Most classical album covers consist of three things: The artist, the work and the composer. So when something comes out that breaks away from the norm, it creates attention. These five albums and their irreverent titles certainly piqued our interest.
1. Gil Shaham: Music to Drive Away Loiterers
Among classical music’s multiple contributions to society, is its ability to fend off aimless teens and vagrants, which is what Shaham cheekily refers to in the title of his latest CD. The Avery Fisher Award-winning violinist says this latest release, out this week, is meant to serve the “greater good” with a wide-ranging sampling Mozart, Bizet, Prokofiev, Sibelius and 20th-century Chinese composers Chen Gang and He Zhanhao. Says Shaham in the press release: “I hope people enjoy this album...or not. Whatever.”
2. Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, Stuart Duncan, and Edgar Meyer: The Goat Rodeo Sessions
This unconventional quartet, comprised of fiddle, mandolin, cello and bass, wasn’t so cavalier in naming their collaboration. Taking an aviation term for a nearly impossible maneuver, the ensemble certainly set low expectations for pulling off their partnership. However, the album gained high rewards, including a special on PBS, a successful tour and even a Grammy.
3. Eighth Blackbird: fred
This octet, whose name is an oblique reference to a Wallace Stevens poem, has an unconventional way of labeling its projects. None is so irreverent as its 2005 album, fred, which features works by American composer Frederic Rzeswski. It’s hard to think of another group brazen enough to refer to a composer on an album cover solely by his nickname. However, few groups would also list a composer’s favorite things and hidden talent, such as liking green tea and cooking great oatmeal, in the album notes.
4. James Rhodes: Razor Blades, Little Pills and Big Pianos
Looking at its title, one might expect this album was produced by soul-baring Emo rock group. Instead, it consists of works for keyboard by Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. But Rhodes, who has publicly shared his struggles with mental health issues, shows that indie rock doesn’t have a monopoly on music about despair and the human condition. Classical music’s greatest composers having been mining those subjects for hundreds of years with heartrending results.
5. Bryn Terfel: Bad Boys
Unfortunately, the title of Terfel’s 2010 CD brings to mind the theme song of the television show "Cops" rather than opera’s most evil villains whose arias he sings on the album. Belaboring the point, Terfel’s most menacing stare glares out from his black-and-white headshot on the album’s cover. One imagines that he employs that facial expression when he’s playing any one of the reprehensible characters—Iago, Javert or Mefistofles, just to name a few—on the CD.
Weigh in: What classical album concept has caught your attention? Tell us about it below.