Conductor Gustavo Dudamel  and violinist Simone Porter perform in 2016.

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel and violinist Simone Porter perform in 2016.

When there’s unprecedented access to new music, what keeps classical and opera wonderful — and resonant?

For one, it’s taking on modern topics. This year, an opera called “An American Soldier,” premiered. It’s based on the story of 19-year-old Danny Chen, an Army Private who killed himself after “suffering months of vicious hazing and racist taunts.”

From The New York Times:

This inventive and searing opera could not have been more relevant in an America riven by issues of race, war and bullying. The opera shifts between scenes in which the ghost of Pvt. Chen witnesses the trial of his sergeant for negligent homicide, and flashbacks from his teenage life: hanging out with friends in New York’s Chinatown, making dinner with his mother in the kitchen, arriving for basic training full of patriotism and zeal.

And with the success of Golden-Globe-winning shows like Amazon’s “Mozart In The Jungle” and celebrity status of the conductor it’s based on, Gustavo Dudamel, classical music and opera are getting a makeover.

Another group reframing how we see classical music is Orchestra Noir, an all-black orchestra led by classical musician Jason Ikeem Rodgers.

“We all talk about doing something for the next generation,” Rodgers said. “We all talk about doing something to give our young people options … to explore different things, and this is one of them.

“These are the types of things that inspired me and I wouldn’t be here doing this if there wasn’t certain Black classical musicians that I looked up to,” he added citing classical pianist André Watts as an early inspiration, along with Jewish conductor Leonard Bernstein.

And historians are diving into the archives to reimagine the classical canon and make classical music and opera something the public interacts with every day.

We’re speaking with: Ikeem Rodgers; Vivian Schweitzer, author of A Mad Love: An Introduction To Opera; and Clemency Burton-Hill, author of Year of Wonder: Classical Music for Every Day, about what makes classical music great.

One piece we recommend is ‘Gaucho,’ by Brazillian composer Chiquinha Gonzaga. Leave us your recommendations for the playlist we’re building.


  • Clemency Burton-Hill Creative Director for Music & Arts, New York Public Radio; @clemencybh
  • Vivien Schweitzer Author, A Mad Love: An Introduction to Opera; @vivschweitzer

A Playlist From "Year Of Wonder" by Clemency Burton-Hill

An Introductory Opera Playlist from Vivien Schweitzer

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows