Miles Hoffman

Host, Writer

Violist Miles Hoffman is founder and artistic director of The American Chamber  Players.  He made his New York recital debut in 1979 at the 92nd Street Y and has since appeared frequently around the country in recital, as chamber musician, and as soloist with many orchestras.  In 1982 he founded the Library of Congress Summer Chamber Festival, which he directed for nine years, and which led to the formation of the American Chamber Players. His musical commentary, “Coming to Terms,” was heard weekly throughout the United States for thirteen years – from 1989 to 2002 – on NPR’s Performance Today, and now, as Music Commentator for National Public Radio’s flagship news program, Morning Edition, he is regularly heard by a national audience of nearly 14 million people.  Mr. Hoffman is the author of The NPR Classical Music Companion: Terms and Concepts from A to Z, now in its tenth printing from the Houghton Mifflin Company.  He is a graduate of Yale University and the Juilliard School, and in 2003 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Centenary College of Louisiana in recognition of his achievements as a performer and educator. Violist Miles Hoffman is founder and artistic director of The American Chamber  Players and artistic director of the Peace Chamber Program at the Peace Center, in Greenville, SC. He is the host of two of South Carolina Public Radio's national productions, The Spoleto Chamber Series, and A Minute with Miles.

Ways to Connect

Acoustics Part 5

5 hours ago
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Acoustics is the science of sound, but the word also refers to the qualities of a room—the qualities that determine and describe how things sound in that room. 

Acoustics Part 4

Jun 20, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

When discussing acoustics it’s important to remember that there’s no absolute standard, and that different kinds of music may be better served by different acoustics. A piece for solo cello, for example, might sound wonderful in the richly reverberant acoustics of a cathedral, while a string quartet or piano in the same space would sound like mush.

Acoustics Part 3

Jun 19, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

More today, about acoustics. Absolutely everything in the design and construction of a room, or concert hall, contributes to its acoustics… from the shape and size of the room, to the building and finishing materials, to the seating configuration and height of the stage, to the seemingly minor decorative details.

Acoustics Part 2

Jun 18, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

We’re talking about acoustics this week. Acoustics is the science of sound, but the word has another meaning, as well. When we ask about the acoustics of a concert hall, or of any room, we’re asking about qualities, about how things sound in that room.

Acoustics Part 1

Jun 15, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Acoustics is the science of sound. More specifically, it’s the branch of physics that deals with sound waves and their properties—how sound waves are generated, how they behave in various circumstances, how they interact.

Fantasy

May 18, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Fantasy is the English translation of the Italian fantasia, a word that first appeared as a title for instrumental works in the 1500's. Since then, it’s a title that’s been used over and over: there have been fantasies for lute, guitar, harpsichord, viols, organ, piano, and orchestra; Renaissance fantasies, Baroque fantasies, Classical, Romantic, modern fantasies, and fantasies ranging from abstract exercises to extravagant variations on operatic arias.

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Musical child prodigies have always fascinated the public. Far more rare than the child prodigy performer, though, is the child prodigy composer. The first name that comes to many people’s minds when they think of child composers is Mozart, and it’s true that Mozart started writing music at the age of four or five. But of all Mozart’s great pieces, very few were written before his twentieth birthday. Felix Mendelssohn, on the other hand, composed works when he was fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen that are still considered masterpieces, and that far surpass anything Mozart wrote when he was a teenager. 

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It’s popular, in some circles, to find links between creative genius and mental illness. Among composers, Robert Schumann—who attempted suicide after years of inner torment—is usually Exhibit A, but there are others who are regularly mentioned, as well. My own view is that the so-called link is no link at all. 


Sonata

May 15, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The word sonata comes from the Italian sonare, an old form of suonare, which means “to sound,” or “to play,” as in “to play an instrument.” And indeed, a sonata is always an instrumental piece.  During the Baroque period, the term was applied to pieces for one, or sometimes two solo instruments, with or without keyboard accompaniment, but since about 1750 the term has most often referred to pieces either for solo piano or for piano and one other instrument.  


Bach Cello Suites

May 14, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

A word today about the solo cello suites of Johann Sebastian Bach. The melodies to which we’re most accustomed in the music of such composers as Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert, usually feature easily identifiable beginnings, middles, and ends.


Antonio Vivaldi

May 11, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Antonio Vivaldi’s life story could easily be the subject of a novel.  Vivaldi was born in Venice in 1678 and at the age of 25 he was ordained as a priest.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

From the 1400's to the 1700's, the Italian word viola was the general term for any stringed instrument played with a bow.  Viola da braccio, or “arm viola,” was the generic name for any member of what we now call the modern violin family.  And even though it was always played between the legs, the instrument we now call the cello was first called the basso di viola da braccio, or “bass arm viola.” The word cello, believe it or not, comes from an Italian word meaning “little big viola.”


