Tom Huizenga

Back at the beginning of time, the human voice was the very first instrument. Probably close in second place were folks banging on stuff – in other words, percussionists. The quartet of gentlemen who form the Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion takes primordial pounding into a completely distinctive new league. To be sure, in this Tiny Desk performance, they'll play their sophisticated, modern marimbas and vibraphones, but be on the lookout for the subtleties of tuned cowbells and 3/4" galvanized steel pipes, like those found at the local hardware store.

The myriad stories about Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson usually fall into two groups: the ones about her enormous, laser-focused voice and those about her rapier-sharp wit.

Matt Marks, a young composer, musician and founding member of the contemporary music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, died suddenly Friday, May 11. The group made an announcement Saturday on Twitter, with no cause of death given. Marks was 38.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Arvo Pärt is one of the most popular, most performed living composers. He's beloved worldwide for his signature sound – a spacious, meditative music that tends to sound timeless.

But there's a lesser-known side to the 82-year-old Estonian's career. It's a story that can be traced in a new recording of Pärt's four Symphonies. The album is a musical journey spanning 45 years in fervently detailed performances by the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic, conducted by fellow Estonian Tõnu Kaljuste.

Vespers, the traditional late afternoon prayer service, gets an enigmatic twist in a new video by director James Darrah, premiered here, with music from Missy Mazzoli, performed by the spirited violinist Olivia De Prato. The track is from her new album, Streya.

Editor's note on April 2, 2018: You may have figured this out already — this story was an April Fools' joke. It's not real. We hope you enjoyed it.

"Not all pianists are created in equal temperament," Robin Olson told a small but enthusiastic audience behind NPR Music's storied Tiny Desk. The pianist, hailed as an "avant-garde gewandhaus" by Berlin's Staubzeitung, is as celebrated for his cryptic maxims as he is for his inscrutable music.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


Cellist Clarice Jensen says the music on her debut solo album solicits "meditation and disorientation" — two words that, while not mutually exclusive, seem to suggest both a remedy for, and the reality of, a complicated world.

When it comes to heavyweight game-changers like Claude Debussy, super fans even celebrate death anniversaries. It was 100 years ago, March 25, 1918, that the visionary composer lost his battle with cancer and died in Paris at age 56.

To mark the occasion, Warner Classics has issued a handsome 33-CD box containing what the label says is "the most complete collection ever made" of Debussy's music.

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