A late medieval meditation on life’s fragility, called the Dance of Death, stimulated the imagination of painters more than musicians. It was such a gloriously macabre 15th-century painting in Lübeck, Germany, by Bernt Notke—Death summoning folks from every station and walk of life—that inspired Hugo Distler’s 1934 choral work Totentanz (Dance of Death). Ruben Valenzuela’s…

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Among the few pivotal works of chamber music from the first half of the last century, nothing touches Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” for its combination of radical technique and sumptuous beauty. Written under grim conditions—in 1941 the composer was a prisoner-of-war in a German stalag near Dresden—it is nevertheless an audacious…

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Cellist Yo-Yo Ma is not simply a virtuoso cellist—he is a celebrity equally at home performing concertos with major orchestras as he is appearing on television or recording sound tracks for blockbuster films. His Wednesday (March 12) recital with pianist Kathryn Stott drew an overflow crowd and offered an eclectic array of classical and popular music . . .

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