March 9, 2023

El Sistema for Lifelong Learners

I am currently making a presentation on El Sistema for  members of the ARTE Lifelong Learning Institute in Las Cruces, NM. As a supplement to the presentation, here are a few links:

Understanding Venezuela's Recent Economic Problems

Venezuela: The Rise and Fall of a Petrostate,” (Originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations on January 24, 2019, updated on December 29, 2021.

Gustavo Dudamel and the Political Problems in Venezuela

"Why I Don't Talk Politics" (Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2015)

"A Better Way for Venezuela" (New York Times, July 10, 2017)

Resources for Learning about El Sistema



For an alternative — and quite critical —view of El Sistema, see a book by Geoffrey Baker titled El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela's Youth.

As an introduction to the rebuttals of Baker’s claims, I have provide a link to two online articles. I would like to add, however that these articles only scratch the surface of how one might challenge Baker’s complaints about a program that has received worldwide acclaim.

Mahler, Symphony No. 2 in C-minor (1895)

Performed by the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (BBC Proms, 2011)

November 6, 2022

Mahler's First Symphony and the "Blumine" Movement

Gustav Mahler spent several years revising his Symphony No. 1 in D major, providing audiences with at least four versions.

The first version, titled “Symphonic Poem in Two Parts,” was performed in Budapest in 1889. Part One (movements 1-3) explored the innocence of youth and included a second movement that today is known as the “Blumine” movement (flower piece). Part Two (movements 4-5) contained a funeral march followed by a movement describing an epic battle against Fate.

The second version, titled “Tone Poem in Symphonic Form,” was performed in Hamburg in 1893. Although Mahler provided program notes for the second version, he became increasingly frustrated by the gross misunderstanding of his description of what he had composed. 

The third version, titled “Titan” was performed in Weimar in 1894. Mahler titled it “Titan” due to its portrayal of a mighty struggle between Fate and the symphony’s hero. Audiences, however, thought the symphony was based on a popular novel  by the German writer Jean Paul, which was also titled Titan. Audiences wanted to know how characters and plot developments in Jean Paul’s book corresponded to specific sections of the symphony. The symphony had nothing to do with the novel, and Mahler regretted the title.

For the fourth and final version, Mahler dropped the name “Titan,” eliminated the “Blumine” movement, which had received much criticism, and simply titled the work “Symphony in D major.” He also refused to provide a program, leaving audiences on their own to discover the meaning of the symphony.

The “Blumine” movement was lost until was it was rediscovered by biographer Donald Mitchell in 1966. A year later, Benjamin Britten conducted a performance of “Blumine,” allowing an audience to hear it for the first time since 1894. The movement is now performed often as a stand-alone piece of music.

For an exploration of why Mahler might have eliminated “Blumine” from the symphony’s final version here's a link to the Gustav Mahler website at 

As for a recording of the movement itself, here's a video of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra performing it in 2011.


Mahler, "Blumine" ("Flower Piece") 
Performed by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Harding

January 23, 2020

Beethoven's Slow Movements

Here’s a collection of slow movements from Ludwig van Beethoven’s symphonies, concertos, and piano sonatas. May the meditative quality of each movement sooth your soul and calm your mind. (My personal favorite is the adagio from the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat.)

Beethoven, Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Second Movement 
Performed by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein (Krystian Zimerman, paino)

November 25, 2019

Year of Wonder – December

December is the last month of my Year of Wonder. Clemency Burton-Hill's book Year of Wonder describes one piece of music for each day of the year, and I have listened to every piece in the book so far. It's been great fun, to say the least. 

November was a particularly good month with many dreary, minor key pieces to fit the mood for late autumn. A few of my favorites (at least the ones I could find on YouTube) are embedded below. 

Whether you have already begun the journey or would like to begin now, I have embedded a Spotify playlist for Burton-Hill's recommendations for December.


Purcell, Dido and Aeneas, "When I am laid in earth"
Performed by the English Chamber Orchestra
Jessye Norman (soprano)

Chopin, Nocturne No. 8 in D-flat major, op. 27 no. 2
Performed by Evgeny Kissin

Holst, Choral Hymns, "Hymn to the Dawn"
Performed by the BBC Singers, conducted by Nicholas Kok

Villa-Lobos, Bachianas brasileiras, No. 5, Aria
Performed by cellists from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Barbara Hannigan (soprano)

Reich, Music for Pieces of Wood
Performed by Third Coast Percussion

MacMillan, Miserere
Performed by Third Coast Percussion

October 27, 2019

Year of Wonder – November

Two months to go in 2019, and I wish there were more. 

