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September 2013 Guides

Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

Pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii

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By Aran Jenkins
 · January 28, 2010

Nobuyuki Tsujii has become a worldwide sensation in the past year, most notably winning the Gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Nobuyuki was born on September 13, 1988 in Tokyo, Japan. He began taking lessons at the age of 4. He was also born blind but with a gift in music as well. Here’s a great quote that pretty much sums up the skill of Nobuyuki’s performances at the Cliburn Competition:

It's almost beyond imagining that he has learned scores as formidable as Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto and Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata by ear…Through all three rounds, he played with unfailing assurance, and his unforced, utterly natural Chopin E-minor Piano Concerto was an oasis of loveliness…He brought delicate expressivity to Debussy's first book of Images and admirable proportion to the first movement of Beethoven's Appassionata, and he managed to make Liszt's La Campanella fun but not vulgar.

–Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News, June 2009

Now I’ve learned pieces on guitar that topped out at about 8 minutes, of varying difficulties, but to learn a Piano Concerto by Rachmaninoff by ear?  That’s pretty spectacular!  Rachmaninoff was pretty well known for writing some of the most technically challenging pieces ever, and I read that he could reach from C to G past the octave on his left hand (that stretch seems superhuman to me).

Nobuyuki's performance of Franz Liszt’s “La Campanella” (the third piece of the six ‘Grandes Etudes de Paganini’) is one of the best interpretations I have yet heard. 

Tsujii plays La Campanella


For more about Nobuyuki Tsujii, check out:
* Nobu Piano: Official Site 
* Cliburn TV


Aran Jenkins is a recent graduate of WV State University.  He plays piano and guitar, writes for the
Charleston Gazette, and is working on a novel.

Previous posts by Aran Jenkins:

The Master Segovia
Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff
Finding Connections
B is for Beautiful? 
* The Passion of Julian Bream
* Ana Vidovic and Julian Bream 

Classical Music: Support & Presents

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 25, 2010

Right now, we’re raising money to support WV Public Radio with the Chocolate Challenge, and as I write this, we’re just past half way to our goal (update 1/29 6pm -- we made it! Congrats!)Classically Speaking is part of how WV Public Radio connects you with classical music, and we’re doing our part to raise money to support what the station does for classical music online and on the radio.

It is both good and noble to support your favorite public radio station, but it’s also nice sometimes to get a present.

QSF Plays Brubeck album
QSF Plays Brubeck

One of the gifts we’ve selected is the album QSF Plays Brubeck. Quartet San Francisco performed in West Virginia last year, and they’ve been interviewed twice on the Classically Speaking blog (March 2008 and November 2009).  On this album, they interpret the music of the great American composer and performer Dave Brubeck. 

It's a good match: Brubeck has embraced classical music and jazz throughout his career, while Quartet San Francisco also embraces a variety of music and musical styles.  Their recording of Brubeck’s music combines sensitivity and playfulness.

Take five, pledge your support to WV Public Radio, and reward yourself with one of our recent favorites: QSF Plays Brubeck (plus, check out our other classical gifts: Keeping Score: Symphonie Fantastique and Bach Orchestral Suites/Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman, the chocolates that can be mailed anywhere in the country by Valentine's Day, and how you can also help ship medical supplies to assist volunteer medical workers from the area who are going to Haiti). 

Links:

* Giving Quartet San Francisco a Whirl 
* QSF at Concord (interview) 
* Contribute to WV Public Radio 
* Favorite things (2009) 

Mountain Stage Fiddle Fun

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 21, 2010


I’m a fan of Mark O’Connor's music, no matter what genre he’s playing or composing.  So when I heard that he was performing on Mountain Stage with his group Hot Swing, I made sure to find a way up to Morgantown to hear the concert. 

It was a long trip on a rainy day, and I was passing up a night in my own bed and the chance to hear the Peabody Trio play Mendelssohn and Schubert a lot closer to home.  I started to wonder if it was worth all this trouble. 

Once I heard O’Connor warming up during the soundcheck, I knew I’d made the right decision.  The moment he started playing, I lost track of whatever conversation I was having and just listened. 


