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Mental Composers

Throughout history, artists, composers, and musicians have been plagued by personal demons. As a society, we adore the works of Beethoven, perhaps due in part to the crippling emotional impact his deafness had on his music. We appreciate Schumann, though he went insane through the latter stages of syphilis. But is there a more modern […]

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Postcards

Ojai Postcard #1 On Pauline Oliveros’s “Sonic Meditations” Sitting and listening to live music from a source I cannot see can be a strange experience. As a student at Oberlin, I spent a few half-hours staring at the front wall of Fairchild Chapel as friends and visiting luminaries played the famous organ from the loft […]

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Program Music

Recently, I played a series of symphonic movements for a class. Some were by Mozart, and others by other composers. With a little practice and guidance, the class picked up a rough impression of Mozart’s style, as distinct from the other works. The last piece I played was by David Cope’s software Experiments in Musical […]

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Unfinished

A few nights ago, I sat in Berlin’s Philharmonie listening to the Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin under the direction of Kent Nagano. The program was practically a Greatest Hits of German romanticism and late-romanticism: Wagner’s “Tristan” prelude and “Liebestod”; the orchestral version of Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht”; Schubert’s Unfinished; Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs.” I thought about […]

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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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