Music

A “Louder than Bombs” Playlist

September 28, 2020
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Ed Vulliamy’s memoir Louder than Bombs: A Life with War, Music, and Peace, tells the stories of the artists, songs, and concerts that influenced him most. In his career as a journalist and war correspondent, Vulliamy has traveled the globe, bearing witness to many of the most important political and musical moments of the past fifty years. This playlist plays tribute to just a few of the many songs mentioned in Louder than Bombs. It follows some of Vulliamy’s favorite musical memories: Buying blues records in Chicago, working as an extra in the Vienna State Opera’s production of Aida, drinking coffee with Joan Baez, listening to Jimi Hendrix playing “Machine Gun” at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, and seeing B. B. King perform live in his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi in 2013. Listen below or at Spotify Read an excerpt from Literary Hub: Everybody’s Here for Mr. B.B. King in Indianola, Mississippi: Ed Vulliamy Feels the Love for the King of the Blues Ed Vulliamy is a former reporter for the Guardian and Observer. He is the author of Amexica: War Along the Borderline and The War is Dead, Long Live the War—Bosnia: The Reckoning. Louder than Bombs is available now from our website or your . . .

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Remembering Cosmas Magaya (1953–2020)

July 15, 2020
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The Press was sad to learn of the passing of Chicago author and master musician Cosmas Magaya this week of COVID-19. Below, ethnomusicologist Paul F. Berliner offers a remembrance of his coauthor, longtime collaborator, and friend. On July 10th, 2020, coronavirus took the life of one of the world’s great musicians, mentors, and cultural ambassadors, Zimbabwean mbira master Cosmas Magaya. In North America, Europe, and Africa where he performed, he was universally loved by his following not only for his inspired virtuosity and expressivity, but for his generosity of spirit. A virtuoso from an early age, Cosmas was a key player in the renowned mbira ensemble, Mhuri yekwaRwizi, led by singer Hakurotwi Mude. He performed both for Shona religious ceremonies and for the concert stage. Initially sponsored to the USA by the Kutsinhira Cultural Arts Center (Eugene, OR) in the 1990s, Cosmas subsequently traveled widely and regularly to perform and teach. Countless students and musicians had the privilege of learning from him in university classrooms, at mbira camps and workshops, and in private lessons. His talents were first showcased internationally in the 1970s on the recordings The Soul of Mbira and Shona Mbira Music, and subsequently, on the independently produced . . .

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A Political Playlist Just in Time for the Presidential Primaries

February 2, 2020
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We know that many of you will be turning your attention to the Iowa Caucus on February 3rd as the 2020 Presidental Primaries get underway. And if you’re like us, you’re going to need a distraction from the stress and uncertainty of it all–and we have just the ticket! Peter La Chapelle, author of I’d Fight the World: A Political History of Old-Time, Hillbilly, and Country Music, has put together the ultimate playlist, which captures the deep bonds between country music and American politics since the very beginning. Long before the United States had presidents from the world of movies and reality TV, we had scores of politicians with connections to country music from the nineteenth-century rise of fiddler-politicians to more recent figures like Pappy O’Daniel, Roy Acuff, and Rob Quist. These performers and politicians both rode and resisted cultural waves: some advocated for the poor and dispossessed, and others voiced religious and racial anger, but they all walked the line between exploiting their celebrity and righteously taking on the world. While putting together this playlist, Peter has tried to use songs by the original artists themselves, but in cases where those weren’t available, he first tried to find a . . .

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A Celebration of the Work of the Music Critic Andrew Patner

July 12, 2019
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A Celebration of the Work of the Music Critic Andrew Patner

In early May, Chicago’s classical music lovers gathered to celebrate the late music critic Andrew Patner, whose collection of writings, A Portrait in Four Movements was recently published by the University of Chicago Press. To celebrate the book, the book’s contributors organized a panel discussion at the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago. Andrew Patner was a Chicago-based journalist, broadcaster, critic, and interviewer. He was a celebrated classical music critic, contributing to the Chicago Sun-Times from 1991 until his death, at age 55, in 2015. On his weekly radio programs on WFMT, “Critical Thinking” and “Critic’s Choice,” Patner interviewed both renowned and up-and-coming conductors and composers. In his career as critic, Patner was able to trace the arc of the CSO’s changing repertories, all while cultivating a deep rapport with its four principal conductors. This discussion of Patner’s life and work featured the book’s three contributors, New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, attorney and Symphony trustee John R. Schmidt, and musicologist Douglas W. Shadle. Maestro Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, also joined the discussion. The panelists shared memories of Patner, who was both an insightful music critic and a devoted friend. Speaking at the event, Ross, the . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound”

May 23, 2019
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Philosopher and musician David Rothenberg is an expert in interspecies music. He has a long history of making live music with the sounds of nature, including birds, whales, and bugs. Now, with a new book and CD, Rothenberg turns his attention to the elusive figure of the nightingale. Rather than try to capture a sound not made for humans to understand, Rothenberg seeks these musical creatures out, clarinet in tow, and makes a new sound with them. He takes us to the urban landscape of Berlin—longtime home to nightingale colonies where the birds sing ever louder in order to be heard—and invites us to listen in on their remarkable collaboration as birds and instruments riff off of each other’s sounds. Rothenberg has released two albums that chronicle his music-making with the nightingales. Listen along while you read for the ultimate moment of zen. Are you surprised there are nightingales in Berlin? They have flown thousands of miles to get here, up from Africa and over the sea like refugees of the air. They sing from wells of silence, their voices piercing the urban noise. Each has his chosen perch to come back to each year. We know they will return, . . .

