The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: When I looked at German flowers, I heard the piano music of Robert Schumann.

August 31, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday I explained that I had not replied to so many kind and generous reader comments because I was recently out of the country on vacation for a two-week visit to family. But I did not say where.

Specifically, there I was in Germany, mostly in the area of Stuttgart, Pforzheim and Heidelberg.

And I kept hearing the opening melody of a relatively rarely heard piano piece by Robert Schumann: his “Blumenstuck’ or Flower Piece.

That’s no surprise, I suppose, in hindsight. There were beautiful, well-cared-for  flowers everywhere, bright colored and beautiful flowers in window boxes (below), in house gardens, in public parks, even in traffic roundabouts. I have seen similar sights in France and even in the city of Marquette, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But nothing compared with Germany. The world could use more flowers.

Of course, there is a lot of classical music that evokes flowers, especially songs.

But I first heard the lovely and melodic Schumann piece during a performance by Vladimir Horowitz, who programmed it often. It reminds of the same composer’s charming “Arabesque,” Novelettes” and “Night Pieces” as well as some sections of his suites made up of the suite “Scenes of Childhood,” “Kreisleriana,” “Fantasy Pieces” and “Carnaval.”

Schumann (below, in a photo from 1850) was one of the composers with the greatest gift for evoking nature – the French composer Debussy also excelled – and when you see the flowers of his native land, you understand their influence on him. (You can also find other readings, including one by the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, on YouTube.)

So, here is the great Vladimir Horowitz playing Schumann’s “Blumenstuck” in New Haven in the 1960s, in an interpretation that was a bit more lively and engaging, to my taste, than a later one in the mid-1970s.

I hope you enjoy it with the same pleasure that both the music and its original inspiration gave me:


Classical music: The Ear explains his two-week silence and thanks all of you who sent in comments and especially your good wishes on the third anniversary of this blog.

August 30, 2012
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Thank you, dear readers, thank you.

So many of you have written replies to my posts. This is especially true of your generous thanks and good wishes for the third anniversary of this blog on Aug. 20. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Here is a link to that posting so that you can read my words and then all the wonderful comments for yourself:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/

But some of you may be wondering – with good reason — why there has not been a response from me in return.

The answer is simple: I was out of the country for two weeks, from Aug. 12 to Aug. 27. Also, while I was away I did not have easy computer access. And even if I had, the vacation or break was very welcome – not something that I wanted to interrupt or occupy with emails and blogging.

It might seem as if I were blogging because the posts continued every day. But they were all prepared in advance. That is not something you can do with replies to comments.

So please accept my deepest thanks and do not think your kindness and generosity are unappreciated. On the contrary, they help me want to keep the blog active is some way rather than give it up entirely.

Whether the writer is me or a guest blogger, whether the topic is local or national, I intend to reconcile what seem like contradictory goals: to cut back on daily blogging and use my time for other things but also to keep the blog active, engaging and helpful.

So where was I on vacation?

Well, tune in tomorrow for the answer. It matters musically.

And thank you again.


Classical music: American pianist Van Cliburn has been diagnosed with advanced cancer. The Ear dedicates Cliburn’s playing of the beautiful and touching Liszt-Schubert song “Dedication” to honor the pleasure, joy and inspiration he has given to so many.

August 29, 2012
14 Comments

 

By Jacob Stockinger

Judging from news reports, an icon of American classical music is living out his final days.

American pianist Van Cliburn (below, in a photo taken by Ross Hailey for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram), now 78, has been diagnosed with advanced bone cancer . The very consistent stories, clearly taken form the same press release, do not say whether it is Stage III or Stage IV (there is no Stage V) but the word “advanced” suggests it is one of them and is probably beyond any hope of a cure or even a long survival.

As a young pianist, Cliburn was a superstar sensation with the public, the first classical musician to sell one million LPs (of his live recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1) and the first classical musician to get $10,000 a night. Sviatoslav Richter, one of the giants of 20th century Russian pianism also thought Cliburn so gifted that he handed Cliburn all his votes to seal Cliburn’s win in the first International Tchaikovsky Competition (below).

But Cliburn has also had his detractors, critics who found his performances uneven and lazy, especially as he aged and seemed to grow bored with his art. And some people including The Ear, also wish that he had come out publicly, despite his conservative politics and apparently deep religious beliefs.

For myself, in his prime I found most of his performances very good and several of his performances stupendous, including his Tchaikovsky First and Rachmaninoff Third concertos, but also his MacDowell Second Concerto.

