Poster Missy Mazzoli album cover
Missy Mazzoli's 'Dark with Excessive Bright'
BIS records
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Missy Mazzoli: Dark with Excessive Bright
Violinist Peter Herresthal - Arctic Philharmonic - Bergen Philharmonic - Conductors Tim Weiss and James Gaffigan
Missy Mazzoli album cover
Missy Mazzoli's 'Dark with Excessive Bright'
BIS records

For admirers of Missy Mazzoli’s shimmering and electrifying sound worlds, Dark with Excessive Bright is a long-awaited and satisfying feast of texture and harmony. Although Mazzoli is a force in the contemporary classical world, this is the first time her orchestral works have ever been recorded. I love how this album highlights Mazzoli’s love of storytelling and tradition while always searching for new sounds, whether through amplification and distortion or sampling organs and voices.

This compendium of Mazzoli’s orchestral works stretches all the way back to 2006, with “These Worlds In Us.” Dedicated to her father, a Vietnam vet, the piece contemplates the emotional overlap between grief and joy, and it swirls with the textures of wheezing mouth organs and the glissandos of strings.

Of note is the title track, “Dark with Excessive Bright,” which offers a glimpse into Mazzoli’s process of composition and revision. Originally written for contrabass and orchestra, Mazzoli’s version for violinist Peter Herresthal “turns the orchestra upside down in a total transformation of the work.” The solo violin soars with a brightness not possible within the sonic limitations of the original instrumentation. As a bookend to the album, yet another arrangement of the piece appears for solo violin and string quintet.

The performances of Peter Herresthal, the Arctic Philharmonic and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra allow for Mazzoli’s music to truly shine, and I’m so thrilled that her music is finally available for us to experience. Dark with Excessive Bright was nominated for two Grammy nominations: Best Classical Compendium and Best Contemporary Classical Composition for “Dark with Excessive Bright.”

—Kathleen Bradbury, associate producer

Brandon Patrick George, solo flute
Album cover
Brandon Patrick George - Twofold
Courtesy of the artist

From its very title, Twofold from flutist Brandon Patrick George, clues us in that it’s working on many conceptual levels. First, and most simply, this serves as George’s second album as a solo performer separate from the Imani Winds. Twofold includes all unaccompanied solo flute repertoire, a choice that was incredibly brave and ultimately successful. George says, “I think it’s incredibly daunting to play completely unaccompanied with no one supporting you…. I started to hear myself and understand my playing in a whole new way.” George plays with a variety of colors and moods, expressing vulnerability and strength—a complete tonal picture of an artist today. 

George’s selections for the album display a thoughtful curation of music connected across centuries and cultures. George has found connections between pieces from years past and new works by living composers (Reena Esmail, Saad Haddad, Shawn Okpebholo). The pieces are placed in “conversation” with each other, allowing listeners to draw connections between the composers. It’s a testament to what George describes as shared inspiration throughout time and—ultimately—our shared humanity.  

One of the joys of Twofold is that it intentionally provides opportunities for a variety of listening experiences. You can consume each short track individually, much like you would with popular music. George said this was an intentional departure from traditional classical albums, where pieces can be 20-30 minutes long (or longer). Or, by listening to the pieces alongside their musical pairs, the pieces take on additional meaning. I especially appreciated hearing Saad Haddad’s “Tasalsul I” directly after C.P.E. Bach’s Sonata in A minor. It showed the connection between the two pieces while also amplifying how Haddad expanded on the source material by incorporating Arabic musical influences. Haddad’s piece goes beyond being a simple “response” to CPE Bach’s Sonata and takes on a complete life of its own. 

For listeners wanting a truly immersive experience, I’d recommend listening to Twofold all the way through with headphones and minimal distraction. When I listened to the complete album in this way, I was left feeling pleasantly disoriented, as if I’d just been in a time capsule, listening to these composers converse across the centuries using George as their mouthpiece. This album is a unique and worthwhile listen for people who love new music, those who enjoy exploring musical connections across different works, or anyone who wants to hear great performances by an innovative flutist of our time.

