By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Labor Day, Sept. 1, 2014.
To The Ear, the holiday seems a great occasion and a very appropriate time to remember all the people behind the scenes — and behind the performers — who make music happen.
We usually don’t know or recognize their names, even when those names are given to us in program credits.
So let us today praise the technicians and the stagehands (below) , the office staffers and the business managers, the publicity people and the development experts, the government and private sponsors and donors, and even the box office ticket-sellers and the ushers who all support the musicians and the music we so love.
I am thinking of some people with whom I could not write this blog or ever attend a lot of concerts. There are many, many more than the ones I will name. But high on my list are: Katherine Esposito (below top), who is the concert manager for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music; Teri Venker (below middle), who is the marketing director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and Sue Ellen Maguire (below bottom), who is the marketing director of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
I recently came across something I wrote and posted about this before, about 2-1/2 years ago. The occasion was NOT Labor Day, but a spring memorial service for Ann Miller Chastain (below), who headed marketing for the Madison Symphony Orchestra before she died of breast cancer. She specialized in developing a loyal student audience, and she worked hard but charmingly for her success.
But I think what I said then about Ann Miller also reflects on a lot of other people.
After all, it takes a lot more than the performers, the musicians — who, to be sure, are also hard-working — to put on concerts. And that is a wise lesson to remember today, on the day that traditionally serves as the dividing line between the summer season and the start of the regular concert season in the fall.
So here is a link:
Happy Labor Day to all those who labor to bring us the great classical music and the beauty we love!
By Jacob Stockinger
Trends come and trends go.
Who knows why?
A few years ago, it seemed as if I hadn’t heard the famous and overplayed “Appassionata” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in decades. Everyone focused on the last three piano sonatas. And then suddenly there were four or five live performances of the “Appassionata” within a year or two. Can the “Waldstein” Sonata be far behind?
This past couple of years, it also seems almost impossible to escape “La Valse” by Maurice Ravel -– in its two-piano version or its original solo version, or in modified solo version, or in its orchestral arrangements. Maybe the popularity of the work says something about the decadence of our times and our society. Or maybe it has to do with the centennial this year of World War I, which destroyed and demolished the old monarchical “waltz” societies, much as Ravel does in his postmodern deconstruction of the waltz.
In any case, you might recall that only last Wednesday night, the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival featured Smith College pianist Judith Gordon (below) in four Scarlatti sonatas along with 12 preludes by Frederic Chopin. (The festival closes with a SOLD-OUT performance of music by Franz Schubert, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy this afternoon at 4 p.m.)
Here is a link to the festival’s website with information about the artists, the program and tickets:
The Ear loved that program about the originality of short forms and keyboard music for both its insight and its beauty. Here is a link to my review:
I hadn’t heard live Scarlatti performances in a while.
But that will change soon, I expect.
It turns out that another trend is in the making. Scarlatti is hot again. There are several new recordings of sonatas by Scarlatti (below) that just came out. And they are featured on the exceptional Deceptive Cadence blog done by NPR, or National Public Radio.
The blog posting – “A Surge of Scarlatti Sonatas” – was written by blog chief Tom Huizenga and even features some sound samples from the various records.
I’ll be anxious to see how they measure up to The Ear’s favorite recordings, which include, in approximate order, recordings by: Vladimir Horowitz; Alexandre Tharaud; Andras Schiff; and Mikhail Pletnev.
Here is a link to the NPR story and review. I hope you enjoy it.
And let us know which one of the 555 sonatas by Scarlatti is your favorite. Slow or fast? Major or minor? Extroverted and dance-like or introspective and meditative?
At the bottom is a popular YouTube video of one of my all-time favorite Scarlatti sonatas, in B minor — Longo 33 or Kirkpatrick 87 — and performed to perfection by Vladimir Horowitz, who brings both clarity and soul to its almost prayer-like intensity.
I would also like to dedicate the performance and the sonata to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, for whom a free and public memorial celebration will be held today at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.
Include a link to a YouTube recording, if you can.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
As you probably already know by now, tomorrow, Sunday, Aug. 31, will bring a FREE and PUBLIC memorial celebration of the life of Howard Karp (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) -– who died in June at 84 — on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in Mills Hall at 3 p.m.
It is scheduled to run about two hours and then have a free and public reception after it.
Parking in nearby Grainger Hall is also free.
