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      6 Unforgettable Composer Friendships

      Today is International Friendship Day! Click to read more about some of the most famous friendships among composers in music history. Whether bosom buddies like Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams, or something more complicated like Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, there’s no doubt that these composers enjoyed genuine friendships that would influence their personal and professional lives. more...

      Music for a Blue Moon

      Tonight, July 31, is the second full moon of the month, or what we call a blue moon. Of course, a blue moon doesn’t really appear blue; rather, it’s their rarity that makes them special. According to numbers crunched by Western Michigan University, blue moons happen about 8 months out of 228, meaning there’s a 3.5% more... more...

      Tap Dancing Steps into the Future

      The Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) is currently presenting its 25th festival celebrating American tap and contemporary percussive arts, Rhythm World. I sat down with Lane Alexander, CHRP’s artistic director and co-founder, as well as several Rhythm World instructors and guest artists, to learn more about this unique festival, which honors tap’s past while helping it step into the future. more...

      Composer-Pianist Plays “Super” Music on Nintendo Themed Piano

      It’s a truth universally acknowledged by music students around the world that at any given moment in any conservatory, there’s at least one person in the practice rooms playing Bach, Beethoven, and the songs from Nintendo’s classic game Super Mario Bros. The video game, released in 1985, has some pretty memorable music: six songs composed by Koji more... more...

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      Prom 19: Alina Ibragimova review – spellbinding Bach from start to finish

      Royal Albert Hall, London
      Playing everything from memory, unshowy but outstanding Ibragimova held her audience completely captive in this late-night concert

      Late-night Bach is a feature of this year’s Proms, with the focus falling predominantly, though not exclusively, on the solo instrumental works. András Schiff’s Goldberg Variations and Yo-Yo Ma’s performance of the Cello Suites in a single unbroken sitting come later in the season. The series opened, however, with the first of two concerts by Alina Ibragimova surveying the violin sonatas and partitas, the first time the cycle has been performed complete at the Proms.

      The first partita, flanked by the first two sonatas, formed her programme, minor-key works of severe beauty that traverse vast emotional and intellectual narratives by the sparsest, if most technically demanding of means. Inevitably, one wondered how music more usually heard in venues no larger than the Wigmore might work in the vast spaces of the Albert Hall. But the immediacy and honesty of Ibragimova’s playing has the curious ability to collapse any sense of distance between performer and listener. A lone figure in a simple black dress, playing everything from memory, she held her audience completely captive.

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      Happy Days: international Beckett festival review – exquisite Britten; comical, otherworldly drama

      Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
      Moving immersive performances of Britten’s Phaedra and Beckett’s All That Fall, along with his otherworldly Ohio Impromptu, starred in this year’s lineup

      A woman is motionless on a plinth, her dark head emerging from a white feathered gown that cascades from her neck to the ground far below her. The first thought is of Winnie in Happy Days, buried to her neck in sand, suggesting a rationale for including Benjamin Britten’s final cantata, Phaedra, in the programme. This festival takes a scenic route around Beckett, pursuing lines of connection with artists who were significant to him. This year, it is the turn of TS Eliot and Racine, on whose tragedy, Phèdre, Britten based his 15-minute piece for mezzo soprano and chamber orchestra.

      As the audience surrounds Phaedra in the darkness, she rotates slowly, lamenting her plight: doomed by the gods to be enthralled by her stepson Hippolytus. Layers of sound extend the Ulster Orchestra’s percussion, pizzicato and Ruby Philogene’s intense arias, while the white gown disintegrates in dripping water. All elements combine to create an image of frozen grief exquisitely realised by directors Sophie Hunter and Andrew Staples.

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      Prom 18: BBCSO/Bychkov review – a magnificent, more reflective Leningrad

      Royal Albert Hall, London
      The BBCSO were on peak form in Bychkov’s formidable working of Shostakovich’s defining score, while the Labèques’ Mozart was lucid

      “A cry of the heart against death,” is how Semyon Bychkov once described Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, an iconic work of wartime defiance and solidarity that remains one of the defining scores of the 20th century. Bychkov’s mother endured the siege to which the symphony bears witness. His father was a nurse during the war. Bychkov has said the piece is in his system, and in January last year conducted an unforgettable performance with the BBC Symphony at the Barbican. He’s now returned to the work at the Proms with the same orchestra.

      The Prom performance, though magnificent, didn’t always quite scale the heights of its predecessor. In some respects it was marginally more reflective, less immediately ferocious. The Adagio, in particular, seemed more reined in, its grief and formal ritual shaded towards elegy, its anger less overtly marked. Bychkov’s control of the outer movements remains formidable, however. The so-called “invasion theme” emerged almost imperceptibly from an eerie silence after the gradually fading certainties of the exposition, while the wrenching key change that eventually stops its juggernaut course has rarely sounded so emotive. The finale’s steady progress towards assertion and integrity was nobly done. You couldn’t fault the playing: the BBCSO were on peak form.

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