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After 200 Years, A Schubert Song Still Resonates

Scottish-American soprano Mary Garden (1874-1967) portrayed Goethe's character Gretchen, known as Marguerite in Charles Gounod's opera Faust.

Scottish-American soprano Mary Garden (1874-1967) portrayed Goethe's character Gretchen, known as Marguerite in Charles Gounod's opera Faust.

Bettmann/CORBIS

Two hundred years ago today, a 17-year-old kid from Vienna wrote a song that would change the way composers thought about songwriting. That kid was Franz Schubert, and his song "Gretchen am Spinnrade" (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel) put German art song — or lieder as it's called — on the map. The song's dramatic punch and bold innovations still reverberate today.

In October 1814, Schubert was a distracted teenager searching for a career. He'd just passed his teacher exams and was probably not thrilled about going to work at his father's school. For two years he'd been writing songs, but pianist Graham Johnson, who has written a forthcoming three-volume work on Schubert's songs, says on Oct. 19th something extraordinary happened.

"There is a real distinct feeling of Schubert blown away by the drama and the story he has read," Johnson says.

The story Schubert read was Goethe's Faust — the one where the guy sells his soul to the devil in exchange for a swinging lifestyle which of course includes a girl, Gretchen. There's a point in the story where Gretchen, alone in her room, has a freakout moment over her new boyfriend, Faust, as she spins yarn. And it's this intimate scene that Schubert set to music.

"I'll never find peace again, my heart is heavy," Gretchen sings as the song opens. Over the next three minutes, Johnson says, all cylinders are firing — melody, harmony voice and piano.

"The most amazing thing is that a 17-year-old boy can somehow enter into the female pysche with such an incredible amount of understanding as if he himself had experienced such feelings," Johnson says. And those feelings explode with operatic intensity half-way through the song when Gretchen stops the spinning wheel cold and screams "Sein kuss!" (His kiss!).

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"One of the things I like about that moment is that it's primal," says soprano Renée Fleming, who included the song on her Schubert album. "And that's such a brilliant thing that he understood that people really want to have that moment where they just let it out. Because it builds and builds and builds and then finally, with the release, it's the most powerful thing she experienced — his kiss."

After the outburst, Gretchen tries to get the spinning wheel going again. You can hear it sputter in the piano, finally coming back up to speed as the vocal refrain returns. The piano plays a key role of its own in the song. In the right hand, you can hear the spinning of the wheel, in the left, the staccato clacking of the bobbin. But Johnson says it's much more than a brilliant musical metaphor.

"There is a feeling where we no longer care about it being the spinning wheel," Johnson says. "It becomes synonymous with the whirring, the dislocation, of a young woman's discovery of her sexual vulnerability." And that was a radical departure for German art song.

But that was 200 years ago. And if you argued that no one really cares about songs like this anymore, Johnson would tell you otherwise.

"Everybody thinks that lieder is something incredibly outdated and non-relevant," he says. "But the idea of giving a woman's anguish center stage. And she's speaking, 'It's me who's suffering this.' And we get a certain framework. I mean, Billie Holiday would have understood."

And so do some of today's songwriters, like Rufus Wainwright and especially Gabriel Kahane. "The sort of alleged gulf between the vernacular music of today — piano pop today, if you want to call it that — and what Schubert's doing is exaggerated," Kahane says.

Kahane has written his own song cycles (including Craigslistlieder, based on personal ads) as well as orchestral works, but he says that it's actually his more pop-oriented songs that owe a debt to Schubert.

"There's a song, 'Merritt Pkwy,' which someone described as having been from the wastepaper basket of Schubert, but I think he meant that as a compliment," Kahane says with a chuckle. Sometimes, Kahane admits, he feels the shadow of Schubert hovering over him. Kahane even sings a few of the composer's songs in his concerts.

So maybe "Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel" still matters today. Johnson says some of the basic elements in Schubert's songs are all around us: "It's that idea of a tune with a very high amount of passionate identification. I mean it's everywhere. It's everywhere to be found."

Everywhere thanks to a 17-year-old kid in Vienna 200 years ago.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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Postlude To A Kiss: Scriabin's Raging 'Poem Of Ecstasy'

Marin Alsop

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6 min 50 sec   Alexander Scriabin originally set out to write a piece called

Alexander Scriabin originally set out to write a piece called "Orgiastic Poem," centered on physical ecstasy, but later decided to alter the title to something more ambiguous.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

I love composer anniversaries because they afford us opportunities to look at musicians anew, and 2015 will mark the centenary of the death of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. It's quite possible that you've never heard of Scriabin, but take comfort in the fact that even his biographer said, "No one was more famous during their lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after death."

