Tom Huizenga

Interested in Steve Jobs, Georgia O'Keefe or Alice in Wonderland? They are all explored in new music in the upcoming American concert season.

Many stylistic winds blow through the repertoire of The Westerlies. The unconventional brass quartet from New York (Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler, trumpets; Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch, trombones) embraces jazz, classical, new music and dance — and in this case, puts a new spin on an old British ballad.

"They killed my mother in the doorway." How's that for an opening line?

We're talking opera — specifically, the aria "La mamma morta" from Umberto Giordano's 1896 French Revolution thriller Andrea Chénier. The soprano is Anna Netrebko.

Let The Games Begin: A Playlist For Rio

Aug 5, 2016

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach is essential, like air and water, for many classical musicians. Pianist András Schiff starts every day with Bach — sometimes before breakfast. "It's like taking care of your inner hygiene. There's something very pure about it," he says.

Slowly but surely, Lubomyr Melnyk is getting noticed. This summer, the enigmatic Ukrainian-born pianist, who looks like Rasputin's doppelgänger, released illirion on Sony Classical.

From its mesmerizing ebb and flow and the purity of the choristers' blend alone, you'd be forgiven for thinking this might be one of Henryk Górecki's many sacred choral works. There's a palpable air of serenity and reflection. But instead, it's a song about a little pony and a blue-eyed girl.

For this most American of holidays, how do we define our music? What makes it uniquely American?

In 1929 George Gershwin wrote that it's "something deeply rooted in our soil." Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop said, "It's highly energized, rhythmic music derived from the blurring of lines between popular and serious styles."

The practice of lulling a child to sleep through music must be about the oldest tradition imaginable. All parents have wanted their children to sleep at some point, if only to have a little peace and quiet — and to plot strategies for getting their own shuteye.

Pianist Alessio Bax knows all about sleep — and lack thereof. He's a first-time parent, and his 22-month-old daughter Mila is, like any child that age, a handful, not to mention impossibly cute.

In 1970, a young business school grad — and failed opera singer — named David Gockley landed a job as business manager of the Houston Grand Opera. After two years, at age 27, he moved up to general director.

Over the next 30 years, Gockley transformed the company into a hothouse for new and revived American opera. During his tenure in Houston, Gockley presented 35 world premieres, including John Adams' Nixon in China, Stewart Wallace's Harvey Milk, Leonard Bernstein's A Quiet Place, Mark Adamo's Little Women and three operas by Carlisle Floyd.

Barry Douglas knows a few things about handing down traditions. In this Tiny Desk performance, he passes along the musical heritage of his Irish homeland in the form of old Celtic songs he's arranged for solo piano.

When the New York City Opera (NYCO) announced its final performances and imminent bankruptcy in September 2013, opera lovers, not just in Manhattan, were shocked.

The Estonians are serious about singing. The power of human voices practically propelled the small Baltic country to independence during the Soviet era. In the late 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Estonians routinely gathered to perform forbidden patriotic songs. The events energized the nation, leading to what was called the "Singing Revolution."

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

When critics talk about Yuja Wang, they continue to reach for superlatives.

Violinist Lara St. John has attitude in spades. It's in the sound of her playing and in the arc of her career.

The Chicago new-music ensemble Eighth Blackbird is on a roll. Just after winning its fourth Grammy in February, the group received a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions; the prize came with a $400,000 grant. Hand Eye — Eighth Blackbird's second album in seven months — just came out, and this season the group marks its 20th anniversary. The celebration includes an extensive tour, with world premieres of music by Bryce Dessner and David T.

Late in 1968, it was astounding to me how one of the best-loved bands could create one of the least-liked songs. It was "Revolution 9," near the end of The Beatles' sprawling White Album.

But then, I was only 7 years old and, frankly, those eight minutes of chaotic sounds and mumbled words were positively frightening. And who was that guy who kept intoning "number nine?"

One hundred years ago, a musician was born who took the world by storm, both with his violin and with his warmhearted humanity. Yehudi Menuhin was born April 22, 1916, in the Bronx to Russian immigrants. He began his career as an astounding child prodigy in velvet knee pants. But two men who knew him well — documentary filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon and violinist Daniel Hope — maintain that as Menuhin grew older, he turned out to be far more than just another virtuoso.

The Seventh Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich is combat reporting from one of the most devastating events in modern times.

On June 22, 1941, Hitler's army invaded the Soviet Union. By late August the city of Leningrad was surrounded in a siege that would last almost 900 grueling days.

With his long beard, homemade horned helmet, flowing cloak and spear, he was known as the Viking of Sixth Avenue. He was born Louis Thomas Hardin in Marysville, Kan. in 1916 and later called himself Moondog. At 16, he was blinded while fiddling with a blasting cap.

Prolific and multifaceted British composer and conductor Peter Maxwell Davies died Monday at age 81 at his home in the Orkney Islands, off the northern coast of Scotland. His death, from leukemia, was reported on the websites of both his publisher and his management company.

The harpsichord was eclipsed first by the fortepiano in the 18th century and eventually by the modern grand, but that doesn't mean the instrument is out of sight or out of mind.

You might call it old wine in new bottles, but what sweet, masterfully crafted wine it is. Upheld by Stillness, the debut album by the young and vibrant British a cappella choir ORA, presents a contemporary twist on a 16th-century classic.

Hungarian conductor Iván Fischer has strong opinions about his homeland, from its music to its politics.

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