—Kathleen Bradbury, associate producer

Dependent Arising
Rachel Barton Pine | Royal Scottish National Orchestra | Tito Muñoz
Rachel Barton Pine
Rachel Barton Pine
Cedille Records

Rachel Barton Pine has made a name for herself as a violinist with wide-ranging interests and exceptional skill. But what many fans of her classical work might not know is that Pine has an extensive history in the world of heavy metal. This new album from Cedille Records highlights Pine’s love of metal by pairing the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich with a brand new violin concerto by Earl Maneein called Dependent Arising. 

I loved this performance of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, and it’s fascinating to listen to it through the “heavy metal” framework laid out in the fantastic liner notes. The thrilling Shostakovich primes the listener for Maneein’s new concerto, Dependent Arising. Maneein’s work draws on his extensive knowledge in the heavy metal and hardcore punk worlds as well as his own Buddhist practice. Taking its name from the Buddhist concept of all things arising in dependence with other things, the concerto probes at ideas of self and embraces challenging emotions of aggression, grief, and wrath. Maneein creatively translates the sounds of heavy metal to an orchestral setting without settling for cheesy cop-outs. 

In both concertos, Rachel Barton Pine’s virtuosic performances sucked me right into the music. Both pieces have extensive cadenzas, and she truly shreds. I found myself cheering her on as I listened, just like I’d do if I were at a metal show. I find myself going back to this album again and again. The scope of emotion and raw power behind both the Shostakovich and the Maneein concertos speak to me, especially now, when the world feels in crisis. It’s a great listen for anyone looking for emotional release. 

—Kathleen Bradbury, associate producer

Beethoven for Three: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5
Yo-Yo Ma, Leonidas Kavakos & Emanuel Ax

Album cover
Beethoven for Three
Sony Music

Despite the star power of the trio, when I saw it on paper I was skeptical of the idea: Beethoven symphonies played by just violin, cello, and piano? 'So much will be missing!' I thought to myself. But then I actually listened...and fell in love with these arrangements and performances! They're thoughtful, richly creative, intelligent, even playful. There wasn't a single moment when I thought "where's the piccolo?" And the joy these musicians take in playing with each other comes shining through. Thrilled to share this new album and my conversation with the trio.

-Fred Child, Host

An American Mosaic
Music by Richard Danielpour | Simone Dinnerstein, piano

An American Mosaic
An American Mosaic
Supertrain Records

Simone Dinnerstein’s new album has something for everybody.

If ever there was a need for art to be meaningful, that moment is now. At a time when the entire world is living through a single shared experience, pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s latest recording, An American Mosaic swoops in to bandage our wounds.

This album is a brand new major work for solo piano written by composer Richard Danielpour during the pandemic ABOUT the pandemic. It’s a 15-movement cycle intended to pay homage to all of the people who have been affected by the pandemic; in other words, this music represents all of us and it holds space for all of us. Each movement profiles a specific segment of the population. For instance, there’s a movement called Parents & Children, another called Caretakers & Research Physicians. There’s even one called Journalists, Poets & Writers.

For me, the charm of this album is that each one of us can find ourselves represented in this music. We can also find familiarity. For example, movement three, Parents & Children sounds like children bouncing off the walls with a fast and chaotic tempo and notes that seem to fall all over each other; a reality for many families (like mine) during quarantine. There’s a movement titled “The Invisible Enemy” about the virus itself. There’s another titled “Prophets & Martyrs” which is dedicated to the Black lives lost during the pandemic. Listening to this album will carry you through reflections of your own experience of the last year and connect you to the experiences of everyone else.

An American Mosaic also features music by J.S. Bach that is transcribed by Richard Danielpour. Danielpour chose three pieces originally written for choir and orchestra and transcribed them for solo piano, which for me, is a representation of taking something complex and stripping it down to focus on the heart of it. After the chaos and complexity of this “unprecedented crisis”, finding and focusing on the heart of the experience, I think, could do us all some good.

-Meghann Oglesby, producer

Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason
Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason
Robin Clewley, photographer

Romance: The Piano Music of Clara Schumann
Isata Kanneh-Mason, Liverpool Symphony Orchestra & Holly Mathieson

I think that right now is a significant time for women. Women are doing more, achieving more and they have more opportunities than ever before. The new recording, "Romance" by pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason comes at a perfect time to really send the message home that women's voices are important. The album features the piano music of composer Clara Schumann and this celebration of Schumann's work and legacy is incredibly beautiful and full of passion.

