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Dvorak’s Prophecy — “Essential Cultural History”

Kirkus Reviews, which previews books for booksellers, critics, and others in the know, has just previewed my forthcoming Dvorak’s Prophecy and the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music. It’s been accorded a star (good news) – and the review itself grasps my book whole. In summary: “Horowitz closes with a clarion call for American classical music to ‘acquire a viable future, at last buoyed and directed by a proper past.’ His chronicle of ‘a failure of historical memory’ is feisty and opinionated but always backed by solid evidence. … [Read more...]

Art Tatum and the “Black Virtuoso Tradition” On the heels of his film with Alexander Toradze (my previous blog), Behrouz Jamali has released another remarkable film essay dealing with the art of the piano: The Black Virtuoso Tradition. It features what the New York Times once called “piano playing at its most awesome”: Steven Mayer playing Art Tatum. The Black Virtuoso Tradition is an American musical phenomenon that I framed decades ago, inspired by Mayer’s eloquent advocacy of such Black piano geniuses as Tatum, James P. Johnson, … [Read more...]

Toradze’s Piano Stories Behrouz Jamali has created the kind of film I had always hoped to see about Alexander Toradze.  I permits Toradze to speak for an hour without abridgement or abbreviation. It abjures soundbites.  I believe it should be seen by all devotees of the piano, and to fledgling pianists at music schools and conservatories. Born in Tbilisi in 1952, Toradze graduated from the Moscow Conservatory, toured the West as a Soviet artist, defected to the United States in 1983, and has since taught and lived in the … [Read more...]

Savage Beauty — Take two Three months ago I blogged about Min Xiao-fen’s exceptional new recording, “White Lotus,” in which her pipa is mated with Rez Abbasi’s guitar. The music comes from her soundtrack to a classic Chinese silent film: "The Goddess." I’m delighted to see that NPR has now done an enterpirising seven-minute feature. Here’s an excerpt: ABBASI: And there is that scene [in "The Goddess"] where the principal comes to visit the mother and son. And we both dig into a kind of the blues . . . It's like a blue … [Read more...]


It is my privilege to partner a new Myrios Classics CD: Mozart’s two most important four-hand piano sonatas, importantly performed by Kirill Gerstein and Ferenc Rados. Gerstein customizes his Myrios recordings in exceptional ways. Three years ago, he invited me to contextualize his Gershwin CD via “The Gershwin Moment.” His new Mozart CD comes with a 40-page booklet illustrated with unforgettable photographs (by Kaupo Kikkas) of his inimitable duet partner, Ferenc Rados.  Gerstein also commissioned an eloquent tribute to Rados … [Read more...]

A Soldier’s Tale for Today — Premiered In PostClassical Ensemble’s new version of Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale, a “cautionary fable” for today, the Soldier weds the Princess – and the narrator continues: But where’s the fiddle – which won the bride? It was not to be found inside And the Devil, where is he? Awaiting the Soldier – naturally. With the instrument in hand, He played, his victim to command. The Soldier came, dropping his head Not resisting, hypnotically led. A dusty road he encountered anew To the … [Read more...]

A Soldier’s Tale for Today

In the wake of World War I, Igor Stravinsky was living in Switzerland, cut off from his family estate in Russia. He was receiving no royalties from his publisher in Berlin. Stage performances of his music by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe were very infrequent. His concert works were virtually dormant. With the Swiss writer C. F. Ramuz, he conceived a small, portable entertainment, requiring neither a large theater nor a large orchestra, in fact suitable for outdoor performance. They imagined a small touring company of players – as an aspiration that … [Read more...]

A Gripping New Version of The Rite of Spring

Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring might at first glance seem an unlikely candidate for keyboard transcription. It calls for a huge orchestra, colorfully deployed. But the percussive ferocity of the writing, its sheer physicality, is an irresistible lure for pianists.  Stravinsky himself left a piano-duet version. It’s actually the first version, part of the compositional process and never intended as a concert work. But a concert work it has become, typically played on two pianos. Solo piano versions have also been created. … [Read more...]

Savage Beauty One of the highest achievements in present-day world music is the Chinese-American fusion. It is wondrously explicable. China’s seismic political and cultural upheavals produced an earthquake of creativity. Conservatory-bound composers wound up on the countryside, absorbing folk music styles exploring timbre in ways they had never imagined. And – following Chinese speech, in which tonal inflections impart meaning – Chinese folk tunes subtly manipulate pitch, sliding between notes that are separately voiced by … [Read more...]

How Do You Play a Flower Pot? How do you play a flower pot? What makes washtubs sound best? How about coffee cans? For the answers, check out Lou Harrison’s instructions, in his exquisite hand, for his Concerto for Violin and Percussion, e.g.: “For the washtubs, drill holes (4) up from center on the sides of inverted galvanized iron tubs & suspend by strong elastic cords.” For the coffee cans, “cork or rubber-ended pen-holders make good beaters . . . & are best for the clock coils as well.” So far as I am aware, Harrison’s … [Read more...]

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