The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Famed child prodigy conductor Lorin Maazel has died at age 84. To the end, he was surrounded by controversy and contradiction.

July 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Sunday. as you may have already heard, the distinguished conductor Lorin Maazel (below, in a photo by AFP-Getty Images) died at his summer festival grounds and home in Virginia from complications of pneumonia. He was 84. Many expected him to live much longer — since conducting is such aerobic exercise, since extreme longevity ran in his family, since  conductors are a very long-lived group as a rule. 

lorin maazel AFP Getty Images

Here is a specially posted tribute video, with Maazel conducting music by Gustav Mahler — the famed Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5:

I read a lot about outstanding and searing performances by Maazel, who had a truly international career, but never heard any first-hand.

I also read a lot about his mechanical and uninspired approach to conducting, despite his mastery of “stick technique” with the baton. I never heard that in person either.

When I did hear him, usually conducting the New York Philharmonic on the PBS program “Live From Lincoln Center” or the Vienna Philharmonic  “New Year’s Day in Vienna,” he seemed perfectly competent and acceptable, if never outstandingly original or impressive or inspired. (You can hear him conduct in Seoul, Korea, the dramatic and moving “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Born in France, Maazel as a major talent who started as a violin prodigy and then went on to conducting major orchestras before he reached the age of 10. Later, he also turned to opera, including appearances at the Metropolitan Opera. And he often talked about how lucky he had been to have parents who did not exploit his talent during childhood. And he was full of forward-looking plans to the end.

Maazel’s death was all over the media -– including media that don’t normally care to give much coverage to the arts, especially to the current arts and to living artists. Perhaps the fact that he made history by taking the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang, North Korea, where he also performed our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” to applause, had something to do with it.

Nonetheless, here are some stories to help you catch up:

Here is a story, with sound clips and a fine appreciation, from the classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/13/331148634/conductor-lorin-maazel-who-brought-america-to-the-podium-dies

Here is an exhaustive and comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/arts/music/lorin-maazel-brilliant-intense-and-enigmatic-conductor-dies-at-84.html?_r=0

Here is a story from the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/conductor-lorin-maazel-dies-at-84-1405273033

Here is a fine memorial from The Washington Post critic Anne Midgette:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/style/wp/2014/07/13/lorin-maazel-1930-2014/

Here is a fine summing up by The New Yorker magazine of the contradictions and controversies that surrounded Maazel’s conducting. I love the headline – “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” which is a timely reminder of the balance needed between intellectualism and emotional directness, the latter of which is, for The Ear, the heart of making music:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2014/07/lorin-maazel-the-man-who-knew-too-much.html

Did you hear Lorin Maazel?

Do you have a favorite memorable performance or recording by him?

A least favorite one?

What do YOU think of Lorin Maazel?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The great British conductor Sir Colin Davis is dead at 85. Here is a round-up of stories and remembrances, appreciations and obituaries.

April 21, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

In case you haven’t already heard, the great British conductor and longtime music director of the London Symphony Orchestra  Sir Colin Davis (below) died last Sunday at 85 after a brief illness.

Sir Colin Davis conducting

The news came unexpected to The Ear as Davis seemed actively involved in conducting almost up to the end. He seemed to have the stamina that would take him well into his 90s – especially since the aerobic act of conducting seems conducive to conductors have long careers and lives.

But then again, the obituaries make it clear that he suffered deeply from the death of his wife.

I never heard him live. But I loved his recorded performances –- and he recorded prolifically with some 250 albums to his credit. In the works of Sibelius and Berlioz he was a stalwart champion and acclaimed master. He also championed British composers such as Edward Elgar, William Walton and Benjamin Britten.

But I also liked his complete command of the Classical era-style in Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven – symphonies, concertos, operas, oratories and other choral works. (Below is the cover of his recording on the London Symphony Orchestra‘s own in-house label LSO Live of the Berlioz Requiem.)

