Illinois’ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Turns 50

As a child, I spent a year and many succeeding summers at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where my father was a student of trombone professor Dr. Robert Gray. Some of my most vivid memories include attending concerts at the University’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, where as a 9-year-old, I heard the Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as the University’s fine student ensembles. This weekend, the …

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This Scherzo is No Joke

In Italian, the word “scherzo” means “joke” or “jest.” Theodore Baker’s Schirmer Pronouncing Pocket Manual of Musical Terms (an invaluable resource my first violin teacher recommended to me as a child) defines the musical scherzo as 1. An instrumental piece of a light, piquant, humorous character. 2. A vivacious movement in a symphony, with strongly marked rhythm and sharp and unexpected contrasts in rhythm and harmony; usually the third movement. There are a host of pieces which fit these …

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Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony: A Haunting Farewell

A romantic myth has grown up around Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. The composer’s final work has been cast as a kind of despairing musical suicide note. It is true that Tchaikovsky died just over a week after conducting the Symphony’s premiere on October 28, 1893, probably as a result of drinking cholera-infected water. But while Tchaikovsky’s personal battles and bouts with depression have been well-documented, he completed the Sixth Symphony on an emotional upswing. …

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Schumann’s Second Symphony: A Journey Towards Triumph

For several days drums and trumpets in the key of C have been sounding in my mind. I have no idea what will come of it. Robert Schumann wrote these words to his friend, Felix Mendelssohn, in September, 1845. We know now that the musical voices playing in Schumann’s mind were the first echoes of the Symphony No. 2 in C Major. (Actually, it would be Schumann’s third completed symphony. The D minor Symphony, completed …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 29: Humor, Surprise, Ingenuity

Richard Atkinson, a Boston-based composer and forensic pathologist, offers a fascinating analysis of the wild rhythmic ingenuity found in some of Franz Joseph Haydn’s lesser-known symphonies. Atkinson’s YouTube channel is filled with insightful videos which take a look “under the hood” at music from Bach and Bruckner to Shostakovich. In this installment, Atkinson begins with the Finale of Haydn’s Symphony No. 29 in E Major, detailing the way the music continuously throws off our perception of phrase and meter. …

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Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony: Freedom in Exile

Sergei Rachmaninov spent much of his life in exile, both literally and as a composer. In December of 1917 at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Rachmaninov and his wife, Natalia, fled Russia, eventually building their Villa Senar on the idyllic shores of Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne. It was here that Rachmaninov composed the Symphony No. 3 in A minor during the summers of 1935 and 1936. His work on this final symphony was interrupted by an …

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Mahler’s Fifth Symphony: A Dramatic Departure

Heavens, what is the public to make of this chaos in which new worlds are forever being engendered, only to crumble into ruin the next moment? What are they to say to this primeval music, this foaming, roaring, raging sea of sound, to these dancing stars, to these breathtaking, iridescent, and flashing breakers? Gustav Mahler wrote these poetic words in a letter to his wife, Alma, following the first rehearsal for the …

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