Music + Culture

 

Two hundred years ago this week, Giuseppe Verdi was born in an Italian town midway between Bologna and Milan. On the occasion of his bicentennial, All Things Considered wanted to know what makes the great opera composer so enduring — why his work is still so frequently discussed and performed these two centuries later. The answer, says conductor and arranger John Mauceri, is that Verdi had a knack for making thorny topics accessible.

One summer night in 1969, Kimo Williams went to a rock concert in Hawaii, which led to one of the two most important decisions of his life.

"I started out on guitar. I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix," Williams says.

This past week may have been a rough one for the classical world, but there is something to look forward to.

This coming week, we celebrate the 200th birthday of Giuseppe Verdi, composer of the best opera of all time. (That's right, Wagner fans. Start writing those letters.)

The latest chapter in the saga of the Minnesota Orchestra closed at a perilous point Tuesday morning, with its widely beloved conductor, Osmo Vänskä, announcing his resignation.

This morning the New York City Opera announced that it was declaring bankruptcy and ceasing operations. Dubbed "The People's Opera" by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia when it was founded 70 years ago, the company was meant as an alternative to the richer Metropolitan Opera. It's the place where exciting young singers like Beverly Sills and Placido Domingo made their New York debuts and where innovative productions of new operas premiered.

Rain Rannu / Flickr

With another Halloween approaching, horror, thriller, and supernatural films
come to the fore.  Many of these pictures feature original music by composers
who have the gift for pushing our buttons and sending our pulses racing.

Bernard Herrmann, a frequent collaborator with director Alfred Hitchcock,
helped make history with his searing, astringent score for Psycho (1960).
Violins have never quite seemed the same.  Nor has taking a shower.

Jenni Chaffin

We've launched our Tumblr page! It will feature the amazing scenery of the Northwest but we need your help. If you are an accidental, amateur or professional photographer send us your work. We will promote it on our Tumblr and Facebook sites.

We are currently featuring amateur photographer Jenni Chaffin. Check out her baby owl picture. Now we need your photos!

James Levine Makes A Grand Return

Sep 25, 2013
Subfader / Wikimedia Commons

After missing two seasons from the Metropolitan Opera, Music Director James Levine makes a triumphant return.

Levine has a 40 year history at the Met, but multiple health problems led him to take leave two years ago. Though there was much speculation as to whether Levine would return to the stage. He did so Tuesday night using a podium designed specially for him.

Improv Everything

A New York City-based group called Improv Everywhere placed a world-class orchestra in the middle of the city and gave the public a chance to conduct them.

The concept was called "Conduct Us" and relied on those brave enough to accept the challenge. A Carnegie Hall orchestra was set up among pedestrians with an empty podium in front of them. The podium read "Conduct Us" in big gold letters.

Watch what happened:

Like Leonard Bernstein himself, there is absolutely nothing predictable about the music he wrote. None of the three amazing works Bernstein labeled as "symphonies" in any way resemble a conventional orchestral symphony.

When you hear the name of guitarist and composer Bryce Dessner, you wouldn't be wrong to think immediately of hugely acclaimed indie-rock outfit The National. But he's also a stalwart of the new music scene.

Soundscapes In C, In Winter And In Alaska

Sep 11, 2013

There are a lot of operas that end with heroines on their deathbeds, singing one glorious aria before they die. That's what happens at the end of Anna Nicole, the controversial new work that New York City Opera is presenting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in September. But the company's artistic director and general manager, George Steel, says it could also be City Opera's last gasp.

People ask why I thrive on classical music, and I tell them it's all about discovery. The possibilities for finding incredible music, both old and new, are endless as the oceans.

The vocal quartet New York Polyphony delights in surprises — whether it's a matter of singing some rather raunchy Italian madrigals or making a video to introduce their album Times Go By Turns (released on BIS Aug. 27).

PhoTones_TAKUMA / Flickr

In the next couple of weeks, Northwest symphonies are reaching out to the gamers. The Port Angeles and Seattle Symphonies will both be showcasing video game music in upcoming concerts and while lush orchestral music is now present in many game soundtracks, it’s taken quite a while to get there.

"Last Night of the Proms"

Sep 6, 2013
Parnall, C H (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer / Wikimedia Commons

The “Last Night of the Proms,” one of the biggest classical music parties of the summer, is tomorrow night with performances in London, Belfast and Glasgow.

Why Aren't Composers Writing More Symphonies Today?

Sep 5, 2013

At 8 years old, I scrawled my first and last Symphonies — nos. 1, 2, and 3 — on ruled notebook paper. They were short duets for clarinet and trumpet for myself and my brother to play. Why did I call them symphonies? I can't remember, but I suspect that it was a desire to tie these efforts — and me, by extension — to a grand and venerable tradition.

The symphony after World War II appeared to be headed for extinction as composers took divergent paths to experiment with musical language and forms. But the evidence of recent decades shows that the genre was never really on the verge of disappearing.

The British classical magazine Gramophone announced today the latest round of winners of its annual awards, now in their 90th year. With an expansive roll call of noteworthy albums ranging from early music to opera, the Gramophone Award honorees represent a tantalizing range of musical achievement — but it's a smaller array than in years past.

Remembering Marian McPartland

Aug 22, 2013
RJ Capak / SCETV (via NPR)

Jazz legend and public radio host Marian McPartland died of natural causes Tuesday night at the age of 95.

Marian McPartland, who gave the world an intimate, insider's perspective on one of the most elusive topics in music — jazz improvisation — died of natural causes Tuesday night at her home in Long Island, N.Y. She was 95.

Over the course of the 20th century, the symphony as a genre — originally an inheritance from Europe — increasingly became a transnational tradition, flowing across the Atlantic and back again.

Life is Short, Opera is Long, but Wagner is Forever

Aug 15, 2013

This month, Seattle is abuzz with excitement over Seattle Opera's Ring Festival, which began last week and continues until August 25th. Every four years, Seattle Opera produces Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, the set of four operas totaling fifteen to sixteen hours.             

Left-Handers Day Coup at Northwest Public Radio

Aug 13, 2013
Kevin Rinker

The Northwest Public Radio studios are in a state of chaos today, as resident left-handers Kevin Rinker and Robin Rilette celebrate “Left-Handers Day.”

Early this morning Rilette was seen forcing….um….rather….engaging in cultural sensitivity  training by gently encouraging “Morning Edition” host Sueann Ramella to use the radio board and mouse with her right hand held behind her back.  As you can see from the expression on her face it was not easy. 

Dario Acosta

You don’t have to have roots in Walla Walla to become the world’s favorite defender of the art form known as opera, but the Grammy-winning opera star Thomas Hampson does, and he knows how to use them. In a surprisingly buzzworthy confrontation on a BBC show called Hardtalk, Hampson (raised in Spokane; studied at Eastern Washington; endowed a scholarship at Walla Walla U.) faced down a hostile interviewer’s accusation that opera is only for elitist rich people.

This summer, NPR Classical has been looking for the great American symphony — or at least some idea of what it might sound like.

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