Classical Music News

Jeremy Dutcher came to the Tiny Desk with sparkling, purple streams of glitter draped around his shoulders. Then he set his iPad on our Yamaha upright piano, not to read his score as pianists do these days, but to play a centuries-old wax cylinder recording of a song sung in the incredibly rare language of Wolastoq. Jeremy Dutcher, along with cellist Blanche Israel and percussionist and electronics wizard Greg Harrison, wove that old recording into a remarkably passionate performance that was very 21st-century, with a deep nod to a century past.

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I've watched a lot of Tiny Desk concerts over the years. It's good to see musicians in the raw, away from stage lighting and backing tracks — as if they've just stopped by an office to play over a lunch break, with desk-bound employees watching on. The performances should expose flaws, but instead they tend to expose musicians being casually brilliant, like the members of Ensemble Signal, who certainly play these pieces beautifully.

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When the intrepid string quartet known as Brooklyn Rider first visited the Tiny Desk nine years ago, no one knew what the musicians might play. They're as likely to trot out an Asian folk tune as they are a string quartet by Beethoven, or one of their own compositions.

With a reverence for classics and an experimental spirit, Kelsey Lu is broadening the scope of how strings fit into contemporary pop. Lu's debut album, Blood, out now, is a mash-up of disco, R&B, pop and more that's rooted in her adoration of strings.

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the leading symphony orchestra in the Netherlands, and its former chief conductor, Daniele Gatti, have come to a mutual agreement over the conductor's dismissal last August.

Tuesday the orchestra issued a statement on its website, claiming that "matters between the two parties have been resolved following extensive discussions."

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If just one thing can be confirmed from these compelling Tiny Desk performances by the Calidore String Quartet, it should be that the centuries-old formula – two violins, a viola and a cello – is still very much alive and evolving. Indeed, an impromptu show of hands in the audience before the concert began revealed that almost everyone had seen a string quartet perform live.

Caroline Shaw's new album, Orange, is a love letter to the string quartet. The North Carolina native burst onto the music scene in 2013, when she was the youngest composer to win a Pulitzer Prize. She's still in her 30s and now, for the first time, there's a recording devoted entirely to her work.

Ellen Reid, a 36-year-old composer, won the Pulitzer Prize in Music on Monday for her opera p r i s m. The Pulitzer jury described the winning piece as a "bold new operatic work that uses sophisticated vocal writing and striking instrumental timbres to confront difficult subject matter: the effects of sexual and emotional abuse." The two other finalists were Sustain, an orchestral work by Andrew Norman, and Still for solo piano by James Romig. Reid is the fourth woman to earn the prize since 2013.

In January 2018, the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest was widely criticized for staging the George Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess — whose story wrestles with racism, drug abuse and poverty — with a predominantly white cast, despite the fact that the Gershwin estate requires performances to feature an all-black cast.

Now, the Hungarian production is back for another series of performances of Porgy this month — and its nearly all-white cast was reportedly asked to sign testimonials saying that they were African-American.

Ever since he was a little boy, Yannick Nézet-Séguin knew he wanted to be a conductor. He likens the feeling to something "almost like a religious call."

"Making music in the group is what animates me," he says.

Christine Goerke is focused on endurance. The dramatic soprano is tackling one of the most challenging roles in opera: singing Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie maiden warrior, in Richard Wagner's epic, Der Ring des Nibelungen, at New York's Metropolitan Opera. Otherwise known as the Ring cycle, the 16-hour saga spans four operas and tells the story of gods, monsters, humans and an insatiable urge to own an all-powerful golden ring.

On Tuesday, a New York State Supreme Court judge dismissed most of conductor James Levine's claims in a defamation suit the former music director of the Metropolitan Opera filed against his former employer and its general manager, Peter Gelb.

Fans of Hector Berlioz — and record companies, it appears — need no excuse to celebrate the music of the pioneering French composer and quick-witted music critic. The sesquicentennial of Berlioz's death falls on March 8, and to mark the occasion, Warner Classics has released a 27-CD box containing, purportedly, every forward-thinking note the composer ever wrote.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page.

Month after month, member stations partake in Heavy Rotation and share with us songs that they cannot stop listening to. Out of the many talents and submissions, we condensed the list into ten songs, all of which scale the possibilities that this year has to offer in music.

This month's playlist is packed with new favorites, including French producer FKJ and a fresh bop from Future's The WIZRD, marking this start in 2019 as a hopeful one.

The beloved American baritone Sanford Sylvan died Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. Lenore Sylvan, the singer's mother, along with his sister Gwen Sylvan and brother Seth Sylvan confirmed the death to NPR Thursday morning. Marc Mandel, a close family friend and director of program publications at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, said that the death was "entirely sudden" and that it was "deemed to be of natural causes." Sylvan was 65.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page.

Opera star David Daniels and his husband, conductor Scott Walters, were arrested Tuesday night in Ann Arbor, Michigan on charges of sexual assault. Representatives of the men and the Houston Police Department confirmed to NPR that the two are currently being held in Ann Arbor and are awaiting extradition to Texas.

In 1933, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave the world premiere of Symphony No. 1 by a then little-known composer named Florence Price. The performance marked the first time a major orchestra played music by an African-American woman.

Price's First Symphony, along with her Fourth, has just been released on an album featuring the Fort Smith Symphony, conducted by John Jeter.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page.

Conductors, like most music lovers, keep discovering music that is new to them. My own latest discovery is the Turangalîla-Symphonie, a mind-blowing 75-minute orchestral piece by Olivier Messiaen, written in the 1940s. It's a rare treat for me to be able to work on a piece from the middle of the 20th century that I have never even heard performed live.

How do you play an instrument you never physically touch? Watch Carolina Eyck. She's the first to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk. The early electronic instrument with the slithery sound was invented almost 100 years ago by Leon Theremin, a Soviet scientist with a penchant for espionage. It looks like a simple black metal box with a couple of protruding antennae, but to play the theremin like Eyck does, with her lyrical phrasing and precisely "fingered" articulation, takes a special kind of virtuosity.

Opera star Renée Fleming drew concern last year after a New York Times profile suggested the acclaimed soprano would be retiring. Luckily for fans, it turned out to be a false alarm.

Italian singer Andrea Bocelli is a superstar. The Grammy- and Emmy-nominated tenor is one of the highest-selling vocalists in music. In 1999, Bocelli scored a Guinness World Record for simultaneously holding the No. 1, 2 and 3 spots on Billboard's Classical Top 10 chart. Since then, Bocelli has collaborated with everyone from Celine Dion to Ariana Grande. But on his latest album, Sì, Bocelli tries something he finds really daunting — recording with his 21-year-old son, Matteo.

Karim Wasfi became famous around the world because of misfortune. The renowned performer and conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra played cello at the scenes of suicide attacks in Baghdad in 2015. He was the man who made beautiful music among the wreckage of a great city.

As a singer, arranger, composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist, it should come as no surprise that Jacob Collier comes from a profoundly musical family. His maternal grandparents were both professional violinists, his mother is an accomplished violinist and longtime instructor at the Royal Academy of Music in London and so, naturally, Collier taught himself to play every instrument he could find.

In a move that is astonishing much of the classical music world, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) announced Wednesday that it has appointed Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen as its next music director, beginning in September 2020.

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