Remembering Mariss Jansons: Five Great Recordings

The internationally renowned Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons passed away on Saturday. He was 76. For years, he had dealt with a long-term heart condition. Jansons will be remembered for his tireless energy and personal warmth, his legacy as an orchestra builder, and his powerful interpretations of the music of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Strauss, and Shostakovich, among other composers. He was born in Riga, Latvia amid the German occupation of the Second World War. His …

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Mahler’s “Urlicht” (“Primal Light”), Jessye Norman

Urlicht (“Primal Light”) forms the fourth movement of Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony. It occupies a striking position in the five-movement work’s progression towards ultimate and lasting transcendence. Suddenly, for the first time in this “Resurrection Symphony,” we hear the solitary human voice—a darkly veiled alto imbued with human tragedy and lament. In a symphony rooted in C minor and E-flat major, suddenly we find ourselves in the remote, ethereal world of D-flat …

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Mahler’s Sixth Symphony: The Hammer Blow of Fate

Gustav Mahler said, My Sixth will be asking riddles that can be solved only by a generation that has received and digested my first five. In fact, Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in A minor remains an unsettling enigma. Completed in 1905 at one of the happiest times in the composer’s life (he had married Alma Schindler in 1902 and they already had two young daughters), the Sixth Symphony is Mahler’s most dark and …

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New Release: Renée Fleming’s “Lieder”

Renée Fleming’s newest album features songs by Brahms, Schumann, and Mahler. Released on June 14, this is the four-time Grammy winning soprano’s first full-length Lieder album for almost two decades. The recording opens with a beautiful and hypnotic performance of Brahms’ famous Lullaby, Wiegenlied, Op. 49, No. 4. Here are three additional excerpts: Brahms: 4 Lieder, Op. 43 – 2. Die Mainacht “The May Night” describes a shadowy scene of lonely wandering, endless …

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Mahler’s Third Symphony: A Progression to the Divine

When Gustav Mahler and Jean Sibelius met in Helsinki in 1907, the two composers laid out radically contrasting conceptions of the symphony. Sibelius found beauty and ultimate meaning in the symphony’s “severity of form” and “profound logic.” “No!” Mahler replied. “The symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything!”  No Mahler Symphony gives us a greater sense of this cosmic scale than the Third. Set in six movements, it remains the longest symphony in …

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Illinois’ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Turns 50

As a child, I spent a year and many succeeding summers at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where my father was a student of trombone professor Dr. Robert Gray. Some of my most vivid memories include attending concerts at the University’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, where as a 9-year-old, I heard the Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as the University’s fine student ensembles. This weekend, the …

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This Scherzo is No Joke

In Italian, the word “scherzo” means “joke” or “jest.” Theodore Baker’s Schirmer Pronouncing Pocket Manual of Musical Terms (an invaluable resource my first violin teacher recommended to me as a child) defines the musical scherzo as 1. An instrumental piece of a light, piquant, humorous character. 2. A vivacious movement in a symphony, with strongly marked rhythm and sharp and unexpected contrasts in rhythm and harmony; usually the third movement. There are a host of pieces which fit these …

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