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Oct 30
Hector Berlioz
Understatement of the week: composer Hector Berlioz had a vividly romantic and dramatic view of the world. When the 23 year-old Berlioz saw a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet, he fell truly-madly-deeply in love with the actress who played Ophelia. He sent her passionate letters, which she ignored as the ravings of a crazed fan. So Berlioz wrote a bizarre symphony that told the story of their torrid (and completely imaginary) relationship. When she heard the piece two years later and realized it was about her...she got in touch. They were married the next year. Highlights from the Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz, Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic in concert at Lincoln Center, in New York City.
Oct 29
Liszt
It's 15 minutes of musical fireworks, so over-the-top it's almost self-parody. At the same time, it takes on the most serious of subjects: what happens when we die? But does it with a hint of a sly wink, which makes it perfect for Halloween weekend. It's Totentanz, the "Dance of Death" by Franz Liszt. Louis Lortie plays the ultra-athletic piano part, Kurt Masur leads the San Francisco Symphony, in concert. And this week's 21st century segment highlights music by a composer who is quickly approaching rock-star status in the choral world, Eric Whitacre.
Oct 28
sir_edward_elgar
It began as a piano improvisation "aided by a cigar," in the words of composer Edward Elgar. He came up with a curious little theme. And to amuse his wife Alice, he began improvising around the theme in ways that might represent a few of their friends. It grew into a theme and 14 variations, just over 30 minutes of touching and entertaining music for full orchestra. The Enigma Variations by Elgar. Adrian Leaper conducts the Spanish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, in concert in Madrid.
Oct 27
Hector Berlioz
Understatement of the week: composer Hector Berlioz had a vividly romantic and dramatic view of the world. When the 23 year-old Berlioz saw a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet, he fell truly-madly-deeply in love with the actress who played Ophelia. He sent her passionate letters, which she ignored as the ravings of a crazed fan. So Berlioz wrote a bizarre symphony that told the story of their torrid (and completely imaginary) relationship. When she heard the piece two years later and realized it was about her...she got in touch. They were married the next year. Highlights from the Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz, Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic in concert at Lincoln Center, in New York City.
Oct 26
William Harvey
Twenty-eight year-old American violinist William Harvey is halfway through a year-long appointment teaching violin and viola at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul. He spoke with PT host Fred Child before he left, and again recently on the phone from Afghanistan. Harvey says he not only feels "very safe" in Kabul, he's having an incredible time sharing the Western tradition with young Afghan musicians, and learning Afghan music from them.
Oct 25
Sergey Prokofiev
After one Los Angeles concert, a critic called the performance "irresistibly freewheeling" and said the soloist "hot-rodded through the fast passages as if he was out to set speed records." The performance was a perfect storm of youthful energy: a concerto written by a 20-year-old hot-shot, performed by a soloist and conductor, both still this side of 30. It was a performance of Sergei Prokofiev's First Piano Concerto, written in 1911 while he was still a conservatory student. Simon Trpceski was the soloist, with Gustavo Dudamel leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic. We'll hear that turbo-charged performance from Los Angeles in today's show.
Oct 23
Alisa Weilerstein
Cellist Alisa Weilerstein is one of the rising stars in classical music right now. She's only 28, but has been getting rave reviews for quite a while now. In fact, one reviewer called her recent performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto "life-changing." We'll hear that performance of the Elgar, with Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic, from a concert in Oxford, England. We'll also hear a performance by Alisa Weilerstein's parents, violinist Donald and pianist Vivian.
Oct 22
Peteris Vasks
Today's show is all about home, the places that ground us and give us a sense of belonging. Bedrich Smetana wrote a set of pieces called "My Homeland." We'll hear the most famous, "The Moldau," a depiction of the Moldau River as it winds through the Bohemian countryside. And Latvian composer Peteris Vasks wrote this about his "Plainscapes:""The beauty of the Latvian landscape has given me moments of exceptional happiness. The plains are a dominant feature where one can see the horizon and look at the stars." Plus, we'll have the results of the 2010 Chopin International Piano Competition that just wrapped up in Warsaw.
Oct 21
Musikverein Goldener Saal
Vienna's Musikverein is one of those spectacular old European concert halls. The walls and ceilings shimmer with real gold. And the acoustics are every bit as magnificent as the decor. Up until recently, pianist Lang Lang had never played there. He finally got his chance, playing a solo recital that included Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata. It's in today's show. Plus, we'll hear a performance from the Musikverein from a special New Year's Day concert. Daniel Barenboim and the Vienna Philharmonic rattled those golden walls and ceilings with Johann Strauss, Jr.'s "Thunder and Lightning Polka."
