From Lara Downes: Here at the Exiles’ Cafe

lara photo blog

[From Greg: I'm happy to introduce the first of our guest bloggers. Lara Downes seemed like a perfect choice, because she'd already emailed me about some classical CD covers she likes, and because the explosion of comments on her own CD image almost cried out for a response from her. I'm happy that she made one — in a very friendly, companionable way — and I'm delighted to think we might hear from her from time to time about all of her work. She's a fine example of an entrepreneurial classical musician.] Well, I've been enjoying the lively … [Read more...]

My Shostakovich (continuing)

shos soccer blog

So I was listening to Jenny Lin's recording of Shostakovich piano preludes and fugues, and thinking back to my graduate school days, when Shostakovich was a nonperson among atonal composers. But, far more, I was hearing how vital the music is. Preludes and fugues seem like archaic forms, and you'd think anyone writing them in 1950, when Shostakovich started his, would have the weight of Bach bearing down on him. But of course the music doesn't sound archaic. It's the usual Shostakovich mix, which -- and I just love this about him -- … [Read more...]

My Shostakovich (1)

jenny shostakovich blog

I was listening to my friend Jenny Lin's strong recording of the Shostakovich piano preludes and fugues, and it made me think about my graduate study in composition at the Yale School of Music, from 1972 to 1974. And how Shostakovich was a nonperson. We never talked about him. He was bad. He wrote tonal music. Likewise Benjamin Britten. Like Shostakovich, he didn't count. In 1974 (after I got my degree) Britten's last opera, Death in Venice, played at the Met. It overwhelmed me. I saw the error of my (and Yale's) ways. (Funny: I'd sung in … [Read more...]

Something lovely in my Juilliard course

moving up blog

For years, I've ended my Juilliard course in the future of classical music with one simple exercise. I've asked my students to speak from the heart about a piece that they play (or sing, or have composed). To tell the world -- well, me and the class -- why they love it. The results have been, almost always, very moving. To see and hear people talking about anything with as much love as my students convey is -- quite seriously  -- inspiring. Year after year. This year, as you can see from the class schedule (this link goes to the same … [Read more...]

Wonderful musicmaking at UMD

The Pastoral Symphony was the highlight of the program

Sometimes exasperated commenters say they can't believe I love classical music. This post -- about some fine student musicmaking and the delights of Beethoven -- should be an antidote.  My last post was about terrific things at the University of Maryland, creative hard work done to attract a younger, livelier audience to concerts by the student orchestra. It's worth repeating what they did. The strategy, as I'd summarize it -- find the places where orchestral players most naturally meet other students. In their dorms (fraternities and … [Read more...]

Cabaletta indulgence

A caricature of Donizetti

A surprise in Anna Bolena -- the same melodic climax shows up in both the slow part of one duet, and in the cabaletta. As far as I know, that's unique in the bel canto repertoire. To understand more what I mean (and, by the way, the duet is the one for Enrico and Giovanna in the first act), just think of the delectable way of shaping dramatic scenes that just about defines the music of bel canto opera. Every musical/dramatic unit -- an aria, an encounter between two people, a mob scene for the entire cast -- will fall into several sections. … [Read more...]

From another age

An early performance of Anna Bolena

What follows is long. But I didn't try to cut it down. It's about bel canto opera, which I love with a wild passion. It might be my favorite kind of music. So I just let myself go.  This -- my indulgence, my blogger's sweet tooth -- is all you might have from me for a few days. I'll be traveling to see family.  Anna Bolena, opening the Met Opera season, was pretty much a dud. And though that's not what I want to focus on here, I can't help thinking of another prominent Met production, last year's Die Walküre, which was also a dud. More or … [Read more...]