Puccini’s Turandot: Five Key Moments

In Wednesday’s post, we heard a few examples of Puccini’s flirtations with impressionism. Puccini’s final opera, Turandot is filled with colorful orchestration and adventurous harmony which evokes the exotic atmosphere of the mythic story: Princess Turandot, determined to never marry, takes revenge on her suitors through a series of riddles. Failure to answer correctly results in the suitor’s execution. Here are five key moments from the opera: Signore, ascolta!  Calaf, the young Prince of Tartary, catches sight of …

Read morePuccini’s Turandot: Five Key Moments

Puccini the Impressionist

Longtime readers of The Listeners’ Club may recall that this is the time of year when the Richmond Symphony often travels throughout the state as the pit orchestra for Virginia Opera. This year, we’ve been playing Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. With lush, soaringly romantic melodies, Puccini’s operas are some of the most rewarding to play, from the perspective of a string player. Puccini’s music also brings drama and characterization to life in uniquely powerful ways. For example, listen …

Read morePuccini the Impressionist

Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata: Isabelle Faust

A continuous vibrato is one of the key elements of modern violin playing. So it’s easy to forget that there was a time when vibrato was used much more sparingly as an ornament. Listen to German violinist Joseph Joachim’s 1903 recordings of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 1 and No 2 and you’ll hear this older approach to sound. In a 2011 interview, German violinist Isabelle Faust discusses Joachim’s insistence on strict tempos and limited vibrato in Brahms’ …

Read moreBeethoven’s “Spring” Sonata: Isabelle Faust

New Release: Jennifer Higdon’s Musical Postcard, “All Things Majestic”

An awe-inspiring slice of Wyoming landscape inspired American composer Jennifer Higdon’s All Things Majestic. The four-movement orchestral suite was commissioned in 2011 by the Grand Teton Music Festival in celebration of its 50th anniversary. Music Director Donald Runnicles and the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra gave the premiere in August, 2011. Here is the composer’s description of the piece: Having grown up in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains, and having hiked many of our parks, …

Read moreNew Release: Jennifer Higdon’s Musical Postcard, “All Things Majestic”

Happy Birthday, Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, the American composer and lyricist, celebrates his 87th birthday today. Last summer, there were rumors that a new Sondheim show, currently in the “workshop” phase, would open this year, off-Broadway. With or without a new work, Sondheim’s contribution to American musical theater is undeniable. With Sondheim, the modern, plot-driven musical (a genre which emerged with Jerome Kern’s 1927 Show Boat and matured with Rodgers and Hammerstein) reached its zenith. Sondheim scores such …

Read moreHappy Birthday, Stephen Sondheim

Salut Printemps: Debussy’s Music of Spring

I would like to paint the way a bird sings. -Claude Monet Nature’s colorful reawakening in springtime was a significant influence for French impressionist painter Claude Monet. (Monet’s 1886 Springtime is pictured above). Claude Debussy (1862-1918) may be the composer who mirrors most clearly the atmosphere of Monet’s paintings. In fact, the descriptive titles of Debussy’s pieces often are suggestive of titles you might associate with works of visual art. Debussy’s piano student Madame Gérard …

Read moreSalut Printemps: Debussy’s Music of Spring

Percy Grainger: Irish Tune from County Derry

I have vague, early childhood memories of hearing my dad play trombone in Dr. Harry Begian’s band at the University of Illinois. Begian, who passed away in 2010, was the University’s Director of Bands between 1970 and 1984. He favored the full, majestic “symphonic band” sound over the leaner sound of a wind ensemble. He recounted stories of sneaking into Detroit’s Symphony Hall as a child to watch the great “old school” maestros of …

Read morePercy Grainger: Irish Tune from County Derry

Send this to a friend