Here is a link to a post a few days ago with more details:
But if you can go, and especially if you can’t, you might be interested in some other stories about Howard Karp, who was both a wonderful man and wondrous musician.
He was written up no less than twice by Anthony Tommasini (below), the celebrated senior classical music critic for The New York Times who is himself an accomplished pianist with degrees from Yale University and who studied piano with the late Donald Currier, the same terrific teacher with whom The Ear studied privately in high school. (Small world, no?)
Here is the first story published in 1998, about the differences in temperament more than talent between academic teaching pianists and professional touring pianists. It is full of insight and affection:
And here is a recently published review by Anthony Tommasini of the new 6-CD set of performances by Howard Karp that have been released by Albany Records. You will hear music from this set and from some CDs issued by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, at the memorial:
Here is a story — a tribute, really — by the local critic Greg Hettmansberger (below), who writes the Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine:
And here is a long and beautifully written personal essay done in 1994 by Jess Anderson, a fine amateur pianist and former longtime music critic for Isthmus:
There may be more. If you know of them, please leave word – and a link, if possible – in the Comments section. This seems like the right time.
ALERTS: The Ear wasn’t able to attend the opening concert last weekend of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival in the refurbished barn (below). But here are reviews by two local critics who did.
Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:
Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for the Classically Speaking blog of Madison Magazine:
By Jacob Stockinger
As usually happens at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, the concert of the second program on Wednesday night was a collaborative effort in exploration.
In this case, three key players participated: returning guest pianist Judith Gordon, who is now a professor at Smith College; Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur Foundation “genius” award-winning composer, MIT teacher and co-artistic director John Harbison, who never fails to illuminate the music with his insightful brief commentaries; and co-artistic director and violinist Rose Mary Harbison, who programmed part of the concert as well as performed.
Rose Mary Harbison (below) also played the famous “Spring” Sonata for violin and piano, which John Harbison said pointed to how Ludwig van Beethoven — who aimed for the epic rather than the miniature — checked out the achievements of contemporaries and then figured out his own way to enter the mainstream.
Rose Mary Harbison also partnered with Gordon in a theme-and-variations piece by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a piece The Ear found a little bit charming and a lot underwhelming.
In the very capable hands of Judith Gordon (below), those two composers proved to be the axis of the program and a fascinating coupling.
The two composers, one Baroque and the other Romantic, were chosen because they both focused on smaller-scale works. Exiled from his native Italy and isolated in courts in Portugal and Spain, Scarlatti (below) wrote 550 keyboard sonatas of astonishing variety, color and virtuosity.
Chopin (below), on the other hand, turned inward in the bustling artistic scene and intellectual ferment of Paris, and focused on smaller forms -– none smaller than the Preludes played at Token Creek. They seem a kind of Rosetta Stone for deconstructing and understanding the structure of the rest of Chopin’s output; or perhaps they are like a Table of Contents, abbreviated guides to, or outlines or preparatory sketches of, so many other works.
But in both cases, as John Harbison explained clearly, the two composers narrowed down their ambitions to achieve the kind of unique and idiosyncratic achievements or originality that many other composers can only dream of achieving. They were like poets who find freedom in the formal confines of the sonnet form.
John Harbison picked two pairs of Scarlatti sonatas for Gordon to perform: one early pair in E major (one is the famous calling card of Vladimir Horowitz in a YouTube video at the bottom) to show Scarlatti at his compositional planning phase with pretty regular development; and two late ones in F-Sharp minor to show how later in life Scarlatti increasingly sounded as if he made things up as he went along.
For her part, Rose Mary Harbison selected two sets of six preludes each by Chopin -– he wrote 24 as a set, then added a posthumously published one –- to demonstrate much the same effect: the contrary moods and Chopin’s extraordinary gift for compression and brevity, for his ability to make a 30-second piece sound complete or whole, as if it has a beginning, middle and end. (At the bottom is a YouTube performance of one of the loveliest preludes on the program, the mini-Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, in a live performance by Maurizio Pollini.)
The compare-and-contrast strategy worked very well, as was demonstrated not only in performance but also in a Q&A-type interview (below) that Judith Gordon did with John Harbison.
The Ear will long remember the unusual coupling, which is often the way Token Creek goes about programming unexpected matches, for the insight they shed on both composers, whose works, as it happens, I myself like to play on the piano.
