George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra: Five Legendary Recordings

In music one must think with the heart and feel with the brain. -George Szell George Szell was music director of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1946 until his death in July, 1970. During that time, the Hungarian-born Jewish-American conductor transformed the orchestra on the industrial shores of Lake Erie into one of the world’s most esteemed ensembles. He created an orchestra with a distinct sound and style- a seamless blend of European warmth, …

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Leonard Rose: Five Great Recordings

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Rose (1918-1984), one of the greatest cellists of the twentieth century. Born in Washington, D.C. into a family of Ukrainian immigrants, Rose joined Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra as associate principal cellist at the age of 20. At 21 he became principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra. In 1943, at age 26, he accepted the same position with the New York Philharmonic. In 1951 …

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Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2: The Takács Quartet and Andreas Haefliger

The music of Antonín Dvořák is often filled with a quiet, wistful nostalgia, an embrace of nature, and subtle references to Czech folksongs. We hear all of this in the Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, a work of profound depth and monumental scale which Dvořák composed in 1887, between the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. This fully mature music grew out of the composer’s unsuccessful attempt to revise an earlier piano quintet. In the …

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Dvořák in Houston

No, Antonín Dvořák never made it to Houston. When the famous Czech composer ventured onto the Iowa prairie during the summer of 1893, his “New World” Symphony just completed, the sprawling metropolis-to-be was only in its infancy. But Dvořák’s music has taken center stage over the past few years with a series of live-concert recordings by conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the Houston Symphony on the Dutch Pentatone label. In this brief video, Orozco-Estrada talks about the …

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Dvořák’s “New World Symphony”: Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic

On Friday, it was announced that conductor Alan Gilbert will take the reins of Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra as its next chief conductor. Between 2004 and 2015, Gilbert served as the ensemble’s principal guest conductor. (Back in January, I wrote about the opening of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra’s spectacular new landmark concert hall, which floats above Hamburg’s harbor like a giant, glistening, icy wave). Alan Gilbert’s final performance as music director of the New York …

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Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony: Defiantly Czech

Consider, for a moment, all of the possible ways a symphony can begin. Then, listen carefully to the opening of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor. This opening statement, emerging out of the dark depths of D minor, is filled with mystery, tension, quiet anxiety, and restless, heroic energy. It’s a world away from the sunny majesty of Dvořák’s Eighth or the hushed, lamenting nostalgia of the introduction of the “New World” Ninth. Here, …

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Viola Power: Dvorak’s “American” Quartet

The viola is the stereotypical underdog of the string family. The occasional butt of lighthearted jokes, in the orchestra it often escapes the limelight. When the first violins claim the melody and soar into the sonic stratosphere, the violas provide a mellow and essential inner voice. But this is only half the story. The viola comes with its own distinct voice and persona, and when it takes center stage, it has a …

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