Classical Music Buzz > Deceptive Cadence : NPR
Deceptive Cadence : NPR
Deceptive Cadence un-stuffs the world of classical music, which is both fusty and ferociously alive.
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Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman playing in New York in 2009.

Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman playing in New York in 2009.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

One of the world's best-known and best-loved classical musicians has joined the ranks of artists refusing to perform in North Carolina. Violinist Itzhak Perlman canceled an appearance scheduled for Wednesday with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh to protest HB2, the controversial North Carolina law limiting civil rights protections for LGBT people.

HB2 excludes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from the state's non-discrimination laws and prevents local governments from offering discrimination protections that go beyond the state's. It also requires people to use public restrooms that correspond with the sex indicated on their birth certificates.

Speaking by phone Wednesday, Perlman said he had been contemplating a cancellation and its repercussions for weeks. "The first thought was to cancel," he said. "And then I thought, 'Well, what's going to happen to the orchestra musicians? They're going to suffer. It's not their fault.' So I thought that I was going to go, and that I would donate my fee to Equality North Carolina. And I wanted to put fliers into the program explaining my position. So I thought that was all set."

Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman in 2009, playing his Stradivarius during a rehearsal with musicians from the Simón Bolívar National Youth Orchestra in Caracas, Venezuela.

Deceptive Cadence

'My Goal Is To Not Be Bored By What I Do': Itzhak Perlman At 70

"And then yesterday morning at 9:30 AM," Perlman continued, "I get a phone call — and the symphony said, no, the state would not allow that statement. After that exchange, I thought, 'I am going into a hostile situation.' And that's when I said, 'As much as I hate to cause problems and stress, I have to have a stand. I'm canceling.'"

"The law is ugly and hostile, as far as I'm concerned," said the violinist, who was born in Israel in 1945 and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2015. "I feel that it is discriminatory — and it's not just about bathrooms. It's about dignity, like [U.S. Attorney General] Loretta Lynch said. I've been an advocate of equality for the disabled, and this is just another situation in which this is the subject. We are dealing with the equality and dignity of citizens."

North Carolinian Rhiannon Giddens, who opposes HB2, says she struggled with whether to speak out against the bill from stage:

The Record

In North Carolina, Musicians Face Off Against HB2

Perlman has also published a statement on his Facebook page, in which he links his opposition to the North Carolina bill with his own work and experiences as a person with and activist for those with physical disabilities. (Perlman contracted polio as a young child, and uses crutches and a motorized scooter.)

Linda Charlton, the orchestra's vice president for marketing and audience development, sent NPR an emailed statement that reads in full: "The North Carolina Symphony welcomes all people with our hearts and minds open, and we are honored to share our music-making with everyone. However, as a non-partisan organization our performances are not an appropriate forum for political commentary."

Charlton did not respond to NPR's questions about links between Perlman's proposed statement and the state funding that the orchestra receives, or about discussions with Perlman about putting a flier with his statement in the concert program. According to the symphony's published materials, they received 26 percent of their funding in 2015 from the state of North Carolina, which is split between recurring and non-recurring monies. (The state has provided funding to the orchestra since 1943.)

In response to the orchestra's written statement, Perlman replies: "The orchestra cannot say that they are non-partisan. How can they say that? They're getting help from the state. And the state is very partisan. That's a little bit inaccurate. They're caught in the middle here, but they are very concerned about their support from the state. I don't blame them, and the orchestra is not at fault, but that is the fact."

The 70-year-old violinist says that at other points in his career, he has refused other engagements on ethical and political grounds, pointing to two specific examples: He says he declined to play in South Africa due to the apartheid regime, and turned down opportunities to play and record with the renowned Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, who had been a member of the Nazi Party. "It's about a willingness to live with a decision — how are you going to feel about it in 10 years?" Perlman said. "I just couldn't do it."

Perlman says he wrestled with what his cancellation would mean for the North Carolina Symphony musicians with whom he would have been performing. It is a different and more locally collaborative process than that of a musician such as Bruce Springsteen, who canceled a North Carolina concert in April, and who tours with his own band.

Perlman directed a message to the members of the orchestra. "I'm sorry," he said. "I really think they are caught in the middle of this ugly period. All I can say is that my thoughts were very pure on this matter. I was going to come and play, even though it was a bittersweet decision. But once I was being told by the state that I cannot really express my opinion — which I'm sure some of you share — I unfortunately had to cancel.

"I'm hoping that if the law is repealed, and of course if you still want me, if I'm invited again, we'll be able to play together in the future. But under these circumstances, I just cannot do that. I'd like to tell them that I'm really sorry for any pain that I've caused, but that I felt that I simply have to take a stand, and this is the only way I could do it."

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Jane Little, Atlanta's Dainty Double-Bass Player For 71 Years, Dies Onstage

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Heard on Morning Edition Bassist Jane Little performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for more than 71 years — a world record.

