Five Excerpts from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”

Recently, I’ve been playing Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Virginia Opera. The dark plot of the tragic opera in three acts, first performed in Naples in 1835, lends itself to spectacular musical drama. The title character is coerced into an arranged marriage, although she loves another man. On her wedding night, she fatally stabs her husband and descends into insanity. All of this mayhem is set amid some of the most beautiful and memorable melodies …

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Alan Hovhaness’ Mystical Tone Poem, “Meditation on Orpheus”

East meets west in the music of the Armenian-American twentieth century maverick composer, Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000). Infused with a quiet mysticism and contemplative reverence, Hovhaness’ music is a melting pot in which “exotic” Middle Eastern and Asian scales, modes, and western counterpoint all bubble to the surface. Amid the mechanized turmoil of the modern world, Hovhaness found spiritual inspiration in trees and mountains. There is an ancient, eternal, soulfulness in his music which evokes …

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New Release: Beethoven Symphonies No. 5 and 7, Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic

The New York Philharmonic and incoming Music Director, Jaap van Zweden, have released a new album featuring Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. It’s the first of six live-concert recordings the ensemble plans to release on the Decca Gold label. Previously, van Zweden recorded the same pairing with the Dallas Symphony. He steps down as Music Director in Dallas at the end of this season. Wagner called Beethoven’s Seventh “the apotheosis of dance.” He wrote, All tumult, all …

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Remembering Michael Tree

The violist Michael Tree, a founding member of the Guarneri String Quartet, passed away last Friday. He was 84. The son of violin teacher and author Samuel Applebaum, Tree was a student of Efrem Zimbalist at the Curtis Institute. Zimbalist urged him to change his name in order to advance his career. (Baum is a German surname meaning “tree.”) Michael Tree was a member of the Guarneri Quartet from the time of its founding in 1964 at …

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John Adams’ “Harmonielehre” and the Ghosts of Late Romanticism

A terrifying raw energy, released in thirty-nine unrelenting E minor hammer blows… So begins John Adams’ monumental 1985 symphony in three movements, Harmonielehre. This titanic opening statement, which Adams has equated to “a grinding of gears,” sprang from a strange and vivid dream. For Adams, it brought a sudden end to a “perplexing and deeply disturbing creative block” which had paralyzed him for eighteen months. In his autobiography, Hallelujah Junction, the composer writes, At what seemed like the absolute nadir …

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Mozart’s “Così fan Tutte” Overture Springs to Life

You know that I immerse myself in music, so to speak—that I think about it all day long—that I like experimenting—studying—reflecting. – Mozart in a letter to his father, Leopold dated July 31, 1778 In the nineteenth century, a myth developed surrounding Mozart’s compositional process. The popular romantic notion suggested that Mozart’s compositions were conceived instantly and effortlessly, arriving in the composer’s mind in completed form. In 1815, twenty-four years after the …

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