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New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher

Host Julie Amacher provides an in-depth exploration of a new classical music release each week.

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Host Julie Amacher provides an in-depth exploration of a new classical music release each week.

Pianist Seong-Jin Cho revisits Frédéric Chopin

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Seong-Jin Cho Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 Scherzi (DG) Jump to giveaway form


New Classical Tracks - Seong-Jin Cho
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Pianist Seong-Jin Cho became the first South Korean to win First Prize at the Warsaw International Chopin Competition in 2015. Following that award, he immediately recorded Chopin’s First Piano Concerto and the four Ballades with Gianandrea Noseda and the London Symphony Orchestra. Playing with the same orchestra and conductor, Cho has released his new album, Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 Scherzi.

Why have you returned to the music of Frédéric Chopin?

“I didn’t record Chopin’s music intentionally for five years, because I didn't want to be labeled as a Chopin specialist. I wanted to explore different composers.”

How has your relationship with Chopin changed over the past six years?

It has been the same. I admire and respect his music, because he was very brave to convey so many of his emotions with his audiences. My style of play has changed in the past six years, but my connection with Chopin has not.”

What new discoveries did you make about his Second Piano Concerto?

He wrote this piece when he was 20, and at the time he was falling in love. He almost dedicated this piece to her. That it’s so romantic, delicate and dramatic. I always try to take an innocent approach rather than a romantic one.”

In the first movement, your left hand emphasizes the shifting harmonies and your right hand has the melodic line. How challenging is it to make sure that the right hand doesn't take over?

“There's a saying about Chopin's music that we made when we played his music: ‘The left hand should be like a like a tree, and the right has to be the leaves.’ Chopin's music, in general, is also very polyphonic. Not only is the right-hand melody important, but the left-hand melodic line or the inner voice is, as well.”

What is it about these pieces that allows you to feature all four Scherzi on a single program?

They feel comfortable all in one place. They're musically connected, yet they're all different, but at the same time they're all similar. The fourth Scherzo is my favorite and the hardest. It is joyful, and the middle section is nostalgic.”

Watch now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Resources

Seong-Jin Cho — Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 Scherzi (Amazon)

Seong-Jin Cho — Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 Scherzi (DG Store)

Seong-Jin Cho (official site)

Nov 03 2021

16mins

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Pianist Jeremy Denk revisits his favorite childhood composer, Mozart

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Jeremy Denk & the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Mozart Piano Concertos (Nonesuch)

Pianist Jeremy Denk has finally had the space and time to finish his forthcoming memoir Every Good Boy Does Fine, which will resonate with you if you took piano lessons as a kid. It releases this February, and its timing coincides beautifully with his new album featuring the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Mozart Piano Concertos.

How has Mozart shaped you?

“Actually, both the first and the last chapters of my book are about Mozart. The first chapter is about me listening to the piece Sinfonia Concerto. When I was 12, that piece rocked my world. At the end of the book, I'm recovering from personal loss and burnout. I'm also about to record an album of Mozart concertos with the SPCO.”

Can you talk about Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 and how it is different from his other piano concertos?

“It’s a piece that starts very clearly with a blaze of light that’s in a major key. You don't think it's going to be this sunny, grand, triumphant piece, but within 20 seconds it switches to a tragic opera of utter uncertainty in the terrifying key of C minor. All through the first tutti-section and orchestral passage you feel the music keeps switching at unpredictable intervals between these two perspectives.”

What do you look forward to when you're playing this concerto?

“My favorite moment is in the last movement. In the middle, you have this love sextet between the piano and the woodwinds. We work really hard on that section between the orchestra and the winds. They become opera characters in their own right.

“It is an innocent song at first, but it takes on this intensity, while it loops where you never would expect. It then takes on an unbelievable tragic tone that turns back into light, while it expands in an ecstatic way. It all dissolves back to the theme. That transition is one of the greatest passages of all time.”

Why do you think the Piano Concerto in D Minor is more popular?

“The first and last movements are the most vivid and shockingly iconic music that Mozart ever wrote. It's the most romantic work that Mozart composed. It’s not in the classical style, but you hear the romantic era waiting to explode out.

“The most striking passages in this piece come in the beginning of the last scene where the piano plays the theme and the orchestra starts up after. Usually in Mozart concertos they just repeat the theme that the piano played. But in this case, the orchestra begins to develop and alter the material in a way that is unrecognizable.

“It becomes possessed by the spirit of modulation and the idea leaps all over the orchestra. That passage has an incredible quality to it.”

