59 episodes

Host Julie Amacher provides an in-depth exploration of a new classical music release each week.

New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher American Public Media

    • Music
    • 4.6 • 135 Ratings

Host Julie Amacher provides an in-depth exploration of a new classical music release each week.

    World-premiere recordings honor legacy of William Grant Still

    World-premiere recordings honor legacy of William Grant Still

    Avlana Eisenberg conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra with violinist Zina Schiff — William Grant Still: Summerland/Violin Suite/Pastorela/American Suite (Naxos) Jump to giveaway form






    New Classical Tracks - Avlana and Celeste



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    ”It's crucial to remember this is not new music. These manuscripts have been around for generations. I'm aware that there are many more pieces from William Grant Sill and other composers who have been neglected over the years,” conductor Avlana Eisenberg said about Still, who has 13 world premieres on her latest release, William Grant Still: Summerland/Violin Suite/Pastorela/American Suite. “I think it's incumbent upon us to make sure that this is not a passing phase but momentum that gets carried forth.”

    Eisenberg is joined by journalist Celeste Headlee, who is the granddaughter of Still.

    Tell us about the relationship you have with your mother, violinist Zina Schiff, who is featured on the album.

    Eisenberg: “She has been, for as long as I can remember, my primary musical inspiration. So much of my notion of what it is to be a musician comes, whether I'm aware of it or not, from growing up with her. She's also the person who can press my buttons more than anyone else. It really is a special thing when we can come together in a musical context. I just feel a tremendous closeness, and I learn something every time. It's really a magical collaboration.”

    How has Still’s importance of family reflected in the music on this recording?

    Headlee: “His family life was his joy. When he wasn't composing and even when he was composing, he was at home. When he wasn't composing music, he was building toys for his children, like train sets. He composed a couple of pieces that he dedicated to his dog. It was about hearth and home for him. That started in his upbringing. He was raised by a mother who was fierce in her determination that he would make something of himself.

    “When I listen to any of these pieces that sounds like my grandfather, it's hard to point to one or another that sounds more like family to me. It all does.”

    Eisenberg: “I agree so much with what Celeste said in terms of his works being so varied, but they're also so quintessentially him. When I first started poring over the different scores I was sent, I was most struck by the variety.

    “In my very first conversation with Celeste, she told me that Mother and Child was one of her favorites. That was a real moment of connection. As you can probably imagine, getting to record this most intimate piece and standing up there with my mother was just remarkable. It continues to be one of the most emotional tracks for me.”

    Could you talk about Summer Land?

    Headlee: “He wrote this for my grandmother, his wife. She premiered it originally. She was of Russian-Jewish descent and an accomplished concert pianist. He wrote that she had this incredible spread in her hands for a tiny woman. She was around 4-foot-10 and could just flatten out her hands completely. When that gets translated into the orchestra, it becomes magic.”

    Do you believe that Still’s music has achieved its goal of serving a purpose larger than music?

    Headlee: “His mother was the first of the family born at the end of the Civil War. They both came from a generation that believed if white people knew how smart and accomplished Black people could be; if they could impress people with their accomplishments, intellect, taste and wit; and if Black people could prove that they were deserving of equal treatment, that would make racism disappear. They were wrong about that.

    “That was heartbreaking to my grandfather when he finally realized that no matter how talented he was, no matter what he achieved and attained, he would never be welcomed in the vaulted halls of classical music. He is now, but he wasn't when he died. He was forgotten. He was making his living writing pieces for elementary sc

    • 41 min
    Conductor Michael Repper releases debut album with the New York Youth Symphony

    Conductor Michael Repper releases debut album with the New York Youth Symphony

    Michael Repper and the New York Youth Symphony — Works by Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, Valerie Coleman (Avie)






    New Classical Tracks - Michael Repper



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    “Maybe it's because I come from the Marin Alsop school of conducting and how I was taught, but we want to build community,” conductor Michael Repper said. “We want to make the world a better place, and we want to be connecting people.”

    In 2017, it was Repper’s mentor, Alsop, who recommended that he be the next conductor of the New York Youth Symphony.

    “The age range of the orchestra is between 12 to 22,” he said. “That means each year we have many members of the orchestra who are students at the local conservatories and colleges, including the Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music and Columbia University. That also means they may not be from New York; they come from all over the world.”

