Remembering Lars Vogt

Lars Vogt, the renowned German pianist and conductor, passed away on Monday, September 5. He was 51. In March of 2021, Vogt was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in his throat and liver. Born in the town of Düren in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, Vogt rose to prominence after winning second prize at the 1990 Leeds International Piano Competition. He went on to perform as a soloist with the world’s greatest orchestras. He …

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Christopher O’Riley Meets Nick Drake: “River Man,” “One of These Things First”

The life of the reclusive singer-songwriter, Nick Drake (1948-1974), was tragically short. Yet his influence on later artists, including Norah Jones, Beck, REM and Elton John, was extensive. The English folk rocker crafted harmonically sophisticated songs and experimented with alternate guitar tunings and cluster chords. The song, River Man, from Drake’s 1969 album Five Leaves Left has been covered by numerous jazz musicians. Set in 5/4 time, the song drifts into a melancholy and hypnotic …

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Steve Reich’s “Eight Lines” (Octet): Cantillation Meets Pulse

Steve Reich’s Eight Lines is the exuberant, optimistic music of late twentieth century capitalist America. Composed in 1979 and originally titled Octet, it emerged from a world inundated with repetitive mass advertising and equally repetitive, slickly produced popular music. Built on minimalism’s satisfying, unrelenting pulse and sunny, jazz-infused repeating riffs, Eight Lines is a hypnotic musical joy ride which can alter our perception of time. We experience this music on a visceral level. Its rhythmic groove and swing …

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Hovhaness’ “Mysterious Mountain” (Symphony No. 2): Ode to the Eternal

Alan Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain, is the music of vast, majestic, metaphorical summits. Unfolding as an arc, its three movements do not take a linear, goal-oriented journey. Instead, they add up to a reverent and awe-inspiring celebration of the eternal. According to Hovhaness, the Symphony’s title does not refer to a specific mountain, but to “the whole idea of mountains.” He wrote, Mountains are symbols, like pyramids, of man’s attempt to know …

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Gershwin on Piano Roll: “Sweet and Lowdown” and “That Certain Feeling”

George Gershwin’s delirious foxtrot, Sweet and Lowdown, was written for the 1925 musical, Tip-Toes. With lyrics by Ira Gershwin, the farcical comedy centers around a three-member vaudeville act which, through duplicity, attempts to snare a wealthy millionaire. The melody exemplifies the high-flying euphoria of the Roaring Twenties, with jazz and blues harmonies and exuberant, tumbling rhythms. George Gershwin’s 1926 performance is preserved on piano roll: The song, That Certain Feeling, was also written for Tip-Toes. It’s …

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New Release: Michael Torke’s “Time”

In architecture, our perception of space is influenced by repeating elements which provide a sense of structure, form, and scale. A particularly sensuous example can be found in the crisp geometric lines which form the bronze curtain wall of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1958 Seagram Building in New York. While architecture occupies the spacial realm, music unfolds through time. Time is the title of the newest composition by American composer, Michael Torke (b. 1961). …

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Copland’s “Music for the Theatre”: Jazzy American Vignettes

In the 1920s, jazz entered the concert hall and infused new symphonic music with a brash, vibrant, and distinctly American sound. On February 12, 1924, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was premiered in New York at a concert bearing the grandiose title, An Experiment in Modern Music. A year later, the young Aaron Copland returned home from studies in Paris with the eminent Nadia Boulanger and wrote the chamber orchestra suite, Music for the Theatre.  At moments, …

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