Watch Now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Jeremy Denk & the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra — Mozart Piano Concertos (Amazon)

Jeremy Denk & the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra — Mozart Piano Concertos (Nonesuch Store)

Jeremy Denk (official site)

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (official site)

Oct 27 2021

21mins

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ARC Ensemble honors composer Dmitri Klebanov

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ARC Ensemble – Chamber Works by Dmitri Klebanov (Chandos)

“It is very interesting that every composer tells a different story of overcoming difficulties,” said Simon Wynberg, who is the artistic director for the Arc Ensemble. “It’s about planting a flag in the ground and producing marvelous work. It's a really exciting kind of project.”

Chamber works by Dmitri Klebanov is the fifth recording from the group's Music and Exile series, and it features the Jewish Ukrainian composer Dimitri Klebanov

How did the Yuri Klebanov contribute to this album full of his father’s music?

“He had amazing insights into his father's life. He had anecdotes and letters and notes between Shostakovich his father from when he was a boy. There were all sorts of things that he could tell me about the repertoire and about Dimitri Klebanov’s life. We corresponded for years.

“It was a real shock when he suddenly passed. I know he was really looking forward to the release of the CD because it was the first time in 30 years that a commercial release of his father’s music had happened.

“The album tracks his progress and compositional style. It starts with his fourth quartet, which was completed after the war, and it includes his piano trio and fifth quartet. The later work is more advanced harmonically than the pervious two works.”

Watch now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

ARC Ensemble – Chamber Works by Dmitri Klebanov (Amazon)

ARC Ensemble – Chamber Works by Dmitri Klebanov (Royal Conservatory Music Store)

ARC Ensemble (official site)

Oct 20 2021

19mins

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Pianist Daniil Trifonov loves spending time with Bach

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Daniil Trifonov – Bach: The Art of Life (DG) 

“I think with Bach it's much easier to practice for many hours than with some other composers,“ said Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, who has always wanted to spend more time with Bach. “It’s so harmonious and everything makes sense, even the most complex polyphony still makes sense.”

On his new recording, Bach: The Art of Life, Trifonov explores the scientific, emotional and spiritual dimensions of the composer. The album is centered around Bach’s late mystical masterpiece, The Art of Fugue.

How does The Art of Fugue reflect on Bach’s life?

There are so many gravitational points to that piece. There is also so much emotion in this music. It is very interesting how Bach has this certain way of expressing humanity.”

What makes Bach’s Chaconne in D, transcribed by Brahms and written in response to the death of his first wife, Maria Barbara, special?

“There are two famous transcriptions for this piece, one by Ferruccio Busoni and the other by Johannes Brahms. I especially like Brahms’ transcription because it is close to the original. He only uses the left hand and because he does that it feels as if it’s a violinist’s left hand. The violin has to reach for intervals and it’s like that reaching for intervals was present in Brahms’ piano transcription.”

Did you find anything surprising while working on this album?

We still don't know if all the works attributed to Bach are really composed by him or by other composers. Some of these discoveries were fairly recent. Bist du bei mir, which is last in the song cycle, was for many years thought to be by Bach. In the early 2000s, while cataloging the music of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, they discovered five or six ideas from his opera that Bach must have borrowed. It's surprising that Bach would include this piece in a cycle dedicated to his wife.”

Was it intentional on your part to try to show Bach as an ordinary person?

Actually, I've had a very interesting discussion with one of the people who run the Bach Museum in Leipzig. They recently discovered some of Bach’s financial papers. It turns out that Bach owned stakes in a coal mine in West Germany. He was a human being and I think that only makes him a more remarkable composer.”

Watch now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Daniil Trifonov – Bach: The Art of Life (Amazon)

Daniil Trifonov – Bach: The Art of Life (DG Store)

Daniil Trifonov (official site)

Oct 13 2021

16mins

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Pianist Jean Yves-Thibaudet enjoys complete freedom on 'Carte Blanche'

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Jean-Yves Thibaudet – Carte Blanche (Decca)

French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet celebrated his 60th birthday with a trip to Hawaii in September. He also marked the occasion with the release of his new recording, Carte Blanche.

“This was an album where I was given literally carte blanche,” Thibaudet said. “I could choose whatever. It might not have happened without the pandemic, and I did it with the greatest love and joy. I had such a good time doing it. The variety and choice of pieces on this album shows my personality.”

The recording opens with the suite from Pride and Prejudice, and it features important moments. How did you decide which ones to highlight?

This is something I did with Dario Marianelli. He is an extraordinary composer, and that score is very important and special in my life. That is why I wanted it not only to be on the record, but also start it.

“That piece has opened many doors in my life. It has reached so many people in the world, and I cannot tell you how many people still go to my concerts because of it. I also have people coming to me at the end of the concert to say hi and tell me that that was their first concert. They would say, ‘I just came because I saw your name and your the guy from Pride and Prejudice. I love that score so much.’”