Oct 20
Alisa Weilerstein
Cellist Alisa Weilerstein is one of the rising stars in classical music right now. She's only 28, but has been getting rave reviews for quite a while now. In fact, one reviewer called her recent performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto "life-changing." We'll hear that performance of the Elgar, with Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic, from a concert in Oxford, England. We'll also hear a performance by Alisa Weilerstein's parents, violinist Donald and pianist Vivian.
Oct 19
Ralph Vaughan Williams
When Ralph Vaughan Williams' Sixth Symphony premiered in 1948, everyone rushed to find a deeper meaning in it. Vaughan Williams was amused at first, but when one critic tried to call it the "War Symphony," he got miffed, saying, "It never seems to occur to people that a man might just want to write a piece of music." Years later, though, Vaughan Williams did allow as how maybe, just maybe, the last movement could be summed up by these words from Shakespeare's Tempest: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep." The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic performs it, in concert in Amsterdam.
Oct 18
The most romantic birthday present in the long history of birthday presents: the Siegfried Idyll, by Richard Wagner. An achingly beautiful 20-minute piece he wrote for his new wife, rehearsed in secret, and unveiled with a small orchestra playing in front of her bedroom on the morning of her 33rd birthday. Our concert is from a slightly larger space -- Avery Fisher Hall, at Lincoln Center in New York City. Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic. Plus a set of music and musicians from San Francisco, including a slapstick orchestral march written by Michael Tilson Thomas, played by the San Francisco Symphony.
Oct 16
Bruce Adolphe
Composer Bruce Adolphe returns to the PT studios with our weekly classical music game, the Piano Puzzler. Every week he re-writes a familiar tune in the style of a classical composer. One of our listeners calls in and tries to name the tune and the composer whose style Bruce is imitating. Also -- the Orion Quartet plays the opening section from the Art of Fugue, by Bach, in concert at the 92nd Street Y in New York. And Valery Gergiev leads the London Symphony Orchestra in a thrilling performance of...a piece we can't name, because it would give away the answer to the puzzler!
Oct 15
Johannes Brahms
Great music, like great cooking, is interesting when just the right flavors come together. And some dishes are most surprising not for what's in them, but for what's left out (think flourless chocolate cake). Johannes Brahms left out the flour when he wrote his second orchestral serenade. In this case, that translates to a large-scale symphonic work with no violins. We'll hear the San Francisco Symphony and music director Michael Tilson Thomas, in a performance where the violins were relaxing backstage. Who knows - maybe they were noshing on flourless chocolate cake.
Oct 14
Joann Falletta Conducting
Raduz and Mahulena, two young lovers whose families despise each other. Sound familiar, Shakespeare fans? But unlike Romeo and Juliet, these legendary Slovakian lovers overcome all obstacles and live happily ever after. JoAnn Falletta leads the Buffalo Philharmonic in a performance of a musical re-telling of their story, "A Fairy Tale" by Josef Suk. Plus the "Children's Fairy Tale" by Johann Kaspar Mertz, played by guitarist Adam Holzman. And Maurice Ravel's musical version of the story of a beautiful Princess whose century-long slumber could only be broken by a kiss of true love. Listen for the arrival of the handsome Prince and the moment of the kiss, in the "Fairy Garden" from the Mother Goose Suite, by Maurice Ravel. Myung-Whun Chung conducts the Seoul Philharmonic, in concert in Brussels, Belgium.
Oct 13
Bruce Adolphe
Composer Bruce Adolphe returns to the PT studios with our weekly classical music game, the Piano Puzzler. Every week he re-writes a familiar tune in the style of a classical composer. One of our listeners calls in and tries to name the tune and the composer whose style Bruce is imitating. Also -- the Orion Quartet plays the opening section from the Art of Fugue, by Bach, in concert at the 92nd Street Y in New York. And Valery Gergiev leads the London Symphony Orchestra in a thrilling performance of...a piece we can't name, because it would give away the answer to the puzzler!
Oct 12
Juan Diego Florez
Last week, Gustavo Dudamel opened his second season as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It was a celebratory concert with music by Rossini and several Latin-American composers. We'll sample a few highlights, including Rossini's La Gazza Ladra Overture, the Danzon No. 2 by Arturo Marquez, and several performances featuring the sparkling tenor voice of Juan Diego Florez. (And yes, we'll hear both of his encores!)