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Fame, they say, is fleeting. I recently came across a piece of music by a German composer named Johann Friedrich Fasch. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

If you’ve seen the movie Amadeus, or the play it was based on, you may have gotten the impression that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was some sort of giggling idiot who just happened to be really good at writing music. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Here are the names of seven composers of Italian opera who were contemporaries of Giuseppe Verdi:

Filippo Marchetti, Errico Petrella, Pietro Antonio Coppola, Luigi Ricci, Federico Ricci, Antonio Cagnoni, and Giovani Pacini. Ever heard of them? Neither had I. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Sic transit gloria mundi – Thus passes worldly glory. Louis Spohr was born in Germany in 1784, and during his lifetime he was one of the most famous musicians in all of Europe, renowned as a great violinist, a distinguished conductor, and an extremely prolific composer. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

If you’d like a remarkable example of the genius of Leonard Bernstein, I  recommend that you listen – or listen again – to the song “Cool,” from West Side Story.


Better Ears

May 2, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Every musician will tell you that there are some musicians who just seem to have better ears than others do. We’re really talking about the brain, rather than the actual organ of hearing, but in any case from the same sounds others hear, some people are able to extract more information, and they’re able both to process and to store that information faster, more accurately, and more efficiently. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

One of the reasons Mozart’s operas seem so profound to us is because they’re so true to life, and perhaps especially true to life’s complexities and contradictions. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

One of the common dangers of studying composers’ lives is finding out that some of the people whose music we love and admire turn out to have been very unadmirable human beings. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Here’s a question: Should we really care about the personal lives of the composers we admire? When we don’t know anything about their lives, we certainly don’t care. How many of us know a great deal about Monteverdi, or Palestrina? Or even Bach, or Beethoven? What we care about is the music. 


Ear Training

Apr 25, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Ears can be trained. Which is why every music school in the world offers ear-training courses. I suppose it should go without saying, but for musicians the ability to recognize fine distinctions among sounds is crucial. And what musicians are trained to do is to recognize very specific kinds of information in sounds, to recognize relationships and patterns and to be able to reproduce them. 


What Will Last?

Apr 24, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Perhaps you’ve thought about this: Bach and Mozart died over two hundred years ago – – Is there anybody alive today whose music will be played two hundred years from now? It’s a tricky question. 


Bel Canto - Rossini

Apr 23, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

I wonder what today’s voice teachers would think of the composer Gioacchino Rossini’s ideas for a vocal training curriculum. According to Rossini, learning the art of bel canto, or “beautiful singing,” should begin with many months of soundless exercises, starting no later than the age of twelve. 


Practicing

Apr 20, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

When I was a little boy just starting violin lessons, my teacher’s instructions were that I should practice a half hour every day. For a six-year-old this seemed an enormous load. I liked the violin… but a whole half hour, every day? 


Indispensible Three

Apr 19, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It’s always fun to propose lists of the “ten best” of something – or the ten worst of something, for that matter. But when it comes to thinking about composers of classical music, there’s a word I like better than “best,” and that word is indispensable. And the number I have in mind isn’t ten, but rather three. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

I’ve spoken about this before, but the subject seems to come up a lot, so why not go over it again: in America, 99.97 per cent of the people who play the flute for a living call themselves flutists, not flautists. That’s not a scientific number, but I think it’s pretty accurate.


Modern Stuff

Apr 17, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

There are many people who say they love classical music, but not “that modern stuff.” What’s interesting is that some of “that modern stuff” is well over a hundred years old. Sometimes the term “modern” is just a stand-in for “unfamiliar,” and it’s true that some listeners have no appetite or patience for music that’s unfamiliar, and aren’t even willing to give it a try. That may be their loss… but then again we’re all entitled to stick to what we know and love. 


Mesmer

Apr 16, 2018
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

If you explore the history of psychotherapy, you’ll come upon the name Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer was born in Germany in 1734, and it was Mesmer who invented the term “animal magnetism,” which is what he called the mysterious force, or fluid, that flowed through his own body and that he could redirect for therapeutic purposes. 


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The most common tempo markings in music are words like allegro, adagio, and andante. But often composers indicate expression along with tempo, and this is when foreign-language dictionaries can come in handy. I could make a long list of interesting tempo and expression markings, but here are two of my favorites: 


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