Tom Huizenga

In 2021, I'm looking forward to, fingers crossed, live music. I really miss the roar of a symphony orchestra in concert or a soaring soprano on the opera stage. But artists are still making albums, even in lockdown, like British composer Max Richter. His upcoming album is a follow-up to last year's Voices. This new one is Voices, Part 2 which will be released in April.

The year 2020 was, in so many ways, divided. In terms of live performances, musicians were forced to reinvent, reflect and respond from a distance and in turn I watched their concerts from the remove of my laptop screen.

Two-hundred-fifty years ago, a musical maverick was born. Ludwig van Beethoven charted a powerful new course in music. His ideas may have been rooted in the work of European predecessors Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Josef Haydn, but the iconic German composer became who he was with the help of some familiar American values: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Heroes never fade from memory. Last year, on Sept. 30, 2019, the great American soprano Jessye Norman died suddenly. She was just 74.

When young composers reboot old musical formulas, exciting things can happen. Sarah Kirkland Snider's arresting Mass for the Endangered — released Sept. 25 — is a 21st century twist on the Catholic mass, which has been sung in churches for more than 1300 years.

Have you ever strummed a cactus? What about plucking the Vietnamese đàn bâu or waving your arms to get music from a theremin? Over the years, the Tiny Desk has hosted more than a few distinctive instruments and their virtuosic performers. These fascinating performances underscore the idea that humankind cannot live by guitars, drums and bass alone!

Sō Percussion

New York's Metropolitan Opera, armed with technology, today's top singers and a captive, home-bound audience is, in spite of them, struggling to make opera relevant. The company's new streaming series, Met Stars Live in Concert, while a valiant endeavor, can't seem to shake off opera's fusty, aristocratic trappings.

One of America's most beloved and resourceful pianists has died. Leon Fleisher was 92 years old. He died of cancer in Baltimore Sunday morning, according to his son, Julian.

The pianist's roller coaster career began with fame, moved to despair and ended in fulfillment.

On Nov. 20, 1934, a brand new symphony brought a Carnegie Hall audience to its feet. The concert featured the Philadelphia Orchestra, led by its star conductor Leopold Stokowski. The music was the Negro Folk Symphony, by the 35-year-old African American composer William Dawson.

When the story of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police began making news last week, Anthony McGill felt something roiling up inside him.

Our Daily Breather is a series where we ask writers and artists to recommend one thing that's helping them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. NPR Music's Tom Huizenga recently spoke with Pulitzer-winning composer Steve Reich, who has been keeping busy with the solitary act of writing a new piece from his winter getaway in Los Angeles.

Who: Steve Reich
Where: Los Angeles, Calif.
Recommendation: Keep on working

In these days of uncertainty, music can provide a safe haven, an escape, or even a boost of energy. I've found all of that and more in a new recording of the music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the second oldest of Johann Sebastian's musical sons, and a composer who continually fascinates me.

Some people respond to suffering by turning it into art. That's true even with the harrowing experience of a pandemic.

In the early 1400s, an Englishman named John Cooke composed Stella celi, a hymn to the Virgin Mary referencing the Black Plague which, according to some sources, wiped out half of Europe. Its text speaks of the "ulcers of a terrible death" but also the assurance that "the star of heaven ... has rooted out the plague."

Krzysztof Penderecki, one of the world's leading composers, died Sunday at the age of 86. The Polish Ministry of Affairs announced his passing in a tweet. No cause of death was given.

The Polish-born composer established himself while still in his 20s with jarring atonal works such as Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, and came to be widely admired by music fans and musicians far outside traditional classical music circles.

When Víkingur Ólafsson was about 5 years old, he already knew what he wanted to be. "It sounds crazy, but I always saw myself as a concert pianist," he says. "Even if I wasn't a good pianist."

YouTube

Twenty seconds of hand washing. 60 to 90 percent alcohol. Five to 12 (14? 21?) days of incubation until the dry cough comes.