Anyway, in an earlier post I asked: How good was Van Cliburn?

Here is a link:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/classical-music-how-good-was-pianist-van-cliburn/

And here are links to the latest story from The Associated Press about Cliburn and his diagnosis of cancer:

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2012/08/28/arts/ap-us-cliburn-illness.html?_r=1&ref=arts

http://www.spinner.com/2012/08/28/van-cliburn-cancer/

http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/story/2012-08-27/van-cliburn-cancer-diagnosis/57355752/1

I don’t know if Cliburn reads The Well-Tempered Ear, but if he doesn’t now maybe he will if there are enough hits or somebody forwards it to him.

So leave a message in the COMMENTS column.

And tell us about your favorite Van Cliburn moments or performance.

One of mine is his playing of Franz Liszt’s transcription of Robert Schumann‘s song  “Widmung” (Dedication) — which was a favorite encore of Cliburn in his heyday and which is meant to honor the joy, the beauty and the inspiration he provided to so many young listeners and players, including me.. (Many more such moments, including Chopin, Brahms  and Debussy can be found for free on YouTube. Tear yourself and listen to a few).

 


Classical music: Does becoming a parent change how you hear and make music? The Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes think so.

August 28, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Does having a child change how you hear and make music?

Acclaimed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (below), known for the directness of his interpretations as well as his virtuosity, thinks so.

See if you agree by listening to reading an interview with him about his fatherhood and by listening to him play a Spanish Dance by Enrique Granados and other works including three Chopin waltzes. It has some GREAT close-ups of his playing and the keyboard, by the way.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/event/music/158492258/leif-ove-andsnes-fatherhood-and-freedom-at-the-piano

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What is the most difficult piano piece to play?

August 27, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

What is the most difficult piano piece to play?

Like so many others, The Ear had always heard it was “Islamey” or “Oriental Fantasy” by Balakirev.

And that always struck me as odd since so much of Liszt is so deliberately virtuosic.

Then I heard the works of Sorabji and figured that is really hard, no matter how easy Marc-Andre Hamelin makes it seem.

But now piano virtuoso Stephen Hough (below) has opened my eyes – and ears — to what he thinks is the most difficult piano work ever written. Furthermore, his view was apparently supported by no less a judge than Rachmaninoff.

So what is it?

Take a look and listen:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100065553/the-most-difficult-piece-i-played-once/

Do you agree? What do you think is the most difficult piano piece ever written – or that you ever played or heard?


Classical music: Deutsche Grammophon will release the Met’s new and controversial production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle on 8 DVDs plus a 2-DVD collection of highlights and a 1-DVD documentary in mid-September to mark the composer’s bicentennial in 2013.

August 26, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Attention Wagner fans: Get ready for Valhalla in your home!

The Ear has received word that Deutsche Grammophon will release an 8-DVD recording of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle next month. It will include a 1-DVD documentary plus a 2-DVD set of highlights – a very smart marketing move, says The Ear — as well as the complete set of four operas.

Say what you will about the Metropolitan Opera’s latest production of Wagner’s mammoth four-opera “Ring” cycle – that’s the production by Robert Lepage that was featured in the “Met Live in HD” broadcasts  — it generated a great deal of interest and controversy and divided partisans sharply.

And that kind of publicity is priceless.

So the acclaimed and venerable label Decca has announced it will release DVDs of all the operas plus a documentary and a highlights compilation next month – just in time for the Oct. 13 start of the latest season of “The Met Live in HD,” which can be seen at:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx

Here is the official press release from Universal and Deutsche Grammophon:

“For Immediate Release

New York, NY — Wagner’s “Ring” presents the ultimate challenge for any opera company, and the New York Metropolitan Opera’s new production of “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” unveiled between 2010 and 2012 and starring some of the greatest Wagnerian singers of today, is among the most ambitious “Ring” stagings ever mounted.

“The Met’s production, directed by legendary theatre visionary Robert Lepage, uses a 90,000 lb. “tectonic” set (below) -– an infinitely mobile, writhing, rotating raft of 24 individually pivoting aluminium planks that came to be nicknamed “The Machine” – in a dazzlingly cinematic staging that harnesses the latest interactive and 3D video technology to realize many previously “unstageable” aspects of Wagner’s epic drama.

“It is at once a state-of-the-art production for the 21st century and a deeply traditional Ring. In Lepage’s words, “it’s the movie that Wagner wanted to make before movies existed.” For the Boston Globe, it’s “a high-tech Ring with a traditional heart”. In the London Telegraph’s view, it’s “a triumph, at once subtle and spectacular, intimate and epic.”

