After the triumph of OK Computer, Radiohead fell into a creative tailspin -- and frontman Thom Yorke into a nervous breakdown. Exhausted from touring, hounded by press, and jaded by copycats, he escaped into the electronica scene pioneered by Kraftwerk and Warp Records -- fertile ground, the band discovered. Trading spacey rock for apocalyptic brooding, they teased their new sound not with singles or music videos but with innovative web streaming and cryptic, dreamlike "blips" -- winterlands, flocks of cubes, eyeballs, bears. After nearly breaking up over tracklist angst, they cut the kid in half. Thus fifteen years ago today, Kid A and (later) Amnesiac debuted, a confounding mix of electronic fugue, whalesong, pulsing IDM, drunken piano, and epic jazz funeral whose insights into anxiety, political dysfunction, and climate crisis would make it one of the most revered albums of the twenty-first century. See the documentary Reflections on Kid A for interviews and live cuts, or look inside for much more. [more inside]
Pluto, the Renewer is a short orchestral piece by English composer Colin Matthews, commissioned by the Hallé Orchestra as an addition to Gustav Holst's suite, The Planets. Program notes by the composer. Matthews commented on the piece, and Pluto's place, in an NPR interview a few years ago. The BBC's Discovering Music gives a good discussion of Holst's original suite (which you can listen to here).
Hans Kühner, of G. Henle Verlag, a publisher of classical music urtexts, hypnotically engraves a sheet of Liszt the old-fashioned way.
In December, grad student and occasional NYT music writer Will Robin asked on Twitter, "What are the best large-scale orchestral works of this century?" He Storified the responses, with links for listening, and then on Tuesday, streamed the result: Symphomania, a 24-hour marathon of sixty 21st-century orchestral works by sixty different composers, on Q2 Music at WQXR in New York. Starting tonight at midnight, WQXR is repeating the stream. [more inside]
A Sunday morning is a fine time to listen to Leonard Bernstein discuss Brahms' 4th symphony, complete with crackling vinyl noise.
How do you sing "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy"? This is how.
Top hat at the cleaners? Opera glasses broke? Lost your box? Watch The Metropolitan Opera, the Bavarian State Opera (Deutsch, English) Vienna State Opera, or concerts from the Berlin Philharmonic and a variety of options from medici.tv and The Young Vic, The Globe, The Royal Opera House, The Royal Shakespeare Company, and more. [more inside]
Christopher Hogwood, conductor, scholar, musician and champion of historically informed performance, died on September 24 at the age of 73. [more inside]
All of Bach: Every week, you will find a new recording here of one Johann Sebastian Bach’s 1080 works, performed by The Netherlands Bach Society and many guest musicians.
Górecki's 4th Symphony premiered this past weekend. Left unfinished, but near completion, at his death, it has been now been finished by his son, Mikołaj Górecki, who describes the work as "very different from its immediate predecessor … and is closer to monumental works like Symphony No 2 or Beatus Vir and to later pieces with Tatra folk influences such as the Little Requiem." The immediate predecessor, Symphony No 3, was hugely successful, selling over a million CD copies. The Guardian hosts the video of the performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and tells the story behind the posthumous premiere.
In An Autumn Garden "I always want to write erotic music... Not only about the love between men and women, but in a much more universal sense - about the sensuality of the mechanism of the universe... about life." Toru Takemitsu Part 1 Part 2> I close my eyes for this (you don't have to).
World Concert Hall publishes a schedule, seven days out, of live classical concerts and operas scheduled for streaming broadcast on the web.