Mark O'Connor Rehearsal
Mark O'Connor and Hot Swing during soundcheck

This entire Mountain Stage show was amazing; each of the groups gave great performances, the venue was nice, and the audience was engaged throughout the night.

Larry Groce described this as a “picker’s show,” rightly so with all the great guitar, banjo, mandolin, and bass playing.  But it was definitely also a “bower’s show,” with some really cool fiddling/violin playing.*  Mark O'Connor's playing was exuberant and just amazing.  I was especially taken with the performance of a tune by O'Connor called "Gypsy Fantastic."  Plus, the Depue Brothers Band took the stage with four violin players.  Their set included a pretty wild performance of the Hoedown from Copland’s Rodeo.


DePue Brothers on stage
The Depue Brothers Band at Mountain Stage

This show will be on the radio in April. It will also be available online by then -- as a podcast and streaming through NPR Music.  You simply must hear it.

Bonus: I’ve got some free download cards for a few tracks from a recording of Mark O'Connor's string quartets. I'll send one of these cards to the first 10 people to email feedback@wvpubcast.org with “Americana” in the subject line.


Links:

* Mark O'Connor
* Mark O’Connor interview 
* The Depue Brothers Band 
* Mountain Stage 
* Mountain Stage @ NPR Music 
* Mountain Stage Podcast 


* Violin, fiddle, I don’t care what you call it – if you must, you can take up that argument in the comments.

Corey Cerovsek & Mozart (Interview)

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 20, 2010
Corey Cerovsek
Corey Cerovsek

Violinist Corey Cerovsek will be in Charleston and Parkersburg this weekend, playing Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major with the West Virginia Symphony.  We spoke over the phone earlier this week, and he discussed the joy of playing Mozart and gave an engaging description of the music. 

We also talked about the variety of music he plays, and he compared playing violin and biking, shared what he loves about the violin he currently plays, and had some thoughts about live concerts versus recording.  Enough of me describing all of this; it's more fun to listen to him tell it -- you can download or stream the interview here:

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Interview with Corey Cerovsek

The West Virginia Symphony presents “Classical Majesty,” featuring Corey Cerovsek, Friday and Saturday in Charleston and on Sunday in Parkersburg . 
 
Links:

* West Virgina Symphony 
* Corey Cerovsek 
* Some recordings by Corey Cerovsek 

From Idea to Opera: Part II, Building the Story

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By Evan Mack
 · January 19, 2010
Evan Mack, Composer & Pianist
Evan Mack

What does it take to create an opera and get it on stage?  Evan Mack is a composer and pianist living in Charleston, WV, who was interviewed on Classically Speaking in May 2009.  He is currently in the process of having his opera Angel of the Amazonproduced, and he will be writing here about the experience, from his first inspiration through the opera being staged. You can read the first part of this series here.

Having all the characters hashed out, I treated them as pieces to a puzzle. I knew that certain events had to take place in the opera. However, there were so many events that were significant in Sr. Dorothy’s mission and life that I had to pick and choose which events would be best. Also, I felt that there were so many “happenings” that a linear presentation of facts would be too repetitious and many of the images and ideas I wanted to convey would be lost.

I knew that the violence around her only escalated when her mission escalated. This is why I decided that a flashback would show that both violence and success of her mission were happening all the time, despite certain events occurring.

Sr. Dorothy died speaking the beatitudes. I knew that despite each plot event, the beatitudes had to come into play. So each scene is based on one of the beatitudes. Musically, I reinforce the idea with the playing or singing of the “beatitude” motive every time it occurs. The motive is even warped at times, when Sr. Dorothy’s words become twisted by the forces working against her. Again, the opera becomes more about the role she assumed, rather than the events that took place.

Character development was such a critical previous step. Knowing the characters in and out, made it easy for me to figure out how they would act/react in each scene. Much of the drama is built up through character interaction within a specific situation. Much the story, true to her biography, alludes to the story of Christ, including martyrdom.

