Exploring the Prolation Canon

There is an interesting passage about four and a half minutes into the first movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 which may have caught your ear if you dropped by for Wednesday’s post: Did you hear that wandering, chromatic line which begins in the violins? Two additional lower string voices enter in succession with the same line at consecutively slower rates of speed. For a moment, before the episode is cut off by the …

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Shostakovich’s Fifteenth Symphony: An Unsolvable Enigma?

“What does it mean?” You may find yourself asking this question as you listen to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 in A Major. This final Shostakovich Symphony, written in a little over a month during the summer of 1971 as the composer faced declining health, is filled with persistent and unsettling ambiguity. First, there are the strange, inexplicable quotes and fleeting allusions to music of earlier composers, as well as cryptic references to Shostakovich’s previous …

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Remembering Gennady Rozhdestvensky

The esteemed Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky passed away last Saturday. He was 87. Following studies at the Moscow Conservatory, Rozhdestvensky made his conducting debut at the age of 20 at the Bolshoi Theatre with Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. He went on to lead the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1978-1981), the USSR Ministry of Culture Orchestra (1983-1991) and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (1992-1995), among other ensembles. Rozhdestvensky will be remembered for his associations with some of the …

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Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor” and the Power of Repetition

A simple idea or statement, persistently repeated, can take on a unique power. The idea seems to come alive, gradually seeping into our consciousness and demanding our attention and respect. Perhaps this is part of the profound magic of J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, written sometime between 1706 and 1713 when the composer was in his early twenties. It begins with that simple, repeating statement- a quietly unassuming, stepping passacaglia …

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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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New Release: “Troika,” Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley

Political dissent and the “Slavic soul” are at the heart of TROIKA, a new two-disc album by cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley on the Pentatone label. The recording features sonatas by three great twentieth century Russian composers: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninov. Interspersed between this “troika” are shorter pieces, including the duo’s arrangement of the Troika movement from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé score and Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. The later was a new piece for Haimovitz. In studying the work, O’Riley advised him to listen …

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The 2017 Classical Grammys

Here is an overview of last weekend’s 2017 Grammy Awards in the classical categories. From opera to chamber music, the list features a heavy dose of American contemporary music: Best Orchestral Performance This is the second installment in a series of live-concert Shostakovich recordings by Music Director Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony on the Deutsche Grammophon label. The first recording of the five-part series was honored in the same category at …

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