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
    • 4.7 • 162 Ratings

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

    Kellen Gray and Royal Scottish National Orchestra present 'African American Voices II'

    Kellen Gray and Royal Scottish National Orchestra present 'African American Voices II'

    On this week’s episode of New Classical Tracks, conductor Kellen Gray and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra explore the diversity and array of aesthetics among African American composers in their latest album, ‘African American Voices II.’ Find out more!

    • 36 min
    String ensemble Sybarite5 champions new music on its latest album, 'Collective Wisdom'

    String ensemble Sybarite5 champions new music on its latest album, 'Collective Wisdom'

    New Classical Tracks - Sybarite5


    Sybarite5 – Collective Wisdom (Bright Shiny Things)

    “Over the pandemic, some members of the ensemble changed,” says bassist Louis Levitt, a founding member of the string ensemble Sybarite5. “People moved to different places, decided to do different things, and we decided to take that as a moment to step back and kind of reevaluate the ensemble. And it turns out that having five string players — two violins, viola, cello and double bass — works out just fine. And we kind of rediscovered what a cool thing our ensemble was.

    “In having the new members join, we've opened up some really interesting possibilities, pathways and gateways that just were not possible before. And I think that this album is a really good expression of that, because we're taking the group in different directions.”

    That new recording, Collective Wisdom, reflects the group’s commitment to new music. Levitt and two of the new members, violist Caeli Smith and cellist Laura Andrade, sat down to share their enthusiasm about their first recording together.

    You have a commitment to new music. Why? And why did you choose Collective Wisdom for the title of this recording?

    Levitt: “At the beginning, we realized that if we were going to have this career and decide to pursue this, we were going to need to work to expand the repertoire for a string quintet with double bass. And that meant we were going to be working with composers and commissioning new works.

    “Regarding the name of the album, right after we won the Concert Artists Guild competition, there was a prize given to us and that was to commission a new work from a young emerging composer. We chose Michael Gilbertson, and the piece he wrote for us was called Collective Wisdom.”

    The title track starts off with a snap pizzicati. Where does it go from there?

    Smith: “It is so dang hard, but when it comes together, both for a listener and for a performer, it is really gratifying. It's sort of like these shocks of lightning that are coming from different corners of the sky, and it requires this incredible alertness and precision from all of us at all times, which is really fun actually, when we can pull it off.”

    Andrade: “The process of putting that piece together is actually very gratifying because it's so rhythmically complex and we have to be super-laser-focused the whole time. That piece, in particular, is very much foundational to our virtuosity and our abilities as an ensemble.”

    You lead off with an energetic piece from the Punch Brothers, so I'm guessing you're big Chris Thile fans?

    Smith: “We are huge fans of Chris Thile and of the Punch Brothers. It is definitely one of our favorites to play. It sounds like something really dramatic happening in slow motion. We adore this track, and it's first on the album because it's one that we're the most proud of and excited about.”

    The piece is called Movement and Location, and Thile says that it's about retired baseball player Greg Maddux. Is that something you knew when you first heard the piece?

    Levitt: “When I first heard the song, I didn't think that's what it was about. And then I found out it's a song about baseball and perhaps a pitcher just trying to figure out the proper movement location for every one of their pitches. But you know what? That resonated with me because that's how I felt about every note that I played and articulated with the bow and just trying to get it to pop just right and be in time.”

    There are three folk songs right in the middle of this recording that reflect the heritage of one of your violinists.

    Levitt: ”Performing live on stage with someone from Armenian heritage is a really incredible experience because we're experiencing something really authentic. And I feel honored and privileged to be able to do that with Sami Merdinian on stage. The other thing is that, much like Béla Bartók, Komita

    • 42 min
    Violist Georgina Rossi and pianist Silvie Cheng explore Brazilian music in 'Chorinho'

    Violist Georgina Rossi and pianist Silvie Cheng explore Brazilian music in 'Chorinho'

    New Classical Tracks - Georgina Rossi and Silvie Cheng


    Georgina Rossi (viola) and Silvie Cheng (piano) – Chorinho (Navona Records)

    “This music, it's so personal to us and I think you can really hear that in the recording,” says pianist Silvie Cheng. “It tugs on your heartstrings because we've poured in every ounce of soul and our love into it. Both our love for the music but also our love for each other.”

