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      Carl's Morning Quiz

      Carl Grapentine

      Carl's Morning Quiz: The Italian composer Amilcare Ponchieli was born on this Sunday's date--August 31--in 1834. His most famous melody has been used to accompany dancing hippos in Fantasia and sung as "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" by Alan Sherman. From what opera does that melody come? Answer >>

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      Christopher Maltman Tweets and Sings Beethoven, John Adams

      It is well established that opera singers can sing like canaries. Now we're finding they tweet like them, too. Baritone Christopher Maltman used Twitter to share something of the on-stage and off-stage energy during his concerts with the Milwaukee Symphony earlier this year more...

      Pianist Amy Briggs on What’s New in Music

      Pianist Amy Briggs has a passion for pristine and rugged terrains, be it a trek in the Spanish Pyrenees or a virtuosic piano score that no one's ever performed before. As a working pianist and Director of Chamber Music and Lecturer in Music at the University of Chicago, Ms. Briggs knows her way around the standard repertoire of Brahms and Beethoven. But it is the music of our own time that finds its way more...

      Champion Plays Ravinia

      He calls Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin "a big friend of mine." His heroes are Vladimir Horowitz and star hockey center Sergei Fedorov. Russian pianist Denis Matsuev, who has "epic technique" according to the Boston Globe, is not shy about talking sports. In a 2009 Impromptu, he told WFMT that as a youth in Siberia, he could hardly be kept indoors. He played either soccer or ice hockey "about seven hours a day. Music was second." Speaking with a gentle Russian growl, he laughs more...

      Cedille Day on WFMT

      With over 30,000 recordings in WFMT's "record" library, the staff seldom focuses on a single record label for very long. When it happens, it's usually because an artist has an exclusive agreement with a label; and the programming staff is featuring that artist. On Friday, WFMT honors a record label that has made it its mission to enhance the cultural life of Chicago. Cedille Records more...

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      Proms 2014: when Benjamin Grosvenor met Judith Weir

      The pianist and composer came together to create a world premiere for the Proms. How did they get on?

      Beethoven rarely comments on his work these days. Chopin is also frustratingly silent. To talk to them about playing their music would be fascinating (and absurdly intimidating) and it is tantalising to imagine the surprises that might emerge in the difference between what "tradition" dictates, and the composer's actual intentions and preferences. So as a performer making only his third foray into contemporary music I intended to take every advantage of finding myself able to sit and play a work for the composer who created it. The results will be heard on Monday when I give the first performance of Day Break Shadows Flee by Judith Weir, the new master of the Queen's music, at the Proms.

      Talking with Weir, a few of the impressions I had gleaned from my early preparations were confirmed. She is a composer interested in particular colours and atmospheres, in the beauty of certain types of sound. This piece was written because she has long been fascinated by the special qualities of night and early morning, the velvet fingers of the first light of dawn. In terms of texture she says she has always been interested in the sounds of the extremities of the keyboard, in the pale quality of the highest notes when solitary, and the indistinct rumble of the lowest. She mentioned that she had once experienced a minor earthquake in Los Angeles. For 10 seconds she heard a low-pitched sound, as if "the wind were blowing with a melancholy roar", and, ever since, had been interested in intimating this transient moment.

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      Berlioz: La Captive; Herminie; La Mort de Cléopatre review

      Larsson/Het Gelders O/Manacorda
      (Challenge Classics)

      In 1830 Berlioz won the Prix de Rome at his fourth attempt, securing the coveted award, which offered him two years' study in the Italian capital, with La Mort de Sardanapale, easily the most conventional of the cantatas he had submitted to the judges over the years. That work is rarely heard now, but two of his earlier efforts Herminie, composed for the 1828 competition, and La Mort de Cléeopatre from the following year feature among Lisa Larsson's selection of early Berlioz works for soprano and orchestra with the Dutch Gelders orchestra under Antonello Manacorda; the third is La Captive, a setting of Victor Hugo, which began life as a song with piano, composed in Rome in 1832, and which Berlioz orchestrated two years later. It provides an uncomplicated interlude between the two more highly wrought scenas, though Larsson's performances of both tend to play down their histrionics; she handles the exhibitionist stuff that Berlioz includes with aplomb, but makes much more of the introspective music that so failed to impress the Prix de Rome judges.

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      Prom 56: LPO/Jurowski review cosmic in scope and intention

      Royal Albert Hall, London
      Vladimir Jurowski made the most familiar of scores sound fresh, and Holst's The Planets was particularly exciting

      The London Philharmonic's Prom with Vladimir Jurowski was nothing if not cosmic in scope and intention. The programme was structured around two early-20th-century works that aim to redefine spirituality in personal terms. The evening opened with Holst's The Planets, with its astrological survey of human experience, and closed with Scriabin's Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, which extravagantly envisions mankind's evolution from chaos to divine transcendence. In between them, Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces, ushering in a new age of sound rather than spirit, seemed vaguely mundane in comparison.

      The running order should perhaps have been reversed. Holst is a greater composer than Scriabin, and The Planets is a hard act to follow when done so well. This was Jurowski at his best, exciting yet thoughtful, and making this most familiar of scores sound marvellously fresh. A poised, multitextured Venus after the pulverising onslaught of Mars suggested the complexities of peace after the simplicities of war. The jubilation of Jupiter, hair-raising in its Dionysian elan, contrasted wonderfully with the controlled anguish of Saturn. The final fade to silence at the end of Neptune was breathtaking.

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