Posted inInterview

Into the Cosmic Unknown

When does your experience of a new piece of music begin? When you hear the first note? When the performers first enter the space? Or does the context of the venue’s ambience beforehand also affect how you take in the piece? Does the experience begin with the first rehearsal, the first compositional sketch, the first […]

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Fleeting Visions

Classical music has a problem with embodiment. Whether it’s sexist critics focusing more on a female artist’s outfit than her technique or scolds who expect an audience to sit in stillness and silence until after the final note has sounded, many people seem to view actual human bodies as an obstacle to the deepest experience […]

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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

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 or leave. The facilities sat vacant except for the most necessary core personnel. His piece is stark, taciturn, full of […]

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Is An Opera An Opera An Opera?

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 in Hudson, New York. The work tells the story of Susan B. Anthony, or something like it. At one […]

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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

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 the corpse of the assassinated Abraham Lincoln, en route from the place of his death in Washington D.C. to his […]