Morning Edition's series One-Hit Wonders / Second-Best Songs focuses on musicians or bands whose careers are defined by a single monster hit, and explains why their catalogs have much more to offer.

In this edition, NPR's classical producer Tom Huizenga makes the case for the charming, danceable St. Paul's Suite by Gustav Holst, who's best known for his symphonic juggernaut called The Planets.

Sometimes old recipes, newly tweaked, can yield astonishing results. Consider the concerto: It might be a 400-year-old formula, calling for a soloist to perform with — and often battle against — an orchestra. But occasionally, a brand new concerto arrives that offers old-fashioned thrills.

Peter Serkin, a pianist who navigated a distinctive course through classical music with thoughtful interpretations of both standard repertoire and bracing new compositions, died Saturday morning at his home in Red Hook, N.Y. at age 72.

The cause of death, announced by his family, was pancreatic cancer.

Serkin came from a prestigious family of musicians. His father, the celebrated pianist Rudolf Serkin, and his maternal grandfather, the violinist and conductor Adolf Busch, embodied old-world traditions — to reverential acclaim.

We've been starting this new year off with genres of music you might not listen to, or that you say you're not a fan of — so far, we've covered jazz, country and deep house.

Harriet Tubman may be the best-known conductor of the Underground Railroad, but a new album highlights another key figure: William Still, who helped nearly 800 enslaved African Americans escape to freedom in the years before the Civil War.

Adrianne Lenker is the guitarist and singer for the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based rock band Big Thief. Cecilia Bartoli is the Italian opera singer who thrives on neglected repertoire from the 18th century. The two women might seem like strange bedfellows, but they come together in our series titled "highly specific superlatives," a kind of drilling down to some of the finest and most precise moments in the arts in 2019.

Traditions worth saving still need need practitioners and advocates who are willing to propel them forward. Classical music boasts a long, rich history — about 1000 years — of transformation, adaptation, tumult and triumph. From radical, boundary-bashing composers to brave and bold interpreters, the music has remained vibrantly alive even as prognosticators routinely forecast its demise.

Cecilia Bartoli isn't your average opera star. She doesn't sing many of the popular 19th century operas. Instead, she prefers to explore the dusty, little-known corners of the 18th century.

Bartoli's new album is devoted to music written for a single artist of the Baroque era named Farinelli. He was the most acclaimed opera singer of the mid-1700s, the rock star of his day, singing some of the most virtuosic music ever written for the human voice.

In a career – and personal life – loaded with enough drama to fuel an opera, Kanye West is finally presenting one. Or at least that's what he tweeted Sunday, announcing a performance of Nebuchadnezzar, "A Kanye West Opera" at the Hollywood Bowl on Nov. 24.

Caroline Shaw sings her own song, "And So," with the Attacca Quartet.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is back. Orchestra officials and musicians held a joint news conference Monday, on stage at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, to announce the ratification of a one-year contract that effectively ends a 16-week showdown between the two groups.

"I'm thrilled that an agreement has been reached," BSO music director Marin Alsop said in a statement announcing the new contract, "and that we will have our musicians back on stage to open our 104th season beginning on Friday night."

Composer Christopher Rouse, who once called himself a writer of "fast and furious" music and who taught courses in the history of rock, died Saturday of complications of renal cancer at age 70.

When the first enslaved Africans landed on American shores in 1619, their musical traditions landed with them. Four centuries later, the primacy of African American music is indisputable, not only in this country but in much of the world. How that music has evolved, blending with or giving rise to other traditions — from African songs and dances to field hollers and spirituals, from ragtime and blues to jazz, R&B and hip-hop — is a topic of endless discussion.

With a season-opening concert slated for Saturday, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians and its management are still locking horns over details of a new contract agreement. A bargaining session ended Monday night with no resolution, only a set of last minute proposals from management which players will vote on Tuesday night.

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