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Meaning in the Parentheticals

Since winning the Pulitzer Prize for “Partita for 8 Voices” in 2013, Caroline Shaw has gone on to collaborate with musicians as wide-ranging as the Attacca Quartet and Kanye West. Her recent projects include “We Need to Talk” with Anne Carson and Opera Philadelphia and “Narrow Sea” with Dawn Upshaw, Gil Kalish, and Sō Percussion. […]

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An Object Beyond Music

In 2020, composer Sara Glojnarić won Berlin’s “Neue Szenen” competition, awarded the prize by a jury chaired by Chaya Czernowin. In 2018, her work “#popfem,” which artfully dismantles anti-feminist and racist propaganda, received Darmstadt’s Kranichstein Music Prize. “I’d never thought that my identity as a queer woman could have such a strong influence on my work […]

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Built and Abandoned

Georg Friedrich Haas’s new orchestral work opens at the void. A solo contraforte—a sort of improved contrabassoon with a more focused, melodic tone—holds a low F#. A solo violin looks down on it from far above, playing close, dissonant intervals in the high reaches of the harmonic spectrum. Slowly, the violin descends. The orchestra begins […]

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The Right Questions

A recurring dream that I’ve had for the last several years: My grandmother, a Syrian refugee who spent the last 15 years of her life in the grips of progressive dementia, shows me an attic accessible through a crawlspace in her bedroom closet. It contains a trove of books, journals, letters, and photographs from our […]

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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 […]

Posted inEssay

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 […]

Posted inHistory

The Smoldering Progressive

Pity Paul Dukas. For most listeners—even serious music lovers—his work is the mere soundtrack to the anthropomorphic avatars of the Disney corporation. Despite floating in the same fragrant creative broth of early 20th-century Paris as Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy he has been rather overshadowed by both, to say nothing of his twelve-tone contemporaries in […]

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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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