As 2009 draws to a close, it seems you can't click on a blog, listen to an NPR program or read a newspaper without tripping over an end-of-decade list or discussion. So get ready for one more.
The past 10 years have been filled with tumultuous changes in classical music: how we make it, how we distribute it, where we find it, how we buy it, if we buy it, and how we talk about it with each other. Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz speaks with NPR Music's classical producer, Tom Huizenga, who picks a few of the many noteworthy recordings of the past decade.
La Pasión según San Marcos (The Passion according to St. Mark), for chorus & orchestra [Lúa descolorida]
The Passion According to St. Mark - Crucifixion and "Lua descolorida"
- from Osvaldo Golijov: La Pasión Según San Marcos
- by Maria Guinand
This breakthrough recording (released in 2001) put Osvaldo Golijov on the map. Today, he's widely recognized as one of the most important living composers. The Passion According to St. Mark is by turns a classical Passion (following in the footsteps of Bach) and cross-cultural fiesta, incorporating traditional Western choral singing with Afro-Cuban beats, tango and Brazilian capoeira. This piece turns the traditional Passion on its head and gives it a spin or two. It's a brilliant reminder that classical music isn't a dead-white-guys-only world.
String Quartet No. 13 in B flat minor, Op. 138
String Quartet No. 13 (excerpt)
- from Shostakovich: The String Quartets [Box Set]
- by Emerson String Quartet
Dmitri Shostakovich's 15 String Quartets are arguably the largest and most important set of quartets since Beethoven's. The players in the Emerson String Quartet understand the music's power, pain, silences and deep introspection. This 5-CD set was the first major traversal of the complete quartets in several decades, and it sparked a renewed interest (especially among young string quartets) in the set as a whole.
L'Arlesiana, opera [Act III. Lamento. È la solita storia]
"E la solita storia" (from L'Arlesiana by Cilea)
- from Italian Opera Arias
- by Rolando Villazón
The Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon's first major release gave us legitimate hope for a successor to the great Placido Domingo. At the time this record came out, the opera world was all abuzz about Villazon's voice. And how could you not be thrilled by it, with its chestnut-colored suede texture? Slightly baritonal, with incredible energy. You can set the needle down (as we used to say) almost anywhere on this disc and hear something exciting and beautiful. Villazon's story took a sad turn in 2007, however, as he essentially sang too much, too often. He's not performed much since, but, according to his Web site, he's readying himself for another comeback in March 2010.
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 [4. Allegro con brio]
Symphony No. 7 (Allegro con brio)
- from Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7
- by Gustavo Dudamel
At the time conductor Gustavo Dudamel made this recording with his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, very few people had heard much about him. The year was 2006, and Dudamel was all of 25. Little did he know, but in a year's time, he would be named the next music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, catapulting him to rock-star status. Dudamel officially took over the L.A. Phil this October. Today, he's been compared to President Obama for his charisma and even hailed as the "savior of classical music." The sheer energy he shakes out of these young players in the finale of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is thrilling.
Mothertongue, for solo voice [Part 2. Shower]
Mothertongue (Part 2 "Shower")
- from Mothertongue
- by Nico Muhly
An adroit composer, arranger, conductor, writer and thinker, Nico Muhly represents the best of the young generation of composers who are active in many fields (he writes symphonic scores and film scores, and arranges music for singer-songwriters such as the excellent Ane Brun and Bjork) and literate in new media. His music and his Web site supply fresh, surprising encounters. On the title track, Mothertongue, Muhly transforms mundane daily activities -- remembering phone numbers, showering, eating breakfast -- into vaguely minimalist chants, reminiscent of music by one of his employers, Philip Glass.