Dvořák’s Cello Concerto: Three Great Performance Clips

Following a youthful attempt at a Cello Concerto in 1865, Antonín Dvořák believed that the instrument was ill-suited to the concerto form. “High up it sounds nasal, and low down it growls,” the composer commented. Dvořák’s attitude changed in a flash on the evening of March 9, 1894 when the New York Philharmonic premiered Victor Herbert’s Second Cello Concerto. Herbert, remembered for frothy Viennese operettas like Babes in Toyland (1903), was on the faculty of New York’s National Conservatory of …

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The 2019 Classical Grammys

The 61st Annual Grammy Awards ceremony took place in Los Angeles yesterday. Here are excerpts from the winning albums in the classical categories: Best Orchestral Performance This recording is the latest installment in a Shostakovich cycle featuring Nelsons and the Boston Symphony. Earlier recordings in the set won in the same category in the 2016 and 2017 Grammys. Additionally, this recording was awarded Best Engineered Album, Classical (Shawn Murphy and Nick Squire, engineers; …

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New Release: Ian Bostridge Joins the Seattle Symphony for Berlioz, Ravel, Debussy

Song cycles by three French composers- Berlioz, Ravel, and Debussy- come to life spectacularly on a newly-released album featuring the English tenor Ian Bostridge with Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony. The recording appears on Seattle Symphony Media, the orchestra’s innovative, Grammy-winning, in-house record label. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été was recorded at a live concert at Benaroya Hall in November 2017. Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Debussy’s Le livre de Baudelaire, orchestrated by John Adams in 1994, are studio recordings. Here are a few excerpts: …

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Change Ringing: St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

Queen Elizabeth I described it as “the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England.”  This Christmas Eve we go to the over 900-year-old St. Mary Redcliffe in Bristol, UK to hear a spectacular example of English change ringing. The church’s fifteen bells are ordered in a series of seemingly-endless mathematical permutations, known as “changes.” This clip will give you an idea of the precision required in this type of bell ringing. With today’s …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 6

J.S. Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos are thrillingly disobedient rule breakers. They are examples of the Baroque concerto grosso form, developed by Italian composers like Vivaldi, in which small groups of solo instruments engage in a vibrant dialogue with the full, large (grosso) ensemble. But they frequently turn this existing model on its head, featuring new, unusual combinations of instruments, and breaking down notions of “prominent” and “supporting” voices. Nowhere is this more apparent …

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Webern’s Inaugural Opus: “Passacaglia for Orchestra”

Today marks the 135th anniversary of the birth of the Austrian composer Anton Webern (1883-1945). Along with Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, Webern was part of the Second Viennese School, an early twentieth century movement in which atonal and twelve-tone music grew out of fading late Romanticism. In September, 1945, Webern became a casualty of the Second World War. While smoking a cigar on his porch, he was fatally shot by an American soldier during …

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Eight Pieces Based on the Dies Irae

Last week, we explored two pieces which bookend the musical output of Sergei Rachmaninov- the First Symphony, which Rachmaninov wrote at the age of 22, and the Symphonic Dances, his “last spark,” completed in 1940. The Dies irae, the ancient chant of the dead, emerges as a prominent presence in both works. It’s a motive that returns throughout Rachmaninov’s music with haunting regularity. We hear it in The Isle of the Dead, The Bells, and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, where it …

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