The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Maestro John DeMain discusses this weekend’s opening concerts of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 89th season. Music by Richard Strauss, Frank Martin and Camille Saint-Saens will be played with MSO principal players spotlighted.

September 15, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend will bring the opening of the 89th season of the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), which was founded in 1925 and how has 91 players.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

By design, there will be no special guest soloist and no standard masterpiece –- say, a symphony or concerto by Haydn or Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms.

The works, chosen to highlight to Overture Concert Organ, will feature German composer Richard Strauss’ late Romantic tone poem “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” best known for its opening which served as the fanfare for Stanley Kubrick’s film “201: A Space Odyssey.” Also featured are the local debut of Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds; and French composer Camille Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3 “Organ.”

Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom (below) will provide a free 30-minutes prelude discussion that starts one hour before the performance.

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

Season tickets are still on sale with a 50 percent discount for new subscribers. And single tickets are now on sale, while rush tickets will also be available.

Tickets price run $16-$84.

Here is a link to the MSO site about the opening concert, with links to other information and ticket reservations:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/orchestra

You can also call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit www.overturecenter.com

Here is a link to program notes by MSO trombonist J. Michael Allsen (below), who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater:

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1415/1.Sep14.html

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

The performances, under the baton of longtime music director and conductor John DeMain, will take place in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

The Juilliard School-trained John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), who came to Madison from heading the Houston Grand Opera, is starting his 21st season in Madison, recently granted an interview about the opening concert to The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

What makes this season and especially this first concert special to you?

This 2014-15 season is especially important because it marks the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 10th anniversary in Overture Hall. Being able to perform in this specially designed hall has been a game changer for the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

I can never adequately thank Jerry Frautschi for his incredible gift of the Overture Center for the Arts, and his spouse, Pleasant Rowland, for her additional endowment support and the gift of the Overture Concert Organ.

I have purposefully chosen a program for our first concert, on Sept. 19, 20 and 21, that is designed to explore the sonic power, as well as the subtlety, of Overture Hall (below).

Overture Hall

What would you like to say about the pieces on the program?

I purposefully do not have a guest artist on this first concert program because I like to focus attention on our wonderful orchestra and its principal players.

In Richard Strauss’ magnificent tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra (used as the iconic music of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey), special focus will go to the violin solos by our Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below), who never fails to move us with her gorgeous playing. (You can hear the irresistible opening fanfare by Richard Strauss at bottom in a popular YouTube video that has almost 3 million hits.)

Naha Greenholtz [playing

Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments will shine a spotlight on soloists, many of whom have also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:  Stephanie Jutt, flute; Marc Fink, oboe; Joseph Morris, clarinet; Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon; Linda Kimball, horn; John Aley, trumpet; and Joyce Messer, trombone.

And last but certainly not least on the program is Camille Saint-Saëns’ magnificent Symphony No. 3, the “Organ Symphony”. Personally, I will never forget the first time we played it at Overture Center’s opening weekend, and we had to encore that incredible last movement! The Overture Concert Organ and its curator and organist, Samuel Hutchison (below, in a photo by Joe DeMaio), have earned a special place in the musical life of our community.

Sam Hutchison with organ (c) JoeDeMaio

Have you decided on any short-term or long-term plans for your next decade in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

Long-term, I hope to revisit the symphonies by Gustav Mahler (below) and continue to expand the overall repertoire of the orchestra and continue to present the best of our living American composers to our audiences.

Gustav Mahler big

Working together with the wonderful MSO staff and particularly our violinist and Education Director Michelle Kaebisch (below), I’m hoping we can grow our very unique and broad-based outreach programs to the community.

Michelle Kaebisch WYSO cr Katrin Talbot

I’d also love to see us expand the Beyond the Score initiative. That January 2014 multi-media concert of Antonin Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony (below) with actors and videos, and the Symphony met with great success.

Bottom line: I always want and envision the Madison Symphony Orchestra becoming an even more vital presence for ALL the citizens of Madison and the surrounding region as we contribute to our city and the arts.

