Dvořák in Houston

No, Antonín Dvořák never made it to Houston. When the famous Czech composer ventured onto the Iowa prairie during the summer of 1893, his “New World” Symphony just completed, the sprawling metropolis-to-be was only in its infancy. But Dvořák’s music has taken center stage over the past few years with a series of live-concert recordings by conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the Houston Symphony on the Dutch Pentatone label. In this brief video, Orozco-Estrada talks about the …

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Dvořák’s “New World Symphony”: Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic

On Friday, it was announced that conductor Alan Gilbert will take the reins of Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra as its next chief conductor. Between 2004 and 2015, Gilbert served as the ensemble’s principal guest conductor. (Back in January, I wrote about the opening of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra’s spectacular new landmark concert hall, which floats above Hamburg’s harbor like a giant, glistening, icy wave). Alan Gilbert’s final performance as music director of the New York …

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Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony: Defiantly Czech

Consider, for a moment, all of the possible ways a symphony can begin. Then, listen carefully to the opening of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor. This opening statement, emerging out of the dark depths of D minor, is filled with mystery, tension, quiet anxiety, and restless, heroic energy. It’s a world away from the sunny majesty of Dvořák’s Eighth or the hushed, lamenting nostalgia of the introduction of the “New World” Ninth. Here, …

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Composers on Holiday: Five Pieces Written on Summer Vacation

Summer is here. For professional orchestral musicians, that means a brief respite from the weekly routine of the main concert season. Soon it will be time for summer seasons and music festivals, many featuring outdoor concerts in such idyllic locations as Chautauqua, Vail, and the Tetons. Summer has typically been a productive time for composers. Gustav Mahler, one of the most prominent conductors of his time, retreated to isolated rural settings in …

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Viola Power: Dvorak’s “American” Quartet

The viola is the stereotypical underdog of the string family. The occasional butt of lighthearted jokes, in the orchestra it often escapes the limelight. When the first violins claim the melody and soar into the sonic stratosphere, the violas provide a mellow and essential inner voice. But this is only half the story. The viola comes with its own distinct voice and persona, and when it takes center stage, it has a …

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The Houston Symphony’s New Dvorak Recording

Here’s a sample of the Houston Symphony’s new Dvorak recording, released last Friday. The album, which pairs Dvorak’s Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, is music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s inaugural recording with the orchestra. It’s the first in a series of Houston Symphony Dvorak disks on the Dutch-based Pentatone label. A May 1 release will include Symphony No. 6 and later in the year the series will conclude with Symphony No. 9. Dvorak’s bubbly Czech-folk-inspired Slavonic Dances …

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Four Musical Ways to Say Goodbye

Earlier in the month, we listened to the final movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, a song cycle about death, renewal, and immortality. Written in the final years of Mahler’s life, Das Lied von der Erde, along with the Ninth Symphony (completed in 1909), were Mahler’s swan songs. (He completed one movement of a Tenth Symphony before his death in 1911). Both completed works leave us with a sense of finality, …

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