Classic Recording: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor, The Eastman Trio

Why have you not written a single trio? I regret this every day because every day they play me a trio, and I always sigh because you have not composed a single one. This rueful complaint was addressed to Tchaikovsky in a letter written in the autumn of 1880 by Nadezhda von Meck, the Russian business woman who was one of his most dedicated and long-lasting patrons. (She also gave financial support …

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Remembering Barry Tuckwell

Barry Tuckwell, the renowned Australian horn player, passed away last week. He was 88. Born into a musical family, Tuckwell began playing the horn at age 13. By 15 he was playing professionally as third horn of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. A year later, he joined the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Goossens. He soon moved on to perform in Britain’s Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli. At age 24, he was principal …

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Duke Ellington’s “Three Black Kings”: A Symphonic Eulogy

Three Black Kings (Les Trois Rois Noirs) was Duke Ellington’s last composition. The orchestral triptych was left unfinished at the time of Ellington’s death in 1974. True to the spontaneous spirit of jazz and guided by superstition, the American composer, pianist, and band leader frequently left pieces incomplete until the day of the first performance. Ellington’s son, Mercer, pulled the pieces together, and Luther Henderson arranged and orchestrated the score. Alvin Ailey choreographed …

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Mozart and the Glass Armonica

Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman, diplomat, politician, writer, printer, political philosopher, scientist, inventor, and all-around Enlightenment Renaissance man, was born on this date in 1706. Among Franklin’s inventions is the glass armonica (now better known as the glass harmonica). While visiting Cambridge, England in 1761, he was fascinated with the “celestial” tones Edmund Delaval produced by rubbing a wet finger around the rim of wine glasses filled with varying quantities of water. …

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Three Great Songs from Rush’s “Moving Pictures” Album

Neil Peart, the legendary drummer and lyricist of the Canadian rock trio, Rush, passed away last week after a battle with cancer. He was 67. Rolling Stone rated Peart among the top five greatest rock drummers of all time. His playing exhibited a powerful virtuosity which frequently drew upon complex, shifting meters. Variety‘s recent tribute notes that “Peart was famous for his state-of-the-art drum kits—more than 40 different drums were not out of the …

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Five Excerpts from Barber’s “Vanessa”

Samuel Barber’s Vanessa premiered at the Metropolitan Opera on this date in 1958. Originally set in four acts, the opera’s dark story and libretto were created by Gian Carlo Menotti. Its atmosphere may have been inspired by Seven Gothic Tales, a collection of short stories by the Danish author Karen Blixen (who wrote under the pen name, Isak Dinesen). Here is a summery of the synopsis: Vanessa, a grand middle-aged lady, has been living in isolation …

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Anthony McGill Plays Copland

This past weekend’s Richmond Symphony program included Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, performed by Anthony McGill. It was a thrill and an honor to share the stage with such a sublime musician. One of my colleagues in the orchestra remarked aptly that McGill’s playing is so natural that it seems as if the instrument is an extension of his body. Listening to Anthony McGill, you are drawn in by the singing quality of the sound, which …

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