The Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Composer and Swordsman

Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges

As concert presenters overhaul their programming amidst the pandemic, several are taking up the works of Joseph Bologne, better known as the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Bologne’s largely unsung chamber music, symphonic and even operatic repertoire is turning up in advance of a planned Hollywood biopic, and mirrors a larger racial reckoning across the United States.

Continue reading “The Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Composer and Swordsman”

Long-Distance, Online Performances Without the Latency?

Concordia Quartet low latency

The question has perplexed a lot musicians since the start of social distancing and quarantines: Is it possible to hold an online performance with performers spread out in remote locations? The presence of latency, or lag, in the video connections makes such collaboration especially difficult. And most video-conferencing platforms (Zoom, Skype, FaceTime) allow only one person to speak or sing at a time.

Continue reading “Long-Distance, Online Performances Without the Latency?”

Celebrating Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day

Stroh Violin

July 31st was Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day. Yep, that’s a holiday. It’s a moment to reflect on the world’s rare, odd and truly extraordinary instruments. In a video that I produced for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I look at 10 curious inventions that you may hear at its concerts one time or another. They range from the Stroh violin (pictured) to the heckelphone. Watch:

Continue reading “Celebrating Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day”

How the 1918 Flu Pandemic Shaped Classical Music

A hospital orchestra during the 1918 flu epidemic, West Baden, Indiana (Photo: National Archives)

In the June issue of BBC Music Magazine I look at various ways in which composers were impacted by the flu epidemic of 1918-20. The virus, which wreaked havoc for nearly three years and left at least 50 million people dead including about 675,000 in the U.S., impacted music in ways both significant and modest. There were several escapist ragtime songs about “the grip,” and at least one chamber music piece: Darius Milhaud’s Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Piano, which ends with a dirge for the victims of the epidemic. 

Continue reading “How the 1918 Flu Pandemic Shaped Classical Music”

Louis Langrée on Beethoven’s Mega-Concert

Beethoven

Concerts were longer in the time of Beethoven, as were attention spans. But even by those standards, the storied program he organized for Vienna’s Theater an der Wien on Dec. 22, 1808 was over the top. Called the Akademie, it ran from 6:30 to 10:30 pm in two parts and included the premieres of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, Fourth Piano Concerto, Choral Fantasia in C minor, and other works by Beethoven.  

Continue reading “Louis Langrée on Beethoven’s Mega-Concert”

Julia Wolfe on Evoking the ’60s in ‘Flower Power’

Julia Wolfe, composer (Photo: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

For all of the iconic protest music that came out of the 1960s and early ’70s, classical composers mostly stayed at a remove from that decade’s turbulent events. There were a handful of noted exceptions, of course, including Terry Riley, La Monte Young, George Crumb and Karlheinz Stockhausen, but their works were not exactly staples of mainstream orchestral programming. Now, fifty years on, composer Julia Wolfe aims to evoke the decade and its sounds in a new 30-minute orchestral work called Flower Power.

Continue reading “Julia Wolfe on Evoking the ’60s in ‘Flower Power’”

The Crown Season 3 Soundtrack Features Beethoven, Chopin

In the third season of the Netflix series “The Crown,” the story advances from the mid-1960s to the late ’70s, a period that allows producers to draw on a rich array of popular music. American songbook standards give way to rock anthems by the Kinks, the Four Seasons, Deep Purple, the Who and David Bowie, among others. As in the first season and second season, music is often tied to on-screen sources, as when Princess Anne blasts Bowie’s “Starman” on a car radio as she speeds to the palace one night.

Continue reading “The Crown Season 3 Soundtrack Features Beethoven, Chopin”

Philip Glass Finds Orchestral Converts

Philip Glass (photo: Flickr/letterchen)

The New York Philharmonic recently opened its fall season with the King Lear Overture, its first commissioned score by Philip Glass. Music director Jaap van Zweden was a driving force behind the premiere. “I felt strongly that this was a symphonic composer that needed more attention from our orchestra,” the Dutch conductor told me in an e-mail before the performances.

Continue reading “Philip Glass Finds Orchestral Converts”