Scriabin was born on Christmas Day in 1871 and died at the age of 43 in 1915. He was, first and foremost, a product of the incredibly fertile time in history encompassing his short life.

This upcoming anniversary year gives us a chance to explore Scriabin's music and examine his unique perspectives on life. He was an innovator and freethinker who heralded much of the avant-garde future to come, but in his own individual way.

He was born into an aristocratic Russian military family. While his youth was tinged with the loss of his mother and the absence of his father, Scriabin was well-read and privileged. He studied piano and composition alongside Rachmaninov at the Moscow Conservatory but, even as a young man, his unorthodox approach to tradition and form set him apart.

While Scriabin's early works are reminiscent of Chopin, he soon moved on to break down the traditional tonal structure and experiment with new methods of organizing sound, with a particular emphasis on what is called the "mystic chord," a series of fourths — augmented, diminished and perfect fourths — that create a sense of suspension and break down the traditional tonal center.

Music was the highest art form and poetry was the highest literary form for Scriabin. His Poem of Ecstasy brings these two disciplines together with his own "Poem of Ecstasy" inspiring his music of the same title. But behind this lofty goal was a somewhat less lofty subject: sex.

Scriabin originally set out to write a poem he was calling "Orgiastic Poem," centered on physical ecstasy, but later decided to alter the title to something more ambiguous — which thankfully allowed his work to gain a more universal audience. His poem is 300 lines and his orchestral piece just over 20 minutes long, yet the theme of each is clear and singular. It is a theme of self-affirmation and self-fulfillment, built on the interval of the fourth. And while Scriabin's original version ended with the Nietzsche-inspired last line of "I am God," he changed it to a less controversial "I am" in his final version.

For Scriabin, music was much more than just notes and sound. Even in a Russia where mysticism, religious or occult in nature, was all-consuming, Scriabin stood out with his unique belief system — a mix of Hinduism, theosophy and Nietzsche. He began to see himself as a messianic figure and proclaimed that "the purpose of music is revelation."

Many people thought Scriabin was completely mad, but most acknowledged his genius. He saw musical tones as colors, a condition known as synesthesia, and he longed to connect all of the senses in his work — hearing, sight, taste and smell.

For some time before his death he planned a multimedia work to be performed in the Himalayas that would cause an Armageddon, "a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald a new world." He would call the work Mysterium.

While that final work never materialized, Scriabin's music and worldview anticipated the coming avant-garde movement with surprising accuracy. Hearing this lush score and letting it overwhelm our senses is enough to let us appreciate his profound talent.

Marin Alsop is music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
1 month ago | |
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Postlude To A Kiss: Scriabin's Raging 'Poem Of Ecstasy'

Alexander Scriabin originally set out to write a piece called

Alexander Scriabin originally set out to write a piece called "Orgiastic Poem," centered on physical ecstasy, but later decided to alter the title to something more ambiguous.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

I love composer anniversaries because they afford us opportunities to look at musicians anew, and 2015 will mark the centenary of the death of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. It's quite possible that you've never heard of Scriabin, but take comfort in the fact that even his biographer said, "No one was more famous during their lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after death."

Scriabin was born on Christmas Day in 1871 and died at the age of 43 in 1915. He was, first and foremost, a product of the incredibly fertile time in history encompassing his short life.

This upcoming anniversary year gives us a chance to explore Scriabin's music and examine his unique perspectives on life. He was an innovator and freethinker who heralded much of the avant-garde future to come, but in his own individual way.

He was born into an aristocratic Russian military family. While his youth was tinged with the loss of his mother and the absence of his father, Scriabin was well-read and privileged. He studied piano and composition alongside Rachmaninov at the Moscow Conservatory but, even as a young man, his unorthodox approach to tradition and form set him apart.

While Scriabin's early works are reminiscent of Chopin, he soon moved on to break down the traditional tonal structure and experiment with new methods of organizing sound, with a particular emphasis on what is called the "mystic chord," a series of fourths — augmented, diminished and perfect fourths — that create a sense of suspension and break down the traditional tonal center.

Music was the highest art form and poetry was the highest literary form for Scriabin. His Poem of Ecstasy brings these two disciplines together with his own "Poem of Ecstasy" inspiring his music of the same title. But behind this lofty goal was a somewhat less lofty subject: sex.

Scriabin originally set out to write a poem he was calling "Orgiastic Poem," centered on physical ecstasy, but later decided to alter the title to something more ambiguous — which thankfully allowed his work to gain a more universal audience. His poem is 300 lines and his orchestral piece just over 20 minutes long, yet the theme of each is clear and singular. It is a theme of self-affirmation and self-fulfillment, built on the interval of the fourth. And while Scriabin's original version ended with the Nietzsche-inspired last line of "I am God," he changed it to a less controversial "I am" in his final version.