“Already seen by over a million people in the theater and at cinemas around the globe, the Met Ring was filmed live in high-definition and is now being released on both DVD and Blu-ray to launch Deutsche Grammophon’s celebration of the composer’s bicentenary year in 2013.

With Bryn Terfel, widely acknowledged as one of the finest bass-baritones of our age, performing his first complete cycles as the embattled god Wotan and American soprano Deborah Voigt (below) making her role debut as his disobedient warrior-daughter Brünnhilde.

Other international stars include Jonas Kaufmann (below top) and Eva-Maria Westbroek as the incestuous Siegmund and Sieglinde, and last-minute stand-in Jay Hunter Morris (below bottom) – a thrilling new tenor from Paris, Texas – saving the day as the fearless but ill-fated hero Siegfried. The New York Times declared the cast “as strong a lineup of vocal artists for a Wagner opera as I have heard in years.”

Acclaim was equally enthusiastic for the cycle’s two conductors: James Levine, the Met’s longstanding Music Director, who has conducted 21 complete Ring cycles at the Met; and Fabio Luisi (below), the Met’s Italian-born Principal Conductor, who took over conducting the second half of the cycle after illness caused Levine to withdraw.

“Levine drew exciting, wondrously natural playing from the great Met orchestra”, wrote the New York Times, while “Luisi brings out the score’s three-dimensional detail and animal heat,” wrote New York Magazine.

Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Met since 2006, says: “Nothing defines an opera house more than its new productions, and there’s no new production that is more significant than a new “Ring” cycle. That is why I invited Robert Lepage, one of theatre’s great visionaries, to create our new cycle.”

Mark Wilkinson, President of Deutsche Grammophon, says: “We are thrilled to be partnering with the Met to help take Wagner’s spectacular, breathtaking music, boldly realized here by Robert Lepage, to as wide an audience as possible. Both collectors and newcomers to Wagner’s extraordinary world will find it at once spectacular, visually spell-binding and deeply thought-provoking.”

To complement the complete Ring cycle on both DVD and Blu-ray, Deutsche Grammophon is releasing two related titles: “Twilight of the Gods,” a 2-CD compilation of audio highlights from the Met’s “Ring” – featuring all the major stars of the production and such famous extracts as “The Ride of the Valkyries,” “Wotan’s Farewell,” the “Magic Fire Music,” “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” and the concluding “Immolation Scene”; and “Wagner’s Dream,” a frank and revealing documentary about the five-year making of the Met’s new Ring that has already been acclaimed as “simply the best documentary about the Met ever made” (Film Journal), “a must-see for any creative soul” (Cinespect) and “destined to be one of the classic documentaries about opera” (Philadelphia Inquirer).

Here are details:

“Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen”

Das Rheingold · Die Walküre · Siegfried · Götterdämmerung
& Wagner’s Dream  The making of the Ring

Starring in alphabetical order: Patricia Bardon, Stephanie Blythe, Richard Croft, Mojca Erdmann, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jonas Kaufmann, Hans-Peter König, Waltraud Meier, Jay Hunter Morris, Eric Owens, Iain Peterson, Franz-Josef Selig,· Gerhard Siegel, Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek plus The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, all under conductors
James Levine and Fabio Luisi and directed by Robert Lepage

8 DVDs 00440 073 4770
5 BD 00440 073 4771

U.S.  Release September 11, 2012

“Twilight of the Gods”

Wagner: Highlights from “Der Ring des Nibelungen”

Stephanie Blythe, Jonas Kaufmann, Jay Hunter Morris, Eric Owens, Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek and The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
under James Levine and Fabio Luisi.

2 CD 00289 479 0638

U.S. September 11, 2012

“Wagner’s Dream”

The making of the “Ring”

Documentary

Featuring Robert Lepage, Deborah Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Peter Gelb, James Levine, Fabio Luisi and the Metropolitan Opera

Directed by Susan Froemke

DVD 00440 073 4840

U.S.  Release September 12, 2012


Classical music: Less than two weeks remain to see the world-class Pro Arte String Quartet exhibit in Madison at the Dane County Regional Airport. It is a must-see and must-hear.

August 25, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

If your spring or summer travels haven’t taken you to Dane County Regional Airport, be sure to make a stop out there during the next two weeks.

