Classical on Demand

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Say the name “theremin” and there’s a good chance it will conjure up eerie soundtracks from horror or sci-fi movies, like 1951’s “The Day The Earth Stood Still.”

Watch on YouTube.

But Léon Theremin’s preternatural invention has been inspiring classical musicians and composers since it first wowed the world in 1920. To celebrate its upcoming 100th birthday, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) is celebrating the electronic instrument with a world premiere performance and a live recording.

Tanglewood, the summer home in the Berkshires of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has long felt like something of a summer camp for musicians and fans. Since 1936, music lovers have noshed and lounged on blankets at Tanglewood while listening to the BSO play hits by Brahms or Beethoven (these days lawn tickets cost a modest $13).

Less visible are the hours of intense instruction for about 150 young musicians at the Tanglewood Music Center.

Members of Phat A$tronaut play their song "Green Eyes" at NEPR. From left, Dylan McDonnell on flute, Ro Godwyn and Chad Browne-Springer.
Jill Kaufman / NEPR

This region is packed with great musicians. Our annual music series is a chance to highlight some of the amazing artists who live here, in southern Vermont, throughout western Massachusetts and around Hartford. 

The new Linde Center for Music and Learning is home to the Tanglewood Learning Institute. It launches its first season of music, lectures and cultural events this summer, and will offer events year-round, a first for Tanglewood.
Winslow Townson / Boston Symphony Orchestra

The summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Lenox, Massachusetts, is about to become a year-round destination. Tanglewood's all-season complex opens this weekend, with a new series of lectures and events.

American lutenist, composer and teacher Ronn McFarlane has been active nationally and internationally for over 40 years, both as a soloist and as a collaborator with other instrumentalists.

Jack Brown conducts the Berkshire Lyric Chorus during a weekly rehearsal in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen / NEPR

About 70 singers greeted each other on a recent Monday night as they settled into their seats at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A tall, bearded man stood before them next to a piano.

Dance and music inspired by Puerto Rican culture.
Charlie Billups / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/titoytitabillups

 

Dan Román began composing as a young teenager growing up in Puerto Rico. He doesn't know why he started, exactly — just that simply playing instruments wasn't enough.

Composer Kate Soper plays Polyxo in a scene from her opera "Here Be Sirens" in New York City in 2014.
Noah Arjomand / Courtesy Kate Soper

Opera fans, and even non-fans, are familiar with the music of Bizet's "Carmen" or Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." Lesser-known is the world of new opera, like "Here Be Sirens," composed by a Smith College professor and on stage in Northampton, Massachusetts, this weekend.

Composer Kenneth Fuchs, a UConn professor of music, left, and conductor Jo Ann Falletta, after winning a Grammy for Best Classical Compendium.
Courtesy of Kenneth Fuchs

UConn was a double winner at the Grammys on Sunday, in classical music and jazz.

Barber of Seville
Liza Voll Photography / Boston Lyric Opera

In the more than 200 years since its second performance, Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) has been one of the most popular of all operas. The first performance was a fiasco, which we'll get to later. 

Rigoletto Ken Howard
Ken Howard

For its third year in a row the Berkshire Opera Festival has produced a hit. Their new production of Verdi's Rigoletto is again very well sung and staged and very enthusiastically received by a packed house at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. There are two more performances this Tuesday, August 28, and Friday, August 31.

Aaron Price
Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

Meet  Aaron N. Price, Connecticut composer, co-founder and artistic director of Connecticut Summerfest and Director of Woodwind Studies at the MusicMakers International Academy.  His works have received international performances, including the United States, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.

I’ve wanted to talk with Aaron for some time, not only because of his work as a composer, but especially because of his involvement in the contemporary chamber music scene in our region. As you listen to our talk together, I think you’ll come away impressed not only by Aaron’s infectious enthusiasm, but also by the part that Aaron, and composers and musicians like him, represents as the future for Classical Music in the world today!

Carolyn Kuan and John Nowacki Presto
Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

Carolyn Kuan is the Music Director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. She's conducted symphonic programs, operas and ballets with orchestras around-the-world. Kuan is a champion of new music and recently released a recording of Phillip Glass’ music with the Hague Philharmonic.

Preview of Episode #4 - Carolyn Kuan

May 3, 2018
Carolyn Kuan and John Nowacki Presto
Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

On May 8th, Carolyn Kuan, Music Director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, will be one of four recipients of the 10th Annual New England Public Radio Arts and Humanities Awards. Kuan has been music director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra since 2011.