For Scriabin, music was much more than just notes and sound. Even in a Russia where mysticism, religious or occult in nature, was all-consuming, Scriabin stood out with his unique belief system — a mix of Hinduism, theosophy and Nietzsche. He began to see himself as a messianic figure and proclaimed that "the purpose of music is revelation."

Many people thought Scriabin was completely mad, but most acknowledged his genius. He saw musical tones as colors, a condition known as synesthesia, and he longed to connect all of the senses in his work — hearing, sight, taste and smell.

For some time before his death he planned a multimedia work to be performed in the Himalayas that would cause an Armageddon, "a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald a new world." He would call the work Mysterium.

While that final work never materialized, Scriabin's music and worldview anticipated the coming avant-garde movement with surprising accuracy. Hearing this lush score and letting it overwhelm our senses is enough to let us appreciate his profound talent.

Marin Alsop is music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
1 month ago | |
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Twenty Years Later, 'Klinghoffer' Still Draws Protests

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5 min 9 sec   Several hundred protesters picket the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera season at Lincoln Center, Sept. 22, 2014.

Several hundred protesters picket the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera season at Lincoln Center, Sept. 22, 2014. "You will be made to destroy that set," Jeffrey Wiesenfeld said.

John Moore/Getty Images

The Metropolitan Opera in New York is bracing for one of the more controversial productions in its history. Since its first performance more than 20 years ago, some critics have charged that composer John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer is anti-Israel, and even anti-Semitic. But the opera's supporters dispute that. They argue that Klinghoffer is a dramatic masterpiece that deserves to make its Met debut on Monday.

The title character is Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish man in a wheelchair who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists after they hijacked a cruise ship in 1985. The events on the ship form the basic narrative of the opera. But it also digresses into the historical roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — from the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, all the way back to the Old Testament. Klinghoffer's creators knew it was going to be controversial.

"We discussed it," librettist Alice Goodman says. "Not, 'Is this going to upset people?' But, 'Are we making the right presentation? Are we showing this in the most profound and truthful way?' "

Goodman also collaborated with Adams on the opera Nixon in China. But she did not expect the reaction that Klinghoffer provoked when it opened in 1991 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, after its premiere in Brussels earlier that year.

Brian Mulligan as Leon Klinghoffer and Nancy Maultsby as  Marilyn Klinghoffer in the 2011 Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production of The  Death of Klinghoffer.

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'The Death Of Klinghoffer' Returns To Face The Music

"I realized at that point that my original youthful notion — 'Oh, this is a wonderful libretto, this is best thing I've done, everyone will recognize this and acclaim it' — was naive, to say the least," Goodman says.

Performances in other cities were canceled, and Goodman's career as a librettist ended abruptly. But the furor seemed to have died down in recent years. There were productions of Klinghoffer in St. Louis, Southern California and London, with hardly a protester in sight. Then came the current production at the Met, arguably the most important and visible opera house in the country.

Several hundred protesters, led by City University of New York trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, picketed outside Lincoln Center before the Met's opening night last month.

"You will be made to destroy that set," Wiesenfeld said at the protest. "We will demand it. It doesn't belong in this city. We are going to be back here — everyone here and many, many more — every night of the Klinghoffer opera until the set is burned to the ground."

Most of those protesters say they've never seen Klinghoffer, and don't want to. They argue the opera is anti-Semitic because it humanizes — and therefore glorifies — the terrorists. But the opera's defenders say that's a fundamental misreading of the work.

The Death of Klinghoffer is based on the 1985 hijacking of a cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish tourist who used a wheelchair.

The Death of Klinghoffer is based on the 1985 hijacking of a cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish tourist who used a wheelchair.

Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

"The opera is not anti-Semitic," says Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager. "It's not a glorification of terrorism. Any work of art that deals with conflict has to be authentic, has to explore both sides of the conflict. It explains the motives of the Palestinian terrorists, but that doesn't mean it supports them. "

Still, Gelb agreed to a compromise with the opera's detractors at the Anti-Defamation League. Performances of Klinghoffer in New York would go ahead. But the Met canceled the scheduled video simulcast of the opera to hundreds of theaters around the globe.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, says the compromise makes sense because of rising anti-Semitism in Europe. "When Peter [Gelb] and I spoke originally, I didn't have to persuade him very hard that maybe this is not the best time to raise the passions at theaters in Vienna and Amsterdam and Berlin," Foxman says. "We looked for a compromise."

