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Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

To everything there is a season

(News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · April 28, 2009
Duck or Rabbit

So, what season is it now? Yes, it’s spring (despite the summery heat), but what else? Baseball, basketball, hockey season? Flu season? Allergy season? Duck or rabbit season? Silly season?

We’re coming to the end of most concert seasons. Music and theater groups usually organize their shows into seasons, and they generally follow the school year. Summers are vacation, or get their own mini-season. You can also often get pretty good discounts for subscribing to an entire season. 

Previously, I posted about the WV Symphony and Montclaire String Quartets announcing what they’ll be playing next season. Since then, some more groups have announced their line-up for the 2009/10:


Tim O'Brien
Tim O'Brien

The Wheeling Symphony will be joined by guest artists pianist Angela Cheng (interview), cellist Zuill Bailey, and Wheeling’s own Tim O’Brien. The music includes Handel’s Harp Concerto, Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. The new season isn’t listed on their site yet, but it is featured in an article in the Wheeling News Register.  

The Fairmont Chamber Music Society has announced an intriguingly varied line-up of chamber groups, from a brass trio to a pianist recreating Haydn’s time. They're also bringing the Kandinsky Trio (interview) from that other Virginia.

The Ohio Valley Symphony, just over the border from West Virginia in Ohio, has also announced next year’s season. Guest violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn will be performing on the instrument that inspired The Red Violin , and later in the season they will team up with the Ohio University Choir to perform John Rutter’s Requiem. 

Elizabeth Pitcairn
Elizabeth Pitcairn and the "Red Mendelssohn" Stradivarius Violin

The Charleston Chamber Music Society doesn’t have their dates listed online yet, but I’ve heard that visiting performers will include the Garth Newel Piano Quartet, a chamber orchestra from France, and the Enso String Quartet.

The Huntington Symphony is mum on the fall, but they have three concerts planned for this summer. Decided by audience vote, one of their programs will include another piece by composer Scott Michal (interview). 


Just because we’re looking ahead doesn’t mean this year’s all done quite yet. There are still concerts coming in the next month with the WV Symphony (concert and an opera), the Wheeling Symphony, the Montclaire String Quartet, and the Alexander String Quartet at the Charleston Chamber Music Society.

South Pacific

Alas, I can't get out to hear and see all of them — I’m busy sawing away on the viola in South Pacific  (not classical, but definitely a classic).  If you know of anything else going on, or if you have a review of any concert you see: speak your mind!

Steve Reich wins Pulitzer for music

 Permanent link
By Jim Lange
 · April 27, 2009
Steve Reich recently

Often I feel like I lead a double life.

There is the music that I love and present on Classical Music and then there’s the “other stuff” that I equally love, but cannot share with most listeners.

I would count Steve Reich among the composers whose music I adore, but because of its repetitive nature, it is best to play sparingly. It’s music that is organized in such a radically different way that some listeners get the impression that the “record is stuck.”
Reich just won the Pulitzer for Double Sextet. Frankly, it’s about time.

Reich is a truly unique voice in the world of music; influencing not only musicians within the classical genre, but rock luminaries like Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, David Bowie, etc. If it weren’t for Reich, contemporary music would sound vastly different.

Steve Reich at work

Reich’s approach to composing is very different from his peers. He sometimes refers to his compositional style as a gradual process;
whereby the listener can literally hear this process unfold from relative simplicity and stasis to contrapuntal complexity.

How he does this is similar to singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat. He might take a six note figure and repeat it. Then, by what we might call an additive process, another instrument might take that same figure and play it, but starting on a different beat.

The two lines become blended and in doing so, suggest a new line and this is added and so on. It creates this canonic fabric where all the lines create something new and exciting.

All the while, other lines are doing similar additive (and subtractive) processes, creating this vibrant consort of interlocking counterpoint. It’s always infused with an irresistible Afro-jazz rhythm, making it very hard not to become swept away with the excitement.

Some favorites from the Reich catalog:

It’s Gonna Rain and Come Out. These early works involving tape manipulation are truly for the adventurous only. They are hypnotic and truly achieve a one of a kind of listening experience. They reveal the essence of the Reich idea of that a single sound can become symphonic when looped and out of phase.

Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ. This is an absolute perfect example of the aesthetic principles and beauty of minimalism (or preferably music with repetitive structures). What if Perotin played with a jazz group that had African marimba players and Farfisa organs? This would be the result. I never tire of this piece.

Six Marimbas. Originally written for six pianos, these pulsing, interlocking marimbas create a mosaic of patterns which keep shifting like light through a diamond. Nothing about this music is easy or simple. The listener discovers, as in world music, that all beats are equal.

Drumming. This may be the ultimate percussion statement by Reich. 90 minutes of lightning fast Afro drumming, crystal chiming glockenspiels, piccolo paired with whistling all coming to a final thundering statement by the full ensemble. The rhythms are so catchy; they will get into your ear and stay for quite a while. You may even find yourself humming them like pop tunes.

Music for 18 Musicians. This may be the piece that started the wave that reached around the globe. Listen closely to Peter Gabriel’s No Self Control or Shock the Monkey and you hear almost a direct lift from this hypnotic masterwork. Also, there would be no 1980’s King Crimson if this piece hadn’t been written.

Different Trains and City Life. Both of these pieces use sampled voices and sounds which are played like musical parts with an ensemble. While popular music may have used samples first, Reich takes this to a whole new level. The writing is intricate, the sampled voices are instantly memorable and integral to the story. The end result is marvelous.

So, my congratulations to Steve Reich, an American original. Thank you for your wonderful and exciting music.

I recommend listening to this Fresh Air interview with the composer in 2001.

5 Pianos, 40 Years, and the Fab 4

(News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · April 23, 2009

Just a few items of note:


* I missed that the piano-playing siblings The 5 Browns were in Huntington yesterday.  But our news department didn’t — reporter Clark Davis had a story on West Virginia Morning.  You can read and listen to it here.

* The Creative Arts Center at WVU in Morgantown celebrates its 40th Anniversary this weekend, with performances all around, including a free celebratory concert on Saturday at 2pm. 

* This weekend, the WV Symphony will be performing music by the Beatles with a Beatles tribute band for their Classical Mystery Tour concerts on Friday and Saturday.  Other concerts this weekend: Barbara Nissman at Carnegie Hall Lewisburg (interview here) and the Charleston Civic Chorus performing on Sunday at the Charleston Baptist Temple. 

Anything I’m missing?   Speak up! 

Interview: Barbara Nissman

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · April 22, 2009

“Anyone who has a set of ears and an open soul and heart will be able to enjoy the evening” – Barbara Nissman


Pianist Barbara Nissman loves the great romantic piano music of the Nineteenth Century, but she also champions twentieth-century composers including Béla Bartók, Sergei Prokofiev, and Alberto Ginastera.

Nissman’s relationship with Ginastera’s music is special: she studied with the composer at University of Michigan, and he wrote his final piece of piano music for her. She was then discovered by Eugene Ormandy in Philadelphia, which helped launch her career as a pianist. For twenty years, she has lived in Lewisburg, West Virginia, while still traveling around the world to perform and teach masterclasses. 

Nissman Ginastera album

This weekend, Nissman will be performing a benefit concert for Carnegie Hall and the Greenbrier Valley Theatre. The concert is at Carnegie Hall Lewisburg, Saturday April 25 at 7:30pm.   

We have many of Nissman’s recordings – of Prokofiev, Liszt, Schumann, Brahms, Bartók, Ginastera, Chopin, and Beethoven – in our library.  Having heard her recordings and played them on the radio, I was especially happy to get to talk to her about music.


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Interview with Barbara Nissman

You find out more about Barbara Nissman by exploring her Web site; you can also find several of her recordings at ArkivMusic.

American Boychoir

 Permanent link
By Carole Carter
 · April 22, 2009

The American Boychoir (ABC) was in town this past weekend – well actually, two towns. The touring ensemble performed in Morgantown Saturday at St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church  and on Sunday at First Presbyterian Church (FPC) in Charleston.

