“The Fairy’s Kiss”: Stravinsky’s Musical Homage to Tchaikovsky

In 1893, while attending a performance at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, the 11-year-old Igor Stravinsky caught a fleeting glimpse of Tchaikovsky. The occasion was the 50th anniversary production of Glinka’s opera, Ruslan and Ludmila, in which Stravinsky’s father, Fyodor, an acclaimed bass, was singing. Tchaikovsky would die two weeks later. Stravinsky recalled, I looked and saw a man with white hair, large shoulders, a corpulent back, and this image has remained in the retina of …

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Remembering Barry Tuckwell

Barry Tuckwell, the renowned Australian horn player, passed away last week. He was 88. Born into a musical family, Tuckwell began playing the horn at age 13. By 15 he was playing professionally as third horn of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. A year later, he joined the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Goossens. He soon moved on to perform in Britain’s Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli. At age 24, he was principal …

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Duke Ellington’s “Three Black Kings”: A Symphonic Eulogy

Three Black Kings (Les Trois Rois Noirs) was Duke Ellington’s last composition. The orchestral triptych was left unfinished at the time of Ellington’s death in 1974. True to the spontaneous spirit of jazz and guided by superstition, the American composer, pianist, and band leader frequently left pieces incomplete until the day of the first performance. Ellington’s son, Mercer, pulled the pieces together, and Luther Henderson arranged and orchestrated the score. Alvin Ailey choreographed …

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Five Excerpts from Barber’s “Vanessa”

Samuel Barber’s Vanessa premiered at the Metropolitan Opera on this date in 1958. Originally set in four acts, the opera’s dark story and libretto were created by Gian Carlo Menotti. Its atmosphere may have been inspired by Seven Gothic Tales, a collection of short stories by the Danish author Karen Blixen (who wrote under the pen name, Isak Dinesen). Here is a summery of the synopsis: Vanessa, a grand middle-aged lady, has been living in isolation …

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Anthony McGill Plays Copland

This past weekend’s Richmond Symphony program included Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, performed by Anthony McGill. It was a thrill and an honor to share the stage with such a sublime musician. One of my colleagues in the orchestra remarked aptly that McGill’s playing is so natural that it seems as if the instrument is an extension of his body. Listening to Anthony McGill, you are drawn in by the singing quality of the sound, which …

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Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli: Five Legendary Recordings

Last Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Italian pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995). Michelangeli has been called “one of the most enigmatic performers of the twentieth century.” A noted perfectionist, his concert repertoire was considered to be small, and he agreed to the release of relatively few recordings during his lifetime. He practiced eight to ten hours a day, telling students, “One has to work to feel your arms and back …

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John Williams’ “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”: A Cinematic Tone Poem

John Williams’ haunting, ethereal score is integral to the drama of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 science fiction film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In fact, much of the score was written before filming began. In a reversal of the normal process, Spielberg set parts of the film to Williams’ music. The film blends mystery, terror, and childlike wonder. One of its dominant themes involves the human need to connect and find deeper meaning. It is the music …

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