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Randomness with Direction

“Somehow, after all, as the universe ebbs towards its final equilibrium in the featureless heat bath of maximum entropy, it manages to create interesting structures,” wrote James Gleick in his popular exploration of chaos theory. Nature’s natural tendency is to form patterns. Conversely, the universe teems with randomness and dissipation. “But randomness with direction can […]

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An Old, New Song

During this pandemic year, distanced from the world, I’ve taken solace in Schubert’s 1827 song cycle “Winterreise,” which plumbs a man’s anguish as he travels through a wintry night away from the woman who has rejected him. The desolation of solitude, darkness and ice, and the lilting or storming interplay of piano and voice, have […]

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A Most Violent Year

The enduring image of Beethoven, 250 years after his birth: His hair is untamed. His temperament is as mercurial as his mane. He is, both as an artist and a man, uncompromising and volatile; his whole personality wrapped up in the fateful knock of the first four notes of his Fifth Symphony, or the two […]

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Vital Cacophony

On August 9, 2020, longtime president of Belarus Aleksandr G. Lukashenko claimed 80 percent of the vote in the country’s latest presidential election. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Lukashenko’s main rival in this campaign, was forced to leave the country. This isn’t the first year that Lukashenko’s win at the polls has been suspect, nor is it the […]

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On the Other Hand

In the days following Leon Fleisher’s death, at the age of 92, I’ve found myself listening to his Bach. They’re few compared to the pianist’s more notable repertoire of Beethoven and Brahms, but two can be found on his 2004 album, “Two Hands.”   It was a recording that was also something of a rebirth (how […]

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Notes on Birdsong

1. “During this pandemic, I’ve been feeling … particularly drawn to birding,” Joan Walsh wrote for The Nation. “You can hear the birds better without the city noise, and Central Park feels wilder, Edenic. Birding’s careful, meditative rhythms seem a cure for pandemic jitters.” New York in the time of COVID-19 has largely been talked […]

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Centuries of Silence

Only then can his creative genius begin redounding, as it should, to the glory of Black music history,” writes the musicologist Robert Stevenson in his 1982 article, “The First Black Published Composer.” Stevenson’s subject was Vicente Lusitano (ca. 1520-ca. 1561), an African-Portuguese priest and musician who enjoyed an international career. Stevenson heralds works like the […]

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Women In Love

I first learned about opera’s tradition of trouser roles from a trio of puppets. As a toddler, I’d often watch the 1972-73 series “Who’s Afraid of Opera?,” which featured a trio of audience members created by puppeteer Larry Berthelson: Rudy the Lion, Sir William the goat, and Billy, the baby goat nephew of Sir William. […]

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Universal Partisanship

Beethoven’s Ninth Through the Brexit Debacle By · Date 2/20/2020 I am a child of Europe, I am a liberal cosmopolitan. My family is the genetic equivalent of a UN peace-keeping force. I can read novels in French, and I can sing the ‘Ode to Joy’ in German…[encouraging shouts from audience] ‘Freude, schöner Götterfunken’…” This […]