Daniel Stepner Plays Solo Bach

On Monday, we ventured into the monumental preludes and fugues of J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. Let’s finish the week with an excerpt from Daniel Stepner’s 2013 Centaur Records release of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. Stepner offers period performances of these works, tuning to the lowered A of Bach’s time, and using three fine old instruments: a 1641 Italian Amati violin, a 1740s German Klotz, and a 1693 Stradivari. The recording was made over the course 23 years, between …

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Arvo Pärt’s Credo: The Powers of Order and Chaos

Arvo Pärt’s Credo, written in 1968, is the music of revolution. It’s an expression of disintegration, collapse, and reawakening. It’s a piece in which the pristine, well established order of modernism’s 12-tone-row and the rational counterpoint of J.S. Bach, give way to a terrifying, chaotic, total breakdown. For a moment we hear raging noise…an anguished sound world unimaginable before the twentieth century. Scored for piano, orchestra and chorus (an instrumentation that mirrors Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, Op. 80), Credo is …

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The Well-Tempered Clavier: Bach’s Sublime Exercises

For more than 250 years, Das wohltemperierte Clavier has trained the fingers of innumerable keyboard players, and has also trained the judgment of composers seeking to understand the complex relationship between creative freedom and formal discipline. – Davitt Moroney There’s an interesting irony in the fact that the ultimate creative freedom often grows out of rules and constraints. This is something architects, who embark on projects with a detailed program outlining the client’s needs and …

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A Ravel Snapshot with the Lydian String Quartet

The Boston-based Lydian String Quartet has a new first violinist. Andrea Segar recently succeeded Daniel Stepner, who served as the Quartet’s first violinist for 29 years. Segar was a student of Donald Weilerstein (former first violinist of the Cleveland Quartet) at New England Conservatory, and Philip Setzer (a founding member of the Emerson String Quartet) and Soovin Kim at SUNY Stony Brook. Last week, the Lydian Quartet posted this informal rehearsal clip featuring the …

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Psalm 90: Charles Ives’ Time-Altering Swan Song

When you think of Charles Ives (1874-1954), the visionary experimental composer and New England insurance executive who assembled shocking, never-before-imagined sonic collages, what music comes to mind? Probably the enigmatic Unanswered Question. Perhaps the dense, American folk-song-laced orchestral tone poems or the harmonically advanced Concord Sonata. But beyond all of this lies another side of Ives. By the age of 14, he was an organist of immense technical skill. (At 17, Ives described his fiendishly difficult, …

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A Vibrant Beethoven Fifth: Thielemann and the Vienna Philharmonic

There’s a special excitement which comes with hearing an old, familiar piece in a new way. That’s what happens when you listen to Christian Thielemann’s vibrant 2011 live concert recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (video below). In this interpretation, Thielemann’s approach to tempo is interestingly elastic. For example, listen to the opening of the final movement, the climactic apex of the entire symphony. This is the moment when …

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Jennifer Higdon: Summer Shimmers Across the Glass of Green Ponds

Here’s the perfect soundtrack for a lazy midsummer afternoon- the kind of music you might hear in a dream if you fell asleep in the backyard under a cool, lush, leafy canopy. Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams, a work for piano quintet written in 1999 by American composer Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962), imagines a series of divergent dreams. The dreamer becomes both a participant and observer, a paradox Higdon likens to the …

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