Debussy’s Études Turn 100

Apart from the question of technique, these Études will be a useful warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands…. This was Claude Debussy’s warning to students who dared attempt to play his twelve fiendishly difficult Études for solo piano. The short pieces were even technically daunting for Debussy, who described them as “music that soars to the summit of execution,” and requires you to occasionally catch …

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Louis Lortie Plays Ravel

Last week we listened to Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, a piece which originated as a solo piano suite and culminated as a breathtakingly colorful orchestral work. Many of Ravel’s works followed this evolution. His glistening, Impressionistic orchestration even extended to Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a work also originally for solo piano. Let’s return to Ravel the pianist with a few excerpts from French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie’s 2003 recording (on the Chandos label), Ravel’s …

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Le Tombeau de Couperin: Post-Apocalyptic Ravel

Listening to Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, it’s easy to get a sense of altered reality. Outwardly, the original six movement suite, written for solo piano, responds to the horrors and devastation of the First World War, a conflict Ravel experienced first hand as a military ambulance driver. Ravel dedicated each movement of the work, written between 1914 and 1917, to the memory of a friend lost on the battlefield. But, interestingly, …

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Frank Huang Headed to New York

On Wednesday, the New York Philharmonic announced that violinist Frank Huang will become its new concertmaster, succeeding Glenn Dicterow who stepped down last June after 34 seasons. The 36-year-old Huang is currently concertmaster of the Houston Symphony. He has held that position since 2010. Before joining the Houston Symphony, he briefly served as first violinist of the Ying Quartet and professor of violin and chamber music at the Eastman School of Music. He …

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The Rise of Simone Dinnerstein

Rising to the top of the classical music world requires a combination of talent, hard work, determination, and luck. In 2007, American pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s career was “launched into the stratosphere” with the release of her self-financed recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and an appearance at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. The recording quickly soared to the top of the Amazon classical chart and more disks followed. This CBS Sunday Morning story profiles Dinnerstein’s miraculously …

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Exploring the Lullaby

The lullaby is universal and timeless. It’s one of the clearest expressions of the deep bond between mother and young child. Its gentle, repetitive, rocking rhythm lulls infants to sleep. The simple expression of its melody evokes warmth and security. At the same time, many lullabies contain an inexplicable hint of sadness. From Franz Schubert to George Gershwin to U2, music history is full of lullabies. Here are five of my favorites: …

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The Power of Simplicity: Satie’s Gymnopédies

Italian-born pianist Aldo Ciccolini passed away last week at the age of 89. He will be remembered as a champion of French piano music, especially the works of early twentieth century avant-garde composer Erik Satie (1866-1925). Here is Ciccolini performing Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies. This music was especially shocking in 1888 when it was published. It doesn’t drive towards any goal. Instead, it floats along with a powerful, hypnotic simplicity. I should be a very foolish pianist …

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