Year of Wonder by Clemency Burton-Hill has provided me with one piece of music for each day of the year, and I've been sticking faithfully to the plan since January 1, listening to her recommendations for each day. If you have not yet begun the journey, I highly recommend purchasing her book and getting started. You can begin on any day of the year.

Whether you have already begun the journey or would like to begin now, I have embedded a Spotify playlist for Burton-Hill's recommendations for November. (The only piece I could not find on Spotify from Burton-Hill's book is the piece she recommends for November 20 – Param Vir's White Light Chorale for solo piano. Click on this link to find a performance on YouTube.)

I have also embedded videos for a few of the highlights from October.


Valente, Folías criollas: Gallardo Napolitana
Performed by Jodi Savall, et al.

Palchelbel, Canon in D major
Performed by Voices of Music

Canteloube, Songs of the Auvergne, 2. "Bailero"
Performed by Anna Caterina Antonacci (soprano) with BBC National Orchestra 
Conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Smetana, Má vlast, 2. "Vltava"
Performed by Gimnazija Kranj Symphony Orchestra 
Conducted by Nejc Avbelj

Boulanger, Three Pieces for Cello and Piano, 1. "Modéré"
Performed by Aurélien Pascal (cello) and Denis Pascal (piano)

Glass, String Quartet No. 3 ("Mishima"), 1. "1957 Award Montage"
Performed by the Dublin Guitar Quartet 
(Glass composed this piece as a string quartet)

September 28, 2019

Year of Wonder – October

Last year I purchased a book by Clemency Burton-Hill titled Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day

And that’s what I have spent the year doing: enjoying at least one piece of classical music every day, using Burton-Hill’s book as a guide. It truly has been a year of wonder.

Whether you have already begun the journey through Year of Wonder or would like to begin now, I have embedded a Spotify playlist for Burton-Hill's recommendations for October.

I have also embedded videos for a few of the highlights from September.


Korngold, Violin Concerto in D major, second movement
Performed by Hilary Hahn (violin) with the Deutsche Symphonie Orchestra conducted by Ken Nagano

Villa-Lobos, Suíte Popular Brasileira, IV. Gavatta-choro 
Luiz Foschi, guitar

Strozzi, Che si può fare
Performed by Céline Scheen (soprano) with L’Ensemble Artaserse

Bach, Goldberg Variations, No. 5
Performed by Colin Booth with graphical score by Stephen Malinowski

August 30, 2019

Year of Wonder – September

I have just finished another wonderful month with Clemency Burton-Hill’s Year of Wonder and have embedded videos of four pieces of music that were covered in the book for the month of August. With each piece I have included a quote from Year of Wonder with hopes that anyone reading this blog will be inspired to purchase the book and dedicate themselves to listening to one piece of classical music every day for the next year.

For those who have already begun the journey, I have also embedded a Spotify playlist for September’s recommendations from Burton-Hill’s book.


J.S. Bach, Partita No. 1 in B-flat major, BWV 825, “Allemande”
“It might seem a bit irreverent to describe the mighty J. S. Bach as a ‘palate cleanser’, but among the many services into which I have pressed his music over the years (commute companion, grief counsellor, baby wrangler, and so on) the role of life-clarifier and head-clearer is right up there. Whenever I’m stuck, whenever I need to quiet my ranging mind, whenever I require what I imagine is the sonic equivalent of yoga or meditation, it’s to this sort of music I turn, and submit myself, and go still, and recover.”

Audrey Abela, piano

Anton Bruckner, Locus iste
“This three-minute motet makes a strong case for the argument that there is little more powerful in music—or indeed, in life—than the sound of intertwining human voices.”

UniversitätasChor München, conducted by Johannes Kleinjung

Sergei Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Second Movement
“This is the sort of unashamedly wonderful piece that some classical music critics pride themselves on deriding—for being, I don’t know, ‘cheesy’ or ‘populist’.… Being universally loved does not detract from the concerto’s genius. Quite the opposite.”

Hélène Grimaud (piano) with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, conducted by Claudio Abbado

Leonard Bernstein, “Somewhere” from West Side Story
“Bernstein, together with his lyricist Stephen Sondheim, takes the simplest yet most gut-wrenching of scenarios—not now, my love, but someday, somewhere, we well be able to be together— and enshrines it in music that is so direct and relatable it just takes you apart.”

Cynthia Erivo with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda