Archive | April, 2016


The ATOS Trio Plays Mozart

Last month, the Berlin-based ATOS Trio released The Czech Album, a recording featuring piano trios by Dvorák and Smetana. Rather than perform the famous “Dumky” Trio No. 4, they chose Dvorák’s less well known Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65. It’s a piece filled with spicy Czech folk rhythms, lush melodies, and the rich, passionate Romanticism we […]

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Gustav Mahler. Photograph by Moriz Nähr. 1907.

Good Composers Copy, Great Composers Steal

Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” It’s a philosophy embraced by some of the most creative innovators, including Steve Jobs: the idea of assimilating a good idea and using it as a springboard for something new. Composers have occasionally done this, both consciously and subconsciously, under the guise of “transformative imitation.” […]

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Remembering Prince

Last Thursday, as news broke of the untimely death of Prince, we were all reminded of his enormous contributions, both as a cultural icon and as one of contemporary pop music’s most innovative songwriters. His work drew upon a wide variety of styles, including “funk, rock, rhythm and blues, soul, psychedelia, and pop.” In songs such as […]

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Schumann’s Musical Descent into Insanity

On Monday, we listened to Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 “Spring,” a sunny piece written in the “springtime” of Schumann’s life, shortly after his marriage to Clara. Now let’s hear a different, darker side of Schumann: two strange, haunting works from the final years of the composer’s life, written as he descended into insanity. It’s now believed […]

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A Brief Look Back at James Levine’s Tenure at the Met

Last week, the Metropolitan Opera announced that James Levine will be stepping down as music director after four decades and 2,551 performances. Levine, who is 72, has been battling Parkinson’s Disease along with other ailments. Levine, who became music director of the Met in 1976, has been credited with raising the level of the company. […]

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Schumann’s First Symphony: Spring Blooms Forth

It begins with a majestic trumpet and horn fanfare…a triumphant invocation of spring, inspired by these lines from a poem by Adolf Böttger: O wende, wende deinen Lauf— Im Thale blüht der Frühling auf! O turn, O turn and change your course— In the valley spring blooms forth! It’s hard to imagine a piece more infused […]

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Hindemith’s “Flying Dutchman” Parody

If you’re a longtime Listeners’ Club reader, you know that I’m often playing opera this time of year. This month I’ve been staying busy with Virginia Opera’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.  The Flying Dutchman is the work of a young, 26-year-old Wagner. In many ways, it anticipates the more mature, leitmotif-laden Wagner operas which would follow. […]

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Yuja Wang Plays Prokofiev

Following a brief vacation, Chinese pianist Yuja Wang gets back to work this week. She’ll bring two Bartok piano concertos to Rochester, New York: the First Concerto tomorrow night, and the Third on Saturday, with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Recently, I ran across her spectacular performance of another twentieth century masterwork: Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The […]

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Viola Power: Dvorak’s “American” Quartet

The viola is the stereotypical underdog of the string family. The occasional butt of lighthearted jokes, in the orchestra it often escapes the limelight. When the first violins claim the melody and soar into the sonic stratosphere, the violas provide a mellow and essential inner voice. But this is only half the story. The viola […]

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Staying Grounded in Henry Purcell

What does music of seventeenth-century English composer Henry Purcell have in common with a contemporary pop song like U2’s With Or Without You? Both are built on a repeating ostinato bass line, called a ground bass. Early traces of the ground bass emerged in thirteenth-century French vocal motets and fifteenth-century European dance music. By the time Purcell used it, […]

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