The Orion Quartet in Concert: Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9

“We now join our regularly scheduled program, already in progress.” That’s the message that could accompany the opening of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9 in C Major. An F-sharp diminished chord emerges out of thin air at the beginning of this piece. This is the  last chord we would expect to hear at this point. It sounds like the stern conclusion of an earlier, unheard musical statement. The strange, harmonically ambiguous introduction which follows is …

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New Release: Shai Wosner’s “Impromptu”

In music, an “impromptu” is a short solo work which suggests the qualities of an improvisation. Impromptu is the title of a new album by Israeli-born pianist Shai Wosner. The recording, released on the Onyx Classics label, features music by composers ranging from Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, and Liszt to Ives and Gershwin. The Ives, set in three movements, are literal improvisations which were recorded and later notated. Gershwin’s charming and soulful Impromptu in Two Keys pulls …

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Happy Birthday, Serge Koussevitzky

Today marks the 143rd anniversary of the birth of the legendary conductor, composer, and double-bassist, Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951). Born in Russia into a Jewish family of professional musicians, Koussevitzky was music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949. During his unusually long twenty-five year tenure, the Boston Symphony established a reputation as one of the world’s greatest orchestras. In 1937, Koussevitzky was instrumental in developing the Tanglewood Music Center, the …

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Vitali’s Chaconne: Five Classic Recordings

The origin of the famous Chaconne in G minor, attributed to Italian baroque composer Tomaso Antonio Vitali (1663-1745), remains something of an enigma. The score was discovered and published by the German violinist Ferdinand David in 1867. David premiered Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and his version of the Chaconne includes a quote of the Concerto in the piano accompaniment. There was speculation that David wrote the Chaconne, mainly because its far-reaching harmonic modulations seem so foreign to the baroque language …

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Michael Torke’s “An American Abroad” (“An American in Paris” 2.0?)

Did George Gershwin write this piece from the grave? The spirit of Gershwin seems to inhabit Michael Torke’s 2002 orchestral tone poem, An American Abroad. It’s music filled with broad, warmly embracing melodies, the almost naive optimism of Broadway, and, at moments, quiet nostalgia. The title is an obvious reference to Gershwin’s An American in Paris and brings to mind the mysterious nature of influence. Listening to this piece, I get the sense that Torke didn’t …

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Gershwin and Ravel Share the Blues

Maurice Ravel and George Gershwin came face to face in New York on the evening of March 7, 1928. The occasion was a soirée hosted by the mezzo-soprano Éva Gauthier in celebration of Ravel’s fifty-third birthday. This was Ravel’s first and only trip to the United States. During a four month, twenty city tour which included an appearance at Carnegie Hall, the French composer introduced American audiences to Rapsodie espagnole, the Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2, and La valse. He …

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Handel’s “Water Music” Turns 300

Today marks the three-hundredth anniversary of the premiere of Handel’s Water Music. The collection of festive orchestral dance movements, published in three suites, was written for King George I’s pleasure excursion up the Thames River on the evening of July 17, 1717. The elaborate summer boating party was intended to lift the King’s flagging poll numbers. As an incoming tide swept the aristocratic party upriver towards Chelsea, around 50 musicians performed on a separate …

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