Music + Culture


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Odd musical mergers in the Grammy Awards telecast are nothing new — remember Paul McCartney, Linkin Park and Jay-Z singing "Yesterday?" Still, when thrash metal band Metallica and classical pianist Lang Lang take the stage together Sunday night, it may seem more like a head-scratcher than a clever match.

Or will it?

She's probably not among your first, or second, or 10th, or 20th-round guesses, but the NFL just announced that American soprano Renee Fleming will sing the national anthem at Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2.

Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz, who at age 20 swept all five top prizes at the 2005 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, can now add another prestigious award to his collection. Early Wednesday, Blechacz was named the 2014 Gilmore Artist.

The Gilmore may not have quite the name recognition as the Chopin Competition, but it has a distinguished cachet of its own, plus a generous $300,000 cash award.

Young classical musicans: send in your audition tape now! Submissions are due at the end of the month.  

Northwest Public Radio is seeking applications from young musicians across the region to be on the April 24 show, at the Rialto Theater in Tacoma, sponsored in part by Ted Brown Music and the Broadway Center For The Performing Arts.

A case stirring intense outrage in the classical music community and starting to gain steam in the mainstream press is getting more mysterious by the day.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." That could be the annual mantra for the classical music world. It has been predicted to crumble for decades, just as optimists continue to point to positive trends. This year is no different. Despite two ugly black eyes — the death of the New York City Opera and the continuing, bitter stalemate between the Minnesota Orchestra's (locked out) musicians and management — terrific music is being made by marvelous artists. Here we offer a short list of the best and worst of 2013.

As The Year Closes, A Concert Hall Remains Empty

Dec 28, 2013

Three hundred sixty-five. That's the number of days the Minnesota Orchestra will have gone without playing in its concert hall in 2013. The orchestra became the unwitting poster child for labor strife in the classical music world — and, to some extent, an emblem of the problems facing non-profit arts institutions across the country.

One of the world's oldest and most iconic piano makers, Pleyel, will close its factory doors in Paris at the end of 2013.

The French press characterized the bankruptcy as inevitable in the face of cheaper competition from China. But many disagree: They say Pleyel could have survived by adapting better to the times.

Since 1973, the four-man vocal chamber group The Hilliard Ensemble has been breathing new life into the sounds of the Renaissance. Now that they've reached their 40-year anniversary, the members have decided to call it a day. Fresh off the new album Il Cor Tristo, the Hilliards will spend 2014 celebrating their long tenure with one last world tour. Then, a year from now, it's all over.

The relationship between a teacher and a student can be transformative. It's a particularly important relationship in classical music. A teacher is part mentor, part manager — even a parental figure.

For 160 years, the pianos made by Steinway & Sons have been considered the finest in the world. So when hedge fund billionaire John Paulson recently bought the company, it struck fear in the hearts of musicians: Would the famously handcrafted pianos be changed, for the sake of efficiency? Paulson, who owns several Steinways himself, says nothing will change.

Add one of Northwest Public Radio’s favorite recipes to your holiday baking and entertaining traditions. Here are recipes Gillian Coldsnow, Robin Rilette, Thom Kokenge and the rest of us suggest for celebrating the season.

Cheesecake Bars
Contributed by Kerry & Lisa Swanson

Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 — "Rach 3," as fans fondly call it — is one of the most famously difficult pieces of music there is. The sheet music goes on and on, with notes so dense the pages start to look like modern art. The piece is so challenging that some noted pianists have declined to perform it — but Yuja Wang has recorded it for her newest album.

The man who painted the Mona Lisa, and was the first to sketch out the helicopter and the submarine, also dabbled in music. So here's the question: What musical instrument did Leonardo da Vinci design?

With the holidays upon us, our friends at member station WQXR invited me along with Washington Post chief classical critic Anne Midgette and Sony Masterworks producer Steven Epstein, the winner of 17 Grammy Awards, to sit down with host Naomi Lewin for a Conducting Business podcast on the topic.

As JFK Died In Dallas, Music Was Born In Boston

Nov 26, 2013

Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it's still shocking to hear Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Erich Leinsdorf announce the horrific news to a stunned audience.

There's a beguiling photo of Krzysztof Penderecki, who turns 80 today, inside the brochure of this week's Warsaw music festival that bears his name. It shows the lauded Polish composer standing in his immense garden, surrounded by a labyrinth of trees and shrubbery trimmed to symmetrical perfection.

The Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki turned 80 on Saturday. You may think you've never heard Penderecki's music, but I'm guessing you have — because I'm guessing you've seen The Shining.

I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to composer anniversaries but this year, marking 100 years since the birth of Benjamin Britten, has been absolutely fascinating for me. I am now living proof that such centenaries can indeed change the way we look at a composer and provide us with opportunities to explore their breadth and depth. In Britten I have found a new hero, a musically surprising and multi-dimensional citizen of the world.

Composer Benjamin Britten was born 100 years ago today, and the occasion is being marked by performances of his music around the world, from Carnegie Hall in New York to Memorial Hall in Tokyo.

Britten was a central figure of 20th-century classical music: He was a conductor, pianist and festival producer, as well as a composer. His best-known works include the opera Billy Budd, his War Requiem and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

British composer Benjamin Britten was born 100 years ago this Friday, Nov. 22. Before you ask "Benja-who?" consider this: Did you see Wes Anderson's film Moonrise Kingdom last summer, or Pedro Almodovar's Talk to Her back a decade or so ago? (Well, maybe you have to be an art-house denizen for those.

In the classical music world right now, many eyes are focused on Jeremy Denk.

Whitman College

Eric Idle is best known for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But he has also done a vast array of movies and TV shows, and has written songs, books, and a hit Broadway Musical. Since the 1990s the British comic has lived in Los Angeles. Idle talked to Thom Kokenge about his never-ending stream of ideas, what makes a great comedian and his involvement in the scientific community. 

As heard on Weekend Edition:

Extended Interview:

Eric Idle's commencement address and song in video

Port Angeles Symphony

Nov 8, 2013
Sandi Billings / Northwest Public Radio

Last weekend I was in Port Angeles with my colleague, Sandi Billings, to host the Port Angeles Symphony's November 2nd concert.   Music Director and Conductor Adam Stern and I joined forces for the pre-concert chat.  Adam spontaneously said, "Let's wing it!" before going on stage and so we fielded questions  covering a wide range of topics including the Brahms Symphony No. 3  and how I put together my morning classical music program.

Dreams do come true!

Nov 7, 2013
Sandi Billings / Northwest Public Radio

  The community of Bellingham, WA is abuzz with excitement about the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra's new  Music Director and Conductor, Yaniv Attar.  Sunday, November 3, Attar led the WSO  in the music of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms.  Internationally renowned violinist, Gil Shaham, joined the WSO in a performance of Johannes Brahms' Violin Concerto in D.  Proving that dreams do come true read Attar's story about the inspiration he's found in the life and work of Gil Shaham.

An old video is suddenly making the internet rounds, because living vicariously through a performance nightmare is an ever-popular sport, I guess. (And we've collected plenty ourselves.)