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Maybe you have opera jokes. We did.

When the Pop Culture Happy Hour team planned a trip to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, we grudgingly served up to each other our dusty old gags about Bugs Bunny and helmets with horns and Pretty Woman and ... have we left anything out?

We chose to see Rigoletto, precisely because it's a classic. It's real, hardcore actual opera. We didn't want to be reluctant, or to insist that opera come meet us where we were. We wanted to dive in. All jokes aside, we really did want the opera experience.

Augustin Hadelich's latest album of violin concertos offers two unlikely bedfellows. The tuneful, romantic classic by Johannes Brahms bumps up against the modernist mayhem of György Ligeti. The album, titled simply Brahms, Ligeti: Violin Concertos, also proves to be a compelling introduction to one of today's best, but still undervalued, violinists.

NPR Classical

Jun 20, 2019

Need a deep discovery experience? Try 1000 years of music in this playlist from NPR Classical's Tom Huizenga, which explores everything from new releases to old favorites, and classics from the dawn of the recording era. Our mantra: Bach, Beethoven, before and beyond.

Updated on Jun. 17 at 11:41 a.m.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) musicians, carrying signs reading "Fair Play for World Class Musicians," have begun picketing in front of their artistic home, Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, as the orchestra's management has locked out its players.

In the opening scene of Pavarotti, the new documentary by director Ron Howard, the popular tenor travels deep into the Amazon jungle in search of an old opera house where the great Enrico Caruso may have once sung.

The building is shuttered, but because he's Luciano Pavarotti the door is unlocked for him to belt out a few honeyed notes from the stage. His fabulous voice soars into the vast emptiness of the auditorium.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple playlists at the bottom of the page.

In a surprising announcement Thursday, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra abruptly cancelled its summer 2019 lineup of concerts.

This month in Tulsa, Okla., opera singer Lucia Lucas made her U.S. debut. She also made history.

At the Tulsa Opera, Lucas sang the title role in Mozart's Don Giovanni. Mozart's character is a ruthless, macho womanizer. Lucas is a transgender woman with a rich baritone voice and is the first known trans woman to sing a principal role on an American opera stage. In a conversation with NPR's Ari Shapiro, Lucas said she doesn't want her performances to be entirely defined by this historical marker.

Kishi Bashi's "Summer of '42" is a love song inspired by and set in one of the darker chapters of American history: the internment of Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. "What are the things you wanted / The same as anyone," the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist sings. "Just a hand to hold a little / After all is said and done."

Jeremy Dutcher came to the Tiny Desk with sparkling, purple streams of glitter draped around his shoulders. Then he set his iPad on our Yamaha upright piano, not to read his score as pianists do these days, but to play a centuries-old wax cylinder recording of a song sung in the incredibly rare language of Wolastoq. Jeremy Dutcher, along with cellist Blanche Israel and percussionist and electronics wizard Greg Harrison, wove that old recording into a remarkably passionate performance that was very 21st-century, with a deep nod to a century past.

Don't see the video above? Click here.

I've watched a lot of Tiny Desk concerts over the years. It's good to see musicians in the raw, away from stage lighting and backing tracks — as if they've just stopped by an office to play over a lunch break, with desk-bound employees watching on. The performances should expose flaws, but instead they tend to expose musicians being casually brilliant, like the members of Ensemble Signal, who certainly play these pieces beautifully.

As Opera In The Rock prepares to open its first show of 2019, we'll hear from one person who's central to the production. 

Francesca Mondanaro hails from New York City, and has sung roles both stateside and abroad for many years. 

Mondanaro comes to Little Rock to sing the leading role in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," the first time she's sung the role. 

This week on Arts Scene is for the opera.

We speak with Opera In The Rock's Executive Director Kate Sain about their latest production, Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." We also hear from the show's director, David Ward.

Ward and Sain spoke with Arts Scene's Ann Nicholson about the sorrow and determination of Puccini's music, and how the tragic storyline of Puccini's best known work inspires creativity in all who are involved. 

This program originally aired on 5/12/2019.

Don't see the video above? Click here.

When the intrepid string quartet known as Brooklyn Rider first visited the Tiny Desk nine years ago, no one knew what the musicians might play. They're as likely to trot out an Asian folk tune as they are a string quartet by Beethoven, or one of their own compositions.

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