Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”: Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony

This may be the newest recording of Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings. It’s part of a Grammy award-winning album released last August by Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony. Recorded live in concert at Heinz Hall, it’s paired on the album with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, another monumental twentieth century work written at virtually the same time. Adagio for Strings was originally conceived as the second movement of Barber’s 1936 String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11. Shostakovich …

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The 2018 Classical Grammys

We’ll finish the week with an overview of last Sunday’s 60th Annual Grammy Awards in the classical categories. As you’ll see below, it was a good night for Second Viennese twentieth century composer, Alban Berg. Best Orchestral Performance This album was recorded live in June (Shostakovich) and October (Barber) of 2013. It’s the second Pittsburgh Symphony album to be honored with a Grammy. (The first came in 1992). The album was also a …

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Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben”: Beyond Autobiography

On one level, Richard Strauss’ 1898 tone poem, Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 (A Hero’s Life), is a musical autobiography. Filled with unflinching bravado, it ventures where few pieces dare to go, casting the composer as hero. In terms of sheer volume and virtuosity, it pushes the orchestra to its limits. (At one point, the violins must tune the lowest string down to G-flat to artificially extend the instrument’s range a half step below the open …

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The Artistry of Nathan Milstein

Let’s finish out the week with a few recordings of Nathan Milstein (1904-1992), one of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary violinists. Infused with elegance, style and thoughtful musicianship, Milstein’s playing never sounds dated. These recordings demonstrate his ability to draw out the most ringing tone from the violin, using the speed and energy of the bow. The purity of his intonation and subtle, well controlled vibrato remain impressive. Milstein, who was born …

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Remembering Lorin Maazel

Conductor Lorin Maazel passed away yesterday at the age of 84. He will be remembered for his long, distinguished career and dramatic and idiosyncratic interpretations. Maazel debuted as a conductor at the age of 9, after starting violin lessons at 5. As an 11-year-old, he received an invitation from Arturo Toscanini to conduct the NBC Symphony. His music director posts included the Cleveland Orchestra (1972-1982), Vienna State Opera (1982-1984), Pittsburgh Symphony (1988-1996), Bavarian Radio Symphony …

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Hot Dogs, Fireworks and Violins

In celebration of Independence Day, take a moment and listen to Noah Bendix-Balgley perform solo violin versions of God Bless America and The Star Spangled Banner at a Pittsburgh Pirates game (below). Bendix-Balgley is the 29-year-old concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony who recently accepted the same position with the Berlin Philharmonic. He will stay in Pittsburgh for at least part of this coming season. Hear a few more clips in this previous post. If you’re in the mood …

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Next Stop, Berlin For Noah Bendix-Balgley

Last Friday we learned that Noah Bendix-Balgley, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony, won an audition for the position of first concertmaster with the Berlin Philharmonic. The news shows just how global the classical music world has become. Over the last decade, English conductor Simon Rattle has brought a fresh new approach to tradition-bound Berlin. When Rattle leaves in 2018, it will be interesting to see how the organization again attempts to balance …

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