It also tells us what to look for and to value at Token Creek: Unusual and unexpected approaches that yield unforgettable results.
Two more performances remain in this summer’s season, on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., and they will feature the pianist husband-and-wife team of Harvard Professor Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang performing music by Franz Schubert, C.P.E. Bach and Maurice Ravel as well as Rose Mary Harbison in the knockout Violin Sonata by Claude Debussy, his last work and one of his best.
Here is a link for more information and tickets:
This year the festival is celebrating both its own 25th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below).
To history, the C.P.E. Bach anniversary no doubt matters more.
To my ears, however, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival anniversary matters more.
And despite C.P.E. Bach, whose music will by and large remain on my record shelf and not in my CD player, the night belonged to Domenico Scarlatti and Frederic Chopin.
It is not easy to shed new light on old masterpieces, but that is exactly what the Harbisons and Judith Gordon managed to do.
What can one say but: Thank You!
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received a request from the Karp Family.
It seems there is still some ignorance and some confusion about the memorial event -– a life celebration, really –- set for this Sunday afternoon for the late pianist Howard Karp, who died in June at 84 in Colorado and who had taught and performed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music from 1972 to 2000.
The event is FREE and OPEN to the public.
Here are the details:
“I hope all is well.
“Here is the program for Sunday.
“I am still hearing from people who want to go to the celebration, but don’t know when or where it will be.
“My very best to you,
A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF HOWARD KARP (1929-2014, below in a 2000 photo by Katrin Talbot)
The celebration will be held this Sunday, August 31, 2014, at 3 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall (below) in the Mosse Humanitites Building, with a FREE and PUBLIC reception to follow.
FREE parking can be found in nearby Grainger Hall of the University of Wisconsin Business School.
“Performances” by Howard Karp come from recordings issued by Albany Records and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier) by Ludwig van Beethoven: Movement I. Allegro, Howard Karp, pianist
Words from Bill Lutes (below, with his wife UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer, and a former student and friend of Howard Karp)
Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann, Movement III. Andante cantabile, performed by Frances Karp, pianist (wife of Howard Karp, below top with Howard); Leanne League (violinist, below bottom, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and is the assistant concertmaster of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as a member of the Ancora String Quartet); Katrin Talbot, violist (daughter-in-law and wife of Parry Karp); Parry Karp, cellist (eldest son of Howard Karp who teaches cello and chamber music at the UW-Madison and is a member of the Pro Arte Quartet.)
Readings from William Shakespeare by granddaughter actresses Isabel Karp (bel0w top) and Natasha Karp (below bottom).
“Fantasie” in C Major, Op. 17, by Robert Schumann, Movement I: Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen, Howard Karp, pianist
Words and music from Malcolm Bilson (below, a well-known teacher and keyboard performer with Howard Karp at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a retired professor from Cornell University); Sonata in F-sharp Minor, D. 571, by Franz Schubert, Movement I. Allegro moderato
Words from pianist and friend Ira Goodkin
Concerto Per Due Pianoforte Soli by Igor Stravinsky, Movement 1. Con moto; Sergei Rachmaninoff, Fantasy-Tableaux: Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, Op. 5: 1. Barcarolle: Allegretto; Howard and Frances Karp, duo-pianists
Words from actress granddaughter Ariana Karp (below), via video
“Kol Nidre” by Max Bruch, Parry Karp, cellist (below top), and Christopher Karp (below bottom), pianist and youngest son of Howard Karp who is a medical doctor with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)
Words from Parry Karp
Sonata in B Minor, Op. 58, Frederic Chopin, Movement IV. Finale: Presto non tanto, Howard Karp, pianist
FREE PUBLIC RECEPTION TO FOLLOW
Here is a link to the posting on the new UW-School of Music blog A Tempo:
And here is a link to another performance by Howard Karp on SoundCloud, a rarely heard work by Johann Sebastian Bach that features a Fugue on a Theme by Tomaso Aliboni as well as works by Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn:
By Jacob Stockinger
I was going through some old papers and found something I thought that I had somehow lost or that had been stolen: An autographed card from Ukrainian-born superstar pianist Vladimir Horowitz from a concert he gave in Washington, D.C., in 1973.
Here it is:
But I have no idea of the price it would bring on today’s market. Maybe a look on Ebay could tell me.
