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Deceptive Cadence : NPR
Deceptive Cadence un-stuffs the world of classical music, which is both fusty and ferociously alive.
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From a 2012 New York Philharmonic production of Candide, Marin Alsop conducts a cast that includes (from right) Kristin Chenoweth, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Paul Groves and Janine LaManna.

From a 2012 New York Philharmonic production of Candide, Marin Alsop conducts a cast that includes (from right) Kristin Chenoweth, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Paul Groves and Janine LaManna.

Randy Brooke/WireImage

Leonard Bernstein often said: "Every author spends his entire life writing the same book." The same could apply to composers.

Probing the existential questions that haunt us was a hallmark of Bernstein both as a person and composer. He was not satisfied unless he was immersed in major issues, upending and questioning the status quo, often with irreverence and insouciance. That was what made Bernstein so much fun to be around and imbued his music with such depth for me.

How many people would even consider turning Voltaire's satirical novella from 1759, Candide, into musical theater, let alone jump at the opportunity?

Playwright Lillian Hellman approached Bernstein in 1953 with the concept. They delighted in the idea of drawing parallels between Voltaire's satirical portrayal of the Catholic Church's blatant hypocrisy and violence and the inquisition-like tactics then being implemented by the U.S. government under the House of Representatives' House Un-American Activities Committee.

Voltaire's charges against society in the 1750s — puritanical snobbery, phony moralism, inquisitional attacks on the individual — all rang true for Hellman and Bernstein in the 1950s. They set out with zeal to create a show that would capture a contemporary Voltaire viewpoint.

Marin Alsop conducts Candide in New York in 2012.

While there is clear brilliance in Bernstein's Candide, the show fell victim to its own weighty agenda and its authors' cleverness. Candide may be the most labored over Broadway show in history, enduring many incarnations since it opened in 1956.

But there can be no doubt about the brilliance of Bernstein's score, which he conceived as a Valentine's card to European music. Few composers could construct a score where European dance forms like the gavotte, waltz and polka are interwoven seamlessly with bel canto arias, Gilbert and Sullivan-style comedy, grand opera and Bernstein's own "Jewish tango."

It reminds me of an evening I spent with Bernstein. It started out with a discussion of a Schumann symphony and ended up with him at the piano, playing every song the Beatles wrote. Connecting the dots was his genius for me, but the fact that he never lost his capacity to believe in the inherent goodness of humankind was his gift to the world.

From the cleverness and clarity of Candide's overture, through the biting sarcasm of "Auto-da-fé (What a Day)" and then to bring us full circle to the unwavering optimism of "Make our Garden Grow" is Bernstein at his best.

(Marin Alsop conducts a semi-staged version of Candide June 11-14 in Baltimore and North Bethesda, Md., with NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! host Peter Sagal as narrator.)

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27 days ago | |
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Listen to the Story

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From a 2012 New York Philharmonic production of Candide, Marin Alsop conducts a cast that includes (from right) Kristin Chenoweth, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Paul Groves and Janine LaManna.

From a 2012 New York Philharmonic production of Candide, Marin Alsop conducts a cast that includes (from right) Kristin Chenoweth, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Paul Groves and Janine LaManna.

Randy Brooke/WireImage

Leonard Bernstein often said: "Every author spends his entire life writing the same book." The same could apply to composers.

Probing the existential questions that haunt us was a hallmark of Bernstein both as a person and composer. He was not satisfied unless he was immersed in major issues, upending and questioning the status quo, often with irreverence and insouciance. That was what made Bernstein so much fun to be around and imbued his music with such depth for me.

How many people would even consider turning Voltaire's satirical novella from 1759, Candide, into musical theater, let alone jump at the opportunity?

Playwright Lillian Hellman approached Bernstein in 1953 with the concept. They delighted in the idea of drawing parallels between Voltaire's satirical portrayal of the Catholic Church's blatant hypocrisy and violence and the inquisition-like tactics then being implemented by the U.S. government under the House of Representatives' House Un-American Activities Committee.

Voltaire's charges against society in the 1750s — puritanical snobbery, phony moralism, inquisitional attacks on the individual — all rang true for Hellman and Bernstein in the 1950s. They set out with zeal to create a show that would capture a contemporary Voltaire viewpoint.