But outside of the ADL, the compromise appears to satisfy no one — not the protesters in the street and not Goodman. Klinghoffer was the last opera she ever wrote. Today she is an Anglican priest near Cambridge, England. She insists she doesn't hate the protesters, even if they essentially ended her career as a librettist.

"The whole point of the opera is we are all related," Goodman says. "It has to do with the humanity even of the person you least wish to acknowledge the humanity of. It's so important. That people you most hate are human beings."

Goodman says the Met's new production of Klinghoffer, which also played in London, is the best yet, though she's disappointed that audiences around the world won't get to see it.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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The Case Of The Stolen Stradivarius

Daniel Hajek

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4 min 43 sec   Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Frank Almond stands inside a vault with his 299-year-old Lipinski Stradivarius. The violin was stolen on Jan. 27 and recovered a week later.

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Frank Almond stands inside a vault with his 299-year-old Lipinski Stradivarius. The violin was stolen on Jan. 27 and recovered a week later.

Courtesy of Frank Almond

Stradivarius violins are so important that they come with their own biographies. Several hundred of them survive today, and they're so prized, you can trace their lineages through the musicians who played them over the centuries.

The instruments have been valued at prices ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to several million. That kind of money attracts a lot of nonmusicians, like investors — and thieves.

There's always intrigue involved when one of the instruments goes missing. They've been stolen out of Carnegie Hall, out of a New York City apartment, out of a London sandwich shop — and, most recently, from a parking lot in Milwaukee.

Stealing The Lipinski

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond had just finished a performance on a frigid Wisconsin night in January of this year.

With a rare violin, the Lipinski Stradivarius, slung over his shoulder, he walked out into the freezing parking lot toward his car.

The Lipinski Stradivarius is worth between $5 million and $6 million. Only about 650 Strads, made by master luthier Antonio Stradivari, survive today.

The Lipinski Stradivarius is worth between $5 million and $6 million. Only about 650 Strads, made by master luthier Antonio Stradivari, survive today.

Courtesy of Frank Almond

"I sort of walk briskly to my car and notice an unusual Scooby-Doo-looking van backed in next to my car," Frank Almond says. "And it was running."

As Almond put the violin case in his back seat, he noticed someone getting out of the van.

"I thought, 'Why is he getting closer, and why is he trying to take my picture?' "

The flashing light Almond thought was a camera flash was actually a Taser.

"Very jarring electric shock, like when you get hit with 50,000 volts or so, I suppose," he says.

Almond hit the ground and the van sped out of the parking lot. The Lipinski Stradivarius, worth between $5 million and $6 million, was gone.

A Master Luthier

Stradivarius instruments, also known as Strads, are worth so much because there are only about 650 left in the world.

The maker, a 17th- and 18th-century Italian luthier named Antonio Stradivari, is considered the best there ever was.

He crafted violas, cellos and harps, but the sound of his violins, in particular, seems to get better with age.

To truly understand the value of a centuries-old Stradivarius, you have to see one up close.

Nicolette Kocsardy opens a plain, brown violin case. Inside, on olive-green velvet padding and underneath a silk cloth, is a Stradivarius known as the "Duke of Alcantara," after its original owner.

Nicolette Kocsardy plays the 1732 Duke of Alcantara Stradivarius at UCLA.

Nicolette Kocsardy plays the 1732 Duke of Alcantara Stradivarius at UCLA. "It's very light compared to any violin I've held," she says. "I never had anything this precious in my hands."

Daniel Hajek/NPR

Kocsardy is a graduate student at UCLA. The school owns this Strad, made in 1732, worth about $2 million.

"The first thing I noticed was how light it is," Kocsardy says. "It's very light compared to any violin I've held. I never had anything this precious in my hands."

It's usually locked away in a vault on campus, but now Kocsardy gets to play it for the first time.

"It's very sensitive," she says. "It's like a really nice car that you just lightly push the pedal, and then it's zooming by."

Back in the '60s, this Strad was also stolen. Either that, or the man who had it on loan accidentally left it on the roof of his car and drove off.

Either way, it was found beside a freeway on-ramp — that's the story, at least. Each Stradivarius seems to have some story of survival.

Case Closed

Back in Milwaukee, days went by without a trace of the Lipinski Stradivarius, which was on loan to Almond.

It seemed like the perfect crime. Even before the instrument was stolen, the thief had watched Almond's every move.

"The guy knew where I lived, he knew my kids' names," Almond says. "He had actually attended a concert — and I hope he enjoyed the concert. ... This was a very, very premeditated incident that was on this guy's mind for at least five or six years."

One detail that the thief overlooked, though, was that an item that hot can't stay hidden for very long.

The Lipinski Stradivarius violin is displayed at the Milwaukee Police Department on Feb. 6.

