New Release: RPO’s “American Rapture” Features Music of Higdon, Barber, and Harlin

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director Ward Stare have released a new album of American music on the Azica label. American Rapture contains two world premiere recordings—Jennifer Higdon’s Harp Concerto (2018) featuring the American harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, and Patrick Harlin’s Rapture (2011), an orchestral showpiece inspired by the terrifying and awe-inspiring exploration of the world’s deepest caves. In between these youthful pieces is Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1, a monumental mid-twentieth century work which unfolds in a single …

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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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Brahms’ Violin Concerto: Oistrakh, Klemperer, and the French National Radio Orchestra in 1960

This is one of those recordings that reminds us why David Oistrakh (1908-1974) is remembered as one of the twentieth century’s greatest musicians. The Soviet violinist’s 1960 studio recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Otto Klemperer and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française makes us forget about violin technique. Instead, we’re left with pure music. Every phrase “sings” with the ultimate sincerity. My former teacher, the Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa, …

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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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Remembering Soprano Heather Harper

The British operatic soprano Heather Harper passed away on Monday at the age of 88. Born in Belfast, Harper came to international attention when she stepped in at ten days notice for the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral in 1962. (Galina Vishnevskaya, for whom the part was written, was denied permission by Soviet authorities on the grounds that Britten’s work was too “political.”) Harper went on to perform …

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New Release: András Schiff Plays Schubert Sonatas and Impromptus

Sir András Schiff’s new album takes us back to the sounds Schubert would have heard. The Hungarian-born British pianist performs on a fortepiano made around 1820 by Franz Brodmann. The instrument, once owned by Karl I, the last emperor of Austria-Hungary, is an early version of the piano. In the liner notes, Schiff writes, It is to me ideally suited to Schubert’s keyboard works. There is something quintessentially Viennese in its timbre, its …

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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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