Why did you choose The Lady and the Nightingale, by Enrique Granados, to honor Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha?

She owned that repertoire completely. It's such beautiful music. The chords are so wonderful. I love the effects of trills mimicking birds. I think it’s really beautiful and fun to play. I had to do something from Larrocha because I have such great admiration for her.”

Did you dedicate a piece to Renée Fleming?

My playing is in honor of her, because I've learned so much as a an artist from Fleming. It has been the greatest lesson playing with all the other wonderful singers. She has beautiful control of breathing, the legato and of phrasing.

“There is a little story to one of the pieces — my transcription of ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ from Disney's Pinocchio. We actually did a PBS program for New Year's Eve, United in Song: The Resilience of American People. She chose to do ‘When You Wish Upon a Star,’ which has the most touching and beautiful theme.

“I just adore that piece so much. I was thinking, ‘God, I need to play it just for my own pleasure.’ I started incorporating, yet again, the singing line into the piano. I was making progress and I finally came up with the arrangement on this album. It gave me so much joy that I wanted to share it, and that certainly is a special gift for Fleming.”

Watch now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Jean-Yves Thibaudet – Carte Blanche (Amazon)

Jean-Yves Thibaudet – Carte Blanche (Decca Store)

Jean-Yves Thibaudet (official site)

Oct 06 2021

29mins

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Violinist Randall Goosby finds inspiration in his heritage

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 Randall Goosby — Roots (Decca)

“I see it as a stroke of luck. I certainly didn't believe that I was capable of whatever level of playing I thought was necessary to be accepted into his program,” reflects violinist Randall Goosby about Itzhak Perlman’s intensive summer music program in 2011. “I was very fortunate to be accepted. It was a turning point in my mind as to whether or not I was going to take music seriously or even continue playing.

“One of the great lessons I got from Perlman was that you have to be moved by the music as the artist, as the performer, because if you are not, how can you expect for an audience to be moved by the music? The clearer the picture is in your mind as to what kind of effect this music has on you — the clearer it’s going to be for the audience.”

Why did you title your debut album Roots?

“One reason is my own personal and cultural roots in African-American music, culture and tradition. But, another reason is American music, specifically, American classical music. It’s the genesis point of Black music and culture going back to blues, jazz and the negro spiritual.”

How did you met Sanford Allen?

As part of the annual Sphinx Virtuosi tour, I was asked to play the last movement of Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson's Blue/s Forms, which appears on the Sanford Allen album. The dedicatee of that piece was generous enough to spend some time with me and work on that movement. I was very inspired by his interpretation, his recording of the piece, his experience and being the very first and, at the time, only black violinist in the New York Philharmonic.”

Can you tell me what was unearthed when recording the world premiere of rediscovered music from 2009 by Florence Price?

I believe that all three of the works on this recording were unearthed in that collection of music, the two fantasies for violin and piano, and Adoration.

“I think the fantasies quickly move through different harmonic areas, different textures and different styles. Price goes from this virtuosic, rhapsodic opening to a rhythmic dancing feel that's infused with chromatic crawling of the late-romantic European harmonies. Then, she goes back to a violin-piano setting of a spiritual.”

How did you meet your double bassist and can you tell me about the piece he wrote for the album?

I have known Xavier Foley for about 10 years. We first met at the 2010 Sphinx competition where I won the junior division. The following year in 2011, we meet again at my first year at Perlman’s summer music program.

“When we were putting this album together, we understood immediately that it was important to include a living African-American composer. Foley was the first name that popped into my head because I've been wanting to work with them for so long. 

“His piece is Shelter Island, which is an homage to our time together on Shelter Island during the Perlman music program. There's a bit of nostalgia in the main theme. There's influence from bluegrass, which Xavier has background in. The work is similar to Price’s, because there's a lot going on, and it happens so seamlessly and naturally that you almost don't catch it.”

Watch now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Randall Goosby — Roots (Amazon)

Randall Goosby (official site)

Sep 29 2021

39mins

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Pianist Beyza Yazgan tells a story about her homeland

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Jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny learned guitar the informal way, by ear, but he worked with classically trained musicians on his new album, 'Road to the Sun.'

Sep 22 2021

23mins

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Surrick and McFarlane make music together for the first time

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Jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny learned guitar the informal way, by ear, but he worked with classically trained musicians on his new album, 'Road to the Sun.'

Sep 15 2021

37mins

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Voces8 takes an introspective look at music

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Jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny learned guitar the informal way, by ear, but he worked with classically trained musicians on his new album, 'Road to the Sun.'