Not that I want to sell it. Its sentimental value is priceless. A family member gave it to me. He collected it especially for me, and then sent it out of affection for me and for my love of playing the piano.
Still, I wonder: How much is it worth? True, it is not signed on a program or recording. But it does have a date and is an official autograph card with a printed version of his name on it. (Below is Vladimir Horowitz bowing to a packed house in Carnegie Hall.)
I have had it framed. and will keep it in a secure place, and I hope it will inspire me to play better.
I am also sorry I never collected an autograph from Artur Rubinstein (below) during the several times I heard him perform.
In the meantime, I would welcome any educated guess or documented estimate of the value of this Horowitz autograph.
Finding it again, 41 years after it was signed and almost 25 years after the death of Horowitz (below, in his later years and towards the end of his career), is pretty lucky for me, don’t you think?
Do you have a favorite?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: Perhaps you didn’t make it to the opening of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival last Saturday night or Sunday afternoon (below is a photo of the renovated barn concert hall). The festival runs through this coming Sunday afternoon and is celebrating both its 25th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach. Here is a link to a review written for the Classically Speaking blog of Madison Magazine by Greg Hettmansberger, along with two preview stories from this blog:
By Jacob Stockinger
Last Friday was one of those nights, one of those increasingly frequent “train wrecks,” as The Wise Critic likes to call them, when two or more worthy classical musical events conflict and compete.
The Ear could not be in two places at once.
The two concerts were given by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which was reviewed yesterday by John W. Barker.
At another venue, at exactly the same time, the new early music vocal group Voces Aestatis made its Madison debut.
To give you an idea of that performance, The Ear welcomes another new reviewer -– Ann Boyer, a retired medical research librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a longtime member of the UW-Madison Choral Union.
Here is her review debut for The Well-Tempered Ear:
By Ann Boyer
The new Renaissance Choral group Voces Aestatis (Latin for Summer Voices) — all 13 of them, including director Ben Luedcke — delighted the 200 or so listeners who filled St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, on Regent Street, last Friday night. (Below is a photo of the choral group, minus Jerry Hui, the composer, singer and teacher who did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.)
They had rehearsed four times, we learned, but had been instructed to come prepared. They were professionals, and it showed.
Songs were arranged in thematic pairs or threes, the sacred songs reflecting such themes as the imperfection of humankind, the birth of Jesus (emphasizing Mary’s role), and the death of Jesus.
Composers included Michael Praetorius, De Victoria and Giovanni di Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons and Heinrich Schütz. A particularly beautiful song was one by Antonio Lotti (below)
The second half of the program consisted of secular songs: the famous “Mille Regretz” (A Thousand Regrets) by Josquin des Prez (below and at bottom in a YouTube video performance by the famed Jordi Savall), sung sweetly and gently; the strange, expressionistic harmonies of Gesualdo and a work by Claudio Monteverdi with surprisingly erotic lyrics. A final pair of somber songs by Weelkes and Wilbye ended the program on a dark note, relieved by the encore: the chipper ”El Grillo” (The Grasshopper).
The group demonstrated fluidity of line, diction which varied from very clear to less so, good phrasing in particular songs, and good vocal blending. Towards the beginning the women’s voices seemed to dominate, but this corrected itself as the program continued.
The energy of director Ben Luedcke (below) – another UW-Madison graduate who was the music director of Lake Edge Lutheran Church and the founder-director of the Madison Summer Choir and who is completing a master’s degree at the University of Iowa — carried us all along.
We hope that the group will reassemble next summer.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for many years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
Hope for humanity is not always easy to conjure up these days. But last Friday night at Music Hall, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, brought me a genuine dollop of it, thanks to the concert by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below. Performance photos are by The Ear.)
That came, in fact, despite the frustration of an infuriating schedule conflict with the debut performance by the new early music chamber choir Summer Voices the same evening. Even in summer, we have these train wrecks now — and always on weekends! Have we reached the point of such musical riches here that no one person can really catch all the worthy musical events any more?
MAYCO was founded in 2010 by Mikko Utevsky (below) as a “summer training orchestra” for local high school and college students — and, at the same time, as a kind of training program for himself in conducting (while just moving from high school to college himself).
What he has accomplished over four seasons is little short of a miracle. Here are young musicians, looking like confident kids, but playing with adult skill and intensity. And Utevsky’s enterprise has prompted him to take on challenging examples of orchestral literature, with convincing success.