That is where – through Sept. 3 — you will find an absolutely first-rate  and fabulous exhibit marking the centennial of the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) , which played four new commissions and recorded them last season to mark the occasion that made the Pro Arte the oldest continuing string quartet in history.

The exhibit (below) was painstakingly planned and put together by Paula Panczenko and her team from the UW Tandem Press, with special and outstanding help from artist and designer Andree Valley, who teaches at Madison College (formerly Madison Area Technical College.)

The exhibit has high-tech videos and podcasts (below) and low-tech scores and instruments. It is chock full of information about the quartet: its history in Belgium and then here in Madison where it was exiled after World War II interrupted its American tour; its many members over 100 years; its music, including manuscripts of new works; its recordings on LPs, tapes and CDs; its American, European and global tours as traced on maps; and much more. It really is a treat that surpasses even the highest expectations.

Here are some more photos I took of the exhibit that you will find in the main entry. I hope they entice you to go in person and spend some time looking closely and interacting with it. You won’t be sorry you did.

 

For more information about the Pro Arte Quartet, including photos, reviews and audio clips, visit the many samples on YouTube and the quartet’s home page at: http://proartequartet.org


Classical music: Looking for some new recordings to listen to? NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog has some excellent suggestions.

August 24, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

The fall concert season is about to start soon.

But there is still some time to fit in listening to some noteworthy new releases.

NPR’s ‘Deceptive Cadence” blog recently featured a nice selection that ranged from solo piano to an orchestral reconstruction (below) to new choral music.

Here they are:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/08/05/158096276/headbanging-bruckner-and-debussy-in-black-and-white-new-classical-albums

What new recordings have you heard that you recommend? Let us know in the COMMENT section.


Classical music: Fifth Symphonies, like Ninths, can mark a turning point in a composer’s career and in the history of music.

August 23, 2012
5 Comments

ALERT and REMINDER: A new chamber group in the area, the Black Marigold wind quintet (below) performs its second feee concert tomorrow, on Friday, Aug. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Hall of Capitol Lakes Retirement Center, 333 W. Main St. For more  informaiton about the performers and the program, go to: http://host.madison.com/calendar/music/black-marigold-summer-concert-series/event_0b76af2a-e0b3-11e1-9f8f-1777522ac029.html#.UCFecwfQz_A.facebook

By Jacob Stockinger

Most classical music fans know about the so-called Curse of Beethoven’s Ninth, which seems to have intimidated many composers who cam later and kept them from completing more than nine symphonies. (A small number compared to Haydn’s 104 and Mozart’s 41, no?)

But Fifth Symphonies also mark a sea change in a composer’s career and inspire a certain kind of awe and legend, also going back to Beethoven (below).

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conductor Marin Alsop (below), who has recorded for Naxos Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony with her new additional orchestra, the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil. She discussed Fifth Symphonies with NPR’s Scott Simon.

It is an illuminating talk with great audio clips that help her explain the music. Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/21/157113606/a-grand-soviet-symphony-by-way-of-brazil

Curiously, my favorite fifth symphony – after Beethoven’s Fifth, that is – was never even mentioned: Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, with its great final movement featuring brass and strings plus an unbeatably dramatic finale punctuated by silence (at bottom).

I also don’t recall hearing them talk about Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, which is also a great one, though Shostakovich’s great Fifth Symphony gets a nod.

Do you have favorite Fifth Symphony?

Let The Ear know what it is.


Classical music: Opera News magazine announces five honorees for 2012. Soprano Rachel Holmes to sing on Wisconsin Public Radio tomorrow.

August 22, 2012
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ALERT: Tomorrow, Wednesday, Aug. 23, on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s “The Midday,” hosted by Norman Gilliland, will feature live performances by another of  the 2012 Neale-Silva Young Artist Competition winners: soprano Rachel Holmes (below). Listen to 88.7 FM from noon to 1 p.m. Here is a link to her website with news, photos and audio clips: http://racheleveholmessoprano.com/live/

By Jacob Stockinger

The eighth annual awards by the editors of Opera News have been announced.

Here is the official press release:

2012 Opera News Awards Honorees Announced

New York, NY, – The editors of Opera News are pleased to announce the honorees for the 2012 Opera News Awards, paying tribute to five superb artists who have made an invaluable contribution to the art form: sopranos Mirella Freni and Dawn Upshaw; countertenor David Daniels; baritone Simon Keenlyside, and bass-baritone Eric Owens. 

