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GUY RAZ, host:

Classical music traveled down some unusual paths over the past 10 years and took some wild turns.

(Soundbite of song, "The Passion According to Saint Mark")

RAZ: Like this one. It's "The Passion According to Saint Mark," written by Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov, and it's just one of the classical recordings that my colleague Tom Huizenga has brought in, a collection of some of his picks from the past 10 years.

Hi, Tom.

TOM HUIZENGA: Hi, Guy.

RAZ: Tom is the classic music producer for npr.org, and even though, Tom, you are on the road in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the holidays, you've been kind enough to join us from member station WGVU.

So Tom, let me start with this piece that we're hearing. It doesn't exactly sound like a classical music to me.

HUIZENGA: Well, it doesn't sound like classical music, and yet it does, and I think that's really one of the exciting things that has happened in the last 10 years is that our ears have broadened, our tastes have broadened, and listening to music like this that doesn't sound traditionally classical is absolutely okay.

(Soundbite of song, "The Passion According to Saint Mark")

HUIZENGA: What we're hearing now is actually the crucifixion music to this passion according to St. Mark by Golijov, and if that's crucifixion music, I'd like to see what party music sounds like because that is some pretty wild music for a crucifixion.

RAZ: Why did this make your list of picks of the decade?

HUIZENGA: Well, for me, it's a breakthrough record for Osvaldo Golijov, who's now considered one of the most exciting, innovative, important composers working today.

Golijov is an Argentine Jew. He's writing a piece of Christian music, a passion, which is about the last few days of the life of Christ, but he uses tango, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian beats. I think that it represents the fact that classical music is not just a old, white, dead guy's territory.

RAZ: All right, Tom, so take us to our next piece of music that you've picked for us.

HUIZENGA: Well, you have to be ready to embrace the dark side here for the kind of haunted and introverted world of Dmitri Shostakovich.

(Soundbite of song, "String Quartet No. 13")

RAZ: And this is Shostakovich's "String Quartet No. 13," which is being performed here by the Emerson String Quartet. Why did you pick this one, Tom?

HUIZENGA: Well, I think I would tend to agree with the people that think that Dmitri Shostakovich's 15 string quartets are the most important set of quartets for strings after those of Beethoven, and these are played by the Emerson String Quartet, and not only is this fantastic playing, they understand all the power and the pain and the silence and the introspection in the music. But this set was the first major traversal of the entire quartets in several decades, and I think it has actually been a great influence on younger string quartet players because since this set came out in the year 2000, now, we have complete sets of all the 15 quartets by many younger players like the Sorrel Quartet, the St. Petersburg Quartet, the Rubios, the Brodskys. So I think it has further, kind of canonized, if you will, this incredible world of Shostakovich in these 15 quartets.

(Soundbite of song, "String Quartet No. 13")

RAZ: We're speaking with NPR classical music producer Tom Huizenga about his picks of some of the most significant classical music recordings over the past 10 years.

Well, Tom, next up, you've got the story of an opera singer whose life has had, I guess, as many dramatic ups and downs as any opera by Puccini.

HUIZENGA: That would be the Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon, and let's just listen to the very first cut on his major label debut CD from 2004, and this just proves that, you know, opera is not all about the high notes and the loud notes. This is just pure, plain, gorgeous singing.

(Soundbite of song, "E la solita storia")

Mr. ROLANDO VILLAZON (Opera Singer): (Singing) (Speaking foreign language).

RAZ: Tom, this is just a breathtaking piece of music.

HUIZENGA: At time that this record came out, the whole opera world was abuzz about that voice. And how could you not be thrilled with it? I mean, it's - I think of it as this fine-grained, chestnut-colored suede texture, slightly baritonal, incredible energy, and I think - and what you can hear, too, is that, you know, the voice had all the beauty, the intensity, the subtlety, the intelligence, to be a real successor to someone like Placido Domingo. It seems like ever since the three tenors, we're always wondering, you know, who's the next Domingo, who's the next Pavarotti? Well, this guy, I think, sounds a lot like the very young Domingo. I think we should just take - if we have a moment, just take a quick listen to what Domingo sounded like on one of his very first records in 1968.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PLACIDO DOMINGO (Opera Singer): (Singing) (Speaking foreign language).

HUIZENGA: Okay, and now for comparison, let's hear Rolando Villazon, the same music.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VILLAZON: (Singing) (Speaking foreign language).

RAZ: That's extraordinary. He has - he sort of has that same kind of chesty quality.

HUIZENGA: The similarity is uncanny, but unfortunately, the story takes a bad turn in 2007 for Rolando Villazon. It's hard to know exactly what he did, but we do know that he sang too much, too often, too many places. This is a classic case of burnout, maybe. He took a five-month rest in 2007. He came back in 2008 with a very slimmed-down schedule but then ran into trouble again. And now, if you go to his Web site, he has a message on there that says that, you know, he's making yet another comeback in March of 2010, and we can only hope that he really does make a full comeback at some point because, as you can hear, the voice is very exciting.

RAZ: Yeah, what a shame if he weren't able to recover that.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VILLAZON: (Singing) (Speaking foreign language).

(Soundbite of song, "Symphony No. 5")

RAZ: Tom, our next piece needs no introduction. We are moving on, I guess, to Beethoven.

HUIZENGA: This is Beethoven's fifth symphony but not exactly just any fifth symphony. This is a record from 2006, and, you know, I almost feel guilty jumping on the Gustavo Dudamel bandwagon, the conductor of this...

RAZ: Well-deserved, well-deserved bandwagon.

HUIZENGA: I agree, but it is one of the more fascinating stories of classical music in the last 10 years that this young conductor, at this time, in 2006 when he made this recording, he was all of 25 years old, and little did he know that in a year's time, he would be named the next music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

RAZ: One of the premier philharmonics in the world.

HUIZENGA: He is a fantastic conductor, and I think the main part of the story is where he comes from, and he comes from this system that they have set up in Venezuela called El Systema, which is a state-run system of youth orchestras, populated by kids from all walks of life, many of them from dangerous barrios, underprivileged backgrounds, and Dudamel himself came up through that system as a very young conductor, and this recording features him conducting the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, that very primo orchestra from that system, and these young kids really know how to play.

RAZ: And Tom, before we let you go, can you - can you play us out with something else from this record?

HUIZENGA: Oh, absolutely. You know what would be great to go out on is Beethoven's seventh symphony, which is the companion piece on this disc, and the finale just burns right off the grooves. It's a really exciting performance with Gustavo Dudamel and this young symphony orchestra from Venezuela.

RAZ: One of Tom Huizenga's picks of the most significant classical music recordings of the past decade. Tom is our classical music producer here at npr.org. You can find a list of his picks of the decade at npr.org/music.

Tom, thanks so much, and happy New Year.

HUIZENGA: Thank you. Happy New Year, Guy.

(Soundbite of song, "Symphony No. 7")

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