Can you believe it that summer is already here? This is the final episode of Season 5 and I have 4 recently released albums you need to listen to wherever the summer takes you!



John Banther: I'm John Banther. Welcome to Classical Breakdown. It is the last episode of season five before we take a much needed summer break. We hit 100 episodes this season and we're already now on episode 112, which is hard to believe. I want to thank everyone for listening, writing in, rating us five stars, and sharing the podcast. You really helped grow the show, thank you. And a big thanks as well to my steady co- host, Evan Keely and also Linda Carducci, Charles Lawson and James Jacobs from WETA Classical who joined this season as well.

Some of my favorite episodes from this past season would be number 93 on The Pines of Rome by Respighi, a piece that I thought I knew quite well. Also, number 104, The Secret Life of a Classical Recording Engineer, that was with Charles Lawson. Very illuminating. I highly recommend that if you're interested in anything really kind of behind the scenes with recording. And also number 106, The Evolution of the Piano. Linda Carducci and I had a lot of fun traveling through time to see all the surprising developments, and also of course, we get to hear a piano fall off of a building.

But this is also one of my favorite episodes to do when I get to share new and exciting recordings to listen to over the summer. I'm going to put links and details on where to get these and hear these on the show notes page at classicalbreakdown. org. We have four to get through, so let's just jump right in with our first. The first album is titled Home and it features the Miro Quartet and music by Kevin Puts, Caroline Shaw, George Walker, Samuel Barber, and Harold Arlen.

Of this theme, Miro Quartet wrote, " This album is the combination of a long and creative process of discovery, exploring our relationships with living composers as well as exploring and recording the existing core repertoire of American string quartet music. It has been an exciting musical journey that ultimately has brought us home as musicians in a new and special way. To us, home represents stability and safety, yet human life is a journey of constant change, acquisition and loss. We travel away from our origins and hopefully onwards towards our goals, our vision of true home. And as much as needing and having a home is a universal experience, leaving a home and starting life's journey out on one's own is also a pivotal moment of growth for every one of us."

Dedicated to the Miro Quartet, the first work, Home by Kevin Puts seems to embody all of these traits from the beginning. Large droning intervals that sound like a comforting and familiar place that we've known all along. Composed in 2019, Puts said it was prompted by the refugee crisis in Europe, which began years earlier, writing, " The refugee crisis in Europe documented in recent media by horrific stories and photos of displaced families led me to compose Home." It picks up in the second movement called Faster, which shifts from comforting drones to uncertainty and anxiety. The final movement, Dangerously Fast, embodies similar themes, but works its way back to those wide opening droning intervals, those comforting, familiar droning intervals of the beginning.

And after this, they include the familiar second movement from George Walker's first string quartet, composed in 1946. It's also known as Lyric for Strings in its string orchestra arrangement, and it was actually inspired by a very certain slow movement for strings by Samuel Barber. This is just a short respite before the next work, which is by Caroline Shaw called Microfictions Volume 1 and it was premiered in 2021. She wrote that, " This is a set of six short musical stories in the tradition of images, poetry, and surrealist painting, inspired in part by the work of Joan Miro and the short science fiction of T. R. Darling."


Speaker 2: Waking up on the early side that Tuesday, Miro noticed a bird repeating its solitary caption. The clouds nodded to the tempo of an undiscovered Mendelssohn song.


John Banther: In this work, Shaw reads the text of each microfiction at the beginning of each piece, and much like poetry, repeated listening and coming back to it at a later time only makes it better as you hear things and interpret things a little bit differently. My favorites are two, five and six, and if you have a favorite, please let me know. Except for piece number three and a half, it can't be that one. I won't explain why. And if you like this, that's great because she has plenty of other quartets for you to enjoy as well.

