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This Thanksgiving, Put On Some Music To Soothe


This year's Thanksgiving holiday promises to be melancholy, separated from many loved ones because of the pandemic. Of course, we can't be in more than one place at a time, but a song can. Sharing music can help bring us together, help soothe, help uplift.

Our friend Marin Alsop will offer some suggestions. Of course, she's music director of the Baltimore Symphony and chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony. Marin, thanks so much for being with us.

MARIN ALSOP: Oh, it's great to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: This is a piece of music that always tears my heart out. Let's listen to Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer Of 1915."


KARINA GAUVIN: (Singing) It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently...

SIMON: Marin, what does this piece and this particular recording of it mean to you?

ALSOP: Well, the piece is so nostalgic. It's like sharing a summer evening, a memory of a summer evening with your family, you know, out on the porch, having a picnic. And I think what we're all feeling now is this extraordinary desire to be together, to hug one another, you know, to have this shared communal experience. And for me, this is a piece that - it's like the archetypal summer evening in America. It's particularly American to me. And this is a recording that I made with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. I recorded all of Barber's orchestral music. And the beautiful singing is by Karina Gauvin, who's a Canadian soprano.


GAUVIN: (Singing) On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt...

SIMON: We should note that the words are taken from James Agee and his book, "A Death In The Family."

ALSOP: Aren't they beautiful? Yeah.

SIMON: You have a few more pieces of music. I gather there's - Brahms is next.

ALSOP: It's interesting. When your producer Ned asked me which pieces I'd like to share with people at this time, I didn't realize it at first, but I gravitated toward the human voice. And for me, I guess I'm longing for that contact and especially since choirs are separated the most, you know, because of the danger of spreading COVID. So I think that drew me toward this piece, which is absolutely one of my favorites. It's called "A German Requiem" by Brahms.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in German).

ALSOP: He originally wanted to call it The Human Requiem. And it's interesting because it's not predicting, you know, hell and damnation at all. It's really a celebration of life. And the movement I picked is called (speaking German) - translates into how lovely, how beautiful are your dwellings.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in German).

SIMON: It does make me feel better about a requiem.


ALSOP: Listen. As requiems go, this is pretty upbeat.

SIMON: You have music next by an Argentine composer.

ALSOP: This is a piece by one of my favorite people on the planet, Osvaldo Golijav.


ALSOP: He's a wonderful human being, you know, someone who's interested in inclusion and embrace of diversity and crossing musical genres. This is part of a movement from a cello concerto that he wrote originally for Yo-Yo Ma. I've performed it many times with Alisa Weilerstein. It's called "Azul." And it really brings together influences from across the globe.


SIMON: My God, that's gorgeous.

ALSOP: Isn't it beautiful? Beautiful music, huh?

SIMON: Wow. And now something from Handel - Handel with a twist?

ALSOP: Well, you know, I was wondering about what I would recommend for the moment when we can all run out of our houses and be together again. So this is a short clip from what we call Too Hot To Handel. It's a gospel version of Handel's "Messiah."


COLORADO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: (Singing) Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

SIMON: Wow. That's you ringing the rafters with the Colorado Symphony.

ALSOP: Yeah, isn't that fun, though? And this is a - the arrangements are done by Bob Christianson and Gary Anderson. This one's by Bob. And it's just so much fun. And I thought, you know, with the holidays here, let's just hope for a hallelujah soon - very, very soon.

SIMON: Yeah.

ALSOP: But I wish everybody safe and happy holidays. And, Scott, can't wait to see you again in the flesh.

SIMON: Can't wait to see you again. Marin Alsop, now in her last season as music director of the Baltimore Symphony, her second as chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony. Thanks so much. Good music, and happy holidays.

ALSOP: Happy holidays.


COLORADO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: (Singing) And he shall reign for ever and ever... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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