MSO Dvorak

What out-of-town guest stints will you do this season? Other major plans?

In October 2014, I’m opening the Long Beach (California) Symphony Orchestra season, and then conducting a concert of American composers with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Feb 2015. In the 2015-16, I’ll return to the Kennedy Center.

 

 

 


Classical music: The well-named Nonesuch Records turns 50 –– and keeps being a pioneer in music from budget baroque, electronic music and contemporary classical music to folk, ragtime, rock and world music.

September 14, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you judge solely by the size of an operating budget and the number of albums released in a year, Nonesuch Records surely does not rank among the industry titans like Deutsche Grammophon, Decca or Sony Classical.

But what the label does, it does exceptionally well.

Of late, I am especially taken with Nonesuch because they feature two of my favorite pianists -– Richard Goode and Jeremy Denk (below) –- and of one my all-time favorite singers, soprano Dawn Upshaw, as well as the great Kronos Quartet.

Jeremy Denk, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

Here is a link to the label’s website with forthcoming releases and a list of recording artists:

http://www.nonesuch.com

In addition, I find the sonic engineering Nonesuch provides is also top-notch. Much as I loved the old Emerson Quartet, when it moved from DG to Sony, it received inferior sonic engineering that favored an echoing or overly resonant ambient sound. Myself, I prefer a clean and close-up microphone that lets my own living room provide the performance space acoustics.

Anyway, I was listening to National Public Radio Wednesday afternoon last week and heard this terrifically informative report on the 50th anniversary of Nonesuch, which is based in New York City and the anniversary of which is being celebrated with special concerts and special releases.

The story particularly emphasized the foresight of the label’s longtime top boss Robert Hurwitz (below, on the left next to Kronos violist Hank Dett and producer Judith Sherman, who also recorded the world premiere commission of the Pro Arte Quartet centennial at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.)

Using his own taste and instinct, Hurwitz anticipated the best-selling popularity of electronic music, Cuban music, ragtime music and many other genres. (Below in an interview he did at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that can be found on YouTube.) One person, it seems, can make a huge difference.

211033-D162

I do wish Hurwitz had offered a fuller explanation of why the wonderful and cheap budget recordings of Baroque music and early music that Nonesuch issued in the 1960s and 1970s -– the ones with the great art on the covers and the ones that hooked so many of us on relatively littkle-known works as well as masterpieces –- have not been remastered and reissued on CD.

Old Nonesuch cover

But in any case, the NPR story provided a fascinating look at how a record company continued to expand and branch out – not by following listeners’ tastes and desires, but by ANTICIPATING them. It is kind of like what happened with Sony and the success of the Walkman.

Some things you just cannot judge by polls and surveys, no matter what the branding and PR experts say. They take personal vision and leadership and risk-taking. That is what the Nonesuch way.

Anyway, here is the link to the NPR story. I hope you find it compelling as The Ear did.

http://www.npr.org/2014/09/10/347155810/nonesuch-at-50-a-record-label-without-borders

 

 


Classical music: The Galena String Quartet reunites for a FREE chamber music concert of Beethoven, Brahms and Dohnanyi this coming Monday night on the UW-Madison campus.

September 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

A friend, violinist Kangwon Kim, who plays with the Madison Bach Musicians and the Madison Early Music Festival as well as for other groups and events, writes:

“Dear Jake,

I am having a reunion concert with the quartet members from 13-14 years ago (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who made up the Galena Quartet in 2001. Its members (from the left) included violist Allyson Fleck, violinist Allison Ostrander (Jones), cellist Karl Knapp and violinist Kangwon Kim.

Galena Quartet 2001 CR Katrin Talbot

The FREE concert is this coming Monday night, Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall on the campus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

The program includes string trios by Ludwig van Beethoven and Ernö von Dohnányi as well as the Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, by Johannes Brahms with guest pianist SeungWha Baek (below, in a performance at Northern Illinois University). You can hear the appealing Hungarian Gypsy Rondo finale from the Brahms Piano Quartet at the bottom in a popular YouTube performance with violinist Isaac Stern, violist Jaime Laredo, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax.


