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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Remembering Jóhann Jóhannsson

The Icelandic-born composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly over the weekend in Berlin. He was 48. Jóhannsson was the Oscar-nominated composer of such films as Arrival, Sicario, and The Theory of Everything. His scores frequently enter a dark, ambient sound world, augmenting the colors of the orchestra with the sounds of electronic music. This excerpt from Jóhannsson’s rejected score for the film, Blade Runner 2049, ventures into the world of microtonality- nonconventional tuning in which …

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Nahre Sol: “Good Night I Love You Bye”

Nahre Sol is a pianist and composer whose music blends elements of “improvisation, traditional Western form and harmony, jazz harmony, and minimalism.” Her online video series, “Practice Notes” provides an educational resource for piano students. I discovered her music during her recent conversation with Rick Beato. Good Night I Love You Bye opens with a warm, quietly-embracing melody, propelled forward with crystalline, Bach-like contrapuntal lines. A series of exuberant musical adventures follows this opening statement. The …

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Walking in the Footsteps of Mahler with Three Historic Recordings

Today, we meet Mahler. More accurately, we take a walk in the composer’s footsteps, indirectly, through the historic recordings of two of his closest protégés, soprano Anna von Mildenburg and conductor Bruno Walter. One brief fragment from 1904 is the only existing document of the eminent Austrian Wagnerian soprano, Anna von Mildenburg (1872-1947), pictured above. At the age of 23, Mildenburg made her debut under Mahler’s baton at the Hamburg State Opera, singing the role …

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Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy”: A Grand Hybrid

It’s part piano improvisation, part piano concerto, and part grand chamber work. Oh yes, and there’s a full chorus at the end. Beethoven’s Fantasy for piano, vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, Op. 80, a piece I played over the weekend, is a fascinating and genre-defying hybrid. It was written for a benefit concert that was performed on December 22, 1808. At the end of the concert, Beethoven pulled together the evening’s disparate forces with this …

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