Bassist Jane Little performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for more than 71 years — a world record.

Dustin Chambers/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Jane Little spent her long life making beautiful music, and she died this weekend doing just what she loved, onstage. Little played with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for more than 71 years. She joined the symphony in 1945, when she was just 16.

"My father took me down to the Southeastern Music Company in Atlanta to buy my first bass, and he had no idea what I was going to play," she recalled. "So, I says, 'Daddy, there it is in the window, I'm playing this bass. This is what I want.' He says, 'I can't believe you're playing that big thing.' "

Little taught herself to play that bass, and never stopped. In an interview in February, she told member station WABE in Atlanta that she started playing at the symphony for free. Eventually, they did begin to pay her — $35 every other week. In those days, to make ends meet, Little traveled across the South, performing with other symphony orchestras in Augusta and Savannah, Ga., and in Chattanooga, Tenn. She also invested in real estate just in case her career with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra didn't last. She need not have bothered. She was a well-loved orchestra member, and the feeling was mutual.

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"I was so lucky to be able to come into an orchestra in my own hometown," she said. "I was married to the principal flute player for 41 years. And he was this big, 6-feet-2 guy that played a little flute — and he could carry my bass for me, too." Little herself was surprisingly small-framed — only 4 foot, 11 inches — to play the largest member of the string section.

Back in February, Little was recognized by Guinness World Records when she marked her 71st anniversary with the symphony. "It seems like I've been there a hundred years," Little said, laughing. "It's hard to remember when I didn't play in the symphony. It's a hard life, but if you work hard enough and love it enough, you'll do it."

Little died Sunday. She was 87.

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The Danish String Quartet's Manifold Vision For Classical Music

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Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday The Danish String Quartet's new release features British and Danish composers. Violinist Frederik Øland is second from the left; violist Asbjørn Nørgaard is second from the right.

The Danish String Quartet's new release features British and Danish composers. Violinist Frederik Øland is second from the left; violist Asbjørn Nørgaard is second from the right.

Caroline Bittencourt/Courtesy of the artist

The Danish String Quartet is one of the most widely acclaimed chamber groups at the moment — although, in the interest of full disclosure, we should tell you that one member of the quartet is actually Norwegian. The group has a new record called Adès/Nørgard/Abrahamsen that features a program of Danish and British music.

The composers highlighted on this release — Thomas Adès, Per Nørgard and Hans Abrahamsen — hold a special place in the story of The Danish String Quartet. Recently, two of the group's members — violist Asbjørn Nørgaard and violinist Frederik Øland — spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about how the recording, and the group itself, came together. You can hear their conversation at the audio link, or read on for an edited version.

Scott Simon: The two of you, and violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, have known each other since before you were teenagers. How did that happen?

Frederik Øland: Well, the three of us — Rune, Asbjørn and I — we met at this music camp in Denmark. It's only a week every summer, and you go there with people of all ages to just play music for a week — orchestra stuff, and then chamber music throughout the night. And you don't sleep a lot, that's for sure. So we were just hanging out there, playing our first chamber music together, playing soccer — even having our first beers together, later on! This was a very nice place to grow up, because it's a place that's full of love for the music.

Tiny Desk Concert with the Danish String Quartet on October 14, 2014.

Tiny Desk

Danish String Quartet: Tiny Desk Concert

How did the composers Thomas Adès, Per Nørgard and Hans Abrahamsen wind up sharing space on your album?

Asbjørn Nørgaard: Well, this is a recording that we have been talking about for a long time, but it took a while to realize. The Abrahamsen was almost the first quartet we learned, almost 15 years ago. At this point, we were quite young; we were still teenagers. We had an idea that classical music was mostly Brahms, Mozart, Haydn — kind of nice stuff. And then our chamber music teacher back then, he put in front of us this piece by Abrahamsen. We had never heard about this guy. We started to play and it sounded really crazy. It sounded more like heavy metal than classical music!

We really, really enjoyed playing it, to use our instruments in a completely different way, and to experience that a string quartet can morph from something that's in a way very classical, very in-the-box, and then it can explode and morph into everything you can imagine. We always thought we would like to record that at some point.

A little bit later in our development, almost the same story happened with the Adès — his first string quartet, Arcadiana. This is classical music, but [one] particular movement, called "Tango Mortale," is very rough, very rhythmical, very aggressive kind of music. It also became a part of the story of our quartet. So then we had these two pieces that we really wanted to match on the recording.

What's the classical music audience like these days?

Nørgaard: That's a very complicated question. And actually, I think it's — if I might say so — almost a wrong question to ask, because we just think about ourselves as musicians, not as maybe classical musicians in the old way. I think today, if you train as a classical musician, you need to sustain a great degree of flexibility. You need to be able to be in a bar and perform and not be awkward. And in our experience, we do our own festival in Copenhagen, and we've built an audience here which is quite young, actually. So we don't share this kind of pessimism about the classical music audience that's "dying away," that you sometimes read about in the media.