Last week, Improv Everywhere set up the ACJW Ensemble Orchestra (of Carnegie Hall and The Juilliard School) in Herald Square in New York City and placed an empty podium in front of the musicians with a sign that read, "Conduct Us." [more inside]
One day in February several years ago, William D. Drake – a distant cousin of famous folk musician Nick Drake – released two very different albums at once. There was Yew's Paw, a collection of strange and lovely piano music, such as the bouncy, joyful Pipistrelle, the sometimes-misty, sometimes-urgent At the End of the Harbour Wall. (Not to mention the aptly-named Short & Sweet Like A Donkey's Gallop, which is 17 satisfying seconds long.) Then there was Briny Hooves, a set of rock/folk/pop songs which are all confounding and fantastic. Wolves is an angry elegy that's nonetheless incredibly catchy; equally catchy is Serendipity Doodah. Ugly Fortress is a softer, Beatlesy sort of tune, The Fountains Smoke is a lovely folk duet, and Requiem for a Snail is exactly what it claims to be. Perhaps its two most affecting moments are Sweet Peace, a gently dark number that grows and grows, and Seahorse, which is very reminiscent of Robert Wyatt's (also wonderful) Rock Bottom. Both albums are worth a listen, and both can be streamed freely from Bandcamp—Yew's Paw, Briny Hooves, and Drake's more recent album The Rising of the Lights.
Why I Hate the Goldberg Variations, by Jeremy Denk, whose new (lovely) recording of the Goldberg Variations is now streaming on NPR. Also by Denk: Hannibal Lecter's Guide to the Goldberg Variations, which explores the famous cannibal killer through the lens of Bach. This is Your Brain on the Goldberg Variations, which gets in-depth on just how the Variations vary.
The sound of silence - Research by Dr. Chia-Jung Tsay published in PNAS suggests that top musicians are judged as much for the visual aspects of their performances, as much as for the aural ones, regardless of the experience level of the listener or judge
Chouchou are a Japanese duo of artist/musicians who make haunting, ethereal electronic lullabies of otherworldly beauty. [more inside]
Several members of the Philadelphia Orchestra were on a flight from Bejing to Macao that got stuck on the tarmac for three hours. With nothing better to do, the musicians resorted to doing what they do best...
Held once every four years, the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is being livecast. Running from May 24th to June 9th, performers — some of the best young pianists in the world — are currently in the preliminary round.
Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts: From 1958-1973, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein (Previously on MeFi) played live, educational concerts with the New York Philharmonic that were televised nationwide on CBS. Tapes of the broadcasts were eventually syndicated to 40 countries, introducing an entire generation of children to a wide range musical concepts, styles and composers. The first concert to air was "What Does Music Mean." [more inside]
Caroline Shaw is a 30 year old composer, violinist, and singer. Yesterday, she also became the youngest person ever, and one of the few women, to receive the Pulitzer Prize for music for her composition Partita for 8 Voices. The work features four baroque inspired movements that were influenced by the violin music of Bach, and yet despite the baroque title, Partita is still thoroughly modern. The Pulitzer jury described it as a "highly polished and inventive a cappella work uniquely embracing speech, whispers, sighs, murmurs, wordless melodies and novel vocal effects." [more inside]
"Note that Scriabin did not, for his theory, recognize a difference between a major and a minor tonality of the same name (for example: c-minor and C-Major). Indeed, influenced also by the doctrines of theosophy, he developed his system of synesthesia toward what would have been a pioneering multimedia performance: his unrealized magnum opus Mysterium was to have been a grand week-long performance including music, scent, dance, and light in the foothills of the Himalayas Mountains that was somehow to bring about the dissolution of the world in bliss." - From Russian composer Alexander Scriabin's Wikipedia page [more inside]
Hilary Hahn performs Jennifer Higdon's remarkable Violin Concerto, for which Higdon won the Pulitzer Prize: 1726, the first movement, is challenging and prickly; Chacconi, the second, is calmer, slow and colorful; Fly Forward, the brief and exciting finale, is worth listening to even if you're not a fan of contemporary classical music. Here, Hahn talks about having Higdon as a teacher at the age of thirteen, and Higdon talks about writing for Hahn's individual style; after the concerto's world premiere, they recorded themselves talking to each other on what looks like a computer cam, which is both fun as heck and a fascinating look at the relationship between composer and performer.