Sir Colin Davis LSO Berlioz

Sir Colin earned fame and a fine living early on (below) in the 1950s and 1960s. But I especially liked that his career seemed to peak late in his life –- a good riposte to the cultural tendency today to worship prodigies and young achievers. He was never better than when his hair turned white.

Sir Colin Davis

There is also something endearing and Britty eccentric about Davis who liked to sit in a chair and think about musical interpretations while he was puffing on his pipe and knitting.

Yes, knitting.

And in his stage performances and touring, and it sounds to The Ear as if Sir Colin led a very good and very full life. Which may help explain why Sir Colin’s music-making sounded so healthy and robust and natural rather than neurotic or forced. (Below is a photo of Sir Colin at his home.)

Sir Colin Davis at home

Anyway, here are links to some of the best stories, remembrances and obituaries I found along with a fitting YouTube video of Sir Colin conducting Mozart’s Requiem at the bottom):

Here is a comprehensive and compassionate overview of Sir Colin’s life and career from NPR’s always outstanding blog “Delayed Cadence”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/04/14/177257680/remembering-colin-davis-a-conductor-beloved-late-in-life

And here is a story from Sir Colin’s native UK:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130415/classical-music-world-mourns-legendary-conductor-sir-colin

Here is a column, with some details of Sir Colin’s personal life and turmoil, by Anne Midgette of The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/colin-davis-celebrated-british-conductor-dies-at-85/2013/04/15/7fd2d87a-a5df-11e2-b029-8fb7e977ef71_story.html

Here is a link to BBC report:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22148334

Here is a link to report from The New York Times:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/sir-colin-davis-british-conductor-dies-at-85/

And here is a story from another UK source, The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/apr/14/sir-colin-davis-obituary

Here is a report from the UK wire service Reuters:

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/04/15/uk-davis-idUKBRE93E0BJ20130415

And here are two more from the Los Angeles Times and The Huffington Post:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-colin-davis-dies-conductor-20130415,0,5286281.story

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/colin-davis-dead-london-symphony-conductor-dies-at-85_n_3083817.html

Did you hear Sir Colin live? What did you think?

Do you have a favorite recording?

A word of tribute about Sir Colin to leave in the COMMENTS section?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music EXTRA: News flash – Famed German conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch has died at 89.

February 25, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

I especially loved his Schumann symphonies. (The first movement from Robert Schumann‘s Symphony No. 4 in D minor is  in a YouTube video at bottom, with Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting the Dresden State Orchestra.)

The German conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch always exuded a sense of proportion and rightness in the music he conducted. (Below is a photo from his younger years):

wolfgang wolfgang sawallisch young color

He was not a flashy maestro, but one who let the music do the talking and feeling for him.

And now Wolfgang Sawallisch (below) has died at 89 in his native Germany after a globe-spanning career that include major stops in the U.S., Japan and Great Britain as well as Europe.

Conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch obit

Here is a link to an obituary in the Australian arts magazine Limelight, which is well worth following:

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Article/334319,legendary-german-conductor-wolfgang-sawallisch-has-died.aspx

(Below is another photo of him conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times.)

And here is the obituary from the Associated Press:

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sfgate/obituary.aspx?n=wolfgang-sawallisch&pid=163307682#fbLoggedOut

Wolfgang Sawallisch

And here is a long obituary-appreciation from The New York Times written by critic and blogger Anne Midgette (is she back at the Times from The Washington Post?)”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/25/arts/music/wolfgang-sawallisch-german-conductor-dies-at-89.html?ref=wolfgangsawallisch&_r=0

Finally, here is a noteworthy remembrance by the famed British critic Norman Lebrecht:

http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/02/he-was-proud-to-be-known-as-a-kapellmeister-wolfgang-sawallisch-by-a-close-friend.html


Classical music: Why are critics picking on the Metropolitan Opera and its general director Peter Gelb, and why is Gelb picking on the critics? Plus the National Memorial Day concert airs tonight on PBS.