The eighth annual Opera News Awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, April 21, 2013 at The Plaza in New York City. All the winners – and a host of the city’s cultural, civic, and social luminaries – will be present at the gala awards dinner, which will feature celebrity presenters speaking about the awardees and introducing video performance clips.

The official announcement of this year’s honorees appears in the September 2012 issue of Opera News, which is available this week and has Piotr Beczala on the cover. The Polish tenor performs this season at the Metropolitan Opera in Gounod’s “Faust” – his company role debut as the opera’s title character – and in a new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto. The September issue also offers the magazine’s annual preview of the year in opera.

The April 2012 issue of Opera News will contain tributes to the five awardees, all distinguished members of the international opera community.

Created in 2005, the Opera News Awards recognize five individuals each year for distinguished achievement in the field of opera. Proceeds from the gala evening on April 21 will benefit the education programs of the Metropolitan Opera Guild.

For the third consecutive season, the Opera News Awards includes a special sweepstakes that will give a lucky winner round-trip air transportation for two to New York, provided by American Airlines, as well as a two-night stay at Trump International Hotel and Tower and VIP tickets to the Opera News Awards. No purchase is necessary to enter the sweepstakes; details are available at www.operanews.com/onawards and in the September issue.

The editors of the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s Opera News have offered brief pre-publication accolades to this year’s award recipients. Online Editor Adam Wasserman salutes Mr. Daniels:

David Daniels (below) has established himself as more than a superbly elegant singer and an incisive actor; he is a trailblazer, who has redefined the emotional and musical range achievable by the male voice for both opera audiences and his fellow singers.”

Editor in Chief F. Paul Driscoll pays tribute to Ms. Freni (below):

Mirella Freni’s beauty, charm and poise – and the unfailing loveliness of her voice – made her one of opera’s most beloved sopranos during an active singing career of more than fifty years. She remains prima donna assoluta in the hearts of opera lovers everywhere.”

Features Editor Brian Kellow applauds Mr. Keenlyside:

Simon Keenlyside (below, as Mozart’s Don Giovanni) seems incapable of making a false move onstage. Not only does he have one of the most expressive baritone voices I’ve ever heard, he always seems to be completely in the moment dramatically. His work is never flashy, but it has an inner fire that few performers can match.”

Managing Editor Oussama Zahr extols the gifts of Mr. Owens:

“Bass-baritone Eric Owens (below, as Alberich in the Metropolitan Opera’s “Ring” cycle) has a soulful, capacious voice that he uses to imbue some of opera’s most mysterious and villainous characters with startling humanity. Everything he sings glows with his integrity as an artist.”

Senior Editor Louise Guinther praises Ms. Upshaw:

Dawn Upshaw (below) represents the highest ideals of pristine musicianship, intellectual curiosity, and artistic integrity. She brings a blend of all-American earnestness and instinctive passion to everything she does: Dawn Upshaw opens not only the ears of her audiences but their hearts and minds as well.”

Commenting further about the winners of the seventh annual Opera News Awards, Driscoll notes: “All five of this year’s honorees are blessed with the artistic integrity and expressive generosity that inspire everyone who cares about the art form. The editors of Opera News could not be more pleased to celebrate their extraordinary achievements, and look forward with the greatest enthusiasm to welcoming them to the Opera News Awards gala on April 21.”

Beyond offering the opportunity to pay tribute to the distinguished achievement of some of the leading artists of our time, the Opera News Awards gala dinner has become an important and much-anticipated date on the opera community’s calendar: a time for singers, artistic administrators, and managers – as well as social and political leaders who support opera – to come together in a spirit of camaraderie and celebration.

Opera News has been published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild since 1936; it has the largest circulation of any classical music magazine in the United States. The magazine, published monthly, is a winner of three ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in music journalism.

Previous Opera News Awards honorees:

2005: James Conlon, Régine Crespin, Plácido Domingo, Susan Graham, Dolora Zajick

2006: Ben Heppner, James Levine, René Pape, Renata Scotto, Deborah Voigt

2007: Olga Borodina, Stephanie Blythe, Thomas Hampson, Leontyne Price, Julius Rudel

2008: John Adams, Natalie Dessay, Renée Fleming, Marilyn Horne, Sherrill Milnes

2009: Martina Arroyo, Joyce DiDonato, Gerald Finley, Philip Glass, Shirley Verrett

2010: Jonas Kaufmann, Riccardo Muti, Patricia Racette, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Bryn Terfel

2011:Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Peter Mattei, Karita Mattila, Anja Silja, Peter Sellars


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