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Van Cliburn and his fraught generation

Van Cliburn

With any luck, Van Cliburn lived to watch the Oscars one last time. The legendary pianist, who died Wednesday at age 78 after a long struggle with liver cancer, was that kind of guy. In the years after his 1978 retirement from full-time concertizing, the way to engage him was not with some erudite conversation about music – such things seemed to pain him – but to discuss the latest movies and who might get the big prizes. He would just light right up. That’s not what the world expects from musicians who have been saddled with expectations of … [Read more...]

Star wars with Daniil Trifonov, Benjamin Grosvenor and Ingolf Wunder

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The old stereotype of the emerging Russian pianist was fast, loud and so physically massive that the New Yorker once ran a cartoon showing a Carnegie Hall-ish poster of a grizzly bear next to a tiny keyboard reduced to rubble. Not so with Daniil Trifonov, the slim, courtly 21-year-old winner of the Tchaikovsky Competition - even if he does require a piano tuner at intermission. But like many of his generation, he is making his name on his brains rather than his fingers. He can play with the best of them. But the centerpiece of his recent … [Read more...]

Composer Kate Soper: She is her own Eurydice (and Orpheus)

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When the much-missed soprano Barbara Bonney was singing lots of new music in the '90s, she stated, with equal parts rashness and shyness, that she was considering writing music herself - for herself. Not a bad idea, since nobody knew her voice better than she did.    She seems never to have gone through with it. And the idea seemed just as radical on Jan. 18 until Kate Soper sang an extended scena of her own making, titled now is forever: Orpheus and Eurydice, with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie's Zankel Hall.   Soper, 32, has … [Read more...]

Wozzeck on Ice!: It was a hoax.

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Damn, damn, damn! I was all set to go on Travelocity to book a flight to Freiburg, Germany when this poster for Wozzeck on Ice! arrived in my inbox this morning. Imagine: A genre normally associated with the lightest of light children's entertainment applied to a thoroughly adult, furrow-browed opera.  Imagine the most graceful and circular of the athletic arts being the frame for Alban Berg's incredibly angular music. With ice skates, singers could make entrances and exits with cinematic speed. They would also get sick more often. Then … [Read more...]

Ailyn and Steve: The new operatic power couple?

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When Audra McDonald called them an opera power couple on the recent PBS broadcast of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation Gala, I broke out laughing. Not at McDonald, and not because she was inaccurate: Soprano Ailyn Perez and tenor Stephen Costello fit the definition – both are headed toward the top of the opera profession if they aren't there already – but they don't fit the part, which was delightfully apparent in odd, peripheral moments on the telecast (still available for streaming here). Aren't power couples supposed to be … [Read more...]

Galina Vishnevskaya (1926-2012): The Russian Callas

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Though I never encountered Maria Callas in person, I heard Galina Vishnevskaya in recital shortly after her 1974 emigration from the Soviet Union - and I came to understand how music, words and character can wholly inhabit a human being and come out as a single expressive entity of overwhelming power and bottomless humanity. The city was Indianapolis, not a hotbed of Vishnevskaya fans; the recital was part of a hastily arranged series of Mstislav Rostropovich concerts that had him guest conducting the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Having … [Read more...]

David Lang: Living in pain with great beauty

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"There's enough beauty in the world," declared David Lang in a recklessly unguarded moment prior to the New York premiere of his new, hour-long work love fail,  written for the vocal quartet Anonymous 4. But what does the world need if not beauty? What this singular composer is ready to supply, though, seems to be something for which the right words haven't been invented. How appropriate to an artist who is constantly challenging conventional vocabularies to the breaking point. This new work, premiered in June in New Haven and with a … [Read more...]

Music for Unspeakable Acts, Part II: Mies Julie, Wozzeck and vocalises from Latvia

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November snow was still piled up on the foot path of the Brooklyn Bridge one recent Friday, but not enough to stop a pair of guys from stomping through the slush on a midnight, across-the-bridge run, for which they were both, incongruously in 30-degree weather, shirtless. The rules are up in the air now.  Weather events that once seemed specific to different seasons (like the dead of winter) and distant states (like Florida) are appearing in anything but their proper places and turning New York City, among other locales, upside down. At … [Read more...]

Tempest Phobia: You aren’t the only one who dislikes it

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Time and again in the weeks since the Metropolitan Opera opening of The Tempest, post-concert gatherings longer than five minutes soon get round to the question, muttered semi-intelligibly with a vague air of shame. “What did you think of The Tempest”? One British critic had said that this, Thomas Adès's second opera, was the most important British event of its kind since Peter Grimes. Nearly all the New York critics - including the important ones - had high praise. Oh dear. Does this mean that our brains are boiled if we didn't like … [Read more...]

Elliott Carter: Maybe he wasn’t radical?

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Reprinted from the Philadelphia Inquirer, first published on Nov. 8. For the time being, Elliott Carter, who died Monday in New York, will be known as the composer who worked the longest. Well into his 104th year, he composed intricately and conscientiously, each piece seeming to be all that it could be, with little decline in inspiration. Of course he did. He frankly didn't know what else to do with himself. "I don't walk well. My eyesight is peculiar. But I don't feel as though I'm an old person in the way I think," the hearty, … [Read more...]

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