May 27, 2012
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AN ALERT: Remember to remember. The National Memorial Day Concert, broadcast live from the west lawn of the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., will air tonight on PBS. There won’t be a lot of classical music on the program, but the National Symphony Orchestra will perform. And the broadcast of the concert will be repeated tomorrow night on many PBS channels. What classical music would you like them to perform and do you think it appropriate to remember veterans and mark Memorial Day?

By Jacob Stockinger

In some important ways, this has been a very good year for the Metropolitan Opera’s general director Peter Gelb (below).

He raised a record amount of money for the world’s most famous opera house, and his Met Live in HD broadcasts continue to expand and now reach thousands of movie theaters around the world.

Yet especially when it comes to Robert Lepage’s new production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, Gelb has still come in for harsh words from such celebrated critics as Alex Ross of The New Yorker magazine, Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times and Anne Midgette of The Washington Post.

Now, it seems, Opera News has joined the fray.

And Gelb tried fighting back.

Here is link to a roundup of the drama, that latest act, that is threatening to turn the Metropolitan Opera (below) in an opera itself.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/05/23/153512997/an-online-debate-of-operatic-intensity-the-met-and-its-critics

But is the Met’s story, and Gelb’s, a comic opera or tragic opera? That is the question.

What do you think?

Do you share the criticism of Gelb?


Classical music: Do we cry too much or too easily? How should we speak and write about music? Are non-specialist “critics” too sentimental about music? Washington Post critic Anne Midgette thinks so.

April 29, 2012
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

I like to say that everyone is a critic.

And I think that is true — insofar as we all listen and make our minds about what performances and what artists and what music we like and we don’t like and why. We favor and we privilege what speaks to us, what touches us.

But is it possible that the whole way the general public, and especially the non-specialist media, treats classical music is hurting classical music, especially new music?

Famed critic for The Washington Post, Anne Midgette (below), who also used to write for The New York Times, think there is a problem with over-sentimentalizing classical music as an art form.

Midgette thinks we cry too much, and get too  emotional in our reactions rather than cultivate intellectual and rational reactions when we assess classical music.

Midgette is known as a dissenter, even among professional trained classical music critics, with a somewhat prickly personality.

But she is undeniably  smart, very intelligent and very well informed, with a strong family and personal background in classical music.

So read what she says and see whether you agree or disagree, and why.

Here is a link to her remarks:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/classical-beat/post/i-dare-you-not-to-cry-on-classical-music-and-critical-thinking/2012/03/02/gIQAcYVwmR_blog.html?wprss=classical-beat


Classical music: 150 years later, do we still not know the real Debussy?

April 5, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

During the past few years we have heard a lot about the anniversaries of Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and Mahler. Next year is Wagner.

But this year is a Debussy Year, and we haven’t heard nearly as much, even in anticipation.

That is regrettable.

There is a strong case to be made for Debussy (below) as The Modernist of All Modernists, the man who broke the Germanic strangle hold once and for all on classical music and who pioneering new structure and new harmony.

So far, the best piece I’ve read is this one in the UK’s The Guardian that I have linked to. But I expect to hear much more from such well-known critics as Alex Ross, Anthony Tommasini and Anne Midgette, among others.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/tomserviceblog/2012/mar/29/celebrating-debussys-real-legacy

There is so much Debussy I love, and good Debussy with a strong rhythmic and harmonic  backbone – not just the gauzy focus and slushy sentimentality that we wrongly associate with Impressionism. There is structure and Cartesian rationality and irony galore, as well as a distinctly Gallic subversive sensuality, in Debussy’s work.

I love the solo piano works — the two books of Preludes, the two books of Images, the Estampes, the Suite Bergamasque and the Ile Joyeuse. I love the Violin Sonata and the String Quartet.  I love the orchestral tone poems like Prelude to the Afternoon of a FaunLa Mer and Nocturnes. And I especially adore his “Homage to Rameau” (at bottom, played by Arturo Benedetti Michelangelo).

How would you describe the “real” Debussy”

What are your favorite Debussy works and your favorite Debussy interpreters?

The Ear wants to hear.


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