44th Post: (64) Greatest Classical Musicians

(Virtuoso Orchestra, LEEDS & The Great Composers)

The 2021 “Virtuoso Orchestra”


Virtuoso Orchestra – Member Highlights:

Conductor: Andres Orozco-Estrada
Photo credit: The Guardian

Andrés Orozco-Estrada (born 14 December 1977) is a Colombian violinist and conductor, with dual nationality in Columbia and Austria. In January 2013, the Houston Symphony appointed Orozco-Estrada as its next music director, as of the 2014–2015 season. Before taking up the Houston post, he and the orchestra recorded Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony. His current contract with the Houston Symphony is until the 2021–2022 season.


First Violin: Itzhak Perlman
Photo credit: University of Mary Washington

Itzhak Perlman (born 31 August 1945) is an Israeli-American violinist, conductor, and music teacher. Over the course of his career Perlman has performed worldwide, and throughout the United States, in venues that have included a State Dinner at the White House honoring Queen Elizabeth II, and at the Presidential Inauguration of President Obama. He has conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Westchester Philharmonic. An example of his work: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (https://youtu.be/cokCgWPRZPg) (RQ 10). In 2015, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has been awarded 16 Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and four Emmy Awards.

First Violin: Nicola Benedetti
Photo credit: classicfm.com

Nicola Joy Nadia Benedetti (born 20 July 1987) is a Scottish classical violinist. In September 2012, she performed at the Last Night of the Proms, playing Violin Concerto No1 by Mac Bruch. That same year, Benedetti was loaned the 1717 “Gariel” Stradivarius by London banker and London Symphony Orchestra Board member Jonathan Moulds. In July of 2019 she recorded “Marsalis’ Violin Concerto in D minor (https://youtu.be/lTsAkAHMvf4) (RQ 10). Apart from solo performances, Benedetti performs in a trio with the German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and the Russian pianist Alexei Grynyuk.

Second Violin: Rachel Barton-Pine
Photo credit: The Violin Channel

Rachel Barton Pine (born Rachel Elizabeth Barton, October 11, 1974) is an American violinist. She debuted with the Chicago Symphony at age 10, and was the first American and youngest ever gold medal winner of the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition. The Washington Post wrote that she “displays a power and confidence that puts her in the top echelon.” An example of her work: “Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto 1st movement” (https://youtu.be/hdcpb_mUIrQ) (RQ 8).

Second violin: Mark O’Conner
Photo credit: EarRevelant

Mark O’Connor is an American violinist and composer whose music combines bluegrass, country, jazz and classical. O’Connor has released 45 albums, of mostly original music, over a 45-year career. He has recorded and performed mostly his original American Classical music for decades. Born: August 5, 1961 (age 59 years), In Seattle, WA. An example of his work: “In the Cluster Blues.” (https://youtu.be/r4kvzWLSDT4) (RQ 8).

Viola Section: Lawrence Power
Photo credit: Bachtrack

Lawrence Power is a British violist, born 1977, noted both for solo performances and for chamber music with the Nash Ensemble and Leopold String Trio. Power started out as a violist (rather than beginning studies on the violin and switching to viola) at his primary school aged eight. When 11, Power entered the Junior Department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London studying with Mark Knight. Later Power spent a year at the Juilliard School with Karen Tuttle. Power has had a prominent career as a chamber musician, as violist in the Nash Ensemble and the Leopold String Trio. An example of his work: “Salonen’s Pentatonic Étude for solo viola” (https://youtu.be/f3ngHLgnvc8) (RQ 10). He has made guest appearances at international music festivals such as in Edinburgh, Aldeburgh, Verbier, Vancouver, and Oslo.

Viola Section: Claudine Bigelow
Photo credit: music.byu.edu

Dr. Claudine Bigelow is head of viola studies and chamber music coordinator at the Brigham Young University School of Music in Provo, Utah. She has performed in Europe, the US and New Zealand, and continues to be an active recitalist. As a soloist and chamber musician, she can be heard on the Tantara label. She has been privileged to collaborate with Manahem Pressler, Orli Shaham, Ralph Matson, Paul Katz, Brant Bayless, as well as the Fry Street and Avalon String Quartets. Occasionally she gives presentations and one example of one at BYU was titled ”Creativity.”(https://youtu.be/LARQf2CjDJ0).

Claudine has played with the viola sections of the National and Utah Symphonies, Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra, National Chamber Orchestra and at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D. C. Every summer she performs with the Grand Teton Music Festival. Her varied performances have been broadcast on radio and television, including PBS, NPR’s “Performance Today,” and KBYU-FM and KBYU-TV. Her studio recording work for television and film has been affiliated with LA East and LDS Motion Picture Studios.

In 2012, Claudine was chosen to be a Fulbright Senior Scholar, where she served as artist-in-residence at the Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music in Wellington.

Cello Section: Yo-Yo Ma
Photo credit: Smithsonian Magazine

Yo-Yo Ma (born October 7, 1955) is an American cellist. Born in Paris, France to Chinese parents and educated in New York City, United States. Ma was a child prodigy, performing from the age of four and a half. He graduated from The Juilliard School and Harvard University, and has performed as a soloist with orchestras around the world. A sample of his work: “Bach: Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major” (https://youtu.be/1prweT95Mo0) (RQ 10). He has recorded more than 90 albums and has received 18 Grammy Awards.

Cello Section: Natalia Gutman
Photo credit: Discogs

Natalia Grigoryevna Gutman (born 14 November 1942 in Kazan), is a Russian cellist. She began to study cello at the Moscow Music School with R. Sapozhnikov. She was later admitted to the Moscow Conservatory, where she was taught by Galina Kozolupova amongst others. She later studied with Mstislav Rostropovich.

Distinguished at important international competitions, she has carried out tours around Europe, America and Japan, being invited as a soloist by great conductors and orchestras. At one notable recital, she was accompanied by Sviatislav Richter in the Chopin Cello Sonata. Always attentive to music from the 20th century, she regularly performs works by contemporary composers. She has recorded Shistakovich’s Cello Concerto for RCA records and Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra for EMI records. Another example of her work: “Bach Cello Suite No1” (https://youtu.be/J7QA7zE5Hg0) (RQ10). A great supporter of chamber music and contemporary music, she founded the Musikfest Kreuth with her husband, Oleg Kagan, in 1990. She continued the festival in memory of Kagan, who died in 1990.

Standup Bass Section: Christian McBride
Photo credit: zimbio

Over the last 3 decades, Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride has become one of the most requested, most recorded and most respected figures in the music world. Born in Philadelphia and educated at Juilliard, he left music school at the age of 17 to tour with Bobby Watson; he quickly became one of the most in-demand players on the US jazz scene. One of his best performances was: “Shake and Blake” (https://youtu.be/oQ93lI0LNuM) (RQ 9).

In a Jazzfuel interview, he talked about his early days as a sideman with the jazz greats. “I learned a little bit from every band leader I’ve ever worked with. Freddie Hubbard was much different than Benny Golson. Benny Golson was much different than Joe Henderson and Benny Green.”

