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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Fauré and Debussy: Two Charming Settings of Paul Verlaine’s “Mandoline”

Gabriel Fauré’s 1891 song cycle, Cinq mélodies “de Venise”, Op. 58, begins with music which is as charming and infectious as it is brief. Mandoline is a setting of a poem from the 1869 collection, Fêtes galantes, by the French Symbolist, Paul Verlaine. The poem was inspired by a series of paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau depicting (as Robert Gartside writes) “18th century nobility in their fêtes champètres, those elegant picnics redolent of a mixture of gaiety, …

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Remembering Gunther Schuller

American composer, conductor, horn player, writer, educator, and jazz musician Gunther Schuller passed away yesterday at the age of 89. Schuller’s compositions fused elements of jazz and classical music into a style he called “Third Stream.” His remarkably diverse career included principal horn positions with the Cincinnati Symphony and Metropolitan Opera orchestras in the 1940s and 50s, as well as collaborations with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and others. In the 1960s and …

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A James Levine Profile

Yesterday, CBS News’ 60 Minutes aired a profile of James Levine, the conductor credited with building the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra into one of the best ensembles of its kind in the world. The interview details Levine’s return to conducting after two seasons spent recovering from injury. This was Bob Simon’s last interview before his tragic death in a car accident last month. If you missed The Maestro: James Levine, you can watch it here. Every established …

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A Sublime Moment from Mozart’s "Così fan tutte"

Mozart’s Così fan tutte (“Thus Do They All”) falls under the category of opera buffa, or comic opera. It’s an absurd story of “fiancée swapping,” which ultimately turns out all right in the end. In a coffeehouse in Naples, two military officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, boast that their fiancées, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, will never be unfaithful. Don Alfonso makes a wager that, within a day, he can prove the officers wrong. He believes that all women are ultimately fickle. …

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Fanfare for the Common Man

In honor of Labor Day, here is a great performance of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, featuring the New York Philharmonic brass and percussion sections with conductor James Levine. In 1942, as the US entered the Second World War, Cincinnati Symphony music director Eugene Goossens commissioned eighteen composers to write fanfares. The title of Copland’s Fanfare was inspired by a speech, given by Vice President Henry Wallace, called Century of the Common Man. A few years …

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Mozart is for the Birds

The Magic Flute, Mozart’s bizarre two act comic opera, can be seen as a fairy tale battle between the forces of darkness and light. Like all good fairy tales, at the end of The Magic Flute’s second act, love and happiness triumph. The Singspiel opera (featuring singing as well as spoken dialogue) was written in the prolific final year of Mozart’s life. It premiered in 1791 at the popular Theater aug der Wieden on the …

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