I also used the symbols of the wet/dry season of the Amazon. In Dorothy’s letters, there were many references to how the wet season would wash out roads, giving protection from the loggers and ranchers invading her people’s lot of land.  I was drawn to the idea of the wet season, and the Amazonian rain, to symbolize the waters of Baptism. Water, rain, the river are referenced throughout.

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
"Bring on the Rain" from Angel of the Amazon

While these writings might make the opera seem like a play with a religious message, that impression is far from the truth. Since Sr. Dorothy was a religious figure, I felt that these issues had to be addressed in the opera. However, as the story unfolds, we find that the poor people with whom she worked contain a much higher moral authority than an apathetic Catholic church, a misogynistic Brazilian culture, and a corrupt government.

Much of the message of the story becomes apparent through the characters and their interactions of events rather than what an audience member would expect from a character based on their occupation or social status.

How does the music drive that message home? Check back to find out in part three...


Previously:

 * From Idea to Opera: Part One 
 

You Can Make it Better!

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 15, 2010

music noteThings you love: Classical music, public radio  

Things you probably don’t love: Fund drives 
 

So what if you could have more radio and less fund drive?  Stick with me here:

* No one really likes having their programs interrupted for fundraising,

* BUT interrupting programs for a few days is the best way to get a lot of people’s attention and raise the needed money,

* AND without raising money to pay for the programs, we will have an even worse interruption – the permanent kind :(

 

 “But I’d give money anyway!” you cry. "Really!" (really?)  Or perhaps you are wondering, “How much do I have to give to make them stop?”

Here, with the power of the Internet, we have a chance to make it better. 

For every $10,000 that is raised online, they will take away one day of this fund drive!.  $10,000 is what they expect with one day of fundraising on the air -- if we can raise that money online before they get started, then we get that day back for news, music, and all that good stuff that is not fund drive.

Let’s do it! 

  

Holl's Chocolate

Plus, it is the Chocolate Challenge, where you can have a box of chocolates sent anywhere in the country by Valentine’s Day as a thank you gift when you pledge $120 .  Those clever fundraising folks have also sweetened the deal with a chance to win a box of chocolates every month for a year .


(I’ll also be posting later about some nice classical music gifts we have to share. And if you don’t like chocolate or the other stuff we’re offering, you can always choose to forgo the gift and have all of your money go to support WV Public Radio ). 

100 Years of Opera on the Radio

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 12, 2010


Speaking of opera
... 100 years ago, public radio broadcasting was born, with an opera broadcast!

Read about the unusual circumstances of the first broadcast in, “Metropolitan Opera to Celebrate 100 years of Live Broadcasts.” You can also read The New York Times article from 1910! "To Hear Opera by Wireless" [PDF] **


Carmen Met 2010
Elina Garanca as Carmen

The technology has surely changed, but the Metropolitan Opera is still broadcasting after all these years.

You can hear Bizet’s Carmen on WV Public Radio this weekend at 1pm, or see it Live in HD in some movie theatersThe New York Times has a good review, including some very nice pictures of the production.

We’re giving away a few tickets to Saturday's Carmen movie broadcasts in Barboursville and Morgantown on the WV Public Broadcasting Facebook page.  Stop on over to say hi and enter to win some tickets while you're there. (These tickets have now all been given away, but we'll be doing more giveaways, so check back!)


** Update
: Want to read more about the history of opera broadcasts? Mark Schubin (from the Metropolitan Opera's Media Department) has written a great piece covering the history of broadcasts, from the Met and elsewhere. We've given permission to post it here:
 
Radio pioneer Lee De Forest was an opera lover.  The May 1907 prospectus of his Radio Telephone Company said, "It will soon be possible to distribute grand opera music from transmitters placed on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House by a Radio Telephone station on the roof to almost any dwelling in Greater New York and vicinity."  He hired opera singers to sing into his microphones and also transmitted opera-music records, even from the Eiffel Tower.

He couldn't get Met general manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza to agree to allow a live radio broadcast, however, until De Forest pointed out that a stage microphone would also allow Gatti-Casazza to hear from his office what was happening on stage.  Finally, an experimental broadcast was authorized.