Marin Alsop conducts Candide in New York in 2012.

While there is clear brilliance in Bernstein's Candide, the show fell victim to its own weighty agenda and its authors' cleverness. Candide may be the most labored over Broadway show in history, enduring many incarnations since it opened in 1956.

But there can be no doubt about the brilliance of Bernstein's score, which he conceived as a Valentine's card to European music. Few composers could construct a score where European dance forms like the gavotte, waltz and polka are interwoven seamlessly with bel canto arias, Gilbert and Sullivan-style comedy, grand opera and Bernstein's own "Jewish tango."

It reminds me of an evening I spent with Bernstein. It started out with a discussion of a Schumann symphony and ended up with him at the piano, playing every song the Beatles wrote. Connecting the dots was his genius for me, but the fact that he never lost his capacity to believe in the inherent goodness of humankind was his gift to the world.

From the cleverness and clarity of Candide's overture, through the biting sarcasm of "Auto-da-fé (What a Day)" and then to bring us full circle to the unwavering optimism of "Make our Garden Grow" is Bernstein at his best.

(Marin Alsop conducts a semi-staged version of Candide June 11-14 in Baltimore and North Bethesda, Md., with NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! host Peter Sagal as narrator.)

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
27 days ago | |
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Listen to the Story

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Composer, librettist and conductor Matthew Aucoin in rehearsal.

Composer, librettist and conductor Matthew Aucoin in rehearsal.

Jeremy Daniel/American Repertory Theater

Matthew Aucoin is being compared to Mozart, Wagner and Leonard Bernstein. He's worked with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Now this rising star is tackling his most ambitious project to date: his own new opera, for which he's composed the music, written the words and is conducting its Boston premiere. And did I mention he's just 25 years old?

Aucoin (pronounced oh-coin) has been working on his opera Crossing for more than two years. It's a dark exploration of poet Walt Whitman's time as a volunteer nurse in a Civil War hospital. The opera is based on the poet's diaries, and one entry in particular ignited Aucoin's imagination.

"Whitman describes this young southerner John Wormley staring at him, like, 'Who is this middle-aged weirdo?'" Aucoin says. "And that's basically it. He makes a cameo appearance. But I imagined who this person might have been, and entirely fictionalized it. And there are betrayals and lies and, you know, it's an opera, we gotta have the blood and guts."

This opera is something of a test for Aucoin. Throughout the genre's history, one person usually writes the music while another conjures the words. But the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. commissioned Aucoin to do both. The work received its world premiere Friday.

"I can still barely believe they took a chance on me," Aucoin says. Then he makes an observation: "Classical music is obsessed with youth, and it's obsessed with old age. If you try to act like the young hotshot, they will eat you alive."

Baritone Rod Gilfry (foreground, right) and dancer Hiroki Ichinose.

Baritone Rod Gilfry (foreground, right) and dancer Hiroki Ichinose.

Gretjen Helene Photography/American Repertory Theater

Baritone Rod Gilfry sings the role of Walt Whitman in Crossing. He's worked with the young conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. The veteran singer has performed a lot of contemporary opera, but he says this time it's different.

"He could just be a composer, he could just be a conductor, he could just be a pianist, he could just be a poet or a critic," Gilfry says. "And yet he can do all of those things simultaneously. And it's pretty remarkable."

As for the music, the baritone says it's got everything, including great choruses: "You know we've got 12 wounded soldiers who sing together these beautiful choruses that will just melt your heart."

Aucoin grew up surrounded by art, theater and music. His father, Don Aucoin, is a longtime Boston Globe drama critic, and Matthew studied at Juilliard, the Tanglewood Music Center and Harvard, where American Repertory Theater artistic director Diane Paulus started courting him.

"I think Matt is kind of a throwback to the time when you had composers who were conducting — writing the libretto that's even more than usual — but he was a poetry major here at Harvard," Paulus says.

The Tony Award-winning director was blown away when she first heard Aucoin's music. A.R.T. was already part of a national project commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and she thought: This is the guy to write our opera.

