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

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It’s an old question: if you were going to be dropped off on a desert island and you could only take a few recorded pieces of music with you, what would they be? For me, the first piece on the list is easy: Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.


Neuroscience

Sep 28, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

I’m grateful for advances in neuroscience, and for many reasons glad that every day we know more about how the brain works. But for all the studies of left brains, right brains, and neuron networks, some things will remain mysteries, and there’s no way around it.


Spiccato

Sep 27, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The literal meaning of the Italian word spiccato is similar to that of staccato—“detached,” or “distinct.” In string playing, to play notes spiccato means to play them with a bouncing bow. With its stiff but flexible stick and tightened horsehair, the bow is like a long spring, so it wants to bounce. But spiccato involves a controlled bouncing. The bow comes off the string after each note, but the player has to find the balance between making the bow bounce and letting it bounce.


Progress in Music

Sep 26, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

For musicians and music teachers, the concept of Progress can be misleading. We can strive in our own ways to emulate the masters who’ve preceded us, but it’s a mistake to think there’s such a thing as being better than those masters.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

In fields such as science and technology, or in medicine, we’re used to achievements that represent Progress, progress that is obvious and indisputable. We do things better than we did before. But in the field of music, Progress has at times been a misleading concept.


Strings

Sep 22, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The strings of stringed instruments—violins, violas, cellos, basses, guitars, and harps—may be made of steel, nylon or other synthetics, or of gut. Often the steel, nylon, or gut serves as the core of the string, and around the core is a tight winding of very fine wire—wire of steel, aluminum, or silver.


Aria Part 4

Sep 21, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The da capo aria, which I talked about yesterday, was a form that by 1750 had begun to lose its once enormous popularity. It was a form that was essentially killed by excess. The reign of the da capo aria coincided with the reign of the castrati as the stars of Italian opera.


Aria Part 3

Sep 20, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

For about a hundred years, roughly from 1650 to 1750, the principal type of aria in opera, and also in the oratorios and cantatas of such composers as Bach and Handel, was the da capo aria.


Aria Part 2

Sep 19, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The aria - a musical form that’s a kind of song, but more elaborate and vocally demanding than the pieces we usually call songs. The development of opera in Italy in the 1600's is what brought the aria to glory.


Aria Part 1

Sep 18, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Arias are the pieces for solo voice with instrumental accompaniment that are found in operas, oratorios, and cantatas. They’re songs, in a sense, but they tend to be more musically elaborate and vocally demanding than the kinds of pieces we usually call songs.


Acoustics Part 5

Sep 15, 2017
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

Sep 14, 2017
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

Sep 13, 2017
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

Sep 12, 2017
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

Sep 11, 2017
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.

Great Quotations 5

Sep 8, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

George Bernard Shaw began his career as a music critic, and in September of 1890 he wrote these words:

“People have pointed out evidences of personal feeling in my [reviews] as if they were accusing me of a misdemeanor, not knowing that a criticism written without personal feeling is not worth reading.


Great Quotations 4

Sep 7, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Continuing this week’s series of things I wish I’d written… this is from a 1934 article by the great English music critic Ernest Newman:

“We know rather more now about the psychology of artists than we used [to], and so we no longer incline to the naïve belief that if a composer has quarreled with his wife his next symphony will be a Pathétique, or that if his liver happens to be functioning normally he will produce a Hymn to Joy at the next [Choral] Festival.


Great Quotations 3

Sep 6, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Words today from the great writer and critic Jacques Barzun. I’ve combined several related passages:

“Music is a medium through which certain unnamable experiences of life are exquisitely conveyed through equivalent sensations for the ear…


Great Quotations 2

Sep 5, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The words today of Hector Berlioz, writing about Beethoven:

“… the thousands of men and women… whom he has so often carried away on the wings of his thought to the highest regions of poetry…


Great Quotations 1

Sep 4, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Quotations, this week, from great musicians and writers. This is from the composer Ernest Bloch:

“Real music goes beyond the intentions of its author for it nourishes itself from a much deeper and more mysterious source than mere intellect.  It represents a synthesis of all the vital forces, of all the hidden instincts of an individual...


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

No piece of music is ever just “about” any one thing. In Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, Don Giovanni stands beneath Donna Elvira’s window and sings the aria Deh vieni alla finestra, “Come to the window, O my treasure.” It’s a serenade, a love song, and a very beautiful one. But there’s one big problem: it’s a fake.


The Flute, Part 2

Aug 31, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

I mentioned yesterday that by the mid-1700's the modern flute, technically called the transverse flute, had to a great extent replaced the recorder.  The replacement wasn’t complete, though: both Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel had continued to write for both instruments. Then again, by the time of Haydn and Mozart, just a few decades later, most orchestras included a pair of flutes, and no recorders. 


The Flute, Part 1

Aug 30, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

The flute is one of mankind’s oldest instruments, and in one form or another it’s been known to virtually every culture around the world.  The modern flute used in Western classical music is known technically as a “transverse” flute because the player holds it out to one side and blows across a hole in the side of the instrument. Other flutes, such as the recorder, are “end blown”—the player blows directly into an opening in one end of the instrument.


A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It was a fad that brought the bass drum, cymbals, and triangle to Europe. The fad was for a kind of Turkish military music known as Janissary music. The Janissaries were the personal guard of the Turkish Sultans, and they were famous for their bands, which featured the bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and an instrument of bells and jingles called the Turkish crescent.


Operetta

Aug 28, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Operetta is light opera...or opera light.  Its goal is to amuse: to be witty, charming, funny, not serious either in style or substance. Operetta includes lots of spoken dialogue and eye-catching dance numbers, and the musical material is usually appealing, tuneful…uncomplicated.


Overture 5

Aug 25, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Miles Hoffman concludes this week's discussion about popular overtures.

A Minute with Miles - a Production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.

Overture 4

Aug 24, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Miles Hoffman continues his musings about the history of the overture.

A Minute with Miles - a Production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.

Overture 3

Aug 23, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Miles Hoffman talks about the most popular types of overtures.

A Minute with Miles - a Production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.

Overture 2

Aug 22, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Miles Hoffman continues his discussion about the birth and evolution of the overture.

A Minute with Miles - a Production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.

Overture 1

Aug 21, 2017
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Miles Hoffman discusses where the word "Overture" comes from and the earliest iteration of the overture.

A Minute with Miles - a Production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.

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