Double Bass Section: Daria Shorr
Photo credit: Facebook Home

Russian bassist Daria Shorr plays her composition “Siberia” (https://youtu.be/hjGbUuX4_Zw) (RQ 10). The bass playing is fantastic and video work is amazing. Our Virtuoso Orchestra will need Daria’s artistry and uniqueness. Daria’s comments about creating the video are as follows: “The exhibition of Buryat artist Zorikto Dorzhiev has inspired me to create this composition. He prompted me to realize how rich, original and unique the Russian culture is. Every nation in Russia has its own way, history, their own joy and pain but they are all united by huge and wonderful land. I wanted to show you through this video the unity and that we are all the children of our homeland. And no matter how huge our land is, we are all part of this country, of our history and culture. We are equally great-all of us. I decided to name my composition “Siberia” – this is the symbol of togetherness – both territorial and spiritual.”


Flute Section: Sharon Bezaly
Photo credit: RadioKing

Sharon Bezaly (born 1972) is a flutist. Bezaly was born in Israel, but lives presently in Sweden. She has been an international performer since 1997, when she began her solo flute career. She made her solo debut at 13 with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic. A sample of her work: “F. Doppler Hungarian Fantasy” (https://youtu.be/ZQpjASd6PZQ) (RQ 8). Since then, 16 composers from 12 countries in five continents have written 20 concertos for her, on top of which are many composers with chamber and solo works, all dedicated to her. As a side note, her flute was made by Muramatsu Flutes out of 24-carat gold!

Flute section: Sir James Galway
Photo credit: Musical Instrument Hire Co

Sir James Galway, (born 8 December 1939) is an Irish virtuoso flute player from Belfast, nicknamed “The Man with the Golden Flute.”He has established an international career as a solo flute player. In 2005, he received the Brit Award fir Outstanding Contribution to Music at the Classic Brit Awards. In addition to his performances of the standard classical repertoire, he features contemporary music in his programmes, including new flute works commissioned by and for him by many composers. An example of his work is this classic Irish tune “Danny Boy” (https://youtu.be/xv1rI1kFvwA) (RQ 9). Galway still performs regularly and is one of the world’s best-known flute players. His recordings have sold over 30 million copies.


Oboe Section: Eugene Izotov
Photo credit: SF Gate

Eugene Izotov (born 1973) is a Russian-born oboist and recording artist. He is currently the Principal Oboist of the San Francisco Symphony appointed by Michael Tilson Thomas in 2014. He is the first Russianborn oboist in any major U.S. symphony orchestra. He has previously served as the Principal Oboist of the Chicago Symphony (an example of his work: “Mozart Oboe Concerto” https://youtu.be/3DI3z2Tgz3U) (RQ 10), Principal Oboist of the Metropolitan Opera, Principal Oboist of the Kansas City Symphony, and has appeared as guest Principal Oboe with the Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and New York Philharmonic. He studied with American oboist Ralph Gomberg at Boston University, from which he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award. In addition to being recognized as one of the world’s premiere orchestral oboists, Izotov has been awarded top prizes at international competitions for solo oboists in Moscow (1990), Saint Petersburg (1991), New York (1995) and the First Prize at the 2001 Fernand Gillet International Oboe competition.

Oboe Section: Elaine Douvas
Photo credit: Monterey Herald

Elaine Douvas (born 1952) has been Principal Oboe of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York City since 1977. An example of her work: “Richard Strauss: Oboe Concerto PART 1” (https://youtu.be/zJQbjd12U7A) (RQ10). She is also Instructor of Oboe and Chairman of the Woodwind Department at The Juillard School. She also serves on the faculty of Mannes College The New School for Music in New York City, the Bard College Conservatory of Music in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, the Aspen Music Festival and School, Le Domaine Forget Academie (Quebec), and the Hidden Valley Music Seminars (Carmel, CA). She was born in Detroit, Michigan. Her primary studies were with John Mack at the Cleveland Institute of Music and at the Interlochen Arts Academy with Don Jaeger, Jay Light, and Robert Morgan. Prior to joining the Met, she was Principal Oboe of the Atlanta Symphony under Robert Shaw.

Clarinet Section: Martin Frost
Photo credit: harrisonparrott.com

Martin Fröst (born 14 December 1970) is a Swedish clarinetist and conductor. An example of his solo clarinet work is: “Klezmer Dances” (https://youtu.be/o7OaQMiJc3o) (RQ 10). This is one of the coolest performances I have ever seen and listened to (regardless of the instrument played or the genre of music)! It is simply amazing!

Frost is currently principal conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. Fröst’s work in contemporary music includes collaborations with Anders Hillborg, Krzysztof Penderecki, Kalevi Aho, Rolf Martinsson, Brent Sorensen, Victoria Borisova-Ollas, Karin Rehnqvist and Sven-David Sandstrom. In May 2014, he received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize, the first clarinetist so honoured.

Fröst was artistic leader of the Vinterfest music festival for 10 seasons, concluding his tenure in 2015. He became joint artistic director of the Stavanger International Chamber Music Festival in 2010, and served in that until 2015. He has been a conductor-in-association with the Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra. In May 2017, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra announced the appointment of Fröst as its next principal conductor, effective with the 2019–2020 season, with an initial contract of 3 seasons.

Clarinet Section: Sabine Meyer
Photo credit: en.m.wikipedia

Sabine Meyer was born (1959) in Crailsheim, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. Meyer began playing the clarinet at an early age. Her first teacher was her father, also a clarinetist. She studied with Otto Hermann in Stuttgart and then with Hans Deinzer at the Hichschule fur Musik and Theater Hanover, along with her brother, clarinetist Wolfgang Meyer, and husband, clarinetist Reiner Wehle, who played later in the Munich Philharmonic. She began her career as a member of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic, where her appointment as one of the orchestra’s first female members caused controversy. An example of her solo work: “Mozart: Clarinet Concerto” (https://youtu.be/Q7LctOkceuo) (RQ 10).

Herbert von Karajan, the orchestra’s music director, hired Meyer in September 1982, but the players voted against her at the conclusion of her probation period by a vote of 73 to 4. The orchestra insisted the reason was that her tone did not blend with the other members of the section, but other observers, including Karajan, believed that the true reason was her gender. In 1983, after nine months, Meyer left the orchestra to become a full-time solo clarinetist.

Bassoon Section: Klaus Thunemann
Photo credit: Alchetron

Klaus Thunemann (born April 19, 1937) is a German bassoonist. Thunemann was born in Magdeburg, Germany. He originally studied piano but from the age of 18 focused on the bassoon. He was a student at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, where he studied under Willy Fugmann. Upon graduation Thunemann was engaged by the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra of Hamburg where he served as principal bassoonist from 1962 to 1978. During this time he also appeared frequently in chamber music and as a soloist.

Thunemann has made an extensive discography, recording the bassoon repertoire of Vivaldi, Mozart and others for labels including Philips Records and Deutsche Grammophon. A sample of his work: “(8) Vivaldi Bassoon Concertos” (https://youtu.be/eHdu7meKk00On) (RQ 10+). He has collaborated with many artists including pianist Alfred Brendel, oboist Heinz Holliger, and the chamber group I Musici. From 1978 he focused on a teaching career in addition to his solo work. Thunemann served on the faculties of the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover, the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler in Berlin, Madrid’s International Institute of Chamber Music and the Reina Sofía School of Music in Madrid.

