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.
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.
The journey a film score takes, from the composer's brain to what comes out of the speakers at your local theater, is a long and complicated process. In the case of the new Pixar film The Good Dinosaur, the work began seven months ago. Audiences will hear it for the first time on Thanksgiving Day.