Remembering James Levine

James Levine, the American conductor and pianist, has passed away from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. He was 77. Levine served as music director of the Metropolitan Opera for 40 years from 1976 to 2016. He is widely credited with raising the artistic level and profile of that company. He was also music director of the Ravinia Festival (1973–1993) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (2004–2011). Levine’s personal and professional reputation will be …

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Astor Piazzolla at 100

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), the Argentine tango composer and virtuoso bandoneon player. The tango, a seductive dance made up of African, Native American, and European cultural influences, originated in the 1880s in the impoverished districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Similarly, Piazzolla’s music simmers in a rich melting pot which blends sultry tango rhythms with jazz and classical elements. Piazzolla played a major …

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The 2021 Classical Grammys

The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony took place in Los Angeles Sunday evening. Here are excerpts from the winning albums in the classical categories: Best Orchestral Performance This album features the four numbered symphonies of Charles Ives. The “New England Holidays” is not included. We sense an exciting artistic progression from the relatively conservative Symphony No. 1, completed in 1902 in response to a graduation assignment from Ives’ teacher Horatio Parker, to …

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Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C Minor: A Lost Score Reconstructed

No original manuscript exists for J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor. The lost score was reconstructed from Bach’s Concerto for Two Harpsichords, BWV 1060. According to musicologists, that work was almost certainly an arrangement of an earlier concerto in the same key for oboe and violin, dating from Bach’s years in Köthen (1717–1723). Heard in its likely original form, the Concerto unleashes a vibrant musical conversation. The violin and …

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Bruckner’s Te Deum: A Hymn of Praise

Each of Anton Bruckner’s nine symphonies can be heard as a reflection of the divine. Bruckner seems to have approached composition with the tireless discipline, devotion, and humility that he brought to his steadfast Catholic faith. Each of his symphonies sets out on the same expansive and meditative journey, reveling in awesome, cosmic Powers, haunting mystery, and an ultimate sense of serene majesty. The Te Deum, completed in 1884, compliments Bruckner’s symphonic output …

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Schubert’s Fifth Symphony: In Search of “Magic Tones”

On June 13, 1816 the 19-year-old Franz Schubert wrote in his diary, This day will haunt me for the rest of my life as a bright, clear, and lovely one. Gently, and as from a distance, the magic tones of Mozart’s music sound in my ears. With what alternate force and tenderness, with what masterly power did Schlesinger’s playing of that music impress it deep, deep in my heart! Thus do these …

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“Blues Walk”: From Lou Donaldson to Lincoln Center

Blues Walk is the title track from a celebrated 1958 album by jazz alto saxophonist, Lou Donaldson. Known for a “soulful, bluesy approach,” Donaldson’s style of playing was heavily influenced by the bebop of Charlie Parker. The addition of conga drums, performed on the Blues Walk album by Ray Barretto, gave Lou Donaldson’s band a distinct sound. Later albums used an electric organ as a substitute for the piano. Here is a performance of Blues Walk featuring Wynton …

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