Classical News

And The Next Maestro Of The New York Philharmonic Is...

Conductor Jaap van Zweden leads the Dallas Symphony at a Bravo! Vail concert.

(Photo: Zach Mahone)

Conductor Jaap van Zweden, who currently leads the Dallas Symphony, will be the next music director of the New York Philharmonic. His tenure begins in 2018, and he'll serve as Music Director Designate for the 2017-18 season, the Philharmonic announced Wednesday.

Van Zweden is familiar to Colorado audiences through Bravo! Vail, the summer classical music festival that hosts both the Dallas Symphony and New York Philharmonic each summer.

The Dallas Morning News notes the 55-year-old maestro came to the podium relatively late in his music career but has impressed listeners and critics alike:

Van Zweden, 55, was initially trained as a violinist in his native Amsterdam and at New York’s Juilliard School. He became sufficiently brilliant a player to be named the youngest-ever concertmaster of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, where he played under the most famous conductors of the day.

He was a relatively late convert to conducting, but in 1997, after some initial experiences on the podium, he gave up playing the violin to devote himself full-time to conducting. Holding a couple of principal conductor positions in the Netherlands, he was little known beyond before his appointment in Dallas. Soon, however, he was conducting top orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic and garnering critical praise. He was named Musical America’s 2012 Conductor of the Year.

Van Zweden's work as a conductor began with an encounter with a legendary conductor, according to the New York Times:

It was a chance request from Leonard Bernstein that set him on a new path. In the late 1980s, the Concertgebouw Orchestra was on tour in Berlin, playing Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, when Mr. Bernstein, who was conducting, decided during a rehearsal that he wanted to hear the orchestra from the audience.

So he asked Mr. van Zweden to take over.

“I said, ‘But Maestro, I never conducted in my life a single note,’” Mr. van Zweden recalled. “He said, ‘That’s OK, just do it.’ To say no to him — that was, I would not say dangerous, but you just did not do that. So I did. And after that he said, ‘That was pretty bad — but I saw something there, and I would really like you to take it seriously.’”

A few years later, he did. He began studying conducting and, after being invited to lead a small Dutch orchestra, gave up the safe post of concertmaster — and the violin — at 36.

Now, van Zweden has the job Bernstein held from 1958-69 with the New York Philharmonic. He replaces outgoing Music Director Alan Gilbert.

Watch a clip of van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony playing Beethoven's "Fidelio" Overture at Bravo! Vail: 


Happy Birthday to Mozart: Always An Amazing, And Quotable, Composer

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the greatest composers who ever lived, was born on this day 260 years ago.

He didn't simply write music we still love centuries later. He also had a way with words, as you can see from the quotes we've compiled above. 

For more of what makes Mozart amazing, check out CPR Classical's favorite pieces and recordings of his music. Or listen to CPR Classical today as we share many more of his compositions.

For more thoughts, here's Charley Samson on the enduring (and supernatural?) power of Mozart: 

Audio: Charley Samson on Mozart's superhuman talent

And here's some exclusive Mozart from the CPR Performance Studio, courtesy of the Dover String Quartet

The Dover Quartet performs Mozart's String Quartet No. 20 in G major, third movement, in the CPR Performance Studio. Recorded Dec. 3, 2014.

Watch: An Epic (And Very Visual) Classical Music Mashup

This recent video is fascinating for so many reasons, but the finale just knocks my socks off. 

Its creator, Grant Wollard, says he incorporated 57 melodies from 33 composers.

For a different kind of musical mashup, check out this look at conductor and arranger Steve Hackman's unique mashup concerts with the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder.

Litton Shapes The Sound Of The New York City Ballet

Colorado Symphony conductor Andrew Litton

(Courtesy Colorado Symphony)

The New York Times offers a look at Colorado Symphony Music Director Andrew Litton as he settles into his new role at the New York City Ballet.

The Colorado Symphony in September announced Litton would step down as music director at the end of the 2015-16 season. After that, he’ll serve as artistic adviser and guest conductor for another two years.

The New York Times article offers insights on how hearing and conducting ballets inspired him throughout his career:

And when, as a young man, he dated a City Ballet dancer, Mr. Litton found himself watching the company nearly every night at what was then called the New York State Theater, experiencing for the first time many pieces that he later went on to play and record, including Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G and Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F.

“I actually learned these pieces as a pianist because I experienced the works as ballets, which is crazy — totally the wrong way around,” he said, with a laugh. “The relationship went south, but my love of these pieces never did.”

The story also covers Litton’s recording plans with City Ballet, plans for collaborating with composers on new ballets and a funny moment in which the conductor offers a new approach to music in Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker" ballet.

“This is a bit like telling the Vienna Philharmonic how to play Strauss,” he told the Times.

Litton conducts the Colorado Symphony on Feb. 19 and 20 in performances of Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony.

Colorado Composers Week on CPR Classical

Colorado Symphony principal timpanist William "Bill" Hill.

(Photo: Courtesy of Colorado Symphony)

CPR Classical celebrates contemporary composers based in the Centennial State each night this week. Hear music and stories from Colorado composers each weeknight at 7 on Colorado Spotlight.

For more on Colorado artists, read about composer Charles Denler's recent collaboration with nature photographer John Fielder and the Boulder Philharmonic.

Listen: Philadelphia Orchestra, Pianist Jan Lisiecki Play Beethoven, Strauss

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra.

(Photo: Jessica Griffin)

Here's an evening's worth of very Viennese music from the Philadelphia Orchestra. 

The 20-year-old pianist Jan Lisiecki recently made his debut with the symphony, playing a sensitive rendition of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G.

The concert, conducted by music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, also featured music by Johann Strauss, Jr., and HK Gruber. 

Pieces performed:

  • Johann Strauss, Jr.: "Tales from the Vienna Woods" Waltz, 
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major 
  • Beethoven (arr. Mahler): String Quartet in F minor, "Serioso"
  • Gruber: "Charivari"
  • Johann Strauss, Jr.: Perpetuum mobile

For more from Lisiecki, watch footage of the young Canadian pianist wowing an audience at a CPR event in January 2014:

Pianist Jan Lisiecki performs Chopin's Grand Valse Brillante at CPR on Santa Fe: "A Musician's Life," held at Artwork Network on Jan. 16, 2014.

In Case You Missed It: Cantus on 'A Prairie Home Companion'

(Photo: CPR) 

Did you hear who stopped by Lake Wobegon last weekend? Cantus, the Minneapolis-based male vocal ensemble paid a visit to Garrison Keillor and sang "There's a Meeting Here Tonight" and "MLK" on A Prairie Home Companion.

Yeah, it was technically a rerun from 2012. But it still sounded great. Hear the episode for yourself:

Helpfully, the group has complied all of its Prairie Home Companion appearances in one place.

Cantus visited the CPR Performance Studio in September. Check out the full session or watch one of the highlights here:

Vocal ensemble Cantus performs "Ceann Dubh Dilis (Sweet Black Head)" By Michael McGlynn. Recorded Sept. 17, 2015, in the CPR Performance Studio.

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." 


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.