Five Pieces Inspired by the Olympics

The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that’s wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us.  -John Williams Music has served as a celebratory backdrop for the Olympics since the first modern games in Athens in 1896. As the 2016 Summer Olympic Games unfold in Rio, let’s listen to five pieces which form an Olympic soundtrack: Josef Suk: …

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The 2016 Oscars: Nominees for Best Original Score

With the 88th Academy Awards ceremony coming up this Sunday, let’s finish the week with some film music. Here are this year’s nominees for “Best Original Score,” along with a few audio samples: “Carol” (Carter Burwell) This atmospheric score seems to pay homage to the musical language of Philip Glass. This passage contains all of the hallmarks of Glass’ vocabulary: a simple melody that grows out of repeating, undulating piano lines, triad-laden …

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Thoughts on John Williams’ New Star Wars Score

I haven’t yet had the chance to see the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, or to fully experience its richly symphonic score in the theater. A film score is designed to serve its movie. The music comes to life as part of a greater whole, a Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”), to use Wagner’s term. Still, I haven’t been able to resist listening to excerpts from the score which, recently, have been floating around in an …

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Gearing up for the UCI in RVA

My hometown, Richmond, Virginia, is gearing up to host the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) Road World Championships bike race. The event begins this Saturday, September 19 and concludes on the 27th. On Friday at 6:30, the Richmond Symphony will be playing for a crowd of 10,000-plus spectators at the opening ceremonies on Brown’s Island, near the James River in downtown Richmond. In celebration of the UCI World Championships, here is a historical curiosity: Daisy …

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Pluto, the Renewer

  When Gustav Holst finished his seven-movement orchestral suite, The Planets, Op. 32 in 1917, Pluto had yet to be discovered. By the time the distant celestial body was spotted in 1930, four years before Holst’s death, the composer had grown ambivalent about The Planets, believing that the work’s popularity had unfairly overshadowed his later compositions. Fast-forward to 2000, when conductor Kent Nagano and the Hallé Orchestra commissioned British composer and administrator of the Holst foundation Colin …

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The Manipulative Power of TV News Music

From the ominous minor second “shark motive” in Jaws, to E.T.’s soaring “Flying Theme,” to the terror of Psycho’s blood-stained shower, music plays an obvious role in heightening the drama of our favorite movie scenes. Music has the unique capability to transcend the literal and transport us into the world of metaphor, a place where fundamental truths are most deeply and directly experienced. In some cases, music may be the most important dramatic ingredient. For example, video footage of …

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Music Beyond the Holocaust

  Yesterday was the seventieth anniversary of the allied liberation of Auschwitz at the end of the Second World War. Orchestras around the world, including the Richmond Symphony, commemorated the event by playing often neglected music by Jewish composers who were affected by Nazi atrocities. Music was performed frequently in the concentration camps. At Terezin, near Prague, prisoners defiantly performed Verdi’s Requiem sixteen times as a veiled condemnation of the Nazis. The conductor Raphael Schächter taught his …

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