"I'm in a sort of pinch me moment of having met him in my office three years ago and just saying, 'You know you should think about A.R.T. as a home for you, and maybe there's something we can do together,'" Paulus says. "And just to think that from that one conversation was spawned this work of art is such an exciting and affirming moment for what I hope A.R.T. can do for artists and what we can contribute to the canon and in this case to new opera."

Aucoin is definitely having a moment — not only with his new opera but also with a lavish New York Times article about him published last week with a headline calling him "Opera's great 25-year-old hope." Still, the young composer has also had his doubts.

"There was a time," Aucoin says, "I'm talking when I was really young, like 11, 12, when I just got a bit depressed by the way the classical music world functioned in relation to its audience, and the way that kids my age were forced into playing music by their parents and so on. So I went off and mostly played jazz and rock for a few years, and I think it kept me from getting prematurely jaded."

Aucoin recognizes the baggage and expectations that come with being labeled the next big thing — but his eyes appear to be wide open.

"A lot of people have said you can have a career if you're a 10 year-old wizard, or you can be an old master. It's very hard in between," Aucoin says. "The best thing I can do is to make it all about the music."

Copyright 2015 WBUR. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.
28 days ago | |
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Behind the Met microphone: host Margaret Juntwait, who died Wednesday at age 58.

Behind the Met microphone: host Margaret Juntwait, who died Wednesday at age 58.

Jonathan Tichler/Courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera

Margaret Juntwait was the mellifluous voice of the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday live radio broadcasts. She was also a longtime host at NPR member station WNYC in New York. Juntwait died Wednesday at age 58 of complications from ovarian cancer. The Met and WNYC have each offered tributes.

Juntwait was trained as a lyric soprano at the Manhattan School of Music. But in 1991 — with no radio experience — she wrote a fan letter to WNYC host John Schaefer, who promptly hired her as an assistant. She went on to host two music programs on the station.

In 2004 she became the first woman to host the Met's Saturday broadcasts. That same year, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but continued to host the Met broadcasts for a decade. Her last broadcast was New Year's Eve.

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29 days ago | |
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Listen to the Story

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Pianist and composer Stephen Hough.

Pianist and composer Stephen Hough.

Andrew Crowley/Courtesy of the artist

You wouldn't normally expect one of the great composers of the last few centuries to be meek, but how's this for humility?

"Bach and Beethoven erected temples and churches on the heights. I only wanted to build dwellings for men in which they might feel happy, and at home."

Those words are credited to Edvard Grieg. Pianist Stephen Hough has three — count them, three — new albums out right now. One features his own compositions, and two of them include music by Grieg, including 27 of the Norwegian composer's short Lyric Pieces, which cover a lot of emotional ground.

Hough says that these brief works are very much of their time. "This is from the high point when everyone had a piano at home. Grieg wrote them very much for the domestic market," he says. "None of them are tremendously difficult. They're not like Liszt or Chopin etudes. They're pieces written for good amateur pianists, and for people to enjoy these mood pictures in their own homes. There are some really high jinks, fun, jolly, happy ones, but I think of more of those melancholy, nostalgic ones — and that's something that Grieg gets the flavor of so beautifully. And I think what's beautiful about these Grieg pieces is the subtleness of the harmonies, of the pianism there. You need to have a singing sound. You need to be able to carry these melodies, much like a singer would."

While Grieg wrote them in his native Norway, Hough — who is British — says that he feels that many of them would be very much at home in a different landscape: "It's a sort of homestead thing, isn't it? Certainly the Midwest — I can imagine playing these pieces in Minnesota, in Nebraska, Iowa. I love that part of the country, that sort of vast farmland and desolate landscapes."

Hough was, in 2001, the first classical musician to win a MacArthur "genius" award. Among his myriad polymathic talents (which include work as a professional painter, writing poetry and nonfiction, and teaching) is creating his own compositions, including the Missa Mirabilis ("Miracle Mass"), which was written for London's Westminster Cathedral Choir as a work for chorus and organ, and then reconfigured for chorus and orchestra.

Hough, who is a practicing Catholic, says that the Mass as a form presents certain architectural challenges for any composer. "A Mass has five movements, and four of them are quite short texts and poetic, like hymns," he says. "And then you have the Creed, which is a theological text, and it's as long as all the others put together, and a little bit more besides! And I think that composers have always slightly dreaded setting the Creed, because it requires a lot of music. It's a long movement, and if you're not careful, it upsets the whole way the liturgical Mass works. It's just too much in the middle."