On January 12, 1910, Acts II & III of Tosca were sent by a transmitter at the Met, via an antenna strung between two masts on the roof, to a handful of receiving stations in the New York area.  The New York Times accurately reported, "This will only be an experiment and perfect results are not expected immediately."  Those singing or talking into a microphone offstage were heard much better than those singing on the stage.  Memory and imagination probably helped listeners.

Still, the world's first live opera broadcast went fairly well.  But, as is so often the case immediately after a reasonably successful experiment, the idea was exploited.  Reporters were invited by the Dictograph Company, which provided the microphones, to hear two operas broadcast the next day, Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, with superstars Emmy Destinn and Enrico Caruso.

The press invitation said the beautiful voices would be "trapped and magnified by the dictograph directly from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, and borne by wireless Hertzian waves over the turbulent waters of the sea to transcontinental and coastwise ships, and over the mountainous peaks and undulating valleys of the country."  In fact, on the 12th, there was shipboard reception, on a vessel docked at a Manhattan pier.  As for the peaks and valleys, The Times had estimated a radius of perhaps 50 miles, given the low height of the opera-house roof.

On the 12th, others respectfully refrained from interfering with the broadcast.  On the 13th, a report in Telephony said, "deliberate and studied interference from the operator of the Manhattan Beach station of the United Wireless Company" caused "some interruption."  "But," according to The Times, "the reporters could hear only a ticking which the operator finally translated as follows, the person quoted being the interrupting operator: 'I took a beer just now, and now I take my seat.'"

Oscar Hammerstein, whose Manhattan Opera House competed with the Met, installed a wireless station in his new London Opera House the next year.  But it wasn't for broadcasting; it was for selling tickets to "passengers in the great liners 500 miles out at sea," according to The Times.

Want to know a little bit more about early opera radio before the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday-afternoon series began in 1931?  Read on.

Before the First Live Opera Radio Broadcast

In 1876 (55 years after opera broadcasts were predicted in The Repository of Arts), Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone (whether Antonio Meucci, a former stagehand at Florence's Teatro della Pergola opera house, actually beat Bell to the punch in 1849 experiments as technical director at Havana's Teatro Tacon opera house is a different issue).  On March 22, The New York Times noted that “By means of this remarkable instrument, a man can have the Italian opera, the Federal Congress, and his favorite preacher laid on his own house.”  In fact, they raised the box-office concern that “No man who can sit in his own study with his telephone by his side, and thus listen to the performance of an opera at the Academy, will care to go to Fourteenth street and to spend the evening in a hot anti crowded building. The following year, George du Maurier published a cartoon in which a household selected among opera offerings delivered by wire.

In 1881, Clément Ader demonstrated the world's first stereo transmission from the stage of the Paris Opéra.  An 1882 book had a chapter on opera on TV   Of opera without visuals, a critic reported, "The telephone is a harsh judge."  But commercial Théâtrophone service followed, delivering operas in stereo to homes beginning in 1890, the world's first electronic entertainment service for homes.  The idea soon spread across much of the world, and, in 1891, the opening of the opera Le Mage in Paris was heard live in London. 

The Théâtrophone used a coin-operated business plan.  Ader's Hungarian associate, Tivadar Puskás, chose a monthly-subscription model for his version, which began in 1893.  That meant that the lines were available when operas weren't being transmitted, so the newscast was invented to give subscribers something to listen to before operas (and during intermissions).  In 1930, the Hungarian service, Telefon Hírmondó, had 91,079 subscribers in Budapest alone who got the opera each night, with news reports during the intermission.

In 1900, at the Paris Exhibition, Horace Short (like Ader, better known as an aircraft inventor) installed an "auxeto-gramophone," a compressed-air-amplified record player, near the top of the Eiffel Tower and acoustically broadcast recordings of arias by stars of the Paris Opéra.  The sounds could be heard throughout Paris, with no listening apparatus required.

In 1904, Professor Otto Nussbaumer of the University of Graz in Austria sang into a microphone and was heard wirelessly next door, possibly the first vocal music carried by radio.  The physics department head reportedly told him, "Your box works, but your singing is awful."