    Cheng is a Tokyo-born Chinese Canadian pianist. She and Chilean American violist Georgina Rossi met while they were attending the Manhattan School of Music in New York. That’s where they shared an apartment and discovered their love of Latin American music. Their second recording together, titled Chorinho, celebrates the sounds of Brazil.

    Cheng: “One of the pieces that we recorded by Souza Lima is called Chorinho, and so we just thought it was a nice way to not only enter into this world, but also pay homage to the traditions of music in Brazil.”

    Rossi: “The choro can roughly be translated into the idea of a lament or cry. But I also felt like it was the right title for the album because the viola tends to get assigned all of these melancholic and elegiac types of music. And so, to me, it felt perfect that everywhere in the world the choro or the lament is perfectly suited to the voice of the viola. It's a way of saying that this is an album of viola music from Brazil.”

    Let's talk about the other world premieres on this recording. One is a piece for solo viola. Georgina, I'm wondering, what does that mean to you to be able to include a solo work like this on this recording?

    Rossi: “Well, Ernani Aguiar is the only living composer on the record. I was so happy to get to communicate with him directly and share the CD with him when it came out. He was very happy about it. I think he liked it.”

    The largest work on this recording is the Sonata for Viola and Piano by Breno Blauth. Could you tell us what we're hearing in the piece and what you enjoy the most about playing it?

    Cheng: “There's actually many moments that reminded us of perhaps Shostakovich or even Hindemith because of the harmonic language. I think it's for sure one of the pieces on the album that treats the two instruments as equal partners, and it covers such a wide spectrum of human emotions. There's intimate, tender moments. There's exuberant, almost feisty moments. It's a wonderful journey for our two instruments to have this dialog together.”

    There's another fascinating composer who closes out this recording, and the piece you feature is is only a couple of minutes long. Her story, though, is so fascinating. I would love for you to tell us more about Chiquinha Gonzaga.

    Rossi: “She was a pianist and composer, and she was Brazil's first woman conductor. She was a descendant of nobility on one side and slavery on the other, and she was in an arranged marriage where she was pressured by her father and her husband to quit music. And instead of doing that, she abandoned that marriage.”

    Cheng: “And I think speaking to contemporary women musicians, we really felt it important to include a woman composer on this album, especially given the challenges that she faced in order to have her work be appreciated and heard. She wrote over 2000 songs and one of which, of course, is Lua Branca, which is featured on the album. It’s kind of the perfect way to close out this narrative that we've created.”

    Watch on YouTube

    Georgina Rossi and Silvie Cheng – Chorinho (Amazon)

    Georgina Rossi and Silvie Cheng – Chorinho (Navona Records)

    Georgina Rossi (official site)

    Silvie Cheng (official site)

    • 31 min
    Pianist Shai Wosner explores Beethoven's 'Diabelli Variations' on new recording

    Pianist Shai Wosner explores Beethoven's 'Diabelli Variations' on new recording

    New Classical Tracks - Shai Wosner


    Shai Wosner – Beethoven Diabelli Variations (Onyx Classics)

    “He was asked to provide one variation. And at first, according to the legend, he dismissed the whole project and decided, ‘This is beneath me. I don't need this, and I don't have time for this.’ I never quite bought that,” pianist Shai Wosner says about Ludwig van Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, which are featured on his latest release.

    Anton Diabelli was a publisher and a composer. He had the idea of commissioning several composers each to write one variation on his little waltz. He would then publish them as a collection.

    Wosner says Beethoven looked at this basic waltz and, in true Beethoven style, transformed it into something magnificent.

    “I'm convinced that he saw this as a way to channel the idea that in life,” the Israeli-born American pianist says. “It doesn’t matter what you start with, but rather what you do with it, what you do with yourself, what you do with your place in the world. I really think that by extension, this is the source of the idealism in Beethoven's music.

    “This piece, more than any other piece of Beethoven's, is about that idea. In other pieces, the impulse comes from him. He has the initial idea, his own motif. In this case, it's a rare example where he's getting something from someone else. And the impetus for writing the piece doesn't come from him.

