Classical 91.5

Tom Huizenga

We've been starting this new year off with genres of music you might not listen to, or that you say you're not a fan of — so far, we've covered jazz, country and deep house.

Half way through this performance of Max Richter's achingly beautiful On The Nature Of Daylight, I looked around our NPR Music office and saw trembling chins and tearful eyes. Rarely have I seen so many Tiny Desk audience members moved in this way. There's something about Max Richter's music that triggers deep emotions.

Harriet Tubman may be the best-known conductor of the Underground Railroad, but a new album highlights another key figure: William Still, who helped nearly 800 enslaved African Americans escape to freedom in the years before the Civil War.

When opera star Joyce DiDonato told us she wanted to sing centuries-old Italian love songs at the Tiny Desk we weren't surprised. But when she said she was bringing a jazz band to back her up, we did a double take. But that's Joyce, always taking risks. After all, the last time we filmed the down-to-earth diva, she insisted on singing an opera aria at the Stonewall Inn, the iconic gay tavern in Greenwich Village.

After the ferociously talented harpist Bridget Kibbey unpacked her 47-stringed instrument at our NPR Music offices, she proceeded to crush the stereotype of the genteel harp, plucked by angels. She proved that the instrument can be as tempestuous as a tango, as complex as a Bach fugue and sing as serenely as a church choir.

Kibbey is crazy for the harp. She first heard one at a country church amid the Northwest Ohio cornfields where she grew up. Now she's the go-to harpist for contemporary composers, some of whom who are writing pieces especially for her.

Adrianne Lenker is the guitarist and singer for the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based rock band Big Thief. Cecilia Bartoli is the Italian opera singer who thrives on neglected repertoire from the 18th century. The two women might seem like strange bedfellows, but they come together in our series titled "highly specific superlatives," a kind of drilling down to some of the finest and most precise moments in the arts in 2019.

Traditions worth saving still need need practitioners and advocates who are willing to propel them forward. Classical music boasts a long, rich history — about 1000 years — of transformation, adaptation, tumult and triumph. From radical, boundary-bashing composers to brave and bold interpreters, the music has remained vibrantly alive even as prognosticators routinely forecast its demise.

Cecilia Bartoli isn't your average opera star. She doesn't sing many of the popular 19th century operas. Instead, she prefers to explore the dusty, little-known corners of the 18th century.

Bartoli's new album is devoted to music written for a single artist of the Baroque era named Farinelli. He was the most acclaimed opera singer of the mid-1700s, the rock star of his day, singing some of the most virtuosic music ever written for the human voice.

When Russian-born pianist Igor Levit dropped in to play Beethoven at the Tiny Desk, he admitted he was – even after four cups of coffee – "still in my time zone change." A little jet-lagged, he had flown in from Berlin the night before and hopped an early train from New York to Washington, D.C.

In a career – and personal life – loaded with enough drama to fuel an opera, Kanye West is finally presenting one. Or at least that's what he tweeted Sunday, announcing a performance of Nebuchadnezzar, "A Kanye West Opera" at the Hollywood Bowl on Nov. 24.

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