Favorite Albums of 2021

Favorite Albums of 2021

We’re living in a strange time. OK, we’ve been living in a “strange time” since March 2020, but everything now seems a bit like it’s in limbo. On one hand, our day-to-day activities have more or less returned to normal for the time being, thanks to the wide availability of vaccines and boosters (at least, in the U.S.). But on the other hand, the discovery of new, more transmissible COVID variants has sparked a renewed air of caution and concern. (Who would’ve thought that we’d all be getting a crash course on the Greek alphabet?)

Can we just be done with this already? Please?

Still, there’s been so much to be grateful for this past year. Namely, the wealth of new music released was a consistent bright spot amidst the unpredictability of it all. (Adele’s new album, anyone?) The classical realm in particular really came through with some incredible albums. Resurrected classics, dazzling contemporary music, and the presence of more diverse voices—both new and old—marked many of the releases this year.

Below are ten of my favorite albums from 2021. If you like what you hear, as always, I encourage my readers to consider purchasing the album rather than just streaming it. Apple and Amazon are convenient choices for this, but if possible, I highly recommend using Bandcamp, which donates most of the proceeds directly to the artists.

Without further ado, here are my ten choices, along with a handful of honorable mentions. In no particular order…

Timo Andres, Ian Rosenbaum, Lindsay Kesselman & Mingzhe Wang – The Arching Path (In a Circle Records)

For those who have doubts about the future of classical music—or whatever one wants to call it—listen to anything by Christopher Cerrone and you will be convinced that it is in more-than-capable hands. (See also Caroline Shaw below.) This album captures four examples of Cerrone’s kaleidoscopic sound world. Bookended by two sparkling piano pieces—Hoyt-Schermerhorn and the titular Arching Path—the middle of the album features works for slightly-larger ensemble (showcasing some remarkable performances by soprano Lindsay Kesselman, pianist Timo Andres, clarinettist Mingzhe Wang, and percussionist Ian Rosenbaum). Double Happiness blissfully ruminates on the composer’s travels to Italy, while the song cycle I will learn to love a person is an ode to the joys and frustrations of being a Millennial. Who says that classical music can’t speak to us twenty- and thirty-somethings?

(For more on this album, be sure to check out my conversation with Cerrone from May 2021.)

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The LSO’s 30 Day Classical Challenge

One small but fun thing that I have enjoyed during quarantine is participating in a 30 Day Classical Challenge on Instagram. Hosted by the London Symphony Orchestra, followers of the orchestra’s Instagram account were encouraged to take a screenshot of the pink bingo card-like template and each day, share one piece of classical music that fit the category. Naturally, I couldn’t resist and had a blast coming up with and sharing my selections each morning.

To the right is a picture of the LSO’s official template, and below is a listing and Spotify playlist of my own picks. (My goal was to select a totally different composer each day, but I accidentally chose two selections by Ravel. Whoops!) Anyway, free to use the orchestra’s template and create/share your own version!

  • Day 1: A piece that makes you want to dance – Márquez: Danzón No. 2
  • Day 2: A piece that reminds you of nature – Ravel: L’enfant et les sortilèges
  • Day 3: A piece to help you sleep – Bach: Trio Sonata from The Musical Offering
  • Day 4: A piece that’s epic! – Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphonie
  • Day 5: A piece that reminds you of summer – Stravinsky: The Soldier’s Tale
  • Day 6: A piece with an unexpected instrument – Ligeti: Violin Concerto
  • Day 7: A piece about mornings – Haydn: Symphony No. 6, “Le matin”
  • Day 8: A piece to sing along to – Copland: Old American Songs, “I bought me a cat”
  • Day 9: A piece for romantics – Clara Schumann: 3 Romances, op. 11
  • Day 10: A piece about the ocean – Ravel: Une barque sur l’océan
  • Day 11: A piece to play LOUDLY – Adams: Harmonium, III. “Wild Nights”
  • Day 12: A piece that’s brand new – Shaw: The Listeners
  • Day 13: A piece about the woods – Weber: Der Freischütz, Hunter’s Chorus
  • Day 14: A piece about city life – Ellington: Harlem
  • Day 15: A piece about unrequited love – Schubert: Winterreise
  • Day 16: A piece to accompany a storm – Britten: Peter Grimes, “The Storm”
  • Day 17: A piece that’s full of drama – Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4
  • Day 18: A piece inspired by a legend – Clarke: Morpheus
  • Day 19: A piece that’s full of melancholy – Pärt: De profundis
  • Day 20: A piece about an animal – Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie, “Rossignols amoureux”
  • Day 21: A piece by a living composer – Thorvaldsdottir: Aeriality
  • Day 22: A piece that reminds you of home – Chopin: Scherzo No. 1
  • Day 23: A piece with a stunning solo part – Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2
  • Day 24: A piece that’s inspiring – Price: Symphony No. 1
  • Day 25: A piece you know thanks to someone special – Poulenc: Les biches
  • Day 26: A piece about a place – Higdon: All Things Majestic
  • Day 27: A piece about a person – Handel: Giulio Cesare
  • Day 28: A piece with a number in the title – Feldman: Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety
  • Day 29: A piece about space – Adès: Polaris (Voyage for Orchestra)
  • Day 30: A piece that’s BIG – Mahler: Symphony No. 8, “Symphony of a Thousand”

Favorite Albums of 2018

Favorite Albums of 2018

In the blink of an eye, another year has come and gone. And once again, amidst the good and the bad, the uplifting and the cringy, the triumphs and the tragedies, music remained a remarkable constant—a wellspring of every possible human emotion and a beacon of hope for our crazy world.

Below are ten of my favorite albums that were released in 2018, along with a handful of honorable mentions (since it was difficult to choose only ten!). In no particular order, here they are:

Er-Gene Kahng, Ryan Cockerham & Janáček Philharmonic – Florence Price: Violin Concertos (Albany Records)

“Florence Price” is a name that is slowly gaining some well-deserved recognition in the classical music realm. Just this year, prominent articles from The New York Times, The New Yorkerand NPR highlighted this boundary-breaking African American composer, and the first-ever recording of her two violin concertos was released back in February. Price’s music is gorgeous and immediately accessible—hints of Dvořák and Delius appear here and there, yet it still displays a distinct compositional voice. Here’s hoping that this recording will spark continued recognition for Price’s output in the coming years.

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