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Mason Bates named ‘Composer of the Year’

Mason Bates has recently been named Musical America’s 2018 Composer of the Year.

Mason Bates (b.23.01.1977) is doing a lot to attract younger audiences to classical music. A number of factors contribute to this including:

  • his propensity for ‘outreach’ work; with fellow composer Anna Clyne, he transformed the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNOW series into an imaginative concert experience drawing huge crowds, with cinematic program notes and immersive stagecraft
  • his ‘dual musical citizenship’; in clubs under the name DJ Masonic, Bates has developed a post-classical rave that has integrated classical music and electronica to packed crowds.

Thanks to support from famed conductors such as Riccardo Muti, Leonard Slatkin and Michael Tilson Thomas his symphonic music has begun to receive widespread acceptance for its unique integration of electronic sounds. He has recently premiered an opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs that both broke new ground and played to highly enthusiastic audiences at the Santa Fe Opera. It would be wonderful to have this work on CD – any takers among the more innovative record companies?

At iClassical we particularly enjoyed his 2016 album ‘Works for orchestra’ featuring the composer playing electronica with the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The CD includes The B-Sides, Liquid Interface and Alternative Energy. Truly beguiling music.

Stream on Spotify or buy from Presto Classical.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade’ – No. 17 in our collection

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (18.03.1844 – 21.06.1908) was a Russian composer, and a member of the group of composers known as The Five. He was a master of orchestration and his best-known orchestral compositions; Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34, the Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op. 36, the symphonic suite Scheherazade, Op. 35 and his most widely known piece the Flight of the Bumble Bee are all staples of the classical music repertoire. Rimsky-Korsakov was at his best in descriptive orchestrations suggesting a mood or a place.

Scheherazade was inspired by the collection of largely Middle Eastern and Indian tales known as The Thousand and One Nights (or The Arabian Nights). The music tells the story through some of the most colourful, evocative and descriptive orchestration to be found in classical music.

Scheherazade is the young bride of the Sultan. After one of his wives cheats on him, he decides to take a new wife every day and have her executed the next morning. But it all stops with Scheherazade. She marries the Sultan in order to save all future young women from this fate. She tells the Sultan fascinating stories, leaving him in such suspense each night that he can’t execute her the next morning for fear of not hearing the end of the story. After 1,001 of these well-told tales, the Sultan relents.

The music is composed in four sections:

  1. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship
  2. The Story of the Calender Prince
  3. The Young Prince and the Young Princess
  4. Festival at Bagdad – The Sea – The Shipwreck against a rock surmounted by a bronze warrior (The Shipwreck)

Throughout, the music of Scheherazade showcases Rimsky-Korsakov’s mastery as an orchestrator; in terms of the pure, sensory pleasure of sound, he is unsurpassed.

Our favourite recording of this work is performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Kirill Kondrashin and stars the Dutch violinist Herman Krebbers. The sound on this live 1979 recording is very good. Indeed the sound of the Concertgebouw has been captured really well, placing the listener about 20 rows deep and centered; far enough away to offer a realistic perspective, yet close enough to hear individual instruments in detail (on our audio systems at least). Wholeheartedly recommended.

Stream on Spotify or buy from Presto Classical.

View the other works in our collection.

Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 – No. 16 in our collection

Johannes Brahms (07.05.1833 – 03.04.1897) was a German composer and pianist and is considered to be one of the leading composers in the romantic period. He was born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, though he spent most of his career in Vienna, Austria. His most popular works include four symphonies, the Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80, two piano concertos, Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 and his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77.

Brahms’ Violin Concerto was written for Joseph Joachim, the greatest violin player of the time. Brahms entered into detailed correspondence with Joachim over the solo violin part seeking his advice (and often ignoring it!) on all technical issues. The work was premiered in Leipzig on New Year’s Day 1879. It is written in three, separate movements with no link between the slow movement and the finale. The work bears some similarities to Brahms second symphony in terms of its musical language. The slow movement is wonderfully lyrical and also allows the spotlight to fall on the principle oboist. The final movement exhibits a lighter note with a flavour of Hungarian gypsy music.