Upon his retirement from teaching in Germany, the German government honored Thunemann in 2006 with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (the Federal Cross of Merit, Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland). Thunemann has continued to perform occasionally as a bassoon soloist. In October 2008 he appeared at the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival playing the Bassoon Sonata by Saint-Saëns.

Bassoon Section: Judith LeClair
Photo credit: nyphil.org

Judith LeClair joined the New York Philharmonic as Principal Bassoon in 1981, at the age of 23. Since then, she has made more than 50 solo appearances with the Orchestra, performing with conductors such as Sir Colin Davis, Sir Andrew Davis, Alan Gilbert, Christopher Hogwood, Rafael Kubelik, Erich Leinsdorf, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta, André Previn, John Williams, and Andrey Boreyko.

Ms. LeClair is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, where she studied with K. David Van Hoesen. She made her professional debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra at age 15, playing Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante with colleagues from the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, where she studied with Shirley Curtiss. Before joining the New York Philharmonic, she was Principal Bassoonist for two seasons with the San Diego Symphony and San Diego Opera.  

Active as a chamber musician, she has performed with numerous leading artists and has participated in leading festivals around the country. She has given solo recitals and master classes at the Eastman School of Music, Northwestern University, New England Conservatory, Oberlin College, University of Michigan, Ohio University, and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Every August she gives a solo recital and week-long master class at the Hidden Valley Music Seminar in Carmel Valley, California. She performed with the Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet of New York, formed in 2001 with her colleagues from the New York Philharmonic wind section. They gave recitals throughout the country and on the Orchestra’s foreign tours.

In April 1995 Ms. LeClair premiered The Five Sacred Trees, a concerto written for her by John Williams and commissioned by the New York Philharmonic as part of its 150th Anniversary celebration. She later performed the concerto with the San Francisco Symphony and with the Royal Academy Orchestra in London. She recorded it for Sony Classical with the London Symphony Orchestra in June 1996, with Mr. Williams conducting. This, along with her solo New York Legends CD for Cala Records, was released in March 1997. Her newest CD, Works for Bassoon (https://youtu.be/Z1L_RJBnVHg) (RQ 10+) was released in the spring of 2010.

Ms. LeClair is on the faculty of The Juilliard School, and she will join the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music in fall 2014. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, pianist Jonathan Feldman, and their son, Gabriel.


Trumpet Section: Arturo Sandoval
Photo credit: summitrecords.com

Arturo Sandoval is a Cuban-American jazz trumpter, pianist, and composer. While living in his native Cuba, Sandoval was influenced by jazz musicians Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1977 he met Gillespie, who became his friend and mentor and helped him defect from Cuba while on tour with the United Nations Orchestra. An example of his work: “Funky Cha Cha” (https://youtu.be/KRBapxrFxu0) (RQ 10). Sandoval became an American naturalized citizen in 1998. His life was the subject of the film For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story (2000) starring Andy Garcia.

Trumpet Section: Chris Botti
Photo credit: Scottish Rite Auditorium

Christopher Stephen Botti (born: October 12, 1962) is an American trumpeter and composer. In 2013, Botti won the Grammy Award in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category, for the album “Impressions.” An example of his work: “When I Fall in Love” (https://youtu.be/HJheZYZTVmE) (RQ 10). He was also nominated in 2008 for his album “Italia” and received three nominations in 2010 for the live album “Chris Botti In Boston.”

French Horn Section: Sarah Willis
Photo credit: The Arts Desk

Sarah Willis (born in Maryland in 1969) is now a British French Horn player. She is a member of the Berlin Philharmonic, and is a presenter of TV and online programs about classical music. Willis is the host of the regular online series Horn Hangouts, which are streamed live on her website and archived on her YouTube channel. The series includes interviews with famous musicians, as well as tips on playing the instrument. She credits the series with helping to create an online community of horn players around the world. Willis has recorded a number of CDs as member of the Berlin Philharmonic, as soloist, and as part of chamber ensembles. A unique example of her work was recorded on the streets of Havanna, Cuba: “Mozart Mambo” (https://youtu.be/m1FSR3wKgrk) (RQ 7).

French Horn Section: Zdenek Tylsar
Photo credit: YouTube screenshot

Zdenek Tylsar (and his brother) are the leading exponents of a long Czech tradition of French horn-playing. An example of his work: “Richard Strauss Horn Concerto No.2 E flat major” (https://youtu.be/S4QWb8UXpm8) (RQ 10). Both graduated at the Janáček Academy of Musical Arts and after winning prizes in prestigious competitions in Europe became members of the acclaimed Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Their repertoire comprises a wide range of works from Haydn and Mozart to contemporary music. They also have a special interest in Czech music by composers such as Rosetti and Reicha.


Percussion Section: Trilok Gurtu
Photo credit: Valter Percussion

Trilok Gurtu (born: October 30, 1951 in Mumbai, India). He is an Indian percussionist and composer whose work has blended the music of India with jazz fusion and world music. An example if his very unique abilities to blend numerous percussion applications into one recording: “A Master of Percussion” (https://youtu.be/6L4QKQMdO8Q) (RQ 8). He has worked with Terje Rypdal, Gary Moore, John McLaughlin, Jan Garbarek, Joe Zawinul, Michel Bisceglia, Bill Laswell, Maria João & Mário Laginha, and Robert Miles.

Percussion Section: John Bonham
Photo credit: RollingStone

John Henry Bonham (31 May 1948 – 25 September 1980) was an English musician and songwriter, best known as the drummer for the English rock band Led Zeppelin. Esteemed for his speed, power, fast bass drumming, distinctive sound, and feel for the groove, he is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential rock drummers in history. A mostly self-taught drummer, Bonham’s influences included Max Roach, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. Bonham was also close with Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice, who introduced him to Ludwig drums. While primarily known for his hard rock style during his lifetime, Bonham’s reputation as a drummer has grown beyond hard rock following his death; he is now seen as one of the greatest drummers of all time. Known as one of the best drum solos of all time lasting just over fifteen minutes is: “Moby Dick” (https://youtu.be/r9-42mu1D9Y) (RQ 8).

A sad ending to his life at only 32 years old…on 24 September 1980, Bonham was picked up by Led Zeppelin assistant Rex King to attend rehearsals at Bray Studios for a tour of North America, to begin 17 October in Montreal, Canada – the band’s first since 1977. During the journey, Bonham asked to stop for breakfast, where he drank four quadruple vodka screwdrivers (16 shots between 400 and 560 ml, also equivalent to 9–13 American standard drinks). He then continued to drink heavily after arriving at rehearsals. The band stopped rehearsing late in the evening and then went to Page’s house, the Old Mill House in Clewer, Windsor. After midnight on 25 September, Bonham fell asleep; someone took him to bed and placed him on his side. Led Zeppelin tour manager Benji LeFevre and John Paul Jones found him unresponsive the next afternoon. Bonham was later pronounced dead at 32 years old. The famous band disbanded a few months later. At some point, I plan to replace him, but this acknowledges his No1 ranking as a drummer…


Pianist: Louis Lortie
Photo credit: victoriarowsell.co.uk

Louis Lortie, (born 27 April 1959) is a Canadian pianist. An international soloist, with over 45 recordings on the Chandos Records label, Lortie is particularly known for his interpretations of Ravel, Chopin and Beethoven. Lortie won First Prize in the Rerruccio Busoni International Piano Competition in 1984. In the same year, he won the fourth place prize at the Leeds Competition. He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, and was made a Knight of the National Order of Quebec as well as receiving an honorary doctorate from Universite Laval. An example of his work: Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No17 in D minor.” (https://youtu.be/4gMBXfRs43M) (RQ 10).

