Shostakovich’s Enigmatic Sixth

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony is an outlier…a rule breaker. At first glance, its form seems startlingly unbalanced and arbitrary. It’s cast in three movements rather than four: A slow, darkly ominous first movement followed by two short, almost frivolous scherzos. The result is schizophrenic and unsettling…a jarring juxtaposition of starkly contrasting moods. It’s the quintessential anti-heroic symphony, shattering our hopes and expectations. By the time we reach the final movement, a simultaneously …

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The 2016 Oscars: Nominees for Best Original Score

With the 88th Academy Awards ceremony coming up this Sunday, let’s finish the week with some film music. Here are this year’s nominees for “Best Original Score,” along with a few audio samples: “Carol” (Carter Burwell) This atmospheric score seems to pay homage to the musical language of Philip Glass. This passage contains all of the hallmarks of Glass’ vocabulary: a simple melody that grows out of repeating, undulating piano lines, triad-laden …

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Ravel’s Shéhérazade: L’indifférent

Impressionism celebrates the vague and the intangible…the ephemeral play of color and light and the blurring of reality and dreams. That’s the atmosphere that surrounds L’indifférent (“The Indifferent One”), the final movement of Maurice Ravel’s 1903 song cycle, Shéhérazade. The song’s text is from a collection of 100 poems (One Thousand and One Nights) by Ravel’s friend, Tristan Klingsor (pseudonym of Léon Leclère). It tells a vague, seductive story of unrequited passion and infatuation from afar. The poem’s narrator is attracted …

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The Tetzlaff Trio Plays Brahms

Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8 is a piece that bookended the compositional career of Johannes Brahms. In 1854, it became the 21-year-old composer’s first published chamber music composition. As Brahms prepared for retirement over thirty years later in 1890, he returned to this early work for minor revisions. He said, “I didn’t provide it with a new wig, just combed and arranged its hair a little.” The revised version (featured below) is …

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The 2016 Classical Grammys

Here is an overview of the 2016 Grammy Awards in the classical categories, announced earlier this week. The list is dominated by twentieth century music, both familiar and obscure. Several of the albums are live concert recordings. Best Orchestral Performance This is Andris Nelsons’ inaugural recording as Music Director of the Boston Symphony. The album includes Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 (a work we discussed in this past Listeners’ Club post) and the haunting Passacaglia from Shostakovich’s opera, Lady …

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Remembering Composer Steven Stucky

Over the years, the colorful orchestral compositions of American composer Steven Stucky have crossed my music stand occasionally. So I was surprised and saddened to hear that Stucky passed away on Sunday at his home in Ithaca, New York following a battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer. He was 66. Steven Stucky had a long association with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, serving as resident composer between 1988 and 2009. His …

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Nixon in China for Presidents’ Day

When you think of Presidents’ Day, what names first come to mind? …Washington? …Lincoln? Probably not Richard Nixon. But in John Adams’ 1987 opera Nixon in China, the 37th president becomes a mythic figure of Shakespearian proportion. The three act opera’s plot centers around Nixon’s historic 1972 diplomatic visit to China. In an interview with Edward Strickland shortly after Nixon in China‘s Houston premiere, John Adams said, …My Nixon is not the historical Richard …

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