Sep 08 2021

36mins

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Pat Metheny enters the world of classical guitar

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Jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny learned guitar the informal way, by ear, but he worked with classically trained musicians on his new album, 'Road to the Sun.'

Sep 01 2021

48mins

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The Verona Quartet turns folk traditions into music

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The Verona Quartet — Diffusion (Azica)

“I found a special bond. I felt as though I was meant to be the voice that glued everybody together, highly influential, but behind the scenes. I loved that. I even wrote my college entrance essay about wanting to play in a string quartet. Of course, at the time, I had no idea what that really meant,” said violist Abigail Rojansky of the Verona Quartet. That college entrance essay was for Oberlin College, where the Verona Quartet is now serving as quartet-in-residence. 

According to Rojansky, music is just one avenue for telling a meaningful story. Its name, the Verona Quartet, pays tribute to Shakespeare, another great storyteller. She is joined by cellist Jonathan Dormand to talk about the stories that make up their debut recording, Diffusion.

Why is exploring folk traditions on this album important to you?

Jonathan: “It’s the end and the beginning of a period of time where you have national identities in a style of playing. 

“It's all about how you take from one culture, explore it and made it your own. That is what we've tried to do. We looked back to fantastic music and learned from its traditions. But, how do we make it our own and do we try to put our own stamp on it?”

Why is Maurice Ravel's String Quartet considered a masterpiece?

Abigail: “The piece is masterfully written, but in terms of form, its breaking with tradition while building upon history. He greatly respected and heard the Debussy quartet. Debussy only wrote one String Quartet, which Ravel loved, but he thought that there were aspects of it that could have been improved.

“Ravel’s String Quartet was also met with criticism, especially the last movement which people thought didn't have enough of a melody. It was too fast and in an uncomfortable rhythm. Now we look at it and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, this last movement is so spectacular.’“

Can you talk about how Karol Szymanowski creates his unique voice in his String Quartet No. 2?

Jonathan: “It has this hyper-romanticism about it. I just don't know another composer that writes incredibly lyrical, but at the same time offers delicious harmonies. He has his own unique take on everything. I'm quite obsessed with his piece.

“The second movement also blasts us out of our seats. I'm not going to lie. I was listening and went, ‘Whoa!’ You can hear the power and the forcefulness in the music.”

How does Leos Janacek’s passion for unrequited love come through in his String Quartet No. 2?

Abigail: “One energized idea will break and suddenly he'll say something completely different with an entirely different emotional character, subject, or mode of expression. He does that in this quartet and that's part of what makes it so incredibly dramatic. Suddenly, it goes black and then there's something completely different. Nobody else could write like that before him.”

Watch now

Resources

The Verona Quartet — Diffusion (Amazon)

The Verona Quartet (official site)

Aug 25 2021

30mins

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Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason explores American music

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Isata Kanneh-Mason — Summertime (Decca)

Isata Kanneh-Mason is the oldest of seven incredibly talented musical siblings. They’ve all studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and Kanneh-Mason received an Elton John Scholarship.

“I've never really been to a pop concert and to be on stage in that setting is so different from what I'm used to. It really brought me into a different world,” said Kanneh-Mason when she not only met Elton John, she got to perform with him.

While she enjoys pop music, her comfort zone is in the world of classical music. She recently released her second solo piano recording exploring American music , Summertime.

How does your album illustrate the diversity of American music in the 20th century?

I went from Samuel Barber to Amy Beach, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to George Gershwin and wanted to represent as many corners as I possibly could. To be American is like being British in the sense that it's not a race. It's loads of different races that have culturally been living together. Either they've moved there, or they've grown up there. There is diversity within the title of being American. That's what I wanted to show on the album.”

Watch now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Isata Kanneh-Mason — Summertime (House of Music)

Isata Kanneh-Mason — Summertime (Amazon)

Isata Kanneh-Mason (official site)

Aug 18 2021

17mins

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Conductor JoAnn Falletta embraces the seasons

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JoAnn Falletta & the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra — The Four Seasons / The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (Beau Fleuve)

When the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra took the stage for their season opening concert last September, there was no audience in the hall due to the pandemic. Their loyal fans were watching the concert online. 

Conductor JoAnn Falletta had to switch gears quickly.

“Initially, we had a very big concert, and we pull out all the stops when we give our opening,” she said. “But, of course, that was not possible. We decided that the most thrilling thing we could do for our audience was to feature Nikki Chooi, our new concertmaster, performing The Four Seasons.”

That performance is featured on their latest recording, The Four Seasons / The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

Why was it important to include The Four Seasons?

