Haydn’s Symphony No. 101, “The Clock”

My performance schedule this week began with a Williamsburg Symphony program which included Haydn’s Symphony No. 101. This is the ninth of Haydn’s twelve monumental “London symphonies”- his final, triumphant, pinnacle-scaling series of symphonies, written for the second of his two trips to England. Haydn was treated as a rockstar in London. One of his symphonies was performed by an orchestra of 300 musicians, an historical detail which might shatter our notion that …

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Five Great Lazar Berman Recordings

The legendary Russian pianist Lazar Berman was born in Saint Petersburg on this date in 1930. At first confined to the Soviet Union and its satellite countries (the 12-year travel ban may have been the result of his marriage to a French woman), Berman burst onto the international music scene in the mid-1970s, following American and European tours. His playing often exuded a stunning dramatic power. In a 2005 New York Times …

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New Release: Seong-Jin Cho Plays Debussy

On Wednesday, we heard the vague, dreamlike associations of light and water in Claude Debussy’s three orchestral Nocturnes. As a followup, here are three excerpts from a recently-released Debussy album by Korean pianist, and 2015 International Chopin Competition-winner, Seong-Jin Cho. The album includes three suites for solo piano: the Suite bergamasque, Children’s Corner, and Images, as well as the solo piano work, L’isle joyeuse. Debussy’s six Images were written between 1901 and 1905. The first, Reflets dans l’eau (“Reflections in the Water), …

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Debussy’s “Nocturnes”: Impressions of Color and Light

Despite their descriptive, imaginal titles, Claude Debussy’s three orchestral Nocturnes transcend the concrete and the literal. Instead, they inhabit a colorful, atmospheric dreamscape in which senses blend together in the ultimate synesthesia. Debussy’s resplendent sonic world almost allows us to “feel” colors and “hear” light. This is music which floats in a sumptuous present, without concern for forward motion towards a distant, future goal. It’s also music which moves in a radically different direction …

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The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra Turns 275

One of the world’s oldest and most eminent orchestras is turning 275. Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra kicked off a four week-long festival yesterday, commemorating the anniversary of its founding by the city’s nobility in 1743. Additionally, the festival celebrates the inauguration of Music Director Andris Nelsons. (The Latvian conductor is also currently Music Director of the Boston Symphony). Nelson’s recent predecessors include Riccardo Chailly, Herbert Blomstedt, and Kurt Masur. Bruno Walter and Wilhelm Furtwängler occupied the post prior …

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Excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty”

I spent last weekend in the orchestra pit playing Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty for Richmond Ballet. Even as I’ve moved on to new programs this week, fragments of Tchaikovsky’s haunting score have continued to play in my mind, inspiring me to investigate a few recordings, old and new. Premiered in January, 1890 at Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, The Sleeping Beauty is often overshadowed by Tchaikovsky’s two other ballet scores, Swan Lake (1876) and The Nutcracker (1892). This is a shame, because it …

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Tossing Off Melodies: Leonard Bernstein’s “Lucky to Be Me”

The jubilant, infectious melody and gushing lyrics of the song, Lucky to Be Me, from Leonard Bernstein’s 1944 Broadway musical, On the Town, seem appropriate for any Valentine’s Day playlist. (The lyrics are by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and the show’s inspiration came from Jerome Robbins’ ballet, Fancy Free, produced the same year with a score by Bernstein). Listen to the way the contour of Bernstein’s melody, beginning around the 35 second mark, mirrors the carefree euphoria …

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