Do you have a favorite composition on this release that you'd like to point us to?

Nørgaard: If there's one track on this album that will have a popular appeal, it's a specific movement of the Adès quartet [called "O Albion"]. A friend of mine said he thinks this sounds like Coldplay. It's a very beautiful slow movement, and it's just an example that classical music is many things: It can be aggressive, it can be beautiful, it can be simple, it can sound like it was written 500 years ago, and it could sound like it is being improvised in the moment. And that's the joy we have as a string quartet, and I think this album represented well. It can sound like Coldplay, it can sound like heavy metal and it can definitely also sound like classical music as you think it should sound.

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Even Scarier Than The Book Or Movie: 'The Shining' Is Now An Opera

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Heard on All Things Considered

FromMinnesota Public Radio

The Minnesota Opera's adaptation of The Shining brings the horror story to the stage.

The Minnesota Opera's adaptation of The Shining brings the horror story to the stage.

Ken Howard/Courtesy of the Minnesota Opera

The Shining was Stephen King's first hardback bestseller. Stanley Kubrick's film version was listed by no less than Martin Scorcese as one of the scariest horror films ever made. Now, the story is an opera — and its creators want it to be even more terrifying than the book or the movie.

Composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell collaborated on the project, which opened last week at the Minnesota Opera, for three years. Their work shows in the three-foot-tall, several-inch-thick tome that houses The Shining's orchestral score.

"It's big, isn't it?" Moravec chuckles, holding it. "Look at all these notes!"

"Lots of notes!" Mark Campbell offers. "Some of them are pretty good."

Moravec says the idea of an operatic adaptation of The Shining immediately attracted him.

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining strikes its terrifying tone with help from the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, whose music underscores several of its tensest scenes.

Deceptive Cadence

A Sound Of Fear, Forged In The Shadow Of War

"Stephen King's original novel is all about love, death and power," he says. "And those are the three foundational components for an opera."

Published in 1977, The Shining was Stephen King's third novel, and it established him as a major figure in the horror genre. Kubrick's film, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall, came out three years later. Both became hits — and that's good for the pulling in audiences, says Minnesota Opera artistic director Dale Johnson. Several managers from other opera companies are attending the world premiere of The Shining this weekend, to the encouraging news that the entire run has been sold out for weeks. But, Johnson says, it presents a challenge too.

"It's just part of our popular culture," he says. "So we have to make sure that the pace of the opera, and the telling of the opera, doesn't sit too long in one place — because the audience is already ahead of you."

This challenge went first to Mark Campbell, who had to secure Stephen King's approval for the structure and content of his libertto. Campbell got it, but says he had to do a lot of distilling.

"Let's just say: from 600 pages to under two hours," he says.

For those who missed out on the book and the movie, The Shining begins with Jack Torrance driving his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny, across the country to his new job: winter caretaker at the empty Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies.

"There it is," Jack sings in the opera as the family approaches the hotel. "Oh, Jack! It's gorgeous!" Wendy replies. "It's perfect! So perfect!"

Those who do know The Shining know Jack Torrance is not a happy man: A drinker who has swung from failure to failure, he's desperate for a new start. Baritone Brian Mulligan, a bear of a man with an impressive beard, sings the part of Jack.

"He's a survivor of extreme domestic abuse," Mulligan says. "He's kind of struggling to end that cycle of abuse with his own family — and failing miserably," he laughs. There is a lot of nervous laughter around this production. It seems to be a way of dealing with the troubling aspects of the story.

Brian Mulligan (second from right) plays Jack Torrance, a survivor of domestic abuse.

Brian Mulligan (second from right) plays Jack Torrance, a survivor of domestic abuse. "He's kind of struggling to end that cycle of abuse with his own family — and failing miserably," Mulligan says.

Ken Howard/Minnesota Opera

As the Torrance family settles in, it becomes clear there are evil spirits in the Overlook. Paul Moravec says the hotel itself becomes a malevolent character.

"I think of the Overlook as sort of this gateway into hell," he says. "And when you finally see the ghosts appearing at the end of Act One, it's as though the gates of hell open up and they come spilling out onto the stage."

Grotesquely costumed actors and carefully choreographed video projections create the haunting. The ghost of his abusive father tells the increasingly unstable Jack that his wife and son must die. Brian Mulligan and soprano Kelly Kaduce, who plays Wendy Torrance, have been training for weeks for what comes next.

"They have some awesome fights," Mulligan, says. "I mean, they are really good."

Kaduce agrees: "Knives, bottles, mallets!"

"Words," Mulligan adds.

"Blood!" Kaduce counters.

Kaduce and Mulligan both say that to sing and fight at the same time is exhausting. They had to ask Moravec to write a little extra music in some spots just so they can catch their breath.

