The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What music does the assassination of JFK bring to mind for you today on the 50th anniversary of his death?

November 22, 2013
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (below), or JFK, in Dallas, Texas.

WH/HO Portrait

It was a momentous event in so many ways for the country. And like many of you, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news flash of his shocking death.

One of JFK’s legacy, one deeply encouraged and acted on by his First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, was to revitalize the American art scene and enhance it with involvement and help from the government.

That so now irks the conservative philistines who want to zero out the budgets for NPR, PBS, the NEA and the NEH, who want an ignorant citizenry that will buy into their distorted lies and mean-spirited stupidities.

But how fitting for the New Frontier was that quiet cultural revolution promoted by JFK during his short tenure in The White House.

Artists responded enthusiastically to JFK and his death. How I recall the music that was put together quickly and performed on the then relatively new medium of television. I think the requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Giuseppe Verdi were performed and broadcast, as was Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” – a favorite of JFK and a work that was given its world premiere by the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet in 1936. Gustav Mahler‘s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” were also performed.

Here is a link to a great story on NPR about what music was played in JFK’s hometown of Boston by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under conductor Erich Leinsdorf:

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/21/246328972/moved-by-kennedys-death-the-boston-symphony-played-on

I remember the specific works that for me struck the right chords, so to speak, about the murderous death of the President.

One was the Requiem by Gabriel Faure (below). The whole work is so beautiful and gentle, peaceful and calm – and how we all needed beauty and gentleness, peace and calm, that awful weekend — and it was completely unknown to me.

faure-1

I liked all the movements. “In Paradiso” was one. But I also liked the “Pie Jesu” and the “Libera me.” But what stuck me most and keeps resonating is the “Sanctus.” Here it is in a YouTube video, and be sure to read the comments from other listeners:

The other work I remember from those events is the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms (below). I had known it before. But this was when it took on real meaning.

Johannes_Brahms

I remember hearing and loving the movement “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place.” But the part that really got me choked up was not that one or the Funeral March or even the fabulous “Here on Earth We Have No Abiding City,” with its fabulous fugue “Death, Where Is Thy Sting; Grave, Where Is Thy Victory?.”

It was the final movement, “Blessed Are The Dead for Their Works Live on After Them.” I loved the secular, but respectful and even loving quality of the text and of course the music. That allowed it to appeal to the entire nation and to all people everywhere around the world, regardless of their faith or beliefs.

It seemed so fitting and so true, then; and it still does now.

Here it is:

What works of classical music come to mind for you when you think of that awful day in Dallas and terrible weekend in Washington, D.C., 50 years ago?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: To mark the World Series in Major League Baseball, two world-class symphonies post a YouTube smack down.

October 25, 2013
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, as a friend reminded me, it is here: Time for the World Series in Major League Baseball, of which Game 2 of a possible 7 will have been played by the time most of you read this.

Major League Baseball logo

And the two teams — the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals — that are vying for the world championship trophy (below) both come from cultured cities that boast world-class orchestras: The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

World Series Trophy

I am not really a fan of any baseball team — or of team sports in general —  but I do think baseball appeals to a lot of musicians. I know from personal experience that the superstar violinist  Itzhak Perlman (below) is a big fan who once announced the updated scores of a  world series games with the New York Yankees between pieces  and from the stage of the old Madison Civic Center.

Itzhak Perlman close

I wonder what the appeal of baseball to musicians is.

Maybe it has to do with the rhythm of the game.

For the member of a symphony orchestra or chamber music ensemble, maybe it is the team aspect.

For individuals, maybe what matters is the same kind of hand-eye coordination on which so much music-making on instruments depends – as does pocket pool, archery and target shooting, all of which I also like.

In fact, avid pianist that I am, I love watching baseball pitchers – like the great retired New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera (below)  –  but only at home on TV where I can see the pitches relatively close up and also check how the speed is measured and the contortions that batters have to go through to hit the ball.

Throw the ball. Catch the ball. Hit the ball.

Easy game, right?

Ha-ha.

baseball pitcher mariano rivera

Anyway here, at the bottom, is the World Series Symphony Smack Down is a link to a story — with some surprises — on The New York Times music blog and to the video (which has overtones of the gang warfare in Leonard Bernstein‘s “West Side Story”)  on YouTube.

Listen and tell me in the comments section why your think so many classical musicians like baseball?

And which city has the better symphony as well as baseball team? In other words, no matter who wins the series, I want to know who you think wins the Symphony Smack Down

The Ear wants to hear.

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/boston-and-st-louis-orchestra-musicians-play-up-the-world-series/?_r=0


Classical music: Boston Symphony’s outdoor festival Tanglewood marks 75 years by repeating the inaugural program. Also, the festival’s gala concert marking the 75th anniversary will be broadcast on PBS.

