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The Concert
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Classical Music Podcasts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
322 Episodes

Works for cello and piano by Schumann, Debussy, and Peter John performed by Cicely Parnas, cello and Noreen Cassidy-Polera, piano on April 5, 2015.

  • Schumann: Fantasiestucke, Op. 73
  • Debussy: Sonata for Cello and Piano
  • John, Peter: From the Zodiac (2014)

Today, we’ll celebrate the beauty of the solo cello, with three works played by the fantastic young artist Cicely Parnas, joined on piano by Noreen Cassidy-Polera. Her performance at the Gardner began with Schumann’s Fantasiestucke, opus 73, a set of three brief works. Lyrical and romantic, the set concludes with a sudden blaze of energy—the final movement marked “rapidly and with fire.” Originally intended for clarinet, the composer indicated that the pieces would also be suitable for cello or violin—and indeed they are.

Then comes Debussy’s luxurious and subtly jazzy Sonata for Cello and Piano. English musicologist Ernest Newman penned the perfect description of this chamber music classic: “a fog opening now and then, and giving us a momentary glimpse of ravishingly beautiful countryside.”

We close with a new piece, American composer Peter John’s solo cello work From the Zodiac, in three movements. John writes electronic music as well as acoustic works, and that influence seems to peek through in his writing for the cello, which includes a few passages with otherworldly harmonics.

8 months ago | |

Works for string orchestra by Borodin and Frank performed by A Far Cry on April 21, 2013 and September 27, 2015.

These days, many of us think of the gulf between classical and popular music as fairly wide and immovable, but it wasn’t always so—and it’s not necessarily so today, either. On this podcast, we’ll hear A Far Cry play works by two musical omnivores: composers whose work routinely crosses between popular, folk, and classical genres.

First, we have a sort of accidental pop songwriter: the Russian composer Alexander Borodin, whose eminently hummable melodies were “borrowed” and turned into popular songs for the musical Kismet. We’ll hear Borodin’s second String Quartet; the third movement, called “Notturno,” was also set to words in Kismet, as the song “And This Is My Beloved.”

Sometimes influence flows the opposite way, as in composer Gabriela Lena Frank’s work, which borrows ideas from traditional folk music, and blends them with Western classical traditions. The title of this piece—Leyendas—means “legends,” and the movements depict a variety of aspects of traditional Andean life and folk music, from the sound of panpipes to the speed of the legendary chasqui messengers, who sprinted from town to town carrying important messages.

8 months ago | |

Works by Vivaldi and Bach for orchestra and flute solo performed by Gardner Chamber Orchestra, Paula Robison, and Orlando Cela, flute, and John Gibbons, harpsichord on January 17, 1999.

  • Vivaldi: Concerto (Sinfonia) in G Major "alla Rustica" RV 151
  • Vivaldi: Concerto in C Major RV 533
  • Vivaldi: Concerto in G Minor "La Notte" No. 5, F XII
  • Vivaldi: Concerto in G Major, Rv 437
  • J.S. Bach: Concerto in F Major, BWV 1057

For this podcast, we dug into the archives to resurrect an older recording, of some older music, that we thought you’d like. These concertos breeze by. The first we’ll hear—Vivaldi’s Sinfonia in G Major “alla Rustica”—packs three movements into just four and a half minutes. Then, we get the double flute concerto, with Robison and Cela, in C Major.

Then, things shift a bit, for the flute concerto in G minor, played by Robison solo. Dubbed the “nighttime” concerto in Italian, the piece has a couple of evocatively named movements within it as well: after a fast introduction we get a spooky movement called “phantoms,” followed by another quick stretch, and then a slower, harmonically unsettled bit titled “The Dream”—neither really a fantasy nor a nightmare, but somewhere in between. The piece concludes with another quick movement, with the bassoon taking a starring role.

We wrap up the podcast with another of Vivaldi’s solo flute concertos—in G Major—followed by J.S. Bach’s Concerto in F Major for both flute soloists, harpsichord, and strings.

9 months ago | |

Works for solo piano by Griffes performed by Richard Masters on September 20, 2015 and by Debussy performed by Paavali Jumppanen on November 29, 2015.

  • Griffes: Roman Sketches, Op. 7: Night fall
  • Debussy: 12 Preludes, Book 2

On this podcast, we return to a pairing from several weeks ago: Debussy’s Preludes (Book 2, this time) and the Roman Sketches of Charles Griffes.

