Anthony McGill Plays Copland

This past weekend’s Richmond Symphony program included Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, performed by Anthony McGill. It was a thrill and an honor to share the stage with such a sublime musician. One of my colleagues in the orchestra remarked aptly that McGill’s playing is so natural that it seems as if the instrument is an extension of his body. Listening to Anthony McGill, you are drawn in by the singing quality of the sound, which …

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“Nine Variations on a March by Dressler”: Music by the 12-year-old Beethoven

Here is Beethoven’s first published work, written in 1782 when the composer was twelve years old. It’s a set of nine variations on a simple, stately march melody by Christian Ludwig Dressler (1734-1779), a now obscure German composer, operatic tenor, violinist, and music theorist. First, we hear Dressler’s original theme, which is infused with military fanfare rhythms. Filled with a playful, improvisatory spirit, Beethoven’s variations begin with sly embellishments. Each becomes more adventurous …

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Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli: Five Legendary Recordings

Last Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Italian pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995). Michelangeli has been called “one of the most enigmatic performers of the twentieth century.” A noted perfectionist, his concert repertoire was considered to be small, and he agreed to the release of relatively few recordings during his lifetime. He practiced eight to ten hours a day, telling students, “One has to work to feel your arms and back …

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Beethoven’s First Symphony: The Past Meets the Future

Beethoven’s First Symphony springs to life as a frolicking newcomer, teeming with audacious youthful vitality. Premiering at Vienna’s Burgtheater on April 2, 1800, it seems to say goodbye to one century, while eagerly anticipating another. “This was the most interesting concert in a very long time,” reported the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Germany’s foremost musical periodical at the time. The review noted the work’s “considerable art, novelty and wealth of ideas.” Make no mistake, Beethoven’s …

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John Williams’ “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”: A Cinematic Tone Poem

John Williams’ haunting, ethereal score is integral to the drama of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 science fiction film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In fact, much of the score was written before filming began. In a reversal of the normal process, Spielberg set parts of the film to Williams’ music. The film blends mystery, terror, and childlike wonder. One of its dominant themes involves the human need to connect and find deeper meaning. It is the music …

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A New Year’s Hymn: Music of Praetorius, Scheidt, and Bach

Das alte Jahr vergangen ist (“The old year now hath passed away”) is a New Year hymn dating back to 1568. The chorale melody has been attributed to Johannes Steurlein (1546-1613), the son of the first Lutheran pastor of the central German town of Schmalkalden. The text suggests a mix of quiet gratitude and apprehension: The old year now hath passed away; We thank Thee, O our God, today That Thou hast …

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Remembering Broadway’s Jerry Herman

The legendary Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman passed away last Thursday at the age of 88. With hit musicals such as Hello, Dolly! (1964), Mame (1966), and La Cage aux Folles (1983), Herman was the exponent of popular and tuneful shows which continued the tradition of an earlier era. He was an unabashed defender of melody. In the 1960s, Alan Jay Lerner (the lyricist of My Fair Lady) called Herman “the Irving Berlin of this generation.” …

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