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Go Out, Keep Playing

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m a fan. In the last 30 years I’ve heard him play many times, many more than any other pianist or conductor: Bach, Liszt, Mahler, Schoenberg. My main motivation was curiosity. You could call it professional curiosity. But you could also call it professional bias. Why do […]

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A Glimpse of the Butterfly

Few conductors manage to cross the invisible boundary separating contemporary music ensembles (with their emphasis on ephemeral premieres) from mainstream orchestras (where even the 867th rendition of a Brahms symphony is expected to sound gripping and fresh). The American David Robertson is one such conductor. In 1992, Pierre Boulez appointed Robertson music director of the […]

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Holding the Center

In 2018, outgoing Berlin Philharmonic music director Simon Rattle told the orchestra’s in-house magazine, 128, “You probably need to be 90 to conduct this orchestra correctly.” Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt, age 95, proved the truth to this remark in a concert with the orchestra at the end of September. The Berlin Philharmonic is known for […]

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The Direction of History

Gambist and conductor Jordi Savall has recorded over 200 albums, most featuring music written before 1750—the year most mainstream conductors’ repertoire begins. Then, in 2018, Savall began a plan to perform multiple projects of Mozart and Beethoven. He was dipping his toe into the 19th century. Last week in Barcelona, Savall performed Schubert’s Eighth and […]

Posted inBreaking

In Between Worlds

“I don’t know if there is a creator, but if he exists, all I could do is tip my hat to him and say, ‘Thank you,’” pianist and conductor Lars Vogt told me in May 2021, when we spoke shortly after his cancer diagnosis. Vogt died on Monday in a hospital in Erlangen, Germany, surrounded […]

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The Never-Ending Task

After 19 years leading the Minnesota Orchestra, Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä will be saying goodbye this month, with performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 from June 10 to 12 and a “farewell celebration” on June 17. His tenure with the orchestra—and especially the recordings he’s made with the group—have been almost universally acclaimed: It took […]

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Pact with the Dictator

In the summer of 2009, Valery Gergiev organized an exhibition in St. Petersburg called “Wilhelm Furtwängler: Maestro, Man, and Myth” as part of the White Nights Festival. At the opening, Gergiev gave a speech noting that Furtwängler had been attacked all his life because of his biography, yet “he served a great cause with all […]

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The Desire to be Human

Andreas Scholl is one of the best-known German countertenors. His popstar potential can be measured by the fact that he was the first countertenor to be a guest at Last night of the Proms and on a few late-night talk shows. He’s played a key role in shaping the countertenor renaissance of the last 30 […]