New Release: Ian Bostridge Joins the Seattle Symphony for Berlioz, Ravel, Debussy

Song cycles by three French composers- Berlioz, Ravel, and Debussy- come to life spectacularly on a newly-released album featuring the English tenor Ian Bostridge with Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony. The recording appears on Seattle Symphony Media, the orchestra’s innovative, Grammy-winning, in-house record label. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été was recorded at a live concert at Benaroya Hall in November 2017. Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Debussy’s Le livre de Baudelaire, orchestrated by John Adams in 1994, are studio recordings. Here are a few excerpts: …

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“La Mer”: Debussy’s Sonic Portrait of the Sea

Claude Debussy’s La Mer (“The Sea”) is not a literal portrait of the ocean. There is no “program” or story, as we might hear in Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony or a Strauss tone poem. Instead, La Mer takes us deep into the world of atmosphere, metaphor and synesthesia (a blurring of senses). Shimmering colors, the play of light on water, and a vivid sense of motion blend together to form a magical, ever-changing soundscape. As with the …

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New Release: Seong-Jin Cho Plays Debussy

On Wednesday, we heard the vague, dreamlike associations of light and water in Claude Debussy’s three orchestral Nocturnes. As a followup, here are three excerpts from a recently-released Debussy album by Korean pianist, and 2015 International Chopin Competition-winner, Seong-Jin Cho. The album includes three suites for solo piano: the Suite bergamasque, Children’s Corner, and Images, as well as the solo piano work, L’isle joyeuse. Debussy’s six Images were written between 1901 and 1905. The first, Reflets dans l’eau (“Reflections in the Water), …

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Debussy’s “Nocturnes”: Impressions of Color and Light

Despite their descriptive, imaginal titles, Claude Debussy’s three orchestral Nocturnes transcend the concrete and the literal. Instead, they inhabit a colorful, atmospheric dreamscape in which senses blend together in the ultimate synesthesia. Debussy’s resplendent sonic world almost allows us to “feel” colors and “hear” light. This is music which floats in a sumptuous present, without concern for forward motion towards a distant, future goal. It’s also music which moves in a radically different direction …

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The Ghost of Debussy’s “Des pas sur la neige” in Morton Feldman’s Final Work

Four ascending notes, repeated with hypnotic persistence amid a soundscape of restlessly shifting harmony and color…This is what we hear in the atmospheric Des pas sur la neige (“Footprints in the Snow”), the sixth piece from Book 1 of Claude Debussy’s solo piano Préludes. Written in 1909, this music seems to mirror the dreamy winter scenes of Impressionist painters like Claude Monet- paintings in which recognizable landscapes begin to blur into abstractions of color and light. …

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New Release: The San Francisco Symphony’s Debussy Album

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have just released an exciting new Debussy album. The disk features two orchestral showpieces: the three movement Images pour orchestre (the interior movement, Ibéria, evokes the bright, sunny rhythms of Spain) and the ballet score, Jeux. The sensuous, gypsy-inspired waltz La plus sue lente rounds out the album. The performances were recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall. Jeux (Games), described as a “poème dansé” (“a danced poem”), was Debussy’s last orchestral work. It was written quickly in …

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Five Musical Fireworks

It’s ironic that Independence Day in America isn’t complete without Tchaikovsky’s most famous ode to Russian nationalism: the bombastic 1812 Overture, which was written to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon’s invading army. As we head into the July Fourth holiday weekend, here are five more pieces that bring fireworks to mind: Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks In 1749, England’s King George II employed Handel to write music for a large, outdoor public celebration in …

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