The Shining is the latest in a series of Minnesota Opera premieres based on popular books, plays and movies, including The Grapes of Wrath, Silent Night — which won a Pulitzer for its score — and Doubt. But the goal of the company's New Works Initiative goes beyond filling seats. The aim, Mark Campbell says, is to create new operas that will be performed around the country.

"If we get more people into the opera house because of the familiarity," he says, "and expose them to new and exciting and challenging music, we all win by that."

Copyright 2016 Minnesota Public Radio. To see more, visit Minnesota Public Radio.
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How One Man Made The Eiffel Tower Sing

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Heard on Weekend Edition Sunday Composer Joseph Bertolozzi has created a composition from the sounds of the Eiffel Tower, striking practically every surface he could reach and recording it.

Composer Joseph Bertolozzi has created a composition from the sounds of the Eiffel Tower, striking practically every surface he could reach and recording it.

Franc Palaia/Courtesy of the artist

Composer Joseph Bertolozzi's latest musical project turned the Eiffel Tower into a giant percussion instrument. From the basement to the summit, the Paris monument's girders, railings, and rivets were banged, tapped, strummed and thumped. And then, those 10,000 samples were layered into one composition, called Tower Music.

Bertolozzi spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about the process. You can hear their conversation at the audio link, or read on for an edited version.

Melissa Block: Could you describe the method of all of this? How did you harvest these sounds?

Joseph Bertolozzi: Well, we would determine what surface we wanted to sample, and we'd put a contact microphone, which picks up vibrations from the thing it's attached to, rather than sound in the air. And then I went through all those samples and tried to find the best sounds that would work. It took me four months to catalog.

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When I went looking for sounds, I wasn't looking for anything in particular. I just said, okay, we're going to record every surface we have, and I'll turn it into music later on. Turning it into music was the easy part; all the permissions, and everything else leading up to it, made it a challenge.

How did you go about getting somebody to say, "Okay, yes, you can climb all over the Eiffel Tower and attach microphones and record all those sounds"?

They were very gracious. I, of course, was ready to have to do some actual climbing, but they said, "No, no; you don't climb. You don't have that kind of insurance!" And I sent them this detailed document as to all the surfaces I wanted to play, and almost everything was, "No, no no." I went there to meet the chief engineer, and he said, "You know, we crossed all these out because all the places that you showed would involve you in a harness, climbing out to them." But he took me on a tour of the tower and he said, "See this surface that you marked? It's over here. You're standing next to it if you're standing on the second floor."

Are there any effects that are added to these sounds?

Not at all. You're hearing the raw samples of the tower. That's the real aesthetic of this piece. If I was to put all sorts of processing, echo, and boosting treble and bass and things like that, you wouldn't be hearing the tower, and that's the whole point of this project.

So Percussion, Eli Keszler and the piano wires of Archway.

Field Recordings

Eli Keszler & So Percussion: Making The Manhattan Bridge Roar And Sing

Does the Eiffel Tower have a particular key or a particular pitch?

I'd have to say no, but it doesn't have all the notes of the scale. You know, a piano has — from the lowest to the highest — it has all the half-tones, all the white and black keys. The tower doesn't have that; it just has this random series of notes. And my job, as a composer, was to take something that was incomplete as an instrument and make it sound as if nothing was missing.

Let's talk about a track that has a really beautiful, sort of floaty, bubbly melodic sound; it's called "The Elephant on the Tower." There are parts of this that sound like a gamelan orchestra from Java or Bali — and it does turn out that there is a connection between the Eiffel Tower and the gamelan. What is that?

When the Eiffel Tower was first built, it was built for a world exposition. It was the first time that a contingent from Indonesia came with their gamelan instruments, and it was the first time, really, that the West was really exposed to it. Claude Debussy was very much influenced by these sounds. There's actually a piece in Tower Music called "Continuum," where I have a modern, minimalist vibe going on, and then I insert Indonesian Gamelan-type melodic and rhythmic materials. They really meld together nicely.

What about the most elusive sound you tried to record, the toughest one?

On the neck of the tower, there's nothing around you. It's just catwalk stairs going up and down. And while it might be 60 degrees down on the ground level with a nice gentle breeze, a thousand feet up in the air it's 20 or 30 degrees colder, and the wind is blowing at 20 or 30 miles an hour. So we had to lean in to the wind just to stand upright. I had a stick that I was holding onto blow out of my hands! I caught it, and luckily I had it tethered to my belt, so it wouldn't have fallen.

I'm thinking, when you're up there recording on the Eiffel Tower, at some point you must have looked around you over the city of Paris and thought: This has got to be the best recording studio ever!

You are absolutely right. I just couldn't believe it. For years, the Eiffel Tower was just this little flat screen in my office. And then I finally get there and there's this huge structure, and it was just exhilarating. Exhilarating.

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01Revolution 9
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The New York-based orchestra Alarm Will Sound puts a fresh twist on The Beatles' most maligned song.