The Lipinski Stradivarius violin is displayed at the Milwaukee Police Department on Feb. 6.

Dinesh Ramde/AP

The Milwaukee Police Department and the FBI worked quickly. At a local news conference one week after the theft, Police Chief Edward Flynn approached the podium.

"Today the Milwaukee Police Department is pleased and very proud to announce the safe recovery of the Lapinski Stradivarius violin that was stolen," he said.

Police had discovered it, undamaged, the night before — in a suitcase in an attic.

Two men were arrested, including the mastermind behind the theft, who pleaded guilty this month to felony robbery.

Now, the violin is safely back in the hands of Frank Almond.

"It's survived wars and revolutions and, most recently, someone trying to steal it," he says.

Just another story of survival to add to this 299-year-old Stradivarius violin.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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A Ferguson Protest Brings New Meaning To Brahms' Requiem In St. Louis

NPR Staff

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2 min 11 sec   Rebecca Rivas, a reporter for the St. Louis American newspaper, captured video of the Ferguson protest at the St. Louis Symphony concert Saturday night.

Rebecca Rivas, a reporter for the St. Louis American newspaper, captured video of the Ferguson protest at the St. Louis Symphony concert Saturday night.

St. Louis American/YouTube

At the St. Louis Symphony concert Saturday night, the intermission may have been the most memorable part of the performance. Demonstrators in the audience sang a "Requiem for Mike Brown," referencing the 18-year-old African-American shot to death by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer in August.

The incident began normally enough. The audience applauded as the orchestra returned to the stage after its mid-concert break. The hall became silent as the conductor for the evening, Markus Stenz, readied his cue to begin Brahms' German Requiem.

And that's when a man and woman in the audience stood up and began to sing "Which Side Are You On?" — a protest song written by union organizer Florence Reece during a bitter labor dispute involving coal miners.

Dozens of others in the audience rose to their feet and joined in the demonstration. They sang about justice for Mike Brown, the 18-year-old African-American shot by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson.

The symphony's performance was being broadcast live by St. Louis Public Radio with co-host Adam Crane, who wound up narrating the protest.

"I would imagine this is Ferguson-related," Crane said on the air. "I can't hear specifically what they are saying now. Our camera has been blocked with some sort of a sign."

Protesters unfurled their signs over the balcony. One said, "Requiem for Mike Brown," followed by the years of his birth and death. Another had the words "Racism Lives Here" printed above a symbol of St. Louis' Gateway Arch.

Crane, who is also the St. Louis Symphony's vice president for external affairs, says that some in the audience, and the orchestra, applauded the demonstration. Others just watched and waited.

" 'Now some real music,' I heard somebody say," Crane said on the St. Louis Public Radio broadcast. "But I think that was also some real music we heard, from passionate people in the audience."

The protesters sang for about two minutes before filing out of the auditorium. Crane says that he wishes they had stayed for the orchestra's performance — of a work modeled on the Mass for the dead.

"The nature of tying this to the Brahms' Requiem, which is what I assume the protesters had in mind when they decided to do this, and then tying the Requiem to the 'Requiem for Mike Brown,' which is what was on the flyer that they passed around — I think it would have been a healing experience for them to have stayed for the Brahms' Requiem."

The concert continued after the protest without incident.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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Three Quick Lessons From The Violin Wunderkind Who Became A Master

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7 min 40 sec  

"The key is to figure out what you're contributing," Joshua Bell says of playing chamber music.

Eric Kabik/Courtesy of the artist

Joshua Bell was once a boy wonder of the violin. Now, at 46, he leads nine young musicians in Masterclass. HBO's 30-minute documentary series pairs young artists with world-renowned mentors such as Placido Domingo, Frank Gehry and Patti LuPone, and gives both the teacher and the students opportunities to learn from each other. During an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel, Bell offers three solid pieces of advice to musicians new and old:

  • "[It's important to understand] your role in playing chamber music."
  • "The key is to figure out what you're contributing. If it's rhythm, then you don't want to drown everyone out. You want people to understand the rhythmic basis."
  • "To play with great energy and great character within [the soft dynamic] piano is something that one needs to learn how to do."

Joshua Bell's episode of Masterclass airs Oct. 14 on HBO.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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An Inviting Apocalypse: John Luther Adams On 'Become Ocean'

NPR Staff

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7 min 24 sec   John Luther Adams' Pulitzer Prize-winning piece is called Become Ocean; the recording of the work comes out Sept. 30.

John Luther Adams' Pulitzer Prize-winning piece is called Become Ocean; the recording of the work comes out Sept. 30.

