Borodin’s Nocturne

The music of Russian romantic composer Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) is filled with stunningly beautiful melodies. One example can be heard in the third movement (Nocturne) of Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2. Let’s listen to a recording by the Emerson String Quartet. Consider the unique personality of each voice of the string quartet and notice the way the voices interact, creating a musical conversation. Pay attention to harmony and inner voices. Each time the melody …

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Remembering Abram Shtern

Legendary Ukrainian violinist and teacher Abram Shtern passed away last week at the age of 96. Shtern was concertmaster and professor in Kiev before emigrating to the United States in 1990 and settling in Los Angeles. He represented one of the last direct links to the tradition of Leopold Auer, the teacher of Heifetz, Milstein and others. For much of his career, Shtern stayed out of the spotlight, but he was deeply …

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Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has inspired composers from Berlioz to Prokofiev to David Diamond. One of this timeless tragedy’s most popular musical depictions was composed by the 28-year-old Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Tchaikovsky called the work an Overture-Fantasy, but it can also be considered a tone poem. Let’s listen to a live performance with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. Consider how Tchaikovsky’s music captures the deep emotions at the heart of the …

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Oistrakh Plays Tchaikovsky

What better way to end the year than with a few rare old recordings by the legendary Russian violinist David Oistrakh (1908-1974)? Listening to these clips, which range from solo to chamber repertoire, it’s easy to hear why Oistrakh is regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time. There is a deep musical sincerity and a powerful sense of humanity in his playing which transcends the ordinary. In the fastest …

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Nutcracker Season

Nutcracker season is in full swing here in Richmond. My orchestra, the Richmond Symphony, will perform Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker thirteen times through December 23. Richmond Ballet’s long-term dedication to live music in the orchestra pit is commendable and elevates their already excellent productions. There is no replacement for the power and emotional punch of live music. Canned music has a “deadening” effect, while live music unleashes a creative energy which propels all other aspects of …

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Perlman Plays Tchaikovsky

Listen to this amazing performance of the final movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto played by Itzhak Perlman.  You probably know Tchaikovsky as a Romantic composer of lush, fiery, emotionally charged music, but don’t forget that he was also a ballet composer.  You may notice a grace and elegance in the rhythm that suggests dance. After you listen, consider what makes Perlman’s performance so exciting.  The piece is a tight rope walk …

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