“It had to do with Chooi's performance of it, which was thrilling. He puts his own 21st-century voice into it. He was reveling, seeing a sense of humor and loving the music. But, he was not burdened by past performances. He was playing from his heart.

“This piece was written almost 300 years ago, and it is still relevant. The coming alive in the spring, the voices of the birds, the summer thunderstorms and the drinking wine is affirming to us about how we understand Antonio Vivaldi. We felt that we had a connection with that music, because it gave us a feeling that life would go on. We can get through this.”

What made guest violinist Tessa Lark a good fit for Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires?

“It’s about the composer’s background. Piazzolla’s family were immigrants who moved to Argentina from Italy. He also grew up in Harlem during the jazz era. He studied with Alberto Ginastera and went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger. Piazzolla is a complex prism of music, and Lark is the same.

“She not only plays classical, but she also plays bluegrass and jazz. Her loose and comfortable approach to playing Piazzolla made it really swing.

“The composer said the tango is a sad feeling disguised as a dance. He knew it was the music of immigrants and poor people who knew they would never go home again. But in the tango, they found their soul. They found a way of understanding themselves. Piazzolla knew the sad core of the tango, and Lark was able to bring that to life.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

JoAnn Falletta & the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra — The Four Seasons / The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (BPO Store)

JoAnn Falletta (official site)

Aug 11 2021

24mins

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Pianist Emanuel Ax makes music with lifelong friend Yo-Yo Ma

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Emanuel Ax & Yo-Yo Ma  — Hope Amid Tears: Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas (Sony) 

“Yo-Yo and I, back in the fall, we're able to do some concerts on the back of a truck. We did 20-minute concerts in various places in parking lots for nurses, teachers and UPS delivery people,“ said pianist Emanuel Ax about performing during the pandemic. “I hope that brought them a little pleasure.

“I've also been practicing a lot, mainly because I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I didn't practice. I have no life. That's what I do. The one silver lining for me was that I didn't have to get nervous every three days before a concert because I tend to get nervous. That was kind of a relief.”

Now, Ax and his longtime collaborator and friend Yo-Yo Ma have released their re-recording of Beethoven’s cello concertos.

Tell us about your new recording, Hope Amid Tears, with Ma.

“Yo-Yo Ma and I have done this going on 50 years. It's a very long time. It's one of the privileges of my life to have been doing this with Ma. I would be a very different person, musician and probably a much lesser one in both cases without that friendship.”

Can you tell us about the first recording of Beethoven's cello sonatas you made together?

“The first recording of those we did came out in 1981, 40 years ago.  Now, 40 years later, we thought we don't have that much time to waste. We better do them now before we get sick.”

Why was it important to do them again?

I'm hoping that we changed a lot of little things. I think ultimately they add up to a big change.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Emanuel Ax & Yo-Yo Ma  — Hope Amid Tears: Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas (Amazon)

Emanuel Ax (official site)

Yo-Yo Ma (official site)

Aug 04 2021

35mins

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Inbal Segev showcases 20 new works for cello

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Inbal Segev – 20 Pieces for 2020 (Avie)

When the global pandemic shut down concert halls and live performances last year, cellist Inbal Segev knew she couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing. That’s when she and her husband drafted a plan to commission 20 composers to write 20 new works for cello in 2020. The first recording in this four-volume project was recently released. 

“It was ambitious, but I realized quickly that it's a project that's going to take a couple of years,” she says. “Composers need time to cook; they need time to think about things. And then I needed time to work on the on the pieces. And since there's 20, we didn't book all of them at once. First I reached out to my friends and the people who are more local and were obvious choices to me. And then I started listening and venturing out to a lot of people who I've never heard of before even.” 

And 20 new pieces. That means 20 new pieces for you to learn, too. Are you excited about that? Or maybe slightly overwhelmed?

“It seemed like a piece of cake. And we just started reaching out because my schedule was open. But some of the pieces are easier, technically; some are very challenging.” 

One of the pieces that really captured my attention is the one by Sophia Bass, Taal-Naad naman for cello, tabla and tanpura. Tell me about this young Chicago-based composer.

“During the first months of the pandemic, her father passed away, not from COVID, from a routine operation. Just broke my heart. So she had to stop composing for a couple of months. But she came through, and she wrote this beautiful piece.” 

I know this piece gave you a chance to work with some unfamiliar instruments, and it gave you a chance to improvise. What was that experience like for you?

“I'm not an improviser, usually, so I took a lesson from a special cellist who specializes in Indian music. It was fascinating. It kept me on my toes.” 