 

Between the First Live Opera Broadcast and the Start of the Met Saturday-Afternoon Series

In 1919, U.S. Navy transmitter NFF broadcast live from the New Brunswick Opera House and was reportedly heard by a ship 2,000 miles at sea.  In Chicago, the Signal Corps aired opera records.

A 1919 proposal called for opera movies to be shot & distributed and projected to the singers, whose voices would be broadcast live to movie theaters to run in sync with the pictures.  The Met's first live cinema transmission (31 theaters in 27 cities) took place in 1952, with local TV stations having to agree to drop their network feeds so the coaxial cable could be used for the opera.  Today, the Met's Live in HD reaches more than 1,000 cinemas in 42 countries via satellite.

In 1920, Nellie Melba sang into a powerful transmitter at the Marconi factory in Chelmsford, England and was heard throughout Europe and even across the Atlantic.  In fact, the transmission was so powerful that it interfered with all others and was eventually shut down by the authorities.  The Melba transmission was recorded in Paris, possibly the first off-air sound recording.

The same year, four medical students in Buenos Aires had planned a single radio transmission, but, not wanting to be outdone by Marconi & Melba, changed it into an entire season of live operas broadcast from Teatro Coliseo in Buenos Aires.  The first, on August 27, was Parsifal.

In 1922, shortly before the Met broadcast a Veteran's Day concert version of Aida from an armory, the real-life son of the singer playing Mimi stepped in as her lover Rodolfo in an amateur Salt Lake City Bohème broadcast after the tenor "got out of line."  An "elocutionist" described the action.

In a 1924 Boston broadcast of Il Trovatore, the manager announced that the tenor couldn't continue after the second act and a messenger would be sent to get Gaetano Tommasini, to replace him.  Having heard the announcement in his hotel room, Tommasini arrived before the messenger left.

AT&T's WEAF (now WNBC) established a National Grand Opera Company in 1925, when it began weekly condensed-opera broadcasts.  There was also a WEAF National Light Opera Company, both later taken over by NBC (which also ran a television opera company for 16 years).

The 1927 inaugural broadcast of what is now CBS included a condensed version of Deems Taylor's opera The King'sHenchman.   A condensed version of African-American composer Harry Freeman's opera Voodoo was broadcast in 1928 before being staged.  And, in 1929, Cesare Sodero's Ombre Russe became the first full opera to have its world premiere on radio (NBC) before opening in an opera house.  But the first opera commissioned (by NBC) for radio (Charles Cadman's The Willow Tree) didn't premiere until 1932, and, in 1937, Louis Gruenberg's Green Mansions was the first commissioned (by CBS) as a "non-visual opera."

In 1930, NBC carried a live broadcast of part of Fidelio from the Dresden State Opera House in Germany.  The schedule noted it would be carried "atmospheric conditions permitting."

In 1931, the Met began its live network opera broadcasts, which continue to this day, said to be the longest-running series of live broadcasts (they were sponsored by the same company, best known as Texaco, from 1940 through 2004, said to be the longest continuous sponsorship in broadcast history).  During the first broadcast, commentator Deems Taylor described the action during orchestral interludes, outraging opera purists, who called NBC, one woman saying she couldn't hear what was going on because "some idiot keeps talking."  A telegram asked, "Is it possible to have Mr. Taylor punctuate his speech with brilliant flashes of silence?"  But Taylor told the audience two weeks later, "We have received several thousand replies, of which fewer than 100 were opposed to being told what was going on upon the stage."  Nevertheless, the Met later restricted commentary to periods when the house lights were on.

And the rest -- live TV, cinema, subtitled, satellite, Internet, HD, and even 3-D opera -- is history. 

Mark Schubin
(freelance) Engineer-in-Charge
Media Department
Metropolitan Opera


From Idea to Opera: Part One

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By Evan Mack
 · January 11, 2010
Evan Mack, Composer & Pianist
Evan Mack

What does it take to create an opera and get it on stage?  Evan Mack is a composer and pianist living in Charleston, WV, who was interviewed on Classically Speaking in May 2009.  He is currently in the process of having his opera Angel of the Amazon produced, and he will be writing here about the experience, from his first inspiration through the opera being staged.


