New Release: Teddy Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra’s “All In”

In September, the Louisville Orchestra released All In, its first recording in nearly 30 years. The album, which reached number one on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart, is filled with youthful energy and a thrilling disregard for boundaries. It opens with the music of the Louisville Orchestra’s dynamic, 30-year-old Music Director Teddy Abrams, a conductor, composer, clarinetist, pianist, and force of nature. Unified Field unfolds in four continuous movements and runs the gamut from cinematic impressionist colors, to …

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Tchaikovsky, From Elation to Despair

Over the weekend, I found myself returning to Friday’s post to listen to Ja vas lyublyu, the famous aria from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s opera, The Queen of Spades. It occurred to me that the aria’s progression from soaring passion to gloomy despair is echoed throughout many of Tchaikovsky’s works. In many cases, this dichotomy of elation and despair relates to a reoccurring theme of doomed love. Besides The Queen of Spades, a dark, haunting tragedy based loosely on …

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Remembering Dmitri Hvorostovsky

The Russian operatic baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky passed away this week following a two-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer. He was 55. Here are some highlights from his distinguished career: In the aria, Ja vas lyublyu, from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Prince Yeletsky pours out his love for Liza while lamenting her inability to trust him fully. Listen to the way this aria moves from majestically soaring passion to the depths of despair as the …

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Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”: Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert

In Monday’s post, we explored the warm, instantly-recognizable sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra during its golden age under the tenure of music directors Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy. As a follow up, here is a 1978 concert performance of Scheherazade by the Russian Romanticist, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). The symphonic suite, based on The Arabian Nights, is filled with shimmering colors (Rimsky-Korsakov was one of music history’s most innovate orchestrators) and “exotic” Eastern sounds (the opening brass motive outlines …

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The “Philadelphia Sound” in Five Historic Recordings

These days, the professional orchestra world is characterized by unparalleled technical skill, dutiful attention to historically-informed performance practice, and a general homogenization of sound and style. Musicians are expected to transition, instantly and seamlessly, from the lush Romanticism of Tchaikovsky to the lean purity of Mozart, with the mixed meters of Stravinsky and John Adams thrown in for good measure. In many ways, it’s the best of times. Perhaps what has been …

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New Release: Paragon Ragtime Orchestra’s “Black Manhattan, Vol. 3”

Today, Rick Benjamin and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra release their newest album, Black Manhattan, Vol. 3.  The recording brings to life some extraordinary and long-neglected music by African-American composers active in New York around the turn of the twentieth century. Benjamin writes, The inspiration for this effort came about twenty-five years ago, when I read James Weldon Johnson’s Black Manhattan (1930), a fascinating chronicle of the city’s black artistic life from the Victorian era to the …

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Ghoulish Prokofiev: “Suggestion Diabolique”

There’s nothing more exhilarating than raw terror. If you aren’t convinced, take a moment and listen to Sergei Prokofiev’s Suggestion Diabolique, the ghoulishly demonic final movement of the 1908 Four Pieces for Piano, Op. 4. It’s a thrilling ride, along the lines of Schubert’s Erlkönig. Opening in the growling lowest register of the piano, this music resides just on the edge of tonality. You can sense the young Prokofiev flexing his compositional muscles and rebelling against rigid rules and …

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