    “The tradition of writing a set of variations usually leaves the theme in the center. Here we have something profoundly different. The theme is only a point of departure. You hear it once and it's very short, shockingly short. And already from the first variation, Beethoven is kind of stomping on it and casting it aside, because the very first variation is a sort of march.

    “And it's clear that Beethoven is aiming for us to feel like each variation is completely different from the last. It’s like he’s asking, ‘You didn't think we could end up here, did you? Starting with that little waltz? How about this?’ And that's really the point of of the whole thing. It's a series of miniatures, if you will. A whole journey.”

    What is the journey he's creating?

    “I would say the first 13 variations, which are a big chunk of the piece, are in the tongue-in-cheek vein. The mindset is a little bit closer to the waltz, which is really quite lively and doesn't take itself too seriously.

    “And then there's a turning point because there is Variation 14, which is very slow and much longer than any of the others that preceded it. It's like a reminder. You forgot this is late Beethoven; this is philosophical stuff. And it's like a meditation. Time comes to a complete standstill. And then after that the piece is never quite the same anymore. It gets much more ambitious after that.

    “And all of a sudden you have Variations 29, 30 and 31. Those three are the most touching and most personal confession that you can imagine. And especially Variation 31 is probably the closest we can ever get to being in the room with him as he's improvising.

    “It's really unbelievable. It's like it’s just you and the music — just you and Beethoven's endless imagination.”

    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 on YouTube

    Shai Wosner – Beethoven Diabelli Variations (Amazon)

    Shai Wosner – Beethoven Diabelli Variations (Onyx Classics)

    Shai Wosner (official site)

    • 39 min
    James Newton Howard reimagines music from M. Night Shyamalan's movies on 'Night After Night'

    James Newton Howard reimagines music from M. Night Shyamalan's movies on 'Night After Night'

    New Classical Tracks - James Newton Howard


    James Newton Howard – Night After Night (Sony Classical), featuring pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, violinist Hilary Hahn and cellist Maya Beiser

    “I've been so lucky,” composer James Newton Howard says. “I've done over 140 movies at this point. Things for television, record and producing. I’ve been so lucky to get all these ideas writing concert music. I may have checked all the boxes that go on a bucket list with music, and I just want to keep going. I guess that's my bucket list: It’s to have remaining and continuing passion for what I do.”

    Newton Howard is a composer and pianist who made a name for himself in the late ‘70s by touring with and orchestrating for Elton John. He made his way into film score composition at a time when the field was wide open. He’s scored more than 140 movies, from Pretty Woman to the Hunger Games franchise. His latest passion project features eight suites from all the films he’s scored for M. Night Shyamalan, a director known for his emotional thrillers.

    How would you describe your signature style?

    “Strong melody is part of my signature. But I think also, and I say this with tremendous humility — although it may not sound like humility — that I'm very versatile. I think I've done a lot of successful romantic comedies, from Pretty Woman to My Best Friend's Wedding to Dave and all that. So when you do that, you become the ‘rom-com’ guy. And then I did The Fugitive, and I became the action guy. I suppose the clearest thing that I get back from people is my more emotional interior music.”

    In an interview that you did a few years ago you admitted to being a little arrogant on occasion early in your career, and then you said you became a good listener. What happened that allowed you to become a good listener?

    “Yeah, I was arrogant because I was always coming up with ideas and then I was just running into situations where I was getting a lot of rewriting requests from the director. And some of the rewrites that were getting made were really good ideas. And then it just occurred to me that the director might actually have important things to say to me. I'm much more collaborative now, and that's really the nature of the game; it's all down to being part of a team.”

    You’ve collaborated with director M. Night Shyamalan on at least eight films, and you've now taken music from those films and turned them into suites.

    “Night makes films that are about things that really interest me, such as revelation, catharsis, love, courage and triumph. There's always an element of these very strong emotions. That's what really appealed to me. But, surprisingly, all these ideas and feelings took place in movies that were somewhat creepy. But then there’s a very emotional core to it. I had never encountered that before.

    “And so, I took the scores, I took out all the scary bits and made it quite meditative. I got Jean-Yves Thibaudet to play the piano on every track. Hilary Hahn came in and revisited my score for The Village and played the beautiful violin solos throughout that piece.

