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LEBRECHT LISTENS | A Look At Nadia Boulanger As Composer

By Norman Lebrecht on October 30, 2020

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Dear Mademoiselle: A Tribute to Nadia Boulanger (Alpha) 

★★☆☆☆

🎧  Amazon | Apple Music | Spotify

An unprepossessing Parisian teacher of piano and solfège received an unexpected career boost when the victorious General Pershing opened a French music school for Americans at Fontainebleau, near Paris, in 1921. Nadia Boulanger applied for an advertised vacancy and was appointed professor of harmony. Before long she was the go-to teacher for Americans in Paris, of whom there were a great many in the 1920s when the living was cheap and the romance abundant. The shy and unconfident Aaron Copland signed up for her first semester.  George Gershwin applied for private lessons. In 1924, Boulanger was sent on a US tour to drum up more business, conducting Copland’s first symphony wherever she went.

Even more influential was a friendship she formed with Igor Stravinsky, a reciprocal arrangement in which the Russian exile sent her new private pupils whom she taught at the family home, at 36 rue Ballu, and she talked up, and conducted, his less than overwhelming neo-classical works.

Boulanger frequently missed lessons with migraine and toothache, or simply with a melancholy for her sister Lili who died in 1918 after dazzling acclaim as a composer. Nadia, who also composed, was daunted by Lili’s reputation.

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Copland said, “Nadia Boulanger knew everything there was to know about music”. Other American students down the year included Elliott Carter, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, Murray Perahia and the hyperactive Hollywood composer Quincy Jones. As well as a couple of Argentines — Astor Piazzola and Daniel Barenboim — and the brilliant French film composer and chansonnier, Michel Legrand.

Nadia died in 1979. The present concept album brings together selections from famous students played, sometimes a little tentatively, by the cellist Astrig Siranossian and pianist Nathanael Gouin, with three pieces by Nadia Boulanger herself tossed off by Siranossian with Daniel Barenboim at the piano. These are curiosities, no more. Mademoiselle was not much of  composer,  too set on correct form to allow the flight of inspiration.

The most engaging pieces here are Paizzolla’s Grand Tango, Elliott Carter’s cello sonata and a medley by Monsieur Legrand that will send you whistling along your way to a Bossa Nova by Mister Jones. All good clean fun, but why nothing by Copland?

To read more from Norman Lebrecht, follow him on Slippedisc.com.

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THE SCOOP | 21C Music Festival Features World Premieres And More New Music In A Free Stream

By Anya Wassenberg on April 15, 2021

The Royal Conservatory of Music and Koerner Hall will be presenting this year's 21C Festival of New Music as a streaming concert broadcast on Thursday, April 22.
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LEBRECHT LISTENS | Vaughan Williams: Let The Music Say It All

By Norman Lebrecht on April 16, 2021

The London Symphony Orchestra and its new chief conductor Antonio Pappano let the music say it all on this new recording of Vaughan Williams symphonies.
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LEBRECHT LISTENS | We Expect Oracles From Composers In Ominous Times

By Norman Lebrecht on April 23, 2021

We expect oracles from composers in ominous times, but it is the interpreters Benjamin Baker and Daniel Lebhardt, who bring out the terrors and anxieties that rumble beneath these works.
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