Hamburg’s New Elbphilharmonie: “Here Time Becomes Space”

Here time becomes space. This enigmatic line from Wagner’s Parsifal suggests the transcendent nature of the 1882 work, which dramatizes a twelfth-century knight’s quest for the Holy Grail. Parsifal goes beyond opera, transporting us into a mystical new realm. Foremost, it’s an experience. Appropriately, this line became the theme for last week’s inaugural concerts of Hamburg’s spectacular, new Elbphilharmonie- the long-anticipated home of the NDR Sinfonieorchester (North German Radio Symphony Orchestra), now renamed the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra. In …

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The Struggle of Fidelio: Beethoven’s Four Overtures

Rossini would have been a great composer if his teacher had spanked him enough on the backside. -Ludwig van Beethoven The Italian opera composer Gioachino Rossini was, as the story goes, the ultimate procrastinator. He would often dash off the overture for a new opera the night before the opening. In the case of The Thieving Magpie, he waited until the day of the opening. Sometimes he reused a previously written overture, substituting one frothy musical joyride for …

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Celebrating Beethoven’s 246th Birthday

Beethoven was born on this day in 1770. His birthplace in Bonn, the Beethovenhaus, is pictured above. In celebration, here is a fiery performance of the Egmont Overture, Op 84, written to open a set of incidental music for the Vienna premiere of a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1754-1832). Beethoven received the commission in 1809, around the height of the Napoleonic Wars. In May of that year, Beethoven hid in his brother’s basement during the …

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Beethoven and the Spirit of Gratitude

Intense, heroic struggle culminating in transcendent exultation and joy- these are elements that we often associate with the music of Beethoven. But lately I’ve noticed that in rare, fleeting moments throughout Beethoven’s works another power seems to emerge, mysteriously. It can best be described as gratitude- a sense of surrender and a glimpse of the transcendent. It’s something we hear in the “Holy song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, …

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Remembering Sir Neville Marriner

Every great conductor started out as an accomplished instrumentalist. Look at the biography of Sir Neville Marriner, who passed away yesterday at the age of 92, and you’ll be reminded of this truism. In the 1950s, Marriner performed as a violinist in two celebrated orchestras: the Philharmonia and the London Symphony. For 13 years, he served as second violinist of the Martin String Quartet. He first picked up a baton around age 40. …

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The Cypress String Quartet’s Beethoven Farewell

After 20 years, the San Francisco-based Cypress String Quartet disbanded earlier this summer. The group’s legacy includes 30 newly commissioned works by composers such as George Tsontakis, Jennifer Higdon, and Kevin Puts and 17 recordings. In terms of its discography, the Cypress’ crowning achievement came in May with the release of the complete Beethoven string quartets. A detailed exploration of the Beethoven quartets was one of the Cypress’ central objectives from day one. Beethoven’s string …

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A Vibrant Beethoven Fifth: Thielemann and the Vienna Philharmonic

There’s a special excitement which comes with hearing an old, familiar piece in a new way. That’s what happens when you listen to Christian Thielemann’s vibrant 2011 live concert recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (video below). In this interpretation, Thielemann’s approach to tempo is interestingly elastic. For example, listen to the opening of the final movement, the climactic apex of the entire symphony. This is the moment when …

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