Radek Baborák Plays Mozart

“You’ve got to hear this horn player named Radek Baborák,” urged one of my Richmond Symphony colleagues during a recent conversation. To hear the extent of Baborák’s technical finesse and musicianship, one only needs to listen to his performance of the famous horn call from Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel. Born in Czechoslovakia, Radek Baborák began playing the horn at age eight, was winning competitions by twelve, and became principal horn of the Czech Philharmonic at eighteen. He …

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Messiaen the Mystic: “The kiss of the Infant Jesus”

Today marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of the French composer, organist, and ornithologist, Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). A deep religious mysticism inhabits the music of Messiaen, a devout Roman Catholic who described himself as a “rhythmician, ornithologist and theologian.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in Vingt Regards sur l’enfant-Jésus (“Twenty contemplations on the infant Jesus”), a collection of short solo piano pieces written in 1944 during the final months of the German occupation …

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Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms”: Wandering, Rebirth, Exultation

“I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all,” wrote Igor Stravinsky, provocatively, in his 1935 autobiography. Listen to Stravinsky’s monumental Symphony of Psalms, completed five years earlier in 1930, and you may disagree. There is nothing remotely sentimental in the cool, neoclassical architecture of this music. It would be hard to put into words what is being “expressed.” Yet what emerges is powerful, moving, and transcendent. Set in …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5

In each of J.S. Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos, a new and distinctive cast of musical “characters” take the stage. They spring to life and converse in the thrilling drama of the concerto grosso, a popular Baroque form in which groups of solo instruments interact with the full (“grosso”) ensemble. In the Brandenburg Concertos, Bach took this form, developed by Italian composers like Vivaldi, to bold new heights. Concerto No. 5 in D …

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Webern’s Inaugural Opus: “Passacaglia for Orchestra”

Today marks the 135th anniversary of the birth of the Austrian composer Anton Webern (1883-1945). Along with Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, Webern was part of the Second Viennese School, an early twentieth century movement in which atonal and twelve-tone music grew out of fading late Romanticism. In September, 1945, Webern became a casualty of the Second World War. While smoking a cigar on his porch, he was fatally shot by an American soldier during …

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