Harpsichord: Ketil Are Haugsand
Photo credit: Gabriele Paque

Ketil Are Haugsand (born: June 13, 1947 in Oslo, Norway) started his musical studies in Trondheim and Oslo, and later studied in Prague and Haarlem. In 1973, he earned his solo diploma. In 1975, he was awarded the Prix d’Excellence at the Amsterdam Conservatory, where he studied under Gusray Leonhardt.

Haugsand is now a world-renowned harpsichordist and has toured extensively in Europe, Israel and the United States. Major recordings include Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations and several recordings with the Norwegian Baroque Orchestra. One of his best current recordings is: “Prelude and fugue in G major” (https://youtu.be/H3Pmr8wa4vw) (RQ 9). Currently he is a Professor of Music at the Norwegian Academy of Music from 1974–95. Since 1995, he has been a professor at the Hochschule fur Musik (Academy of Music) in Cologne, Germany.

Keyboard: Matthew Whitaker
Photo credit: dimediamusic.com

Matthew Whitaker (born April 3, 2001) is a 19 year old American jazz pianist. Blind since birth, he has performed at venues including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center and the Apollo Theater, where, at 10, he was the opening performer for Stevie Wonder induction into the Apollo Theater’s Hall of Fame. Whitaker is the subject of Thrive, a 13-minute documentary about “the prodigious talent and irrepressible spirit of a musically precocious 12-year-old blind boy.”

On March 6, 2017, he released his first album, Outta the Box. Other musicians on the album include Christian McBride, Dave Stryker, Will Calhoun, Sammy Figueroa, Melissa Walker, and James Carter. In April 2017, Whitaker performed on the Ellen Degeneres Show and competed on Fox’s Showtime at the Apollo, winning first place. Whitaker has toured Europe, the Middle East and Asia. An example of one of his recordings: “Live Session for Jazz FM” (https://youtu.be/Ir6zixUUo7g) (RQ 10).

Banjo: Alison Brown
Photo credit: WHRN

Alison Brown (born: August 7, 1962 in Hartford, CT). She is an American banjo player, guitarist, composer, and producer. She has won and has been nominated for several Grammy awards and is often compared to another banjo prodigy, Béla Fleck, for her unique style of playing. In her music, she blends jazz, bluegrass, rock, blues as well as other styles of music. One of her live performances with her quartet was: “Going to Glasgow” (https://youtu.be/SEKcRF4iab8) (RQ 7).

Mandolin: Chris Thile
Photo credit: The Boston Globe

Christopher Scott Thile (born: February 30, 1981 in Oceanside, CA). He is an American mandolinist, singer, songwriter, composer, and radio personality, best known for his work in the progressive acoustic trio Nickel Creek and the acoustic folk and progressive bluegrass quintet Punch Brothers. Also, he is capable of playing a classical style as this example shows: “Bach: Sonata No. 1 in G Minor” (https://youtu.be/j3lH_Tevw5o) (RQ 7). He also is a 2012 MacArthur Fellow.

Fiddle (jazz violinist): Stephanie Grappelli
Photo credit: Mubi

Stéphane Grappelli (26 January 1908 – 1 December 1997), born Stefano Grappelli, was a French-Italian jazz violinist who founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1934. It was one of the first all-string jazz bands. He has been called “the grandfather of jazz violinists” and continued playing concerts around the world well into his eighties. Here’s one of his songs: “Uptown Dance” (https://youtu.be/3mXIZRiF9YY) (RQ 10).

Grappelli played on hundreds of recordings, including sessions with Duke Ellington, jazz pianists Oscar Peterson, Michel Petrucciani and Claude Bolling, jazz violinists Svend Asmussen, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Stuff Smith, Indian classical violinist L. Subramaniam, vibraphonist Gary Burton, pop singer Paul Simon, mandolin player David Grisman, classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, orchestral conductor Andre Previn, guitar player Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar player Joe Pass, cello player Yo Yo Ma, harmonica and jazz guitar player Toots Thielemans, jazz guitarist Henri Crolla, bassist Jon Burr and fiddler Mark O’Conner.

Claudio Constantine
Mozart Turkish March
Photo credit: calendar.time.ty

Claudio Constantini holds an international and multi-faceted career as a performer of two instruments, the piano and the bandoneón, as well as being a composer in worldwide demand. Born and raised in Lima (Perú) into a musician´s family, Constantini´s unique style is defined by its solid classical roots paired with a passion for popular music genres, among which Latin American music and improvisation play a key role. He has performed worldwide in top venues (such as Amsterdam´s Concertgebouw, The Berlin Philharmonie, Vienna´s Musikverein, The Los Angeles Opera house, among many others. Active in chamber music, he regularly collaborates with great artists such as Leticia Moreno, Ksenija Sidorova, and Rafael Aguirre, among others. His latest Album AMERICA with piano music of George Gershwin and Astor Piazzolla has won him numerous outstanding reviews worldwide and has been nominated for a Latin Grammy (2019)in the category of “Best Classical Album.” He is also in the process recording the complete piano Works of Claude Debussy, of which he has already released two albums. The first volume was selected among the 10 best albums of the year 2015 by Fanfare magazine (USA) and the second won him several recognitions. He has also collaborated in over a dozen productions for various artists. Constantini has taught masterclasses at several institutions in Europe and abroad. He organizes the yearly “Primavera Pianistica” masterclasses and competition in Belgium, aimed at young pianists who wish to develop their artistry further. He initiated his piano studies with his father (Gerardo Constantini) and later received his bachelor´s degree in Finland, his master´s degree in The Netherlands, and finally the diplome de concert in Paris, all of which earned him the highest distinctions. He was a pupil and eventually assistant of maestro Aquiles Delle Vigne, disciple of legendary pianists Claudio Arrau and Gyorgy Cziffra.

Scheduled every three years. Next up: April 2021.

The Leeds is one of the world’s foremost music piano competitions. Since the first Competition in 1963, it has attracted the world’s finest young pianists, drawn by the opportunities offered by the outstanding prize package, the challenge of demanding repertoire, a stellar jury – and a warm welcome from the City of Leeds. Competitors are limited by age between 19-29. Initially 60 players are chosen for the worldwide contest. There is no fee for their auditions which will be held in New York City, Singapore and London beginning in April of 2021 (only scheduled every three years).