Donald Lee/Courtesy of the artist

This past April, composer John Luther Adams became the most recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his piece Become Ocean — a work commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, the recording of which comes out this Tuesday.

Become Ocean

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Stream 'Become Ocean' In Full

Adams says that he got the call with the good news in the middle of a afternoon power nap, during an exhausting teaching residency at Michigan Tech University.

"I heard the word and asked the person on the other end, 'You know, could I call you back?' " Adams remembers. "Talk about your wake-up call."

Become Ocean is, in one sense, a wake-up call as well. The Pulitzer committee called the composition "a haunting orchestral work that suggests a relentless tidal surge, evoking thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels."

Adams spoke with NPR's Arun Rath about letting environmentalism infuse his music, and his desire to take his work outside the concert hall. Hear the radio version at the audio link and read the conversation below.

Arun Rath: So, let's talk about the commission for Become Ocean. First, can you explain the concept?

John Luther Adams: That's a fair question; I'm not sure I can give you a fair answer. It's a piece that feels like the culmination of many different things that I've been working on for 40 years or more now, trying to create a sense of endless space and suspended time. I'm obsessed with place as music and music as place. And what I want to experience as a listener, and what I hope for you as a listener, is to discover a strange and beautiful and maybe somewhat frightening new place, and invite you into that place to find your way and have your own experience.

I don't want to be too literal-minded about music, especially that doesn't have words, but I know that you are somebody that's very concerned with the natural environment and with global warming. With a title like Become Ocean, it's sort of hard for me not to read into that — that you're thinking about a time when we might kind of become one with the ocean.

Yes indeed. I think I kind of want to have it both ways, if I may, in my music. I believe deeply in the inherent power and mystery, the imperative, for music in our lives. And it's my hope that you can listen to this music without knowing anything about what the composer had in mind, including maybe even the title, and find yourself, or lose yourself, immersed in this music and have a real experience, something that touches you and moves you.

At the same time — and this is me talking out of the other side of my mouth — most of us these days, think a lot about the future of the present state of the Earth, the future of the human species and specifically about climate change. As I composed Become Ocean, I had in my mind and my heart this image of the melting of polar ice and the rising of the seas. All life on this Earth emerged from the ocean. If we don't wake up and pay attention here pretty soon, we human animals may find ourselves once again becoming ocean sooner than we imagine.

Listening to it, I was almost expecting something different. This is music that sort of overwhelms, and you can be absorbed in it, but I don't feel like I'm drowning, you know. I don't feel a sense of alarm — you know, a siren or anything like that.

You know, there's this 19th-century idea of the sublime: the idea is that there is an inextricable wholeness to our experience of the world, that contains at once both beauty and terror. And I think I want to be right on that razor's edge.

The sense of "awesome," in its original sense of the word.

Yes. And maybe that's the Alaskan in me: 40 years living in the presence of raging wildfires and river ice breaking free in the springtime. I've been in touch for most of my life — pretty directly in touch — with these elemental forces that are so much bigger and more powerful, not only than I am, but than I can even imagine. And that can be both terrifying and profoundly reassuring. For me, that's pretty close to religious experience.

I want to talk about your latest work that's currently being performed. It's a piece called Sila: The Breath Of The World, and it's intended to be performed outside, not in a concert hall. Can you explain that idea?

It's actually the second outdoor piece that I've composed in recent years. A few years ago, it finally occurred to me that — after almost 40 years of composing music inspired by the big world but intended to be heard inside, in the small world — maybe it was finally time to step outside and make music that was intended from the outset to be performed, heard, experienced, out-of-doors.

You know, there are some performers who will walk off the stage if people cough too much. It sounds like this is kind of the opposite of that sort of reverence for the performing space.

It is, and yet I don't think it undermines the ceremony, the magic, the mystery or the reverence. I've been fortunate enough to experience Alaskan native drumming and dancing and all-night ceremonies over the years — and in native culture, there's not this distinction that we make in Western culture between the sacred and the profane.

I remember this one occasion being at the Messenger Feast, a mid-winter ceremony in Barrow, Alaska. This is a very serious and ancient event happening in the school gym, and there are masked dancers and a large line of drummers and men and women chanting, and this goes on all night. And the lead drummer might be, in the heat of the moment, leading the group, and then his grandchild will come up to him and have a running nose — and he'll put his drum down, wipe the kid's nose, and then pick up his drum and go right back into "game face." For us, we make this distinction between sacred space and quotidian space, but I don't think it needs to be that way.

I'm curious, because being a modern composer in 2014 is not the easiest of professions: Is getting the Pulitzer like an independent filmmaker getting an Oscar? Does that open up more possibilities for you?

People have been asking me, "Has it changed my life?" The answer is, I'm not sure. I don't think so. But the truth is, Arun, there's really not much in my life that I would want to change. I mean, it's just such a gift to do what I do as a life's work and to follow the music, as I like to say, wherever it may lead me. So I'm not really looking for the Pulitzer Prize to change my life — but if the Pulitzer Prize makes it a little bit easier for me to continue my work, then that will be a wonderful thing.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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Remembering Christopher Hogwood, An Evangelist For Early Music

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2 min 51 sec   The late conductor, keyboard player and scholar Christopher Hogwood.

The late conductor, keyboard player and scholar Christopher Hogwood.

Marco Borggreve/Courtesy of the artist

English conductor, keyboard player and musicologist Christopher Hogwood died Wednesday at age 73, following an unspecified illness that lasted several months. His death was confirmed by Boston's Handel and Haydn Society, where he was conductor laureate. Hogwood, who was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1989, was a leading light in making pre-baroque and baroque music concert hall staples — and he helped transform the way musicians of all stripes approached such scores.

Born Sept. 10, 1941, in Nottingham, England, Hogwood began his Cambridge University studies in 1960. Soon after graduating in 1964, he established himself as a real presence on the London music scene, as a keyboardist in the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra and as a founder of The Early Music Consort of London. In 1968, he began to study with the late Dutch keyboardist and musicologist Gustav Leonhardt, a pivotal figure in the resurgence of what was coming to be called "early music."

Hogwood's first experience in co-founding a group dedicated to pre-baroque, baroque and classical-era music was an indicator of his burgeoning role as an evangelist for this music, particularly in England and the U.S. The idea, which became known as historically informed performance, was to shed the conventions of the 19th-century concert hall and play Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart and others in a way that would have made sense to the musicians and audiences of their own times. This meant using the kinds of instruments used centuries ago, in smaller ensembles and with different tuning, and doing original research to hew as closely as possible to the spirit and intention of the composers' original works.

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The results were often bracing, even shocking. As critic John Rockwell wrote in a 1980 review of a recording of Handel's Messiah led by Hogwood, the conductor and his colleagues infused new vitality into an evergreen: "The revelatory results are like no Messiah ever heard before in this century. The biting edge of the gut strings, the airy buoyancy of the total instrumental ensemble, the utter transparency of the choral singing, the sharply etched musical profile of every familiar member freed from any suggestion of a Romantic silky-rich vibrato — this is a Messiah that will no doubt elate baroque purists and unsettle traditionalists. What cannot be disputed is the scholarly thoroughness of the conception and the sheer joyous brilliance of the execution, a performance that will surely stimulate anyone who hears it to re-evaluate a masterpiece."

Not only did the historically informed performance movement give birth to dozens of fine ensembles across Europe and North America, but it also transformed how even many mainstream musicians approached such scores. Generations of musicians have become performer-scholars in the model of Hogwood and his elders, lightening up their touch, trimming their forces and speeding up or slowing down tempos to match the composers' own markings.

In 1973, Hogwood founded the Academy of Ancient Music, which he also conducted, and with whom he made more than 200 recordings, including the first complete cycle of Mozart's symphonies on period instruments. In 1986, Hogwood joined Boston's venerable Handel and Haydn Society — one of America's oldest continuously performing arts organizations — remaking it into a historically informed performance ensemble. Hogwood led Handel and Haydn until 2001, at which point he was named conductor laureate. He also served as music director and later principal guest conductor of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, among his many other posts in the U.S., Europe and Australia.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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Everything You Wanted To Know About Classical Music (But Weren't Afraid To Ask)

Khatia Buniatishvili's new album, Motherland, is among those recommended during the Friday afternoon Twitter sessions.

Khatia Buniatishvili's new album, Motherland, is among those recommended during the Friday afternoon Twitter sessions.

Sony Classical

A few weeks ago, in an act of brazen thievery, your devoted NPR Classical hosts appropriated an idea from our colleague Bob Mondello, NPR's film critic. Each Friday he tweets movie suggestions for the weekend. Realizing we could easily capitalize on his brilliance (less work for us!), we decided to run with Bob's concept and recommend classical albums each Friday afternoon at 2 Eastern on Twitter.

We were pleasantly surprised to find a swell of interest both from newbies, asking about classical music to start with, and seasoned observers, commenting on everything from neglected Russian symphonies to the similarities (or not) between string quartets by Janácek and Bartok.

We tend to lean toward new and exciting releases, and in sessions that last just 30 minutes, the recommendations are far from comprehensive. But in the spirit of Friday afternoons, anything goes. It's all quite fun and we encourage you to join us. Meanwhile, here are some of the questions and recommendations from the past couple of weeks.

