Chicago Symphony: John Storgårds Conducts Sibelius and Mendelssohn

Gil Shaham, violinist - ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Few composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries could evoke loneliness and solitude like Jean Sibelius. But his First Symphony contains far more: undercurrents of Finnish nationalism, hints of folk dances, and a stirring, Tchaikovskian passion. Finnish conductor John Storgårds makes his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut in this concert leading his fellow countryman’s youthful and imaginative First. Continue reading “Chicago Symphony: John Storgårds Conducts Sibelius and Mendelssohn”

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Susanna Mälkki and Branford Marsalis

Susanna Mälkki (Photo: Simon Fowler)

On this Chicago Symphony Orchestra broadcast, Susanna Mälkki and Branford Marsalis team up for a program with jazz and Spanish inspiration. The program also features the world premiere of the CSO commissioned work, Proceed, Moon, composed by Melinda Wagner. Concluding the program is one of Claude Debussy’s most popular works, Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, conducted by Cristian Măcelaru. Listen to the full show:

Bizet Symphony in C Major

Fauré Pavane, Op. 50
Branford Marsalis, soprano saxophone

Williams Escapades from Catch Me If You Can
Branford Marsalis, alto saxophone
Robert Kassinger, bass
Cynthia Yeh, vibraphone

M. Wagner Proceed, Moon

Debussy Ibéria from Images for Orchestra

From performances in June 2017.

Debussy Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun
Cristian Măcelaru, conductor

Susanna Mälkki, conductor
Branford Marsalis, saxophones
Cristian Măcelaru, conductor

Photo of Susanna Mälkki: Simon Fowler

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Charles Dutoit Conducts Stravinsky

Charles Dutoit conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO)

In a colossal career spanning more than 60 years, Igor Stravinsky was constantly reinventing himself with kaleidoscopic shifts in style. Along the way, the Russian composer forged key professional ties. In this program from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, we hear three works linked to the CSO. Charles Dutoit conducts the Symphony in C, which Stravinsky wrote for the orchestra’s fiftieth anniversary.

We also hear The Firebird, which Stravinsky led in his CSO conducting debut in 1925, and to begin, the incendiary FireworksAs a bonus, the program concludes with Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the CSO in a performance of Bartók’s Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin.

Stravinsky Fireworks, Op. 4

Stravinsky Symphony in C
Moderato alla breve
Larghetto concertante
Tempo guisto alla breve

Stravinsky The Firebird

From performances in May 2016.

Bartók Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

From performances in April 2014. Photo: Charles Dutoit conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO).

Kirill Gerstein Makes a Case for Tchaikovsky’s Earlier Thoughts

Kirill Gerstein (photo: Marco Borggreve)
Kirill Gerstein (photo: Marco Borggreve)

March 12, 2015

Kirill Gerstein came to the WQXR performance studio to show why he believes history has embraced the “wrong” version of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The Russian pianist had recently issued the world premiere recording of the concerto’s 1879 version.

As he discusses in this excerpt, the biggest difference between the 1879 and the more familiar 1894 version could be heard in the opening piano chords. Usually hammered out by hands crashing from a great height in three distinct registers, in the earlier, 1879 version, they were actually “rolled” sonorously, with an almost harp-like effect. Listen to this clip and read the full article.

While in the studio, Gerstein also gave a performance of Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 12 (Video: Kim Nowacki; Audio: Irene Trudel).

Metropolitan Opera Drops ‘Blackface’ Makeup in ‘Otello’

Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role of Verdi's 'Otello' at the Met Opera (Kristian Schuller/ Metropolitan Opera)
Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role of Verdi’s ‘Otello.’ (Kristian Schuller/ Metropolitan Opera)

August 7, 2015

The Metropolitan Opera made news with its decision not to put darkening makeup on the face of the tenor singing the lead role in Otello, its 2015 opening-night production. Numerous newspaper articles followed. But largely absent from the discussion were the people with arguably the closest perspective on the issue: singers of color. 

In this edition of WQXR’s Conducting Business podcast, we explored the issue with two African-American opera singers and one scholar who has written about portrayals of race in opera. 


Joining host Naomi Lewin are:

• Lawrence Brownlee, who is one of today’s most in-demand tenors, and who frequently appears at the Met.