The New York-based orchestra Alarm Will Sound puts a fresh twist on The Beatles' most maligned song.

Carl Sander Socolow/Courtesy of the artists

Late in 1968, it was astounding to me how one of the best-loved bands could create one of the least-liked songs. It was "Revolution 9," near the end of The Beatles' sprawling White Album.

But then, I was only 7 years old and, frankly, those eight minutes of chaotic sounds and mumbled words were positively frightening. And who was that guy who kept intoning "number nine?"

Songs We Love.

Songs We Love

It would be years before I realized that The Beatles were actually emulating an established musical genre pioneered by composers like Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Schaeffer created a style of electronic music known as musique concrète in the 1940s, and Stockhausen (who is pictured on the Sgt. Pepper's album cover) pushed it further in pieces like Gesang der Jünglinge and Hymnen.

It's in the spirit of those mid-century modernist experiments that conductor Alan Pierson and his New York-based ensemble Alarm Will Sound present their own rendition of the misunderstood Beatles track. The arrangement is by Matt Marks, the group's horn player, and it opens the new album Modernists.

Instead of employing found sounds, a principal tenet of musique concrète which the Beatles followed faithfully, AWS takes an all-acoustic approach (except for brief noises from a low-tech Crackle Box near the end). This softens contours but doesn't dampen the frenetic chaos.

Gone is the exaggerated, left-right stereo panning of the original, which was arguably more annoying than clever. Gone, too, are the backward-running tape loops, but the ensemble mimics them brilliantly with slithery woodwinds highlighted by a groaning bass clarinet. Three percussionists help stage any number of jarring juxtapositions while band members effectively babble the nonsensical text. By establishing a performance practice, AWS elevates the piece from maligned recording-studio experiment to legitimate chamber orchestra work.

"Revolution 9" has been denigrated by critics and fans, but it's also surprisingly resilient. Phish and the Neil Cowley Trio, among others, have covered it and The Simpsons even took a swipe at it. These days, it also has an uncomfortable resonance, as its topsy-turvy nature reflects our unpredictable world more than ever before.

Modernists is out now on Cantaloupe Music.

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In Fort Worth Opera's 'JFK,' A Tension Between Joy And Tragedy Listen· 5:49
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Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday Daniela Mack and Matthew Worth star as First Lady and President Kennedy in a new show at the Fort Worth Opera, JFK.

Daniela Mack and Matthew Worth star as First Lady and President Kennedy in a new show at the Fort Worth Opera, JFK.

Nine Photography/Forth Worth Opera

Fort Worth Opera director Darren K. Woods was looking for a Fort Worth story to mark the company's 70th anniversary. Someone mentioned that they thought President Kennedy spent his last night in the city.

"And I went, 'Everybody would know that if that happened,'" he says. "So we Googled it and boy: There it was."

The opera that resulted is named JFK, and its world premiere is tonight in Fort Worth, Texas. It tells the story of President John F. Kennedy's last night with his wife, Jacqueline, before he was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. But the opera is not what you might expect: It mixes intimate views of the couple's optimistic trip to Texas with dark hints of what we know will happen.

Woods asked librettist Royce Vavrek if he'd be interested in working on the project. Vavrek remembers his excitement at the idea.

"I remember running home and telling David that this was something I thought we could do are really, really well," Vavrek says.

"David" is composer David T. Little. He and Vavrek are based in New York. Both are in their 30s, and are rising stars in the opera scene. Their post-apocalyptic opera Dog Days landed on a number of critics' top 10 lists in 2012.

For inspiration for their latest collaboration, Vavrek and Little retraced Kennedy's steps in Fort Worth.

"I remember coming to this room, looking out these magnificent tall windows," Vavrek says, describing the presidential suite of what was the Hotel Texas, now the Fort Worth Hilton.

When the audience first sees Jackie in JFK, she's staring out that window, while the president soaks his notoriously bad back in the tub. Jackie injects him with morphine to numb the pain; he sleeps, and a series of drug-induced dreams and hallucinations follow. He meets his future wife for the first time.

Baritone Matthew Worth sings President Kennedy. He says he was enamored of the opera from the beginning. "The first day we sang it in workshop, we looked over at Royce and at David and said, 'Guys, this is just stunning,'" Worth says. "It still stays that way all this time later."

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The original hotel suite where the Kennedys stayed that night was decorated with valuable artworks loaned by Fort Worth collectors. The painting Swimming, by Thomas Eakins, now hangs in the city's Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Little says it gave him some ideas.

"There was a kind of free association for us that started with these paintings, as the things that were surrounding the Kennedys in their suite," Little says. "You know: Would this remind Jack of Hyannisport? And sort of extrapolating from that — the Sea of Serenity on the moon, which is such a part of his presidency. In a way, they were part of a brainstorming process that helped us to construct us the broader frame for the story we were going to tell." Hyannisport and the moon both end up in this opera.

