Classical News

Remembering David Bowie's Coolest Orchestral Moments

Music fans are mourning David Bowie, who died Sunday at 69 after releasing a well-received new album and video last week. Bowie's music straddled genres for nearly 50 years, and some of his best work boasts gorgeous orchestral arrangements.

To take an early example, an orchestra adds a powerful sonic layer to his breakthrough single "Space Oddity" from 1969. 

Strings add a dramatic backdrop to "Starman" from Bowie's 1972 album "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars." (The song turned up again in the recent blockbuster "The Martian" starring Matt Damon.) 

Then there's composer Philip Glass's "Low Symphony," a piece that reworked music from Bowie's 1977 album "Low." Glass said he loved taking Bowie's powerful melodies and placing them in a symphonic setting.

"The difficulty was there was a lot of material I never got to," Glass said. "One theme could become a 15-minute symphonic movement." 

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A String of Shostakovich Performances By Colorado Classical Ensembles

Composer Dmitri Shostakovich in 1925

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The music of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich turns up on the programs for several upcoming concerts in the Denver area.

Shostakovich wrote 15 symphonies, 15 string quartets and many more orchestral and chamber pieces before his death in 1975. Here's what Colorado ensembles are performing by Shostakovich in the coming weeks:

CPR Classical offers its own exploration of Shostakovich and his music each weeknight at 7 this week. Hear recordings by the Pacifica Quartet, Colorado Chamber Players, Trio Con Brio Copenhagen and the Takacs Quartet -- which recently landed on CPR Classical's roundup of 2015's best releases.

For more performances by Colorado Chamber Players and Trio con Brio Copenhagen, check out 2015's best CPR Performance Studio sessions.

Pierre Boulez In Action: Deft Conductor, Bold Composer, Zappa Collaborator

Pierre Boulez conducting in 2008.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A few more bits to share about Pierre Boulez, the French conductor and composer who died this week at 90:

As a conductor, he had an uncanny ability to take charge of an orchestra and shaping its sound using only his hands. This video of the New York Philharmonic playing Claude Debussy's "La Mer" is a great example:

Pierre Boulez conducts the New York Philharmonic in a performance of Debussy's "La Mer."

As a composer, he created intricate music that explored serialism and other innovations of 20th century classical music. 

Those compositions often left listeners cold. But here's a doorway into one of his more important pieces. A 20-year-old Boulez wrote 12 Notations for piano in 1945 after studying as a favorite student of composer Olivier Messiaen. Explore the Score offers an interactive look at the piece with insights from Boulez himself.

Finally, here's a quick nod to one of Boulez's unique collaborations. To many music fans, he's probably best known for conducting orchestral and chamber music by avant-garde rock guitarist Frank Zappa. Here's a taste of the results, captured on the 1984 album "Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger:"

Pierre Boulez conducts Frank Zappa's "Naval Aviation in Art?"

Hear more music from Boulez as part of CPR Classical's two-hour tribute from 7-9 p.m. Saturday, and read more about Boulez from NPR Music.

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