SeungWha Beck at NIU

Everything in the program, plus background information about the quartet and the players, is on the following website.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music | Galena Quartet Alumni Reunion Concert

The Galena String Quartet was formed in the Fall of 2001 as the graduate string quartet-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Besides performing as the resident quartet for the “Up Close and Musical” program through the Madison Symphony and visiting numerous elementary schools in the Madison area, the quartet performed at the Governor’s mansion, Stoughton Opera House, Fredric March Play Circle at the Memorial Union, and the Colony House in Mountain Lake, Florida. It was also a semi-finalist at the Fischoff chamber music competition.

The members are thrilled to perform this “reunion” concert after pursuing their separate musical careers during the past 10 years, and are grateful to the pianist SeungWha Baek for joining them for this concert. Below are violinist Allyson Fleck (below top) and cellist Karl Knapp (middle) and Kangwon Kim (bottom).

Allyson Fleck

karl knapp

Kangwon Kim

If you could include the announcement sometime in your blog, I would be grateful!!

 

 

 

 


Classical music: The Opera Student Showcase concert this Sunday afternoon will introduce David Ronis as the new director of University Opera and spotlight University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate soprano Shannon Prickett.

September 12, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a the press release for the University Opera’s Student Showcase that will take place this coming Sunday afternoon and will preview the talent and productions of the upcoming season:

“A concert of favorite melodies by Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi and others -– mostly operatic but one clearly comic -– will be presented by students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s opera program.

The concert will take place this Sunday afternoon, September 14, at 3 p.m. in the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Landmark Auditorium (below) at 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS1jake

Directing the concert and this year’s University Opera program will be David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio), currently on leave from the Aaron Copland School of Music at City University of New York, and Hofstra University. He is serving as the interim successor to longtime director William Farlow, who retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison last spring. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the work that the versatile Ronis recently did at Queens College with an early music version of Luigi Rossi’s opera “Orfeo.”)

Here is a link to a press release, issued by the UW-Madison School of Music when David Ronis was chosen from a nationwide search last spring, with Ronis’ impressive background:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2014/07/11/school-of-music-announces-david-ronis-as-visiting-director-of-opera/

David Ronis color CR  Luke DeLalio

Most of the singers will appear in this year’s productions of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring this fall and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute in the spring.

Here is a link to information about the upcoming season of the University Opera:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/opera/

But one singer -– soprano Shannon Prickett (below top) – is an alumna returning from her current work as Resident Artist at the Minnesota Opera.

While in Madison from 2011 to 2013 and working on her Master’s of Music degree, Prickett performed lead parts in Puccini’s La Bohème, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, Pietro Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, and Verdi’s Requiem.

In the Showcase concert, she will sing arias from Verdi’s I Lombardi, Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, and a dramatic duet from Verdi’s Aïda with new mezzo-soprano doctoral student Jessica Kasinski, below bottom. (The Ear has no word on specific works to be performed.)

Shannon Prickett head shot

Jessica Kasinski

Other singers will take on arias by Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini, Richard Strauss and even Flanders and Swann: That number requires good humor as well as pianistic skill from the accompanist, and will provide a treat for fans of the multi-talented and critically acclaimed Thomas Kasdorf (below), another graduate of the UW-Madison.

Thomas Kasdorf

The concert is a benefit for the University Opera that sponsored by Opera Props, which supports the University Opera. Admission is a contribution of $25 per person, $10 for students. A reception follows.


Classical music: Today is the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. What music will you play or listen to in order to commemorate the tragic events and loss of life?

September 11, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today marks the 13th anniversary of 9/11 and the tragic events during the terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda on the United States, in New York City on the Twin Towers; on Washington, D.C,, and the Pentagon; and on United Airlines Flight 93, which passengers made crash into a Pennsylvania field before it could destroy the U.S. Capitol or White House.

