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Simon Said

Simon Rattle grits his teeth and flares his nostrils. He raises his silver eyebrows, opens his mouth in vowel shapes, closes his eyes again in an ecstatic expression, bounces his baton off the air. These are his ways of expressing how the music makes him feel. They are also the tics that bother some of […]

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Border Lament

For a second or two it could be a playground: Tiny voices cry. Then they keep crying, panting for air from the crying, their voices wavering from the exhaustion from the crying and the panting. “I don’t want them to stop my father,” a child says. “I don’t want them to deport him.” The response […]

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Sudden Shattering

In May, a new staging of Handel’s “Semele” premiered at the Komische Oper in Berlin. Allan Clayton, in coattails, a three-piece suit, and pink socks, played a sprightly Jove, who has just fallen in love with a mortal woman. When he sang the lines “Where’er you tread the blushing flow’rs shall rise / And all […]

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A Memory of Violence

The Berlin-based, American composer Mark Barden writes music that is both technically refined and irresistibly gripping. He has an ear for rhythmic propulsion and microtonal chords that make sense and sound beautiful without falling into Spectral stereotypes. I met him one afternoon at his apartment in Sonnenallee, a wide Berlin avenue full of falafel shops […]

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Music of the Middle Degree

One night this spring, a composition by Jörg Widmann made me cringe. Mitsuko Uchida was playing a program of Schoenberg, Schubert, and the 44-year-old German composer at the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin. His piece, “Sonata facile” (2016), quoted the Mozart original extensively, interrupting it at times with modified dissonant bass lines, interjections of clusters […]

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The Calibrated Voice

The voices of singers tend to call forth abstract, flowery adjectives. But when you hear the baritone Matthias Goerne, it’s easy to point out the specific moments that distinguish his art. As Wotan from Wagner’s “Ring,” he sings about the castle of the gods as if it were a tender memory from Schubert’s “Winterreise.” In […]

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Tonefoil Hat, Episode 4

Get started with Tonefoil Hat here. The writer writes a sentence. He reads back what he wrote. He fixes a redundancy, then he writes another sentence. He changes that sentence, too; maybe adds a rhythmic nuance. He puts something on the page, reads it back, silently or even out loud, makes a decision about what […]

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Tonefoil Hat, Episode 3

Listen to Episode 1 of Tonefoil Hat here.Listen to Episode 2 of Tonefoil Hat here. Masterclass 6 of David Lucas Burge’s Perfect Pitch Ear Training SuperCourse starts much the same as the previous five: with chatter. He tells me that through his course I will start to experience “a little Christmas of musical perception.” This […]

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Tonefoil Hat, Episode 5

Get started with Tonefoil Hat here. In a 2016 New Yorker article, Patrick Radden Keefe reported on a unit of the London Metropolitan Police he termed “super-recognizers.” These police officers have the ability to see a face once and then recognize it again among millions of others, and they comb vast quantities of CCTV footage, […]

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Tonefoil Hat Finale

Get started with Tonefoil Hat here. I’m giving up. The last time I made any progress with David Lucas Burge’s Perfect Pitch Ear Training SuperCourse was June 12—almost a month ago. My ear training practice sessions now end after five minutes. I’ve started hurling insults at my microphone. Like the main character in Beckett’s play […]

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