Remembering Oliver Knussen

Oliver Knussen, the influential British composer, conductor, and teacher passed away last Sunday. He was 66. As a conductor and teacher, Knussen will be remembered for his associations with Tanglewood (where he served as head of contemporary music activities between 1986 and 1993), the Aldeburgh Festival, the London Sinfonietta, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, among other organizations. In a 2005 San Francisco Chronicle interview, Knussen talked about his life in music, including his aversion to composing up against deadlines. …

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Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2: The Takács Quartet and Andreas Haefliger

The music of Antonín Dvořák is often filled with a quiet, wistful nostalgia, an embrace of nature, and subtle references to Czech folksongs. We hear all of this in the Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, a work of profound depth and monumental scale which Dvořák composed in 1887, between the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. This fully mature music grew out of the composer’s unsuccessful attempt to revise an earlier piano quintet. In the …

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Picking up the Pieces of Vivaldi’s “Scanderbeg”

Rewind to the evening of June 22, 1718… Today marks the 300th anniversary of the re-opening of Florence’s Teatro della Pergola (pictured above). Still in use today, Italy’s oldest opera house saw the Italian premieres of most of Mozart’s operas,  Donizetti’s Parisina and Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, Verdi’s Macbeth, and Mascagni’s I Rantzau. Before opening to the public in 1718, the building was used as a court theater of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. The Teatro …

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Three Excerpts from “The Band’s Visit”

At last Sunday’s 72nd annual Tony Awards, The Band’s Visit came away with a special distinction. In addition to sweeping the Tonys by winning ten awards, it was one of only four musicals in the history of Broadway to win these six big awards: Best Musical, Best Book (Itamar Moses), Best Score (David Yazbek wrote both music and lyrics), Best Actor in a Musical (Tony Shalhoub), Best Actress in a Musical (Katrina Lenk), and Best Direction of …

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Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2: Stephen Kovacevich

Johannes Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2 pulls us into a world of dreamy nostalgia, quiet longing, and majestic, serene beauty. It comes from the set of Six Piano Pieces (Klavierstücke), Op. 118 from Brahms’ “autumnal” late period. Listen to the way those unlikely first three notes set the entire piece in motion. As it unfolds and develops, you may sense that the music is “searching” for a way forward, attempting to find …

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New Release: Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” Rachel Podger and Brecon Baroque

English violinist, conductor, and Baroque specialist Rachel Podger has released an invigorating new recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons in collaboration with Brecon Baroque, an ensemble she founded in 2007. This collection of concertos, published in 1725, is so familiar to us today that it’s easy to forget how bold, innovative, and virtuosic this music must have seemed to its first audiences. Accompanied by sonnets, also written by Vivaldi, these works stand as some …

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Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata: Horowitz at Carnegie Hall, 1968

He swallowed it whole…He had the courage, the intensity, and daring that make for greatness. This is how Sergei Rachmaninov described Vladimir Horowitz’ performance of his Third Piano Concerto- a piece so difficult to play that it even intimidated the composer. Rachmaninov and Horowitz came face to face at New York’s Steinway Hall in January, 1928. It was the violinist Fritz Kreisler who brought them together, telling the composer “some young Russian plays [the] Third …

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