America has never produced a more broadly popular classical instrumentalist than Van Cliburn. Not told as often as it once was, the pianist’s story is both heroic and cautionary.

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By Bradley Bambarger <2017>

America has never produced a more broadly popular classical instrumentalist than Van Cliburn. The pianist wasn’t just an exceptionally communicative, beloved performing artist; he became a kind of folk hero edging into Texas-sized myth, a goodwill ambassador for the USA, a symbol of freedom, generosity and vast talent that reflected the country’s best image — in its own eyes and those of others around the world. In…


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By Bradley Bambarger <2008>

If our highest political circles were enlightened enough to re-institute the court jester — someone who cuts through the bull with a song or a joke, able to get away with saying things that need to be said but that few dare — Randy Newman would be the ideal candidate.

Newman has developed a fine art out of seeing the good in the bad and the bad in the good. Although patriotic and romantic, he can’t help but view the world with a gimlet eye, alerting us to our contradictions and weaknesses in satire as cutting…


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Jonny Greenwood and Krzysztof Penderecki in the recording studio.

By Bradley Bambarger <2012>

Like Picasso’s Guernica, only more so, Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima stands as a rare monument to man-made horror that actually evokes physical levels of feeling apt to such a memorial. Composed in 1960, this nine-minute piece for 52 strings retains its power to sear the senses — the extreme dissonances almost sickening the gut, the instruments made to clatter and screech like souls on the run. Music had never sounded like this before, and even after decades of sonic experimentation the world over, Penderecki’s composition still sounds hair-raising, moving, radical. It’s little…


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By Bradley Bambarger <2004>

Notions of hip in rock music are as cyclical as fashion or economics. Bands and sounds deemed the essence of cool can be out of style just a few seasons later, only to come mysteriously back into vogue a few years after that. In the case of The Cure, an ’80s English underground band turned early-’90s trans-Atlantic sensation, the winds of change have been relatively kind.

Iconic group leader Robert Smith’s fright-wig hairdo, black eyeliner and smeared lipstick can be blamed for the styles of multiple generations of “goths.” …


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By Bradley Bambarger <2004>

David Bowie, who has balked before at replicating his hits on tour like a human jukebox, feels no compunction about trying to please himself as he entertains others.

“I’m not going to trot out the old chestnuts just for the sake of it,” says Bowie, 57. “I don’t think I owe my audience anything but a good, interesting time. That said, I think we do show them a really good, really interesting time. People can tell when we’re having fun up there challenging ourselves, and it’s infectious.

“So, although we dropped ‘Let’s Dance’ from the set…


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By Bradley Bambarger <2009>

One might not think of Richard Goode as a dancer, the 66-year-old cutting a portly, bespectacled figure on stage. But when the pianist puts his hands to the keyboard, he is a master of rhythm, making the air move with a fluent physicality that would make a ballerina green. He is a singer of sorts, too, and not only because he tends to hum along with the music. The piano is technically a percussion instrument, but Goode, more than most players, creates the illusion of string-like legato. …


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By Bradley Bambarger <2011>

Anyone who has witnessed pianist Marc-André Hamelin play Godowsky’s fantastical inventions on Chopin’s études or the mammoth Alkan solo symphony knows the feeling — a jaw grown sore from dropping continually at such incredible feats of dexterity, memorization and musical élan. Yet it’s perhaps the ultimate testament to this pianist’s talents that he enables a listener to almost forget the complications in order to marvel at the music’s strange beauty. Something like the reverse happens when Hamelin plays the more familiar Liszt sonata or a Debussy prelude — he enables you to hear the kaleidoscopic richness…


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By Bradley Bambarger <2015>

Few conductors mix authority with charm quite like Riccardo Chailly, affably informal and an engaging conversationalist. Born into a musical Milanese family in 1953, the maestro laughs about how he is “one of the last Mohicans,” referencing the fact that he one of the few conductors these days with an exclusive major-label recording contract. …


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By Bradley Bambarger <2013>

When The Economist magazine’s Intelligent Life offshoot lamented the decline of the polymath in an age of specialization, it included pianist Stephen Hough in its 2009 group of “20 Living Polymaths,” alongside the likes of Umberto Eco, Oliver Sacks and Brian Eno. Hough certainly fits the bill. Not only is he a virtuoso performer who balances depth and charm like few others, Hough is also a prolific composer, painter and writer. His compositions have been recorded on the BIS, Linn and Hyperion labels; his abstract paintings were recently exhibited in London; and his book The Bible…


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By Bradley Bambarger <2010>

The best record producers share many qualities, though prime among them is being able to “get your ego out of the way,” insists Robina G. Young, one of the very best classical record producers, as well as artistic director of Harmonia Mundi USA. She adds: “My job is to help artists capture the best performance of their vision of a piece. Some artists need encouraging or even cushioning, while others need a gentle push. But a producer, even if she’s the label’s artistic director, is there to serve the artist, not the other way ’round.”

Young…

bradley bambarger

Longtime music journalist, from Billboard to Gramophone to DownBeat to Medici.tv, etc. Founder/curator of the Sound It Out jazz concert series in New York City.

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