Giovanni Sollima is a contemporary composer and cellist whose music is at once fiercely modern and lushly romantic. Witness Daydream: the first half is a rich, warm trio, and the second half is a virtuosic cello solo that is, for lack of better words, punk as fuck. His longer composition Violoncelles, Vibrez! is a lush, pulsating piece that builds to an incredible climax. My favorite work of his, L. B. Files, is a four-part work that rapidly shifts styles and colors and textures – simply glorious all around.
The best classical performance you've never heard: the remarkable violinist Amandine Beyer plays the Diverse Bizzarrie Sopra La Vecchia Sarabanda Ò Pur Ciaccona, by 17th-century composer Nicola Matteis. Here she discusses trying to recreate Matteis's original violin technique, to understand why the Baroque composer, whose work pre-dates Johann Sebastian Bach, wrote his pieces the way he did. Previously, Beyer and her ensemble Gli Incogniti breathed life into one of classical music's most overplayed masterpieces, Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons.
To say that Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur L'Enfant-Jesus (Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus) is a masterpiece is a gross understatement. Over sixty years after its composition, it has rightfully earned the recognition of being one of the most important piano works of the 20th century. ... [It] is one of the most personal and intimate pieces Messiaen ever wrote, and it gives the listener a close look at Messiaen the person. Messiaen was a deeply religious person, and although his faith influenced every single piece he wrote, the Vingt Regards is almost like his own personal spiritual diary. - Keith Kerchoff [more inside]
Pianist Arthur Rubinstein teaches the Chopin Ballade #1: Part 1, Part 2. Here is a Rubinstein recording of the ballade in full. [more inside]
Elliot Carter, icon of modern American classical music and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, has died. [more inside]
225 years ago today, in the Teatro di Praga, there premiered a new opera - conducted by the 31 year old composer, who was in demand after his success in Vienna the year before. Although he had completed the overture less than 24 hours earlier, the opera was an instant smash - with the composer being "welcomed joyously and jubilantly by the numerous gathering". In the years to come, Kierkegaard would agree with the French composer Charles Gounod that the opera was "a work without blemish, of uninterrupted perfection". Flaubert would call it one of "the three finest things God made". Today, it is the 10th most performed opera in the world. It is Mozart's Don Giovanni (spoiler). [more inside]
[Andras] Schiff, 58, has lately been giving a lot of thought to each of the musical keys and the colors he associates with them as he embarks on the Bach Project, a large-scale tour of North America over the next year that will include all that composer’s major keyboard works, played from memory. [more inside]
Flipping through public access or PBS channels one might have seen Classic Arts Showcase with it's familiar ARTS bug. The 24-hour non-commercial free-to-air satellite channel broadcasts a repeated 8-hour mix of about 150 video clips weekly a mix of various classic arts including animation, architectural art, ballet, chamber, choral music, dance, folk art, museum art, musical theater, opera, orchestral, recital, solo instrumental, solo vocal, and theatrical play, as well as classic film and archival documentaries. The channel has no VJs and only silent interstitials encouraging the viewer to “...go out and feast from the buffet of arts available in your community.” [more inside]
"Articulate Silences is a blog which focuses on the introduction of 20th and 21st century classical music to listeners wanting to investigate beyond popular music. Through a series of posts focussing on major pieces, as well as the occasional more obscure work, this blog attempts to act as a gentle entry point for further exploration and discovery of similar sounds."