If you missed them, (Mona warned you last week!) you missed a great experience. I caught the Charleston program, which was partnered with the Appalachian Children’s Chorus (ACC) and choristers from a couple of local churches as well. (Kudos to FPC music minister Mary Odin and Selina Midkiff!)

Litton, Dr. James
Dr. James Litton, ABC music director for 16 years

The ABC has close ties to Charleston since its former music director, James Litton, grew up on the West Side and graduated from Stonewall Jackson High.

WV Senator Dan Foster conferred the Distinguished West Virginian Award on Dr. Litton as part of Sunday night’s program.

The real stars of the program were the kids, however, all of them.

The program began with Ruth Dwyer of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir leading the combined local choristers in a short program of pieces they’d spent the weekend preparing.

Dwyer, Ruth
Ruth E. Dwyer

 ACC director Selina Midkiff studied with Dwyer early on in her career, and invited her mentor to be guest conductor and workshop leader for the event.

It was a large group and they were well-received by the audience which filled the downstairs of First Presby’s sanctuary.

(The back gallery was filled by whichever choir was “waiting in the wings.”)

The singers were assisted by a small troupe of dancers who also signed the group’s closer, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

Malvar-Ruiz, Fernando
ABC Artistic Director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz

After intermission, the 30-member American Boychoir Touring Choir took the stage by storm. Director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz led them in sacred works from early chant to contemporary, with a smattering of spirituals and world music for good measure.

(I must mention here that the group was exquisitely accompanied when required by friend and assistant music director, Kerry Heimann.)

The boys thrilled the crowd with a medley of South African tunes, complete with choralography and drama.

ABC Aldersgate
American Boychoir singers

The entire ensemble of children joined their young voices for the finale, led by Jim Litton.

The ABC tour continues through KY, TN, PA, OH, VA and the Carolinas until May 3 when it’s interrupted for a performance of Mahler’s Symphony #8 at Carnegie Hall. 

So – if you see the American Boychoir coming to a venue near you – go and be inspired!

Symphonic Appalachia: Interview with Mark O'Connor

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · April 20, 2009

Have you heard the Appalachia Waltz by Mark O’Connor? It’s a short, sweet, open-sounding piece of music. It’s been played by many different instruments, but the most famous version is with Mark O’Connor on the violin, Yo-Yo Ma on the cello, and Edgar Meyer playing bass.

Here, listen:

Appalachia Waltz

The title mentions Appalachia, but the music was written out west (in Santa Fe in 1993). Mark O’Connor has lived and traveled all over the country, and his compositions incorporate many different styles of American music.  

Americana Symphony CD

O’Connor recently used his Appalachia Waltz as the basis for his first symphony, which he calls the Americana Symphony (Variations on Appalachia Waltz). I recently got to interview O'Connor about this symphony.

First, I checked whether he pronounces Appalachia properly:

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How do you pronounce Appalachia?
Then, we talked about writing his first symphony, musical journeys, teaching, and the changing relationship between musicians who play different styles of music. We also talked a bit about another new project—Sharon Isbin’s new recording of his Strings and Threads Suite.  
This audio player requires Adobe Flash
Interview with Mark O'Connor

You can hear samples of the Americana Symphony through ArkivMusic.

If you want to hear more about Strings and Threads check out Jim Lange's interview with guitarist Sharon Isbin.

Near the end of our interview, O'Connor mentioned that he’ll have a triple concerto premiered soon. That concert is not so far from WV -- the new piece will be performed on May 8 in Columbus, Ohio by the Ahn Trio and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra 

Special thanks to Max of Crossover Media for arranging this interview. 

Finding Connections

(Commentary) Permanent link
By Aran Jenkins
 · April 17, 2009

Apples and oranges. Guitars and saxophones? In my mind, wind instruments have always seemed rather foreign or alien. I am a guitar man and have been since I can really remember. 

For that matter, stringed instruments in general just seem to make sense to me, especially since I learned how to play guitar. My appreciation for jazz has grown with my love of music. But I remain mystified by wind instruments, both brass and wooden. I tried to play a saxophone one time, and couldn’t even get the thing to make noise!