Another string quartet by an American composer, they have Samuel Barber's String Quartet in B minor. You know part of this quartet because the second movement is that now famous Adagio for Strings, which we often hear played by a string orchestra. This work was actually premiered in Washington at the Library of Congress in 1943, and this performance with the original quartet version of the adagio I think really ties the album together. It's just unfortunate that this is the only string quartet by Barber. He was commissioned for a second, but made very little progress. And the album ends with an arrangement of Harold Arlen's Over the Rainbow. Just when you think, " I don't need to hear another arrangement or version of this piece," well we kind of do. It is really wonderful. I enjoyed this album. It's really balanced with the inclusion of that last tune, the adagio by Barber, Walker's adagio, which was inspired by Barber, alongside newer works by Kevin Puts and Caroline Shaw.

Well, since we just learned all about the cello in the last episode, I figured we are primed for an album of difficult cello concertos. This features the young Dutch cellist, Laura van der Heijden, who has been on many recordings in ensembles and as a soloist, and I think you are going to love her sound. On it, we have cello concertos by composers, Frank Bridge and William Walton, and in between, a new concerto by Cheryl Frances- Hoad. So we are going from all composers from the United States to England.

The first concerto is Oration by English composer Frank Bridge. It is a deeply anti- war work composed in 1930 between World War I and World War II. He told the soloist Florence Hooten that it was a protest against the war when it was finally premiered in 1936. Originally, it was titled Concerto Elegiaco, but he changed it later to Oration to make his anti- war sentiments clearer. And nearly 100 years later, and of course more wars, its significance only continues. It's comprised of eight sections that mostly flow into each other and the moods are always on edge, ready to shift at a moment. It's like wherever you find yourself standing in the music, you know it is only temporary. There is an anxiety, there is an unease being portrayed here, in my view.

Frank Bridge died over 80 years ago now in 1941, but his legacy lives on in his music and also his students like Benjamin Britten. Van der Heijden playing is fantastic through all of the concertos, her playing really speaks for itself. But one thing that really drew me to her is her sound so rich, so resonant, especially down in that low register you feel there's a whole world of sound and color going on, and she's really left no stone unturned when it comes to phrasing, direction and keeping the line alive. It's just all here.

The second work is the Concerto by Cheryl Francis Hode called Earth, Sea, Air, and I can simply read what she wrote about it. " My cello concerto is a 20- minute work in three movements played without a break, cellist Laura van der Heijden and I had many discussions about the piece before I began composing it, and it was her idea that the concerto be related in some way to the environment. The work ended up taking inspiration from three disparate aspects of the natural world, the imaginary flight of a swift, phytoplankton, algae in the ocean, and volcanoes. Phytoplankton blooms are already responsible for a large percentage of the world's carbon absorption. These accumulations of microscopic oceanic plants can cover hundreds of square kilometers and their beautiful green, blue and white swirls can be seen from space. They feed off sunlight and carbon dioxide as they expand and take carbon with them when they die and sink to be stored safely on the ocean floor. This incredible natural process inspired the second movement of my concerto, where thinking about how orchestral harmonies might grow, change and fall, providing the main musical material.

" The Oxford University Natural History Museum has a nesting site for European swifts in its tower, and this colony has been the subject of a research study since May, 1947, making it one of the longest continuous studies of a single bird species in the world. I became fascinated by this awe- inspiring bird. Once fledged, it spends the vast majority of its life on the wing, only stopping to breed. Swifts even sleep on the wing, supposedly closing one eye and half of their brain at a time. In my concerto, I think of Laura/ the cello as a swift flying over land, water and through the air.

" The final extra musical spur for this work came from Earth on Fire, a beautiful coffee table book about how volcanoes shape our planet by photographer Bernhard Edmaier. Vibrant, violent photographs of both active and extinct volcanoes joined the images of tenacious swifts and blooming phytoplankton in my mind and my concerto gradually took shape, taking an entirely unrealistic, highly anthropomorphized journey of a swift around the globe as its inspiration. The effect that volcanoes have on gravity influenced how the harmony pulls and circles in the first movement.

" At the central point of my second movement, I imagined a swift circling cathedral- like cooled lava basalt pillars in slow motion. Listen for a repeated cord with vibraphone and tubular bell. The work ends with my cello/ swift being joined by the entire flock as the Oxford swift colony again returns to roost. Of course, none of this need matter when listening, my concerto was also inspired by Laura's wonderful playing, her character and desire to write a piece that is rewarding to play and listen to."

