Brooklyn, Iceland And Outer Space: New Classical CDs From the soaring voice of a young soprano on the rise to the turbulent sounds of the Berlin Philharmonic in full cry, NPR Music's Tom Huizenga and Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz spin new classical recordings from young musicians and composers.

Brooklyn, Iceland And Outer Space: New Classical CDs

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(Soundbite of music)

GUY RAZ, host:

This is the second movement of Debussy's string quartet written in 1893. We're hearing a new recording, performed by a group of young musicians called Brooklyn Rider. The quartet has just put out a new record. It's called "Dominant Curve," and that album is among the new releases that have caught the ear of NPR classic music producer Tom Huizenga, who is in the studio with me. Hi, Tom.


RAZ: Before I ask you more about Brooklyn Rider, Tom, can we just hear a bit more of this piece?

HUIZENGA: Sure, let's.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Tom, this is such a beautiful recording, and I'm kicking myself because these guys actually came by NPR earlier this year, and I missed them. Can you tell me more about them?

HUIZENGA: Well, they're not your grandfather's string quartet, as you might say. They are a very versatile, alive, young quartet, and I think the interesting thing about them is that they are willing to take some chances. They collaborate with very interesting groups of people, New York singer-songwriters, Kurdish kamancheh players, electronics people.

RAZ: Yo-Yo Ma, right, as well?

HUIZENGA: Several people in the group - Colin Jacobsen was a member of the Silk Road Ensemble that Yo-Yo Ma developed. Yeah.

RAZ: And clearly, Tom, you know, they must be sort of hip in the world of indie rock because they played at the South by Southwest Festival earlier this year.

HUIZENGA: Well, I think that was actually something of a string quartet ambush, actually, because they played The Parish(ph) with five other bands: four rock bands, a hip-hop group, and then there was Brooklyn Rider. And I think that the packed hall had no idea what to expect, and they played Debussy, and they played some kind of rowdy, Romanian-sounding music, and the crowd just loved them.

RAZ: And there's a piece on this album that you brought for us, as well, a piece by John Cage.

(Soundbite of song, "In a Landscape")

HUIZENGA: It's a piece that Cage wrote for solo piano or solo harp - we usually hear it for solo piano in the late '40s called "In a Landscape." And I just love what the group has done with it. They collaborated with an arranger named Justin Messina, and he really gave a lot of breath and life into the piece.

(Soundbite of song, "In a Landscape")

HUIZENGA: I love how they've just expanded this piece in its breadth with this kind of atmospheric arrangement for string quartet and electronics. It's very spacious, rocking, calm, wonderful.

RAZ: I'm getting into this John Cage calmness thing, Tom, which is why I'm so intrigued by your next pick because it is most definitely not calm.

HUIZENGA: It's kind of got all the sarcastic grit of Prokofiev from earlier in the last century and all the romance - sweeping romance of Rachmaninov, and it all begins with the crack of a whip.

(Soundbite of song, "Processions")

RAZ: This is some meaty piano playing, Tom. His name is Daniel Bjarnason. Is that right?

HUIZENGA: That's right. And you know that old phrase, they don't make them like that anymore? Well in this case, they kind of do. It's a piano concerto. It's called "Processions." And it really kind of harks back to the old concertos, the old post-Romantic concertos, like from Prokofiev and Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, but yet with a very contemporary spin on it.

RAZ: And judging by his name, he's got to be Nordic or Icelandic or...

HUIZENGA: He's from Iceland. He's also a conductor, and some of his favorite groups, contemporary music, he listens to Grizzly Bear, the XX, Beirut, Vampire Weekend. And you can hear some of that...

RAZ: And he could work for NPR Music, Tom.

HUIZENGA: He could. And you can hear some of that contemporary kind of rock, indie-rock feel in this concerto.

RAZ: Yeah. All right, Tom, I think it is time, because you always bring us some of this, time for some opera. Is that all right?

HUIZENGA: Absolutely.

RAZ: All right.

(Soundbite of opera, "Il Trovatore")

Ms. SONDRA RADVANOVSKY (Singer): (Singing in Foreign Language).

HUIZENGA: All right, for me, Guy, there are very few musical events that are as exciting as hearing a new singer, exciting new singer for the very first time live. And we're listening to soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, and I heard her sing Verdi and Puccini arias last month at the Kennedy Center, and she blew me away.

She opens her mouth, and these huge streams of sound come flying out like giant, multicolored bolts of fabric, just beautiful shiny silver, azure blue. And you can tell on the CD, too, that the voice is really big. It's a big voice, but yet she knows how to harness all of that power, and I think we should just listen to this passage from Verdi's "Il Trovatore," and it'll explain everything.

(Soundbite of opera, "Il Trovatore")

Ms. RADVANOVSKY: (Singing in foreign language).

HUIZENGA: Wow, I mean, incredible breath control there, how she pares that voice down to just this little thread of tone, but you know it's completely supported. You'd be able to hear that so clearly in the last seat of the auditorium.

RAZ: Yeah, it's absolutely stunning music. Tom, we have time for one last piece before we let you go, and it's a composition by Thomas Ades. He's a British composer, and this piece is called "Tevot."

(Soundbite of song, "Tevot")

RAZ: Now, Tom, we were chatting on the phone about this composer yesterday, and you have called him and I'm quoting you here - arguably the finest composer under the age 40, possibly the most impressive composer alive today period.

HUIZENGA: Did I say that?

RAZ: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUIZENGA: I know, it is a mouthful, but I mean, I'm not the only one that has said that. I think that he's for one thing, he's a triple threat. He's a major composer who has had pieces published when he was already in his teens. He is a terrific pianist. He plays chamber music with people, solo recitals, and he's also a fantastic conductor of his own work and other people's work.

You know, very respected critics like Alex Ross of the New Yorker said that he's one of the most original composers of our time. And I think when you hear this piece, like "Tevot," it which is very hard to excerpt, just to dip into, but I can't help but agree.

RAZ: How would you describe his sound?

HUIZENGA: Well, in this piece, everything about it is huge except for its length. It's only 20 minutes or so. But it's scored for a huge orchestra, and typical of Ades, it's the range in sound is also huge.

The piece starts out with the highest, thinnest strands. He gets the violins to go as high as they can possibly play, but yet at other points in the piece, there are just hulking crashes, low in the percussion section.

(Soundbite of song, "Tevot")

HUIZENGA: Ades himself has this kind of kooky, wacko description of the piece, which he thinks it's kind of like a "Tevot" can mean ark like ark of the covenant or Noah's ark. He thinks of it as planet Earth and that Earth is this spaceship, carrying us through what he calls the chaos of space into safety.

And that sounds kind of goofy, but after you hear the whole piece, you can kind of understand where he's coming from.

RAZ: That's Tom Huizenga. He's NPR's classical music producer and a regular on this program. Tom, as always, amazing new recordings. Thanks so much for spinning them.

HUIZENGA: Oh, it's so great to be here.

RAZ: And for anyone listening who might have missed parts of our conversation, all of Tom Huizenga's new classic picks and his notes about the pieces can be found at our website,

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