Saint-Saëns’ Second Piano Concerto: Fazıl Say in Concert

After hearing the premiere of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2, the pianist and composer Sigmond Stojowski remarked that it “began with Bach and ended with Offenbach.” Indeed, this is music which takes us on a wildly exhilarating and mercurial ride. Its structure shakes up the traditional concerto form with a slow and solemn first movement, a bright scherzo for the second movement, and a concluding presto. In May of 1868, the …

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Bach’s Chaconne: Midori at Köthen Castle

“Monumental” is a word that has been used to describe J.S. Bach’s Chaconne. This is the fifth and final movement of the Partita No. 2 in D minor (BWV 1004) for solo violin, written sometime between 1717 and 1720. Emotionally, there is a sense of transcendence when we arrive at this mighty set of 64 variations on a repeating bass line. It’s approximately as long as the four dance movements which precede …

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Two Festive Overtures: Shostakovich Meets Glinka

On Wednesday, we explored Dmitri Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony, one of the most haunting and tragic works of the twentieth century. This is the kind of music we often associate with Shostakovich, a composer surrounded, for much of his life, by death, destruction, and grinding political oppression. Yet, there is a more lighthearted side to Shostakovich, perhaps most evident in the sparkling and zany 1927 orchestration of the Vincent Youmans song, Tea for Two, produced …

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Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony: A Requiem

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor is filled with distant, lamenting voices. It was written with remarkable speed during the summer of 1943 when Shostakovich was staying at an isolated retreat maintained by the Soviet Composer’s Union. The composer’s distance from the horrors of the Eastern Front and the siege of Leningrad could not block out the sense of alienation, gloomy futility, exhaustion, sardonic humor, and raw terror that pervades this music. …

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“Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s “Xerxes”

George Frederick Handel seems to have had an affinity for expansive, majestic melodies. Consider the stately opening movement of the Violin Sonata in D Major, HWV 371, or the regal splendor we encounter in so many movements of the Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.  Perhaps there is no better example than Ombra mai fu (“Never was a shade”), the opening aria from Handel’s 1738 opera, Xerxes, or Serse as it was known in Italian. The aria’s setting is a lush garden …

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Returning to Mahler in a Time of Crisis

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before. -Leonard Bernstein in an address following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, November, 1963 On Friday, November 22, 1963, Leonard Bernstein was at Philharmonic Hall, reviewing scripts for an episode of the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts, scheduled to be televised the next day. When initial reports of the President’s assassination came in, …

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New Release: Víkingur Ólafsson’s “Debussy-Rameau”

Jean-Philippe Rameau and Claude Debussy meet as virtual contemporaries on Debussy-Rameau, a new album by the Icelandic pianist, Víkingur Ólafsson. Surprising common threads emerge as we listen to the music of Rameau (1683-1764), one of the most important French baroque composers and theorists, alongside the rule-shattering impressionism of Debussy (1862-1918). Ólafsson believed the juxtaposition would “create a dialogue that might show Rameau in a futuristic light, and find Debussy’s deep roots in the …

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