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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Alisa Weilerstein’s Newest Album: Shostakovich Cello Concertos

It’s always fascinating to consider musical lineage. Great musicians pass along ideas about a given piece to their students based on what they were taught. Eventually, the line runs back to the performer who premiered the music and worked directly with the composer. We get a sense of this lineage with Alisa Weilerstein’s new recording of Dmitri Shostakovich’s two Cello Concertos. Shostakovich wrote both concertos for Mstislav Rostropovich, with whom Weilerstein studied. She talks about …

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Art Under the Soviets: Shostakovich and the Music of the October Revolution

Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas. – Joseph Stalin Art and totalitarianism don’t mix. Dmitri Shostakovich’s uneasy coexistence with the Soviet authorities is one of music history’s most prominent examples of this axiom. Shostakovich’s relationship with the Soviets was full of contradictions. He produced numerous scores for Communist propaganda films (listen to the finale of The Fall of Berlin, …

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Shostakovich’s Enigmatic Sixth

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony is an outlier…a rule breaker. At first glance, its form seems startlingly unbalanced and arbitrary. It’s cast in three movements rather than four: A slow, darkly ominous first movement followed by two short, almost frivolous scherzos. The result is schizophrenic and unsettling…a jarring juxtaposition of starkly contrasting moods. It’s the quintessential anti-heroic symphony, shattering our hopes and expectations. By the time we reach the final movement, a simultaneously …

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Kleinhans Music Hall Turns 75

  Today marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, New York. Home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Kleinhans is considered one of the world’s most acoustically perfect concert halls. It’s also one of Buffalo’s most significant architectural landmarks. Located in a leafy residential neighborhood just north of the city’s downtown, it anchors majestic Symphony Circle, part of Frederick Law Olmsted’s extensive parkway system which runs throughout …

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Happy Birthday, Yo-Yo Ma

The Listeners’ Club wishes Yo-Yo Ma, who turns 60 today, a happy birthday. Ma is one of a handful of front-rank musicians who can be described as a cultural ambassador. Over the years, he has been at home, not only at Carnegie Hall but also on Sesame Street (watch “The Jam Session,” “The Honker Quartet,” and “Elmo’s Fiddle Lesson”), Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and at a presidential inauguration. At the age of seven he performed for President John F. Kennedy. …

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Even Better Than the Real Thing

In 1984, a bold, new skyscraper emerged on the Manhattan skyline, which captured everyone’s attention and became the subject of intense controversy. The Chippendale-inspired broken pediment crown of architect Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building shocked the architectural establishment because it so profoundly violated the ruling aesthetic of the day. This bizarre new icon seemed to be cheerfully thumbing its nose at the solemn, modernist glass boxes which surrounded it. Postmodernism was born. Modernism, …

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