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The Daily Need

Alex Ross on great music, plus five faves

Photo: Flickr/Life As Art

The NPR music blog, The Record, recently chatted up The New Yorker’s classical music critic Alex Ross about his day job, and, more specifically, about his personal approach to music appreciation. Taking a cue from Potter “I know it when I see it” Stewart, Ross shares his broad definition of great music as being, “music that makes me stop thinking about any other kind.” He also shares an eclectic playlist of musical favorites, which includes Schubert’s String Quartet, Brahms’s Intermezzos Opus 117 and Olivier Massiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.”

This Q&A got me thinking about my own shortlist of favorites. (Ross’s list includes selections from Bob Dylan, Radiohead and Bjork, but in the interest of brevity, I am restricting mine to music that can be very broadly defined as “classical.”)

My five picks, with no obvious organizing principle:

1. Bach’s “Suite No. 4 in E-flat major, BWV 1010″

2. Chopin’s “Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Opus 52”

3. Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 4”

4. Astor Piazzolla’s “Escualo”

5. Mark O’Connor’s “Appalachia Waltz”

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  • Clifford Joyce

    Out of all the fantastic brilliant beautiful pieces of classical music available, these are your favorites? And you’re a music critic?

  • Guest

    Music is pretty subjective. I don’t see why you have to be so nasty about voicing your dissent. Why not just share your favorites?

  • lifeistao

    I love all your picks! Beautiful…..

  • Fl-2008

    Good Choices.

    To pick a favorite is difficult, but I had Faure’s Elegie in C minor (played by Jacqueline Du Pre) playing on my ipod coming into work this morning. It calmed me for the day ahead…

  • Christopher Liberti

    I will do my favorite in 3 different genres. I would have to say Respighi’s “Pine’s of Rome” is the most powerful piece of music I know. In Jazz I would say “Interstellar Space” by Coltrane and for rock it is a real tough one. I would say probably “Stockholm Syndrome” by Yo La Tengo.

  • Christopher Liberti

    Also, Clifford, music is subjective. I love free jazz where many people think it is uncontrolled chaos and nothing more than noise. This is why so many people never get into Classical, because of music snobs like you.

  • SC

    Why is there ALWAYS a classical music gatekeeper who immediately goes negative in any conversation about the genre? It’s never a a thoughtful critique, just a bilious upsurge of condescension. I have seen so many newcomers shut down by this attitude the moment they dare to express their young opinions in the concert hall lobby, and I’m tired of it. No, I don’t particularly want to EVER hear the Barber Adagio again (or at least not outside the context of the entire string quartet it belongs to), but it serves as an entry point for so many people that I’m darn grateful it exists.

    I’ll second Jeanne’s Bach Cello Suites and Alex’s Messiaen and throw in Brahms’ chamber music as well as the Bloch String Quartet No 3 and Haydn’s Emperor Quartet. Hey, and how about Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victor (jk!!!)?

  • Ajhpnc

    Andre Previn & David Finck, We Got Rhythm-A Gershwin Songbook–performed at Tanglewood Music Festival back in the late 1990s, under starlit sky. Most magical concert ever. Album is beautiful.

  • daveyj

    One of my all time favorites is having a big birthday this year: Monteverdi’s Vespro Della Beata Virgine of 1610. Still powerful and gorgeous, especially in Jordi Savall’s version.

  • Ajhpnc

    I have to agree, Pines of Rome is the most powerful piece I’ve ever played (as a violinist)!

  • Th563

    ok clifford, let’s see your picks

  • jennyinva

    This is a difficult cut to make, but here goes: Pines Of Rome – Respighi, Serenade for Winds – Mozart, Appalachian Spring – Copeland, Appalachian Journey – Connor, Meyer & Ma (I like Appalachian Waltz as well but offering an alternative) and Ecce Cor Meum – McCartney. I’m sure there are other favorites – sitting in my CD racks which runneth over – that will cross my mind later that I’ll have wished to include. Hope this doesn’t offend any musical sensibilities out there. (Kudos to SC!!!)