Throughout the show, there is a chorus: three Greek fates, Vavrek explains. They determine birth, life and death. The librettist says ancient myths have long been elements of grand opera, but here, he flips the convention.

"We took the myth of JFK and we really attempted to make him mortal," Vavrek says. "What were those conversations that he had with Jackie in the privacy of this suite? What are those, just, intimate things that we all deal with, that we could make him not a legend — we could make him a real personable figure."

They can only guess at what those conversations were. But Little says the team that produced JFK wants the audience to feel that tension between joy and impending tragedy.

"It's really about this affirmation of life," Little says, "because we know of the death that is imminent."

That's why President Kennedy sings of the sun shining the morning in Fort Worth before he and his wife leave. Sunny enough, he sings, to the leave the car top down.

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Yehudi Menuhin's Potent Blend Of Music, Humanism And Politics Listen· 5:26
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Heard on All Things Considered Yehudi Menuhin, born 100 years ago, was far more than a violin virtuoso.

Yehudi Menuhin, born 100 years ago, was far more than a violin virtuoso.

Erich Auerbach/Getty Images

One hundred years ago, a musician was born who took the world by storm, both with his violin and with his warmhearted humanity. Yehudi Menuhin was born April 22, 1916, in the Bronx to Russian immigrants. He began his career as an astounding child prodigy in velvet knee pants. But two men who knew him well — documentary filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon and violinist Daniel Hope — maintain that as Menuhin grew older, he turned out to be far more than just another virtuoso.

First off, one shouldn't forget just what a virtuoso the young Menuhin was. By the time he made his first recordings, at age 11, he was already a star. He had made his Paris debut, played Carnegie Hall twice and commanded concert fees as large as $10,000. Critics were using words like "The Violinist of the Century." At 16, Menuhin was at Abbey Road Studios to record Edward Elgar's violin concerto with the composer conducting. The recording, an instant classic, has never been out of print.

"He was the most celebrated infant prodigy in history, together with Mozart," Monsaingeon says.

Monsaingeon made several documentaries about the violinist and wrote a 250-page book for The Menuhin Century, a new 80-CD, 11-DVD Menuhin box set. It was Menuhin's sound that inspired Monsaingeon to pick up the violin.

The same goes for Hope. "Menuhin was definitely the reason that I became a violinist; there's no doubt about that," he says. Hope's mother was Menuhin's secretary, and Hope spent most of his childhood in Menhuin's home listening to him play.

"The sound has so many layers to it," Hope says. "It's as if it hugs you. And it was ginormous, and yet it had a kind of anguish and a pain to it, which is highly emotional at the same time."

Mentoring young musicians became a mission for Menuhin, as he told NPR in 1992. "I feel that music is a birthright, as much as air and water and food," he said. "I would love to see the day begin in every school with children singing and dancing."

Menuhin made the 16-year-old Hope an offer: to tour with him for 10 years. That's when Hope discovered another side of Menuhin.

Yehudi Menuhin: A Life In 10 Pictures

  • In the summer of 1927, Menuhin began studying with famed Romanian composer and violinist Georges Enescu. Hide caption In the summer of 1927, Menuhin began studying with famed Romanian composer and violinist Georges Enescu. Previous Next Warner Classics
  • In 1932, at age 16, Menuhin recorded Edward Elgar's violin concerto at London's Abbey Road Studios with the composer conducting. An instant classic, the recording has never been out of print. Hide caption In 1932, at age 16, Menuhin recorded Edward Elgar's violin concerto at London's Abbey Road Studios with the composer conducting. An instant classic, the recording has never been out of print. Previous Next Warner Classics
  • Menuhin's sister Hephzibah, also a prodigy, became the violinist's frequent musical partner onstage and in the recording studio. Hide caption Menuhin's sister Hephzibah, also a prodigy, became the violinist's frequent musical partner onstage and in the recording studio. Previous Next Warner Classics
  • During World War II, Menuhin played hundreds of concerts for Allied troops in hospitals and near the front lines. Hide caption During World War II, Menuhin played hundreds of concerts for Allied troops in hospitals and near the front lines. Previous Next Warner Classics
  • Right after the war, Menuhin shocked his fans and Jewish groups by supporting and performing with famed German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who was accused of having ties to the Nazi regime. Hide caption Right after the war, Menuhin shocked his fans and Jewish groups by supporting and performing with famed German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who was accused of having ties to the Nazi regime. Previous Next Warner Classics
  • In 1952, Menuhin traveled to India, where he met Ravi Shankar (second from left). The two men recorded three albums together and became lifelong friends. Hide caption In 1952, Menuhin traveled to India, where he met Ravi Shankar (second from left). The two men recorded three albums together and became lifelong friends. Previous Next Warner Classics
  • In 1978, Menuhin performed in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem to mark the Camp David agreement. Beginning with his first concerts in Israel in 1950, Menuhin squabbled with the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians. Hide caption In 1978, Menuhin performed in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem to mark the Camp David agreement. Beginning with his first concerts in Israel in 1950, Menuhin squabbled with the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians. Previous Next Warner Classics
  • Menuhin also dabbled in jazz, making a number of recordings with jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli from 1975 to 1981. Hide caption Menuhin also dabbled in jazz, making a number of recordings with jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli from 1975 to 1981. Previous Next Warner Classics
  • Later in Menuhin's career, as his bowing technique began to fail, he turned to conducting. He was appointed head of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1982. Hide caption Later in Menuhin's career, as his bowing technique began to fail, he turned to conducting. He was appointed head of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1982. Previous Next Warner Classics