A bold new vision, launched in 2016 by Co-Artistic Directors Paul Lewis and Adam Gatehouse, has seen The Leeds spread its wings. Internationally, in 2018 First Rounds were held in Berlin, New York and Singapore. And for the first time the whole Competition was broadcast online with medici.tv, attracting over 1 million views across more than 190 countries.

Locally, the Leeds Piano Festival took place in Leeds and London and partnerships have been built and strengthened. Our Leeds roots are deepened with Piano+, an imaginative programme of city-wide activity, and our year-round Learning & Engagement work.

The Leeds is led by Adam Gatehouse, who became sole Artistic Director in 2019, and is honoured to have the support of Murray Perahia as Patron and Lang Lang as Global Ambassador.

Eric Lu
Photo credit: highresaudio.com

Eric Lu (born December 15, 1997) is a Chinese-American classical pianist. At 20 years old, he won the First Prize and the gold medal at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2018. He performed the “Concerto No. 4, Op. 58” (2018 Leeds Final): https://youtu.be/r8WC4g23nuo (RQ 9) for the win.

Anna Tsybuleva
Photo credit: daily sabah.com

Anna Tsybuleva (born 12 August 1990) is a Russian classical pianist. She won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2015. She Played Saint-Saens – “Etude en forme de Valse” (https://youtu.be/2Rn0swlNKuc) (RQ 9) for the win.

Which Composer do you like and why? The men and amazing women follow…

Greatest classical composers (men and women) in the world playlist link: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqptie5CKN1hR_3ejNDQf2rPUInjCYeWi

Photo Credit (for all portraits):

Beethoven 1770-1827 (56 years old at death)

Ludwig van Beethoven composed music in the transitional period between the Classical and the Romantic eras, and his work has been divided into (roughly) three periods. The first period, between 1794 and 1800, is characterized by traditional 18th-century technique and sounds. The second period, between 1801 and 1814, is marked by an increased use of improvisatory material. The third period, between 1814 and 1827, featured a wide range of musical harmonies in and textures. Beethoven’s second period was his most prolific. He composed many of his most famous pieces—including the Eroica Symphony (https://youtu.be/2AsUSY5rXuMRQ 10) in 1805.

Mozart 1756-1791 (35 years old at death)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an Austrian composer, widely recognized as one of the greatest composers in the history of Western music. With Haydn and Beethoven he brought to its height the achievement of the Viennese Classical school. Unlike any other composer in musical history, he wrote in all the musical genres of his day and excelled in every one. His taste, his command of form, and his range of expression have made him seem the most universal of all composers; yet, it may also be said that his music was written to accommodate the specific tastes of particular audiences. He wrote several successful operas. Mozart also composed a number of symphonies and sonatas. His last symphony—the Jupiter Symphony—is perhaps his most famous. Mozart completed the Jupiter Symphony (https://youtu.be/C6EOb86YdIs) (RQ 10+) in 1788, just three years before his death. At his death, Mozart left incomplete his Requiem in D Minor, K 626. The requiem was later completed by Mozart’s student, Franz Xaver Sussmayr.

Bach 1685-1750 (65 years old at death)

Johann Sebastian Bach had a prestigious musical lineage and took on various organist positions during the early 18th century, creating famous compositions like “Toccata and Fugue in D minor.” Some of his best-known compositions are the “Mass in B Minor (The English Concert choir)” (https://youtu.be/7F7TVM8m95Y) (RQ 10) the “Brandenburg Concertos” and “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Bach died in Leipzig, Germany, on July 28, 1750. Today, he is considered one of the greatest Western composers of all time. He was a magnificent baroque-era composer, Johann Sebastian Bach is revered through the ages for his work’s musical complexities and stylistic innovations.

Tchaikovsky 1840-1893 (53 years old at death)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer whose works included symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, chamber music, and a choral setting of the Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Tchaikovsky’s most popular compositions include music for the ballets Swan Lake – Kirov Ballet (1877) (https://youtu.be/9rJoB7y6Ncs) (RQ 8), The Sleeping Beauty (1889), and The Nutcracker (1892). He is also famous for the Romeo and Juliet overture (1870).

Chopin 1810-1849 (39 years old at death)

Frederic Chopin was a Polish-born pianist and composer of matchless genius in the realm of keyboard music. As a pianist, his talents were beyond emulation and had an impact on other musicians entirely out of proportion to the number of concerts he gave — only 30 public performances in 30 years of concertizing. His most famous piece was “The Nocturnes, Op. 9” (https://youtu.be/-gDinVAmtA0) (RQ 9) are a set of three nocturnes written by Frédéric Chopin between 1830 and 1832, published in 1832, and dedicated to Madame Marie Pleyel. The second nocturne of the work is regarded as Chopin’s most famous piece.

Vivaldi 1678-1741 (63 years old at death)

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born on March 4, 1678, in Venice, Italy. His father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, was a professional violinist who taught his young son to play as well. Through his father, Vivaldi met and learned from some of the finest musicians and composers in Venice at the time. Vivaldi was an innovator in Baroque music and he was influential across Europe during his lifetime. As a composer, virtuoso violinist, pedagogue, and priest, his life and genius influenced a number of notable artists. The Four Seasons (https://youtu.be/zzE-kVadtNw) (RQ 10), a series of four violin (Janine Jansen, featured violinist) concerti, is his best-known work and a highly popular Baroque piece. I wonder if Frankie Valli got the idea for his band name from Vivaldi?

Schubert 1797-1828 (31 years old at death)

Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his short lifetime, Schubert left behind a vast oeuvre, including more than 600 secular vocal works, seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of piano and chamber music. His most famous song that he composed was “Ave Maria.” One of the favorite recording artists of this song was Barbara Bonney (https://youtu.be/l5cF5GGqVWo) (RQ 10). She recorded the song in 1994.

Haydn 1732-1809 (77 years old at death)

Franz Joseph Haydn is considered the father of the classical symphony and string quartet, and an innovator in the composition of piano sonatas and trios. It was Haydn’s voice which first took him to Vienna to begin singing in a choir. He is often called the “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet” because of his important contributions to these genres. He was also instrumental in the development of the piano trio and in the evolution of sonata form. Haydn was an extremely prolific composer, and some of his most well-known works include the London Symphonies, The Creation, Trumpet Concerto, and Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major (https://youtu.be/5tAvhIyw-BY) (RQ 10+). His compositions are often characterized as light, witty, and elegant.

Brahms 1833-1897 (64 years old at death)

Johannes Brahms was a German composer and pianist and is considered a leading composer in the romantic period. His best known pieces include his Academic Festival Overture and German Requiem. Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna. He wrote in many genres, including symphonies, concerti, chamber music, piano works, and choral compositions, many of which reveal the influence of folk music. He surprised his audiences by programming much work of the early German masters such as Heinrich Schütz and J. S. Bach, and other early composers such as Giovanni Gabrieli; more recent music was represented by works of Beethoven and Felix Mendelssohn. Brahms also wrote works for the choir, including his Motet, Op. 29. Throughout Johannes Brahms’s career there is a variety of expression—from the subtly humorous to the tragic—but his larger works show an increasing mastery of movement and an ever-greater economy and concentration. Some of his best-known compositions included Symphony No. 3 in F Major (https://youtu.be/2tB2SLLnPZg) (RQ 10+), Wiegenlied, Op. 49, No. 4, and Hungarian Dances.

