NPR Staff

On a long drive, Itzhak Perlman will sometimes listen to classical music on the radio and try to guess who's playing.

"There is always a question mark," he says. "If it's good, boy, I hope it's me. If it's bad, I hope it's not me."

All composers have obsessions. For John Adams, a composer who decidedly broke with the past, that obsession is Beethoven, as heard in the new album Absolute Jest.

The brass-band sound is a proud tradition of New Orleans. But over the years, those horns have evolved to embrace a broader repertoire, full of funk and jazz and even a little hip-hop — and the sounds have migrated well beyond Louisiana. Take NO BS! Brass Band, whose core members met at Virgina Commonwealth University and proudly claim Richmond, Va. as their home base.

Back in 1986, Allen Toussaint told All Things Considered that he could write a song from the scraps of a joke, or from snippets of conversations. If the occasion called for it, he could even fashion writer's block into verse.

"Well, how do you write a song?" he offered, playfully. "Do you make it short? Do you make it long? Is there any right? Is there any wrong? Just how do you write a song?"

You don't often hear "football" and "bel canto" in the same sentence. How about the same opera?

Outer space is silent, and that may be one reason why a lot of movies about space have iconic scores — in addition to helping advance the the plot, the music in films like Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey must fill a literal void.

Jamie Cullum, musician and BBC Radio 2 host, is constantly searching for the freshest sounds in jazz music. A frequent guest on Weekend Edition, he recently visited the program to share new music from Matthew Halsall & the Gondwana Orchestra, Daymé Arocena and Sons of Kemet. The sounds range from Coltrane-influenced spiritual jazz to acoustic club music informed by the traditional sounds of Ethiopia and West Africa.

Stephen Sondheim is widely viewed as the greatest living composer in American musical theater. "Send in the Clowns," from the show A Little Night Music, may be his most famous work — and yet you might not recognize the song as reimagined for solo piano by Ethan Iverson of the band The Bad Plus.

It's difficult enough to start an orchestra, but Zuhal Sultan founded the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI) as a teenager in the middle of a war. She brought together 40 young musicians from different Iraqi cities and sectarian backgrounds in an effort to unify a divided nation. Now, six years later, the Euphrates Institute has named her Visionary of the Year.