"So when I first started writing this Mass," he says, "I started with the Creed. And I had a few ideas. One was that I was going to have it sung very quickly — so in fact I would get it over with quickly! And I thought, 'Well, yeah, what does it mean, saying it quickly?' Because I've attended many Masses, and said the Creed myself, and it's one of those texts that people say as if they are just used to saying it, and I'm not sure they're really thinking about the words that they're saying."

"You couldn't really," Hough continues. "There's too much packed in there! It's a very profound text, in one way, because it's going through all these clauses of belief that Christians have had since — well, this particular Creed is from the fourth or fifth century, from the Council of Nicaea. The whole point of the Creed was actually not to be flowery and open, but to be very limiting. It was meant to say, 'This is what we believe, and nothing else, and don't you dare go beyond this! So there's something quite finger-wagging about the Creed! So I thought, 'What would it be to sing these words week after week, and not believe them?'"

"So I set up this scenario between boy sopranos," Hough explains, "the voices of innocence and childhood, with the men who may be more jaded and cynical about everything. So in that movement, the men never sing the words 'I believe.' They just sing all the clauses, as if by rote. The boys sing 'Credo' — 'I believe' — between all the clauses. And this interruption becomes initially just an encouragement, and by the end, total desperation, because the boys realize the men do not believe what they're saying. And they are saying, 'You must believe, you must believe.'"

While Hough was working on this Mass, he was in a terrible car accident on a highway. His car flipped over at 80 miles per hour: "I found myself upside down, in a totally mangled car. And I remember very clearly that moment and thinking, 'I'll never get to hear that Mass. This looks like it's the end.' Well, it wasn't. I landed on the hard shoulder. I realized I was still alive and that the car hadn't burst into flames. And then the survival instinct kicked in, and I tried to get out of the car, and I couldn't reach the door above me. And the truck driver who had caused the crash, by coming out too quickly in front of me, helped me to get out. And I survived with barely a scratch.

"And really, it's the reason behind the title Missa Mirabilis — I felt that it's a miracle that I'd survived this car crash. And I wrote the Agnus Dei — 'Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us, grant us peace' — I wrote a lot of that, sketching it, in the emergency room, waiting for a brain scan. I think I hear now a real desperation in that movement. 'Have mercy on us' lasts a lot longer than 'grant us peace.'"

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Mad Rush

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Mad Rush
Album
Glass Piano
Artist
Bruce Brubaker
Released
2015

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Pianist Bruce Brubaker has been playing Philip Glass' music for more than 20 years.

Pianist Bruce Brubaker has been playing Philip Glass' music for more than 20 years.

Timothy Saccenti Philip Glass photographed in New York City in 1980.

Deceptive Cadence

The World Music Education of Philip Glass

Deceptive Cadence

Philip Glass On Legacy: 'The Future ... It's All Around Us'

In his new memoir, Words Without Music, Philip Glass tells the story of how he slugged a man in the jaw in Amsterdam. At a concert, a quarrelsome audience member climbed onto the stage and began banging on the composer's keyboard. That was in 1969, when Glass' repetitious, slowly evolving music fell on many ears like a needle stuck in the groove of a record.

These days, after 25 operas, 10 symphonies and scores to such films as Koyaanisqatsi, Mishima and The Hours, Glass' music is widely admired. And those once-confounding arpeggios? At this point, they seem practically woven into the fabric of American popular culture from BMW ads to background music for segments of This American Life.

Glass' principal instrument is the keyboard and some of his earliest, most mesmerizing works (How Now and Two Pages) were composed for piano or organ. He's still writing for keyboard and today pianists of all stripes — from the excellent new music specialist Steffen Schleiermacher, musical marathoner Nicolas Horvath and YouTube sensation Valentina Lisitsa — have eagerly taken up this music.

Songs We Love.

Songs We Love

Pianist Bruce Brubaker, a thoughtful and longtime interpreter of Glass' work, has his own new album, Glass Piano, out June 2. It begins with Mad Rush, a 16-minute piece from 1980 that became music for a dance choreographed by Lucinda Childs. The following year, Glass played the work in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York as entrance music for the visiting Dalai Lama.