Thomas Schuttenhelm
Tema Silk / NEPR

Today, many composers don't perform on the instruments they write for -- they compose for other musicians. It wasn't that way centuries ago. 

John Oliver in a file photo.
File photo / Masslive / masslive.com/photos

John Oliver, who founded the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Tanglewood Festival Chorus more than 45 years ago, died Wednesday night in Great Barrington. He was 78 years old.

 Kenneth Fuchs
Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

Award-winning, American composer and conductor Kenneth Fuchs is Professor of Composition at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. He has composed music for orchestra, band, chorus and various chamber ensembles.

Updated, Dec. 8, 8:20 a.m. ET with a subsequent statement from James Levine and James Lestock.

New allegations of sexual assault have been made against James Levine, the music director emeritus of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and its conductor for over forty years. Levine was suspended from his position over the weekend, and now, with more allegations made public, repercussions for the lauded musician are continuing to pile up.

Classical music has never lived in a bubble. For centuries, it's always found common ground with folk music.

Enter, the Danish String Quartet.

Liza Voll Photography / BOSTON LYRIC OPERA

Boston Lyric Opera opened its 2017-2018 with a terrific production of Puccini's Tosca at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.

Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

Fall finds organist Christopher Houlihan taking up new duties as the John Rose College Organist and Directorship Distinguished Chair of Chapel Music at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.  

Duo Orfeo guitarist Joseph Ricker (left) & NEPR's John Nowacki (right)
Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

Guitarists Joseph Ricker and Jamie Balmer comprise the Duo Orfeo. They've been described as "brilliant" and "wild-thinking artists," and are known for bringing to life an eclectic and relevatory classical guitar repertory. 

John Perkell and John Nowacki
Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

What do you do after a 35-year career as an orchestral librarian for symphony orchestras? For John Perkel, the answer was simple, if not a little daunting. You start a chamber music series in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. John Nowacki talks with Perkel about how it all came about…

Credit Ken Howard

A year ago the Berkshire Opera Festival brought its first production, Madama Butterfly to the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, restoring fully-staged opera to the region after a hiatus of almost a decade. It was a very promising beginning to what we can only hope will become a tradition lasting many more decades.

John Nowacki and Paul Mealor
NEPR

Welsh composer Paul Mealor is one of the most popular choral composers today. His sacred motets, songs and cycles have been performed, broadcast and recorded by artists in the UK, USA and much further afield.

Dr. Mealor stopped by the NEPR studios recently to talk about his music with John Nowacki.

John Nowacki and Mark Singleton
Joyce Skowyra / NEPR

The choral ensemble VOCE, founded in 2006 and based in Hartford, CT, champions new music, especially of composers in the early stages of their careers. Their conductor and founder Mark Singleton is a renowned conductor, composer and guest speaker, and he has worked with choirs and orchestras of all ages and styles. His energetic and magnetic leadership has made him one of the most sought‐after conductors in New England.  

T Charles Erickson© / T Charles Erickson Photography

On our way home from Boston Sunday we listened to American Routes on New England Public Radio. Host Nick Spitzer asked Blues musician Jimmy Duck Holmes why so many of his songs were along the lines of "the devil must have been in you to make you leave me." Holmes said that despite such lyrics no one is really led astray by diabolic forces; they were following their own desires.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything…no particular reason. So, I recently came across this interesting little story. Ever wonder what it’s like to be an orchestral musician in a world-class ensemble? Violinist Nathan Cole, First Associate Concertmaster with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, writes about his experiences with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra back in 2002. It might be a a tad lengthy, but it’s well worth the read!

Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra
Ryan Donnell

I dare say that, with the state of classical music in this country, ie: seemingly on a steady decline, no matter how much we’d like to believe otherwise, it doesn’t help matters when it comes to disagreements between musicians and symphony orchestra management when it comes to pay.

My wife and I have been going to the Met pretty much annually since the NEPR travel program began a couple of decades ago with a series of weekends at the Met. 2016 has stood out for history making adventures for us. In the fall of 2015 we bought tickets for a trip at spring break of this year.  As it happened we had excellent seats for James Levine’s final performance as Music Director. he conducted Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio and we were part of the tremendous ovation which followed, at least 20 minutes’ worth. I wrote about it at the time.