Elgar’s Cello Concerto: Elegy for a Vanishing World

The music of Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) is often characterized as stately and regal- the musical embodiment of everything British. You can hear this in the majestically celebratory final moments of the Enigma Variations or the Imperial March, Op. 32, music written for the 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Both pieces propelled Elgar to fame. The stirring Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches provide a glimpse of the self assurance, order, and security of the British …

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Two Hanson Pastorales

American composer Howard Hanson’s Pastorale for Oboe, Harp, and Strings, Op. 38 begins with a plaintive oboe call. It’s a sound which carries faint nostalgia, evoking ancient connotations of shepherds on hillsides and the serenity of the pasture. But there’s also a hint of anxiety lurking under the surface in this music, which Hanson wrote in 1949 and dedicated to his wife, Peggy. Perhaps an “anxious pastorale” was the only kind possible in the …

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A Snapshot of Janacek with Jessica Lee

This week, the Cleveland Orchestra announced that Korean-American violinist Jessica Lee has been appointed assistant concertmaster (the fourth chair). Lee is a native of my adopted hometown, Richmond, Virginia. Although our paths never crossed (she left before I arrived in 2002), many of my Richmond Symphony colleagues remember her fondly. A graduate of Juilliard and Curtis, Jessica Lee has been a long-time member of the Johannes String Quartet. (You can see her in action …

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Mark Kaplan’s Solo Bach Recording

If you’re looking for rare treasures in the form of recent classical music releases, try hanging around your local classical radio host. A few days ago, as the announcers at my local public radio station were clearing their archives of duplicate promotional recordings, I ran across Mark Kaplan’s March release of J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin on the Bridge Records label. Compare this recording to the equally wonderful period …

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Common Tones in Simple Time: John Adams’ Gradually Shifting Sonic Landscape

Something really interesting happens to your perception of time, space, and motion when you listen to John Adams’ Common Tones in Simple Time. It’s music which is cinematic and topographical. One critic likened it to the experience of “flying or gliding over a landscape of gently changing colors and textures.” The composer Nico Muhly called it, “distinctly American music: the music of the cross-country road trip, the slowly changing landscape above the quickly moving pavement.”  Muhly’s last …

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Ned Rorem’s “Little Elegy”

It’s amazing how much can be said in the small space of sixteen measures. A case in point is Little Elegy, a song by American composer Ned Rorem (b. 1923). Rorem, who was born in Richmond, Indiana and will turn 93 in October, produced a series of operas, three symphonies, countless concertos, and chamber works over the course of his long career. But he’s most known for his prolific contribution to a genre …

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Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony: Music of Celebration

A new commission was the last thing the 26-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wanted in the summer of 1782. He had just moved to the musical mecca of Vienna, shaking off the provincialism of his native Salzburg and its “coarse, slovenly, dissolute court musicians.” In addition to a busy teaching and composition schedule, he was getting ready to move to a new house in preparation for his marriage to Constanze Weber. But in July, 1782, …

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