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Music for being
My friend and teacher Marina suggested this post: a classical playlist for various moments in the life of the creative body.
It’s modeled on one of my favorite music roundups, put together by my old Atlantic colleagues Spencer Kornhaber and Caroline Mimbs Nyce in early Covid days: A Playlist for Partying Alone.
A few notes:
- I’m linking to albums here and recommend you pick one at a time and listen through (note the specific tracks on the Rachmaninoff; that album also has other works on it). Here’s a playlist of sample tracks from each selection if you want to get a quicker taste.
- I can’t tell you how much a recording matters. As you listen beyond the list, Google to find the best. I use Apple Music for classical; the audio quality is higher, and searching by work often turns up an editor’s pick for recording.
- Listen in stereo if you can.
Johann Sebastian Bach, Goldberg Variations
Performed by Vikingur Ólafson
Slow coffee in bed on a rainy Sunday with your lover and your cat and a multivolume novel, got it? That’s the vibe, but this music is versatile. Whenever my nervous system needs a reset, I turn to these 75 minutes of one musical idea taken through 31 permutations. Glenn Gould is its authoritative interpreter (in 1955 and again in 1981), but Olafsson’s brand-new recording halos out like a golden bell rung at sunrise by elves.
Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concertos
Performed by Concerto Italiano
A peppier, multi-instrumental Bach. If the Goldberg Variations are a solitary cat, this is a horde of glad dogs herding their walker. Take your dog(s) out, or clean the house, or dance.
Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 2
Performed by City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Tell you what I’ll be listening to when I cross the finish line of the New York City Marathon in Central Park on Nov. 5: This. It’s known as the Resurrection Symphony, and I’ve already proved out its power, around Mile 15, to resurrect: the soul, the quads, the heart, the old tears.
Caroline Shaw, Evergreen
Performed by Attacca Quartet
I love Shaw’s music because it’s, um, beautiful—a quality that can be hard to come by, at least for a charlatan like me, in the work of living composers in this tradition. This is lively, organic stuff, and fairly demanding as a listen: You sometimes feel like you’re in the room with (good) improvisers who are big on eye contact. Maybe a long, brisk solo walk.
Various, Lost & Found
Performed by Sean Shibe
For brainstorming and ideation. A great guitarist’s electrified interpretation of a millennium of music, both ancient and immediate—like going to a very solemn, brutalist church in space.
Sergei Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 4 (tracks 7, 8 and 9 at the link)
Performed by Daniil Trifonov and The Philadelphia Orchestra
I’d never heard this younger sibling of the rightly famous Second Concerto until it ambushed me at the Philharmonic a few years ago. The soloist rained his first ice storm onto the keys, and I felt like I was touching an electric fence. It’s a song to the gods of a lost civilization on a Jupiter moon.
I’m trying to vet this recording on the plane, but every few minutes some new histrionics in the score ignite me into a paralyzing rapture. So don’t use it for multitasking.
Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 7
Performed by Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Just sheer lunacy; cranks me into a three-foot levitation. Do you need to march anywhere? This would be good for marching.
Various, Meditations - Chants & Piano
Performed by Cantatorium
Gregorian chant and jazz piano start out coupled as awkwardly as you might expect, then gradually find their way into a fusion that sounds like the Gregorians meant this all along. So: This would be appropriate to accompany practices of integration.
I’m less than $500 away from qualifying for the New York City Marathon on Nov. 5 as a charity fundraiser. Please make a donation to the nonprofit Achilles International.
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