(Note: /AT is Anastasia Tsioulcas, /TH is Tom Huizenga)


Recommended by @NotaRover:

  • Well, if you want something new, try Music for Heart and Breath by Richard Reed Parry (from Arcade Fire). /TH
  • I'd strongly suggest making time for this live video of Arvo Part's music: npr.org/event/music/31... /AT
  • There's a great new Talich Qt. reissue of Janacek SQs with Schulhoff SQ No. 1! /TH
  • I'm also partial to the old Smetana Qt. recording of the Janaceks /TH
  • For sheer theatricality in the Janacek, try the Hagen Qt. on DG from 20 years ago. Stunning and in your face. /TH
  • You know which other qt's Bartok I adore? The Takacs. So vivid & visceral. /AT

Recommended by @CharityTD (Bartok):

  • I grew up w/ Takacs in Colorado. Exquisite, passionate and clean musicianship all at once.

Recommended by @Davidweininger (Janacek):

  • That Hagen disc is one of the greatest chamber music recordings in history, tho I also like Talich for a diff view.
  • There's a recent Nyman piano disc by Lisitsa and a new Turnage 'Undance' that sounds great on NMC label./TH
  • I really like Turnage's Viola Concerto — the London Phil released a recording lpo.org.uk/recordings-and... /AT
  • The HUGE buzz electronically speaking is the soon to be released new album by Aphex Twin. I've heard a sneak peek. AWESOME. /TH
  • Give the "NPR Classical 50" a try — each has a recommendation for a work along w/ a specific recording. npr.org/series/9986640... /AT

Recommended by @TheOneImage:

  • How about Elgar? Enigma Variations? An oldie-but-goodie recording led by Simon Rattle: arkivmusic.com/classical/albu... /AT
  • And if you'd like to try out a little Thomas Tallis himself, you've gotta go with the Tallis Scholars singing Tallis' "Spem in Alium." Life-changing, in my opinion. /AT
  • Oooh, Nancarrow! We were just talking about the player piano music a couple of days ago. Do you know the Wergo series of Nancarrow? wergo.de/shop/en_UK/3/s... /AT

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS:

Piano

  • Her concerts have been slammed, but pianist Khatia Buniatishvili's new CD "Motherland" is a pleasing set of hits peppered with rarities. /TH
  • How about Carter Pann. Remember "Slalom?" His new solo piano album, played by Joel Hastings, reminds me of a modern day Reynaldo Hahn. /TH
  • Like Piano Music? Ethiopian pianist Girma Yifrashewa has a delightful new album, Love & Peace. Think Chopin mixed with African-styled tunes. /TH
  • Also, albums I haven't heard yet but really looking forward to opening up: Behzod Abduraimov's Tchaik 1/Prok 3 piano ctos /AT

Opera

  • There's a new electrifying 'Elektra.' Evelyn Herlitzius is a powerhouse. HUGE orchestra strong under Thielemann in Dresden. /TH
  • Wild about Joyce DiDonato's Stella di Napoli. Melting bel canto singing, incl. a breathtaking early Bellini aria. /TH
  • Liking the Perello (husband-wife team of Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello) album of duets. /TH
  • In the reissue dept. you can't get much lovelier than Lieder by Schubert, Brahms and Strauss sung by Lisa Della Casa, rec. in 1956./TH

Choral

  • Smitten with Robert Kyr's choral pieces sung by Conspirare. And yes, we've done some reporting on it. /TH npr.org/blogs/deceptiv...
  • Choral connoisseur? The Sixteen continues its survey of Palestrina in with a mass, Song of Songs and a gorgeous Veni Creator Spiritus. /TH
  • Want great singing? The beauty of singing in the Latvian Radio Choir continues to stun me. New album, Sacred Love. /TH

Orchestral/Chamber

  • I'm a fan of Anima Eterna the historically informed orch. from Bruges. The new Ravel album sports transparent coloring in the winds. /TH
  • Always a soft spot for Lou Harrison. A new disc of 'La Koro Sutro' and Suite for Violin and Gamelan with Gil Rose's BMOP is welcomed. /TH
  • It rocks softly: Polish musician Jacaszek creatively blends electronics and acoustic instruments. The new album is Catalogue des Arbres./TH
  • Also loving: James Blackshaw's new project, music for a silent film, Le Faux Magistrat, recorded live at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. /TH
  • And for new music try 'Excelsior,' by the young, increasingly awesome Caleb Burhans @Pluckbro performed by the Fifth House Ensemble. /TH
  • The Danish String Quartet is always up to something interesting. This time 400-year-old folk music, on the new album "Wood Works." /TH
Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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