Built on pairs of see-sawing notes, the music alternates between delicate, slow sections imbued with nostalgia and jolts of adrenaline via storms of shifting arpeggios.

In his memoir, Glass recalls how early on he felt it was important to forget about telling a story. He wanted the focus to be on the process of the music — music based on repetition and change.

"Once we let go of the narrative and allow ourselves to enter the flow of the music," he writes, "the buoyancy that we experience is both addictive and attractive and attains a high emotional level."

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Listen to the Story

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After 42 years, cellist Joel Krosnick (foreground, left) is bidding farewell to the Juilliard String Quartet.

After 42 years, cellist Joel Krosnick (foreground, left) is bidding farewell to the Juilliard String Quartet.

Sony Classical/Simon Powis

The Juilliard String Quartet was established in 1946 as an all-purpose quartet that would embrace music from every era. Its founders' intent was to "play new works as if they were established masterpieces and established masterpieces as if they were new."

Cellist Joel Krosnick joined the quartet in 1974. At the close of the 2015-16 season — after 42 years with the group — he will step down in order to focus on teaching at the Juilliard School, where he is chair of the cello department. After Krosnick's departure, cellist Astrid Schween will take his place in the quartet. She's the first woman and the first African-American to join the group, which includes violinists Joseph Lin and Ronald Copes and violist Roger Tapping.

NPR's Melissa Block spoke with Krosnick about his decision to retire and the thrills and challenges of playing with the Juilliard Quartet.

Melissa Block: 42 years — that's a pretty great run. How do you know when it's time to step down?

Joel Krosnick: That's hard to say, but as one gets older, it gets more difficult to travel. I teach, full-time, the cello and chamber music at the Juilliard School, and that's a full-time job, which I will continue after I leave the quartet. And the Juilliard String Quartet — rehearsing and playing concerts and traveling all over the world — that's a full-time job. So there have been two full-time jobs, and I'm 74, and two full-time jobs seems like quite a lot.

Was it still a hard decision to come to, though, to leave the quartet?

Yes, it was an inconceivable decision. From the moment I joined until now, I never questioned it. It was just a question of what repertory are we going to play next year, and what new works will we play, what old works will we revisit, and I just never — it never occurred to me that this would end at one point.

Do you remember your very first days with the quartet?

Yes, I remember the morning I was asked if I would join the Juilliard Quartet. After audition sessions with Mr. [Robert] Mann, Mr. [Earl] Carlyss and Mr. [Samuel] Rhodes of the Juilliard Quartet, Mr. Carlyss said to me, "Welcome to the band — if you want to join." And I remember how excited I was. That audition was on West End Avenue at 97th Street or something, and I, with a cello and a briefcase loaded with quartet scores, ran all the way to 72nd Street, where I was staying. I was so excited.

Once you got over that first rush of excitement, when you ran with your cello those 20-something blocks, was it an intimidating thing to join the Juilliard Quartet?

Yes, it was an intimidating thing. I was both excited and frightened.

What was at the root of that fear, do you think?

Something profoundly new, profoundly complex — the amount of information inherent in listening to three different voices and then responding to them. One of the things about joining a great string quartet is that one not only needs to join and, as it were, blend in, but one needs to add one's voice to what's going on and figure out how you can add something and how you can respond, which will then eventually change the three voices and change your own voice.

Is there a piece, or maybe a movement, where the cello really shines, that's especially fun to play and that you may miss more than any other as you leave the quartet?

[Laughs.] It's very hard to answer that. I will miss every single note.

At the end of my first season in the quartet, we recorded the last four Mozart quartets. He'd been asked to write, more than usual, prominent and high cello parts by the King of Prussia, who was an amateur cellist who said, "can't you write solo parts for me?" Those pieces are very special challenges for the cellist, and I will remember and treasure my battles with that music.

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Listen to the Story

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The Minnesota Orchestra under the direction of conductor Osmo Vanska (center) performs during a concert at the Cuban National Theater in Havana on Friday.

The Minnesota Orchestra under the direction of conductor Osmo Vanska (center) performs during a concert at the Cuban National Theater in Havana on Friday.

Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

The Minnesota Orchestra plays Havana this weekend. It's the first professional U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba since the United States and the island nation began the process of normalization last December. For the musicians, this trip is about healing — both diplomatically and for themselves.

The trip is also one of firsts. The Minnesota Orchestra took the first direct flight ever from Minneapolis to Havana on Wednesday. It required special federal approval. More importantly, for an island as steeped in music as Cuba, this was the first major orchestra to visit since the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra toured for two days in 1999.

The Minnesota Orchestra is the first major U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba since 1999.

The Minnesota Orchestra is the first major U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba since 1999.

Euan Kerr

Even as the orchestra held its first rehearsal in the Teatro Nacional, people drifted into the theater and backstage, listening to the power of the music coming off the stage.

It's a small miracle this tour is happening. The joint announcement Dec. 17 from Presidents Obama and Castro relaxing longstanding restrictions on travel and commerce launched an orchestral race: Which from the U.S. would be first to perform on the island?

Minnesota won. It pulled off an organizational and logistical coup by being prepared to travel in just months. The Cuban authorities also reportedly liked that back in 1929, the first international tour of what was then the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra was to Havana. The Beethoven program for the first of this weekend's two concerts replicated that performance of 86 years ago.

Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä says that building connection with Cubans is vital. "In a way, the best thing psychologically about the trip is the way we are working together with people here," Vänskä says. "They are working with us and that's the whole idea."

This the first major tour for the Minnesota Orchestra since the end of a bruising 16-month musicians' lockout. There were times during that contract dispute when many fans wondered if the orchestra would survive. Now, 16 months after the settlement and a management shakeup, the former antagonists are sharing an adventure.

Kevin Smith is the new Minnesota Orchestra president. The trip was his idea, in part to show that the organization could move quickly, which he says is a necessity in the modern orchestral environment. Standing in the crowded lobby of the Teatro National, he said it's worked well.

Students at the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana huddle around a doorway during a master class given by members of the visiting Minnesota Orchestra.

Students at the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana huddle around a doorway during a master class given by members of the visiting Minnesota Orchestra.

Euan Kerr

"To get back together and with this amount of excitement and energy — to do something extraordinary as this, it's just never happened before," Smith said. "So it's not just a matter of getting back, it's a matter of moving beyond. And I think we are doing it."

President Obama with Cuban President Raul Castro during their historic meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City. The Obama administration announced Tuesday it will remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The Two-Way

White House Says It Will Remove Cuba From List Of State Sponsors Of Terrorism

Fernandina's Flicker (Colaptes fernandinae), a woodpecker found only in Cuba.

Science

U.S. Biologists Keen To Explore, Help Protect Cuba's Wild Places

Cuban artist Tania Bruguera poses for a photograph near the statue of José Martí in Havana's Revolution Plaza. She was arrested in December for planning a political performance there.

The Two-Way

In Havana, A Journey Into The Forbidden With A Provocative Artist

There were more than just concerts on the menu for the Minnesota Orchestra musicians. They traveled to local music schools to hold master classes. Friday they held a side-by-side rehearsal with Cuba's national youth orchestra. Students shared music stands with the Minnesota players, switching off with the professionals as they played under Vänskä's direction. The students were clearly exhilarated, and there were a few moments of terror when Vänskä focused on them individually.

The ensemble, some 200 strong, played music by Tchaikovsky and Borodin before moving on to a piece by the head of the school, Guido López-Gavilán. He took the podium and had the players tap out the Cuban rhythms in the piece on their instruments.

Everyone came away with a smile, but none bigger than López-Gavilan at hearing his students and the Minnesota Orchestra play his music.

Minnesota Orchestra double bass player Kathryn Nettleman says that to be in Cuba at this time, sharing music after having survived the turmoil of the labor dispute, has been the experience of a lifetime.

"And I think that's a testament to what can happen when people dream and believe and work hard together," she says. "That's what an orchestra is — it's a group of people on a stage doing that."

Copyright 2015 Minnesota Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.mpr.org/.
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András Schiff's Confessional Schubert

Impromptu in A-flat, Op. 142 - Allegretto

5:58

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Impromptu in A-flat, Op. 142 - Allegretto
Album
Franz Schubert
Artist
Andras Schiff
Label
ECM
Released
2015

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Andras Schiff had a change of heart when it comes to the fortepiano.

