Classical 91.5

Tom Huizenga

"You gotta love Brahms," Joshua Bell says, a little short of breath. He's wiping sweat from his brow after the big rock 'n' roll conclusion to the composer's D minor Violin Sonata. Bell and the astute pianist Jeremy Denk play it with all the turbulence and tenderness Brahms demands, and it's an invigorating way to open this Tiny Desk concert.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

If there's one piece by Chopin that can truly be called "trippy," it's the Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4 – especially in this spellbinding performance by pianist Pavel Kolesnikov. The young Russian has just released a new album of Chopin's Mazurkas, arranged not chronologically but by mood and texture, flowing like a mixtape.

Tim Page is no longer afraid of death. That's the one positive takeaway for him after surviving a traumatic brain injury.

Last year, the University of Southern California music and journalism professor — who was also a child prodigy filmmaker, Pulitzer-winning critic, person with Asperger's and father of three — collapsed at a train station. He woke up in an ambulance speeding to the hospital. He's still recovering, still fumbling a bit with the jigsaw pieces of a life a now a little more puzzling, a little more amazing.

Talk to nearly any classical music critic about heroes of the trade and one name usually comes up: Virgil Thomson. Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times advises: "Every practicing and aspiring critic today should read Thomson's exhilarating writings."

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.


As a 16-year-old, Pretty Yende was sitting with her parents in their rural South African home watching TV when a British Airways ad came on. As the sweet music swelled and voices intertwined, Yende was mesmerized. The only problem: She had no idea what to call the beautiful music she'd just heard.

Interested in Steve Jobs, Georgia O'Keefe or Alice in Wonderland? They are all explored in new music in the upcoming American concert season.

Many stylistic winds blow through the repertoire of The Westerlies. The unconventional brass quartet from New York (Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler, trumpets; Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch, trombones) embraces jazz, classical, new music and dance — and in this case, puts a new spin on an old British ballad.

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