The piece by Timo Andrius is called Ajita, for cello and piano. The composer is at the piano with you. What was that like to get to work collaboratively, not just with the composer telling you about the piece, but actually performing the piece with him?

“He muted some strings and plucked in the string inside of the piano so that the cello sonata and the piano really melded together in a unique way. He also had some special techniques for me. I used nail pizzicato, which I've never done before, as I had to grow my thumbnail — very funny, as suddenly I looked like a guitarist.” 

Conductor Marin Alsop recommended that Michigan composer James Lee III be considered for this project. Why did she make that recommendation?

“He writes so well for cello. He really writes idiomatically. If you hear this piece, it's beautifully written. 

“I cried when I heard the recording. And I usually hate to hear myself play and definitely hate editing my own recordings. And I don't cry easily hearing myself, that's for sure. So, I thought that was a testament to how beautiful he wrote the piece and how poignant and to the point, and really how it reflected the difficult time.”

Watch on YouTube

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Inbal Segev – 20 Pieces for 2020 (Amazon)

Inbal Segev (official site)

Jul 21 2021

22mins

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Pianist Andrew Von Oeyen revisits timeless classics

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Andrew Von Oeyen — Bach — Beethoven (Warner Classics)

“The first question was not, ‘What should I play?’ It was, ‘Should I even practice?’” said pianist Andrew von Oeyen when the global pandemic shut everything down in 2020. “Do I even want to practice? Because, the whole thing was such a shock to all of us.” 

Then he, who lives both in Paris and in Los Angeles, discovered a silver lining, which became the basis for his latest recording, Bach — Beethoven.

How did you switch gears due to the pandemic and end up making this recording with this repertoire?

Originally, I had planned to record three Ludwig van Beethoven sonatas in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, but then the pandemic hit, lockdown occurred and concerts were canceled.

“So when I went to the piano, I didn't really know what I'd play. I had a list of scores, a pile of scores on, the piano. I just naturally pulled out a score of Bach and said, ‘You know what, this is music I don't play very often. Let's just see where it goes.’ It turned out that this music immediately appealed to me. 

“I found it both timely and timeless. I ditched one of the Beethoven sonatas and replaced it with this beautiful, expansive overture in the French style of Bach.”

How is the music of Bach good for you during a time of chaos like the pandemic?

“This music expresses a universal emotion. I needed something that seemed bigger than us.  There was a spiritual dimension to it. We needed to cling to something, and I felt somehow more hope with Bach than any other composer.”

How did you choose the Bach pieces that appear on this recording?

“Not only am I recording Bach for the first time in my life, I'm recording a piece I've never performed before. The overture in the French style is an anomaly in his repertoire, because it is so French. I think I chose it for its freshness and because I was just always fascinated by this kind of French style from the court of Louis XIV, which is unique for Bach.”

Why did you chose to still include Beethoven on the recording?

I was riding this wave of inspiration from Bach and Beethoven was influenced so much by Bach. I just took some of the Bach clarity and brought that to the Beethoven. The second wave was a chance to unleash everything. I really wanted an outlet for all of that energy, and I don't think there's a better outlet than the Beethoven Appassionato.”

Watch now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Andrew Von Oeyen — Bach — Beethoven (Amazon)

Andrew Von Oeyen (Official site)

Jul 14 2021

26mins

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Conductor JoAnn Falletta rediscovers composer Florent Schmitt

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JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra — Florent Schmitt: La Tragedie de Salome/Musique sur l’eau/Oriane et le Prince d’Amour/Légende (Naxos)

“It was like a treasure box of music that I didn’t know at all,” said conductor JoAnn Falletta after scholar Phillip Nones introduced her to the musical scores of Florent Schmitt. “A true colorist, but with more vivid colors, perhaps, than Debussy and Ravel. He's red blooded and he's French, but he's borrowing every way of making music from the German and Russian masters. It just has to be heard to be believed.”

Faletta’s new album, Florent Schmitt, celebrates the composers 150-year birth anniversary, which was in 2020. Luckily, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra had just performed Florent Schmitt’s music in concert before the pandemic started and that performance became this new album.

Could you talk about his ballet that was influenced by Salome and how he approached it?

“It is a tragic tale, and he was inspired by Richard Strauss's opera. There's no question that might have been the genesis for it, but his Salome is quite different. It’s more French and less brutal.

“Salome sings a wordless song in Schmitt’s version. We had a beautiful mezzo soprano, Susan Platts, sing that with a chorus of young handmaidens. We used our Buffalo Girls Choir for that. There still is a tragic end, but it's very sensuous music.”

Can you talk about how the music reflects the storyline of Oriane et le Prince d’Amour?