The second set of Debussy Preludes is similar in conception to the first: a series of fairly brief works, each intended to capture some poetic scene or mood. The second book begins with “Mists” and “Dead Leaves” and goes on to evoke the grand “Gateway of the Alhambra,” a troupe of dancing fairies, and the misty English “Heaths,” concluding with a brilliant display of “Fireworks.” As before, we’ll hear the Preludes performed by Paavali Jumppanen.

Before the Preludes, we’ll begin the podcast with an American Impressionist, the composer Charles Griffes, and the piece “Nightfall” from his book of Roman Sketches. “Nightfall” still shows the influence of impressionism, but it also pushes the envelope harmonically. Griffes makes liberal use of the minor second – one of the most dissonant intervals in music–in this piece, mellowing its harshness by placing it deep in the bass register. The dissonance becomes dark, shadowy–evoking the encroaching blackness of night. Playing the Griffes, we’ll again hear pianist Richard Masters.

9 months ago | |

Works by Schubert for voice and piano performed by Mark Padmore, with Jonathan Biss on October 12, 2014 and for solo piano performed by Charlie Albright on September 29, 2013.

  • Schubert: Ständchen from Schwanengesang
  • Schubert: Sonata in A Major, D. 959

In 1828, as Schubert’s health was rapidly deteriorating, the composer entered a period of phenomenal compositional productivity. In the final months of his life, he would write many works that were published posthumously and recognized to be among his finest achievements. Two sets stand out as particularly notable: his final three piano sonatas, and Schwanengesang, a cycle of songs whose title translates as “Swan Song.”

We’ll hear one of the piano sonatas on this podcast–number 959, the sonata in A Major, performed by Charlie Albright. Schubert set out to write this sonata, and the other two in the set, shortly after the death of Beethoven, who had long cast a formidable shadow over the genre. The finale pays tribute to Beethoven, with a nod to the final movement of his 16th piano sonata.

Before the sonata, we’ll hear a song from the Schwanengesang cycle: “Staendchen,” or serenade. The singer implores his beloved to join him in the grove at nighttime, amidst the rustling leaves. There is an undertone of foreboding, though, as he alludes to the pain of love and the prying eyes of others.

10 months ago | |

Works for chamber orchestra performed by A Far Cry on February 22, 2015 by Grieg and Marin arr. Higgins.

  • Grieg: Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34
  • Marin: A Swedish Set arr. Erik Higgins

On this podcast, we look north, to works from a recent program by the Gardner’s chamber-orchestra-in-residence, A Far Cry. Called “Aurora Borealis,” the concert featured numerous works by Nordic composers.

We begin with Edvard Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies, a tuneful work for string orchestra based on the composer’s own songs. In Two Elegiac Melodies, Grieg recast his opus 33 songs “The Wounded Heart” and “Last Spring” in instrumental arrangements. Though no words are sung, the pieces are still suffused with the energy of the verses that inspired them. As the poet recalls the annual transformation from winter to spring, we realize that the title – “Last Spring” – has another, more bittersweet meaning.

After the Grieg, we have a more contemporary take on Nordic folk music: a set of Swedish dances by the fiddlers Mia and Mikael Marin. The tunes were arranged for orchestra by one of A Far Cry’s own members, the bassist Erik Higgins, whose friend introduced him to the music. The set of four tunes includes two original works by Marins, as well as two arrangements of traditional Swedish songs.

We start with the Grieg.

10 months ago | |

Works for solo piano by Liszt performed by Gleb Ivanov on April 11, 2010 and work by Faure performed by Michael Brown, Chad Hoopes, Matthew Lipman, and Colin Carr on November 22, 2015

  • Liszt: Schubert Songs (trans Liszt): Gute Nacht
  • Liszt: Schubert Songs (trans Liszt): Ave Maria
  • Fauré: Quartet No. 2 in G Minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 45

As a listener to this podcast, you’ve probably realized by now the importance of lineage in classical music. The links between past and future, teacher and student have a tremendous impact. On this podcast, we’ll explore two composers who occupy interesting places in classical music lineage: Franz Liszt and Gabriel Fauré.

