Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”: A Showpiece in Multiple Versions

This week, I’m once again playing the great orchestral showpiece, Pictures at an Exhibition. It’s music which was originally composed by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874 as a suite of ten virtuoso pieces for solo piano, and later transformed into shimmering orchestral technicolor by Maurice Ravel. Listening to this popular orchestral adaptation, we have the sense of two works colliding, spectacularly. The rebellious, inventive harmony and folk-inspired Russian nationalism of Mussorgsky meets the refined, impressionistic color …

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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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An 18th Century Novelty: Music for Mechanical Organ Clock

On Wednesday, I pointed out the persistent “tick-tock” rhythm of the second movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 101- a detail which earned the piece the nickname, The “Clock” Symphony. That got me thinking about the small collection of music, written by Haydn and other composers, for the mechanical organ clock, a popular eighteenth century luxury item which combined a clock with a small, mechanized organ. It’s a device which epitomized the scientific rationality of …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 101, “The Clock”

My performance schedule this week began with a Williamsburg Symphony program which included Haydn’s Symphony No. 101. This is the ninth of Haydn’s twelve monumental “London symphonies”- his final, triumphant, pinnacle-scaling series of symphonies, written for the second of his two trips to England. Haydn was treated as a rockstar in London. One of his symphonies was performed by an orchestra of 300 musicians, an historical detail which might shatter our notion that …

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Five Great Lazar Berman Recordings

The legendary Russian pianist Lazar Berman was born in Saint Petersburg on this date in 1930. At first confined to the Soviet Union and its satellite countries (the 12-year travel ban may have been the result of his marriage to a French woman), Berman burst onto the international music scene in the mid-1970s, following American and European tours. His playing often exuded a stunning dramatic power. In a 2005 New York Times …

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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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