We so seldom emerge from the silos of our own interests to find among the riches of history and contemporary culture that which we might come to love.
I have siloed myself so frequently — from the magical escape of Broadway, which exists just a mile south of Lincoln Center, from straight theatre that sounds absolutely riveting, and even from the newest hits of Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, and the denizens of other popular tastemakers of the day.
I tell myself that I do so because I am “busy” writing about classical music, listening to classical music, learning classical music. And it’s partially true; there’s a lot of material to soak up in classical music — centuries worth, and growing! But if I’m honest, it’s really fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of making mistakes, fear of engaging in conversation and being found out for what I really am — a fraud!
It’s so silly. I’m voraciously curious and I’ve done myself a disservice by failing to feed that appetite. How about you?
You’re reading this article because your interest is piqued. You want to learn about classical music — to dip your toes in and see what it’s all about. Well, I’m coming to you from the opera side of Maestra (which you may be finding out about right at this very moment!) as an opera singer, librettist, and arts writer. So, let’s make a deal.
Below, I’ll share eight current or upcoming livestreams of classical music for the “classical-curious.” If you find something that you love here, please return the favor! You can find my contact information in the Maestra Directory; I hope you’ll reach out with a cool, non-classical-music-related thing for me to get curious about. Because hey, what is Maestra if not a community in which we can explore, learn, and flourish together?
Without further ado, I give you eight classical music livestreams happening this February-April and beyond. Mark your calendars, sit back, and enjoy the show(s).
The Hours by Kevin Puts (music) & Greg Pierce (text)
March 17, 9 p.m. EST
Pulitzer Prize- and, as of just this month, Grammy-winning composer Kevin Puts (pronounced exactly like the English word puts) is highly regarded for his “captivating” scores (The New York Times) and lush musical language. Pair him with accomplished librettist, playwright, and fiction writer Greg Pierce and it’s hard to expect that anything less than remarkable music theatre would follow.
The Hours, which explores topics of mental health, is based on Michael Cunningham’s acclaimed 1998 novel of the same name, which was, in turn, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s 1925 Mrs. Dalloway. Catch the PBS premiere, recorded live at New York’s renowned Metropolitan Opera in 2022, this March.
Curious to learn more? Read how Broadway star Kelli O’Hara prepared to take on the role of Laura Brown and consider picking up a copy of Michael Cunningham’s novel.
War and Peace by Sergei Prokofiev (music) & Mira Mendelson (text)
March 5, 11 a.m. EST
At over one thousand pages, Tolstoy’s War and Peace is not for the faint of heart — plus, there are some 500 characters (yep, you read that right) to keep track of!
Haven’t conquered Tolstoy’s landmark work just yet? Dip your toes in with Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s mid-20th-century opera of the same name (Voyna i mir, or the German Krieg und Frieden, as this production comes to us from Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper) if you have a modest four hours to spare.
Prokofiev had already been mulling over the notion of adapting Tolstoy’s work into an opera when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The composer was spurred to action, completing the work alongside librettist Mira Mendelson, within two years. Here’s a taste of the music, sung by one of opera’s greats Dmitri Hvorostovsky.
(Psst! Lots of operas are written and sung in languages other than English. Italian, German, and French are the big ones, but there are also Russian, Spanish, Czech, Finnish, Hebrew, and way, way more. Operas are also frequently translated into the vernacular of the audience, too. Many live performances include live captioning in a variety of languages for viewers to engage with).
More info (Click “EN” at top right of page for English)
The Woman without a Shadow by Richard Strauss (music) & Hugo von Hofmannsthal (text)
April 14, 12 p.m. ET
From the opening bars of this opera, Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal will have you in the palm of their hands. Frequently compared to Mozart’s The Magic Flute (another great), Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow) depicts reality through the lens of a fairy tale. The half-mortal Empress is given a task: acquire a shadow within three days or return to the realm of the spirits.
Recognize the composer’s last name? Careful! There are two composers by the last name of Strauss — Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss II — but their compositions are many sound worlds apart. You might recognize J. Strauss as the “Waltz King” of “Blue Danube” fame; R. Strauss’ music on the other hand, composed a generation or so later, is unabashedly and theatrically bold, dealing often with darker, more complex subjects.
If you like theatre that really makes your brain work, tune in for this livestream straight from Germany’s Berliner Philharmoniker.
More info (Click “English” at top right of page for English.)
A Year to the Day by Lembit Beecher (music) & Mark Campbell (text)
Available now (recorded in October 2022)
What does it mean to be an artist when the very act of gathering in community is suddenly taken away? In the six songs and five interludes of A Year to the Day, the onset of pandemic serves as the instigating event that leads an opera singer to reckon with himself and his search for meaning through one cohesive concert.
At times hauntingly sparse, at others intense and brooding, Beecher and Campbell’s work is an honest, moving evocation of loss and love that speaks to all humankind in every profession and walk of life.