Oct 10
Zoltan Kodaly
In Hungarian lore, anything you say after a sneeze can be taken as gospel truth. Hence, the musical "sneeze" at the beginning of the Hary Janos Suite, by Zoltan Kodaly. The piece tells the story of a legendary liar, bragging about his extraordinary, but fictional, exploits. ("I singlehandedly defeated the French! Napoleon was on his knees, begging for mercy!") But...he vows that every word is true. Gilbert Varga leads the Central German Radio Symphony, in concert in Leipzig.
Oct 9
Bruce Adolphe
Three musical heroes make an appearance today. Lohengrin was the mysterious knight of the Holy Grail, who rescued a damsel by riding in a boat drawn by swans. We'll hear the prelude to Act III of Wagner's "Lohengrin." Don Quixote was the mad anti-hero who tilted at windmills and waged war against armies of sheep. Georg Philipp Telemann brought him to life in a suite for strings, performed at New Mexico's Music from Angel Fire. And finally, the hero of the bullfight, the torero. The Jupiter String Quartet plays Joaquin Turina's "Bullfighter's Prayer" at Music@Menlo. Plus, the hero of the Piano Puzzler, composer Bruce Adolphe.
Oct 8
David Bruce, composer
The gold mines of South Africa under Apartheid were grim and difficult places. Black South Africans worked in the mines, chained together and forbidden to speak. Even so, they found ways to communicate, using rhythmic boot-stomping, chest-slapping and chain-jangling. It's called gumboot dancing, and it's become part of South African culture. It also inspired this week's 21st century music feature, "Gumboots," by English composer David Bruce. We'll hear a performance by clarinetist Todd Palmer and the St. Lawrence String Quartet, from this summer's Spoleto Festival USA.
Oct 7
Leos Janacek
A club in Prague that called itself a "patriotic and gymnastic society" was looking for flashy new fanfares. In 1925, they asked composer Leos Janacek to write one for them. But when Janacek began working on it, he realized he had bigger ideas than simple trumpet tunes. The fanfares turned into a full-blown orchestral work with a brass backbone: the Sinfonietta. Today we'll hear a performance by Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Oct 6
Bruce Adolphe
Three musical heroes make an appearance today. Lohengrin was the mysterious knight of the Holy Grail, who rescued a damsel by riding in a boat drawn by swans. We'll hear the prelude to Act III of Wagner's "Lohengrin." Don Quixote was the mad anti-hero who tilted at windmills and waged war against armies of sheep. Georg Philipp Telemann brought him to life in a suite for strings, performed at New Mexico's Music from Angel Fire. And finally, the hero of the bullfight, the torero. The Jupiter String Quartet plays Joaquin Turina's "Bullfighter's Prayer" at Music@Menlo. Plus, pianist Paul Lewis playing Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto at the Proms, and the hero of the Piano Puzzler, composer Bruce Adolphe.
Oct 5
Sphinx Performance Academy
The Sphinx Academy
The debut of a new weekly series on PT: Transformations™. We'll look at moments, large and small, when music transforms our lives. This week, we'll meet some of the young musicians at the 2010 Sphinx Performance Academy in Chicago, designed to help up-and-coming African-American and Latino string players. Plus, of all the wacky audience-participation traditions at the Proms in London, none tops the British Sea Songs, by Henry Wood. It's the Rocky Horror Picture Show of classical music, with the audience joining in on many levels throughout the piece. We'll hear the audience humming, whistling, singing, crying, and honking along from the 2010 Proms in London.
Oct 4
Maurizio Pollini
Pianist Maurizio Pollini says it's his job as a performer to "make the sense clear: the necessity of the notes." Not just to get the notes right or even just to make them expressive or beautiful. He says he has to convince the listener of the rightness of what the composer wrote, so that it sounds as if no other notes could possibly follow. We think Pollini does a convincing job on Mozart's Piano Concerto Number 12, in a performance with the Vienna Philharmonic.
Oct 2
Royal Albert Hall
Two great cellists were among the many outstanding performers at this summer's BBC Proms, the big music festival in London. Today's show features British cellist Steven Isserlis, 51, with a well-established musical career. And we'll also hear the young American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, 28, a rising star. Isserlis plays a Dvorak rondo, and Weilerstein performs the slow movement of Shostakovich's first cello concerto, both from the Proms.
Oct 1
Every Friday on PT, we feature music from this century. This week's 21st century work is a curious collaboration that actually has its roots in the 16th century. It starts with poetry by Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed by Queen Elizabeth I in 1587. Robert Schumann set some of her poetry to music in the 19th century. This year, British composer Robin Holloway added his own music to Schumann's songs. The result is called "Reliquary." We'll hear the world premiere by the BBC Philharmonic and soprano Dorothea Roschmann, from a Proms concert last month.