But I’ve heard it said that Jimi Hendrix was a fan of the saxophone and drew inspiration from players like John Coltrane. For me, that concept didn’t entirely make sense at first. Guitar players playing like saxophone players? 

Thompson Unit, Bob
The Bob Thompson Unit

A few years ago, I saw the Bob Thompson Unit live. They had a saxophone player with them that night, and it was an awesome show. In one song, Ryan Kennedy and the sax player synced up their melodies together, and Ryan had switched on the overdrive or distortion and they played the melody together.

What was most surprising was how great it sounded!!! The guitar almost began to sound like a saxophone! Now fast forward a couple of years. I play lead guitar (and rhythm guitar) in my church and we also have a saxophone player who plays with us. 


It shouldn’t have surprised me so much, but I recognized almost immediately that we (lead guitar and saxophone) were in fact occupying the same musical space. What seemed so foreign before suddenly grew very familiar. 

Playing with others is always an exercise in give and take and especially in this case. His sax solo and my guitar solo may sound great, but only when played separately! 

When played together, it tends not make much sense musically, like a debate where everyone is shouting and not listening.

We have a give and take and a better understanding of each other now; sometimes he’ll give me space to cut loose and vice versa.  It goes to show that connections (musical or otherwise) can show up in the most unlikely places.

Aran Jenkins plays guitar and piano.  He also studies communications at  WV State University  and is an intern at  WV Public Broadcasting .

Sing, Sing, Sing!

 Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · April 16, 2009
Singing fun

Do you sing?  Odds are that you do – I’ve heard estimates that about 92% of Americans sing in a choir. So a lot of us are singing, even more than just in the car or the shower. If you also like to hear good singing, you’re in luck. There are opportunities to hear a variety of voices around the state over the next few weeks.

The American Boychoir will be in West Virginia this weekend. On Saturday, they’ll perform a concert at St. Francis de Sales Church in Morgantown. Then on Sunday, they’ll sing with the Appalachian Children’s Chorus at First Presbyterian Church in Charleston. The Appalachian Children’s Chorus will also perform a few more concerts this spring, in Logan and Charleston.

Next weekend, the Charleston Civic Chorus will be performing a free concert at the Charleston Baptist Temple (Sunday April 26 at 3pm).  You can check out what they’ll be singing.

Marissa Bloom
Marissa Bloom in recital

Interested in solo singing?  I’ve just heard from Marissa Bloom, a soprano studying at WVU. She has a recital with a neat concept coming up on May 2, called “Feminine Mystique: Women in Art Song.” She says:

"I am performing texts by women and about women. The works aren't very well known in the classical world, but I will be singing Rossini's La Regata Veneziana, two songs by Liszt, Mädchenblumen by Strauss, Métamorphoses by Poulenc, and Casa Guidi by Argento."

Finally, here’s a voice that everyone seems to be talking about: Susan Boyle singing "I Dreamed a Dream" on Britain's Got Talent.  Maybe I’m just a cynic, but how can they be so surprised and overwhelmed over and over again?  It seems like a set up. Here's the video (*grumble* embedding disabled).

I’ll admit I found myself a bit moved by the previous online sensation from this show, Paul Potts. Here's the video of him singing "Nessun Dorma" (again, embedding disabled!)  But now I’ve heard selections from his album, and I don’t know if I would ever choose his recording of these songs over ones by other tenors.

As always, I welcome comments, complaints, arguments, and more info in the comments.

Meet the Composer: David Williams

(Interviews, News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · April 14, 2009
WVU logo

The music's a march and it's being played by a band,* but there's no football game and the performers get to stay seated. 

The WVU Wind Symphony will be performing their spring concert tonight (Tuesday April 14). The concert features West Virginia composer David 
Williams conducting the WVU Wind Symphony in his new piece “And the Marches After Twilight.”

Here’s what Williams had to say about :And the Marches After Twilight" and the experience of conducting his own music:

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David Williams describes "And the Marches after Twilight"

Tuba-player, band conductor, teacher, critic, and composer – David Williams has done a lot of different things, but he’s always stayed with music.

