Elgar’s “Nimrod”: Sir Colin Davis and the LSO

Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations, completed in 1899, are the musical embodiment of the idea that our lives are all shaped by a close circle of friends and acquaintances. Elgar offered the following description in 1911: This work, commenced in a spirit of humour and continued in deep seriousness, contains sketches of the composer’s friends. It may be understood that these personages comment or reflect on the original theme and each one attempts …

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Symphonie Fantastique: Berlioz’s Musical Hallucination

Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, first heard in 1830, shares some surprising similarities with a teenager’s rock music: It’s shocking, rebellious, and at least partially drug-induced (Berlioz was under the influence of opium). It may have been written to impress a girl (Harriet Smithson, an Irish actress whom Berlioz saw in a production of Hamlet in 1827, leading to an infatuation and ultimately short-lived marriage). It deals with the pain of unrequited love, yet this …

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Beethoven and the Power of Four Notes

“Long…short, short, short…” This is the spirited little cell that quietly opens  Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. The entire piece grows from this almost sneaky opening in a way not unlike the famous, ferocious opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. As you listen to the first movement, notice all the ways these four notes return. Sometimes they’re hidden or played in quiet pizzicato. At other times you’ll hear the motive in the …

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Rattle Heads to London

Recently, some the world’s top conductors have been playing a game of musical chairs. Early last month it was announced that Alan Gilbert will step down in 2017, following eight seasons as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. Christoph Eschenbach will be leaving his post at the National Symphony. Yesterday, we learned that Sir Simon Rattle will take the helm at the London Symphony Orchestra in 2017. He talks about the appointment …

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Dylana Jenson’s Sibelius Recording

If you’ve never heard Dylana Jenson’s 1981 recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, take a moment and listen. This soulful and blazing performance is widely regarded to be one of the finest recordings of the Sibelius ever made. It’s a rare gem which deserves more attention. A child prodigy and student of Josef Gingold and Nathan Milstein, Jenson was awarded the silver medal at the 1978 …

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