Mendelssohn’s Octet: James Ehnes and the Seattle Chamber Music Society

A few weeks ago, we explored Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 with a 2011 recording featuring James Ehnes. That album also includes Mendelssohn’s famous string Octet, performed by Ehnes and members of the Seattle Chamber Music Society. It’s a great recording by an all-star lineup of musicians. (All the names are listed below with the album link). Mendelssohn was 16 when he wrote the Octet in E-flat Major in 1825. Yet, …

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Debussy’s String Quartet: “Pleasure is the Only Rule”

Some people wish above all to conform to the rules. I wish only to render what I can hear. There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. Works of art make rules but rules do not make works of art. Any sounds in any combination and in any succession are henceforth free to be used in a musical continuity. – Claude Debussy  A radical new kind of …

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Philip Glass’ “Mishima” Finds New Audiences

Apparently, the music of Philip Glass is entering the wedding repertoire. This weekend, I’ll be performing the closing movement of Glass’ String Quartet No. 3 “Mishima” for an indoor wedding ceremony. For years, I have played countless wedding jobs with a variety of ensembles and this is the first time I can recall Glass’ music being requested. In 1985, Philip Glass scored the music for the film, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, co-written and …

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Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata: Five Key Recordings

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47—better known as the “Kreutzer” Sonata—was first performed on May 24, 1803. 216 years ago today, Beethoven and the Afro-European violinist George Bridgetower (1778-1860) premiered this convention-shattering music at Vienna’s Augarten Theatre. Beethoven was so late in completing the manuscript that Bridgetower was forced to sightread the performance, at times looking over the composer’s shoulder at the full score. Originally, the manuscript was inscribed with the lighthearted …

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Pavel Karmanov’s “Cambridge Music” for Piano Quartet: A Post-Minimalist Joyride

The music of contemporary Russian composer Pavel Karmanov (b. 1970) falls loosely into a category known as post-minimalism. Influenced by the work of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and others, this is music built on a strong, satisfying sense of pulse and a warm embrace of tonality. “Cambridge Music” for Piano Quartet, written in 2008, teems with sunny, youthful energy and bright, glistening colors. Its repeating bass lines and sense of “groove” seem to …

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Musical Cryptograms: Five Scores that Contain Hidden Messages

Imagine transmitting a secret message by using the pitches (from A to G) that are embedded in a musical score. It’s been the subject of mystery novels and television shows as well as Philip Thicknesse’s 1772 book, A Treatise on the Art of Deciphering, and of Writing in Cypher: with an Harmonic Alphabet. During the Second World War, codebreakers considered the possibility that German and Japanese spies might use musical notes as a …

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Mozart’s Violin Sonata No. 32: Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt

We now have the famous Strinasacchi from Mantua here—a very good violinist. She has much taste and feeling in her playing. I am just now writing a sonata which we will play together in the theatre on Thursday at her benefit concert. Mozart wrote these words in a letter to his father dated April 24, 1784. He referred to Regina Strinasacchi, a young Italian violinist, guitarist, and singer who emerged from Venice’s Ospedale …

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