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Fuse, Liquify, Distort

I have long admired the music of Fausto Romitelli. His epic video opera, “Index of Metals” (2003) pointed toward new worlds of expressive possibilities for young composers like me writing experimental music for instruments and electronics at the start of the 21st century. The piece features a soprano and three enormous panels of colorful video […]

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Fleeting Visions

Classical music has a problem with embodiment. Whether it’s sexist critics focusing more on a female artist’s outfit than her technique or scolds who expect an audience to sit in stillness and silence until after the final note has sounded, many people seem to view actual human bodies as an obstacle to the deepest experience […]

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Whispering Through the Music

It’s a bitter sign that we’re still living in the era of “firsts” when it comes to Black representation in classical music. The first Black musician to hold a principal chair in the New York Philharmonic did not secure that spot in the first decades of the orchestra’s founding; nor in the explosive heyday of […]

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Once More Unto the Breach

On New Year’s Eve, 1991, the Berlin Philharmonic gave its annual New Year’s concert in the city’s Schauspielhaus. The Wall was still fresh in the minds of Berliners from both the former West and East; the two cities had only resorbed as one a little over a year earlier. Under the baton of Claudio Abbado, […]

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Lived Experience

“I don’t know if you can hear the helicopters overhead,” guitarist Sean Shibe said as he introduced his encore. The helicopters were policing a Black Lives Matter demonstration just down the road from the Wigmore Hall. Shibe’s encore was a guitar arrangement of Peter Maxwell Davies’ “Farewell to Stromness,” a piece of protest music written […]

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Sandcastles on the Beach

Sometimes you can figure things out just by thinking them through; sometimes you can figure them out by watching other people. But sometimes you just have to grab onto the electric fence with both hands yourself. For those of us who prefer to learn by doing (including with the occasional low-voltage shock), contemporary classical composition […]

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The Sound Just After

Cenk Ergün’s two string quartets, “Sonare” and “Celare,” composed from 2014 to 2015, started out as one work, but they are diametrically opposed. “Sonare” is built from tightly intertwined, microtonal and microscopic rhythmic patterns which repeat, the brain glossing them with the illusion of momentum. The texture calls to mind metaphors of active animals: I […]

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Withdrawal

In November 2014, Sony Masterworks released a documentary called “Cameron Carpenter: The Sound of My Life.” Intended to accompany the American organist’s album “If You Could Read My Mind,” released that August, the film included footage of Carpenter ripping off his T-shirt to reveal a sculpted chest; dancing at the once-legendary Berlin gay party Chantal’s […]

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The Antidote

At the end of our conversation, Andrew Manze says something puzzling. We’ve been speaking for nearly two hours, about Brahms, Bruckner, Brexit, orchestral honeymoons and the right time for a conductor to say goodbye; about tempi, literature, and how to nourish the imagination. Manze is a maestro, but our conversation is an antidote to the […]