Handel 1685-1759 (74 years old at death)

George Frideric Handel, a German-born English composer of the late Baroque era, was known particularly for his operas, oratorios, and instrumental compositions. He wrote the most famous of all oratorios, Messiah (1741). Most music lovers have encountered George Frideric Handel through holiday-time renditions of the (The Orchestra of the Antipodes) Messiah’s ‘Hallelujah’ (https://youtu.be/JH3T6YwwU9s) (RQ 10+) chorus or his Music for the Royal Fireworks. Even though Handel was very interested in music, his father (who was a barber and surgeon) was not. There’s a story that Handel smuggled a clavichord — a VERY quiet instrument — into the house so that he could practice in secret. Handel’s father insisted that his son become a lawyer, until the day that Handel sat down at the keyboard and dazzled a duke. The duke convinced Handel’s father to let his son study music.

Photo credits for all of these female composers: classicfm.com

Not only a composer of some 70 works, Hildegard von Bingen was a writer, mystic and visionary. As a Benedictine Abbess, she founded two monasteries. One of her compositions, the Ordo Virtutum, is the oldest surviving morality play. It features melodies for the human soul and 16 virtues, but the Devil for once doesn’t get any of the best tunes – he has a speaking role. One example of her works (Sequentina, artist): “Canticles Of Ecstasy” (https://youtu.be/Ei88J4lERbk) (RQ 10).

A Singer, lutenist, poet and teacher, Francesca Caccini was the daughter of the great Renaissance composer, Giulio Caccini. She became one of the most influential female European composers but very little of her music survives. Her stage work, ‘La liberazione di Ruggiero’, is considered to be the first opera by a woman. One example of her works (Capella di Santa Maria, artist): “Il primo libro delle Musiche” (https://youtu.be/DmHhvpbxoNM) (RQ 10+).

Barbara Strozzi was said to be ‘the most prolific composer – man or woman – of printed secular vocal music in Venice’ in the middle of the 17th century. Her unique output only contains secular vocal music, with the exception of just one volume of sacred songs. The large majority of her works were written for soprano. One example of her (Roberta Invernizzi, soprano) works: “Sino alla morte” (https://youtu.be/3iW7014VGpI) (RQ 10).

At 16, Isabella Leonarda entered a convent where she stayed for the rest of her life. She was one of the most productive woman composers of her time, as well as a teacher for the other nuns. Her ‘Sonate da chiesa’ was historic in that it was an instrumental composition rather than vocal. She is one of only two Italian women known to have written instrumental music. An example (Elena Russo, cello) of one of her works: “Sonata duodecima” (https://youtu.be/lSKkglNwQEU) (RQ 10).

Louise Farrenc received piano lessons from masters such as Ignaz Moscheles and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Following her marriage, she interrupted her studies to play concerts with her husband, the flautist Aristide Farrenc. Despite her brilliance as a performer and composer, she was paid less than her male counterparts for nearly a decade. Only after the triumphant premiere of her Nonet for wind and strings – in which the violinist Joseph Joachim took part -did she demand and receive equal pay. An example (Cappella Coloniensis, radio recording) of one of her works: “Nonet in E-flat major, Op.38” (https://youtu.be/v4p1q0mNjoo) (RQ 8).

Sister of the composer Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny Mendelssohn composed more than 460 works, including a piano trio and several books of piano pieces and songs. A number of her works were originally published under Felix’s name. Her piano works are often in the style of songs and carry the title, ‘Song without Words.’ This style of piece was successfully developed by Felix, though some assert that Fanny preceded him in the genre. “Notturno in G minor” (Heather Schmidt, pianist) (https://youtu.be/ti1eZ2B63Ro) (RQ 8).

The wife of Robert Schumann and herself one of the most distinguished pianists of her time, Clara Schumann enjoyed a 61-year concert career. Her father Friedrich Wieck taught her to compose and she wrote her Piano Concerto at the age of 14. She largely lost confidence in her composing in her mid-30s. ‘I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea;’ she said, ‘a woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?’ An example of one of her works (Jozef de Beenhouwer, pianist): “Complete Piano Works” (https://youtu.be/xhDFHqOLgeQ) (RQ 9).

Teresa Carreno, a Venezuelan pianist, singer and composer, performed for Abraham Lincoln at the White House in 1863 and at several of Henry Wood’s promenade concerts. She composed at least 40 works for piano, two for voice and piano, two for choir and orchestra, and two pieces of chamber music. Her song ‘Tendeur’ was a hit in her time. Remarkably, a crater on Venus is named after her. An example if one of her works (Teresa Carreno, pianist): “Ballade No. 1 in G minor Op. 23” (https://youtu.be/_SCoheEblp0) (RQ 9).

Cecile Chaminade was composing from an early age, even playing some of her music to Georges Bizet when she was eight. She wrote mostly pieces for piano and salon songs, which were hugely popular in America. She composed a Konzertstück for piano, the ballet music to ‘Callirhoé’ and other orchestral works. The composer Ambroise Thomas once said of her, ‘This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman.’ An example of one of her works: “Arabesque No.1, Op.61” (https://youtu.be/gaV2unQNWA0) (RC 10).

Amy Beach, America’s first successful female composer, was an accomplished pianist who agreed, after her marriage, to limit her piano performances to one charity recital a year. After her husband died, she toured Europe as a pianist, playing her own compositions to great acclaim. Her music is mainly Romantic, although in her later works she experimented with more exotic harmonies and techniques. Her most famous works include the Mass in E-flat major and the Gaelic Symphony. An example (Neeme Jarvi, Detroit Symphony Orchestra) of one of her works: “Symphony in E-minor, Op.32” (https://youtu.be/VmLU1CfHcJw) (RQ 9).

Who are the great symphonies of today?

Photo credit: New York Classical Review

Gramophone story by: Mariss Jansons, Chief Conductor:

Of course I knew the Royal Concertgebouw from records long before I ever conducted them. I loved the early Mengelberg recordings and later those with Bernard Haitink. Standing on the podium before the musicians, I always appreciate just how special they are. Their approach to music-making goes far beyond questions of sound; it is so profound, so deep, so noble. They create with you a unique atmosphere, they make you feel that you have entered a very special world.

They have an understanding of each composer like an actor understands his roles – they interpret, and shift into the appropriate character. It comes from a hunger to comprehend what is behind the notes. Notes are after all only signs, and if you only follow the signs they won’t get you there. Yet very few orchestras in the world have that quality of knowing the depth and the character of the music. We have many technically good orchestras these days. But this musicial intelligence, allied to the orchestra’s very personal sound, makes the Concertgebouw stand out.

In rehearsals the players talk with you on a fascinating level about interpretation. So often rehearsals can be simply about organisation: you are expected to come in and say only, “Here a little louder, here a little softer,” which is all very primitive. The Concertgebouw players expect something extra from you, an interesting interpretation, illuminating ideas, a fantasy. If you offer them that, they play with a passion as though for a new piece rather than a work they have played a million times before. This is what the players want – that higher level, when you forget about the notes and play the image, the idea.