Twin Towers on 9-11

There is a lot of great classical music that one could play to commemorate the event and loss of life. There are, of course, requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Giuseppe Verdi and Gabriel Faure.

There are masses and other choral works by them and also Ludwig van Beethoven and others. And there are a lot of opera arias and choruses as well as art songs.

There are large-scale symphonic and choral work as well as more intimate chamber music and solo works, especially the solo cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, one of which, thanks to cellist Vedran Smailovic (below) in 1992, became am emblem of the awful and bloody siege of Sarajevo by the Serbian army. Chamber music by Franz Schubert — such as the slow movement of the Cello Quintet — would at the top of my list.

Sarajevo cellist Vedran Smailovic 1992

Then there is the contemporary work “In the Transmigration of Souls” by the American composer John Adams. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was written specifically, on commission from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, to remember 9/11 and which uses actual tape recordings of the events and responses of that awful day. And another work by Steve Reich.

Myself, I tend towards the tried-and-true, the pieces of music that never fail to take me to the appropriate place in memory and sorrow.

So today, at the bottom, I offer a YouTube video of the last movement of the profoundly beautiful and moving  “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms. It is more secular than religious, and it asserts that “Blessed Are the Dead … for They Rest from Their Labors and Their Works Shall Live After Them.”

Hard to disagree, don’t you think?

So here it is.

But be sure to let us know what music you will be playing and what piece or pieces you favor to commemorate 9/11.

 

 

 


Classical music: Shirley and Stanley Inhorn win the first John DeMain Award from the Madison Symphony Orchestra League.

September 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is some news that comes in a press release from the Madison Symphony Orchestra about an award made in honor of John DeMain (below bottom, in a photo by Prasad), the longstanding music director and maestro of the MSO who is about to begin his 21st season on the podium:

“The first annual John DeMain Award for Outstanding Commitment to Music will be presented this Friday, Sept. 12, by the Madison Symphony Orchestra League (MSOL) in recognition of an individual or individuals for their longstanding and unwavering support of the League, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and music in the community.

“Shirley and Stan Inhorn (below top) are two such worthy individuals.

Stan and Shirley Inhorn MSO

John DeMain full face by Prasad

“Music has been a central part of every aspect of their lives – from friendships and charitable contributions to volunteering and leisure time – for more than five decades.

“Their involvement with music began young with music lessons and playing as high school and college students, and has continued throughout their lives in Madison.

“Both have been involved in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO), serving in many capacities through the years. They were made life trustees of WYSO in 2012. Shirley has been a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra League and its predecessor — the Women’s Committee of the Madison Symphony Orchestra – for more than 40 years.

“Stan played in the second violin section of the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and subsequently joined the MSO Board. He also was one of the first men to join the MSOL.

“The Inhorns have endowed the MSO’s Principal Second Violin Chair and pledged an estate gift to the MSO’s endowment designated for the Up Close & Musical® Education Program.

“They have also been major donors to WYSO and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

“Together and individually, they have made a lasting difference to music in our community.”

mso from above

This is not the first time the Inhorns (below) have been so honored. Almost three years ago, when they were named Lifetime Trustees of the Wisconsin Symphony Youth Orchestras (WYSO), The Ear interviewed them.

Stanley and Shirley Inhorn

Here is a link to that post:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/classical-music-how-do-two-scientists-became-award-winning-supporters-and-funders-of-music-education-meet-the-inhorns-of-madison/

And here is a statement that Shirley and Stanley Inhorn gave to The Ear on the occasion of receiving the inaugural John DeMain Award:

“Like many other Madisonians, we are lovers of classical music. Our volunteer efforts, therefore, have been directed to local organizations such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below top), and the Pro Arte Quartet (below bottom). Our many decades of support and involvement in these groups reflect this passion.

wyso violas

PAQ-8BIT03

“We were surprised and honored to learn that we had been chosen to receive this award from the Madison Symphony Orchestra League. We know that many other people also devote volunteer hours to assure that classical music remains strongly embedded in Madison’s social fabric.

