Looking for something to listen to over the holiday break? We asked Hopkins faculty, staff, and community members for their favorite listens of 2023. Their responses provide the perfect playlist for that holiday road trip or family dinner.
Executive director | Shriver Hall Concert Series
An inspired debut album, Walking in the Dark from soprano Julia Bullock, has rightly been nominated for a 2024 Grammy Award. The recording, which ruminates on social justice, history, home, searching, loss, and memory, captures Bullock's gifts as a sensitive interpreter with a bold creative vision. Smartly juxtaposing works for voice and orchestra—an aria from John Adams' El Nino and Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915—with a traditional spiritual and songs by Oscar Brown Jr., Billy Taylor, Connie Converse, and Sandy Denny, Bullock moves fearlessly between drama and introspection.
Long an admirer of Bullock's radiant artistry, I first listened to this album ahead of her upcoming Baltimore recital debut on our stage at Shriver Hall Concert Series on Jan. 14, 2024. I continue to return to it because the album feels cathartic for this disorienting time as we, as Americans, wrestle with who we want to be as a society.
Faculty | Music Engineering & Technology, Peabody Institute
Without hesitation, my recommendation is I Killed Your Dog by L'Rain. I love cooking as much as eating (a lot) and here, I get the best of both worlds. I can obsess over the individual ingredients and I can get lost in the cohesiveness of the dish. I Killed Your Dog lets us choose. It is familiar and unpredictable: I'm in my apartment, on another planet. With mastermind Taja Cheek at the helm, L'Rain's work here is singular, timeless, forward, and grounded by a community of collaborators that commit to each other and set the bar high. The brilliance of "Uncertainty Principle," the galactic groove of "Knead Bee," the subtle depth of "Clumsy"—it's a one-stop shop in the best way. It is bold and refreshingly unrestricted.
Assistant professor | Music Theory, Peabody Institute
I discovered the Lombardini Quartett's 2022 recording of Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen's (1745–1818) Six String Quartets while working on my new book Expanding the Music Theory Canon (SUNY, 2023). Although Sirmen's professional accomplishments are often omitted from historical narratives, she had a tremendously significant career as an internationally acclaimed violinist and composer. After being trained in the prestigious all-women ensembles of the Venetian Ospedali Grandi, Sirmen studied with Giuseppe Tartini who wrote her a letter on violin technique that is still used today as a teaching method. Sirmen is the first known woman in Western Europe to compose string quartets, and her career inspired the formation of the Lombardini Quartett. The all-woman ensemble was founded in 2016 and specializes in performing forgotten 18th-century instrumental works on period instruments. Their debut recording of Sirmen's Six String Quartets is stylish and exciting, breathing new life into the works of an extraordinary woman who is certainly worth remembering.
Professor of music composition | Peabody Institute
My recommendation is Josquin, The Undead: Laments, Deplorations and Dances of Death, music of Josquin Desprez and other works by Gombert, Vinders and Appenzeller, performed by Graindelavoix
The music of Josquin Desprez (ca. 1450–1521) has the rare quality of at once a palpable, almost material urgency and stilled introspection. It can cut to the absolute core and do so confidently, quietly, without coercion, and without shouting. As a listener, I have come back to this music with increasing frequency. To me, the work speaks broadly and far beyond its stylistic confines, a difficult feat. These remarkable performances by the Belgium-based group Graindelavoix are not without controversy, but I have never heard this music come alive as I do in these recordings. Suggested initial listening: "Douleur me bat" and "Parfons regretz"
Associate professor and guitarist | School of Medicine
Dripfield by Goose was released in June 2022, but I first heard it on a Memorial Day camping trip in May 2023. I was drawn to the guitar playing of Rick Mitarotonda, who is clearly influenced by Trey Anastasio of Phish but combines the virtuosity of a seasoned jam band guitarist with a pop/rock sensibility that makes the music different enough to keep you interested for more than a few songs. I started playing with a new band around that time, and I have been inspired to try new things when soloing, even on more classic rock songs.
Professor, solo performer, member of Should, and co-owner of the label Words on Music | Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Whiting School of Engineering
I've probably listened to Modern Delusion by Catalogue more than any other album this year. The Marseille trio's angular, energetic post-punk is abrasive, melodic (well, at least not unmelodic), and fun—a welcome release during these frustrating times. For something much calmer yet still adventurous, I recommend checking out LAAPS, a French label releasing exquisite ambient, electronic, and electroacoustic music. Somni451's album The Eighteen Minute Gap is a fine example.
General manager | Hopkins Symphony Orchestra
One of my favorite albums of 2023 is Awadagin Pratt's Stillpoint. Pratt, a Peabody alum who broke onto the scene in the early '90s, is one of my favorite pianists of all time. He had not released an album in 12 years, so I was very excited when I saw that he put out something new. Stillpoint is a classical album that features all new compositions. The pianist was inspired by the T.S. Eliot poem Burnt Norton. Apparently, he gave a few lines of the poem as inspiration to six composers and had them each write a work for the album. I loved hearing how six different composers were inspired by the same source material to create very different works, and Pratt's masterful performance really drew me back time and time again.
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