my favorites: …

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Mozart in Paris: Symphony No. 31

  In 1778, at the age of 22, Mozart traveled to Paris with his ill mother in hopes of landing a job at the court of Versailles. Years earlier, as a child harpsichord prodigy, he had created a sensation in the French capital. Now, the mature Mozart’s music went over the heads of most French nobility. It seemed too complicated. There were just “too many notes.” As one review observed, The composer obtained …

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Lux: VOCES8’s New Recording

  “Lux,” a recently released recording by the British vocal ensemble, VOCES8, revels in the naturally expressive beauty of the human voice. The album title refers to the Latin word for “light.” The group’s exceptional sense of blend and pure intonation produces warm, glowing overtones. “Lux” includes a mix of old and new. O Nata Lux by English composer Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) and settings of the ancient Gregorian melody Ubi Caritas by Paul Mealor and Ola Gjeilo are …

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The Manipulative Power of TV News Music

From the ominous minor second “shark motive” in Jaws, to E.T.’s soaring “Flying Theme,” to the terror of Psycho’s blood-stained shower, music plays an obvious role in heightening the drama of our favorite movie scenes. Music has the unique capability to transcend the literal and transport us into the world of metaphor, a place where fundamental truths are most deeply and directly experienced. In some cases, music may be the most important dramatic ingredient. For example, video footage of …

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Washington’s Birthday

Washington’s Birthday, the first movement of Charles Ives’ Holiday Symphony, emerges out of the desolate, snowy gloom of a midwinter night in rural New England. The music feels strangely amorphous, as if we’ve suddenly slipped into a dream. As we enter this sonic dreamscape, it’s easy to get the sense that we’re joining music already in progress. Who knows where or when it began? Drifting from one hazy moment to the next, we …

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Valentine’s Day with Mandolins

  My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite. -William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet In celebration of Valentine’s Day, here is the quirky Dance with Mandolins from Act II of Sergei Prokofiev’s 1935 ballet score, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64. Given this ballet’s multitude of powerful, dramatic music, this excerpt may seem slightly off the beaten path. But …

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