I think that says just about everything and it is always great to hear about the music from the composers themselves, and I'm going to put a link to more of her description on the show notes page. But like she says, to enjoy the music, you don't actually need to know this, and I can attest to that because I don't read basically about any of this stuff before I listen to it.

The third and final concerto is by William Walton, composed in 1957, and it also feels, in a way, the most traditional with its three individual movements and non- programmatic writing. A theme in variations comprises the finale, which is slow. It opens slow with an ethereal sound that lasts a couple of minutes. Ending with a mostly slow movement also contributes to the concerto's introspective qualities, and when you think the music might take off, there is an extended cello cadenza before it launches into a kind of frenzy, but just as things are moving, the cadenza returns. So with all of this, the moods and feelings are shifting all around Laura van der Heijden, as themes from the first movement return. This is quite an album and she has appeared on several others as well, so there is a lot more to check out from this cellist. We'll get into the third recommendation right after this.

The third album is titled Abendrot, and features violinist, Jiska Lambrecht and pianist, Marco Sanna, and an album that really tells a story with a couple of very familiar composers. Abendrot, the album's title, is German for that reddish after glow in the evening in the sky when the sun has set, and the color scheme of the album cover also matches it too, which is a nice touch. And the album, it has a story to tell with the composers Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Lodewijk Mortelmans.

And I want to read you what was included from the record label, Etcetera Records. It's four paragraphs and each one has a heading. The first is Dusseldorf, 1851 to 1853. " These are turbulent times for Robert Schumann. After an initially warm welcome in Dusseldorf, his appointment as music director turns out to be a fiasco. He's supposed to conduct a choir and an orchestra, a task for which he is not really cut out. He seeks consolation in composing and translates his stormy life into music. His wife, Clara is a living legend, a famous concert pianist, composer, teacher, devoted spouse, and mother of seven children.

" A concert brings 22- year- old violinist Joseph Joachim to Dusseldorf. His incredible performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto and his sympathetic personality ensure that he becomes a friend at home with the Schumann family. Clara grasps every chance to make music with him. She considers him the greatest musical personality of his generation. He is also an important source of inspiration. As a Christmas gift, Clara composes Three Romances for Violin and Piano for him." So within that, we heard a little bit of the first work, Robert Schumann's Second Violin Sonata, which he composed in 1851, and then a little bit at the end there of that inspiration, the first romance that Clara wrote for him as a Christmas gift.

" Continuing from the description, the second paragraph, The Young Eagle from the North, " On the 1st of October, 1853, a 20- year- old young man stands shyly at the door of Robert and Clara Schumann. Three years before, Robert had sent back a package with his compositions unopened. This time he carries a letter of recommendation by Joseph Joachim. 'Maybe the master would be so kind to listen this time.' That night, Schumann writes prophetic words in his diary, 'Brahms visiting, a genius.' Promptly, he writes a passionate article about the new composer in his journal, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, the title reads Neue Bahnen, or New Paths. Influential in European music life, he thus paves the way for Brahms, whose music is published for the very first time that year."

This work in belief of Clara and Robert in Johannes Brahms was pivotal in his career and we've heard that sentiment several times before, but it's something else to have it presented in this kind of musical context. I'm going to skip over the next two paragraphs which go further into the relationship of the three, but I'm going to include that on the show notes page at classicalbreakdown. org. And with this, we hear a great performance of the Third Violin Sonata by Johannes Brahms, which is in the key of D minor, the very same key of the sonata we started the album with by Robert Schumann. So when you listen to this entire thing in full, there is a kind of cohesion, a full circle feeling when you get to this point. But now with Brahms, the torch has been passed two decades after his death.