July 15, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Outdoor classical music festivals were not always as popular and commonplace as they are today.

In fact, the granddaddy of them all is Tanglewood – named after writer Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s nearby cottage — that is held in Massachusetts in the Berkshire Mountains by the venerable Boston Symphony Orchestra. BSO conductor Serge Koussevitsky started it with an all-Beethoven program, which included the beloved and appropriate Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale,” in 1937.

How fitting, then, was it for conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi (below, in a photo by Hilary Scott for the Boston Symphony) on July 6 to re-create that inaugural all-Beethoven program for the opening on July 6  of Tanglewood’s 75th anniversary season. (You can hear it via streaming from a link of the NPR blog listed below.)

Another gala concert, performed last night, July 14, to mark the 75th anniversary of Tanglewood — with three orchestras, five conductors and five guest soloists including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Emanuel Ax — was videotaped for later broadcast on PBS as part of its “Great Performances” series.

(The all-Beethoven concert was NOT taped for TV broadcast, contrary to what it first said here. I apologize for the error.) The gala concert is slated to air at 8 p.m. EDT on Friday, August 10, though you should check your local PBS listings and schedules. (In Wisconsin, the CDT time is 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. — a terrible time that guarantees almost no audience! So much for Wisconsin Public Television‘s much-hyped “Summer of the Arts” programming.) You will also be able to also stream both the July 6 all-Beethoven concert and the July 14 gala concert via Wisconsin Public Radio or via WGBH in Boston, below:

http://www.npr.org/event/music/155916329/tanglewood-at-75-opening-night-with-the-boston-symphony-orchestra

All of WGBH’ Boston Symphony on-demand content can be found at:

http://www.wgbh.org/995/bso.cfm

On Saturday morning, yesterday, NPR featured a profile of the festival’s anniversary, complete with sound samplings that give you the best idea that The Ear has ever heard of what it is like to attend the festival as a listener or visit, or to be part of it as a performer or student.

In addition, it featured some music by composer John Harbison, who is also known to Madison-area fans as the co-director of the upcoming Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

Here is a link to the story about Tanglewood’s great history and great music now located on NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog. Enjoy!

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/14/156725774/tanglewood-celebrating-beethoven-in-the-backwoods-for-75-years

Also be sure to check out some extra links, including a photo essay of 75 years at Tanglewood, at the bottom of the story.


Classical music news: John Harbison’s Symphony No. 6 gets rave reviews at its world premiere by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

January 22, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

To many Madison-area residents and local classical music fans, John Harbison may be best known as the co-director of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival each summer during which he gives excellent talks, plays jazz and serves as a violist.

Yet John Harbison (below) is far better known throughout the rest of the world as a composer—and a very fine, respected and yes, frequently performed, composer. Many people forget that he has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and that he remains a favorite of Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine, who commissioned Harbison’s opera “The Great Gatsby” to kick off the millennium in 2000.

He continues to teach at MIT and concertizes, especially with the music of Bach, but Harbison is busier than ever with composing new commissions.

This last week saw the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which, under Levine’s direction, started last season to hold a complete retrospective of Harbison’s symphonies.

For health reasons, Levine has left the Boston post, as well as the Met post for next season. But the reviews for the performance under conductor David Zinman and with mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy, are in and they are by and large very positive and agree that Harbison is not a composer to rest on his laurels or repeat himself.

Some critics even called the work, which used both an orchestra and a mezzo-soprano, a “masterpiece” and described it as “powerful.” Below is John Harbison coaching during a rehearsal.

You can read some of the reviews for yourself:

http://theclassicalreview.com/2012/01/zinman-leads-boston-symphony-in-powerful-harbison-premiere/

http://berkshirereview.net/2012/01/harbison-symphony-no-6-premiere-bso-david-zinman-weber-strauss-beethoven-andsnes/#.TxnNJ5jH1UQ

http://bostonclassicalreview.com/2012/01/zinman-leads-bso-in-powerful-harbison-premiere/

http://mta.scripts.mit.edu/CES/2012/01/18/harbisons-6th-symphony-reviews/

Here is also a good set-up or background piece with Harbison talking about his own new symphony (below he takes a bow with the conductor and singer who performed the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6):

http://theclassicalreview.com/2012/01/the-shade-of-levine-hovers-over-new-harbison-symphony/

And the world premiere for John Harbison aren’t over by any means. On Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, in a FREE and PUBLIC concert, Habison’s 10-movement String Quartet No. 5 will receive its world premiere from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer). The Pro Arte Quartet commissioned the work to celebrate its centennial this season.

For details of that FREE and public performance and other centennial events, visit: www.proartequartet.org


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