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Cast Together

An orchestra is like a pendulum. Pull it in one direction—toward a more contemporary, progressive repertoire, say—and eventually it will swing back toward the crowd-pleasers. This regrettable pattern can be observed whenever an enterprising music director leaves. In Boston, the profoundly flawed choice of James Levine nevertheless shaped the idea of what an orchestra can […]

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Listening Blind

An Interview with Paul Lewis By · Title Image Tim Jokl (CC BY-NC 2.0) · Date 4/2/2019 Whatever your image of the standard background and biography for a world class concert pianist, Paul Lewis ain’t it. Born in Liverpool, the son of a dock worker and a local council employee, there were no other musicians […]

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Space for the Wrong

On a recent evening in Berlin, the pianist and composer Frederic Rzewski performed his virtuosic variations on a Chilean protest song, “The People United Will Never Be Defeated!” Physical and mental exhaustion are composed into the piece, and watching Rzewski play, I was struck by the similarities between the musical obstacles in his work and […]

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The Nature of the Mind

Laurie Anderson, the 71-year-old performance artist, storyteller, musician and wife of Lou Reed, was looking out at the fog. She seemed exhausted, but her green eyes were alert. I met her in her green room in the middle of a packed four-day festival at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, where she was joined by her colleagues, […]

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Winter Words

Garth Greenwell is a remarkable novelist. Like vocal lines, his sentences explode with vibrating, irrepressible energy while still assuming classically beautiful forms. What Belongs To You (2016), his debut novel, about collisions between guilt, grief, desire, and openness in the relationship between an American high school teacher and a Bulgarian hustler, was long-and short-listed for […]

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Sound And Stasis

Using mostly the variable of finger pressure, Daniil Trifonov creates an astonishing variety of colors. Often, in the piano’s higher register, he makes the instrument sound metallic, as if it were prepared. Simple rhythmic accompaniments turn rich and propulsive. In one Shostakovich song, he somehow manages to give a Bösendörfer the exactly timbre of muted […]

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Soul Connection

When Jaap van Zweden mounts the podium in front of the New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall, the orchestra’s new music director gives off a palpable, dynamic energy—he has a commanding presence that stands out among his peers. Sitting behind the desk in his office on a December morning shortly after a rehearsal, clad […]

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Baby Work

An Interview with Yu Long By · Title Image © Shanghai Symphony Orchestra · Date 12/20/2018 In November, I traveled to Shenzhen, China for a conference on the future of Chinese classical music. Sponsored by Volkswagen China’s cultural initiative—which, full disclosure, paid for my flights—the conference gathered orchestral conductors, managers and administrators to the top […]

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Look To The Future

An Interview with Jiatong Wu By Hartmut Welscher · Title Image VERA & JEAN-CHRISTOPHE (CC BY-SA 2.0) · Date 12/20/2018 In 2005, Simon Rattle went on a tour of East Asia with the Berlin Philharmonic and predicted that the future of classical music was in China. It remained unclear exactly what kind of future he […]

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Central Nodes

An Interview with all that dust By · Photography © Dimitri Djuric · Date 8/9/2018 The word immersive is over-used. But listening to new recordings of Milton Babbitt’s “Philomel” is a disorientating, vertiginous experience. The listener finds themselves plunged, instantly, into an all-encompassing sound world in which bloops and gurgles of electronic sound appear to […]