A Perfect Fourth: A Classical Playlist for Independence Day

It’s Independence Day!  The Fourth of July remains one of America’s favorite holidays—a time for patriotic celebration, cookouts with families and friends, and plenty of fireworks.  In almost all of these events, music is an absolute must, ranging from military bands and John Philip Sousa to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

In keeping with my blog’s overall theme, I’d like to share a list of classical works to help my fellow Americans get into spirit.  And while everyone seems to love having Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as background music for their firework displays, I bet I can find a few more honestly American-themed pieces for you to enjoy….

So grab a sparkler and have a listen!

And as long as we’re on the subject, for a great patriotic concert experience, check out PBS’s annual concert, A Capitol Fourth, which is broadcast live on July 4th from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. It’s always a big hit, with performers this year ranging from Chita Rivera and Renée Flemming to Jimmy Buffet—click here for more info. Continue reading

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Nicolas Fouquet and Château Vaux-le-Vicomte: The Danger of Eclipsing the Sun King

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
     Down to a sunless sea.”
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 

“Vaux is the estate that I considered my primary seat, and it is there where I wanted to leave a mark of the status I had.”
~
Nicolas Fouquet

 

There are, of course, many great attractions to see in and around Paris, and many great country homes that stand tribute to France’s rich history.

One of the most remarkable is Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte—the great estate of Nicolas Fouquet, and a testimony to his extraordinary life. But beyond its stunning beauty, it has one element that makes it stand apart… an absolutely jaw-dropping back story.  A back story that involves the celebration of great art, deadly games of intrigue, high drama, sudden reversals of fortune, and a cast of characters involving many of France’s most legendary figures. And best of all… one of the most famous parties in French history….

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, as seen from the gardens

Continue reading

America’s Immigrant Composers: A Playlist

Over the last few days (and really, the last year), the issue of immigration (legal or otherwise) has made headlines across the United States, and provoked deep, emotional discussions.

For me, immigrants are central to the American experience, and have played a vital role in shaping nearly all aspects of our country’s development since the first days of the Republic—in politics, the economy, medical breakthroughs, scientific discovery, and in the success of its armed forces. America has been profoundly enriched by the contributions of immigrants for centuries.

The contributions of immigrants are particularly noteworthy in music and the arts. Again and again, artists from distant shores have relocated to the United States and found shelter, found new opportunities, and created astonishing new works that have shaped and re-shaped how we view the world.

Don’t believe me? Here is a partial playlist of great composers who immigrated to the United States, along with some of their most noteworthy works… many of which that speak to their experiences as immigrants or their connections to their new homeland. Enjoy! Continue reading

South Africa with the Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Chorale: Beginnings

It’s difficult to believe, but the Minnesota Orchestra/Minnesota Chorale tour to South Africa is fast approaching. I was fortunate enough to accompany the Orchestra’s tour to Cuba in 2015 as a part of the media contingent (my blogs about Cuba and the stories I wrote for MinnPost while on the tour can be found here), but this time around I’m also taking part as a performer—singing as a member of the Minnesota Chorale in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and a variety of South African music.

And you better believe I’m thrilled to be taking part!

Well, after much preparation and planning, rehearsals are finally under way.

And it’s already been remarkable. Continue reading

A Classical Spring!

Happy Spring!

With today’s equinox, spring is officially underway.  This is particularly good news for those of us in Minnesota—we are, as I write this, it is currently snowing outside, with a proper snowstorm possible this weekend.

Anyway, I wanted to celebrate the new season with a classical playlist of spring-themed music. It’s a diverse collection that captures the many moods of spring… enjoy! Continue reading

A Classical St. Patrick’s Day

We’re fast approaching St. Patrick’s Day—a time when everyone celebrates their Irish heritage, whether they’re Irish or not.

Ireland is justly famous for its music, and in the spirit of this festive holiday I thought I’d share a playlist of classical works with a tie to the Emerald Isle.  So, grab a pint of green beer (or better yet, some fine Irish whiskey) and enjoy! Continue reading

Fauré’s Luminous Requiem

My Requiem has been said to express no fear of death; it has been called a lullaby of death.  But that is how I feel about death: a happy deliverance, a reaching for eternal happiness rather than a mournful passing away…. Perhaps I have sought to depart from what is conventional because for so long I was organist at services of internment.  I’m fed up with that.  I wanted to do something different.

          – Fauré discussing his Requiem in a 1902 letter to Louis Aguettant

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The Requiem—the traditional Roman Catholic Mass sung for the dead—has formed an important part of choral music from the Middle Ages to today.  A vast number of composers from Palestrina to Andrew Lloyd Webber have penned a Requiem, even if they weren’t Catholic… or particularly religious at all.  It’s easy to see why; the Requiem text, like the ritual it is drawn from, is so broadly recognized that it provides as a easily understood starting point to explore universal questions of life, death, and life after death.

In composing a Requiem, there are several approaches that composers have taken.  On the one hand, there those that emphasize the dramatic nature of the words, focusing on anger at our loss, the fear of the unknown, or our terror of Final Judgment.  The Requiems of Hector Berlioz and Giuseppe Verdi are the best-known examples of this train of thought.  On the other hand, there are those that emphasize notions of comfort, solace, and a spiritual release as the deceased is gathered up by a merciful God—the approach recommended by Beethoven himself, who once wrote: A Requiem ought to be quiet music—it needs no trump of doom; memories of the dead require no hubbub.

The Requiem of Gabriel Fauré is one of the best-loved examples of this approach—a work this is luminous and delicate, which emphasizes the idea of consolation.  As Fauré told his friends, “Altogether, it is as gentle as I am myself.” Continue reading