Can You See Music?

By Brian McCreath

A couple of fascinating segments on composers have popped up recently on public radio news programs.

First, there's NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon, where Marin Alsop, the Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, drops in from time to time to talk about various composers and pieces.  This being the 100th anniversary year of American composer Samuel Barber's birth, Alsop and Simon dig into the works of Barber's beyond the famous Adagio for Strings.  Alsop, whose first experience with Barber came at the age of 11 when she played that Adagio in a youth orchestra, offers some thoughts about why Barber's music can be so emotionally powerful and why he was seriously underrated in his day.  You can listen to the entire segment at NPR Music, and I'll have one of Barber's lesser known pieces on the air this afternoon (Thursday) at around 3:00.  Wendy Warner is the soloist in Barber's Cello Concerto with Marin Alsop conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. 

The other piece comes PRI's The World, where Alex Gallafent looked into the music of Russian composer Alexander Scrabin and the possibility that he had a rare condition called synaesthesia, in which a person literally sees various colors when hearing music.  Alex (a terrific producer of all kinds of news reports, but also one who seems to have a particular talent for putting together dynamite reports on music) talks with Georgian pianist Eteri Andjaparidze and American lighting designer Jennifer Tipton about a program they created that takes that phenomenon as its inspiration for a multi-media show, which you can learn more about by visiting the Baryshnikov Arts Center and the Wall Street Journal.  (photo from Spectral Scriabin:  Chris Lee)

Today at around 3:30 I'll have a performance, from pianist Marc-André Hamelin, of Scriabin's Piano Sonata No. 4, which is cited in Alex's piece along with the poem Scriabin wrote to accompany it. 

To hear Alex's piece, visit The World, and for the full immersion experience, check out this documentary on Scriabin:

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