“We are grateful for the abundance of high-quality musical offerings available in Madison. And we are pleased to know that our efforts have contributed to this reality.”

– Shirley and Stan Inhorn

 

 

 


Classical music: A video of UW-Madison violinist Eleanor Bartsch serenading two elephants at Circus World in Baraboo with Bach goes viral — and makes a National Public Radio blog.

September 9, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This isn’t the first time that one or both of the extremely talented violinist Bartsch sisters — Alice (below top) and Eleanor (below bottom), who come from the Twin Cities — have made news and generated headlines during their time as students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, or even in the time following graduation.

Alice Bartsch

Eleanor Bartsch

But it may well be the first time that the event and headline went national, or even international.

Here’s the situation: Eleanor Bartsch played two gigs of the famous and beautiful Concerto for Two Violins by Johann Sebastian Bach with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top). (This  spring her sister Alice left her position as concertmaster of the Middleton Community Orchestra.) One concert, at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, went well and without incident.

Then, she and her concerto partner, violinist Tim Kamps (below bottom) — who also studied at the UW-Madison and who is a member of the Kipperton String Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra as well as the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — moved on to Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

WisconsinChamberOrchestrainCapitolTHeaterlobby

Tim Kamps playing

Just as an aside, Bartsch decided to use some of her warming up time, her practicing and rehearsing, to go serenade two of the elephants at the world-famous headquarters of Circus World with her part of the Bach concerto. The elephants started swaying in time and it was all captured on video and then posted on YouTube.

Eleanor Bartsch and elephant closeup

The Ear was put onto the elephant-violin encounter and its video – which runs under one minute and has been called “adorable” and “cute” by some viewers  — by a close friend and loyal reader of this blog.

But then the word spread like – well, like an elephant stampede. The video has gone viral with almost 2 million hits since August 24.

And of course someone who knows animals pointed out that the way the elephants were swaying was NOT really their way of dancing happily to the Bach rhythms and tune. It was instead a pitiful sign of what happens to animals in captivity when the are subject to obsessive compulsive behavior. Or perhaps what happens when they are in Musk (like heat or rut) and ready to reproduce. Or when they are ready to attack.

Some viewers even said it amounted to distress or animal abuse.

Here are the original videos:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/08/29/a-woman-plays-bach-on-the-violin-to-swaying-elephants-is-this-cute-or-cruel/

And then: VOILA

The outstanding blog Deceptive Cadence, put together by NPR or National Public Radio, linked that video to four other memorable and unusual music videos -– and included the objections from animal-lovers.

By the way, the other four videos are also well worth a look and a listen.

Here is a link to the more comprehensive NPR story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/05/345593233/five-new-classical-videos-you-need-to-see-to-believe

You can decide for yourself.

But somehow The Ear can empathize with those who do not like to see caged animals since I am among them. But I surely do not consider hearing violin by Bach as insult added to injury.

Make up your own mind – and let us know: WHAT DO YOU THINK? Thumbs up or down?

The Ear wants to hear.

And for the record and your listening pleasure, as they say on radio, here is a link to a great performance – WITHOUT elephants — of the same Bach Double Violin Concerto with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman:

 

 


Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players opens its 30th anniversary season with “Rework!” — featuring music by Johannes Brahms and Ferdinand Ries -– on this coming Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

September 8, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) marks the start of its 30th anniversary season with two late Romantic compositions — often described as “autumnal” in mood — by Johannes Brahms.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2012 2

The composer came out of retirement on hearing inspiring playing by a clarinetist. Brahms then (below) wrote two sonatas – Op. 120, Nos. 1 and 2 — and, after initially envisioning clarinet, added the option of viola to match the rich timbre he had conceived for the piece.

brahms3

COMPARE AND CONTRAST

The Oakwood Chamber Players will present the first Sonata in F Minor with viola and piano, and the second Sonata in E-Flat Major with clarinet and piano (at bottom in a YouTube video). This provides a delightful and insightful contrast of two solo instruments showcasing compelling melodies and stirring conclusions.