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Williams discusses his musical journey

I asked a dangerous question … and I’ve now been warned that composers aren’t a reliable source for describing their own music style. Williams still had some insights; he also talked about his process for writing music, and how it’s changed over the years. 

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Musical style and process

Finally, we chatted about some of his future projects and the effect that writing reviews has had on his approach to music. 

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Future projects and writing about music

It’s seems we’re on a composer kick recently—check out the recent interviews with Scott Michal and Timothy Cooper.  But it’s been a while since I’ve interviewed a tuba player—the last one was Chuck Daellenbach of the Canadian Brass in July 2008.

* If you object to me casually referring to a wind symphony as a band, you can yell at me in the comments.  But don't be too harsh. I'm just a violist. What do I know?

Bite-sized Concerts

(News, Commentary) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · April 13, 2009
lunch bag picture

Most of the time, when you go to a concert (or movie, or play, etc.), you expect it to last at least an hour or two. 

But sometimes, it’s nice not to have to commit to a full evening’s entertainment. Short, informal lunchtime concerts are a fun way to get out and hear a little bit of music. They're also often free!

I know about three classical lunchtime concert series in WV. 

Pianist Fran Belin plays free half-hour concerts at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg at noon on the second Tuesday of most months. She focuses on a different composer each month, and she also tells stories about the composers in between playing pieces. 

Her next “Tuesdays with Fran” concert features Erik Satie on April 14. Then, she’ll play Sergei Prokofiev in May and Federico Mompou in June. You can bring a bag lunch to the concerts. 

Fran Belin was featured previously on West Virginia Morning — you can hear her describe her approach to music and these concerts in our interview

Nevelson Duo

In Huntington, Marshall University sponsors a series called “MUsic Alive,” at the First Presbyterian Church. They’ve featured visiting artists (recently Michiko Otaki and the Graffe String Quartet) and Marshall University faculty (including flutist Wendell Dobbs). The Nevelson Duo will perform on the next “MUsic Alive” concert, Friday April 24 at noon. I'm not sure about the length of these concerts.

The Kanawha Forum in Charleston presents weekly chamber music concerts over lunch at Kanawha Presbyterian Church for a few months in the spring and fall. They feature different performers, from solo pianists to string quartets to the flute section of the WV Symphony. 

The concerts start at 12:05 pm and last 25 minutes. They’re also free, and you can purchase lunch from the church in advance. The Kanawha Forum has just completed their spring season, but they’ll be returning in the fall. 

Do you know other places around WV serving up miniature concerts, over lunch or any other time?  Let me know!

The Audition (free tickets!)

(News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · April 9, 2009
Metropolitan Opera

How do you get to the Metropolitan Opera?  Like the old joke about Carnegie Hall: Practice, practice, practice!  But there’s a lot more involved in making a career in opera.   

You can get a behind the scenes look at what it takes to become an opera star in a new documentary, The Audition . The movie follows singers competing in the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a competition that rewards the winners with cash and a chance to go on the Met stage, and has launched many singers’ careers. 

The documentary is hosted by Renée Fleming.  Check out a trailer on the Met Opera’s Web site.

In West Virginia, The Audition will be shown in Morgantown on Sunday April 19 at 3pm.  After the movie, The Met will also broadcast a panel discussion with opera singers Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson, and Susan Graham. 

I have four pairs of free tickets to give away!  If you are interested, either leave a comment on the blog or send an email to feedback@wvpubcast.org with “Classically Speaking” in the subject. 

Through the Looking Glass

 Permanent link
By Jim Lange
 · April 8, 2009
Philip Glass
Minimalist composer Philip Glass

Knock knock

Who’s there?

Philip Glass.

Philip Glass who?

Philip Glass

Philip Glass

Philip Glass


What is it with Philip Glass?

Glass is one of the most successful, prolific, famous, and sought after composers of our time. Yet, he has also been so harshly criticized and reviled. Our listeners have called his music “water torture” and one went so far as to call him a “fraud.” Listeners do not seem to have a middle ground for this controversial composer.