    Why did you decide to feature works by three Black women composers?

    “We were scheduled to play the Florence Price Piano Concerto on our concert at Carnegie Hall. It was actually going to be the Carnegie Hall premiere of that work. I still don't think it's been played there. In May 2020, we called [pianist] Michelle Cann, and I said, ‘Hey, would you like to do this?’ That was the first thing that went on the album.

    “Also, we didn't rehearse with her. We were so concerned that if we scheduled a rehearsal in the week before the recording, somebody would get sick. Not only did we not want somebody to get sick, but we didn't want to jeopardize the project. We rehearsed with Cann for only an hour or so before we hit record.”

    Can you talk about the principal oboist featured in the Piano Concerto?

    “Her name is Kara Poling. She is one to watch. The middle section is a lyrical duo, and it gives me chills every time. She plays it so well.

    “In 2020, particularly with the tragic murder of George Floyd, it was a moment to highlight music that dealt with inequities and oppression. I had always loved Price's Ethiopia’s Shadow in America. I was amazed that there hadn't been a recording of an American orchestra performing the work. I said that it has to be on the album for sure.

    “This was the first time I conducted all four of these pieces, and I will continue to program them. I fell in love with the music the same way that everybody else did.”

    To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.




    Watch now




    More on youth orchestras




    Youth orchestra strikes back at car ad that pokes fun at young players





    School Spotlight: Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies









    Resources
    Michael Repper and the New York Youth Symphony — Works by Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, Valerie Coleman (New York Youth Symphony direct)

    Michael Repper and the New York Youth Symphony — Works by Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, Valerie Coleman (Avie store)

    Michael Repper and the New York Youth Symphony — Works by Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, Valerie Coleman (Amazon)

    New York Youth Symphony (official site)

    Michael Repper (official site)

    • 27 min
    Paraguayan guitarist Berta Roja honors the history of classical guitar

    Paraguayan guitarist Berta Roja honors the history of classical guitar

    Berta Rojas — Legado (Onmusic)






    New Classical Tracks - Berta Rojas



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    “I named her La Rojita, the little red one, because she travels in a red case and my last name is Rojas,” Paraguayan guitarist Berta Roja said about her newly returned guitar, which was stolen the day after she recorded her latest release, Legado.   

    This recording illuminates pieces written by or as a tribute to two of the most illustrious and influential players in the history of classical guitar — Ida Presti and María Luisa Anido.

    “I feel that these women who pioneered classical guitar paved the way for many of us to consider this a profession,” Roja said.

    Why is Anido a revelation for you?

    “Because I know all of her. I heard an interview where she talked about the difficulties she had traveling. The custom is that a woman playing guitar would travel by herself. She had to wait until both her parents died in 1950 to start playing concerts around the world.

    “I find that her music is sincere and honest. I was blown away by the beauty of pieces like El Misachico, which is a tribute to her mother. It has a traditional rhythm from Argentina. It is a ritual dance. You can almost feel the body being carried to its final resting place in the drum accompaniment. The way she describes the passing of her mother with one single note is simple, yet very powerful.

    “Presti is another pioneer of classical guitar. She was born in 1924 in France. She lived to 42, but those 42 years were enough for her to be considered the greatest classical guitar virtuoso of the 20th century.”

    Why did you decide to create a video out of John Duarte’s Idylle Pour Ida Legado?

    “It's one of my favorite pieces. I am touched by the beauty of this lament. When we where thinking of a piece that could symbolize or synthesize what we were trying to do with Legato, we thought that this could be a good piece to have a video of.

    “That is what I intend to do with this album. I wanted to contribute more names to be a part of the conversation about the history of classical guitar. It is not only the names of great male composers and guitarists, but also the women.” 

    To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.




    Watch now






    More on Berta Rojas




    Cleveland.com Berta Rojas’ guitar returned after being stolen in Cleveland









    Resources
    Berta Rojas — Legado (Amazon Music)

    Berta Rojas — Legado (Berta Rojas site)

    Berta Rojas (official site)

    • 33 min
    Catalyst Quartet continues its 'Uncovered' series with composer Florence Price

    Catalyst Quartet continues its 'Uncovered' series with composer Florence Price

    Catalyst Quartet — Uncovered, Vol. 2: Florence B. Price (Azica)






    New Classical Tracks - Catalyst Quartet



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    “She just wanted a chance, and she never really got it,” violist Paul Laraia said about composer Florence Price. “It's so fulfilling that we were able to release all of this chamber music. Four of these works have never been recorded.”  

