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      10 Operas About Poisonous and Medicinal Plants

      As everyone is poised for the corpse plant at the Chicago Botanic Garden to bloom, why not enjoy some music about poisonous and medicinal plants? Operas would be a lot less interesting if poison didn’t seep its way into their plots. Check out this list of 10 operas about poisonous and medicinal plants, taken largely from the research more... more...

      5 Women on Being Modern Women in Dance

      The 9th Chicago Dancing Festival presented its first ever Modern Women program, highlighting the important contributions of women in dance both past and present: Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Kate Weare, and Pam Tanowitz, Crystal Pite. I spoke with women from each of the five companies on the program about women’s roles in dance, both as dancers and as choreographers. more...

      Barenboim and Berlin orchestra confirm Tehran concert plan

      Israeli-Argentinian conductor Daniel Barenboim is hoping to take one of Germany's top orchestras to Iran to perform a concert there, the Berlin State Opera said Thursday, drawing angry protests from Israel. Barenboim, 72, who is general music director of the German capital's flagship opera house, the State Opera, "is in talks with Iran about a possible concert in Tehran by the Staatskapelle Berlin," the house said in an emailed statement. more...

      29 Composers and their Canine Companions

      It's National Dog Day! Have you ever heard the saying, "Behind every great composer is a cuddly canine?" No? Well these photos prove that every composer from Bernstein to Busoni had a four-legged friend as a constant companion. more...

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      Facing the music: Guy Barker

      From seeing Thelonius Monk and the Count Basie Orchestra at the Hammersmith Odeon to shopping for CDs and vinyl, the jazz trumpeter and composer reveals his musical pleasures

      How do you listen to music most often?
      I have a large CD and vinyl collection at home, which is where I listen mostly. These days I spend most of my time at home composing and arranging. During my touring days, I used Walkmans and then iPods. In fact, I’ve used every possible way to listen to music. It’s what I need so much. However, there is still nothing like hearing music live.

      What was the first record you bought?
      I remember the first three LPs I bought with my own pocket money when I was very young, but not which one was first. They were: Stokowski conducting Holst’s The Planets, Louis Armstrong in the 1930s and 40s, and the Beatles’s A Hard Day’s Night.

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      BBC SO/Oramo/Torikka/Rusanen-Kartano review – urgent performances

      Royal Albert Hall, London
      Conductor Sakari Oramo shows Sibelius’s narrow distinction between tone poem and symphony; Torikka and Rusanen-Kartano sing with operatic panache

      It was left to Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra to round out the 150th-anniversary tribute to Sibelius at the Proms, which they had launched on the opening night. Oramo opted to go back to where Sibelius’s career as an orchestral composer began, pairing En Saga and Kullervo. The two works, completed in 1892 (the former a tone poem and the latter a symphonic suite), were the starting point for what proved to be one of the most remarkable orchestral journeys since Beethoven.

      As Oramo’s urgent performances showed, what is remarkable about both En Saga and Kullervo is that, however much they reveal the 19th-century composers who were Sibelius’s starting point, they also point unambiguously to the future, and to the intensely personal language that he would create for himself within barely a decade. En Saga in particular could not have been written by anyone else. The way in which the tone poem picks up speed as it hurtles inescapably towards its end, looks forward to the way in which the first movement of the Fifth Symphony would transform itself into a scherzo a quarter of a century later. It is a reminder that, musically at least for Sibelius, the line between tone poem and symphony was always a narrow one.

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      COE/Haitink/Pires review– a satisfying but risk-averse performance

      Royal Albert Hall, London
      Conductor Bernard Haitink is not prone to flamboyance, but these works cry out for more sparkle; Maria João Pires, nevertheless, proves an energising partner

      Even in his younger days, Bernard Haitink was never a conductor given to flamboyance. Now aged 86, the characteristic avoidance of histrionics has become almost the essence of his work with the orchestras fortunate enough to be conducted by him. These days, Haitink concerts are models of tact and good judgment in the service of music that is invariably very beautifully played. The results are almost always balanced and satisfying. But in some music they can sometimes be a little unchallenging.

      This prom with the outstanding Chamber Orchestra of Europe had such a feel. From the very start of Schubert’s C major Overture in the Italian style — very much that of Rossini — there were the familiar Haitink virtues of orchestral warmth, plus a determination to keep things moving. But the overture is quite a slight piece. It cries out for a bit more sparkle.

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      new releases

      Wagner, Liszt & Brahms

      Steinway & Sons 30051

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      Brahms: Piano Concertos

      Deutsche Grammophon 479 4899 (2 CDs)

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      Chant for Peace

      Deutsche Grammophon 479 4709

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      Bach: Goldberg Variations

      Ondine ODE 1273-2

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      The New Goldberg Variations

      Alfi Records 15002

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