All the truly great orchestras boast an individual sound, which is far from the norm today. When I took over the Concertgebouw, journalists asked me what I would change. I said, “Nothing for the moment. It’s my task to find out their special qualities and preserve them. Then, if through a natural process my own individuality adds something – and theirs to me – that will be fine.” I would never set out to change the Concertgebouw. We continue to learn together. A sample of their work: Debussey’s “La Mer” (https://youtu.be/fe1pB9KqHRg) (RQ 9).

Gramophone story by Fergus McWilliam (a horn player for the Berliner Philharmoniker):

Contrary to popular mythology, I don’t think there is any such thing as a recognisable orchestral sound. However, you can recognise an orchestra by its way of playing. I have surprised myself on a number of occasions, turning on the radio in the car or in the kitchen, hearing an orchestra mid-flight and immediately knowing that it’s us. It has to do with the priorities of the players – we Berlin Phil musicians play passionately and emotionally, throwing ourselves gung-ho into the music – and that is evident even across the airwaves.

I have been a member of the orchestra for 23 years under three music directors (Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle), and during that time we have changed and developed. Indeed, it would be a sad case if we had failed to do so. I think any institution that wears its traditions proudly on its chest must necessarily be aware that tradition is a living process. A performing tradition is not to be mummified, like a fly in a piece of amber or an exhibit behind glass in a museum, but instead is something that lives. By definition, it must evolve and adapt.

One of the principal points we addressed when considering where to take the orchestra after Abbado was whether we wanted to move forward into the 21st century, or back into the past. Abbado had already done the pioneering work. When he took on the job after Karajan he was stepping into immensely big shoes, but he managed to achieve a pretty radical revolution, which influenced orchestras throughout the world. He would take a fairly traditional programme and present it in a certain way, causing the audience to sit up, take notice and really clean out their ears. And within a fairly short space of time other orchestras were attempting more daring programmes, too – as if they had simply been waiting for someone to take the lead. Now that we have Simon Rattle, we do perform a greater number of contemporary works. Many musicians around the world haven’t quite come to terms even with the 20th century yet, but Simon is a conductor for the 21st century.

As a musician, if I had been reduced to playing nothing but Brahms and Beethoven – magnificent works as they are – that would be a very thin diet. I have enjoyed the journey and adventure with this orchestra immensely because my musical education has benefited consistently year on year by pushing the envelope. It’s a tremendously rewarding and uplifting working environment – not the kind of high-pressure situation where you worry every day whether you will be good enough. I certainly don’t feel there is a Damoclean sword over my head, but it’s none the less a challenging environment. In meeting these challenges we orchestral musicians experience greater satisfaction and are able to raise the bar again – but it does require total commitment from every single player.

Here is a sample of their works: “Symphony No9” (https://youtu.be/IDOAT1ZbTRI) (RQ 10+).

Photo credit: Bratislava Music Festival

Gramophone story by Wihelm Sinkovicz (The classical music critic for Die Presse):

It must be admitted that the Vienna Philharmonic, for all its deserved fame, does not always sound like the best orchestra in the world. It plays too many concerts, for one thing, and too many of those are with conductors unable or unwilling to bring the best out of the players. Sometimes, as when Valery Gergiev comes to visit, they can even sound brutal, like a second-rate symphony band. Sometimes the playing sounds boring, as long as maestri such as Daniel Harding address the orchestra’s possibilities without any apparent artistic concept.

But – and it’s a very big but – when the right conductor is before those players, it is a different matter entirely. When cultivated and inspiring interpreters such as Christian Thielemann, Franz Welser-Möst or the fabulous Bertrand de Billy (in opera as well as in concert) work with a sense of its deep well of musicality, the Vienna Philharmonic can sound like no other orchestra.

As it benefits from its daily activities in the opera house, the orchestra is able to form the smoothest transitions, the finest modulations of sound. That makes it incomparable, at least from time to time – whenever it exercises its option to be so.

An sample of their works: “Neujahrskonzert Wien” (https://youtu.be/TwRvxPUX4cg) (9).

Photo credit: The Times – October 4, 2018

Gramophone story by Marin Alsop, a regular guest conductor for the London Symphony Orchestra:

The LSO stands out from all the orchestras I’ve worked with because of its totally unique work ethic. The players are always ‘on’, whether it’s 9am or 9pm, whether they’ve been working flat-out all week or whether they’ve just come back from their holiday. You start work and they’ll immediately light up in a way I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

The LSO style is well known – there’s snappiness and vitality, a precision and a drive, and they give their all, especially when it comes to volume. Where does it come from? Well, they certainly have extraordinary versatility: they can play anything! But there’s an attitude that goes with that – they have the same openness to every project that comes their way. They have the vocabulary to be true to every style of sound that’s required. They’re constantly adapting.

They also benefit from great management, people who share with the musicians a curiosity about new things, and don’t shy away from new challenges. And as the players are involved in many of the decision-making processes, they choose to work with people who share their philosophy. They’re scrappers too – they love putting things together and the range of music-making they tackle is colossal! You always get the sense that they’re there because they want to be – there’s never any sense of grind. And that contributes to the immediacy of the experience.

An example of their works (Eduarto Mata): “Bolero” (https://youtu.be/GJVWEstu_lM) (RQ 9).

Photo credit: Italymagazine.com – 200th birthday

Gramophone story by: Emanuel Ax is a pianist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra:

I have been playing with the Chicago Symphony for such a long time that I feel like a member of the family. When I performed with them for the first time I was 26 years old and they couldn’t have been nicer – they are just adorable people. As a student I had often heard them at Carnegie Hall under Solti, so playing a Liszt concerto with him conducting was like a fantasy come true.

But I have to say that each time I play with them it’s special. Last year I did a Brahms concerto under Haitink, and that was amazing. I am still at the point where I have a kind of thrill when I get to go on stage with a great orchestra, and they are incredibly talented, a very exciting group of players. I don’t think I have ever heard more brilliant Strauss and Mahler than I have heard in Chicago.

As an orchestra they have this gleaming brass sound that I think they are justly famous for. Some people criticise them for failing to balance that incredible brilliance, but I believe they are an orchestra that responds to what you ask them to do. When Solti was conducting them, he encouraged that brilliant sound, whereas when I heard them under Barenboim they sounded like a fantastically rich and deep European orchestra, so I think they are capable of pretty much anything. Chicago, like all great orchestras, have a kind of pride in themselves, regardless of who is on the podium, and this is an important element in maintaining a high standard.

A sample of their works: “Beethoven’s No9” Symphony: (https://youtu.be/rOjHhS5MtvA) (RQ 10).

Photo credit: br-so.com

Gramophone story by: Mariss Jansons, Chief Conductor for the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra:

Here is an orchestra that is not only very brilliant – it doesn’t have any weaknesses at all. They are enormously spontaneous and emotional performers, playing every concert like it could be their last. They give everything, more than a hundred per cent.

But the orchestra has a secret to its success.