Andras Schiff had a change of heart when it comes to the fortepiano.

Nadia F. Romanini/ECM Records

Twenty years ago, pianist András Schiff did not hide his disdain for the fortepiano — the smaller, quieter precursor to the modern grand piano. In the liner notes of five separate Schubert albums Schiff released in the early 1990s, he wrote: "Schubert's piano music has luckily not been discovered yet by specialists playing copies of Graf fortepianos."

Songs We Love.

Songs We Love

And with that Schiff landed a double blow. Players of fortepianos were merely "specialists" — and they were clearly misguided in performing Schubert's music on the very type of instrument the composer knew firsthand.

What a difference a couple of decades makes.

Schiff is now about to release a double Schubert album (June 2) and guess what type of keyboard he's graduated to? It's a fortepiano from the very time and place Schubert was composing his piano music, a refurbished instrument built by Franz Brodmann in Vienna around 1820. (Schiff actually owns the fortepiano, which he's loaned to the Beethoven House in Bonn, Germany.)

This time, Schiff's liner notes are titled "Confessions of a Convert." With a contrite heart, he writes, "Today it's evident that my initial views were wrong and prejudiced." He goes on to praise the "transparency and natural equilibrium" of the fortepiano, noting that the softest passages are beautifully realized with the instrument's "secret weapon," the moderator, a device that pushes a thin layer of cloth between the strings and the hammers.

You can hear what he's talking about in the Impromptu in A-flat, Op. 142, No. 2. The instrument all but whispers Schubert's beguiling melody, a wistful tune set in a gentle dance rhythm. The central section, by turns rippling and stormy, teems with texture and color, from the buzzing bottom end to muted pastels in the upper register.

When it comes to Schubert, Schiff hasn't totally abandoned the modern piano. (Hear his recent Carnegie Hall concert.) But for this project, one of today's most thoughtful classical artists has had a profound change of heart.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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Impromptu in A-flat, Op. 142 - Allegretto

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Song
Impromptu in A-flat, Op. 142 - Allegretto
Album
Franz Schubert
Artist
Andras Schiff
Label
ECM
Released
2015

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Andras Schiff had a change of heart when it comes to the fortepiano.

Andras Schiff had a change of heart when it comes to the fortepiano.

Nadia F. Romanini/ECM Records

Twenty years ago, pianist András Schiff did not hide his disdain for the fortepiano — the smaller, quieter precursor to the modern grand piano. In the liner notes of five separate Schubert albums Schiff released in the early 1990s, he wrote: "Schubert's piano music has luckily not been discovered yet by specialists playing copies of Graf fortepianos."

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And with that Schiff landed a double blow. Players of fortepianos were merely "specialists" — and they were clearly misguided in performing Schubert's music on the very type of instrument the composer knew firsthand.

What a difference a couple of decades makes.

Schiff is now about to release a double Schubert album (June 2) and guess what type of keyboard he's graduated to? It's a fortepiano from the very time and place Schubert was composing his piano music, a refurbished instrument built by Franz Brodmann in Vienna around 1820. (Schiff actually owns the fortepiano, which he's loaned to the Beethoven House in Bonn, Germany.)

This time, Schiff's liner notes are titled "Confessions of a Convert." With a contrite heart, he writes, "Today it's evident that my initial views were wrong and prejudiced." He goes on to praise the "transparency and natural equilibrium" of the fortepiano, noting that the softest passages are beautifully realized with the instrument's "secret weapon," the moderator, a device that pushes a thin layer of cloth between the strings and the hammers.

You can hear what he's talking about in the Impromptu in A-flat, Op. 142, No. 2. The instrument all but whispers Schubert's beguiling melody, a wistful tune set in a gentle dance rhythm. The central section, by turns rippling and stormy, teems with texture and color, from the buzzing bottom end to muted pastels in the upper register.

When it comes to Schubert, Schiff hasn't totally abandoned the modern piano. (Hear his recent Carnegie Hall concert.) But for this project, one of today's most thoughtful classical artists has had a profound change of heart.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
1 month ago | |
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