The Belcea Quartet Plays Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn has been called the “Father of the String Quartet.” His sixty-eight quartets, written between 1762 and 1803, pushed the genre beyond frothy court entertainment, setting the stage for composers who followed. Haydn’s quartets demand focused, attentive listening. While earlier string quartets often featured a solo first violin and three accompanying voices, Haydn’s quartets unleash a magical dialogue between equal voices, something Goethe described as, “four rational people conversing.” We often think of …

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Remembering Pauline Oliveros, Composer and Proponent of “Deep Listening”

Listen to everything all the time and remind yourself when you are not listening. Even though the newborn has trillions of neurons, by the time they’re eighteen months old they’ve lost quite a bit, because they’re focusing on exclusive sounds of speech. So that sort of takes you away from the sensation of sound. -Pauline Oliveros American composer, accordionist, and theorist Pauline Oliveros passed away last Thursday. She was 84. Oliveros was …

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Canto: Adam Schoenberg’s Dream-Lullaby

“Canto is about family and love” writes American composer Adam Schoenberg, describing his 2014 composition commissioned by the Lexington (Kentucky) Philharmonic. The brief orchestral work was written after the birth of Schoenberg’s son, Luca. It opens with a sudden, colorful, mysterious cluster of sound, initiated by the strummed strings of the piano, which instantly thrusts us into its distinctly dreamy sound world. The tonal colors are soft and muted, but there’s a sense …

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Beethoven and the Spirit of Gratitude

Intense, heroic struggle culminating in transcendent exultation and joy- these are elements that we often associate with the music of Beethoven. But lately I’ve noticed that in rare, fleeting moments throughout Beethoven’s works another power seems to emerge, mysteriously. It can best be described as gratitude- a sense of surrender and a glimpse of the transcendent. It’s something we hear in the “Holy song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, …

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New Release: The San Francisco Symphony’s Debussy Album

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have just released an exciting new Debussy album. The disk features two orchestral showpieces: the three movement Images pour orchestre (the interior movement, Ibéria, evokes the bright, sunny rhythms of Spain) and the ballet score, Jeux. The sensuous, gypsy-inspired waltz La plus sue lente rounds out the album. The performances were recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall. Jeux (Games), described as a “poème dansé” (“a danced poem”), was Debussy’s last orchestral work. It was written quickly in …

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Schubert’s Time-Altering Nocturne

This week, I’m playing Schubert’s monumental Ninth Symphony (the “Great”). It’s a piece which pushes the envelope towards Romanticism in some interesting ways. Can you think of any other symphony from the 1820s that starts this way with a single melodic line in the horns or uses the trombones as a prominent solo voice? The Ninth was Schubert’s last completed symphony and it was virtually unknown until Schumann and Mendelssohn rediscovered it in …

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New Release: Lisa Batiashvili plays Tchaikovsky, Sibelius

Georgian-born violinist Lisa Batiashvili’s newest album offers a surprisingly fresh take on two standard pillars of the violin repertoire- the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius Concertos. Batiashvili is joined by conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin on this Deutsche Grammophon recording. Batiashvili’s interpretation of the Tchaikovsky is full of fluid tempo changes. It’s generally more contemplative than the classic performances of Heifetz and Oistrakh. (For example, listen to the burning intensity just below the surface of the second movement’s hushed stillness or …

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