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Whispering Through the Music

It’s a bitter sign that we’re still living in the era of “firsts” when it comes to Black representation in classical music. The first Black musician to hold a principal chair in the New York Philharmonic did not secure that spot in the first decades of the orchestra’s founding; nor in the explosive heyday of […]

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Sandcastles on the Beach

Sometimes you can figure things out just by thinking them through; sometimes you can figure them out by watching other people. But sometimes you just have to grab onto the electric fence with both hands yourself. For those of us who prefer to learn by doing (including with the occasional low-voltage shock), contemporary classical composition […]

Posted inReview

A Shallow Oasis

A Weekend at Tippet Rise By · Title Image © 2018 Calder Foundation, Photo by Andre Costantini · Date 8/30/2018 Aaron Jay Kernis wrote his new string quartet “oasis” in nearly perfect solitude. It was December at Tippet Rise, an arts center and festival near Fishtail, Montana, and windswept snowdrifts made it impossible to enter […]

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Is An Opera An Opera An Opera?

A New Production of “The Mother of Us All” By · Title Image © Robert Umenhofer · Date 11/09/2017 Dazzlingly abstruse and brimming over with surreal touches, “The Mother of Us All,” an opera with music by Virgil Thomson and a libretto by Gertrude Stein, is an idiosyncratic choice for an experiment in community building […]

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Fertile Ground

The grass is always greener on the other side of the Atlantic. Throughout my time in the world of contemporary classical music, this is a message I have heard over and over and over again. Governments in Europe fund their artists much more generously. European audiences are much more invested in their artistic cultures, and […]

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Ritual Time

When people bring up the rituals of the classical concert hall, it usually isn’t to celebrate them. Countless blog posts, newspaper columns, and tweets have criticized the unspoken formalized rules of such performances—especially rules about when it is appropriate to clap—for being barriers to new listeners not already steeped in the culture. Whatever the merit […]

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Can Cis Men Write Trans Opera?

“I am a human; nothing that is human is alien to me.” Composer Robert Paterson cites this line from the Roman playwright Terence in defense of his choice, along with librettist David Cote, to write an opera with characters that don’t share his demographic background. “I think there’s too much of that these days,” Paterson […]

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Anonymous Man

A New Choral Work by Michael Gordon By · Title Image Michael Gordon on Desbrosses Street, 1981 · Date 06/15/2017 Shortly after 10 a.m. on the morning of Monday April 24, 1865, a ferry set out across the Hudson River from a landing in Jersey City. Bedecked with symbols of patriotism and mourning, it held […]

Posted inOpinion

Breaking Binaries

Classical music has a gender problem. The numbers are consistent and dismal: as various orchestras have announced their 2017–18 seasons, numerous outlets have tallied how many male and female composers are represented, and so far none seem to be doing better than the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where male composers still take up 88 percent of […]

Posted inInterview

Queer As In Fuck Yeah

“I’m always drawn to defend anything that people shit on aesthetically.” It’s hard to sum up an artist’s work in a single sentence, but for Alex Temple, that’s not a bad place to start. She has a particular interest in “reclaiming socially disapproved-of (‘cheesy’) sounds,” often taking and warping them into something more than a […]