The program this time was a very engaging one.
It began with the beloved Overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, itself a musical miracle, and wrought by a precocious young musician at the end of his scant 36 years. It took a few measures for security to settle in, but the performance was spirited, well-gauged and thoroughly satisfying.
For this concert, the student orchestra had a vocal soloist. She was soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below left), herself a recent product of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music voice program, and currently studies with former UW-Madison professor soprano Julia Faulkner, who now teaches in the Ryan Center program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Miller and Utevsky discovered a shared love for Samuel Barber’s solo cantata, Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and arranged to have her perform it.
It proved ideal for Miller, whose full, ripe, beautiful soprano voice has been trained in careful diction, allowing her to escape a lot of the word-swallowing that afflicts the soprano range. The full text was printed in the program, but it was almost unnecessary, thanks to the very clear projection of the words by Miller (below). She was supported, in a slightly reduced chamber version of the orchestral score, with a very sensitive accompaniment, marked by truly beautiful woodwind playing.
As a treat, Miller sang an encore, the beguiling song “Early in the Morning of a Lovely Summer Day” by the 90-year-old contemporary American composer Ned Rorem (below, in a photo by Christian Steiner) in an orchestrated version — made by Utevsky himself. (You can hear the original version for voice and piano with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in a YouTube video at the bottom. Talk about diction!)
After the intermission came perhaps the most demanding test for the orchestra players: the Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major by Dmitri Shostakovich (below). Composed in the aftermath of World War II, this is a piece of whimsy and of defiance to Soviet expectations — it brought the composer a raft of trouble and danger.
But its relatively brief five movements add up to a gem of Shostakovichian satire and sarcasm. It is full of theatrical suggestions, and its texture is as much that of chamber music as orchestral writing, with intimate interaction of sections and soloists.
The MAYCO players brought it off with real flair, under Utevsky’s amazingly expert direction. (And, by the way, he is a splendid writer as well, as his notes for the program booklet demonstrated.)
Considering the fact that there could only be four or five rehearsals for each concert, it is astounding what this group of 42 gifted youngsters (only 19 of them string players) could bring off in the way of effective orchestral ensemble—even allowing for some rare blips and less than ultimate string polish.
That our area alone could produce such talent is what has stirred my hope for humanity. Assuming, of course, that our country, in its currently muddled cultural condition, can find for these youngsters, as they mature, the jobs in which to make the careers they so richly deserve.
By Jacob Stockinger
Now that the labor strife is over and the new season at the Metropolitan Opera (below) will open on time after all, it is time to lighten up and shout out a bit.
But no one should be naïve. And no one should get too complacent. Even with the labor negotiations now settled, the future may not be so rosy for the Met, or for other big opera companies:
Here is a commentary in The Wall Street Journal by the acclaimed cultural historian Joseph Horowitz (below, speaking in Madison in 2011) who, you may recall, came to Madison to open the Pro Arte Quartet’s centennial celebration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison three years ago:
Still, this season will go on, starting on Oct. 27 with Giuseppe Verdi‘s epic “Aida.” So to see how much you know about the Met –- The Ear finds that opera fans, like sports fans, are vast repositories of historical trivia and statistics.
Try this quiz, based on historical facts, about the Met that was posted by NPR (National Public Radio:
But a word of advice or warning: Make sure your speakers are turned on or use headphones, since sound is an integral part of the quiz:
By Jacob Stockinger
A week ago, The Ear offered readers an update on the labor strife at the Metropolitan Opera (below), which had been partially resolved.
The final results, and successful settlement, came in earlier this week.
And the news is good.
Here is a wrap-up of what happened from several major media outlets, plus a link to the Met so you can check into its various seasons and productions.
First, here is link to the back story about the first settlements between general director Peter Gelb (below top), who sought even bigger salary rollbacks, and the unions (below bottom):
Now here are links to three stories that wrap up the labor disputes and the final outcome:
From The New York Times:
From The Wall Street Journal:
Last but not least, here is a link to the Met’s own website, where you can see the schedule of productions for the regular Met season -– which opens on Oct. 27 with Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” (below, the opera’s show-stoppping Act 2 Triumphal March from a 1989 Met Opera production in a YouTube video) –- and for the productions for “The Met Live in HD,” which are shown locally at the Eastgate and Point cinemas: