Remembering Sanford Sylvan

The renowned American baritone Sanford Sylvan passed away suddenly last week. He was 65. Sylvan’s career on the opera stage included premieres of works by John Adams, Philip Glass, Peter Maxwell Davies and Christopher Rouse. He was the first to perform the role of Chou En-lai in Nixon in China (1987) and Leon Klinghoffer in The Death of Klinghoffer (1991). In addition, he premiered Adams’ haunting setting of Walt Whitman’s poem, The Wound Dresser. He was an …

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New Release: Bach Violin Concertos, Shunske Sato and Il Pomo d’Oro

An outstanding new recording of J.S. Bach’s three Violin Concertos came out in October. It features Japanese-American Baroque violinist Shunske Sato and the adventurous period instrument ensemble, Il Pomo d’Oro, founded in 2012. Sato is currently concertmaster of the Netherlands Bach Society Orchestra and Concerto Köln. On the album, he is joined by Bulgarian violinist Zefira Valova for a performance of the Concerto for Two Violins. Also included is a reconstruction of the lost Concerto in G minor, BWV 1056R. The …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 6

J.S. Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos are thrillingly disobedient rule breakers. They are examples of the Baroque concerto grosso form, developed by Italian composers like Vivaldi, in which small groups of solo instruments engage in a vibrant dialogue with the full, large (grosso) ensemble. But they frequently turn this existing model on its head, featuring new, unusual combinations of instruments, and breaking down notions of “prominent” and “supporting” voices. Nowhere is this more apparent …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5

In each of J.S. Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos, a new and distinctive cast of musical “characters” take the stage. They spring to life and converse in the thrilling drama of the concerto grosso, a popular Baroque form in which groups of solo instruments interact with the full (“grosso”) ensemble. In the Brandenburg Concertos, Bach took this form, developed by Italian composers like Vivaldi, to bold new heights. Concerto No. 5 in D …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4

In each of Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos we meet a different cast of musical characters. The First Concerto opens the door in magnificent style with a large, “symphonic” group, including horns with their connotations of the hunt. The Second brings high voices to the forefront with recorder, oboe, violin, and trumpet lines which soar exuberantly into the stratosphere. In the Third, the strings weave a thrilling counterpoint. It’s important to remember that these …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3

They’re now regarded as some of the most exceptional and groundbreaking works to come out of the Baroque period. But J.S. Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos were initially the result of an unsuccessful job search. In 1721, Bach was employed as music director for Prince Leopold of Anthalt-Cöthen. When it became clear that the Prince’s new wife was not a music lover, Bach began to look for other employment. The Brandenburg Concertos, probably composed …

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New Release: Víkingur Ólafsson Plays Bach

The music of J.S. Bach travels well. It is some of the most perfect and highly-ordered music ever written. Yet it’s also some of the most durable and versatile. These 300-year-old notes continue to come alive in new and exciting ways. We got a sense of this earlier in the month with violinist Hilary Hahn’s fiery, romantic approach to solo Bach, reminiscent of the free and distinctive interpretations of twentieth century artists like Kreisler, Heifetz, …

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