Clarinetist Nancy Mackenzie (below top) and violist Christopher Dozoryst (below middle) will collaborate with pianist Vincent Fuh (below bottom) on these two works.

Nancy Mackenzie clarinet

Chris Dozoryst

Vincent Fuh big

AN UNKOWN WORK BY AN UNKNOWN COMPOSER

The program will also include a sunny contrasting early Romantic-style quartet for flute, violin, viola and cello by Ferdinand Ries (below), who was a protégé and publisher of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Ferdinand Ries

The concerts are on Saturday night, September 13, at 7 p.m. and on Sunday afternoon, September 14, at 1:30 p.m. Both concerts will be held in the auditorium at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side.

NOTE: The Oakwood Chamber Players  (below) will NO LONGER longer perform at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum Visitor Center because of prohibitive cost, as was explained in a previous post (a link is below) about the chamber music ensemble that is known for both its quality of playing and its creative, unusual programming. Its members perform in many other local groups including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/classical-music-the-oakwood-chamber-players-announces-its-30th-anniversary-season-and-gives-up-performing-at-the-uw-madison-arboretum/

Oakwood Chamber Players 2012 1

Next weekend’s program is the first concert in their celebratory 30th anniversary season series titled “Reprise! Looking Back Over 30 Years.

30years-logo

Upcoming concerts include:

  • Remix! Christmas Lights Memories – November 28 and November 30
  • Recapitulate! – January 17 and January 18
  • Replay! – March 14 and March 15
  • Reissue! – May 23 and May 24

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for 30 years.

Tickets are available at the door: $20 general admission, $15 seniors and $5 students. For more information, visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


Classical music: Japanese writer Haruki Murakami and composer Franz Liszt work well together. Both are haunting creators. Here is a chance to hear how as you read.

September 7, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

As longtime readers of this blog know, The Ear is a loyal fan of the Japanese writer and novelist Haruki Murakami (below).

haruki murakami

I have had a longstanding bet with friends that the prolific Murakami will win the Nobel Prize “this” year. But so far, a decade or more later, I am still waiting — as, I suspect, he is since he has won other major prizes.

So The Ear says: Let’s get on it, members of the Nobel Prize committee in Oslo. What are you waiting for?

Longtime fans also know that I am NOT a big fan of Franz Liszt (below). He wrote some great music that I like a lot. But he also wrote a lot of second-rate music that I don’t like a lot. What is good, I find, is very good; and the rest too often strikes me as melodramatic pieces full of self-exhibitionistic pyrotechnical keyboard tricks and gimmicks.

Liszt photo portrait by Pierre Petit 1870

But recently the contemporary Japanese novelist got me to appreciate one piece by the 19th-century Romantic Hungarian composer and piano virtuoso.

The work is called “Le mal du pays,” or, roughly translated, “Homesickness,” and comes from the first of three books, and the first year of three, of Liszt’s generally subdued “Years of Pilgrimage: Book I — Switzerland.”

Not surprisingly it is featured, referred to and analyzed repeatedly in Murakami’s new novel the “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (below, published by Knopf), in which the meanings of home and belonging are explored in many different ways. The piano music is a kind of thematic summary of the plot, the setting and the characters.

Murakami Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki book cover

The Liszt work, which runs about six or so minutes, is a curious piece, less showy than many and full of the kind of strangeness, disjointedness and mysteriousness that Murakami treasures and so effectively conveys in his writings.

The piano piece perfectly matches the novel, its plot and characters and tones, in the music’s eerie chromaticism, in its insistent repetition, in its austerity and lack of sensuality, even in its identification with what is empty or missing and its plain old weirdness.

