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Munich 1997

Norman Lebrecht’s book Who Killed Classical Music was published in 1996, and contained an infamous anecdote about a conductor, named under a pseudonym, abusing children. The culprit was widely rumored to be James Levine. (In a recent groundbreaking investigation, Malcolm Gay and Kay Lazar of the Boston Globe confirmed a similar incident to the one […]

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Flying Blind

Musicians who feel that their instruments have been mishandled by airlines like to unleash avalanches of outrage on social media, followed by petitions and calls for boycotts. British Airways recently tested tempers when gate agents refused to take three of the Kronos Quartet’s instruments on board. The quartet responded with a pledge to boycott the […]

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The Bernstein Effect

On an unusually sunny February afternoon, I met Craig Urquhart in his apartment at Berlin’s Nollendorfplatz, the beating heart of the city’s gay life. (Christopher Isherwood once rented a place here.) “I’m going to be very bad and have a gin,” Urquhart said, but then realized he didn’t have any ice. Urquhart was a longtime […]

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Season In, Season Out

On September 30, 2002, two civil rights lawyers, Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. and Cyrus Mehri, released a report called “Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities.” By then, the problem of diversity in the sport had already been widely acknowledged. “A panel of ESPN experts were asked their opinion on the […]

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A Hall of Mirrors

How strange to be older than an army specialist. One gray, drizzly day at Fort Campbell, in Kentucky, a 24-year-old firefighter with brown hair, a pale complexion, and a self-deprecating sense of humor was struggling to play a C major scale with both hands on a little keyboard. As I watched her instructor, a blond […]

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Weather Systems

I’m on the train to Hamburg, listening to Nico Muhly’s opera “Two Boys” and struggling to form an opinion about it. Some of the composition sounds plain to my ears, and the lines of the detective, sung with wide vibrato, sound a little silly, but there are also gorgeous choral moments. In interviews, Muhly frequently […]

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Singing Within

I had tea with the tenor Mark Padmore one recent afternoon, backstage at the Berlin Philharmonic as it rained and hailed outside. He wore a black sweater over a light gray dress shirt and a sleek bronze bracelet, and had just finished a rehearsal with the violinist Pekka Kuusisto and members of the Karajan Academy, […]

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The Mischief I Made

When a friend sent me a YouTube video of Helmut Lachenmann’s newest piece, “Marche fatale” for orchestra, I texted him back asking, “Holy shit, is this a joke?” The eminent German, who writes noisy works of intimidating craft and intelligence, who has probably single-handedly invented more new instrumental sounds than anyone in music history, had […]

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Make It Hurt

On October 26, 2017, the alto Wiebke Lehmkuhl sang a note—a G or an E flat, if I’m not mistaken—that was so quiet and smooth it sounded more like a boy than many boy sopranos do. The piece was Bach’s Mass in B Minor, conducted by Ton Koopman at the Berlin Philharmonic, penultimate movement, the […]

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