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QUIZ: How Well Do You Know the Musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein?

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Chicago Native Wins 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Music

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Chicago Native Henry Threadgill was named the 2016 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his composition “In for a Penny, in for a Pound.” The recording was released in May 2015. The Prize’s administration noted that Threadgill’s piece was chosen because it is “a highly original work in which notated music and improvisation mesh in a sonic tapestry that seems the very expression of modern American life (Pi Recordings).” For more information about other nominees and winners, visit the Pulitzer Prize’s website.

11th Annual Sound of Silent Film Festival Comes to Chicago

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After a sold out performance in New York City last month, Access Contemporary Music (ACM) returns to Chicago’s Music Box Theater for their eleventh annual presentation of Sound of Silent Film Festival. The festival features a variety of contemporary silent films scored by contemporary composers and performed live in the theater.

In January ACM solicited submissions from filmmakers as well as for composers willing to score their work. Saturday, April 16, 2016, Chicago audiences can experience a screening of the seven chosen modern silent films and the seven original scores performed live.

The program includes music by Eric Reda, Jakub Polaczyk, Tim Corpus and more. The films range from the lighthearted The Hipster and the Cat by Anthony McLean, to the sci-fi thriller The Stray by Ryan Rozar to the thought provoking Eva/Ana by Daniel Ruiz Bustos.

Sample one of this year’s silent films below:

For more information about the festival, visit Access Contemporary Music’s website.

After 40 Years, James Levine Steps Down as Met Opera’s Music Director

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James Levine leading the Metropolitan Orchestra at Carnegie Hall last season. Photo: Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

The Metropolitan Opera, New York, announced on Thursday, April 14, 2016 that at the end of the 2015-16 season, James Levine will step down as music director, a position he has held with the company since 1976. Levine first conducted at the Met in 1971 in performances of Tosca. A year later, became the Met’s principal conductor. Since, Levine has conducted 2,551 performances with the Met musicians.

Since 2008, Levine has suffered from a number of health problems, including Parkinson’s disease, that have caused him to withdraw from scheduled performances with the Met and other organizations, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, for which he served as music director from 2004-2011. On April 4, 2010, Levine officially withdrew from remaining performances at the Met during the 2010-11 season. In 2011, Levine cancelled all of his 2011 performances there for the remainder of the calendar year. After a series of surgeries, Levine was able to return to the podium on May 19, 2013 conducting from a wheelchair.

Levine was originally scheduled to conduct 31 performances during the 2016-17 season at the Met. According a report by the Associated Press, “Met General Manager Peter Gelb said in February it was too soon to say whether Levine would be up to it physically. Levine’s health seemingly remains the company’s biggest preoccupation.”

In a press release issued by the Met, Gelb said, “There is no conductor in the history of opera who has accomplished what Jim has achieved in his epic career at the Met. We are fortunate that he will continue to play an active and vital role in the life of the company when he becomes Music Director Emeritus at the end of the season.”

Levine will finish conducting his remaining scheduled performances at the Met to conclude the 2015-16 season. According to the release, “John Fisher, currently Director of Music Administration, has been promoted to Assistant General Manager, Music Administration, effective immediately.”

Replacement conductors for some of Levine’s originally scheduled performances during the 2016-17 season have yet to be announced, though he plans to conduct performances of L’Italiana in Algeri, Verdi’s Nabucco and Mozart’s Idomeneo. Levine will continue to work with the Met as its first Music Director Emeritus.