There are well over three hundred recordings of this work currently available! We have opted for a majestically played version by the Russian-born, Belgian violinist Vadim Repin, once described by Yehudi Menuhin as ‘simply the best and most perfect violinist that I have ever had the chance to hear’.

Vadim Repin plays this concerto with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig conducted by Riccardo Chailly, who is highly acclaimed for performances of the orchestral works of Brahms. This is a reading full of drama and bold gestures. The first movement is also taken quite slowly and this emphasises the stately nature of Brahms music. In the second movement there is an excellent contribution from the oboist Henrik Wahlgren.

As a further bonus our recommended CD also contains an enjoyable account of Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin & Cello in A minor, Op. 102 for which the performers are joined by the talented Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk.

Stream on Spotify or buy from Presto Classical.

View the other works in our collection.

Daniel Barenboim – conductor & pianist

Daniel Barenboim was born on November 15, 1942 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since then he has enjoyed an extraordinarily successful career as a pianist and conductor and become an ambassador for the promotion of classical music and for peace in the Middle East.

10 must have recordings featuring the maestro

  1. Beethoven – Complete Piano Sonatas
    Daniel Barenboim (piano)
  2. Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 18 in B flat major, K456, etc.
    Daniel Barenboim (piano/conductor), Berliner Philharmoniker
  3. The Chopin Concertos
    Daniel Barenboim (piano), Staatskapelle Berlin, Andris Nelsons
  4. Martha Argerich & Daniel Barenboim: Piano Duos
  5. Liszt: Piano Concertos
    Daniel Barenboim (piano), Staatskapelle Berlin, Pierre Boulez
  6. Beethoven – Violin Sonatas Nos. 7 – 10 etc.
    Pinchas Zukerman (violin) & Daniel Barenboim (piano), with Jacqueline du Pré (cello)
  7. Elgar: Symphony No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 63
    Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim
  8. Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
    Siegfried Jerusalem (Tristan), Waltraud Meier (Isolde), Marjana Lipovsek (Brangaene), Matti Salminen (König Marke), Falk Struckmann (Kurwenal), Johan Botha (Melot), Peter Maus (Hirt), Roman Trekel (Steuerman), Uwe Heilmann (Stimme eines jungen Seemanns), Berlin State Opera Chorus, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim
  9. Bruckner: Complete Symphonies
    Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra & Male voices of the Rundfunkchor Berlin, Ernst-Senff-Chor, Daniel Barenboim
  10. Verdi: Requiem
    Anja Harteros (soprano), Elīna Garanča (mezzo), Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), René Pape (bass), Orchestra e coro del Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Daniel Barenboim

You can listen to our Best of Barenboim playlist on Spotify.


Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 – No.15 in our collection

Gustav Mahler (07.07.1860 – 18. 05. 1911) was an Austrian composer and conductor, noted chiefly for his 10 symphonies and various songs with orchestra, of which Das Lied von der Erde is perhaps the best loved. As a composer his work forms an important bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century.

Iván Fischer (born 20 January 1951) is a Hungarian conductor who found greatest with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which he co-founded with fellow Hungarian conductor Zoltán Kocsis back in 1983. This orchestra that was created out of dissatifaction with the “great” orchestras now, ironically, finds itself in the top ten orchestras according to Gramophone magazine.

Ivan Fischer and his Budapest musicians have recorded many of the Mahler symphonies to great acclaim and this recording of Symphony No. 4 is no exception. Overall this a very refined performance, with an exceptionally enjoyable third movement and some heavenly singing from the soprano Miah Persson in the finale. The sound quality captured by Channel Classics’ engineers is quite exceptional. A 5 star SACD (or hires download) without doubt.

Stream on Qobuz or buy from Presto Classical.

View the other works in our collection.