Tom Huizenga

Prolific and multifaceted British composer and conductor Peter Maxwell Davies died Monday at age 81 at his home in the Orkney Islands, off the northern coast of Scotland. His death, from leukemia, was reported on the websites of both his publisher and his management company.

If we're relying on the younger generation to help boost interest in classical music, look no further than Teddy Abrams.

The Brazilians call it saudade. It's an elusive, almost intoxicating mix of emotions suffused with longing, loss and memory, best evoked in music. Perhaps Ukrainians have their own word for it. But if not, it can surely be heard in Valentin Silvestrov's Nostalghia, a solo piano work from 2001 that may just leave you a little lightheaded and yearning for something inexplicable.

Ethel Smyth was not your typical Victorian lady. She defied her father, a stern army general, to pursue a career in music. She loved women, played sports and played an important role in the women's suffrage movement in Britain in the early 20th century. Along the way she composed chamber and orchestral music, an acclaimed Mass and six operas.

Artistic revolutions are rarely born easy. They complained about cubism, they grumbled about the "talkies" — and boy, did they bellyache over Wagner's trailblazing operas, especially Tristan und Isolde, which debuted 150 years ago Wednesday.

"Quirky" is a descriptor that seems to have stuck to Danish composer Carl Nielsen, born 150 years ago on June 9, 1865.

We rarely invite Tiny Desk alumni back to the confines of Bob Boilen's work space, but we couldn't resist this time. Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis and Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux have both given solo Tiny Desk performances. Since then they've paired up for concerts and a new album of works composed especially for their combination of instruments.

Great fado singers sound as if they carry the weight of the world's sadness. They don't just wear their hearts on their sleeves — they bare their souls.

Now that the weather, at least in much of the country, has turned from polar to pollen vortex, it's time to start mapping out musical road trips. This year bodes well for exploring contemporary work. There are new-music meccas like California's Cabrillo, where all the music is current. At other festivals, like New York's Mostly Mozart, the classics mingle with the contemporary — this year spotlights 55-year-old British composer George Benjamin. And still others, like the Bard Festival, offer rare glimpses into forward-thinking composers from the mid-20th century.

Julia Wolfe, a composer associated with the New York music collective Bang on a Can, has won the Pulitzer Prize for music for Anthracite Fields.

Andrew Porter, a renowned music critic and scholar and translator of opera, died early today in London's Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. His twin sister, Sheila Porter, told NPR his death was the result of complications from pneumonia. He was 86.

It was December 1990 — more than a year before the first Anonymous 4 album was released — when NPR invited four slightly shy women into our studio to sing 13th-century Christmas music. Back then, we already knew the manifold beauty of their sound, its purity and accuracy, was something unique.

Now, some 25 years and 21 albums later, the a cappella vocal quartet is calling it quits at the end of 2015. But not before one final visit to NPR.

They're celebrating Down Under. Today is Australia Day, a holiday marking the arrival of British ships at Sydney Harbour in 1788. A perfect day then to salute something truly Australian, something that speaks of national pride, austere landscapes and even the darker side of Australian history — the music of Peter Sculthorpe, who died last year at age 85.

Pill popping, pot smoking, back-stabbing, bed hopping and tantrum throwing — now we're talking classical music! At least that's what the new Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle would have us believe is all in a day's work for orchestra musicians. The 10-part series is based on a tell-all book of the same name published a decade ago by oboist Blair Tindall.

Most years, Tom Huizenga and I spend a lot of time after Thanksgiving and well into December battling over — or, more truthfully, having many friendly but spirited discussions about — which recordings should comprise our 10 favorites of the year. We each come up with a list of 10, and then we start hammering things out in some amount of exquisite music-nerd agony. Some albums we agree upon, some are our individual picks.

Don't ask the members of the Dublin Guitar Quartet to play the time-honored classics of the Spanish repertoire. They might play traditional Spanish style classical guitars, but they're not your standard guitar ensemble. The Dubliners are strictly devoted to contemporary music. They've been commissioning new pieces and adapting others for both acoustic and electric guitars since 2002, when the group formed at the Dublin Conservatory of Music and Drama.

Mix a bit of yodeling with Tuvan throat singing, add in a pinch of Sardinian cantu a tenore, fold in compositions from cutting-edge composers and you have the vocal group Roomful of Teeth.

An abundance of facial hair is not restricted to the sensitive male indie-rocker set. Three of the four players in the Danish String Quartet could easily pass for hipster Brooklyn beard farmers. "We are simply your friendly neighborhood string quartet with above average amounts of beard," the group's website says.

Yet what's really important about the ensemble is how they play — and judging from this performance behind Bob Boilen's desk, these Nordic lads possess warmth, wit, a beautiful tone and technical prowess second to none.

Denmark may be small — smaller than West Virginia — but its musical impact is disproportionately big. Since the late 19th century, some of the best symphonists have hailed from the Scandinavian country, and though they may not be household names in the U.S., their works have influence far beyond their homeland.

Alas, it is déjà vu all over again for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. At midnight Saturday, the ASO musicians and management failed to meet the deadline to agree on a new contract after eight months of negotiations. That means the players, while still employees of the orchestra, are effectively locked out of the Woodruff Arts Center (the orchestra's home) and will not receive paychecks until a new agreement can be ratified.

Musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen once quipped: "The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition." But it's tough to see much gloom when faced with the diversity of premieres and provocative programming around the country in the 2014-2015 season.

With this Tiny Desk Concert by the Grammy-winning Pacifica Quartet, we have the opportunity to explore the world of a single composer. With the arguable exception of Béla Bartók's six string quartets, it's generally accepted that the 15 by Dmitri Shostakovich are the strongest body of quartets since Beethoven.

Inspiration can come from unlikely places. For composer Robert Kyr, the silence of a desert monastery is key to the radiant music on his new disc of recent choral works performed by the vocal ensemble Conspirare and its director Craig Hella Johnson.

Kyr travels frequently to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, in northern New Mexico, from his home in Eugene, Ore., where he teaches composition at the University of Oregon. Living among the monastery's Benedictine monks, Kyr hikes along the winding Chama River by day and composes music in a bare-walled room at night.

What do you know about Beethoven? He wrote the Fifth Symphony (da da da dummmm ...) and he became deaf.

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