 

Joffrey Ballet Unveils Creative Team for New $4 Million Dollar “Nutcracker”

The team behind the Joffrey Ballet’s new “Nutcracker” (from left to right): Joffrey’s executive director Greg Cameron, projection designer Benjamin Pearcy, puppet master Basil Twist, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, Joffrey’s artistic director Ashley Wheater, lighting designer Natasha Katz, author and illustrator Brian Selznick, and Joffrey’s board chairman Zachary D. Lazar (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)
The team behind the Joffreu

The team behind the Joffrey Ballet’s new “Nutcracker” (from left to right): Joffrey’s executive director Greg Cameron, projection designer Benjamin Pearcy, puppet master Basil Twist, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, Joffrey’s artistic director Ashley Wheater, lighting designer Natasha Katz, author and illustrator Brian Selznick, and Joffrey’s board chairman Zachary D. Lazar (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Since 1987, over one million people have experienced Robert Joffrey’s production of The Nutcracker through performances by the company he co-founded, the Joffrey Ballet. This year, the Joffrey unveils a new Nutcracker created by an award winning team led by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.

An Artistic Associate at the Royal Ballet in London, Wheeldon has become one of the most recognized names in dance of his generation. The Joffrey’s artistic director, Ashley Wheater first met Wheeldon through collaboration at the San Francisco Ballet. In the years since, the Joffrey has presented Wheeldon’s Carousel, Continuum, and Swan Lake. “How we dance today has changed,” Wheater said, adding “Christopher has been an extraordinary part of that journey.”

Nutcracker has been always been a part of Wheeldon’s life as a dancer. He has performed the roles of Fritz (the naughty brother), a mouse, a party child, a parent, a soldier, Mr. Stahlbaum (the mayor), hot chocolate, a flower cavalier, and a candy cane.

“It’s tough being a dancer doing Nutcracker. It comes around every year. The schedule is really rigorous. There are a lot of performances. Everyone would much rather be home with their families. A certain monotony sets in.” Wheeldon hopes to provide “a fresh take on this story with new choreography so hopefully it will enliven the experience for the dancers.”

How has Wheeldon reimagined this holiday classic?

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m not stealing Christmas. Rest assured: magic will abound, the tree will grow, children will be mice, and the snow will fall. But at the heart of our vision for the story lie two important differences.”

The first is the setting. The production will take place in Chicago during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Wheeldon and the artistic team suggest that the fair, with its exhibits featuring cultures from around the world, provides a raison d’être for the second act’s suite of national dances.

Not to mention, the Auditorium Theater, the long-time home of the Joffrey, was in fact constructed during the same era as the Exposition fair grounds.

But more significant than the difference in the setting is another interesting spin. “The ballet’s central protagonist, the child Marie, is to be the wildly imaginative daughter of a worker at the fair,” Wheeldon revealed. This Nutcracker is “to be the story of an immigrant worker’s child, a dreamer who has very little but through this magical, epic Christmas journey, is about to gain a great deal.”

When considering his first Nutcracker, Wheeldon has naturally been influenced by productions of which he has been a part, in particular those by Sir Peter Wright and Balanchine. Wheeldon has also learned, over the years, what he does not like in retellings of Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet.

“I saw Paris Opera’s brand new reimaging of fand Christmas has been completely removed from it,” he complained. “It was interesting, but when it comes down to it, you can’t take Christmas out of Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky wrote music that depicts snow, and the emotions a family feels at Christmas. For me, it has to be a Christmas ballet.”

Joining Wheeldon’s creative team are several artists with whom he has collaborated on other highly acclaimed productions.

Natasha Katz will design the production’s lighting. The winner of five Tony Awards, Katz has worked on over 50 Broadway productions and will design lighting for an upcoming stage version of Disney’s Frozen. Previously, Wheeldon and Katz collaborated on a Tony Award-winning production of An American in Paris.

Benjamin Pearcy of 59 Productions will design imaginative video projections for the production. Pearcy also collaborated on An American in Paris. Wheeldon said Pearcy and his team “successfully integrate projection design with scenic elements to create a magical whole.” Pearcy’s other credits include the Tony-Award winning Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway and Two Boys at the Metropolitan Opera.

Critically acclaimed puppeteer Basil Twist, who has worked with Wheeldon his ballets A Winter’s Tale and Cinderella, will add magic of his own to the Joffrey’s new Nutcracker. “I feel like I’m the sprinkles on top or a little bit of fairy dust. Nutcracker needs that layer of magic.”

For Twist, ballet and puppetry are a natural match. “I think of myself more related to dance than to drama or theater,” Twist said. But that doesn’t mean that working with dancers is not without its challenges.

“When you’re working with dancers, ballet dancers especially,” he explained, “they’ve trained to do something very specific. So when you have them do something different, it can go both ways. You really have to create work for them. They perform at a very high level as performers, and you need to make it intriguing and interesting for them.”

Julian Crouch, who created sets for Wheeldon’s Cinderella and Hedwig, will create sets for Wheeldon’s Nutcracker. Caldecott winning author and illustrator Brian Selznick has been enlisted to help craft the new Nutcracker as well.

This ambitious production has a projected budget of $4 million dollars, 75% of which the company has already raised.

To learn more about the Joffrey’s new Nutcracker, visit the company’s website.

How 1 Artist is Condensing 24 Decades of American Popular Song into a Single, 24-Hour Performance

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Taylor Mac, who brings excerpts of “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” to Chicago on a cross-country tour (Photo: Ves Pitts)

How would you tell the history of nation in music? Artist Taylor Mac is condensing the history of American popular music into an epic, 24-hour performance: his 24-Decade History of Popular Music.

Mac’s History includes 246 songs performed over 24 hours, with one decade of music per hour. 24 musicians will start the show with Mac, and every hour, a musician will leave. By the end of the performance, only Mac will remain on stage. (In total, 40 musicians will participate since some musicians will perform in shifts).

While the full, 24-hour long performance will occur only once, scheduled for October 2016 in New York, Mac is touring excerpts of the performance across country. In Chicago, Mac presents music from 1956 – 1986 at the Museum of Contemporary Art – Chicago from April 12 – 16, 2016.  Mac spoke about this massive undertaking in a recent interview.

“I had been wanting to create an experience about how community is often built because it is being torn apart,” something Mac witnessed during the first AIDS walk in San Francisco. “I was being exposed to the queer community and queer history and queer agency for the first time, and I saw a community coming together because it was being torn apart because of an epidemic.”

Mac needed to explore those ideas about community in an epic way, saying, “If I could have done this show an easier way, I would have. But this is the way it needed to be done.” Sample some of the performance below.

“For me the content dictates the form,” he said, “so it seemed that the form that best represents how communities are built through their own imperfections is popular song. Popular songs tend to use their imperfect rhyme and their simple chord structures as a way to reach the people.”

But why 24 hours of music? The duration of the performance is important because Mac wants “the audience to deteriorate throughout the course of it. I want to put them in dire, complicated circumstances. I’m falling apart, the band is falling apart, we’re all falling apart as a result of doing this all together. We’re building bonds with each other.”

In addition to building bonds with the audience, the audience also helps build the work in a way. “We build everything in front of the audience, so it’s different every time” Mac said. “The outline is the same, but a lot is very different. The show is about the process with the community as we build this over multiple years.”

Mac has been developing the project for 5 years with a team of collaborators. “I’m a craftsman, so I’m crafting the $h!t out of this show. We’re structuring this to have a real arc. I think a lot of the shows that you see that are durational that don’t work don’t work because the form comes before the content. I want every single hour to be extraordinary. I want to it be overwhelming,” Mac said.

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Taylor Mac (Photo: Kevin Yatarola)

Though the History has 5 years of craft behind it and may evolve as it tours for another 5 years, Mac said, “we also want an aspect of authentic failure. We want it to be messy. We want it to be spontaneous.”

“I tend to be drawn to performers who aren’t afraid to fail on stage,” Mac said, citing Patti Smith, Nina Simone, and Tiny Tim as important influences. “Authentic failure is a part of the art they do in way. It’s not that they’re not successful, it’s that they risk something when they’re on the stage.”

What songs has Mac included in his 24-decade survey?

“We don’t always choose the best stuff. Sometimes we choose songs specifically because they’re bad. But we try to do things that people have heard as well as things that most people don’t know.” Mac assured, “It’s not about a hit parade. It’s about how we can use the songs to tell a story.”