In late 2005, I attended a lecture at St. Anthony Church in Madisonville, Ohio. The speaker told a story of a nun in the Brazilian Amazon who had been murdered in February of that year. I was struck by the fact that Sister Dorothy met her gunmen the day before, fed them, prayed with them, and showed them her work with the peasant farmers of the area. When the gunmen showed up the next day, Sr. Dorothy opened her bible, said, "This is my only weapon," and started reading the Beatitudes...Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom, Blessed are the.... She was then shot six times. She was 73.

As soon as I heard that story, I thought, "This NEEDS to be an opera." 

Sister Dorothy
Sister Dorothy Stang

There have been remarkable biographies on Sr. Dorothy. However, my goal was not to give a play-by-play account of her life. It was to recreate her life and mission through music, with hopes that the opera would inspire audiences to help continue the spirit of her work.

This was a challenge. How do you take forty years of work and put it into a two-act opera? I had access to Sr. Dorothy's letters from 1969 until one week before her murder. The amount of information was overwhelming. There was one aspect, however, that I latched onto, and knew I could run with when trying to create a dramatic thread.

I noticed reoccurring cycles in her story: as her mission grew, so did the forces to stop her. This cyclical nature became the main dramatic artifice for the opera. I noticed her language changed as well. Her early letters, fairly innocuous, gradually became harsher, more urgent in tone. "Land owners" became "Land Sharks,” and then "Land Sharks" became "Invaders." I also noticed that Portuguese words crept more and more into her letters. This fact became important both musically and dramatically.


Angel of the Amazon image

How could I translate this into an opera? Since her work was surrounded by hope on one side and violence on the other, I knew these dramatic elements had to remain constant, despite the passage of time. Therefore, I use the flashback to create the semse of life as a circle, not a straight line. Her language changes in her letters meant that I needed to show growth in her character and make the “lessons learned” main points of interest, not just list event after event, happening after happening.

To portray her immersion into the mission and life of the people she served, I used identifiable musical styles to demonstrate her progress. Her musical language in the beginning of the opera is very "Western;" as the opera progresses, Brazilian rhythms and music enter her musical language and eventually becomes fully integrated as she assumes the role of leader and martyr.

This audio player requires Adobe Flash
"Have I Not Wept?" from the opera Angel of the Amazon

The other players in the story were a little easier to adapt. There were three main community leaders while she lived in Brazil. I combined them into one character. For dramatic reasons, I had to give a bit more depth to the character of the logger who ordered the murder.  The news reports about him were very one dimensional. In all honesty, he is one evil person, and whiny on top of it all. At no point can an audience sympathize with “Vito,” but I, as the writer, had to humanize him to make it believable. This is where real life seemed more fake than art!

Once I had the characters developed, I created a time line to see how everything unfolded.

More of that in part two...

Late-Breaking Brahms

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 6, 2010


It was bound to happen.  Right after I made my list of favorite recordings for 2009, one of the best recordings I have ever heard showed up in the mail. 


Quatuor Ebene Brahms

Brahms String Quartet No. 1 – Piano Quintet /
Quatuor Ebène, Akiko Yamamoto


This is how chamber music should sound, how experiencing it should feel – collaborative, yet also combative.  It’s immediate and intense, and while they’re working together to create this music, it sometimes sounds as if they are trying to destroy each other.  In the sweeter moments of music, it feels as if the world might melt. 

So add this to the list of my favorite things, not just from 2009, but ever. 

Let’s leave it at that, because now I just want turn up my stereo as loud as I can get away with and listen some more.

  

Related links: 

* Quatuor Ebène's site 
* Brahms String Quartet No. 1 – Piano Quintet / Quatuor Ebène, Akiko Yamamoto
* Ravel/Debussy/Fauré String Quartets/ Quatuor Ebène  (I have yet to hear this; it’s definitely on my wish list)

* A short profile of the quartet:

WV Classical Calendar -- January 2010

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By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · January 1, 2010
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