Tom Huizenga

It's not every day someone walks into our NPR Music offices and unpacks an instrument made in 1680. And yet Kian Soltani, the 27-year-old cellist who plays with the authority and poetry of someone twice his age, isn't exactly fazed by his rare Giovanni Grancino cello, which produces large, luminous tones. (He also plays a Stradivarius.)

And if you think the notion of a cello recital isn't exactly sexy or thrilling, just take a look at Soltani; he radiates joy and ingenuity as he performs three pieces that offer virtuosity, sweet lyricism and fire.

Updated on Jun. 17 at 11:41 a.m.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) musicians, carrying signs reading "Fair Play for World Class Musicians," have begun picketing in front of their artistic home, Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, as the orchestra's management has locked out its players.

In the opening scene of Pavarotti, the new documentary by director Ron Howard, the popular tenor travels deep into the Amazon jungle in search of an old opera house where the great Enrico Caruso may have once sung.

The building is shuttered, but because he's Luciano Pavarotti the door is unlocked for him to belt out a few honeyed notes from the stage. His fabulous voice soars into the vast emptiness of the auditorium.

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When the intrepid string quartet known as Brooklyn Rider first visited the Tiny Desk nine years ago, no one knew what the musicians might play. They're as likely to trot out an Asian folk tune as they are a string quartet by Beethoven, or one of their own compositions.

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If just one thing can be confirmed from these compelling Tiny Desk performances by the Calidore String Quartet, it should be that the centuries-old formula – two violins, a viola and a cello – is still very much alive and evolving. Indeed, an impromptu show of hands in the audience before the concert began revealed that almost everyone had seen a string quartet perform live.

How do you play an instrument you never physically touch? Watch Carolina Eyck. She's the first to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk. The early electronic instrument with the slithery sound was invented almost 100 years ago by Leon Theremin, a Soviet scientist with a penchant for espionage. It looks like a simple black metal box with a couple of protruding antennae, but to play the theremin like Eyck does, with her lyrical phrasing and precisely "fingered" articulation, takes a special kind of virtuosity.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out what's great about a culture. That's exactly what Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was when he came to the U.S. at the end of the 19th century, an immigrant thrown into a new world and new sounds.

Anthony Roth Costanzo is a feisty performer who knows a thing or two about busting down barriers in classical music. After all, opera singers don't normally belt out arias behind office desks, and they don't insist on lugging harpsichords with them. They also don't routinely sing in Bronx middle school classrooms and get students talking about emotions. But Costanzo is fearless. (And after seeing this amazing Tiny Desk performance, watch him melt the hearts of distracted sixth-graders.)

When George Li, the 23-year-old American pianist, revealed his Tiny Desk setlist, one thought came to mind: How will these powerhouse showstoppers sound on an upright piano? The music he intended to play, by Franz Liszt and Vladimir Horowitz, was designed for a real, 7-foot concert grand piano – the kind they used to call "a symphony orchestra in a box."

Why did Laurence Olivier return so often to Shakespeare's Othello? Why did Ansel Adams keep photographing the Grand Canyon? Obsessed or awestruck, artists revisit great inspirations because they believe there is yet another story to tell – about life, about themselves.

Fifty years ago, a group of six guys walked on a London stage to perform for the first time as The King's Singers. They were choral scholars and graduates from King's College, part of England's venerable Cambridge University.

Whenever a symphony orchestra or opera house loses its financial footing, a chorus of classical music "coroners" quickly steps up to pronounce the imminent demise of an entire genre. The pianist and scholar Charles Rosen put it best when he said, "The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition."

Back at the beginning of time, the human voice was the very first instrument. Probably close in second place were folks banging on stuff – in other words, percussionists. The quartet of gentlemen who form the Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion takes primordial pounding into a completely distinctive new league. To be sure, in this Tiny Desk performance, they'll play their sophisticated, modern marimbas and vibraphones, but be on the lookout for the subtleties of tuned cowbells and 3/4" galvanized steel pipes, like those found at the local hardware store.

Editor's note on April 2, 2018: You may have figured this out already — this story was an April Fools' joke. It's not real. We hope you enjoyed it.

"Not all pianists are created in equal temperament," Robin Olson told a small but enthusiastic audience behind NPR Music's storied Tiny Desk. The pianist, hailed as an "avant-garde gewandhaus" by Berlin's Staubzeitung, is as celebrated for his cryptic maxims as he is for his inscrutable music.

By her own admission, composer Florence Price had two strikes against her.

"To begin with I have two handicaps – those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have some Negro blood in my veins," is how she began a 1943 letter to Serge Koussevitzky, the revered conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She added later, "I would like to be judged on merit alone."

In these days of wireless earbuds, streams and podcasts, the notion of people gathering to hear a lone classical singer (with a pianist) perform densely structured art songs in a foreign tongue seems almost laughably quaint.

When we invited Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov to play a Tiny Desk concert, we rolled out the big guns. In place of the trusty upright, we wedged a 7-foot grand piano behind Bob Boilen's desk in preparation for the artist who The Times of London called "without question the most astounding pianist of our age."

Updated, Jan. 11, 4:00 p.m. ET: This article was updated to include new allegations of sexual assault made against Dutoit.

Classical music has never lived in a bubble. For centuries, it's always found common ground with folk music.

Enter, the Danish String Quartet.

Like a good mixtape from a friend, performances by David Greilsammer tend to range widely in repertoire and surprise with cunning juxtapositions. On a recent album for example, the Israeli pianist alternated sonatas by avant-garde pioneer John Cage and baroque master Domenico Scarlatti.

Pianist Glenn Gould rocketed to fame in 1955 with his startling and original take on Bach's Goldberg Variations. Gould's fans were treated to a remake of Goldbergs in 1982, when he released a slower-paced rendition just before his untimely death. But it's that first, rapid fire 1955 recording that continues to captivate audiences.

The intrepid pianist Marc-André Hamelin has a reputation for embracing the toughest, strangest music. His new recording of For Bunita Marcus by Morton Feldman is a fine example. For nearly 75 minutes the music never rises above a whisper and the damper pedal is always pressed down, allowing single notes to ring out into vast, silent spaces.

Earlier this month, the New York Philharmonic's outgoing music director Alan Gilbert said goodbye to his orchestra in a series of concerts. Today, he is saying hello to a brand new job in Hamburg, Germany.

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Symphony orchestras and opera companies across the country continually ask the same question: How do we attract a younger and more diverse audience?

Saturday night, I discovered something of an answer at the Washington National Opera's east coast premiere of Champion, a four-year-old opera by jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard.

In 21 seasons of attending WNO performances, I've never witnessed a more diverse crowd.

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