The music from the early decades is “more surprising,” Mac said. “You’d think it might be boring or be annoying (and sometimes it is, because it’s a little oom-pah-pah), but partially because of that reason the early stuff has been more rewarding in some ways to work on. But once we get to 1956 it becomes really fun.”

What has Mac learned in surveying 24 decades of American history and music?

“A lot about so much,” Mac said, “though one thing that stands out is how slowly we’ve come in terms of women’s rights. If you look at our history and you observe all the tactics that have been used to prevent women from getting power, it’s pretty remarkable,” he continued. “In the 1780s, the founding fathers were writing letters ridiculing women. And it’s still happening. You see people doing the exact same thing to women today. There’s been so little progress considering how long it’s been.”

What does Mac think about the current race for the White House?

“I’ll make no bones about it. I’m in support of Hillary. The one thing I know that will happen if she is elected is that everything will be framed around sexism, which I think would be really good for this country.”

One decade, 1806-1816, in Mac’s History is titled “Songs Popular While Escaping the Heteronormative.” The decade from 1836-1846 is titled “Songs Popular While Escaping the Plantation.”

Though politics is a thread that binds some aspects of Mac’s History, there are other important threads in the production as well: the literal threads that hold together Mac’s 24 extravagant costumes designed by a long-time collaborator, Machine Dazzle. Learn more about Machine’s work in the video below.

“I want to look on the outside how I feel on the inside,” Mac said describing the looks Machine has created. “Almost all of my art is about heterogeneity and homogeneity. We say as Americans that we celebrate the whole range of what we are. But because capitalism is all about reduction – how you sell something – we tend to reduce things and people. We compartmentalize. The work is about that conversation.”

“He’s kind of a mad genius,” Mac said of the designer. “We have been working together forever,” Mac said, “so I trust him completely. I can tell him, ‘This is what I’m thinking for this decade,’ and he comes up with something great. Occasionally I might tell him, ‘I want the look to transform at a certain point, I’d like it work with a theme in some way, and then I just let him go. The costumes are collaborations, but they’re his vision working within the structure of what we’re performing.” In addition to simply designing the costumes, Dazzle becomes part of the show by dressing Mac in each of the costumes.

Mac was reluctant to reveal any surprises about the costumes, though did confess one favorite look is one Chicago audiences will see. “Let’s just say there’s a lot of macramé and I wear a headpiece that’s kind of like a mirror ball. It’s pretty amazing.”

To attend the full-length performance of Mac’s History, audience members will need to sign a release stating that they will stay for the duration. “We don’t want that music festival vibe where people come and go,” Mac said. “Part of the art is what happens to the audience.”

Luckily, audience members will have food options at the venue, or can bring their own.

Audience members will be encouraged to bring their own bedding. “Hopefully cots will be set up in the lobby where the music will still be audible so you can still be a part of the experience but you can take a break.” The venue has not yet been announced.

To learn more about Taylor Mac including upcoming performances, visit Mac’s website.

Rachel Barton Pine’s “Testament” Gets Back to Bach

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Violinist Rachel Barton Pine

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine’s new recording of Bach’s complete Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas is titled Testament. It’s a word that has multiple meanings for Pine – from the importance of these celebrated works to how she defines her life’s purpose as a musician. I spoke with Pine about the album and her insights into the music.


 

LF: Knowing that Bach’s own faith was central to his work, you chose to record these works at a place with tremendous musical and personal significance – your church.

RBP: When I was a baby, my parents started attending St Paul’s United Church of Christ in Lincoln Park. One of the things that attracted them to the church, besides the social justice mission, was the music ministry. The organist would play Bach toccatas and fugues and the choir would do movements from the oratorios. And there’s a stained glass window of Bach in the sanctuary. It was at St Paul’s that I first encountered the violin when I was three years old. Now, when I play Bach in church, it reminds me that music is not just a pleasant diversion or another entertainment option, but it’s about being a conduit for something greater than yourself and sharing beautiful music with others to uplift their spirits.

