Tilting at Windmills

This week my orchestra, the Richmond Symphony, returns to work after a holiday hiatus with Richard Strauss’s tone poem, Don Quixote, Op. 35. Strauss wrote some of the most virtuosic and technically demanding orchestra repertoire and this program is a great way to get back into the swing of the season. Richard Strauss was a master of programatic tone poems, music inspired by a story. In Don Quixote, a series of variations depict …

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Musical Beginnings

Think about the way your favorite piece begins. From the ferocious opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which form the DNA for the entire symphony that follows, to the quiet, mysterious tremolos of Bruckner’s symphonies, to the attention grabbing (and audience quieting) opening fanfares of Rossini’s opera overtures, the way a piece starts tells us a lot about what will follow. As you jump, grudgingly tip toe or stride boldly into 2014, listen …

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Waltzing into a New Year

The Vienna Philharmonic began its tradition of performing an annual New Year’s Concert in 1939. Ever since, New Year’s Day and Strauss waltzes have become intertwined in popular imagination. In celebration of a new year, here is Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube from last year’s concert, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. Austrian conductor Welser-Möst is currently the Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra. You may notice that in the Viennese style of playing waltzes the second beat …

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Oistrakh Plays Tchaikovsky

What better way to end the year than with a few rare old recordings by the legendary Russian violinist David Oistrakh (1908-1974)? Listening to these clips, which range from solo to chamber repertoire, it’s easy to hear why Oistrakh is regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time. There is a deep musical sincerity and a powerful sense of humanity in his playing which transcends the ordinary. In the fastest …

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Christmas at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

Here is Jan Sandström’s atmospheric setting of Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming, performed live by the choir of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, England on Christmas Eve, 2009. Sandström is a contemporary Swedish composer and for me there is something about this music which captures the bleak, desolate Scandinavian landscape in December. It also has a unique flow. When the sun sets at 3:00 in the afternoon for part of the year, do you develop a different …

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In Terra Pax

Take a break from the holiday hubbub and spend a few minutes listening to In Terra Pax (“And on earth, peace”), the beautiful Christmas cantata by English composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). You might be reminded of the lush, layered string writing of Ralph Vaughan Williams. There are also moments in the piece which may have influenced John Rutter. Get a detailed introduction of the piece here and here. Written in 1954, this was one …

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Corelli’s Christmas Concerto

Here is a great period performance of Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8 by Accademia deli Astrusi. This piece was first performed on Christmas, 1690 and bears the inscription”Made for the night of Christmas.” The concerto is made up of six short movements which alternate in tempo between fast and slow. The final movement is a serene Pastorale which suggests the nativity scene.  The drama of a concerto grosso (big concerto) lies …

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