Oriane is an incredibly beautiful woman or maybe the most beautiful woman in the world. Men are drawn to her, but she herself never falls in love. She never gives her heart to anyone. She feels nothing for them. At one point, the prince of love arrives at the palace, and she falls in love with him. But he does not give his heart to her, and she is destroyed by that.

“He clothed these wonderful, seductive scenes and wild dancing. I've never seen the ballet. I can only imagine what it was like because the music is so powerful. It’s about this woman who was dancing with one man after the next and then it's finally undone by love itself.”

Do you know the story behind Légende?

I know that there was this woman who asked for the work to be made. She also commissioned Debussy to write his famous piece for saxophone. The original version is beautifully written for saxophone. The French have a special feeling for the saxophone, but then he rewrote it for viola and finally for violin.

“He is the most important French composer that you have never heard of. People are intrigued by that because we know so many French composers. We've never heard of him. He is so important and wonderful.”

Watch now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra — Florent Schmitt: La Tragedie de Salome/Musique sur l’eau/Oriane et le Prince d’Amour/Légende (Amazon)

JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra — Florent Schmitt: La Tragedie de Salome/Musique sur l’eau/Oriane et le Prince d’Amour/Légende (Naxos)

JoAnn Falletta (Official site)

Jul 07 2021

16mins

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Pianist Jeni Slotchiver reflects on our musical heritage

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Jeni Slotchiver — American Heritage (ZOHO)

“Many people thought that this was the right time to do this,” said pianist Jeni Slotchiver on her new album, American Heritage. “I did it before, but the music was relevant then as it is now. My African American students had long wanted me to record this music. I was concerned with how they are going to take me recording this music. My students said, ‘Just do it. You play it and just record it.’”

Slotchiver is a teacher who was born in a small town in South Carolina. She’s built a career out of musical exploration and in 2018 she recorded American Heritage but it was delayed due to the pandemic. It pays homage primarily to African American composers of the 19th and early 20th century whose works laid the foundations of later forms of music such as jazz, blues and R&B.

How does this music reflect everything from the Civil War to the civil rights movement?

“I had a group of three pieces, and I called them ‘my holy water to Trinity.’ The pieces were ‘Deep River,’ ‘Troubled Water’ and ‘Down by the Riverside.’

 “‘Deep River,’ to me, is a story of suffering. ‘Troubled Water’ has veiled references to streambeds, and how to avoid the blood hands for enslaved people who might be escaping the deep river. Crossing the river Jordan could mean escaping, getting out of their misery and pain, but can also be going to heaven and leaving all that suffering. ‘Down by the Riverside’ existed before the Civil War, but it wasn't published until 1918. That piece became synonymous with freedom in the civil rights movement.

“Besides our rich history of indigenous music from the North American Indians, this is our greatest body of American folkloric music. I really hadn't thought of it as that until I learned that ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Swanee River,’ what most people think ‘Camptown Races’ is, were not American folk songs, but originated as shanty songs.

“From 1820 to 1860 when the clipper ships left Baltimore, they had what they call ‘checkered’ crews. They were black and white crews. That's where the white sailors and dock workers learned these songs. It just fascinated me. Then I realized everything on the album, except for ‘Union,’ came here or transformed itself in some way or another from enslaved people.

“I recorded this in 2018 and then the pandemic happened. I maintained a very strong emotional connection to this music, and it's never changed. I've never gotten tired of any of these pieces.”

Watch now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Jeni Slotchiver — American Heritage (Amazon)

Jeni Slotchiver (Official site)

Jun 30 2021

33mins

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Flutist Immanuel Davis rediscovers his instrument's roots

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Barthold Kuijken & Immanuel Davis — La Magnifique: Flute Music for the Court of Louis XIV (Naxos)

When asked what flutist Immanuel Davis discovered about himself during the pandemic he said, “That my love of the flute and my love of music has to be from within and I also learned how much my students propel me. I really came face to face with how much they are giving back to me.”

Davis is a flute professor at the University of Minnesota. He got the job 20 years ago as a recent graduate of Juilliard while still freelancing in New York City. Around the same time, he was offered a Fulbright scholarship to study Baroque flute in Holland, but Davis figured out a way to do both. Now, those experiences have come full circle to inform his fourth recording, La Magnifique. On this new release, which features music from the Court of Louis XIV, he’s joined by his good friend and mentor Belgian flutist Barthold Kuijken.

Did you discover anything surprising as you were putting together this recording?

“I discovered the great variety that was in this repertoire. In the early part of the 18th-century, the flute might play the melody of a song and then the singer would sing it. The flutist role would be to inflect the songs so you could hear the words.