As a radio orchestra, all of its concerts are recorded. Therefore all the players are at once accustomed to the idea that they must be technically perfect and unfazed by the presence of microphones – so, with the playing quality almost a given, they also concentrate on interesting and involved interpretation. They are trained to do both, which yields enormous results. In addition, they play a lot of contemporary music. That keeps them sharp; their sight-reading, for instance, is phenomenal. For me, as a conductor, it’s like driving a Rolls Royce. The orchestra can cope with everything.

A sample of their works: “Symphony No9” (https://youtu.be/9_BlhOJp8RY) (10+).

Photo credit: ideastream.org

Gramophone story by Mark Swed, chief music critic for the LA Times:

In refinement of tone, impeccable intonation, ensemble tautness and the sheer warmth of sound, the Cleveland Orchestra is the Concertgebouw and Vienna Philharmonic practically rolled into one. America’s so-called European orchestra, it was made great by George Szell, an Old World autocrat, in the years following Second World War. No American-born music director before or after Szell moved to Cleveland. Most of the major commissions these days come from overseas. At the moment, Cleveland is a better place to find out what Oliver Knussen, Matthias Pintscher or the young Austrian Johannes Maria Staud are up to than is New York.

But nothing, in fact, could be more American than Cleveland’s orchestra. That it remains one of the world’s best in an economically struggling Midwestern city is the American can-do spirit in operation. Franz Welser-Möst, who is in his fifth season as music director, has his detractors. They call for a return to 20th-century predictability. Welser-Möst, instead, is moving Cleveland into the 21st century through his questing interpretations and inventive programmes. Nearly every week brings something current or a novelty from the past to the elegant and intimate Severance Hall. Though an Austrian, Welser-Möst has demonstrated a restless curiosity about American music, including the maverick tradition in the west, which is mostly ignored east of the Mississippi.

Even Welser-Möst’s detractors usually admit that his orchestra continues regularly to produce its trademark sound that’s hard not to love. The orchestra tours extensively and plays several weeks a season in Miami, helping out in Florida’s orchestra-deficient capital. And Welser-Möst now has a contract running through to 2018, which allows him the luxury of making long-term plans, assuring a stability not to be found elsewhere in the orchestral world.

An example of their works: “Adagio from Symphony No9” (https://youtu.be/8PQT5IK8mwA) (RQ 10).

Photo credit: pinterest.com.au

Gramophone story by: Leonard Slatkin, was a principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra between 2005 and 2007:

I tend to think of a great orchestra as either one that has such a distinctive sonic personality that it sets itself apart, or one that is defined as special by the repertoire it plays. With Los Angeles, it’s probably the latter that you think about. In his years at the helm, Esa-Pekka Salonen has vastly broadened the scope of what the orchestra plays. You are almost as likely to hear them play a work by Steven Stucky as one by Beethoven.

So by now the LA Philharmonic is famous for its excursions into contemporary music. That gives them the ability to handle the technical demands of the repertoire in an important way. It also means that they’re very open to new thoughts and ideas.

So each conductor coming to that orchestra can place his or her individual stamp on the music, as opposed to a default interpretation that the orchestra provides. If, for instance, you go to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic in a Brahms symphony, it’s more than likely that you’ll get the Vienna Philharmonic’s performance of that Brahms symphony. It’s not like that with LA.

Their new hall is also a vital factor in their success. You can’t be a truly great orchestra unless you have a hall that gives you an environment in which to be unique, either in the repertoire that you choose to play or through the kind of sound you create. That hall may not be to everyone’s taste, but in point of fact Disney Hall has given this orchestra a real chance to bloom. They can do things they couldn’t do before because they were limited in terms of stage space – and they can do new things sonically because the hall is much more conducive to a wider sonic palette.

I expect Gustavo Dudamel’s arrival as chief conductor to continue the good times, and his upbringing in Venezuela will help him. He’ll probably introduce concepts he’s grown up with, trying to make music ever more a part of the community. And he can help the orchestra make a connection with Los Angeles’ large Hispanic population, a new audience that maybe hasn’t yet been fully reached out to.

A sample of their works: rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture” (https://youtu.be/MEeLl9-l63w). (RQ 10+).

Photo credit: NewYorkArts.net

Gramophone story by James Jolly, Editor-in-Chief of Gramophone:

For an orchestra that is only celebrating its 25th birthday this year, the Budapest Festival Orchestra has risen to the top with extraordinary speed. But then it’s an extraordinary set-up – a group of superb musicians who play with a passion and commitment that beggars belief. The combination of Iván Fischer, the orchestra’s founder and music director ever since, and these fine players has elevated music-making to a level that astonishes and delights with equal measure. This is not an ensemble in which the players fall into an easy routine – they know that their reputation relies on their continuing to deliver at white heat at every performance. Watching the BFO rehearse or record is like glimpsing chamber-music-making on a big scale, each player deeply concerned about his or her contribution to the whole. And in Fischer they have not a dominant ego, but a facilitator of remarkable sensitivity.

Sample of their works: “Carmen Fantasy Op. 25)” (https://youtu.be/Fph7RGl8fPw). (RQ 10).

Photo credit: musicalamerica.com

Gramaphone story by: Violinist Nikolaj Znaider who returned to conduct and play with the Staatskapelle in January 2009, for concerts marking Mendelssohn’s 200th anniversary:

This is one of the very few orchestras with its own distinctive sound. By which I mean a sound that is, perhaps more than with any other orchestra, immediately recognisable. This has to do with the orchestra’s heritage, somewhat with the fact that it was isolated during the Cold War, and also with the players’ awareness of this sound and their own wish to preserve it. And so the players pass on the knowledge of how to produce it to their pupils, who often succeed them in the orchestra.

I admit, my name is Nikolaj Znaider and I’m an addict. I’m addicted to this orchestra, and to the intoxicating, central European sound it creates today and that can be heard even on those old recordings under Wilhelm Furtwängler from the 1940s and ’50s. It’s an orchestral sound that almost no longer exists elsewhere. It’s hard to describe, because to do that one must become subjective, but I would aesthetically define it as a dark, wooden quality.

Less subjectively, the Dresden players play music the way I believe it should be played – with what is invariably called “a chamber-music quality”. That of course simply means actively listening to what goes on around you and relating what you do to that. With certain orchestras, definitely this one, you sense that every musician takes responsibility not just for their own part but for the music as a whole.

As I grow and develop, increasingly I have a need for that act of creating something that does not yet exist – something that must be brought into the physical world from the metaphysical. To do that it’s not enough to play my solo violin part; it is vital to play with a great conductor and a great orchestra, with people who have musical vision and share that need to express collectively something in the music.

So I play with the Staatskapelle whenever I can. Recently I have started sitting in the orchestra for a concert’s second half. Last year we played some dates in Dresden and each time after the interval I sat with them to play Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. To be in the midst of this group of people thinking and breathing as one, while still acting as individuals taking responsibility for their part in the whole, is the ideal. I can’t imagine any list of the world’s great orchestras without the Dresden Staatskapelle at or near the top.

A sample of their works: Sergi Rachmaninoff “Symphony No2” (https://youtu.be/SvuitFzDxDg) (RQ 10+).