Classic

A Voice You Can Feel

Morris Robinson has the kind of bass voice that reverberates so strongly you feel it in your concert seat. Listening to it, you assume he's been singing all of his life. And he has — but not opera.

Morris Robinson has the kind of bass voice that reverberates so strongly, you feel it in your concert seat. Listening to it, you assume he's been singing all of his life. And he has — but not opera.

Nicholas McCarthy was born without his right hand. Pursuing the piano would not exactly appear to be the most intuitive career choice. And yet that is exactly what the 26-year-old British pianist has done. His debut album, Solo, will be released next week.

McCarthy's "Aha!" piano moment came relatively late, at age 14, after he heard a friend play Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata. In a flash, he saw his future. He was determined to become a concert pianist.

Benjamin Clementine On World Cafe

Jan 27, 2016

A Mercury Prize-winning musician, Benjamin Clementine worked his way up from playing the streets of Paris to performing in clubs and festivals. Clementine's theatrical voice is often compared to that of Nina Simone, whom the singer admits he didn't know about until people mentioned the comparison.

It was the day before Thanksgiving in 1902 when the Philadelphia Orchestra made its debut at Carnegie Hall. Music by Tchaikovsky was on the program and on the podium was Fritz Scheel, the first leader of an orchestra founded just two years before.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released, but you can hear an excerpt below via YouTube.

The title of Daniel Wohl's "Source" is something of a play on words. The actual sources of his captivating array of sounds are not completely clear. But it doesn't really matter. Just let the meticulously crafted, slightly surreal music from the Paris-born, Los Angeles-based composer soak in.

French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez was one of the most recognized figures in 20th century classical music. His outspoken advocacy for the music of his time earned him fans — and detractors. He died Tuesday at his home in Baden-Baden, Germany. He was 90 years old.

Just as the chaos of World War II was coming to an end, Pierre Boulez was emerging into his life as an artist.

Although 2015 produced arguably fewer big headlines in classical music than its predecessors, there were still surprising stories.

The question of assimilation has been on my mind a lot lately. Living in this great country where individuality is embraced, our current obsession with assimilation for those choosing the U.S. as their new home seems like a strange paradox.

In Memoriam 2015

Dec 30, 2015

Many musical voices fell silent in 2015. We lost soul singers and opera stars, blues and folk guitarists, saxophonists and percussionists, plus composers, conductors, producers, and other visionaries. Explore their musical legacies here.


Diane Charlemagne

Feb. 22, 1964 — Oct. 28, 2015

Ryuichi Sakamoto has been a film composer for more than 30 years. His résumé includes Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Wuthering Heights, and three films by Bernardo Bertolucci, including The Last Emperor, which won Sakamoto an Oscar. But he hasn't done an American studio film since 1992 — until now.

Kurt Masur, a former music director of the New York Philharmonic, died Saturday from complications from Parkinson's disease at a hospital in Greenwich, Conn. His death was announced by the New York Philharmonic.

Lyrics tend to be what we remember most about Christmas music, but a song doesn't need to have words to evoke the holidays. In the case of North Texas-based musician Derek Rogers, all he had to do was put Christmas in the title of one of his rich, suggestive drone pieces, and suddenly these thoughtful waves of sound conjure chilly atmospheres and faded family memories.

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"I consider the guitar as this sort of multi-faceted instrument," says Janet Feder, "that can make and do all of these other things."

Chime like a bell, or gong, buzz like a locust, or rattle and hum.

It's that time of year when we start hearing admonitions to think about the true meaning of the season. And composer and librettist Mark Adamo is down with that. Best known for his acclaimed operatic adaptations of Little Women and Lysistrata, his latest is Becoming Santa Claus, a family-friendly Christmas work produced by Dallas Opera.

Amid the ubiquitous din of annual chestnuts like "Jingle Bells" and "Let it Snow," you may be surprised to learn that people are actually writing new holiday songs. And as it turns out, some of them are pretty great.

When you think of Cuban music, contemporary classical most likely isn't the first — or possibly even fifth — genre that springs to mind. But a group of American composers and musicians couldn't resist an opportunity to travel to the island to present their own music and seek out their Cuban colleagues' work — and frankly, neither could I. We traveled together last month to the Havana Festival of Contemporary Music, for the event's 28th edition.

Jean Sibelius, born 150 years ago on Dec. 8, 1865, was the first Finnish composer to reach an international audience, but his popularity began at home. In the late 1890s, Finland was a part of the Russian empire and its people were striving for independence.

Cameron Carpenter plays the organ in a way you'll rarely hear in church. He travels with his instrument on a huge truck, and it takes a small team to set it up in concert halls around the world. A virtuoso composer and performer who plays everything from Bach to pop, not to mention the first organist ever to be Grammy-nominated for a solo album, Carpenter says his connection to the instrument goes back even further than his interest in music.

In the new movie Youth, an elderly, retired composer-conductor is called upon to conduct for the first time in years. He's an Englishman named Fred Ballinger — and the request is from Queen Elizabeth II. It seems Ballinger's composition Simple Songs, written when he was a much younger man, is the only thing the Queen's husband, Prince Phillip, will listen to.

If we're relying on the younger generation to help boost interest in classical music, look no further than Teddy Abrams.

Why do Beethoven's symphonies remain so appealing? It's a question we put to Simon Rattle a few years ago after he had finished conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in all nine of them.

"There's nothing harder," Rattle said, "and at the end of it all, nothing more rewarding. This is one of the great monuments of Western art." Those performances were recorded for a set released in 2003.

On a long drive, Itzhak Perlman will sometimes listen to classical music on the radio and try to guess who's playing.

"There is always a question mark," he says. "If it's good, boy, I hope it's me. If it's bad, I hope it's not me."

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