Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”: A Showpiece in Multiple Versions

This week, I’m once again playing the great orchestral showpiece, Pictures at an Exhibition. It’s music which was originally composed by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874 as a suite of ten virtuoso pieces for solo piano, and later transformed into shimmering orchestral technicolor by Maurice Ravel. Listening to this popular orchestral adaptation, we have the sense of two works colliding, spectacularly. The rebellious, inventive harmony and folk-inspired Russian nationalism of Mussorgsky meets the refined, impressionistic color …

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Remembering Jesús López-Cobos

The eminent Spanish conductor, Jesús López Cobos, passed away in Berlin last Friday. He was 78. López Cobos served as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1986 to 2001. As a teenager, I listened to a handful of his numerous recordings with the ensemble on the Telarc label. His Bruckner albums (Symphonies 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9) were especially notable. During his tenure in Cincinnati, the orchestra (the fifth oldest in …

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The Road Not Taken

The past and the present collide in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. The 1971 Broadway musical centers around the final reunion of former chorus dancers of “Weismann’s Follies,” a fictitious revue suggesting the real-life Ziegfeld’s Follies. The two aging couples, Buddy and Sally and Benjamin and Phyllis, have returned to reminisce before the crumbling, old theater in which the Follies once played is demolished. Amid disappointment and unhappy marriages, a sense of lament pervades the …

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Recommended Recording: Szymanowski and Shostakovich Sonatas

Canadian violinist Frédéric Bednarz and pianist Natsuki Hiratsuka have released an exciting new recording featuring sonatas for violin and piano by two giants of twentieth century music: Karol Szymanowski and Dmitri Shostakovich. Polish composer and pianist Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) is sometimes overlooked, but his music occupies an important position between Late Romanticism and the French Impressionism of Debussy and Ravel. Written in 1904, Szymanowski’s Violin Sonata Op. 9, grabs your attention with a powerfully brilliant opening. …

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LA Phil Isn’t Rattled by Earthquake

It was a concert musicians and patrons likely won’t forget for a while. Charles Dutoit and the Los Angeles Philharmonic were six minutes into Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé on the evening of March 28 when a 5.1-magnitude earthquake rumbled under downtown Los Angeles, jolting the ten year old Walt Disney Concert Hall. Dutoit and the orchestra continued to play through the minute-long event. Last Friday, the Los Angeles Philharmonic released this amazing audio along with …

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Ravel’s Bolero

French impressionist composer Maurice Ravel might have been surprised to know that Bolero, which premiered as a ballet score in 1928, would endure as one of the most popular pieces of twentieth century music.  Ravel was a master of orchestration and he considered this piece to be “an experiment in a very special and limited direction” and “orchestral tissue without music.”  Orchestration refers to the combination of instruments that a composer chooses to …

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