Naomi André, co-editor of the book Blackness in Opera and a professor at the University of Michigan.

Vinson Cole, a tenor who has sung with many of the world’s leading opera companies and orchestras over three decades.

Brooklyn Philharmonic, Innovative But Sounding a Troubled Tune

The Brooklyn Philharmonic performs "You're Causing Quite a Disturbance" in June 2013.
The Brooklyn Philharmonic performs “You’re Causing Quite a Disturbance” in June 2013 (courtesy of orchestra).

October 18, 2013

New York City Opera made international headlines in 2013 after it filed for bankruptcy. But another longstanding New York arts organization faced similar troubles, and with much less fanfare. Even some of its longtime partners were surprised, as I found in reporting this piece for WNYC and WQXR.

Racial and Ethnic Diversity in American Orchestras

The Sphinx Virtuosi at Carnegie Hall in 2011
The Sphinx Virtuosi at Carnegie Hall in 2011 (credit: Nan Melville)

February 6, 2015

This edition of WQXR’s Conducting Business podcast explores the complex question of how to build ethnic and racial diversity in American orchestras. Industry data has shown that African-Americans and Latinos account for just about four percent of all U.S. orchestra musicians and only one percent of orchestra board members and CEOs. The discussion explores the roots of this disparity, touching on blind auditions, building a diverse audition pool and board leadership. Also discussed are areas where signs of change can be found.

Joining host Naomi Lewin are three guests:

  • Aaron Dworkin, the founder and former president of the Sphinx Organization
  • Weston Sprott, a trombonist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
  • Melissa White, a violinist who performs in the Harlem Quartet.

Listen to the full segment in the above audio player.

The Highs and Lows of 2014 in Classical Music

A scene from John Adams's opera The Death of Klinghoffer (credit: Richard Hubert Smith, English National Opera)
A scene from John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer (credit: Richard Hubert Smith, English National Opera)

In this edition of WQXR’s Conducting Business podcast, three top music critics looked back at the year 2014 in classical music. Joining host Naomi Lewin were Anne Midgette, the classical music critic of the Washington Post; David Patrick Stearns, classical music critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer and for WQXR’s Operavore blog; and Zachary Woolfe, now classical music editor of the New York Times.

Among the topics discussed were the Metropolitan Opera’s labor troubles and its contentious premiere of John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer; inventive programming at the orchestras of Philadelphia and Seattle; and the continued emergence of China on the orchestra landscape.


When Gender Stereotypes are Applied to Instruments

Carol Jantsch, tuba player, and Sivan Magen, harpist (Courtesy of artists)
Carol Jantsch, tuba player, and Sivan Magen, harpist (Courtesy of artists)

May 1, 2015

It’s no secret that girls at a young age take up what they perceive as “feminine” instruments, such as the flute, piccolo, violin, and clarinet while boys tend to gravitate towards trumpets, tubas and percussion.

In this edition of WQXR’s Conducting Business podcast, three guests discuss the origins of this phenomenon and how, when old stereotypes are challenged, it can sometimes lead to “cyber-bullying” and other forms of harassment among children.

Hal Abeles, the co-director of the Center for Arts Education Research at Columbia University’s Teachers College, says that “adolescents, males in particular, get intimidated by not being with the majority. So if the majority of students in your middle school who are playing flute are girls, young boys feel ‘I want to belong.'”

But instrument-based stereotypes can vary from culture to culture. Sivan Magen, a New York-based harpist, said he experienced few stereotypes while growing up in Israel or at the Paris Conservatory, where four of his eight classmates were male.

Carol Jantsch, the principal tuba of the Philadelphia Orchestra, says she never got grief from her classmates as a kid in Ohio. “If you’re good at your instrument, your peers don’t care what you play,” she said. But conductors are another story, sometimes using the phrase “gentlemen of the brass” when addressing her section.

Finally, Ricky O’Bannon, a writer in residence at the Baltimore Symphony, believes teachers can do their part by simply downplaying the issue. “The moment you start saying ‘this instrument is not just for girls or not just for boys'” is the kiss of death, he noted. “It’s about having a child find the instrument that they’re going to enjoy and not having any extra pressures on that.”