But the album does not end there. There is one last little bit from the liner notes. It reads, " Reverberation. After Brahms' death, his music continued to inspire new generations. Lodewijk Mortelmans, also known as the Flemish Brahms composed his Romanza for violin and piano in 1935, a hidden pearl from Flanders." This is a great finish to the album and it also makes me think of the album's title, Abendrot, that reddish glow in the evening when the sun has set. Maybe it's within this reddish glow that we are reflecting back on the memories of that day or, here, a long span of music history as we're in the afterglow of Robert, Clara and Johannes.

The final album is great for the summer. It's an album of orchestral works by Margaret Brouwer with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop conducting, and the title on the cover is Rhapsodies. There are five works here by Brouwer, all but one is programmatic, and they bring to life some of the images you might be walking into this summer. The first is The Art of Sailing at Dawn, here's what she wrote. " Imagine preparing to board a sailboat at dawn. The water is completely calm. There is hardly a sound except the occasional early morning bird call and sound of a ripple breaking on the shore. Leaving the dock, you are barely moving on the calm water, but as the sun rises above the horizon, a little breeze picks up and the boat begins to move more steadily. As the day arrives, the breeze becomes a steady wind and occasional big waves smash into the boat before everything is calm again. The technical requirements and knowledge it takes to sail a big boat are exhilarating, but are outweighed by the feeling of the peace and the emotional response of the beauty and power of the water and open space."

The title alone, The Art of Sailing at Dawn, really tells you everything you need to know. But as you hear, it isn't a simple depiction of wind and water. In fact, one of the biggest sailing and water- esque feelings in the music, in my opinion, comes right at the end when the piece concludes rather unexpectedly and it sounds like a ship fading into the distance. Also on here is her symphony number one, Lake Voices, also inspired by the water. Another one is Path at Sunrise, Masses of Flowers, which in one movement depicts a path in the quiet early morning at sunrise and masses of flowers, but also mixed personal emotions from sadness to gratitude, as she mentioned in her program notes.

Her Concerto for Orchestra is here as well, which is the one non- programmatic piece. And the last work is really interesting too. It's called Pluto, and it may have been very briefly referenced years ago in our Gustav Holst, The Planets episode, and our program notes explain how this came about. " Pluto was not discovered until 1930 after Gustav Holst had completed his work, The Planets. In 1996, I was commissioned by the Roanoke Symphony and conductor David Wiley to write Pluto as a sequel to The Planets. Then in 2006, the status of Pluto changed again. It was determined that it was not a planet after all and is now called a dwarf planet. The astrological Pluto is about power, intense needs, destruction, recreation by violent means if necessary. Like the astrological sign, Pluto, Roman God of the underworld was aggressive, passionate, violent, intense, favoring war and extremes, inexorable but just.

" When I was composing Pluto, images filled my mind of an intense being, inexorable, violent, intense, powerful and destructive but anguished. Sometimes Pluto's orbit around the sun causes it to come closer to the sun than Neptune. A middle section in the music changes mood completely, suggesting the time in Pluto's orbit when it comes close to the restoring warmth of the sun, to the song of the sun spirit, to the astrological Pluto's need for recreation. Then as orbit continues, the darkness and despair gradually close in again and the earlier music returns."

Her program notes really tell the whole story, and I kind of find it hilariously divine that Pluto was not a planet when Holst wrote it. Later, composers then write a Pluto movement because well, why not? And then Pluto is then downgraded to a dwarf planet. But it's always going to be a big planet in my heart. This and all of the other programmatic works on the album, they work so well I think because she's never looking at something from just one angle or vantage point musically or emotionally.

Okay, so those are four albums I'm recommending you listen to this summer. American string quartets, the cello and the voice of English composers, a story of Robert and Clara and Brahms told through music, and different musical depictions of some places you might find yourself this summer. You can go to the show notes page at classicalbreakdown. org to find where you can listen and purchase these albums. Then after listening to them, feel free to send me an email with your thoughts and experiences at classicalbreakdown@ weta. org. I hope you enjoy your summer and catch up on any episodes you missed this past year. Don't forget to leave a review in your podcast app, subscribe, and I'll see you for season six in September. I'm John Banther. Thanks for listening to Classical Breakdown from WETA Classical.