    Last year, his group, the Catalyst Quartet, launched its first album in a series of recordings commemorating historically important Black composers. The group’s latest CD, Uncovered, Vol. 2: Florence B. Price, is the second recording in that series.

    Why is the title “Uncovered” significant?

    “Back in 2018, when we were formulating this project, we thought about that title. We felt that it best described the reality in which these composers’ music never went away. We needed to focus attention back onto them.

    “In the case of some of these works, like the works of Florence Price, there was a little bit of detective work. We had to go to the actual library in Arkansas and collect manuscripts in order to make this recording, because the publishing companies that own the rights just aren't pumping out the music fast enough for it to be heard.”

    Can you tell me about the featured guest, Michelle Cann?

    “She's just incredible. She is a consummate chamber musician and has all of the incredible facilities and musical intellect to solo. She also separately was taking up her own mission involving the music of Florence Price.

    “Having her perspective was a really great thing for us, even for all four of us when we play the other pieces that didn't have piano. For instance, one rehearsal we were working on the ‘Juba’ movement from the long Piano Quintet in A minor. We were asking Michelle what her take was on swinging some of the rhythms.

    “To the nonexpert, it can sound like ragtime, but Michelle told us that we needed to listen to the Robert Nathaniel Dett version to get the idea of what was in Price's ears when she was writing those rhythms.”

    Can you talk about what we hear in 5 Folk Songs in Counterpoint?

    “There's an emotional and conversational aspect to every one of the entrances and voices that take us with a through line. In the case of the five folk songs, I think there's a through line that spans the entire work. We feel this journey going all the way through. The third movement is a slow chorale that’s really gorgeous, and I think it serves as an emotional center point.

    “The goal is not for our recording to be the only definitive set. The music is so dense that it can be interpreted so many ways. It deserves a collective effort in order to move us closer to having better and stronger interpretations of her music and for her music to be more widely available and known.”

    To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.




    Watch now




    More on Florence Price and the Catalyst Quartet




    Rhapsody in Black Florence Price meets Frederick Stock





    New Classical Tracks Catalyst Quartet honors Samuel Coleridge-Taylor









    Resources
    Catalyst Quartet — Uncovered, Vol. 2: Florence B. Price (Amazon Music)

    Catalyst Quartet (official site)

    • 32 min
    Soprano Nadine Sierra is 'Made for Opera'

    Soprano Nadine Sierra is 'Made for Opera'

    Nadine Sierra — Made for Opera (DG)






    New Classical Tracks - Nadine Sierra



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    “My grandmother was born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal. She had a beautiful voice and always loved music, especially classical and opera,” soprano Nadine Sierra said. “She wanted to become an opera singer, but my great-grandfather didn't allow her to pursue any kind of career. My whole life has been prepared and made for opera.”

    Sierra dedicates her latest recording, Made for Opera, to her grandmother. It explores the operatic heroines that include Lucia from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Juliette from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet and Violetta from Verdi’s La Traviata, who all had little control over their own destiny. 

    “We find that female roles played by women in opera are about women that cannot make decisions for themselves despite being these iconic figures. These are also women who are in a social prison. My grandmother grew up in that social prison. Today I have the power and the privilege to choose my destiny.”

    Tell us why you're careful about choosing a role at the right point in your career.

    “I didn't start to sing Violetta until recently. I felt that in my own life I had not experienced enough to play this character as believably as possible. I felt I needed to live a few more years in order to understand her.”

    Tell us about the story and sections you've chosen to highlight on this recording from La Traviata.

    “I decided to showcase Violetta in Act One and Three. In Act One she has her famous aria starting from ‘È Strano! È Strano’ and ending with ‘Sempre Libera.’ In the aria she meets Alfredo for the first time, and he tells her that he's in love with her.

    “I also highlight her last aria, where she's dying. Alfredo has a sister and the more time he spends with Violeta ruins his sister's reputation and her possibility of marrying into a good family. So, Violetta makes the sacrifice. She lies to Alfredo telling him she's not in love with him anymore and she can't be with him. She sacrifices herself for another woman's love, which I love about Violetta. She's a special and empathetic character.”

