“Winter”: VOCES8’s Newest Album

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the first day of winter. It’s a great time to grab a cup of hot chocolate and listen to the newest album of the UK-based a cappella group VOCES8, simply titled, Winter. The album, which came out in October, is a collection of glistening, snow-covered choral soundscapes. Plainscapes I, II, and III by Peteris Vasks (b. 1946) takes us to the frigid desolation of the forests of Latvia. The opening …

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Rachmaninov the Melodist

I feel like a ghost wandering in a world grown alien. I cannot cast out the old way of writing and I cannot acquire the new. I have made an intense effort to feel the musical manner of today, but it will not come to me. -Sergei Rachmaninov Sergei Rachmaninov was a composer who was out of step with the times. As twentieth-century music became increasingly atonal, complex, and in some cases …

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The Baltimore Symphony Turns 100

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Following a few seasons of informal performances in the 1890s, the orchestra played its first official concert on February 11, 1916. It began as the country’s first municipal orchestra, funded for 26 years by the City of Baltimore. In 1942, the BSO separated from the City to become an independent entity. The Baltimore Symphony’s season-long celebration includes a concert tomorrow featuring Joshua …

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Alisa Weilerstein’s New Recording: Rachmaninov and Chopin

I’ve been listening to a spectacular new recording released last October by cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan. The disc features two monumental works: Rachmaninov’s heroic Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19 and Chopin’s stormy and unrelentingly virtuosic Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65. A few shorter works round out the CD: Vocalise, Rachmaninov’s famous song without words, and Chopin’s  Étude, Op. 25, No. 7 and Polonaise Brillante, Op. 3. Although Weilerstein and Barnatan have been performing …

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Gabriela Montero’s New Recording: Rachmaninov and “Ex Patria"

Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero is reinvigorating an old tradition: She performs all of the standard repertoire, yet she’s equally dedicated to improvising and performing her own compositions. She infuses her concerts with a refreshing sense of excitement and spontaneity, frequently improvising on melodies volunteered by the audience. The subjects of her improvisations have run the gamut from the theme from Harry Potter  and “Happy Birthday” to J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, …

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Rachmaninov and the "Philadelphia Sound"

Above: Rachmaninov and conductor Eugene Ormandy during a rehearsal at the Academy of Music in 1938. (from the Philadelphia Orchestra’s website). Great orchestras develop an institutional collective memory. As conductors and players come and go, they often leave a subtle mark on the sound, style, and soul of the ensemble. New players are assimilated into a dynamic, ever-evolving team. The esteemed history of the Philadelphia Orchestra is a case in point. For years the …

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1921 Recording: Rachmaninov Plays Kreisler

The legendary violinist Fritz Kreisler and Sergei Rachmaninov performed frequently together, luckily leaving behind a few recordings of their collaboration. On one occasion, as the story goes, Kreisler had a memory slip during a performance. Fumbling around the fingerboard and attempting to improvise his way out of the predicament, he inched his way towards the piano, whispering helplessly, “Where are we?” Rachmaninov answered, “In Carnegie Hall.” As a tribute to their friendship, …

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