Beware the Ides of March: Musical Reflections on Julius Caesar

Beware the ides of March. -William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Tomorrow marks the “Ides of March,” the date when Julius Caesar was assassinated on the floor of the Roman Senate in 44 B.C. Dramatized by Shakespeare in 1599, Caesar’s stabbing coincided with Rome’s irreversible evolution from Republic to Empire. Let’s listen to two pieces which were inspired by the life and legend of Julius Caesar: Handel’s Julius Caesar Julius Caesar, George Frideric Handel’s 1724 …

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Keith Jarrett and the Power of Two Chords

Two chords, set in a continuous loop between tension and resolution, provide the foundation for this powerful solo improvisation by pianist and composer Keith Jarrett. It was the final encore from a concert in Tokyo in 1984. Jarrett (b. 1945) is an American pianist and composer who moves freely between the worlds of jazz and classical. (Listen to part of his recording of J.S. Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier here.) He talks about improvisation in …

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The Houston Symphony’s New Dvorak Recording

Here’s a sample of the Houston Symphony’s new Dvorak recording, released last Friday. The album, which pairs Dvorak’s Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, is music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s inaugural recording with the orchestra. It’s the first in a series of Houston Symphony Dvorak disks on the Dutch-based Pentatone label. A May 1 release will include Symphony No. 6 and later in the year the series will conclude with Symphony No. 9. Dvorak’s bubbly Czech-folk-inspired Slavonic Dances …

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Remembering Nikolaus Harnoncourt

German conductor and early music pioneer Nikolaus Harnoncourt passed away on Saturday. He was 86. Harnoncourt began his musical career as a cellist in the Vienna Symphony. In 1953, he founded the period-instrument ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien. His early discography included baroque works by Purcell, J.S. Bach, Monteverdi, and Rameau. Later, his repertoire grew to include Romantic and twentieth-century music. (In 2009, he recorded Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess). Harnoncourt will be remembered as a passionate …

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Steve Reich’s Piano Phase: What Are You Afraid Of?

It’s not everyday that a harpsichord recital leads to a riot, but apparently that’s what happened this past Sunday in Cologne. Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani attempted to perform a composer-sanctioned version of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase (1967) at the Cologne Philharmonie when members of the audience became disruptive. He was in the middle of a program of music taken from his recent recording, Time Present and Time Past, which sets the standard baroque harpsichord repertoire …

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Bach Violin Concertos: The Freiburger Barockorchester

The mission statement of Germany’s Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, founded in 1987, is to “enliven the world of Baroque music with new sounds.” Listen to their exceptional 2013 recording of J.S. Bach Violin Concertos on the Harmonia Mundi label and you’ll hear this philosophy on display. Yes, these performances feature period instruments, sparkling Baroque style, and occasional ornamentation. But they go far beyond historical performance practice. We’re reminded that, first and foremost, this is fun, …

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