Astor Piazzolla at 100

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), the Argentine tango composer and virtuoso bandoneon player. The tango, a seductive dance made up of African, Native American, and European cultural influences, originated in the 1880s in the impoverished districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Similarly, Piazzolla’s music simmers in a rich melting pot which blends sultry tango rhythms with jazz and classical elements. Piazzolla played a major …

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The Music of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”

Music was at the heart of the long-running PBS children’s television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I was reminded of this last week as I watched the timely new documentary film, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The film opens with a youthful Fred Rogers, seated at the piano, relating far-flung harmonic modulations to difficult adjustments in children’s lives. Rogers, a talented pianist, wrote all of the show’s songs. Dialogue between characters in the “Neighborhood of Make-believe” …

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Classical Music Has Long Been at Home on Sesame Street

In August came the surprise announcement that the popular children’s television program Sesame Street will be moving to HBO. (Reruns will still appear on PBS). The show’s nonprofit producers reached a five-year agreement with HBO. For 45 years Sesame Street has been freely available to the community on Public Broadcasting. Sesame Street‘s controversial move has raised broader questions about the commodification and privatization of the arts and education at the expense of the public realm. The effect on …

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Kleinhans Music Hall Turns 75

  Today marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, New York. Home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Kleinhans is considered one of the world’s most acoustically perfect concert halls. It’s also one of Buffalo’s most significant architectural landmarks. Located in a leafy residential neighborhood just north of the city’s downtown, it anchors majestic Symphony Circle, part of Frederick Law Olmsted’s extensive parkway system which runs throughout …

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Happy Birthday, Yo-Yo Ma

The Listeners’ Club wishes Yo-Yo Ma, who turns 60 today, a happy birthday. Ma is one of a handful of front-rank musicians who can be described as a cultural ambassador. Over the years, he has been at home, not only at Carnegie Hall but also on Sesame Street (watch “The Jam Session,” “The Honker Quartet,” and “Elmo’s Fiddle Lesson”), Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and at a presidential inauguration. At the age of seven he performed for President John F. Kennedy. …

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Yo-Yo Ma, Citizen Artist

Last week’s On Being interview with Yo-Yo Ma was a great reminder that Ma is more than one of the world’s great cellists. He’s a “citizen artist”, a philosopher, and an insightful commentator on the role of music in contemporary life. These days, Yo-Yo Ma enjoys transcending imagined boundaries and playing a wide variety of music, most notably through his Silk Road Project. He considers the label “classical music” an arbitrary commercial category. He likens performing …

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Bach Cello Suites

Sometimes great creative ideas flow from constraints. J.S. Bach (1685-1750) wrote six unaccompanied cello suites and six solo sonatas and partitas for violin. This music delivers seemingly limitless musical expression with the simplest and most economic means. Bach’s ability to create complex and inventive counterpoint and harmony using a single solo instrument is amazing. The suites are a collection of Baroque dances which were popular in Bach’s time. Gavottes, bourrées, allemandes and …

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