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

Work for string orchestra and voice by Olga Bell, performed by A Far Cry and Olga Bell on November 1, 2016.

  • Bell, Olga: Krai arranged for A Far Cry

Today, we’re going on a journey across the vast expanse of Russia: lush forests and blustery tundra, uninhabited landscapes and small villages. Our guide is composer Olga Bell, whose evening-length work Krai had its string orchestra version premiere at the Gardner in March 2016, with A Far Cry.

Bell was born in Moscow. She moved with her mother to Anchorage, Alaska at the age of seven, but Russia has always loomed large in her memory and her imagination. In this work—premiered a few years ago at the Walker Art Center, and then released as an album—she combines folk-influenced melodies with a modern sense of rhythmic drive and classical orchestration, drawing on her diverse background. Following her childhood in Russia, she studied classical piano in Alaska and Boston, and later toured as a vocalist and keyboard player with indie bands like the Dirty Projectors and Chairlift. All those influences are present in this work, which is a unique mash-up of indie, folk, and classical.

We’ll hear more about the piece from the composer herself, whose comments are interspersed throughout the recording. She is also featured on vocals.

10 months ago |
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Work for string orchestra by Phyllis Chen performed by A Far Cry on April 17, 2014 and works for clarinet and piano by Peter Sculthorpe and Richard Stoltzman performed by Richard Stoltzman, clarinet and David Deveau, piano on January 11, 2015.

  • Chen, Phyllis: Three Lullabies
  • Sculthorpe, Peter: Songs of Sea and Sky
  • Traditional: Amazing Grace, arrangement by Richard Stoltzman

On this podcast, we’ll hear three works that we’re grouping under the title Sweetly Sung. All three pieces were written within the past several decades, some based on real, traditional folk songs, others on imagined lullabies.

The first of the three pieces is by composer and pianist Phyllis Chen, who is particularly known for her performances on an instrument rarely seen in the classical concert hall: the toy piano. We’ll hear Chen perform with A Far Cry, a set of three Lullabies she wrote for string orchestra and herself, as soloist.

Following the lullabies are two pieces featuring clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and pianist David Deveau. First is Songs of Sea and Sky, a 1987 piece of about 15 minutes by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe. The work builds on a traditional tune from the tiny island nation of Saibai.

Last, we’ll hear an arrangement of another traditional tune, this one much more familiar to American listeners: Amazing Grace, arranged by the clarinetist himself, Richard Stoltzman.

11 months ago |
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Works for chorus by various composers performed by Boston Children’s Chorus on November 17, 2015.

  • Selections from 10th Anniversary concert

For more than a decade, the Boston Children’s Chorus has brought together children of diverse backgrounds to discover the power of singing and transcend social barriers. In 2015, the chorus celebrated its tenth year under the baton of artistic director Anthony Trecek-King with a concert at the Gardner’s Calderwood Hall—one of his favorite spaces in Boston.

On this podcast, we’ll hear much of what they sang that afternoon, from spirituals to Renaissance love songs. Some of the selections you may recognize—Shenandoah; My Lord, What a Morning; Elijah Rock—while others will be new. All were handpicked by the director to showcase the group’s incredible range—quite a feat for an ensemble composed entirely of children ages 12 to 18.

If you’d like to learn more, look them up online. For now, sit back and enjoy this delightful program.

1 year ago |
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Work for harp by Salzedo performed by Catrin Finch, harp on April 14, 2001 and work for violin and piano by Ravel performed by Benjamin Beilman, violin and Alessio Bax, piano on May 17, 2015.

  • Salzedo: Ballade
  • Ravel: Sonata for Violin and Piano (1923)

Harpist and educator Carlos Salzedo was born in France and trained at the Paris Conservatoire in piano at the age of nine, before taking up the harp and returning to the Conservatoire to earn a degree in that instrument as well. In 1909, knowing no English whatsoever, Salzedo emigrated to New York, where he’d been invited by Toscanini to join the Metropolitan Opera orchestra. A few years later, he wrote this piece—a virtuosic showcase for the harp, firmly rooted in the harmonic vocabulary widely employed in France at the time. Salzedo would go on to found the harp department at the Curtis Institute and teach at Juilliard, splitting his time between Europe and the States, and his influences lives on, through his pupils and his compositions. We’ll hear the piece played by harpist Catrin Finch.

Next up, another Frenchman enamored of America: Ravel. His Sonata for Violin and Piano, written between 1923 and 1927, displays an interest in the uniquely American art form, jazz, which was all the rage in Paris at the time. Ravel wrote the piece before traveling to the States himself, in 1928, but the middle movement in particular (called “Blues”) was clearly inspired by the American music he’d heard performed in Europe.

We’ll hear the sonata played by violinist Benjamin Beilman and pianist Alessio Bax, from Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. First, the Salzedo, performed by Catrin Finch.

1 year ago |
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Works for solo piano by Schubert performed by Charlie Albright, piano on March 24, 2013.

  • Schubert: Impromptus, D. 899, Op. 90
  • Schubert: Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960

In the late 1820s, all of Franz Schubert’s hard work and struggle seemed finally to be paying off. His performances were increasingly well received, and he was at the height of his compositional powers. Yet, even as his career took off, his health began to deteriorate, and his music increasingly focused on darker emotions. In 1827, Schubert wrote the four Impromptus for piano, his opus 90—the first work we’ll hear on this podcast. The title belies the seriousness and heft of these pieces, which are hardly light or off-the-cuff.

The following fall, Schubert’s health took a turn for the worse—but his compositional output was seemingly unaffected. Sometime that year, he began sketching out a series of piano sonatas, including the one we’ll hear: his very last instrumental work, the Sonata in B-Flat Major, published posthumously as D. 960. These sonatas weren’t really understood or appreciated during the 19th century, when they were published; musicians and critics found them structurally aimless, too long, difficult to make sense of. Today, the sonatas are widely recognized as among the composer’s most powerful works, imbued with a sense of the composer’s reckoning with life’s biggest questions, including his own mortality.

We’ll hear both the Impromptus and the Sonata in B-flat played by pianist Charlie Albright, in a recording from the first of three concerts that he played at the Gardner highlighting Schubert’s music for piano.

1 year ago |
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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.

1 year ago |
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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.

1 year ago |
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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.

1 year ago |
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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.

1 year ago |
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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.

1 year ago |
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