Remembering Conductor Jerzy Semkow

Polish-born conductor Jerzy Semkow passed away last week at the age of 86. A longtime French citizen who resided in Paris, Semkow served as principal conductor of the National Opera in Warsaw (1959-1962), the Royal Danish Opera and Orchestra in Copenhagen (1966 to 1976), and as Music Director of the Orchestra of Radio-Televisione Italiana (RAI) in Rome. Between 1975 and 1979 he was Music Director of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Semkow enjoyed …

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Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony: Nature’s Lament

  With a title like A Pastoral Symphony, you might expect Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Third Symphony, completed in 1922, to evoke bubbling brooks and the quiet hedgerows of England’s “green and pleasant land.” But listen, and you’ll hear music which, instead, suggests a melancholy alienation from nature. The music feels strangely hazy and shell-shocked. Its pastures are the battlefields of the First World War, not the bucolic scenes of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony or a Schubert …

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Music and Humor

Leonard Bernstein masterfully explored the subject of humor in music in one of his Young People’s Concerts. The episode takes listeners on a musical tour from Haydn and Rameau to Brahms, Mahler, Prokofiev and Shostakovich and offers insight into why we find certain music funny. To this day, no one has done more for music education than Bernstein. Watching these programs, which originally aired on CBS in the late 1950s, you can sense Bernstein’s passion and …

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Politics and Music: Ferguson Protest at the Saint Louis Symphony

This past Saturday’s Saint Louis Symphony concert at Powell Hall became the stage for a peaceful protest of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson. A performance of Brahms’ German Requiem was delayed briefly as a flash mob throughout the hall began singing, Justice for Mike Brown is Justice for us All, Which side are you on, friend? Which side are you on? The well-sung protest lasted about a minute before the group left …

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Autumnal Mahler

Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) is as much a symphony as a song cycle. It’s a seamless integration of voice and orchestra lines, as if the vocal line is just another instrument. Mahler incorporated the voice in his Second, Third, Fourth and Eighth Symphonies. Many of his songs became the seeds of symphonic movements. But The Song of the Earth, completed in the final years of Mahler’s life …

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Mahler the Titan: Symphony No. 1

Gustav Mahler described the opening of the First Symphony as “Nature’s awakening from the long sleep of winter.” A seven octave deep “A” emerges out of silence, slipping into our consciousness on the level of pure sound. The high harmonics in the violins seem as natural and fundamental as the white noise of insects in a forest. The motive, which forms the bedrock of the symphony, slowly, searchingly takes shape in the woodwinds. As the …

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Glenn Dicterow’s Long Goodbye

After 34 years as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, Glenn Dicterow will be stepping down at the end of this season. A native of Southern California, Dicterow has accepted a position as professor of violin at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. The New York Philharmonic has been honoring his service throughout the season.  As Dicterow explains, the concertmaster’s varied role goes beyond playing occasional orchestral violin solos. Within …

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