Remembering Lynn Harrell

The American cellist Lynn Harrell passed away unexpectedly on Monday. He was 76. Years ago when I was a student one summer at the Chautauqua Institution, I attended Harrell’s masterclass and recital. His down-to-earth, irreverent sense of humor, powerful, singing tone, and profound musicianship are etched in my memory. During a career that spanned six decades, Lynn Harrell appeared regularly with the world’s top orchestras. He will be remembered also as an accomplished …

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Rachmaninov’s Suite No. 1 “Fantaisie-tableaux”: Vivid Musical Pictures

Sergei Rachmaninov’s Fantaisie Tableaux for two pianos, better known as Suite No. 1, Op. 5, was conceived as “a series of musical pictures.” The piece is made up of four vivid and magical soundscapes, each loosely inspired by a poem. It’s music of the young Rachmaninov, written in the summer of 1893, a year after his graduation from the Moscow Conservatory. The score was dedicated to Tchaikovsky, who offered the young composer support. Following …

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Rachmaninov’s Trio élégiaque in D Minor: “To the Memory of a Great Artist”

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died suddenly at the age of 53 on October 25, 1893, nine days after the premiere of the “Pathétique” Symphony. He had been an important ally and mentor to the young Sergei Rachmaninov, helping to get the 20-year-old composer’s first opera, Aleko, performed at the Bolshoi Theatre, and expressing interest in conducting his symphonic poem, The Rock. Rachmaninov began composing the Trio élégiaque No. 2 in D minor after receiving word …

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Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli: Five Legendary Recordings

Last Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Italian pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995). Michelangeli has been called “one of the most enigmatic performers of the twentieth century.” A noted perfectionist, his concert repertoire was considered to be small, and he agreed to the release of relatively few recordings during his lifetime. He practiced eight to ten hours a day, telling students, “One has to work to feel your arms and back …

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Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto: Daniil Trifonov in Concert

One hundred and ten years ago today, on November 4, 1909, Sergei Rachmaninov made his American debut with a recital at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. In the weeks that followed, the 36-year-old composer appeared in cities including Philadelphia and New York, where he premiered the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor—newly written for the tour—with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony. The American tour came at a time when Rachmaninov was cutting …

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Rachmaninov’s “Isle of the Dead”: A Tone Poem in Black and White

In 1907, Sergei Rachmaninov saw a black and white reproduction of Isle of the Dead, a painting by the Swiss symbolist artist, Arnold Böcklin. The haunting dream image depicts a solitary rowboat carrying a coffin, bound for a desolate, rocky island. The scene suggests the mythological River Styx and the transition of a recently deceased soul to the afterlife. The image affected Rachmaninov deeply and inexplicably. It was a powerful, immediate, and spontaneous creative …

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Rachmaninov’s “Cherubic Hymn,” from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Last week, we listened to Tchaikovsky’s meditative a cappella choral work, Hymn of the Cherubim, an excerpt from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, one of the central eucharistic services of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Completed in 1878, this work has the distinction of being the first “unified musical cycle” of settings from the Liturgy, most of which is attributed to Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the 5th century. Today, let’s listen to another later …

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