    How did working with a woman director give you a different perspective on Donizetti's character Lucia?

    “This particular female director and I have both experienced things in our personal lives that are similar. Whether it be in a relationship or even a situation with a family member, we were able to better communicate what we wanted with the audience about Lucia.”

    To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.


    Watch now





    Resources
    Nadine Sierra — Made for Opera (Amazon)

    Nadine Sierra — Made for Opera (DG Store)

    Nadine Sierra (official site)

    • 34 min
    Lara Downes reflects on the music of Scott Joplin

    Lara Downes reflects on the music of Scott Joplin

    Lara Downes — Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered (Rising Sun Music)






    New Classical Tracks - Lara Downes



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    Pianist Lara Downes is reconsidering Scott Joplin, who he was and what he did. Joplin was an incredible innovator who really brought American music into the 20th century. Downes digs deeper into his legacy in her latest recording, Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered.

    Why did you want to learn Joplin’s music, which many of us learned about from the movie The Sting?

    “Even by the age of 7, I was pretty deep into classical music. My sound world was classical music. I heard his music and thought it was really exciting. It's really fun. There was also Paul Newman in the movie. That didn't hurt. So I learned ‘The Entertainer,’ and I think it was kind of a treat. In my world, my early training was pretty rigorous.

    “It's really clear to me now that this whole journey into American music has transformed the way I hear and understand it. It's fun. It's reconnecting with my little girl self, but through a different lens.”

    Can you talk about the arrangement of ‘The Entertainer’ you created?

    “It was easy and obvious to me what I wanted to do with many of these pieces, but I will admit that ‘The Entertainer’ kind of posed a problem. We've heard it so many times and I realized the answer had been literally staring me in the face. On the title page of the piece Joplin dedicates ‘The Entertainer’ to James Brown and his mandolin club.” 

    Where did you find ‘A Picture of Her Face,’ which you world-premiered with baritone Will Liverman?

    “This is such an example of the music sitting right there for everyone to find, and we're somehow not finding it. There's this huge digital database of public domain sheet music, IMSLP. We all use it. I was just going through all the Joplin stuff to make sure there was nothing I overlooked, and there's this art song called ‘A Picture of Her Face.’

    “That same day I was texting with my friend Will Liverman, and we were checking in about some things. ‘What are you up to?’ And I said, ‘I'm going to the studio. I'm working on this Joplin project,’ and he's like, ‘Oh, I love Joplin!’”

    Are you really the only performer on ‘Eugenia’?

    “Oh, you're hearing a lot of stuff inside the piano that we put in there, because I kept saying to [producer] Adam [Abeshouse], ‘I want to play around with different sounds and colors.’ He said, ‘OK, hold on a second.’ He goes and gets all these rolls of tape and some chains, and he's putting it in the piano. He said, ‘OK, sit down, and try it again.’ I think it ends up sounding like one of those saloons where Joplin would have played.” 

    How does this music reflect who you are?

    “I'm lucky enough to be what Joplin wanted to be. No one's getting in my way. It’s amazing for those of us, especially artists of color, who are living now. We are having for the first time the incredible experience of bringing the music of Black artists who came before us to the general public and having that be welcomed.”

    To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.


    Watch now






    More on Lara Downes




    Lara Downes creates Black-focused label Rising Sun Music





    Pianist Lara Downes re-centers the music of the Great Migration









    Resources
    Lara Downes — Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered (Lara Downes’ Website)

    Lara Downes — Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered (Amazon Music)

    Lara Downes (official site)

    • 38 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
135 Ratings

135 Ratings

m-tanner ,

Perfectly Woven Music and Storytelling

this podcast is unbelievably good. the way she weaves the music through the interview is perfect. and her selection of artists is stunning, they’re always so moving and talented.

TrueOpera ,

A great addition to my podcasts for classical music list

I’m so glad this podcast is here. I’m playing catch-up on past episodes and am enjoying it thoroughly. I am of two minds of the short form, sometimes it’s exactly what I want and (after listening) I usually really, REALLY want to listen to more of a ‘deep dive’.

IsaacCdM ,

Doesn’t get any better

Delightful podcast. Great depth and insight, a pleasure to listen to.

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