The haunting music embodies the book and may have been inspired it in part. Not for nothing is Murakami known as The Japanese Kafka, and the Liszt music is worthy of that equivalency.

The two works of art deserve each other, as I am increasingly finding out, and work well together.

I am now about fourth-fifths of the way through the novel, which has been No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list for hardback fiction for several weeks. It certainly has me enchanted and under its spell.

Murakami often refers to Western culture, classical and pop, and especially to classical music and jazz. (He once ran a jazz bar in Tokyo.)

In other works such as “Kafka on the Shore,” Murakami even seems something of a connoisseur of Western classical music who has compared works and various recordings of them, by Franz Schubert, Johann Sebastian Bach and others. In fact, Murakami himself could be said to have spent his own years of pilgrimage journeying through Western culture as well as fiction writing.

This time Murakami, who has excellent taste and deep knowledge or familiarity, favors a performance by the late Russian pianist Lazar Berman (below).

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 4.0

Other fans of both Murakami and Liszt have set up a website where you can listen to a YouTube recording of Berman’s playing ‘Le mal du pays.” (You can also find quite a few other recordings of it, including one by Alfred Brendel (below), on YouTube, which is also featured in a secondary role in Murakami’s new novel.)

Brendel playing BIG

And I have also found a Hyperion recording by British pianist and MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant-winner Stephen Hough that I like a lot:

Hough_Stephen_color16

Here is a link to the Lazar Berman version, a second one that was set up by a Murakami fan:

Have fun listening and happy reading.

And please let us know what you think of the Liszt piece, Murakami’s newest novel and your favorite Murakami novel.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Classical music is hardly dying. As the new seasons begins, National Public Radio (NPR) surveys the many new works and world premieres that will take place across the U.S.

September 6, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight marks the opening of a lot of concert seasons across the country. That includes the new season right here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

UW-Madison flutist Stephanie Jutt (below, in a photo by C&N Photography) will perform a FREE program of Latin American music and German music at tonight 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall. She will be accompanied by UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor and UW-Milwaukee pianist Elena Abend.

Stephanie Jutt CR Dick Ainsworth

And over the next several weeks the many other classical music institutions in Madison will also open their seasons: the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Oakwood Chamber Players, the Madison Bach Musicians and so on.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Yet the idea that classical music is moribund, that it is a dying form of culture and art, persists. And critical observers cite smaller audiences, older audiences and debt-strapped organizations as proof.

But if you want to judge the vitality – and possible future -– of classical music in America, you might want to take a look at the season preview that was posted on the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog by NPR or National Public Radio.

The preview looks at world premieres of new works and unusual events or programming of all kinds — but mostly orchestral and operatic — that will take place around the country. The story includes new works by such well-known and prize-winning composers as Jennifer Higdon (below top), John Adams, John Corigliano and Kevin Puts (below bottom) — all of whom have had works performed in Madison.

Jennifer Higdon and cat Beau

Kevin Puts pulitzer

The Ear finds it encouraging and heartening, although he finds it dispiriting that Madison doesn’t make the list, and wonders why? Is it an oversight on the part of NPR? Or the lack of large-scale new music here, despite upcoming appearances by the Jack Quartet and premieres of works by UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger (below) and the world premiere on Sept. 26 by the Pro Arte Quartet of a commissioned Clarinet Quintet by composer Pierre Jalbert. And this summer saw a world premiere by Jeff Stanek at the Token Creek Chamber  Music Festival.

Laura_Schwendinger,_Composer

Anyway, whet your appetite for the new music and for repeat performances of it elsewhere -– like here at home — by reading about it or, better, listening to it. One of the important sites for new works is the impressive outdoor amphitheater at the Santa Fe Opera, (below, in photo by Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera).

Santa Fe Opera auditorium CR Ken Howard SFO

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/03/345259101/great-expectations-a-new-season-of-new-music

Do you think classical music, for all the challenges it faces, is a dying art form?

Or will it persist in some form or another?

The Ear wants to hear.


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