Published by
WQXR Features

Music to be Thankful for This Year

Email a Friend

In conjunction with the Gratitude Project we've polled artists and experts from the classical music world about which pieces of music they are thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Hilary Hahn, violinist

I’m thankful for “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” because it was my first “real” piece of music as a Suzuki student! It gave me something to learn, something to play, and made me proud of my progress right from the start. I remember the first time I was asked to play it all the way through, in a practice session, and I didn’t want to: it was sooooo long and I just didn’t see the point. But I did it! It’s fair to say that had I not played “Twinkle, Twinkle” from start to finish at four years old, I would never have made it to Elgar and Schoenberg and Higdon in my twenties.

Jacques Lacombe, music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra,

“I am thankful for Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 ("The Resurrection") because it speaks both to us, and of us – and instills an incredible feeling of hope!”

Lara St. John, violinist

About twelve years ago I was going through one of those “seven year itches” with the music world — I had just been through a frustrating time with some chamber music folks, was getting tired of all the travel all the time, and had started scratching my head wondering if I should just go back to school in forestry, paleontology, or get a real estate license or something. I was wondering if it was all worth it.

At the time, I was wandering around Berlin, and happened to stroll into the nearly empty Berliner Dom, which is pretty impressive even in silence. A few seconds after I walked in, looking upwards as one does there, the organ without warning exploded into a G minor chord and I nearly fell over. It was their organist practicing the Bach G minor Fantasia BWV 542. He played through the whole thing and its fugue – a piece I had once known well but hadn't heard for years —  and I remember walking out of there afterwards grinning and completely revivified, all my stupid little problems having been driven away by that pedal-board playing that crazy, brilliant Fantasy. For this odd fateful coincidence, and the fact that it was BWV 542 (and not Pachelbel), I am eternally thankful.

Anne Manson, conductor

When thinking about pieces I am most thankful for, it comes down to a battle between Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea. Neither shows the most "civilized" aspect of our nature as human beings, but the way they depict the visceral side of humanity is so riveting.

William Brittelle, composer and co-director of New Amsterdam records

I am grateful for John Cage's "In a Landscape" which has been the calming soundtrack for the worst break-up of my life, the birth of my son – and pretty much everything in between.

Sarah Chang, violinist

I am thankful for the Bruch Concerto, not only because it was my audition piece for Juilliard when I was five years old and it got me accepted into the school of my dreams, but also because it's on my latest CD coupled with the Brahms Concerto. It is quite possibly one of the most beautiful, glorious, romantic works written for the violin!

Julia Bruskin, cellist, Claremont Trio

"I am thankful for Beethoven's “Archduke Trio” (Op. 97) and most especially for the sublime slow movement.  Though Beethoven is better known for his stormy outbursts and triumphant choruses, my favorite moments are when his music portrays the utmost peace and calm.  This movement is so intensely personal and human, yet it also raises up a vision of a better world, a more harmonious place we all wish to find."

Emily Bruskin, violinist, Claremont Trio

I am thankful for the third movement of the Ravel Trio because it is so gorgeous, elemental, and powerful.  I have an incredible solo that feels very personal; it's like I can just speak to the audience.  And my sister and I have an amazing duet.  The passage is muted, and we mirror each other in open intervals.  The lines begin reaching - the way the whole movement is reaching for something eternal - but gradually become resigned and recede towards the end of the movement.  At the heart-wrenching climax of the movement we all three play together, joining our voices in a spectacular outpouring of emotion.  I am thankful for this tremendously moving piece and for my brilliant and very dear colleagues with whom I continue to explore it.

Donna Kwong, pianist, Claremont Trio

I am thankful for Ravel's Piano Trio, especially the first movement. There is no other piece of music out there quite as evocative and sensual as that particular first movement, and it pushes the boundaries of my imagination.

Eric Owens, bass-baritone

I'm thankful for the St. Matthew Passion by J. S. Bach because every time I hear it, it reminds me of God's love.

Eric Whitacre, composer and conductor

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, in my opinion, is the greatest work in the classical repertoire. People often forget he was deaf when he wrote this. He's such a monumental composer, expressing his joy through music in the face of his affliction. Other works I’m thankful for are: Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes. I saw Peter Grimes at the Met when I was a student at Julliard and my life was never the same again! Thomas Newman’s score for American Beauty is my favorite film score - I must have listened to it 1,000 times.

Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps is  grandfather of all twentieth century music. In one way or another every single composer living after this was written has to deal with this piece. Arvo Pärt’s Passio is one of the most beautiful, elegant, subtle works I know. And it has profoundly influenced my own musical language. I find pure joy in Bach’s Singet Dem Herrn Eine Neues Lied. This piece never fails to lift my spirits. I sang it in my Uni. choir in Las Vegas. My wife is singing Mr. Tambourine Man by John Corigliano. He was my (favorite) composition teacher at Juilliard. Both John and my wife won Grammys for this disc.

David T. Little, composer/performer

I am thankful for Lou Harrison's Threnody for Carlos Chavez – for the plaintive yet hopeful lines of the solo viola; for its perfect pacing, suggesting the absence of time, and for its periodic low gong, which grounds it all; for its expression of both grief and transcendence with simple and straightforward elegance. For its sound.

Danielle de Niese,  soprano

One piece I'm so thankful for on this Thanksgiving is Mozart's Exultate Jubilate. I have a very long history with the piece dating back to when I first performed it as a 15 year old in Los Angeles with players from the LA Philharmonic. But it also has a special place in my heart, because it brought me to Sir Charles Mackerras. After hearing me perform as Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne, Sir Charles invited me to perform this piece with him for this 80th birthday gala concert in London, a concert that he programmed himself. This piece marked our first collaboration together, and what an amazing experience it was.

I remember feeling as if he conducted the piece just as I heard it in my mind and heart, and even though we were working together for the first time, we both felt as if we'd worked together for years on the piece and our internal pacing was completely synchronized. We knew it would be impossible to make a Mozart Album without including this piece, and for all these reasons, every time I hear it, I remember these pieces of heaven (from the moment we performed it at his birthday, to the first day of my Mozart recording at Abbey Road with Sir Charles on the podium). In memory of his birthday which is November 17th, I am so, so thankful for this memory.

Liang Wang, principal oboe, New York Philharmonic

Thanksgiving is coming, and I am very, very thankful for the Christopher Rouse Oboe Concerto, which I will perform with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall at the end of December. There’s a tremendous amount of color and action in the piece, which audiences can experience at its New York premiere!

Sondra Radvanovsky, soprano

For me, Il Trovatore is a piece of music that I am extremely thankful for.  Having made my debut in almost every major opera house in the world with this opera, I have grown attached to not only the music but also to the characters in this opera; they are a part of me and my family now.  Il Trovatore is the music that makes me just relax and have a sigh of relief.

Steven Swartz, founder of DotDotDotMusic

The piece of music I'm most grateful for is John Cage's ravishing String Quartet in Four Parts. By turns serene, mysterious, and playful, it sounds like nothing else ever written. I had the privilege of meeting Cage a few times, and once asked him where the material for the piece came from. He said he really didn't know -- he just found it, like collecting shells along the beach.  I'm grateful that it's possible for an artist to bring something into the world that's so perfectly formed, deeply affecting, and stubbornly original, without really being able to say where it came from. It's a kind of miracle.

Douglas J. Cuomo, composer

I'm thankful for Tell It Like It Is, the original 1966 recording by Aaron Neville. The direct emotion, the rough-around-the-edges production, that otherworldly voice and that melancholy lyric remind me, in two-and-a-half minutes, that life is sad, beautiful, difficult and worth living. In fact, my favorite moment is two minutes into the song when he sings "go on and live, baby go on and live" — for me it's one of the transcendent moments in recorded music.

Anne Akiko Meyers, violinist

The Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1 is one of the masterpieces written for violin and orchestra. I am so thankful that Prokofiev was in Paris and was so inspired after hearing the Szymanowski Mythes that he wrote this concerto. Impressionistic, beautiful, violent and ultra stylish, it is a great workout for me physically and emotionally when I perform this enchanting music. George Gershwin’s Summertime arranged by Jascha Heifetz is one of the most beautiful lullabies ever written... “hush little baby, don't you cry...” Thank you George!! And Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel has such simplicity yet it’s music that makes you sit still, remember and just breathe. The music is aptly titled, “Mirror in Mirror” and is so reflective. A beauty....

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer

I'm thankful for the many composer-colleagues from the distant past to the present who have given us the gift of their music. There are too many pieces that have enriched or changed my life for me to choose one. May our world always be filled with music.