Preparing for Vail’s Bravo! by listening
VAIL, Colorado – One of my favorite things about the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival?Sure, there are the concerts, the ability to see incredible musicians perform up close or soak in the scene from the lawn with friends.It’s also a very legitimate reason to go on an iTunes splurge. Hey, it’s my job. I have to be up with the music this year and every year. OK, so I’m totally addicted to iTunes after a childhood of rummaging through the racks for classical music at Tower Records. (Yes, kids, before the Internet, we went to things called record stores. And you have no idea what records are. Ugh.)But this brings up an important point. If you’re new to the world of classical music, it is helpful to listen to piece a few times before you hear it performed. And for those of us who think that all music went downhill after Copland, a new listen to an old favorite or simply a delightful excuse to add to your collection is a good thing.BarberIt is the centennial of the American composer’s birth, so there’s a lot of him this season. “The Adagio for String Orchestra” (July 2, Dallas Symphony Orchestra), you’ve heard and you know. But check out the download “Barber: Adagio, Violin Concerto,” a two-disc album of Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. (Yes, I know they’re no longer discs, but old habits die hard.)This is good introductory portrait to Barber and includes all of his works you’ll be hearing at this year’s festival, including his violin concerto (June 30, Dallas) and “The School for Scandal Overture” (July 17, Philadelphia Orchestra).BeethovenDallas plays the Fifth on June 30 and the Ninth on July 7. As the compulsive listener I am, I’ve had all of the Beethoven’s symphonies since college, but …. iTunes has a classic recording “Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 5, 6 & 9” It’s Herbert von Karajan the Berlin Philharmonic, and you get the “Pastorale” (No. 6) as a bonus.We’re also hearing Jonathan Biss and the New York Philharmonic perform Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Numerous options abound here. Old school is certainly from the “Great Performances” label with Leon Fleischer, George Szell and the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. New school is Lang Lang recording with Christopher Eschenbach.Brahms This season, we have half of the Brahms’ symphonic cycle. The First Symphony is on July 14 with Philadelphia, while Dallas presents the Second on July 2. Do yourself a favor and get all four. Von Karajan and Berlin do the collection for $11.99 on iTunes. And yes, I’m a Von Karajan buff.DvorakHis Ninth, “The New Word” comes to the Ford Amphitheater July 10 with Philadelphia. Said orchestra released the Eighth and Ninth together in 1999.Gershwin”The Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra” is July 11 with Philadelphia. Jean-Yves Thibaudet has a new recording which is making waves. There also a Bravo! alumni association version with Jon Nakamatsu, Jeff Tyzik and the Rochester Philharmonic out there.GriegThis is killing me. I downloaded a remastered version of Van Cliburn playing both Liszt piano concerti (No. 1, New York, July 30) and Grieg’s Piano Concerto (Philadelphia, July 16). I consider these to be the definitive recordings of these works and I can’t find it now. It seems to have disappeared on the Internets. Hmmm. If you can find it, get it.MendelssohnJuly 24 is a great concert with New York, whose highlights include Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. There are a lot of new recordings of this work (Anne-Sophie Mutter, Daniel Hope and Joshua Bell), but I go for Itzhak Perlman here. It’s a rousing album that also has Bruch’s Violin Concerto.ProkofievThe story of star crossed lovers hits the stage July 29 with New York. Led by former New York Philharmonic director Lorin Maazel, the Cleveland Philharmonic does the whole work with the Cleveland Orchestra back in 1973.RachmaninoffHis Second Symphony is July 25 (New York). While I’m a serious collector and usually buy the set of symphonies (Vladimir Ashkenazy), for those looking for a smaller dose, check out Andre Previn and the Royal Philharmonic.TchaikovskyThere is no shortage of recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (Philadelphia, July 19). Gil Shamam, who will be here for this, has a recording with the Deutsche Grammaphone label. I’m partial to Olga Kern’s recording with Christopher Seaman and the Rochester Philharmonic, all of whom have been at Bravo! in years past.SibeliusThe New York Philharmonic opens with the Finn’s Second Symphony on July 23. Check out Esa-Peka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Deutsche Grammaphone Concerts Series. Also download a version of “Finlandia” because I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the encore that night.Stravinsky”The Rite of Spring” (Philadelphia, July 9) definitely takes a few samplings. Old school is certainly from the “Bernstein Century” from Sony, “Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, Suite from ‘The Firebird.'” Marin Alsop, a Bravo! regular, also conducts the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a newer offering.For the serious listenerThe New York Philharmonic has a season subscription of live recordings on iTunes, and it is wonderful. Yes, it’s pricey at $149.99, but well-worth it given the downloads of program notes as well as audio commentary that’s included. By the way, we’re taking 30 concerts, so it comes out to $5 per “album.” My hope is that one of this year’s New York performances in Vail lands in this series.It is also Chopin’s bicentennial. Bravo! observes it with some selections at a chamber concert at the Vilar July 13, but please do get in the spirit. One of my favorite albums of all time is double-disc set of all three of his piano sonatas and his two books of Etudes played by Ashkenazy.And we’re one year from Mahler’s centennial. Start preparing now with an astounding set of live recordings by Maazel and the New York Philharmonic.When not getting his classical music groove on, Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.