The term minimalism, which the composer does not embrace, has been applied to Glass as well his contemporaries Steve Reich and John Adams. However, there is nothing minimal about his prolific and varied output nor the length of some of his works (Einstein on the Beach was a five hour affair.), so why the name? Repetition of small musical ideas is the answer.

Glass’ music does not meet people’s expectations in classical or any other style of music. He uses repetitive structures and stays away from what we might call a musical arc – a beginning, development and then a final conclusion. The music just seems to seamlessly flow and vary of its own purpose and accord. Ironically, the early output of Glass is extremely rigid in its repetition, but over the years the music has become more Romantic in its inclination.

West Virginia PBS is going to show a brand new film about Glass called “Philip Glass in Twelve Parts” on Wednesday, April 8 at 9pm. I’m excited that this is coming to our network.

Official site of Philip Glass 

Info and trailer for the film "Philip Glass in Twelve Parts"  

Meet the Composer: Timothy Cooper

(Interviews, News) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · April 7, 2009

So you write a piece of music for a bunch of instruments.  You can see the notes on the page, hear it your head, or perhaps play some of it on the piano.  These days, you can also have computer software play the notes back for you.  But it’s just not the same as hearing it performed the way you imagine it. 

It’s a special treat for many composers, especially those just starting out, to hear their music performed by actual, live musicians, especially a professional ensemble.

Timothy Cooper got to have that experience this weekend.  Cooper is a 23-year-old composer from South Charleston; he’s also recent graduate of the music division at WVU.

Composer Timothy Cooper

Cooper won the Knoxville Symphony’s Young Composer contest with his piece “Canaan Heights.”  His prize was having his piece premiered by musicians from the orchestra on a concert this past Sunday.  

I caught up with Cooper over the phone on his way out to Tennessee last week.  Here’s what he said about his composition “Canaan Heights,” his approach to writing music, how he got started, and his future plans.

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Interview with composer Timothy Cooper

You can hear samples of Cooper's music on his Web site and read more about the concert in an article from Farragut Press in Tennesee

Want to hear from more composers? Check out our interview with Scott Michal.  Also, be sure to check back -- we have some more composer interviews lined up.

The Master Segovia

(Commentary, Just for Fun) Permanent link
By Aran Jenkins
 · April 3, 2009
I am Aran Jenkins, intern here at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and a fellow music lover.  I felt compelled to share this video today.  Bravo to whomever posted it on youtube.  And what more can really be said about the genius of the late great Andres Segovia??  I look forward to contributing more to this blog, and hopefully next week, I'll host a discussion about the similarities between guitar and saxophone!  Thanks.

Prima in Fairmont

(Interviews) Permanent link
By Mona Seghatoleslami
 · April 2, 2009
Prima Trio picture
The Prima Trio

“You play music; you don’t work music.” – David Borograd

The Prima Trio will be making their first visit to West Virginia this weekend.  They will be guests of the Fairmont Chamber Music Society.  

String quartets, piano trios, wind quintets, and brass quintets are all mainstays of the chamber music world.  The Prima Trio is a bit different—they have clarinet (Boris Allakhverdyan), piano (Anastasia Dedik), and violin/viola (David Borograd).  The noted Verdehr Trio has a similar line-up, but their violinist doesn’t also play viola.

David Borograd is the violinist/violinist in the Prima Trio.  He talked with me about their unusual ensemble, the music they play, and the joy of chamber music (I wasn't able to get him to choose sides between violin and viola.) 
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David Borograd interview, pt. 1

Borograd then described the music that the trio will be playing in Fairmont, which includes Mozart, Stravinsky, Khachaturian, Bruch, and Peter Schickele.  He also gave some hints to the Prima Trio’s future plans, which include making their first recording.
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David Borograd interview, pt. 2

You can hear samples of the Prima Trio playing over on their Web site and hear them play at the Fairmont Chamber Music Society concert on April 5th (note the change in location). 

As always, reports from the concert are welcomed.  Create an account and login to leave a comment.

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