Before Arena Rock, There was Lewisohn Stadium

Lewisohn Stadium in 1915

Outdoor concerts are a perennial summer pastime for New York City residents, and perhaps none is more beloved than the New York Philharmonic’s traveling summer series to the parks throughout the boroughs. Before the series began in 1965 (and which for a time included visits to Long Island and elsewhere), the Philharmonic held a longstanding residency at Lewisohn Stadium, a Greek-style amphitheater and athletic facility owned by the City University of New York. I looked into its remarkable history in the February 2021 issue of BBC Music Magazine.

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The Crown, Season 4 Puts Opera in the Spotlight

Scene from "The Crown" (Netflix)

When characters in “The Crown” attend the opera, one can usually expect some pointed commentary on the fictionalized British royal family. The genre serves a plot device twice during the fourth season of the Netflix series, as Prince Charles and Diana visit the Royal Opera House at various stages in their troubled relationship (I’ve previously looked at the uses of classical music in seasons one, two and three of “The Crown”).

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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.

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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 when performers are 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.

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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:

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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 2020 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. 

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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.  

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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.

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