Arts

Arts and culture

Music is an aural medium, but the two musicians represented on this album have careers defined, at least in part, by visuals. Valentina Lisitsa, the 44-year-old Ukrainian-born pianist, revived her stalled career by uploading videos of herself playing Chopin to YouTube. After millions clicked, she landed a record deal.

Kronos Quartet is celebrating 40 years of playing music together — and to mark the occasion, they're playing a celebration concert at Carnegie Hall in New York tomorrow night. Since their founding, the San Francisco-based string quartet has become one of the most visible ensembles in classical music. The players have done it by championing new and underheard music, and by coming up with a business model that was unheard of for a chamber group four decades ago.

We had so much fun taping cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble's Field Recording, we couldn't stop at just one selection, so we recorded the group's four talented percussionists in a deep groove.

When you're lucky enough to have cellist Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble, some of the world's premiere instrumentalists and composers, gather for an afternoon of offstage music making, you've got to think long and hard about where to put them. And we decided that the perfect match would be ACME Studio, a theatrical props warehouse in Brooklyn.

Malta, the island nation 50 miles south of Sicily, may be small, but it's home to one of the biggest stars in opera, tenor Joseph Calleja. And like his country's name, which may originate in the Greek word for honey, Calleja's voice is a potent mix of Italianate passion and sweetness. Just listen to how he pulls the volume back to a slender golden ray of tone several times in Tosti's gorgeous "Ideale," and especially the word "disciogliea" in the Puccini aria that closes this performance.

For the millennium, in 2000 American composer John Adams completed a compelling, large-scale oratorio based on the nativity story called El Niño. Now he's composed a companion piece, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, a Passion oratorio mounted with his usual collaborator, the stage director and librettist Peter Sellars.

Johann Sebastian Bach, with his big white wig, might stand as the "supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music," as musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky says. But the composer, organist, choirmaster and teacher could also be surprisingly witty and irreverent.

Dolora Zajick discovered opera as a 22-year-old pre-med student. "That's when I discovered I had a voice," she tells Fresh Air host Terry Gross, "and I actually had a crack at a singing career. And I decided to take the chance."

Bless You!

Mar 18, 2014

We've all been there: You try (and try, and try) to hold back a sneeze, and nature prevails.

The human voice, the true original instrument, is still the most expressive and personal of all. It's one reason more than 42.5 million Americans sing in choirs, and why we seem to be hardwired to tell our stories through song. It also probably explains why I'm a vocal music junkie, eagerly pawing over the operas, recitals and choir albums that land on my desk and in my download folder.

Timo Andres On Q2 Music's 'Spaces'

Mar 17, 2014

Connecticut-born composer-pianist Timo Andres likens his music to "walking into an interesting apartment and seeing a few things next to each other that tell you something about a person." At once familiar and modern, forward-looking and reverent, Andres's music tells the story of a composer striving to reconcile a fascination with the past and composers ranging from Mozar

This is a recording of a jazz trio playing the score to a 101-year-old ballet. It is not a "jazzing the classics" record or a "fantasia on the themes of" sort of project. It is a band translating one of the landmark works in music history to piano, bass and drum set, and doing it as literally as possible.

With St. Patrick's Day upon us, it's hard to escape the allure of the Emerald Isle, with its rolling heaths, swirling jigs, frothy beer and curious legends. While we can't afford to fly you to Dublin we can offer this humble St. Paddy's Day puzzler. Score high and be rewarded with the pot 'o gold at the end of the rainbow. Mess up and yours is a sad bowl of soggy Lucky Charms.

Detroit's Orchestra Hall is one of the best symphony concert halls in the country. The acoustics are top-notch. The theater itself is grand. Important music is made there by some of the country's most talented classical musicians.

When it comes to musical dynasties, it's tough to top the Bach family. From town fiddlers to court composers, the Bachs dominated German music for seven generations. Today, Johann Sebastian towers above all his relatives, but there's another important Bach we shouldn't forget — especially today, on the 300th anniversary of his birth.

The Vieuxtemps Guarneri is a violin that is older than the United States of America — 273 years old, to be exact. It recently became the most expensive violin in the world, selling for an estimated $16 million. Its new owner anonymously donated the historic instrument to violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, on loan for the rest of her life.

Robert Ashley, a restlessly innovative American composer, died at his home in New York March 3 from complications of cirrhosis of the liver. NPR confirmed the composer's death through his wife and manager Mimi Johnson. Ashley was 83.

Looking for a new violinist to fall in love with? Meet Augustin Hadelich, the 29-year-old Italian-born son of German parents. On his new album, to be released March 11, he pairs two searching, seemingly disparate violin concertos — one classic and one contemporary.

Philippe Jaroussky cuts a masculine figure on the cover of his new album, Farinelli: Porpora Arias, but you might do a double take upon hearing the music. The arias the French opera singer performs on this release were written in the 18th century for a castrato — a boy singer castrated to retain his high singing voice through adulthood.

It's no secret that gold-winning American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White have become favorite faces in Sochi. But it turns out that the charming White has done his share of woodshedding along with his hard work on the ice.

Chinese-born pianist Yuja Wang isn't one to do anything in half measures. So when we invited her to record a performance in a room at the Steinway & Sons piano factory, she showed up in Queens that frigid morning with her A game.

A hundred years ago, the Italian operatic composer Giacomo Puccini was having lunch in New York with Victor Herbert, the leading composer of operettas in this country. Then, the band in the restaurant began playing music from Herbert's current hit, Sweethearts. Puccini became outraged, according to songwriter Paul Williams, the current president of the performing-rights organization ASCAP.

Classical music has managed to take center stage at sports events in the last few weeks. Soprano Renée Fleming sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl two weekends ago.

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