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Philip Gossett (1941–2017)

June 19, 2017
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Philip Gossett (1941–2017)

                  The world of music and opera lost one of its great champions last week with the death of Philip Gossett. It would be hard to overstate Gossett’s contribution to our understanding and experience of opera, particularly of the works of Verdi and Rossini. As the New York Times noted in their obituary, Gossett “was a pioneer in the creation of scholarly critical editions of opera scores,” and he used the knowledge he gleaned from archives and manuscripts not merely in the scholarly world, but also in the realm of performance, working with opera companies, conductors, and singers to bring the most accurate and authentic versions of both familiar and long-forgotten works to audiences around the world. In the Times, Ricardo Muti called Gossett “a blessing for the conductors that wanted, really, to bring back a certain dignity to the scores, to bring back the original ideas of the composers.” In recognition of his service to Italian opera, the Italian government awarded him the Cavaliere di Gran Croce, their highest civilian honor. At the University of Chicago, Gossett served as the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor of Music and also as Dean of  Humanities. The . . .

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Beethoven for a Later Age at the FT

February 17, 2017
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Beethoven for a Later Age at the FT

From Richard Fairman’s review of Beethoven for a Later Age at the Financial Times: The book follows personal journey, while simultaneously threading through the parallel stories of Beethoven’s development as a composer, of the string quartet in general, and of early 19th-century culture and politics. Does all that seem a tall order? The narrative is potentially as complex as one of Beethoven’s knotty four-part fugues in the late quartets, but 20 years’ experience of playing chamber music has made Dusinberre adept at handling the interplay of multiple themes. Self-awareness and a sense of humor play their part. Sleight of hand makes the book entertaining and easy to digest. Back in 1993, the invitation to join the august Takács Quartet was not extended lightly. “This is not a job,” warned one of the other three. “It’s your family, your life.” Periods of months away on international concert tours mean that any kind of settled social life has to be forgotten. From day one, the diary involved criss-crossing continents in a dirty white Ford Granada alternating with long hours of rehearsal sessions, day and night in the company of the same three colleagues. Every string quartet sets out with the intrinsically contradictory aim . . .

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August excerpt: Beethoven for a Later Age

August 10, 2016
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August excerpt: Beethoven for a Later Age

“Opus 18, no. 1: Beethoven’s Painful Secret”* From his earliest days in Vienna Beethoven associated some of his compositions with friendship—a means by which to repair a disagreement or cement a relationship threatened by separation. One year after his arrival in Vienna, the twenty-three-year-old composer wrote to Eleonore von Breuning, his piano student and close childhood friend in Bonn. Beethoven blamed himself for a quarrel between them and hoped he could make amends by dedicating a short piano piece to her. In a lighter vein Beethoven composed his duet for viola and cello, ‘With Two Eyeglasses Obbligato,’ to play with his friend, the amateur Viennese cellist Nikolaus Zsemskall—both men were short-sighted. In the second half of 1798, the Bohemian Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian von Lobkowitz—himself a competent singer, violinist and cellist—commissioned both the aging Haydn and his talented student to write six string quartets. Haydn would compose only the two Opus 77s and the unfinished Opus 103, hindered by other obligations and failing health. Towards the end of 1798 Beethoven began work on what would become his six Opus 18 quartets, and had probably finished them by 18 October 1800, when he received the second installment of a fee totaling . . .

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Blowin’ Up at Pop Matters

July 22, 2016
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Blowin’ Up at Pop Matters

  From a recent review of Jooyoung Lee’s Blowin’ Up: Rap Dreams in South Central, at Pop Matters: One of the many powers of hip-hop, of course, is the intimacy it offers. Spend enough time listening to a certain rapper, and you begin to feel like you know that person as well as you do your own friends. Chuck D’s famous pronouncement that hip-hop is “CNN for black people”, pointed though it is, seems to miss part of the story. Hip-hop is CNN for white people, too, if you acknowledge the media’s systematic neglect of America’s black population. Through hip-hop, rappers are telling the stories that many journalists, and their publications, couldn’t be bothered to cover. As a white hip-hop fan, there’s a seductive tendency to congratulate one’s self for gaining cultural competencies in African American culture, as if memorizing Tupac lyrics and attending Wu-Tang concerts confers a master’s degree in black studies. But the truth is that even in its rawest, most detailed form, hip-hop gives only what is at best a keyhole-sized view of the African American experience. Jooyoung Lee’s Blowin’ Up: Rap Dreams in South Central represents a jump through the keyhole into the world of hip-hop as it is . . .

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Free e-book for April: Pilgrimage to Dollywood

April 6, 2016
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Free e-book for April: Pilgrimage to Dollywood

Download your copy of our free e-book for April, Pilgrimage to Dollywood: A Country Music Road Trip through Tennessee by Helen Morales, here. *** A star par excellence, Dolly Parton is one of country music’s most likable personalities. Even a hard-rocking punk or orchestral aesthete can’t help cracking a smile or singing along with songs like “Jolene” and “9 to 5.” More than a mere singer or actress, Parton is a true cultural phenomenon, immediately recognizable and beloved for her talent, tinkling laugh, and steel magnolia spirit. She is also the only female star to have her own themed amusement park: Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Every year thousands of fans flock to Dollywood to celebrate the icon, and Helen Morales is one of those fans. In Pilgrimage to Dollywood, Morales sets out to discover Parton’s Tennessee. Her travels begin at the top celebrity pilgrimage site of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, then take her to Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills; the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville; to Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; and finally to Pigeon Forge, home of the “Dolly Homecoming Parade,” featuring the star herself as grand marshall. Morales’s . . .

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