“Also, I discovered the wonderful variety of moods, characters and feelings of this repertoire. We sort of think of this music as a little bit stilted and old fashioned, but the reality is that these people were just as passionate and feeling as we are today.”

Can you talk about the passion and emotion in the music?

“It's deep. It's below the surface, but it's there. It never lasts for exceptionally long. There's a great quote that describes the flutes, especially early flutes in French opera, ‘The flutes moaned and groaned with the sounds of unrequited love.’ I think that's all over the place in this music.”

How do some of those songs contribute to the development of the flute?

“The first song, ‘The Triumph of Love,’ which is from a Jean-Baptiste Lully opera, is the first piece of music that said this should be played on the flute. So, we had to play it on the album. Another piece that I play is the sonata by Michael de la Barre. It’s one of the earliest sonatas for flute, which also includes the viola da gamba and harpsichord. I love this piece and in the second movement it portraits a friendly and happy — just walking through the meadow on a really gorgeous low humidity day.”

Why did you close the recording with Suite No. 2 in G minor, by Marin Marais?

“This piece is so French and expressive. The work builds in such a wonderful way, and it has a passacaglia in the end. It's like a chaconne with this repeating bassline that just continues to develop as it takes you on a long journey. It wraps up everything that we have started on this recording from the smaller songs to the sonatas and duets. It just finishes out everything really beautifully.”

Watch Now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Barthold Kuijken & Immanuel Davis — La Magnifique: Flute Music for the Court of Louis XIV (Amazon)

Barthold Kuijken & Immanuel Davis — La Magnifique: Flute Music for the Court of Louis XIV (Presto)

Immanuel Davis (University of Minnesota)

Jun 23 2021

30mins

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Violist Mark Holloway of Pacifica Quartet explores new works

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Pacifica Quartet — Contemporary Voices (Cedille)

“I can relate so much to these three pieces after going through this pandemic,” said violist Mark Holloway reflecting on, Contemporary Voices, the most recent release from Pacifica Quartet. “Each one has something quite unique to say.”

The recording features three contemporary pieces commissioned by the quartet, which won a Grammy for best Chamber Music Performance. The ensemble is also opening the MN Beethoven Festival on June 27.

Can you talk about ‘Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory String Quartet No.3’ by Shulamit Ran and the visual art that inspired it?

“There was an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called ‘Glitter and Zoom German Portraits from the 1920s.’ I think this was an inspiration to Ran. The quartet was in residence at the museum, and they wanted music that had a connection to the visual art.

“There's a German-Jewish painter named Felix Nussbaum who perished in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Ran wanted to show in music what a normal life, with its joys and sorrows, and ups and downs might be like. Daily life can be torn apart by cruelty, war and hatred. Nussbaum keep painting in the camps during the war. The struggle to survive, create, express and identify is really powerful.”

Can you talk about Jennifer Higdon’s work Voices that she dedicated to the quartet after collaborating with them at a summer festival?

“It's a real knockout of a piece. It starts off with this relentless, crazy frenzy of energy called ‘Blitz.’ It's a real explosion. Higdon was saying that a lot of pieces start out soft and then loud. She wanted to see what it might be like the other way around.”

Is it true that the combination of instruments on Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet isn’t a combination you hear often?

“I too, was unsure what it would sound like. The fact that we're playing with someone else is already something to celebrate. You're joining forces and making music together with a friend. In this case, it's her terrific colleague, Otis Murphy, who's a saxophone professor at Indiana University. You hear the jazziness and different sounds coming from her pen. The piece has a celebratory nature to it, and it just really seems appropriate after all we've been through.”

Watch Now

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Pacifica Quartet — Contemporary Voices (Cedille)

Pacifica Quartet — Contemporary Voices (Amazon)

Pacifica Quartet (Official site)

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (Official site)

Jennifer Higdon (Official site)

Shulamit Ran (Theodore Presser)

Jun 16 2021

27mins

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iTunes Ratings

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Great for alarm clock music, nice way to keep up with new CD's

By abc in sf - Jul 25 2010
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Entertaining, well produced; covers a wide range of music. I've really enjoyed listening to this over the past several years. The podcasts are short enough for a quick listen as my morning wake-up music on my alarm clock. Nice way to supplement written reviews of new CD's because of the ability to listen to the tracks themselves. This has helped me to buy a few CD's that I would not otherwise have ventured to purchase. Thank you!

Great way to stay informed about new releases

By A Knitter - May 18 2009
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If you like classical music (even a little bit) you will enjoy this podcast highlighting new classical music releases. Julie covers a variety of classical genres from new releases of old standards to some stuff that is "on the edge" of new classical.