Posted inInterview

Cultural Gumbo

Titus Underwood is the principal oboist of the Nashville Symphony in Tennessee. In February, he became the first Black tenured principal oboist of an American orchestra. Originally from Pensacola, Florida, Underwood attended the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Juilliard School, and the Colburn School, studying with legendary oboists John Mack and Elaine Douvas. This year, […]

Posted inProfile

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 inReport

The Insurmountable Wall

In July 2019, the Aspen Music Festival and School staged a concert production of Rodger and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” This was a performance of the show’s 2006 revised concert score, a score that had preserved Pacific Islander stereotypes and an anti-Japanese racial slur. It was so offensive to one student in the orchestra that he […]

Posted inEssay

Notes on Birdsong

1. “During this pandemic, I’ve been feeling … particularly drawn to birding,” Joan Walsh wrote for The Nation. “You can hear the birds better without the city noise, and Central Park feels wilder, Edenic. Birding’s careful, meditative rhythms seem a cure for pandemic jitters.” New York in the time of COVID-19 has largely been talked […]

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 inOpinion

Color Blind

We can’t cancel Anna Netrebko. But one of the Russian soprano’s recent Instagram posts, taken backstage during a performance of “Aida” at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre and showing off the diva’s makeup-darkened skin, may have been enough to get most any other opera singer to file for moral bankruptcy. “Beautiful singing!” wrote one follower under […]

Posted inReport

Sonic Eviction

On August 17, Germany’s state-owned railway company Deutsche Bahn announced the launch of a new initiative that aimed to sonically evict “homeless people and drug users” at its Hermannstraße station, a story that caught the attention of virtually every news outlet in Germany, as well as the New York Times. (The project has since been […]

Posted inReview

A Shallow Oasis

Aaron Jay Kernis wrote his new string quartet “oasis” in nearly perfect solitude. It was December at Tippet Rise, an arts center and festival near Fishtail, Montana, and windswept snowdrifts made it impossible to enter or leave. The facilities sat vacant except for the most necessary core personnel. His piece is stark, taciturn, full of […]

Posted inReport

Schism Symphony

In my adopted home of Berlin, it’s possible to cycle past the Konzerthaus, the Staatsoper, the Komische Oper and the Philharmonie in the space of around 10 minutes, 15 if you’re pedaling flaneur-style. On a warm weekend, tourists drift down Unter den Linden, a large boulevard leading to the Brandenburg Gate, like schools of fish; […]

Posted inHistory

My Racist Kentucky Home

In July 1957, Frank Chelf, a Democratic congressman from Kentucky brought his harmonica to the Capitol. As members of the House Rules Committee (and a photographer from the Associated Press) looked on, Chelf played “My Old Kentucky Home,” a 19th-century ballad his state had adopted as its official song. “The sun shines bright in the […]

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