For a brave new world

“Be not afeard. This isle is full of noises,

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices

That, if I then had waked after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,

The clouds methought would open and show riches

Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked,

I cried to dream again.”

—Caliban, The Tempest, III.iii


A snapshot, and a story

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The 1909 snapshot which inspired Corigliano Jr. (left); the grown-up elder Corigliano, circa 1940s, courtesy of the New York Philharmonic Digital Archives (right).

After last night’s touching performance of the work by Chicago’s own Civitas Ensemble, I’ve found it difficult to get John Corigliano’s 2003 string quartet Snapshot: Circa 1909 out of my head.

The brief, nostalgic quartet is the composer’s musical response to an old photograph of his father and uncle playing a duet together—father on violin, uncle on guitar. The image becomes all the more poignant knowing that John Corigliano Sr. would go on to become an accomplished violinist—the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, in fact. He would lead the orchestra for 23 years.

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Fine arrangements, made finer


Released 1999. Label Hänssler Classic, piano… guess it goes without saying.

It’s not a new release by any means, but I stumbled upon Alexander Paley plays Blünther a few weeks ago and have been meaning to plug it here ever since. Generally speaking, this CD is a collection of arrangements and reinventions of pieces not originally composed for piano, though there are two exceptions in the tracklist: Carl Czerny’s Toccata and Liszt’s 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies. (The album’s Die Lorelay is Liszt’s solo piano arrangement of his own song for soprano and piano.)

Despite the heady, promotional title, this is an exquisitely compiled CD. As a violinist, I especially delighted in Rachmaninoff’s stop-in-your-tracks magnificent arrangement of Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major, and MJ and I have been fans of Chopin’s “La ci darem” Variations for some time now. All are played glitteringly by Paley.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Herr Strauss!

It’s Richard Strauss’ 152nd birthday today. I have a soft spot for Strauss, which is no secret to those who know me well.

Of course, in his day, Strauss was more famous as a conductor than a composer, like his contemporary Gustav Mahler. Here’s audio of Strauss conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin in a very brisk but brilliant rendition of Don Juan—a personal favorite of mine.

Stay tuned for plenty summer excitement—first, though, MJ and I need to close out spring quarter. Freedom could not come sooner!

MJ takes NYC while Hannah takes midterms

In other words, it’s been a busy week, but there’s definitely plenty going on to write about. MJ saw Juilliard’s production of Le nozze di Figaro, and still has Anne-Sophie Mutter’s appearance with the New World Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas to go.

I have a post about Bruckner 8 coming, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share the record that’s getting me up in the morning: Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexandre Tharaud (the latter of whom is due at Orchestra Hall in Chicago in a couple weeks) playing Francis Poulenc’s beautiful Cello Sonata. This is a piece I loved even before I became a huge classical nerd, and it still feels the freshest of my early favorites. YouTube playlist available here.

A dinner with death: Mahler’s existential Ninth with the SFS

Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFS’s 2005 CD.

Some recent November—I don’t remember if it was the last, or the one before—my best friend and I compared our Thanksgiving dinners. I relayed a family member’s latest off-color remark with something of an inward groan. He told me, with a small smile, that he and his family had listened to Mahler’s titanic Symphony No. 9 as they carved the turkey.

Our exchange still sticks with me, and still baffles me. Mahler’s Ninth? At Thanksgiving? The Ninth, a haunting, sonic rumination on human mortality, is anything but background music. Call me over-sentimental, call me pretentious, but whenever I listen to Mahler’s last completed symphony, I need to both brace and pace myself emotionally, and moreover, I need to be able to listen to it in uninterrupted peace. Sometimes I go months at a time without listening to it, terrified that constant re-listenings will strip it of its power. (Not that that’s wholly feasible.)

Okay, so I guess it’s true: I’m obviously over-sentimental when it comes to this piece. But some of my reasons for this are extra-musical. Let me explain.

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Shostakovich plays an excerpt from his Symphony No. 7, “Leningrad”

Came across a very special clip on YouTube the other day of Shostakovich playing an excerpt from the first movement of his famous Symphony No. 7. This video apparently dates back to the year the siege began, in 1941.

I have a translation of the words in the video, courtesy of a Russian-speaking friend:

Title-card: Two-time laureate of the Stalin Prize, composer Dmitriy Shostakovich

DS: “My Seventh Symphony rose from the events of the year 1941—our fight against fascism, our victory over the enemy. I dedicate my composition to my beloved [birth] city of Leningrad. Right now, I will play an excerpt from the first part of my 7th symphony.”