Brahms’ Fourth: A Symphonic Swan Song

Take a moment and consider the vast number of nineteenth century symphonies which, in one way or another, take an unequivocal journey from darkness to light. The long arc of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with its transcendent final movement, is a perfect example. In the opening of the last movement of Beethoven’s Fifth, C minor turns into C major, and the trombones (who wait through the first three movements without playing a note) suddenly add a …

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Joshua Bell’s Bach Album

Joshua Bell released his newest album yesterday. The CD, simply titled “Bach”, is Bell’s first recording collaboration with the London-based Academy of St. Martin in the Fields since becoming the orchestra’s music director in 2011. If you’re expecting another predictable round of Bach concertos, you may be surprised. This album includes the monumental Chaconne from Partita No. 2 with Mendelssohn’s rare piano accompaniment (adapted for orchestra), as well as Schumann’s accompaniment of the Gavotte en Rondeau from Partita No. …

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Yo-Yo Ma, Citizen Artist

Last week’s On Being interview with Yo-Yo Ma was a great reminder that Ma is more than one of the world’s great cellists. He’s a “citizen artist”, a philosopher, and an insightful commentator on the role of music in contemporary life. These days, Yo-Yo Ma enjoys transcending imagined boundaries and playing a wide variety of music, most notably through his Silk Road Project. He considers the label “classical music” an arbitrary commercial category. He likens performing …

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Mendelssohn’s Octet: Youth Meets Maturity

If you’re beyond your teenage years, take a moment and try to remember what you were doing when you were 16 years old. Then listen to Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20 and consider that this is the music of a 16-year-old. It brims with youthful joy, virtuosity, vitality and a playful sense of delight in showing off. At the same time, there isn’t a hint of immaturity in this music. …

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Viktoria Mullova Goes for Baroque

It’s rare for violin soloists to drastically rethink their approach to a composer, leaving behind two contrasting recordings of the same music. But that’s exactly what happened over the course of 15 years with Viktoria Mullova’s interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Six Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin. Following the release of a spectacular 1994 Philips recording featuring a modern interpretation, Mullova re-recorded solo Bach in 2009 on the Onyx label, this time with …

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Grumiaux’s Cosmic Bach

When NASA launched the unmanned Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1977, it included a Golden Record featuring a sampling of music from Earth. One of the recording’s excerpts is J.S. Bach’s Gavotte en rondeaux from Partita No. 3 in E Major, performed by legendary Franco-Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986). Regarding the record, astronomer Carl Sagan said: [quote]The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this …

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Musical Beginnings

Think about the way your favorite piece begins. From the ferocious opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which form the DNA for the entire symphony that follows, to the quiet, mysterious tremolos of Bruckner’s symphonies, to the attention grabbing (and audience quieting) opening fanfares of Rossini’s opera overtures, the way a piece starts tells us a lot about what will follow. As you jump, grudgingly tip toe or stride boldly into 2014, listen …

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