Posted inInterview

Sketching Lyricism

Anna Thorvaldsdottir sits on a stool with wheels but no back. The hum of electric garden equipment underscores our conversation in her composing studio, and it’s funny to think that the heavyweight harmonic frameworks of one of today’s most sought-after composers might be influenced, on a subconscious level, by the drones of suburban lawnmowers. “I […]

Posted inEssay

A Chained Man’s Bruise

“You get this idea of someone knowing that something is not right,” experimental vocalist Elaine Mitchener says of Peter Maxwell Davies’s “Eight Songs for a Mad King.” “It’s askew. You know the headache you have when you have a migraine—you can’t actually see something in front of the eye? That’s how I feel with this: […]

Posted inStuff I’ve Been Hearing

Children of History

The late (do I even have to say “great”?) Tina Turner’s first songwriting credit remains an anomaly in her canon: a riff on “City Called Heaven,” with some of the original text interspersed with Turner’s own lyrics. It’s a delicate arrangement, just Turner’s voice in its fathomless low range and Ike Turner’s slightly hollow-sounding blues […]

Posted inPlaylist

An Alternative Minimalism Playlist

The story of musical minimalism has been told many, many times—and for good reason. Emerging from the New York and San Francisco countercultures of the 1960s and quickly becoming an international phenomenon, minimalism’s hypnotic drones and toe-tapping pulses represent the rare avant-garde idiom that is both experimental and popular. Historians of minimalism have typically focused […]

Posted inReview

Indeterminate Openness

As music director of the Vienna State Opera and then (briefly) of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Gustav Mahler was steeped in the form. Despite this, he never wrote an opera. The closest Mahler came is probably the hour-long finale of the Eighth Symphony, which sets the final scene from Part Two of Goethe’s “Faust.” The […]

Posted inInterview

Upsetting Simplicity

In April, tenor Ian Bostridge released his latest book, a brief meditation on the intricacies of vocal interpretation in music by Monteverdi, Ravel, and Britten titled Song and Self: A Singer’s Reflections on on Music and Performance. In May, he gave a recital at the Boulez Saal in Berlin, with pianist Julius Drake, of works […]

Posted inReview

Scouse Glyndebourne

It’s hard to approach events like “ENO does Eurovision” without a bit of skepticism, but I realize I might be going about things too cynically as I arrive in Liverpool in my Tár-inspired spring transition look: black trousers, black trench coat, black baseball cap, black sneakers, and a thick black jumper. I feel like a […]

Posted inInterview

In Constant Motion

The performance began with a scream. Or was it a bang, followed by the cry of the wind? In the next half-hour, recorder player Dora Donata Sammer whistled, bleated, cried, crowed, whirred, rattled, purred, hummed, sang, and chirped her way through repertoire from the Baroque to the contemporary, from the Renaissance soprano recorder to the […]

Posted inEssay

First Canceled, then Celebrated

On May 2, 2023, Valery Gergiev turned 70. One week later, Russia celebrated Victory Day—a Soviet holdover holiday commemorating the country’s 1945 victory over National Socialism. Gergiev spent that day leading the Mariinsky Orchestra in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, closing out the 22nd annual Moscow Easter Festival—a marathon of concerts (often two […]

Posted inPlaylist

A Grace Bumbry Playlist

Inevitably, many of the German obituaries for Grace Bumbry—who died on May 7 at the age of 86—have led with the phrase “Die schwarze Venus,” a reference to her barrier-breaking debut in Bayreuth early in her career. This is understandable (headlines only run so long), but also a shame: It reduces a decades-long career that […]