Classical Music News

Two controversies broke out this week regarding accusations of anti-Black racism in classical music. One involved two high-profile international soloists, pianist Yuja Wang and violinist Leonidas Kavakos. The other features less prominent individuals — a group of academics — but it also points to the slowness of the classical music community to take up difficult conversations about race and representation.

Updated on Aug. 6 at 8:06 a.m. ET

In April 1945, Madame Roos wrote a letter to French authorities describing her piano she was hoping to get back. Roos, who was 72, was Jewish and her piano had been stolen when Nazis emptied her apartment in Paris.

A similar fate befell many of the 75,000 French Jews deported to concentration camps during World War II.

Six years ago, Maria Schneider, the meticulous jazz composer and orchestrator, embarked on a project with David Bowie, the polymorphic pop vanguardist.

Chris Herbert was in a hurry. The vocalist and musicologist was studying the Ephrata Codex — an 18th century music manuscript — in the Library of Congress, which meant he was on the clock. Herbert was working on digitizing the Codex. He flipped through the pages, taking pictures of each one, with no time to pause.

New York's Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center both said on Thursday that they have canceled their performances for the rest of 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The twin announcements from the two New York City landmarks signal that the city's cultural life will be slow to return.

In typical years, late September marks the beginning of the new concert season for two of New York's most famous music venues, followed shortly by the moneymaking holiday season. But 2020 is turning out to be anything but a normal year.

Between the pandemic, the economic crisis and now protests, 2020 has already been a lot. Yo-Yo Ma has been coping, and trying to help the rest of us cope, with music. The cellist has been posting videos of himself playing what he calls "Songs of Comfort."

"I do believe that everything that we do," he says, "people in every profession — medical workers, the delivery people, the politicians — we all are there to serve. We only exist because someone has a need. I know that music fulfills that kind of need."

When the story of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police began making news last week, Anthony McGill felt something roiling up inside him.

Our Daily Breather is a series where we ask writers and artists to recommend one thing that's helping them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Who: Davóne Tines

Where: Raleigh, N.C.

Recommendation: Reconnecting through daily rituals and learning to make the perfect cup of coffee

Rachel Portman has been scoring films since the 1980s, and in 1997 became the first woman ever to win an Oscar for best original score for her work on Douglas McGrath's Emma. Since then, Portman has scored dozens more films and TV shows, but is now stepping away from the screen with ask the river, her first album of music not written for a movie, TV show or stage production.

"There were hardly any female film composers," Portman says of winning an Oscar at that time.

Our Daily Breather is a series where we ask writers and artists to recommend one thing that's helping them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Who: Jennifer Koh

Where: New York, N.Y.

Recommendation: Finding a source of fearlessness and joy


As a musician, I engage with the action of listening to others and the action of physicalizing music.

Violinists have special relationships with their instruments, almost like marriages. And so it was that when the Grammy-winning fiddler Augustin Hadelich came to play his Tiny Desk concert, he brought with him the equivalent of a new significant other.

NPR Music's Top 14 Albums Of April

Apr 30, 2020

As the NPR Music staff continues to cover the pandemic and its effects on the music industry, we are still listening to new music. In fact, we started Press Pause and Hit Play, a new playlist updated daily, in an effort to catalog our favorites released during this time.

The harpsichord is a beautiful but notoriously fussy instrument. After we wheeled one behind Bob Boilen's desk, it took the bulk of an hour to get the tuning just perfect for the very first Tiny Desk harpsichord recital. Given that our guest was Mahan Esfahani, the instrument's most ardent advocate, we were willing to wait.

In this time of social distancing, hunkering down and chatting remotely, we might learn some new things about each other. For example, you might know Marin Alsop as the longtime music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, one of the leading figures in classical music around the world and a frequent guest on Weekend Edition. But you might not know that back in the 1980s, she also led a swing band.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

Some people respond to suffering by turning it into art. That's true even with the harrowing experience of a pandemic.

In the early 1400s, an Englishman named John Cooke composed Stella celi, a hymn to the Virgin Mary referencing the Black Plague which, according to some sources, wiped out half of Europe. Its text speaks of the "ulcers of a terrible death" but also the assurance that "the star of heaven ... has rooted out the plague."

Richard Teitelbaum, an electronic artist, keyboardist and composer who combined an interest in non-western musical languages with a focus on experimental practice, died on Thursday at HealthAlliance Hospital in Kingston, N.Y. His wife, the classical pianist Hiroko Sakurazawa, said the cause was a major stroke. He was 80.

Andrea Bocelli, the superstar tenor, will livestream an Easter Sunday concert from Milan's famed Duomo cathedral. Just like practically every other church in the world, the pews will be empty, and Bocelli will be accompanied only by organist Emanuele Vianelli. The concert will stream live on Bocelli's YouTube channel on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

Now-disgraced former opera star David Daniels has been fired from his position as a tenured professor at the University of Michigan [UM] following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Daniels' firing was approved Thursday by the school's board of regents. He was deemed not eligible for severance pay. According to the university, Daniels is the first tenured faculty member to be dismissed since it adopted its current bylaws in 1959.

When Víkingur Ólafsson was about 5 years old, he already knew what he wanted to be. "It sounds crazy, but I always saw myself as a concert pianist," he says. "Even if I wasn't a good pianist."

YouTube

Twenty seconds of hand washing. 60 to 90 percent alcohol. Five to 12 (14? 21?) days of incubation until the dry cough comes.

Concert halls and music venues around the world have been shuttered due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but before closing its doors, the Philadelphia Orchestra gave one last performance on March 12 — to an empty concert hall.

Hometown: Berlin, Germany

Genre: Classical

Concerns over coronavirus are having a deep impact on performing arts and cultural institutions across the United States.

Morning Edition's series One-Hit Wonders / Second-Best Songs focuses on musicians or bands whose careers are defined by a single monster hit, and explains why their catalogs have much more to offer.

In this edition, NPR's classical producer Tom Huizenga makes the case for the charming, danceable St. Paul's Suite by Gustav Holst, who's best known for his symphonic juggernaut called The Planets.

The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. "What will you ask me to play the next time," he quipped, "a toy piano?"

Updated at Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. ET

On Tuesday afternoon, LA Opera — the Los Angeles opera company which came into being in part thanks to Plácido Domingo — announced that investigators had substantiated 10 "inappropriate conduct" claims made against the famed singer.

Plácido Domingo, who began singing at London's Royal Opera House in 1971, will not be performing with the company in scheduled performances this summer, according to a statement provided to NPR Friday morning.

"The Royal Opera House and Maestro ‪Plácido Domingo have mutually decided that he will withdraw from the Royal Opera House's upcoming performances of Don Carlo in July 2020," it reads in part.

We've never had an original Mellotron at the Tiny Desk until now. Much like a Hammond organ, it's big, heavy and fragile. When they fired it up, with all its mechanical gears turning tape loops and moving play heads, the 15-year-old geek in me blissed out.

The Mellotron was a magical 1960s invention that predates sampling. It's a keyboard instrument, with each piano key triggering a tape loop — the sound could be a string ensemble, a flamenco guitar, a saxophone and so much more. Think about the flute sounds on The Beatles' song "Strawberry Fields Forever" and you get the idea.

One of the senior elected officials at the union that commissioned an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against opera star Plácido Domingo has resigned.

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