Growing up as a violinist, Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto ranked among my top 10 Holy Grail pieces. As I got older, I moved on to his Octet and Piano Trio in D minor, which became two of my favorite chamber works. There's almost nothing comparable to playing Mendelssohn's Octet with seven great string players. It's absolutely thrilling, energetic, virtuosic, youthful, fun and challenging. And to think that Mendelssohn wrote it when he was just 16.
Since he first began attracting attention with the band Bright Eyes in 1998, Conor Oberst has been busy. He's founded two record labels, started several bands and recorded a prolific amount of songs. The Nebraska singer largely avoided releasing albums under his own name, but this week brings a new solo album. It's called "Upside Down Mountain." Reviewer Tom Moon says it's his most intimate and engaging work in years.
TOM MOON, BYLINE: It's a special talent, sounding like damaged goods on demand.
Natalie Merchant became the creative center of the band 10,000 Maniacs when she was only 17, then made seven albums with the group before leaving to pursue a solo career in 1993. After taking a hiatus to raise her daughter, Merchant is back with a new self-titled album — her first solo material in 13 years. On this session of World Cafe, Merchant plays a set of new songs.
Our Latin Roots segment today is with Ernesto Lechner of the syndicated radio show The Latin Alternative. He joins us to talk about The Mighty Sparrow, a musical giant who has been a defining force in calypso and soca music for more than five decades. Lechner brings his personal passion to this discussion, focusing on how Sparrow's music was at first both familiar and exotic to him. He will play some examples from early and later in the Calypso king's career.
On this installment of Latin Roots from World Cafe, writer and producer Rachel Faro discusses one of her heroes, bass player Juan Formell. Formell led the Cuban band Los Van Van for almost 45 years, and was one of its remaining original members when he died on May 1 at 71. The band is now led by Formell's son, Samuel. Faro praises Los Van Van's ability to reflect the changes in Cuban society over the years, while still keeping things moving.
We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the six-pack of Hanson-branded beer that cost $25 to ship is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on disposing of music in a digital age.
Tami Anderson writes via Facebook: "How long do you keep songs in your collection when you rarely/never seem to listen to them?"