Music + Culture

 

From The Top

“His hands were moving so fast, all I could see was a blur,” said Judy of 15-year old pianist Derek Wang of Needham, Massachusetts. And Richard, speaking of 15-year old cellist Jeremy Tai’s arrangement of a piece for his cello quartet, declared it “absolutely brilliant!”

In much of the country it still feels like summer is a long way off, but it's not too early to plan on hitting the road and hearing great music. From bucolic college campuses in New England to musical rafting trips down the Colorado, these are 10 of the most intriguing classical festivals. And below them is a listing, by region, of many of the best fests. Been to one we missed? Pass along your own advice in the comments section or via Facebook or Twitter.

Coming Soon To Colorado: Wolfgang And Weed

Apr 30, 2014

Colorado Symphony patrons — if they aren't already — are about to have the option of being Rocky Mountain high.

Born in Kiev a little more than 40 years ago, Valentina Lisitsa came to America in the early '90s to work as a concert pianist.

Soviet composer Vadim Salmanov is little more than a footnote outside Russia, but his four energetic, skillfully orchestrated symphonies are making a small comeback. Russia's venerable Melodiya label has reissued them in a handsomely packaged double-disc set of live recordings made between 1957 and 1977.

Conducted with burning intensity by Yevgeny Mravinsky, Salmanov's rarely heard music soars off these albums with a sound that is thoroughly Russian yet charged with a certain Soviet-era anxiety.

Jordi Savall has made a career of reviving ancient music. Whatever the age of the songs, though, he doesn't play them as museum-piece recreations, preserved in isolation. Savall takes great pleasure in smashing together music from different times and different cultures.

A German quartet calling themselves the Salut Salon is surging in social media right now with a bout of one-upwomanship that mixes together music, acrobatics and some good slapstick timing.

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote his St. Matthew Passion for a single purpose — to present the Passion story in music at Good Friday vesper services.

Bach's Passion continues to move audiences nearly three centuries after it was first heard in St. Thomas's Church in Leipzig, Germany. Standing as one of the pillars of Western sacred music, it is at once monumental and intimate, deeply sorrowful and powerful.

John Luther Adams, whose music is inspired by — and sometimes performed in — natural landscapes, has won the Pulitzer Prize for music for his symphonic work Become Ocean.

A Debut Symphony That Embraced The World

Apr 12, 2014

Conducting Gustav Mahler's First Symphony is an exhilarating and demanding task. Although it's one of his shortest symphonies (at about 55 minutes), it is an epic journey that requires countless hours of analysis and examination of the score. Still, it is a thrilling process to peel back and reassemble the many layers of Mahler's music.

Seventy-five years ago, on April 9, 1939, as Hitler's troops advanced in Europe and the Depression took its toll in the U.S., one of the most important musical events of the 20th century took place on the National Mall in Washington. There, just two performers, a singer and a pianist, made musical — and social — history.

Violinist Yevgeny Kutik was born in 1985 in the city of Minsk, in what is now Belarus. When he was 4 years old, his parents decided it was time to leave the country and come to America.

You're seated at the symphony. All the players but one are in place. You're ready for music. Then the first violinist enters to a round of applause and stands next to the conductor's podium while the oboist plays an A. The orchestra tunes up.

That ceremony is just one of many jobs for the concertmaster, Jonathan Carney says. He is the concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Over the weekend, soprano Kristine Opolais sang her heart out — and died twice.

Friday evening she had sung the lead in Puccini's Madama Butterfly. It was her debut in that role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was a big deal. Opolais was so excited about it that she stayed up until five the next morning.

By now, you may have heard about Kwasi Enin, the impressive young man from Long Island who has been accepted into the classes of 2018 at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale (all eight Ivy League universities) as well as Duke and three campuses of the State University of New York.

Valkyries Ride All Night To Save Opera Company

Apr 2, 2014

(Happy April Fools 2014. See you next year.)

Violinist Itzhak Perlman has played for presidents and the Queen of England, but the high point of his career is obviously for him to be right here, playing the NPR news quiz.

We've invited him to play a game called "You're no Hellboy." Three questions for Izhak Perlman about actor Ron Perlman from Hellboy, Beauty and the Beast and Sons of Anarchy.

Kronos Quartet is celebrating 40 years of playing music together — and to mark the occasion, they're playing a celebration concert at Carnegie Hall in New York tomorrow night. Since their founding, the San Francisco-based string quartet has become one of the most visible ensembles in classical music. The players have done it by championing new and underheard music, and by coming up with a business model that was unheard of for a chamber group four decades ago.

BRUCE PAVITT

Next month is the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. Two decades have passed since the lead singer of Nirvana committed suicide, yet there’s continuing interest in his life. Recently, a press photographer released photos of the dingy L.A. apartment Cobain shared with Courtney Love.

For the millennium, in 2000 American composer John Adams completed a compelling, large-scale oratorio based on the nativity story called El Niño. Now he's composed a companion piece, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, a Passion oratorio mounted with his usual collaborator, the stage director and librettist Peter Sellars.

Johann Sebastian Bach, with his big white wig, might stand as the "supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music," as musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky says. But the composer, organist, choirmaster and teacher could also be surprisingly witty and irreverent.

Dolora Zajick discovered opera as a 22-year-old pre-med student. "That's when I discovered I had a voice," she tells Fresh Air host Terry Gross, "and I actually had a crack at a singing career. And I decided to take the chance."

The human voice, the true original instrument, is still the most expressive and personal of all. It's one reason more than 42.5 million Americans sing in choirs, and why we seem to be hardwired to tell our stories through song. It also probably explains why I'm a vocal music junkie, eagerly pawing over the operas, recitals and choir albums that land on my desk and in my download folder.

Bless You!

Mar 18, 2014

We've all been there: You try (and try, and try) to hold back a sneeze, and nature prevails.

With St. Patrick's Day upon us, it's hard to escape the allure of the Emerald Isle, with its rolling heaths, swirling jigs, frothy beer and curious legends. While we can't afford to fly you to Dublin we can offer this humble St. Paddy's Day puzzler. Score high and be rewarded with the pot 'o gold at the end of the rainbow. Mess up and yours is a sad bowl of soggy Lucky Charms.

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