December 19th, 2016

I’m home for the holidays, spending time with my “evergreens”: favorite classical pieces that never get old. These dear friends help me reflect on all that is good in life and anticipate the New Year. Here are some of my favorites – and what are yours?

Listen to my playlist on Spotify.

Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 (3rd movement)
Try waking up to Rachmaninoff’s lush music! I downloaded this piece as a ringtone and it’s the perfect length for staying in bed an extra 15 minutes to get in touch with your emotions and all that is beautiful. The symphony’s third movement has one of the best climaxes ever. Such a great high… It’s coffee for the ears.

Schumann: Symphonic Etudes
Most of my winter vacation will be spent with this piece. It amazes me to see where Schumann takes the original theme in his theme and variations format. The C-sharp minor theme is pretty somber in tone, but he finds so much hope and light in the most surprising places. Hope...that is what the holiday season is all about! It’s like walking on a snowy mountain and suddenly there’s a pristine orchid growing out of the snow; that stem of hope is always there in Schumann’s music.

Grieg: Lyric Pieces
I am in love with these little sound bits of heaven. They’re gorgeous and very simple. One of my favorites is the Notturno from Book V (Op. 54, No. 4) played by Emil Gilels. I’ve never been to Norway, but I’m a huge fan of Norwegian visual arts, and I daydream about visiting the fjords. In January I’ll bring a set of these little Norwegian icicles to open a recital in Anchorage, Alaska. I can see Norway from here!

Brahms: Symphony No. 4 (1st movement) 
When all fails, listen to Brahms 4. Brahms for me is knee weakening. I don’t play a lot of his music; it’s so about “almost having, then losing” − which is so against my personality! This “withdrawnness” can be very beautiful, often painful, but as a listener it makes your heart vibrate. Where he puts those circles of fifths that just kill you... Brahms is my Desert Island composer.

Handel: “Lascia la Spina” sung by Cecilia Bartoli
The way Cecilia sings this aria brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it, and I still can't get over it. It was introduced in a theory class and then I listened to it by myself about 100 times. It stops time.

Arvo Pärt: “Für Alina”
I’m not sure if this is everyone's cup of tea, but I think we can all use a moment to meditate this holiday season. “Für Alina” is very spare… and luminous. I guess I’m attracted to music that either makes time stop or transports me to a place where I’m shielded from everything else. In the world we live in we’re interrupted 4,000 times a day and this music is the opposite; it’s the absence of chaos.

Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra
Simply the best. Listening to this music is like being pumped with pure oxygen. When I even think about this piece my heart rate actually quickens. I wish I’d kept playing the violin! What I would give to play this well… The violinist and violist are yin and yang; they respond to each other with very similar material, but they can never match perfectly with their different voices. Soloist sibling rivalry. No one has the final say, but the way they come together in the final cadenza blows my mind every time. Throw a party and put this on as welcome music!

Happy holidays, and may your New Year be filled with music!