Listening to each piece, you can hear the tenderness and care with which Kanneh-Mason approached the music. Each piece of music on the album was also chosen with intentionality; The collection of pieces include music Schumann wrote at different stages of her life. So, we hear music from Schumann the adolescent as well as from Schumann the young wife and mother. We also hear music Schumann wrote at a time in her life after she'd suffered the loss of a child. The album also features music that Clara Schumann arranged but was written by her husband, Robert Schumann.

Kanneh-Mason also collaborated with other all-star female musicians to create the album: violinist Elena Urioste and conductor Holly Mathieson.

I love everything about this album; the care taken in choosing the music, the collaboration with other female artists and the passion imbued in the performance of each piece. Clara Schumann once said, "A woman must not desire to compose -- there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?" I think this album of her music does a great job of saying, "Yes, Clara. You can, you should and you did."

-Meghann Oglesby, producer

Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason
Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason
John Davis

Sheku Kanneh-Mason, London Symphony & Sir Simon Rattle

"I absolutely loved listening to this new album from cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason! So much of the music on the album is contemplative and intimate, which really struck a chord with me. I found that I had an emotional connection to each piece. I also really appreciated the variety of music on the album; there's orchestral music, chamber works, and even arrangements of folk songs. Kanneh-Mason chose all of the music on the album in order to celebrate the music he loves with the people he loves and I think that really comes through in each recording. It's like he just took his heart out, wrapped it in a beautiful box, and gave it to us. I hope you love it as much as I did!"

-Meghann Oglesby, producer

Sonnambula: Leonora Duarte - The Complete Works
Centaur Records

Leonora Duarte: The Complete Works
Sonnambula with Teju Cole | Elizabeth Weinfield, Director

"I absolutely love the lush, warm sound of Sonnambula, and I appreciate the work they're doing to unearth lesser-known works by women. This album is the first recording of the complete works of Leonora Duarte, a composer who lived in Antwerp in the 17th century. Her story is fascinating: she was raised in a merchant family, and her family was known in the area for their in-house concerts. Duarte wrote music for the viol and intended for the music to be played at home. Sonnambula has captured that intimate feeling so well in this recording. The album also features spoken prose by writer Teju Cole and additional works by Leonora Duarte's musical peers."

-Kathleen Bradbury, associate producer for Performance Today

La Pieta
La Pieta
Courtesy of artist

Angele Dubeau & La Pieta

"This week, I loved listening to the new album Pulsations from Canadian violinist Angele Dubeau and the ensemble La Pieta. The music here is full of emotion, but it never crosses the line to saccharine. Instead, it made me want to get up and move with the propulsive rhythms of the strings. Dubeau arranged all of the pieces on this album for her ensemble and she does a masterful job of creating interesting musical textures that change from piece to piece. You might recognize some composers from their work on film scores, but I think Dubeau takes one feeling of a character on screen and fractures it glass of a prism, adding complexity and color."

- Suzanne Schaffer, senior producer

Nicola Benedetti and Wynton Marsalis
Decca Music

Marsalis: Violin Concerto; Fiddle Dance Suite
Nicola Benedetti & Wynton Marsalis | The Philadelphia Orchestra

"The new album by violinist Nicola Benedetti, jazz great Wynton Marsalis and The Philadelphia Orchestra recently appeared on my desk. I was first struck by the interesting collaboration of artists and, at a time when many major orchestras don't stray too far from reliably favorite pieces, I was impressed at this investment in new music. When I began listening, it's clear that creative ideas just tumble from Marsalis's pencil. This isn't a short concerto. Each of the four movements flow through many fun and infectious moods, sincere pleas and satisfying chordal resolutions. When you think of the seemingly limitless musical possibilities and melodies coming from a composer like Marsalis (and the brilliant performance by Benedetti), it makes you wonder why you would limit yourself to just listening to music you already know. There's so much to discover. By the way, if you're wondering if there's a classical violin/jazz trumpet duet in the future, you'll have to listen to Benedetti's interview on our show!

- Suzanne Schaffer, senior producer

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