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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Can You Say Summertime?

The free-spirited Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say (b. 1970) is an artist who refreshingly resists easy category. As a concert pianist, Say performs all of the standard repertoire with emotional warmth and effortless technique (here he plays Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G). As a composer, he has written symphonies, piano music, which draws on the prepared piano sounds popularized by John Cage and Henry Cowell (listen to the ethereal and sensuous Black …

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Paganini’s Catchy Tune

It’s a simple and catchy melody…so memorable and ripe for development that, for over 200 years, composers haven’t been able to stop using it as the inspiration for an unending stream of variations. Set in A minor, the theme of Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 bounces between tonic and dominant (scale degrees I and V), before entering a downward sequence which brings the melody home. A series of variations follow, which almost push the …

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Gavotte from "Mignon"

If you’re a Suzuki violin student, you know the charmingly quirky Gavotte from “Mignon” by the transcription in Book 2. You may be less familiar with the piece’s composer and origin. Mignon was a wildly successful 1866 French comic opera by Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896), longtime director of the Paris Conservatory. The three-act opera is based on Goethe’s novel, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Its soap opera-like plot centers around a passionate romantic rivalry between two contrasting female characters: the seductive and unscrupulous …

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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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"America" in Simple and Compound Time

Conductor, composer, pianist, educator, music philosopher…Leonard Bernstein’s whirlwind career was a complex mix of these versatile roles. Perhaps as a result, when it came to Bernstein’s Broadway music, outside influences were constantly creeping in, from West Side Story’s Copland-like Somewhere Ballet sequence and the dueling-keys of the Finale (a reference to the final bars of Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra) to a hint of Puccini in the soaring and harmonically searching Lonely Town from On the Town.  Bernstein couldn’t resist writing a …

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