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"We had life-changing conversations about everything from music to humanism to politics," Hope recalls. "He was very vocal in his disgust of racism and of intolerance in general, and he believed passionately that musicians had to stand up for what they believe in."

And Menuhin practiced what he preached. He practically put his career on hold in the 1940s, playing hundreds of concerts for Allied troops in hospitals and near the front lines. With composer and pianist Benjamin Britten, he played for displaced people at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just after it was liberated. Monsaingeon says Menuhin's heart was broken by what he saw.

"The contact with human suffering made him a different man," Monsaingeon says. "I think one can hear that in his playing. The [Schubert] 'Ave Maria' he would always play, he said to me, as a kind of prayer for those who might not return."

Right after the war, Menuhin, a Jew, shocked the worlds of music and politics when he performed with Wilhelm Furtwängler. The German conductor had remained at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic during the war and was accused of having ties with the Nazi regime. That Menuhin sought Furtwängler out and made recordings with him was a prime example, Hope says, of Menuhin the bridge builder.

"His view on that particular time was that we've been through enough of this horrendous hatred and now it's time to rethink and now it's time to come together again," Hope says. "And it was a radical decision on his part to say, 'I'm extending the hand of friendship.' "

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Violinist Daniel Hope provides running commentary on a passage from the opening movement of Edward Elgar's violin concerto, recorded by Yehudi Menuhin at age 16.

Menuhin Play-By-Play Listen· 1:45
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Menuhin later squabbled with a number of governments and politicians. He gave a cunning, and moving, speech to the Israeli Knesset about the treatment of Palestinians. He gave impromptu concerts for poor South Africans under apartheid and disrupted a session in that country's Parliament.

In 1952, Menuhin traveled to India, where he studied yoga with B.K.S. Iyengar, a man he would later introduce to the rest of the world. Hope says that throughout Menuhin's final concert tour he could be found practicing yoga in his dressing room. Also in India, Monsaingeon says, Menuhin acquired a strong taste for Indian music.

"He heard Ravi Shankar for the first time and was fascinated," Monsaingeon says. "He brought Shankar, immediately, in his wake, to Europe and made those famous recordings of Indian music." Before the Beatles became interested in Indian music, Menuhin introduced it to England's Bath Festival in 1959.

Shankar and Menuhin made three albums together and became close friends. After Menuhin's death, in 1999, Shankar told NPR that one of the keys to understanding Menuhin was his self-effacing personality.

"His humility," Shankar said, "I have never seen in any Western musicians and hardly even in Indian musicians, believe me."

Menuhin needed a little humility when later in his career his bowing technique began to fail. Little by little, he took up conducting. But Monsaingeon says that even after Menuhin stopped playing the violin, you could still hear the instrument in his performances as a conductor.

"The Schubert symphonies have something special in that you can hear Menuhin's violin sound in an orchestra," Monsaingeon explains. "It's something which is really unbelievable because lots of people considered that he was no conductor."

Hope, who witnessed Menuhin conducting on many occasions, says that he led orchestras through the strength of his musicianship. "If he had an ensemble of musicians who were willing to work, there could be spectacular results." Menuhin was appointed head of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1982.

With a school, an academy, a festival and a violin competition created under his guidance, and his devotion to health food, world affairs, electric cars and humanitarian charities, Yehudi Menuhin turned out to be many things. But first and foremost, Hope says, Menuhin was a generous human being.

"Menuhin was so much more than just a violinist," Hope insists. "He was a passionate believer in being a better person and making a better world." And the way to do that, Menuhin said, was to reach out to people.

"One has to have the hunger for communication, for giving," Menuhin said. "One has to have a sense of compassion."

That's exactly what pours out in Menuhin's music.

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24Behold
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  • Buy Featured Music

    Song
    Behold
    Album
    Louis "Moondog" Hardin: Round the World of Sound
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    Dedalus / Muzzix
    Label
    New World Records
    Released
    2016

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Musicians from the French ensembles Dedalus and Muzzix have recreated an album by Moondog, originally released in 1971.

Musicians from the French ensembles Dedalus and Muzzix have recreated an album by Moondog, originally released in 1971.

