Posted inInterview

Building That Foundation

There’s an inescapable delight that comes with listening to the Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumous 1997 single “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems,” wrapped up as the song is in Diana Ross samples, the Clinton-fueled optimism of ’90s America, and Biggie’s unapologetic lyrical grandstanding (“Jig on the cover of Fortune, 5-double-O. Here’s my phone number, your man ain’t got […]

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Natural Consequences

English countertenor Tim Mead’s voice is clean, serene, and direct, with a chameleon-like ability to remain subtly expressive in music from Handel to George Benjamin’s opera “Written on Skin,” in which Mead sings a queasily erotic and effective Boy. When I talked to Mead this month, he had just finished singing a project in Malta, […]

Posted inEssay

An Old, New Song

During this pandemic year, distanced from the world, I’ve taken solace in Schubert’s 1827 song cycle “Winterreise,” which plumbs a man’s anguish as he travels through a wintry night away from the woman who has rejected him. The desolation of solitude, darkness and ice, and the lilting or storming interplay of piano and voice, have […]

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The Eternal Factor

New Year’s and third lockdown resolution: trying to listen to and rank every Schubert song. (I’m not done yet, but I attempted something similar for the Scarlatti sonatas.) Because my impressions are very subjective—not to say flat-out wrong—I also decided to get a more holistic view of this oeuvre, which numbers somewhere around 700 lieder, […]

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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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Holistic Improvisation

I work in the niche realm of historical performance, but videos from the 2020 Bovicelli Competition are the nichest thing I have seen in a long time. This year’s competition, officially titled the “International Singers’ Competition on the Diminution Practices of the 16th and 17th Centuries,” was hosted by the Schloss Weißenbrunn Foundation in Germany […]

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 inReview

Deep Listen: Kaija Saariaho

Confession: As a music lover, one of my least favorite things to do is actually go to a live performance. Not because of the performance itself, but for the hell-is-other-people experience of being in an audience and the unspoken sense of competition that seems to come through in the concert hall. One evening, as a […]

Posted inInterview

Make It Hurt

On October 26, 2017, the alto Wiebke Lehmkuhl sang a note—a G or an E flat, if I’m not mistaken—that was so quiet and smooth it sounded more like a boy than many boy sopranos do. The piece was Bach’s Mass in B Minor, conducted by Ton Koopman at the Berlin Philharmonic, penultimate movement, the […]