Three-Minute Composer Biographies
Dvořák’s father played the zither in a local tavern. Sibelius was fascinated with migrating birds, as reflected in his Fifth Symphony. Bruckner spent his formative years – and then some – in a monastery in St. Florian, Austria.
Chicago Symphony Brass: A History – Part 3
Back in 1991, the Chicago Bulls had clinched their first of six NBA Championships, a Daley was returning to the mayor’s office, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was ushering in the Daniel Barenboim era. The successor to Sir Georg Solti arrived at an orchestra with the most celebrated brass section in the world, and one […]
Chicago Symphony Brass: A History – Part I
Every devotee of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra brass section can point to a goosebump-worthy moment in a past performance or recording. Maybe it’s the ping of Principal Trumpet Adolph “Bud” Herseth’s solos in Richard Strauss’ Don Juan, recorded in 1954. Or the riotous blaze of horns that conclude Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, from 1971. Or the low brass delivering […]
When Your Recording Has An Unintended Noise
In the recording business they’re known as sonic artifacts. They’re the non-musical noises that periodically turn up on recordings – and sometimes add to their historical significance. In the May 2021 issue of BBC Music Magazine, I highlight 15 notable examples, from the sounds of war to subway rumbles to coughs, barking dogs, traffic noise, […]
Before Arena Rock, There was Lewisohn Stadium
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 […]
The Crown, Season 4 Puts Opera in the Spotlight
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 […]
The Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Composer and Swordsman
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.
Long-Distance, Online Performances Without the 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 […]
Celebrating Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day
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 […]
How the 1918 Flu Pandemic Shaped Classical Music
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 […]