Fauré’s music was quite adventurous, even scandalous, during his lifetime. Fauré ascended to head of the Paris conservatory where he modernized the curriculum, exerting an enormous influence on the emerging composers and musicians who studied there. We’ll hear Fauré’s Second Quartet for piano, violin, viola, and cello, his opus 45 – a piece written earlier in his career, before he began working at the conservatory. It is a passionate work, with ardent melodies and creative harmonies.

Before the Fauré quartet—which makes up the bulk of the podcast—we have two brief but interesting transcriptions by Franz Liszt of songs by Schubert. Liszt was a prolific transcriber, often creating piano-only settings of operas and orchestral works. In the case of the Schubert songs, however, Liszt scaled up—adding pianistic embellishments to Schubert’s rather simple lieder. The resulting compositions are, at times, more like fantasties than transcriptions—expanding on Schubert’s songs, rather than just recreating them for solo piano.

11 months ago | |

Works by Mozart for violin and viola performed by Chad Hoopes and Matthew Lipman on November 22, 2015 and for chamber orchestra performed by A Far Cry on September 7, 2014.

  • Mozart: Duo in G Major for Violin and Viola, K. 423
  • Mozart: Divertimento in F, K. 138

The word “diversion” has two, related meanings. Sometimes – as in Mozart’s Duo in G Major for violin and viola – it is about a surprise change in course. Mozart was in Salzburg for an extended visit with his new wife when he discovered that his friend Michael Haydn (Josef’s brother) had fallen ill in the midst of an important commission. The Archbishop had commissioned Haydn to write a set of six duos, but he’d gotten sick after completing the fourth and hadn’t been able to finish. Mozart gamely stepped into the void and offered to write the remaining pair.

Then, we have a diversion of the second sort: a distraction, a trifle, a delight designed to entertain, in between other things. This is the Divertimento in F, also by Mozart. Divertimento, of course, means “diversion” or “amusement” in Italian, and the genre consists mostly of lighthearted pieces that might be heard at a party or social function. There’s some question about whether, in this case, the title was assigned by the composer—in the score, the word “divertimento” appears in someone else’s hand—but the music certainly fits. We’ll hear it performed by A Far Cry, the Gardner’s resident chamber orchestra.

First, the Duo in G Major.

11 months ago | |

Works for solo piano by Griffes performed by Richard Masters on September 20, 2015 and Paavali Jumppanen on November 29, 2015.

  • Griffes: Roman Sketches, Op. 7: The White peacock
  • Debussy: 12 Preludes, Book 1

The gently unfurling plumage of a white peacock. A barren winter landscape dinted with footprints. This podcast is all about using music to evoke and communicate impressions.

The bulk of the program is made up of Debussy’s 12 Preludes, from Book 1. A series of brief works meant to evoke a particular atmosphere or landscape, the Preludes are among Debussy’s most important achievements, each a small masterpiece unto itself. The 12 movements in book 1 evoke everything from dancers to sails to the languorous sounds and scents of the evening. We’ll hear the preludes performed by pianist Paavali Jumppanen.

Before the Debussy, we’ll hear an impressionistic work from the other side of the pond: Charles Griffes’ “The White Peacock,” the first movement of his Roman Sketches, opus 7. “The White Peacock” is perhaps his best-known work; originally written for piano, it was also published in an arrangement for orchestra. Tragically, the composer died just a year later. It’s hard not to wonder how Griffes and his work might have developed and impacted American composition, had he survived. We’ll hear “The White Peacock” performed by pianist Richard Masters.

1 year ago | |

Work by Handel performed by A Far Cry with Amanda Forsythe, soprano on November 16, 2014 and work by Beethoven performed by Borromeo String Quartet on October 24, 2010.

  • Handel: Armida abbandonata, HWV 105
  • Beethoven: Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95
Armida abbandonata, a setting of the famous Italian story, detailing the grief of the sorceress Armida at being abandoned by her lover Rinaldo, a waylaid soldier. In the final aria, she prays to the god of love to pity her, and help her forget her former lover. We’ll hear the piece sung by soprano Amanda Forsythe, with the chamber orchestra A Far Cry.

Then we move to Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, often referred to as the “Serioso” quartet—the composer’s own subtitle. The piece sounds troubled from the start, ferocious and full of intensity, with jagged themes and plenty of dissonance. It continues that way for most of its length, until the storm clouds unexpectedly part at the very end, and a ray of hope shines through in the last few minutes of the finale.

We begin with Amanda Forsythe, singing Handel’s cantata Armida abbandonata.

1 year ago | |
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