Next week, for the first time in 22 years, PBS will televise the four dramas of Richard Wagner's Ring cycle on consecutive nights - a rare opportunity to encounter in the manner intended "the most ambitious and most profound work of art ever created". [more inside]
Spectrum: New American Music was a series of five LPs released by Nonesuch between 1968 and 1974, featuring works by composers like Stefan Wolpe, George Rochberg, and Milton Babbitt, performed by Arthur Weisberg's Contemporary Chamber Ensemble. Nonesuch released a Spectrum compilation on CD in the 1990s; everything that's not on the CD is available at Internet Archive (Part 2), courtesy of the Avant Garde Project. [more inside]
Musopen, "a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving access and exposure to music by creating free resources and educational materials", have released upwards of 30 professionally performed and recorded classical works into the public domain. The new recordings are on their site listed under Goldberg Variations, Musopen Symphony Orchestra and Musopen String Quartet. [more inside]
In the wake of their grunge-y breakout hit "Creep" and the success of sophomore record The Bends, Thom Yorke and the rest of Radiohead were under pressure to deliver once more. So they shut themselves away inside the echoing halls of a secluded 16th century manor and got to work. What emerged from that crumbling Elizabethan castle fifteen years ago today was a shockingly ambitious masterpiece of progressive rock, a visionary concept album that explored the "fridge buzz" of modernity -- alienation, social disconnection, existential dread, the impersonal hum of technology -- through a mosaic of challenging, innovative, eerily beautiful music unlike anything else at the time. Tentatively called Ones and Zeroes, then Your Home May Be at Risk If You Do Not Keep Up Payments, the band finally settled on OK Computer, an appropriately enigmatic title for this acclaimed harbinger of millennial angst. For more, you can watch the retrospective OK Computer: A Classic Album Under Review for a track-by-track rundown, or the unsettling documentary Meeting People is Easy for a look at how the album's whirlwind tour nearly gave Yorke a nervous breakdown. Or look inside for more details and cool interpretations of all the tracks -- including an upcoming MeFi Music Challenge! [more inside]
As a tribute to Frédéric Chopin, we take you to the home of Arthur Rubinstein - one of the most distinguished interpreters of his works. [more inside]
The irony in a way is that Messiaen used this great romantic organ for his most modern experiments. For Messiaen, this was a great sort of sonic paintbox, if you like, and he would come here and experiment with the extraordinary sounds that he could conjure out of this amazing instrument. [more inside]
KEXP 90.3 FM is a Seattle, WA-based radio station, officially "a service of University of Washington," but it's more complex than that. The first University of Washington radio station started broadcasting in 1952. Five decades, a few station organizational shifts, plus three call letter and frequency changes later, KEXP was (re)born in 2001. Along the way, the station spread the sound of 1990s Seattle indie rock, started streaming "CD quality" MP3 audio of their broadcast in 2000, and they have an ever-growing collection of recordings of live in-station performances, including over 2,000 videos on YouTube. [more inside]
In the sixty-odd years since their composition, the Four Last Songs have acquired in many people’s minds an unassailable status as simply the most beautiful music known to them, to be listened to in a dimly lit room and a state of rapt meditation, surrendering to the extraordinary spell of profound, other-worldly calm that they cast. This is not surprising. They were, indeed, the last things of any significance that Strauss wrote, between May and September 1948, at the age of eighty-four. (previously) [more inside]
Got 12 minutes to spare? Then feel free to brush up on the evolution of the last 400 years of Classical music by enjoying this video of Paul Drayton's "Masterpiece".
"Nadia Boulanger was a French composer, conductor and teacher who taught many composers and performers of the 20th century." She is particularly well-known for her American composition students, including Aaron Copland (you remember this, don't you?), Elliott Carter, and David Conte (who has uploaded to YouTube an excerpt of a lecture he gave reflecting on what he learned from Nadia).
Evgeny Kissin is not only a phenomenally active, high-strung, and almost unfailing pianist, he also declaims poetry in public -- in Yiddish. [more inside]
Combining the architectural grace of Bach with the sprightly melodicism of Mozart, the 555 keyboard sonatas (3 MB PDF) of Domenico Scarlatti are a cornucopia of exquisite music
*. The first musician to record all of them was the colorful Scott Ross - who died of AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 38. Here he performs one of the masterpieces, K.209, in Le Château de Maisons-Laffitte on a harpsichord built by David Ley. [more inside]
Using his "file card" technique to create the title piece "Spillane" (whereby musical ideas written on note cards form the basis for discreet sound blocks arranged by way of a unifying theme), John Zorn forges an impressionistic narrative out of stretches of live-music jazz, blues, country, lounge, thrash, etc., and a variety of samples and spoken dialogue inspired by Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer detective novels (recited by John Lurie). - AllMusic [more inside]