Tom Huizenga

In 1986, four women gathered in a casual setting to sing through a bit of medieval chant. Little did they know they were launching Anonymous 4, an a cappella ensemble that has spanned nearly 30 years, 20 albums, countless concerts and more than a millenium of music.

Today the group announced that the 2015-16 season will be its last together. But this isn't the first time Anonymous 4 has thought about calling it quits. The group bid a similar farewell in 2004.

From as far back as we can tell, music makers have been inspired by the flora and especially the fauna around us. From tooting tunes on actual animal horns and bones, to musical portraits of creatures large and small, performers and composers of all stripes have included critters in their creations. In this puzzler, you must identify the creature depicted in the music.

Soviet composer Vadim Salmanov is little more than a footnote outside Russia, but his four energetic, skillfully orchestrated symphonies are making a small comeback. Russia's venerable Melodiya label has reissued them in a handsomely packaged double-disc set of live recordings made between 1957 and 1977.

Conducted with burning intensity by Yevgeny Mravinsky, Salmanov's rarely heard music soars off these albums with a sound that is thoroughly Russian yet charged with a certain Soviet-era anxiety.

"New classical music is well and alive," Brad Wells, director of the vocal collective Roomful of Teeth, said yesterday as he accepted his Grammy for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." That could be the annual mantra for the classical music world. It has been predicted to crumble for decades, just as optimists continue to point to positive trends. This year is no different. Despite two ugly black eyes — the death of the New York City Opera and the continuing, bitter stalemate between the Minnesota Orchestra's (locked out) musicians and management — terrific music is being made by marvelous artists. Here we offer a short list of the best and worst of 2013.

Johann Sebastian Bach has been a central figure in the life of British conductor John Eliot Gardiner since he was a youngster. On his way to bed, he couldn't help glancing up at the famous 18th-century portrait of Bach that hung in the first floor landing of the old mill house in Dorset, England where Gardiner was born.

When Daniel Hope was a boy, the only thing he loved as much as his violin was his telescope. Gazing into the night sky, he pondered the vastness of space. Now a grown man, Hope still has a penchant for wonder and discovery — especially when it comes to music.

At the opening of Anna Netrebko's new album, Verdi, we find her in the role of Lady Macbeth, reading a letter confirming the fulfillment of a prophecy made by Shakespeare's (and Verdi's) infamous witches.

With an interview show named HARDtalk I suppose the host might be expected to come out swinging. And recently the BBC's Sarah Montague did not disappoint.

It's a brave new musical world. Between downloads, iPods, music sharing websites and the good old CD, we have more easy access to the songs and symphonies we love than ever before.

It's easy to think of opera as little more than an affected flock of singers warbling onstage in lacy brocade with pancake makeup, chandeliers and champagne.

If you think all the twitchy rhythms and random shards of melody flashing through Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring sound complicated, consider the poor musicians who have to learn it. And then there's the conductor, who needs to perfectly place every piccolo tweet and bass drum boom.

Robert Frost's famous poem "The Road Not Taken" begins with the line: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." Frost's traveler must choose between them. But slide that metaphor over to the world of classical music and you will discover hundreds of paths to explore.

New albums of music by the "Three Bs," Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, prove that going back to basics has its advantages. Hear a sweet-toned violin concerto, an audacious piano sonata and a solo cello suite caressed by a lute.

It's Marches Madness! Throughout this month, we're posting some of our favorite marches — from the concert hall, opera stage and parade ground. Got one we should hear? Played any yourself? Let us know in the comments section.

Ah, the joys of Monday morning quarterbacking, classical style.

From Christopher Purves' bottomless bass voice and the soaring Sibelius Fifth to a violist's new take on the Baroque, it's this week's list of albums we can't stop listening to. Got a favorite album you've had on repeat lately? Let us know about it the comments section.

Is there some kind of weird vocal vortex in Minnesota? The state turns out so many excellent choral groups — at the school, church and professional levels — that it can arguably be dubbed the choral center of the U.S.

The members of the male vocal ensemble called Cantus, who huddled around Bob Boilen's desk to sing for us, hail from that vortex — specifically Minneapolis-St. Paul.

"Location, location, location" is the mantra of real estate, but for centuries geographical locales have also been a boon to the imagination of many a composer. Think of Tchaikovsky, who mimicked the bugle calls he heard each morning while visiting Rome in the opening brass fanfare of his Capriccio Italien.

Fond Farewells: Classical Musicians We Lost In 2012

Jan 3, 2013

From mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli's ambitious revival of the early Baroque composer Agostino Stefani (and yes, she's got another outrageous album cover) to three very different roles for the violin, here's a clutch of classical albums I returned to again and again this year for sheer delight and aural inspiration. Bartoli lavishes extravagant attention on the music of a fascinating but forgotten link in the history of opera.

Michel Van Der Aa Wins The Grawemeyer Award For Music

Nov 26, 2012

Up-close, a multi-disciplinary work by Dutch composer and director Michel van der Aa that combines a piercing cello concerto with an enigmatic silent film, has won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. The prize, which carries with it $100,000, was announced this evening by the University of Louisville, which sponsors the honor.

If Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wrote a dull piece of music, I've not yet heard it. And even if there is a workaday piece or two lurking within his 300 keyboard sonatas, you certainly won't find it on this new album by British pianist Danny Driver, who deftly uncovers the surprising restlessness of the music.

As the presidential campaign heads into the homestretch, with binders, bayonets and a profusion of political ads, perhaps it's time to step back from the election hubbub.

Twenty-five years ago today, Houston Grand Opera mounted the world premiere of Nixon in China, the first opera by a young composer named John Adams. Two days later, The New York Times described it as a "coy and insubstantial work" and "hardly a strong candidate for the standard repertory."

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