LF: You’ve been playing these works for many years. What made you decide to record them now?

RBP: I felt like after all these years of studying and performing the music that it was time to lay it down for posterity and share it with the world. I simultaneously prepared an edition for Carl Fischer which has not only all my fingerings and bowings but a lot of my interpretative indications. Bach left many movements entirely devoid of any such indications, not meaning that they should be ‘blah’ of course, but that the performer should come up with their own ideas. I don’t expect anyone to copy me, nor would I want them to, but I feel that by sharing my ideas, maybe others can be inspired.

LF: For the album, you play on your primary concert instrument that you use when performing concertos, but with a Baroque bow. Why did you choose this combination?

RBP: I’ve made many Baroque recordings on a full-fledged Baroque violin, so people probably would have expected me to record Bach that way. But 95 percent of the time I’ve played these works has been on my ‘modernized’ – you don’t say ‘modern’ – 1742 Guarneri del Gesú. When I’m on the road, peppering Bach among all the other stuff I’m playing, I’m not bringing along two violins because that would be a nightmare. I do use the Baroque bow because you can easily put multiple bows in your case. I’ve never golfed in my life, but I imagine it’s like being out there on the golf course and selecting exactly the right iron for a particular shot. I take the right weapon from the sword rack!

LF: You’ve actually had a lot of experience with period instruments, embracing historically informed performance practice since early on in your career.

RBP: I was lucky to grow up here in Chicago because I became curious about historically informed interpretation way back when I was 14. There were wonderful period instrument specialists here in town that I could take some coaching from and start to learn how to use the Baroque bow. Unlike a lot of people who come to the Baroque bow when they’re already established professionals, I feel like it has been an organic part of who I am as a musician.

LF: The Bach Partitas in particular are suites of dance music. How do the specific dance styles influence your performance?

RBP: The relationship between dance forms and Bach is really interesting because a lot of his music was certainly not meant to be danced to. It was not utilitarian dance music like so much from the Baroque era. This was concert music – music for listening. And yet Bach is often very strict in terms of his use of form. For example, in many of the movements in the Partitas, he has moments at the ends of the first and second halves where the dancers should bow to each other. There are no dancers, so why do they need to bow? Bach was just kind of nodding to the tradition, which I think is really sweet in a way.

LF: What do you tell a young musician who may be intimidated by these great pieces, not only by the great technical challenges they pose but also by the deep reverence held for them?

RBP: The Sonatas and Partitas are held on a pedestal. There’s this feeling of ‘how dare I play Bach!’ But Bach would have wanted you to play his music, and it feels like you and Bach are in on this together. The music is personal. It almost becomes your close friend after a while. Everybody else plays these same pieces, but when I’m playing them, it’s just me and the music. It’s something very intimate, actually.

Conductor Mariss Jansons on Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony, Music, & Politics

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216 01.10.1942 Трое мужчин хоронят умерших в дни блокады в Ленинграде. Волково кладбище. Борис Кудояров/РИА Новости

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Conductor Mariss Jansons

Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, titled “Leningrad,” was written during one of the most horrific sieges in history. From 1941 to 1944, Hitler’s army surrounded Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), and over one million civilians died.

Conductor Mariss Jansons, renowned for his interpretations of Shostakovich symphonies, has a particularly interesting connection to Leningrad. Jansons was born in Soviet controlled Latvia. Later, he would go on to study at the Leningrad Conservatory and eventually conduct the Leningrad Philharmonic.

Jansons leads the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the “Leningrad” on Sunday, April 17 at Symphony Center. In anticipation of his Chicago appearance, Jansons spoke about the power of Shostakovich’s music and how it still resonates today.

Shostakovich began Symphony No. 7 in the summer of 1941 before he evacuated to Kuibyshev. The completed symphony received its premiere in Kuibyshev on March 5, 1942.

216 01.10.1942 Трое мужчин хоронят умерших в дни блокады в Ленинграде. Волково кладбище. Борис Кудояров/РИА Новости

Three men burying victims of Leningrad’s siege. The Volkovo cemetery. October 1, 1942.