Christian Mathieu/Courtesy of the artists

With his long beard, homemade horned helmet, flowing cloak and spear, he was known as the Viking of Sixth Avenue. He was born Louis Thomas Hardin in Marysville, Kan. in 1916 and later called himself Moondog. At 16, he was blinded while fiddling with a blasting cap.

Songs We Love.

Songs We Love

For nearly 30 years, beginning in the 1940s, Moondog was perhaps the most intriguing, and talented, street denizen of New York. Holding court on corners in Midtown, he performed for onlookers. He also recited his poetry, conversed with passersby and composed music at once fresh and timeless, evoking the spirit of jazz, Latin, pop and classical. He attracted the admiration, and in many cases the friendship, of major musicians — from Arturo Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein to Charles Mingus and Philip Glass, at whose apartment he crashed for a year. Janis Joplin even covered his song "All Is Loneliness."

Moondog (Louis T. Hardin) photographed standing outside CBS headquarters at West 53rd Street and 6th Avenue in New York on April 21, 1972.

Moondog (Louis T. Hardin) photographed standing outside CBS headquarters at West 53rd Street and 6th Avenue in New York on April 21, 1972.

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In 1971, Moondog released his second album for Columbia Masterworks, Moondog 2. That album is lovingly reimagined in its entirety on Moondog: Round The World Of Sound, a new release by the French new music ensembles Dedalus and Muzzix.

"Behold," a song from 1969, reveals several of Moondog's stronger influences. As a boy, he once visited the Arapaho reservation; it was on chief Yellow Calf's lap that he learned to pound out rhythms on a buffalo-skin drum. That insistent beat lays the foundation for a buoyant melody in the form of a canon, another of Moondog's obsessions and a significant nod to the baroque counterpoint of J.S. Bach. (Like Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, the sequence of two dozen songs on Moondog's album systematically moves through all the major and minor keys.)

"Behold the willow bows before me / but not the oak, I'm uprooting / remarked the wind." The lyrics and music come across as equal parts riddle and nursery rhyme. Perhaps that's appropriate for a man of mystery who struck many as a simplistic hobo. Beneath that Viking cape lived a true American maverick.

Moondog: Round The World Of Sound is out now on New World Records.

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Is Battle Fatigue Over? The Met Rehires A Banned Soprano
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A Feb. 8, 1994 New York Times headline reads: "The Met Drops Kathleen Battle, Citing 'Unprofessional Actions'."

A Times headline from Monday reads: "You're Unfired: Kathleen Battle Is Returning to the Met After 22 years."

The Metropolitan Opera announced yesterday that on Nov. 13, Battle will sing a program of spirituals called Kathleen Battle: Underground Railroad — A Spiritual Journey. She is also performing the program in Richmond, Ky. on Apr. 16 and in Toronto May 29.

For more than two decades, Battle has been as well known for her public dismissal as for her considerable artistry. Her voice, an agile, glimmering lyric soprano with touches of cream and smoke, was one of the most acclaimed in the opera world in the 1980s. The videos here give a sense of what was lost when the Grammy-winning singer got the ax.

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Temperamental divas have been around as long as opera has. In 1727, two rival sopranos in Handel's employ fought onstage — in front of the Princess of Wales, no less. And closer to our own time, the once-married team of soprano Angela Gheorghiu and tenor Roberto Alagna were dubbed by director Jonathan Miller the "Bonnie and Clyde of opera" for their tantrums and demands. Alanna walked off the stage at Milan's famed La Scala in 2006 during a season-opening performance of Aida after a series of boos from the audience.

But Battle seemed to take the pejorative connotations of the word diva to new extremes. Stories abound.

Like the time she got into a tiff with conductor Christian Thielemann, as the New York Times reported, and walked out of a Met rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier in a huff. She threatened to quit if she didn't meet immediately with Metropolitan Opera General Manager Joseph Volpe; he didn't come to her dressing room and she didn't return to the production. In Boston, she reportedly banned musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from her rehearsals and left in what the Boston Globe described as "a froth of ill will."

"Kathleen Battle's unprofessional actions during rehearsals for the revival of La Fille du Regiment were profoundly detrimental to the artistic collaboration among all the cast members," Joseph Volpe said in a statement at the time of her firing. "I could not allow the quality of the performance to be jeopardized." When the cast was informed, they reportedly cheered.

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After Battle was fired, the New York Times reports her as saying, "I was not told by anyone at the Met about any unprofessional actions." As of then, she was essentially banned from the opera business, although she continued to give recitals.

"My sense is that Battle had a whole constellation of problems," says Washington Post Classical Music Critic Anne Midgette. "The firing was one symptom." Midgette calls it a decisive turning point in the soprano's career.

But what does this new development — that Battle will sing a recital of spirituals at the Met — mean for the 67-year-old singer?

"Depending on how it goes," Midgette says, "the new Met announcement will signal to the world that she's employable," though as a different type of soprano. "This is obviously a whole new stage of her vocal life."

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