Pro tip: Watch The Violin Channel on Youtube for additional classical content and new releases. In fact, check in with all of the platforms referenced herein for your ongoing classical “fix.”
True Life: A Celebration of Poet Adam Zagajewski with Sarah Rothenberg (piano), Sonia Wieder-Atherton (cello), & Edward Hirsch (poet/speaker)
Available for streaming March 6 (recorded February 2023)
“I see three elements in music: weakness, power, and pain. The fourth has no name” (from Self-Portrait by Adam Zagajewski). Our next music-text pairing is from Houston producer and presenter of chamber music and jazz DACAMERA, although, in this case, we deal not with text set expressly to music, but rather poetry inspired by a deep love for music.
In this program, the music of Bach, Chopin, Shostakovich, Schubert, and Mahler are interspersed with readings of poetry from Polish poet Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021), whom poet Mary Oliver dubbed “the most pertinent, impressive, meaningful poet of our time.” Sarah Rothenberg, performer and Artistic Director of DACAMERA shared of the event: “Music has always been central to Adam Zagajewski’s writing… Not being a musician himself, [he] is free to wander in music’s mysteries, culling from the works of Schubert, Mahler, Shostakovich, a seed that becomes a poem.”
Read the entirety of Zagajewski’s “Self-Portrait” here and consider reading his final collection of poems, True Life.
Music of Ligeti, Messiaen & Stravinsky with Barbara Hannigan & the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and Choir
April 1, 9 a.m. EST
Explore a thoughtfully-curated potpourri of music from three 20th-century orchestral masters: Hungarian-Austrian György Ligeti, Russian Igor Stravinsky, and French Olivier Messiaen. Canadian musician Barbara Hannigan, a force in classical music, takes the podium to present four celestial works that seem to crack open the horizon between earth and sky, the musical realm itself “[triumphing] over gravity.”
Tune in to watch this powerhouse artist lead this world-renowned orchestra and choir in a program of works that paved the way for contemporary classical music.
Hear Hannigan perform and speak about music here.
More info (Click “eng” at top right of page for English)
The Triumph of Time and Truth by George Frideric Handel (music) & Benedetto Pamphili (text)
March 11, 1 p.m. EST
It is this author’s humble opinion that no list of classical music can be considered complete without a nod to one of two Baroque masters — Bach and Handel.
Luckily, harpsichordist (a person who plays the harpsichord, an early predecessor to the piano) and conductor Emmanuelle Haïm presents the latter composer’s oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno this March with the aforementioned Berliner Philharmoniker (they’re really popular, and for good reason!), soprano Elsa Benoit, countertenors Franco Fagioli and Iestyn Davies, and tenor Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani.
Let’s talk vocabulary for a moment. First, “oratorio”: this is a large-scale, narrative musical work including orchestra, chorus, and soloists, usually performed unstaged, although Handel’s oratorios often do get staged — perhaps because they’re just too delicious to resist!
Second, “countertenor”: growing initially out of the tradition of castrati (more info on that here), countertenors are male singers who sing in what we typically consider a female register (either alto or soprano).
Get your hands on some Handel before the livestream: check out the composer’s works “ Lascia ch’io pianga”, (recognize that tune?), “Se pietà di me non senti,” and “Guardian Angels, Oh, Protect me”.
More info (Click “English” at top right of page for English)
Music of Caroline Shaw, Carwithen, Freya Waley-Cohen, Héloïse Werner & Kate Whitley with Héloïse Werner (soprano) & Tippett Quartet
March 8, 8 a.m. EST
Enjoy a livestream from England’s chamber music presenter Wigmore Hall of contemporary music by all-women composers, featuring works by living composers Kate Whitley, Héloïse Werner, Caroline Shaw, and Freya Waley-Cohen and a string quartet by British classical and film composer Doreen Carwithen (1922-2003).
The distinct styles of these distinguished composers epitomize the multifaceted nature of contemporary classical music — and it’s just pure fun to see and hear these women as they tread heart-forward and fiercely into the future of classical music. (I know us Maestras can relate!)
Curious about what you can expect in the livestream? Here’s a fan favorite work from Caroline Shaw, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Partita for 8 Singers, to give you a sense of her style.
That Hell-Bound Train by Lisa DeSpain (music) & David Simpatico (text)
Available now (recorded in January 2023)
And last but not least, we bring you one hell of a piece of music theatre from one of Maestra’s very own: act one of composer (and Maestra mentor) Lisa DeSpain and librettist David Simpatico’s new opera That Hell-Bound Train, presented in concert at the National Opera Center in January 2023.
Equal parts comic gold and heartstring-tugger, this masterful work of American music theatre will have you toe-tapping, belly laughing, and smiling like a fool all the way to hell. Enjoy!