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Infinite Crescendo

I met Viennese pianist Rudolf Buchbinder one recent evening in his dressing room at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, where he was performing his “Diabelli Project” program: variations on the short and somewhat banal waltz by contemporary composers (Jörg Widmann, Lera Auerbach, Max Richter, Toshio Hosokawa) and historical musicians (Liszt, Czerny, Schubert) in the first […]

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The Dreams of Others

When you mention alto Dina König in front of her former colleagues, they insist on her musical excellence. That’s because, in September 2020, König gave up her burgeoning career as a singer of early music. Instead, she decided to become a tram driver with the local public transportation system in Basel, Switzerland.  Musicians often view […]

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Keep Them Up at Night

In June, I met pianist and musicologist Robert Levin at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Complete editions of works by Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, and many other composers filled his living room. As a musician, Levin has an almost uncanny ability to assimilate an oeuvre into the component elements of its style. It’s a remarkable process […]

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Formed Under Pressure

In classical music, racism toward musicians of Asian heritage is as casual as it is pervasive. When I was in my first year of conservatory, at the Royal Academy of Music in London, a Korean composition student was late to a single lesson; the professor proceeded to do a disgustingly caricatured impression of his accent. […]

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Communist Dissonance

At the beginning of the Chinese Communist Party propaganda movie-musical “The Wings of Songs,” a tune is playing, and there are attractive people frolicking. But, unlike “The Sound of Music,” the frolicking and the music never match. We have just been introduced to three boyish members of a band, the film’s protagonists, who are performing […]

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Having a Miserable Time

In 2014, John Nolan, a graduate student in music composition at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, started a blog called Composers Doing Normal Shit. Still thriving in 2021, the site was one of the first to unite classical music with memeified internet humor. Now based primarily on Facebook and Twitter, CDNS is one of […]

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Natural Consequences

English countertenor Tim Mead’s voice is clean, serene, and direct, with a chameleon-like ability to remain subtly expressive in music from Handel to George Benjamin’s opera “Written on Skin,” in which Mead sings a queasily erotic and effective Boy. When I talked to Mead this month, he had just finished singing a project in Malta, […]

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Built and Abandoned

Georg Friedrich Haas’s new orchestral work opens at the void. A solo contraforte—a sort of improved contrabassoon with a more focused, melodic tone—holds a low F#. A solo violin looks down on it from far above, playing close, dissonant intervals in the high reaches of the harmonic spectrum. Slowly, the violin descends. The orchestra begins […]

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Physical Movement

In a 2015 Bloomberg article about Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on tour, reporter Joel Stein introduced an “impeccably dressed, handsome, long-haired” man, referred to by members of the orchestra as “the international man of mystery” or “the most interesting man in the world.” He didn’t mean Dudamel. Stein was referring to Guido […]