Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler

  Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler, the American Masters documentary which aired last week on PBS, offers an inside look at the life of one of the twentieth century’s most influential violinists. The program includes rare film and audio clips and features interviews with prominent contemporary violinists and former Heifetz students. It follows Heifetz from child prodigy roots in Russia, where he was a student of Leopold Auer at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, to his immigration …

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The Brahms Violin Concerto: 8 Great Recordings

Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 stands with Beethoven’s Concerto at the pinnacle of the violin repertoire. No concerto unleashes the soaring, heroic power and poetic potential of the violin more profoundly than Brahms’. It’s music that runs the gamut between smoldering ferocity and tranquil introspection, encompassing a universe of expression. Brahms’ forty-plus year friendship and musical partnership with the German violinist and composer Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) was central to the …

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The Eighteenth Variation

Last week we heard a sample of music inspired by Niccolò Paganini’s solo violin Caprice No. 24, which included Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43. Let’s return to the Rachmaninov and “drop the needle” at one of its most memorable moments, the Eighteenth Variation. This stunningly beautiful melody seems far removed from Paganini’s original bouncy theme in A minor, but it actually develops from the motivic seed of Paganini’s first five notes (the top …

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Howard Hanson, America’s Neglected Romantic

This Wednesday, May 7, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Michael Christie will be performing at Carnegie Hall as part of the final Spring For Music festival. Since 2011, Spring For Music has showcased North American orchestras and innovative programming. After this year the festival will end due to lack of funding. The RPO’s decision to present a concert performance of twentieth century American composer Howard Hanson’s opera, Merry Mount, is significant. Hanson (1896-1981) was the long-time director …

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Teaching Bernstein

In addition to composing and conducting, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was one of the greatest music educators of all time. Starting in the late 1950’s, Bernstein educated and inspired a national television audience with his New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts. Later, in 1976 came The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard. His message was consistent: classical music isn’t stuffy or hard to understand. It’s fun and it’s something everyone can enjoy. In Teachers and Teaching, Bernstein …

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When Less is More

The best conductors know when to get out of the way. They have an intuitive sense for those rare moments when the music is cooking along on its own and they allow it to blossom. Expressive power grows from economy. The big gesture means more when it’s reserved for the right moment. On one level, conducting involves a mysterious “give and take” between the ensemble and the person on the podium. In physics …

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