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Sound Color

In his gripping and provocative memoir Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa (1997), the journalist and former Washington Post Africa bureau chief Keith B. Richburg writes, “White people traveling in East Africa are rarely stopped, rarely questioned, rarely instructed to open their bags. They jump to the front of lines, they scream and […]

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One Night’s Chord

At the heart of Schoenberg’s string sextet “Verklärte Nacht” stands a chord. In the midst of the work, an ambiguous, complex, chromatic tone poem, the chord stands out as uniquely ambiguous, complex, and chromatic. The work was controversial when it was written, its lush, shifting harmony having been too much for many early listeners, and […]

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Chalk Spaceships

1. After graduating from Juilliard in 1997, I moved to Berlin on a lark, escaping from the untenable pressure of finding work in a city that needed no more musicians. In 2001, two years into my studies with the great Boris Pergamenschikow, I found myself in my first orchestral job as principal cellist of the […]

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A Blizzard

On a Friday afternoon in February, I got snowed out of a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert. There was a blizzard in the area and a tree fell on the train tracks, blocking the Green Line. The next day, I made it to the performance, of works by Shostakovich, Hans Abrahamsen (“let me tell you,” with […]

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Performer on Trial

We are prepared for this day. We are equipped with all the most modern camping accessories from a store in Denver. We are in shape from aerobic exercise, at least four times a week for several weeks. We are at the edge of civilization, brought here by a friendly van driver along rain-gouged roads. My […]

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Measure 100

There is a passage in the Mozart K. 511 Rondo in A Minor, Measures 98 through 101, And focused on measure 100, where there are At least four different melodies, or fragments Of melodies, together and apart, Resolving themselves, or unresolving themselves With: enigmatic sweetness, or melancholy; Distant memories of victories, Personal, royal, or mythic […]

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Strange Dissonance

Goethe’s “Erlkönig” is one of the most horrifying poems in all of world literature. At its center is an unspeakable tragedy, the death of a child. Also shocking is the language of the poem: it omits any description of the boy’s suffering. The very objectivity of Goethe’s language is chilling. In Schubert’s setting of “Erlkönig,” […]

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Sala São Paulo

On a Friday evening last December, my wife and I arrived at one of São Paulo’s major train stations, the Estação da Luz, during rush hour. Several metropolitan lines connect with regional transit to the suburbs there, and it was thronged with tired commuters. We elbowed our way past them and through the station’s labyrinthine […]

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Where The Flowers Are

Long before you see Fréderic Chopin’s tombstone, at the Père Lachaise graveyard in Paris, you’ll see the mountains of cards and plastic flowers. What you won’t see, surprisingly, is much red and white, the colors of the Polish flag. Considering the composer’s omnipresence in his country, with its Chopin University of Music, Chopin Airport, and […]