Yuja Wang Plays Prokofiev

Following a brief vacation, Chinese pianist Yuja Wang gets back to work this week. She’ll bring two Bartok piano concertos to Rochester, New York: the First Concerto tomorrow night, and the Third on Saturday, with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Recently, I ran across her spectacular performance of another twentieth century masterwork: Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The clip below features Wang’s performance with Claudio Abbado (her frequent collaborator) at the 2009 Lucerne Festival. In this …

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Viola Power: Dvorak’s “American” Quartet

The viola is the stereotypical underdog of the string family. The occasional butt of lighthearted jokes, in the orchestra it often escapes the limelight. When the first violins claim the melody and soar into the sonic stratosphere, the violas provide a mellow and essential inner voice. But this is only half the story. The viola comes with its own distinct voice and persona, and when it takes center stage, it has a …

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Staying Grounded in Henry Purcell

What does music of seventeenth-century English composer Henry Purcell have in common with a contemporary pop song like U2’s With Or Without You? Both are built on a repeating ostinato bass line, called a ground bass. Early traces of the ground bass emerged in thirteenth-century French vocal motets and fifteenth-century European dance music. By the time Purcell used it, it was a relatively old technique. Purcell’s Fantasia, Three Parts On a Ground was written in the early 1680s. …

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Tchaikovsky’s Rhythmic Games

For all of its perceived bombast and emotional excess, a unique kind of elegance, lightness, and motion lies at the heart of much of Tchaikovsky’s music. Even when Tchaikovsky was not writing for the ballet, ballet music, with its eternal sense of motion, seemed to be coming out. Tchaikovsky was obsessed with the music of Mozart, perhaps the epitome of classical elegance. He said Mozart’s works were “the highest, most perfect culmination ever …

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Zaha Hadid’s Frozen Music

Zaha Hadid, the visionary and sometimes controversial Iraqi-born British architect, passed away suddenly on Thursday. She was 65. Her uncompromising, sculptural designs unequivocally embraced the ethos of “architecture as art” in a way reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright. Fellow architect Rem Koolhaas called her “a planet in her own inimitable orbit.” There’s a geological quality to Hadid’s Wanjing Soho towers in Beijing, completed in 2014. They rise on the landscape like three giant pebbles. Horizontal …

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Every Concert Artist’s Worst Nightmare?

Years ago, during a lesson, I remember my teacher Oleh Krysa telling a remarkable and amusing story about his teacher, the legendary violinist David Oistrakh. Oistrakh, who had a busy concert schedule, had arrived late and had not had time to rehearse with the orchestra. At the concert, he walked out on stage, bowed, and prepared for the long orchestral introduction which opens the Brahms Violin Concerto. Suddenly, the orchestra began playing …

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