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin praised the work for its resistance to German fascism. However, Shostakovich’s criticism of Stalin permeated his music and personal life. Even though Shostakovich dedicated the symphony to the city of Leningrad, he noted that Leningrad was already being “systematically destroyed and that Hitler is merely trying to finish it off.”

“Although I was only born during the war, there were similar things Shostakovich and I experienced,” Jansons recalled. “The whole atmosphere of this symphony is not only about the war but it is also about everything that is negative and human beings struggling,” Jansons declared.   “The symphony could mean this and that to someone else. Therefore, my voice is to follow the voice of Shostakovich.”

Shostakovich’s voice gave the people of Leningrad hope in August 1942. Though the majority of the musicians from the Leningrad Radio Orchestra died during the siege, conductor Karl Eliasberg, surviving musicians, and military supplements managed to perform the symphony.

Oboist Ksenia Matus, who participated in the performance, said in the documentary The War Symphonies, “Music was everything. Never mind the kasha or that we were hungry. No one could feed us, but music inspired us.”

Audience member and siege survivor Tatiana Vasilyeva, as quoted in The War Symphonies, added, “When I entered the hall, tears came to my eyes because there were many people, all elated. We listened with such emotion because we had lived for this moment. We realized this concert might be the last thing we’d do in our lives.”

Given the traumatic history of this work, how does Jansons convey this urgency to his orchestra?

“The music speaks for itself,” Jansons said emphatically. “Every musician who has feelings or a sense of fantasy can immediately feel Shostakovich’s atmosphere. That is most important.”

Jansons continued, “Perhaps it’s not directly copied from Shostakovich, but the general associations and feelings from this music are so strong. You can of course explain something during rehearsal, but not a big lecture. There are some moments when you should not explain anything. You can use your hands to show what you want, sometimes with your eyes.”

According to Jansons, continuing to perform and introduce Shostakovich’s music to audiences around the world is vital. “The most important thing is that the audience member feels an impact and that they have heard something very special. This symphony will last forever because the individual’s view of society, the struggle between good and bad energy, hope and depression – these ideas Shostakovich expressed will always exist, even in our world now.”

Do composers and musicians have an inherent responsibility to react to political struggles today?

“It’s not a must,” Jansons explained. “There is not a rule that a composer must write about political situations. Newspapers and television, yes, they must immediately react. But of course if the composer wants to express their feelings, they must write and express. Music from bad times gives us positive feelings, positive energy that helps us to survive and live.”

 

 

Leif Ove Andsnes on Becoming Beethoven, Brahms

Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at the Beethovenfest Bonn: © 2014 Holger Talinski

Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at the Beethovenfest Bonn: © 2014 Holger Talinski

Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at the Beethovenfest Bonn: © 2014 Holger Talinski

Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at the Beethovenfest Bonn: © 2014 Holger Talinski

“Being a classical musician is a bit like being a chameleon. You have to change for every piece you play,” pianist Leif Ove Andsnes said in an interview backstage at Chicago’s Symphony Center, where he is scheduled to return on Sunday, April 10, 2016.

Like most musicians, Andsnes does not always get to pick and choose what he plays. “Virtually every great composer has written great music for the keyboard, so usually I am responsible for playing anywhere from three to four hundred years of repertoire,” Andsnes said.”

In recent years, however, Andsnes has been able to immerse himself in some of his favorite repertoire. “I just finished a four year Beethoven journey where I immersed myself in the music of this great composer, especially his five piano concertos,” he said. “I basically just played Beethoven for years.”

To some, a steady diet of music by a single composer might seem a little unappetizing.

“I felt a little strange at times,” he admitted, “because you get so focused on one composer, one language, one life, you start identifying with this figure. That’s part of the excitement – becoming the composer. It’s a real privilege to take one composer and try to understand what that master was doing.”

Andsnes began his immersion in Beethoven’s music when he was approached by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Phil Grabsky, well-known for his In Search of… series on the lives on Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and most recently, Chopin.

