Le Tombeau de Couperin: Post-Apocalyptic Ravel

Listening to Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, it’s easy to get a sense of altered reality. Outwardly, the original six movement suite, written for solo piano, responds to the horrors and devastation of the First World War, a conflict Ravel experienced first hand as a military ambulance driver. Ravel dedicated each movement of the work, written between 1914 and 1917, to the memory of a friend lost on the battlefield. But, interestingly, …

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Fabio Biondi Plays Veracini

  Italian Baroque composers such as Corelli, Tartini, and Vivaldi have long been associated with the early development of the violin as a virtuoso instrument. Less well known, now, is Francesco Maria Veracini. Born in Florence in 1690, Veracini traveled throughout Europe, dazzling audiences with his violin sonatas and concertos. The English composer and music historian Charles Burney (1726-1814) described Veracini’s playing in 1745: He led the band…in such a bold and …

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Beethoven and the Power of Four Notes

“Long…short, short, short…” This is the spirited little cell that quietly opens  Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. The entire piece grows from this almost sneaky opening in a way not unlike the famous, ferocious opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. As you listen to the first movement, notice all the ways these four notes return. Sometimes they’re hidden or played in quiet pizzicato. At other times you’ll hear the motive in the …

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Cellist Zuill Bailey in Williamsburg

It’s always a thrill to perform with top-level guest soloists. They feed the collective soul of the orchestra and often elevate concerts into highly memorable events. American cellist Zuill Bailey brought that kind of electricity to the final concerts of the Williamsburg (Virginia) Symphonia season Monday and Tuesday evening. Bailey performed Robert Schumann’s restless and sometimes thorny Cello Concerto with soulfulness and ease. During rehearsals and performances, I was impressed with the singing tone …

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The Lusty Month of May

  I can’t resist marking the recent turn of the calendar page with this well-known excerpt from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s 1960 Broadway musical, Camelot. The score includes some of Loewe’s most beautiful and soaring melodies, including The Simple Joys of Maidenhood, If Ever I Would Leave You, and I Loved You Once In Silence.  Born in Germany, Frederick Loewe began writing songs at the age of 7 and performed as a piano soloist with the …

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Beauty in Simplicity: A Schubert Sanctus

Sometimes the most profound musical statements flow out of simplicity. Rooted in song, the music of Franz Schubert often seems to say a lot with a few, seemingly effortless notes. The Sanctus from Schubert’s Deutsche Messe, D. 872 (German Mass) is a good example.  In the traditional Latin liturgical text, Sanctus sounds like a stirring proclamation, “Holy, Holy, Holy, God of power and might.” These lines have inspired composers from Mozart and Verdi to John Rutter to write soaring, …

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