ARUN RATH, HOST:
Thanks again for listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APPALACHIAN SPRING")
RATH: And that is the music of Aaron Copland, performed by the Aurora Orchestra. It's a new recording that's caught the ear of our guest, NPR classical music producer and co-host of the blog, Deceptive Cadence, Tom Huizenga. Tom, welcome.
TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: Hey, Arun, nice to be here.
RATH: So you brought a stack of albums with you today. Tell us about this one. It sounds like "Appalachian Spring."
HUIZENGA: Yep, it certainly is. It's the actual - the slimmed-down 13-instrument version played by an adventuresome group I don't think too many folks over here have heard of. It's the London-based Aurora Orchestra and the album is called "Road Trip," something of a little musical travelogue of America with music by old masters like Aaron Copland and Charles Ives and some new ones like John Adams.
RATH: Leave it to the British to show us our own roads. But there's an unexpected name on here I noticed, Paul Simon.
HUIZENGA: That's right. Sprinkled throughout the album are a few songs, both traditional and popular, and really lovely arrangements by the young American composer Nico Muhly, including a version of Paul Simon's "Hearts And Bones."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEARTS AND BONES")
SAM AMIDON: (Singing) Take two bodies, twirl them into one. Their hearts and their bones, oh, they won't come undone. Hearts and bones.
HUIZENGA: This, Arun, I think is indicative of what a number of very young, resourceful chamber orchestras are doing these days. They're kind of erasing those traditional lines between classical and pop music. I'm thinking of groups like A Far Cry from Boston or The Knights who hail from Brooklyn. They play Stravinsky and Sufjan Stevens. So the Aurora Orchestra here - some fun, smart programming.
RATH: Vocals there from Sam Amidon on Paul Simon's "Hearts And Bones." Tom, what else have you got in there in your stack?
HUIZENGA: All right. I'm going to throw you a curveball here and see if you recognize this.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRANDENBURG CONCERTO #3")
RATH: Definitely Bach. Clearly Bach. But I don't think I've heard that on a keyboard.
HUIZENGA: Ding, ding. You're right. It's the final allegro from Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto #3." That's, of course, usually an orchestral piece but, here it's arranged for piano four hands and played by the piano duo Anderson and Roe.
RATH: That's the thing about Bach, you know? He never wears out. It's so resilient and stands up to all these different arrangements.
HUIZENGA: Yeah, totally sturdy, sturdy music. And there a lot of tasty arrangements here on this all-Bach album by Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe. They met as freshmen at Juilliard in the year 2000 and hooked up as a piano duo. So let's move onto another track. I picked this one out especially for you, Arun, because I know that you are as passionate about Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" as I am.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ST. MATTHEW PASSION")
RATH: That's an aria from the "St. Matthew Passion" that's sung in the voice of Peter.
HUIZENGA: "Erbarme Dich" - have mercy from Bach's "St. Matthew Passion."
RATH: He's just denied Jesus for, you know, the three times. He's asking for mercy for good reason.
HUIZENGA: And it's really - it's a haunting and it's and especially moving point in the whole passion drama.
RATH: What's wild about it - hearing it on a piano instead of hearing it sung, it sounds like it's from the wrong period. It almost sounds like it's Bach being a romantic in the 19th century.
HUIZENGA: That's true. And it kind of reminds you of those old Leopold Stokowski recordings - his own, really, super-upholstered arrangements of Bach pieces for, you know, a hundred-player symphony orchestras. But, like you mentioned before, I think the music of Bach is so sturdy that it can withstand almost any arrangement. Remember "Bach On Wood," the Bach on marimba record? I mean, it even withstood that.
RATH: (Laughter) I'm speaking with Tom Huizinga. He's a classical music producer at NPR sharing some interesting new albums that have crossed his desk. Tom, what's next?
HUIZENGA: OK. How about the birth of a brand-new opera star?
RATH: Any time. That sounds great.
(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "LA TRAVIATA")
SONYA YONCHEVA: (Singing in foreign language).
HUIZENGA: That's a Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva singing from Verdi's "La Traviata," a role that she made a very big splash in at the Met in New York just a couple weeks ago.
RATH: A big splash? It's got be hard to make a big splash in such a well-performed piece. What happened?
HUIZENGA: Well, she's - Yoncheva is not exactly on many people's radar yet, except for opera geeks, of course. And the role of Violeta in "Traviata" is really, like, three roles wrapped into one, terrifically difficult dramatically and vocally. And she reportedly nailed it. She was so good that the audience interrupted one of her scenes with applause and that's something that hardly ever happens in the opera house. And one critic said that in all of the "Traviatas" he's seen, only two women have made his list of dream-Violetas, and Yoncheva now makes the third.
Her new record is called "Paris, Mon Amor." And instead of just French opera hits, it's mainly off the beaten path French repertoire, like this rarely-heard work by Andre Messager called "Madame Chrysantheme." That's the name of the opera. It's set in Nagasaki. And let's hear a little I excerpt now where she sings about the cicadas, which you can actually hear murmuring throughout the orchestra.
(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "MADAM CHRYSANTHEME")
YONCHEVA: (Singing in foreign language).
RATH: That is the voice of a new opera sensation, Sonya Yoncheva.
HUIZENGA: And to show you just how high her star is beginning to rise, Sonya Yoncheva will be opening the Met next season in Verdi's "Otello," so that's pretty good.
RATH: Wow, she'll be Desdemona?
HUIZENGA: That's right, yeah.
RATH: Wow, going to be - that's a challenge. Tom, we have time for one more.
HUIZENGA: OK, Arun, hold onto your hat, seriously. Here's music by the young composer Andrew Norman, just in his mid-30s.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLAY")
RATH: I like that. That is interesting. It sounds like, well, it sounds like a few different composers I can think of all playing at the same time.
HUIZENGA: I know. That's just the few opening seconds of this new piece that he has called "Play." I'm glad you like it, too. I think it's one of the most exciting orchestral pieces I've heard in a while. It's witty, it's playful, surprisingly transparent, aside from the gazillion little things going on all at once. It's got to be just painful and thrilling at the same time to perform it.
RATH: Well, it kind of sounds like they're having fun there and it sounds like - it sounds like pretty much every instrument is being deployed and probably some things that aren't even instruments.
HUIZENGA: I should mention though, Arun, that it's not all this loud and intense. There are stretches of near silence and there are places where Andrew Norman builds crescendos. He said that he composed it backwards and so the first of the three movements in this 45 minute work is actually the climax so, hence, we get all the clanging and banging there at the start. He said it's also a very visual piece, with instructions for the players to kind of suddenly freeze mid-bow stroke just to be kind of switched on again by some flick of a tympani stroke or something.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLAY")
RATH: That's music from a piece called "Play" by Andrew Norman, just one of the new recordings our classical music producer Tom Huizenga has been listening to. Tom, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for all the music.
HUIZENGA: Hey, thanks. It's my pleasure, Arun.
RATH: You can read Tom's work on the blog, Deceptive Cadence, and you can hear more of Tom's picks at our website nprmusic.org.
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