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Formed Under Pressure

In classical music, racism toward musicians of Asian heritage is as casual as it is pervasive. When I was in my first year of conservatory, at the Royal Academy of Music in London, a Korean composition student was late to a single lesson; the professor proceeded to do a disgustingly caricatured impression of his accent. […]

Posted inOpinion

Disregard All Information

Singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer introduces his 1965 song “So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III)” in a style familiar to classical music fans. “This year we’ve been celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Civil War, and the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of World War I, and the twentieth anniversary of the end of […]

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The Audiencers

Illustrations Carine Kuntz We seldom pay attention to ushers. In “The Natural History of the Theatre,” Theodor Adorno’s otherwise extravagant sociology of concert-going, the usher receives only a glancing mention: a missed opportunity for a writer who discerned the ideological contradictions and atavistic energies of music in a thousand minor details, from gales of applause […]

Posted inInterview

Physical Movement

In a 2015 Bloomberg article about Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on tour, reporter Joel Stein introduced an “impeccably dressed, handsome, long-haired” man, referred to by members of the orchestra as “the international man of mystery” or “the most interesting man in the world.” He didn’t mean Dudamel. Stein was referring to Guido […]

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Big Breaks

Early this summer, Polish pianist Elżbieta Bilicka got some exciting news. Bilicka is 28 and lives in Logan, Utah, where she is on the piano faculty at Utah State University. At the time, the novel coronavirus was spreading rapidly throughout the United States and Europe, wreaking financial havoc on the performing arts. In the midst […]

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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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How to Eat

One chapter in Virgil Thomson’s 1939 book, The State of Music, is titled “How Composers Eat, or Who Does What to Whom and Who Gets Paid.” Thomson identified the subsequent means both clearly and derisively: “A surprisingly large number of composers are men of private fortune… the number of those who have married their money […]

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Fighting Windmills

The doors of the Berlin Philharmonic closed to the public on March 11, 2020. They won’t open again this season, making the coronavirus closure the Berlin Philharmonic’s longest break in its 138-year history. Instead of the musicians, it’s the construction workers who now have the run of the house, with improvements taking place on the […]