    “But what I love about Night was the closeness of our collaboration and his appreciation for what I was doing. We just ended up having this connection from the very beginning where I felt challenged and I felt inspired and he felt inspired, and we worked so closely together that it just was kind of a dream relationship.”

    Listen on YouTube

    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.

    James Newton Howard – Night After Night (Amazon)

    James Newton Howard – Night After Night (Sony Classical)

    James Newton Howard (official site)

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    • 48 min
    Pianist Awadagin Pratt, A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth collaborate in 'Stillpoint'

    Pianist Awadagin Pratt, A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth collaborate in 'Stillpoint'

    New Classical Tracks - Awadagin Pratt


    Awadagin Pratt/A Far Cry/Roomful of Teeth – Stillpoint (Art of the Piano)

    “When I'm talking to a non-musician, they often say, ‘Oh, you’ve played in Carnegie Hall, sure, that’s great.’ But the only time they say, ‘Oh, well, you must be something!’ is when they find out I’ve been on Sesame Street,” says pianist Awadagin Pratt. “It was fun. I did a skit with Big Bird about sharing the piano. He was pecking away at the instrument, and then I entered the room and he said, ‘Do you play the piano?’ And I said, ‘Sure, I do.’ And he said, ‘Well, why don't you play a little something?’ The lesson was about sharing and turn-giving, so we took turns playing.”

    In the world of classical music, Awadagin Pratt has shared the stage as a pianist, a conductor and, on occasion, as a violinist. He grew up in Pittsburgh, lives in Cincinnati, and now commutes to San Francisco in his new role as a professor at the San Francisco Conservatory.

    Recently, he also shared the studio with two incredible ensembles, including the string orchestra A Far Cry and the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. Together, they bring to life six newly commissioned works which appear on his latest release, Stillpoint.

    “I was thinking two things. One, we have to have African-American composers. The second thing, in terms of the unifying element was the poem The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, which I love. So I decided to fight. I decided we would look at The Four Quartets and see if the composers could take inspiration from some of the lines as a unifying element.

    “The five lines that I chose are the lines that I love, and they seem to be the right ones:

    At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

    Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

    But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

    Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

    Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

    There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

    — T.S. Eliot

    Time Past Time Future is the piece that Alvin Singleton wrote for you. He's an American composer who always hoped that one day he would hear you play his music. What was that experience like for both of you when you were playing his music?

    “It was great. I had met Alvin decades before and he has such a lovely personality, but he was also so generous. He liked what we were doing. The sound, it was demanding because of the dynamic range of four or five keys to the extreme of four or five fortes. It's challenging because of the stillness, but he loved it, which was really nice. It's always great when a composer is smiling when you finish playing, like, okay, that's pretty good!”

    The piece that Pēteris Vasks wrote for you is a solo piano work titled Castillo Interior, and it focuses on the past and future gathered. Can you explain what that means and how we hear that in the music?

    He wrote a piece for violin and cello called Castillo Interior, as well. And that's the piece that he transcribed for me with changes, and the title of the piece references Saint Teresa of Avila who has these seven castles built on the pathway to understanding God.

    You have, within religion, those opposites of ascetic and ecstatic, and maybe they're not exactly opposites, but there's sort of two opposing energies kind of working together as one. And so the piece is really compelling, people absolutely love it.”

    Listen on YouTube

    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.

    Awadagin Pratt/A Far Cry/Roomful of Teeth – Stillpoint (Amazon)

    Awadagin Pratt/A Far Cry/Roomful of Teeth – Stillpoint (Art of the Piano)

    Awadagin Pratt (official site)

    A Far Cry (official site

    • 33 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
162 Ratings

162 Ratings

Fritz Schimmel ,

New Classical tracks

I have several podcasts that I listen to regularly, but this is the one I look forward to most.
Julie is really well prepared and familiar with both the music and the artist’s background, leading to a very thorough and entertaining discussion of the selection each week.
I don’t know how see discovers these new releases, but quite a few of them have been added to my library as a result of the program.
I also have downloaded quite a few of my favorite episodes, so I can go back and replay them when traveling, etc.
Keep up the good work Julie!

JasHeg ,


A wonderful review of some remarkable music. A must listen podcast. Julia is extremely well prepared for each guest which leads to an interesting and well flowing discussion.

BjornLouser ,

A real gem of a podcast!

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