Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony: “Turning Space Upside Down”

It begins with a distant drumbeat in the night- a barely-audible triple-beat timpani summons. Then, a strangely amorphous scale in the brooding low strings rises out of the darkness. A vague remembrance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde blends into a gradually-shifting kaleidoscope of veiled colors. Icy dissonance opens out into a vast, magnificent, sonic expanse. These are the first, primal seconds of Jean Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony. Actually, we don’t perceive this piece as having a …

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Haydn’s “Military” Symphony No. 100

It would be fun to travel back in time to visit the dynamic public concerts of London’s Hanover Square Rooms during the early 1790s. This is when Franz Joseph Haydn was taking the city by storm, conducting his final twelve symphonies (Nos. 93-104) from a seat at the harpsichord. Haydn remained on the payroll of the Esterházy court during this time. But it was London where he was regarded as a rockstar, thanks to an invitation from …

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New Release: Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra

A spectacular new hybrid SACD recording of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, featuring Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra, came out earlier this month on the Swedish label, BIS Records. This is the second installment in a project which will include the complete cycle of Mahler Symphonies. (The Fifth Symphony was released last July). Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra have already recorded the complete symphonies of Beethoven and Sibelius. The hybrid recording technology attempts to capture …

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Mahler and the Cuckoo

Even as a child I was struck by birdsong. -Gustav Mahler The call of the cuckoo, often associated with spring, has long inspired composers. For example, the cuckoo’s harmonious falling major third can be heard in Handel’s Organ Concerto No.13 in F Major, the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, and Frederick Delius’ shimmering 1912 tone poem, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. The cuckoo’s call also finds its way into the music of Gustav …

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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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David Diamond’s Fourth Symphony: A Neglected Mid-Century Masterwork

There’s a whole group of great American symphonists who came of age in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, flourished in the middle of the century, and then fell into relative neglect as atonality became the ruling doctrine of concert music. Their names include Howard Hanson, Walter Piston, William Schuman, and Roy Harris. David Diamond (1915-2005) is another significant composer from this group. Diamond’s music was programmed in the 1940s and ’50s by …

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Remembering Jesús López-Cobos

The eminent Spanish conductor, Jesús López Cobos, passed away in Berlin last Friday. He was 78. López Cobos served as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1986 to 2001. As a teenager, I listened to a handful of his numerous recordings with the ensemble on the Telarc label. His Bruckner albums (Symphonies 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9) were especially notable. During his tenure in Cincinnati, the orchestra (the fifth oldest in …

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