“Grabsky asked me if I wanted to collaborate for his Concerto documentary where we go through all the five concertos of Beethoven. You’ll see me perform them. We go through them and talk about what makes them so original and so particularly beautiful and exciting. It’s also a little bit of a portrait of my life, but more importantly, it’s about Beethoven’s life and what we see through those five masterpieces.”

The Gene Siskel Film Center will screen Concerto eight times from April 15-21, 2016. Watch the trailer below.

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Besides just the music of Beethoven, Andsnes has also had the opportunity to immerse himself in the music of Brahms. His upcoming Symphony Center concert is “quite a gigantic program,” he said,” since he will present all three of Brahms’s piano quartets.

He got the idea to play all three quartets together in the same concert after playing one of them years ago at the Salzburg Festival. He and his colleagues enjoyed performing Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor so much they had to tackle all three.

“It’s a lot to take in. It’s a big meal with three main courses. But it’s music that’s so easy to let yourself be carried away by. There’s so much storytelling,” he said.

One of the most charming stories these works tell is of the love Brahms had for Clara Schumann. Not only did Clara, the wife his mentor Robert, premiere Piano Quartet No. 1 in 1861 in Hamburg. Clara also finds her name, perhaps quite literally, woven into his Piano Quartet No. 3. Some speculate that the sighing themes in the first movement are a musical representation of Clara’s name. Andsnes also reminds us that, “Brahms sent the slow movement to Clara Schumann, and if that’s not a love letter, what is?”

While Andsnes has lived with the music of Brahms all of his life, he said continues to enjoy it because of its diversity. “There’s so much to discover,” he said. “One is not always sure what is in the foreground and what is in the background because there are so many individual voices that come together. There’s such an abundance of sound. They feel very symphonic.”

In fact, the Piano Quartet No. 1 is so symphonic that “Schoenberg orchestrated it, making it a sort of Brahms Fifth Symphony,” Andsnes explained. “But I grew up with the piece as a piano quartet, so I prefer the original. I am biased, though.”

To learn more about Leif Ove Andsnes, his upcoming performances, and Concerto, visit his website.

4 Reasons Why Classical Music Is Good for Your Health

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The next time someone asks why you love classical music, you can tell them you listen for your health. Several studies over the years have proven that listening to classical music can have health benefits. Here are a few.

 

 

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1. Classical music can help you sleep

Some students listen to classical music while they study. But listening to classical music has also been proven to help students sleep, according to a 2008 study done at the Institute of Behavioral Sciences at Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary. After observing ninety-four students who had difficulty sleeping, the researchers reported that “relaxing classical music is an effective intervention in reducing sleeping problems. Nurses could use this safe, cheap, and easy-to-learn method to treat insomnia.”

 

 

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2. Classical music can help boost your brain power

Many studies have claimed that classical music can boost brain power. Dr. Leigh Riby conducted a study specifically on how Vivaldi’s Four Seasons affect alertness, and published his findings in Experimental Psychology. Subjects were asked to perform mental tasks while listening to silence and each of Vivaldi’s four concertos. Dr. Riby found that participants responded more quickly than when listening to “Spring” than silence, but more slowly when listening to “Autumn” than silence.

 

 

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3. Classical music can help your heart beat

If you have ever felt your heart race when sitting in a symphony hall or listening to your favorite recordings, you’re not imaging things. A study by Luciano Bernardi, a professor medicine at the University of Pavia, has shown that crescendos in music can cause blood vessels to constrict, and consequently, for blood pressure to rise. Expectedly, during decrescendos, Bernardi found the opposite to be true. So those who experience chronic problems with their cardiovascular system may find some relief in music. Read more in Scientific American.

 

 

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4. Music can help reduce pain

“Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast,” according to playwright William Congreve. A study published by the Journal of Advanced Nursing confirms Congreve’s aphorism. Out of a group of 60 patients with chronic non-malignant, the study found that the “the music groups had more power and less pain, depression and disability than the control group .”