Classical Music News

One of the most horrible events of the Vietnam War took place 50 years ago this week.

This might very well be the ultimate lullaby. Right at the start of the 2018 SXSW Music Festival, Max Richter's eight-hour composition Sleep was performed overnight to an audience tucked into 150 beds. They — the audience, not the tireless group of musicians who performed the piece — slept, dreamed and sometimes snored through this trance-inducing experience.

James Levine, the famed conductor who was fired earlier this week by New York's Metropolitan Opera following its internal investigation into allegations of sexually abusive conduct towards young artists, has responded by suing the Met and its General Manager Peter Gelb.

File this one under: "when genre walls collapse, the fusions are wonderful." Among the sidenotes to dance-music archivists' interest in the minimalist sounds of New York's 1970s and '80s downtown cult figures such as Arthur Russell and Julius Eastman, is how it's brought the work of their colleagues, contemporaries and collaborators to light.

On Friday, the Boston Symphony Orchestra announced that an independent investigation into a sexual assault claim made against conductor Charles Dutoit by one of its former interns has found the woman's claim credible.

The accusation that triggered the BSO investigation came from a woman named Fiona Allan, who at the time of the alleged assault in 1997 was working as an intern at the orchestra's summer home at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass., when Dutoit was appearing with the symphony as a guest conductor.

On Friday morning the Boston Globe published details of allegations of sexual abuse by 74-year-old conductor and pianist James Levine, as well as chronicling "cult-like" behavior that the leading musician allegedly cultivated amongst his devotees while he was teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) in Ohio between 1965 and 1972.

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Sego's "Whatever Forever" unpacks the inner monologue of a frenetic and frustrated mind: Bored and anxious, singer Spencer Petersen rambles and seethes over a throbbing bassline until it's time for a soaring chorus that feels both chaotic and cathartic.

George Li is a young pianist on the rise. At age 10, he gave his first public concert and at 15, he won a silver medal at the revered Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Li recently released his debut album on a major label and has been fielding offers, performing with some of the world's great orchestras.

John Corigliano is one of America's most acclaimed composers. He's won a Pulitzer, an Oscar and five Grammys, and he's still hard at work, having turned 80 on Feb. 16.

Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, one of the avant-garde's most beloved film scorers, died Friday in Berlin, Germany. His death was confirmed by his manager, Tim Husom, but according to an official statement, the cause is unknown at this time. He was 48 years old.

By her own admission, composer Florence Price had two strikes against her.

"To begin with I have two handicaps – those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have some Negro blood in my veins," is how she began a 1943 letter to Serge Koussevitzky, the revered conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She added later, "I would like to be judged on merit alone."

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

At first, there's just a drip: a gentle pulse from a marimba. Then a bewitching melody played on a set of tuned cowbells enters and the music comes into focus. The four musicians in the Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion let the piece unfold deliberately. They play as if they're a single, eight-armed organism.

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

In these days of wireless earbuds, streams and podcasts, the notion of people gathering to hear a lone classical singer (with a pianist) perform densely structured art songs in a foreign tongue seems almost laughably quaint.

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

Musician and composer Nils Frahm must feel like a chef who has finally assembled his dream kitchen. Frahm's new album, All Melody (due out Jan. 26), was crafted at Saal 3, a vintage studio space he was offered in an old East Berlin broadcast facility built in the 1950s.

When we invited Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov to play a Tiny Desk concert, we rolled out the big guns. In place of the trusty upright, we wedged a 7-foot grand piano behind Bob Boilen's desk in preparation for the artist who The Times of London called "without question the most astounding pianist of our age."

Updated, Jan. 11, 4:00 p.m. ET: This article was updated to include new allegations of sexual assault made against Dutoit.

What the world needs now is another cat video. Seriously.

Today our colleague Robert Siegel is retiring after four decades at NPR. He's covered everything from peace movements in East and West Germany to the Republican revolution of the 104th Congress, the mentally ill homeless and the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, China.

Over his 30-year tenure as host of All Things Considered, Robert has also chased one of his lifelong passions — classical music. He's interviewed dozens of today's most compelling musicians.

In 1946, Nat King Cole became the first recording artist to wrap his lush vocals around what would become a standard of the holiday season, "The Christmas Song." But that song was written by a different crooner: Mel Tormé.

NPR's Noel King spoke with Mel Tormé's youngest son, James — an accomplished jazz singer himself — to get the story behind the creation of this Christmas classic.

Ben Shirley's story is one of redemption. He'd been playing bass in bars, clubs and arenas in the Los Angeles area since he was 15 when he fell down a path of drugs and alcohol. Four bottles of vodka and $360 worth of heroin a day brought him down hard on Skid Row.

It was at the non-profit The Midnight Mission where Shirley turned his life around in 2011. Now, at 53, he's an undergrad in The San Francisco Conservatory of Music's program of Technology and Applied Composition. He debuted an original piece, "We Need Darkness to See the Stars," earlier this month.

Updated, Dec. 21, 10:45 p.m. ET and Dec. 22, 12:09 p.m.: The responses of various orchestras to the allegations were added to this article.

The Associated Press has reported allegations of sexual assault against the famed conductor Charles Dutoit made by four women, in incidents that span from 1985 to 2010 and that took place in five different U.S. cities.

Goran Bregović is one of the Balkans' most beloved musicians and composers. He grew up in the Bosnian town of Sarajevo and witnessed the atrocities of war in the 1990s. But he channeled his home region's pain, as well as its endless humor, into his music, and got his big break composing for films like Emir Kusturica's Time of the Gypsies.

Collaboration. It's at the heart of many of NPR Music's finest moments. And it's in the DNA of the intrepid Kronos Quartet, which some 40 years ago began working with composers around the globe to spotlight new music.

Opening our 10th anniversary concert at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., Kronos, true to form, gave an appreciative audience both a world premiere and an extraordinary surprise collaboration.

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist established their community more than 20 years ago in Ann Arbor, Mich. where music is a daily part of the Catholic nuns' lives in the Motherhouse. With the holiday season looming, the sisters joined NPR's Scott Simon for an in-studio performance and discussion of their latest album, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary.

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