By Jacob Stockinger
Are artist concert fees — like those charged by tenor Placido Domingo (below top), soprano Rene Fleming (below middle) and violinist Itzhak Perlman (below bottom) — too high these days and too unaffordable for most American concert-goers?
What would Janet say?
Maybe that refrain could become the economic equivalent of What Would Jesus Say?
I am speaking of Janet Yellin (below), the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve who last week made headlines when she spoke out publicly against the widening wealth gap as being contrary to America’s historic democratic ideals.
But let’s localize the issue.
The Ear didn’t go, but here is a rave review from the student newspaper The Badger Herald, which agrees with the word-of-mouth reviews I have heard:
And for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy tickets, the Wisconsin Union Theater even webcast the concert live and for free.
Still, with seats that sold for well over $100, The Ear got to wondering: Are really high artist fees morally right or wrong?
We all hear about the widening wealth gap, and especially about the astronomical pay given to CEOs versus their workers as compared to the same ratio several decades ago.
Well, what about well-known and in-demand concert artists?
If The Ear heard correctly, Yo-Yo Ma’s fee for that one-night performance was either $90,000 or $95,000 -– or about $42,500 or $45,000 an hour.
Can Yo-Yo Ma demand and get that extravagant fee in the so-called “free market” society with its corporate welfare and tax loopholes for the wealthy? Of course, he can — and he does. That is why he sold out the Wisconsin Union Theater.
But should he?
It makes one wonder.
Is Yo-Yo Ma really that much better as a cellist and musician -– and not just as a celebrity — than many other cellists, including MacArthur “genius grant” winner Alisa Weilerstein, Alban Gerhardt, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Steven Isserlis, Carter Brey, Joshua Roman and others? (You can hear Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of a movement from a solo cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach in a YouTube video — with over 11 million hits — at the bottom and decide if it is that much better than other cellists play it.)
Now I don’t mean to pick just on Yo-Yo Ma. I have gone to a half-dozen of his other performances here and I have met him and talked with him. He is without doubt a great musician, a fine human being and an exemplary humanitarian.
The problem that I am talking about transcends any single performer and applies to the whole profession.
Maybe at least part of the problem of attracting young audiences to classical music concerts can be placed right in the laps of the performing artists themselves.
When The Ear was young, he got to hear all sorts of great musical artists—including Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Rubinstein (below), Vladimir Horowitz, Van Cliburn, Itzhak Perlman, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Emanuel Ax and others for quite affordable prices. Not that those artists didn’t live well -– but I doubt that they were paid the equivalent of $45,000 an hour.
Maybe it is time for economic populism in the performing arts.
Fees like that exclude a lot of families from participating. Some fans might find it better and cheaper to hear a CD or download than go to a live concert.
Too many performing artists – opera stars come immediately to mind as a class — seem to have taken the same path toward justifying greed as movie stars, sports figures, rock stars and CEO’s who make out like bandits.
In short, can it be that classical musicians are helping to kill off classical music?
Smaller theaters like the Wisconsin Union Theater and even the Overture Center simply cannot book such well-known artists without charging a ridiculous amount of money for a seat – and at a time when many people of all ages just can’t afford it. It just adds to the Wealth Gap and the One Percent problem.
SO THE EAR WOULD LIKE TO ASK CONCERT ARTISTS: PLEASE ADJUST YOUR CONCERT FEES TO HELP SUSTAIN THE FUTURE OF YOUR ART.
Well, these are just some brain droppings.
The Ear wonders what you think of stratospheric artist fees?
Do they contribute to the wealth gap?
Do they hurt the popularity of the art form, especially younger generations?
Are they contributing to the decline of cultural literacy?
In short, are such high artist fees morally right or wrong?
And if wrong, what can we arts consumers do about it? Boycott certain artists until they become more reasonable in their fees?
Ask artist and management agencies to adjust the fees to make them more affordable?
Go to alternative concerts that are perfectly acceptable without star power and cost less or, like those at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, free?
Tell us what you think in a COMMENT.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
You may recall that the longtime director of University Opera William Farlow retired last spring. While no permanent successor has been named yet, the impressively qualified David Ronis, from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY), was chosen from a national search and is serving as a guest director this academic year.
Ronis (below, seen talking to the cast on stage) makes his University of Wisconsin-Madison debut this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, with a production of British composer Benjamin Britten’s comic opera “Albert Herring.” (The opening scene from a Los Angeles Opera production can be heard at the bottom in a YouTube video.) Additional performances are on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $22 general admission; $18 for senior; and $10 for student. They are available at the door and from the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office or call (608) 265-ARTS (2787)/ Buy in person and you will save the service fees.
Here are links with more information about the opera and about Ronis, including a fine profile interview done by Kathy Esposito, the public relations and concert manager at the UW-Madison School of Music:
And here is a link to David Ronis’ personal website:
Finally, here is the email Q&A that David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) gave to The Ear:
Can you give readers a brief introduction to yourself, including when and how you started learning music, your early training and formative experiences, your major professional accomplishments and some personal information like hobbies and other interests as well as current and future plans for your career?
I grew up on Long Island, did my undergraduate degree (a B.F.A. in Voice) at Purchase College, and have lived in Manhattan ever since. I studied both piano and voice as a kid and, in high school, was very much involved in musical theater. After graduating from Purchase, I supported myself by doing a lot of professional choral singing.
Soon after, I started getting hired to sing character tenor roles in opera companies in U.S, Europe and Asia, which I did for a number of years. One of the highlights was being a part of Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place/Trouble in Tahiti when it was done at La Scala Milan, the Kennedy Center and the Vienna State Opera.
At one point in the mid-’90s, when I had less than a full year of regional opera work, I started auditioning for Equity musical theater jobs and was cast in the Los Angeles company of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
In opera circles, I was considered to be a “good actor.” But, to forgive myself (and others), I didn’t really know from good acting! In LA, my new colleagues and friends were actors, as opposed to singers and musicians, and I started seriously questioning my own (lack of) acting technique. After three years of doing Beauty –- in both LA and on the national tour -– I went back to New York, got into in a heavy-duty acting class, and started working in spoken theater, TV commercials (I have some very funny stories about that), and independent films, as well as continuing to sing in opera regionally.
My work in theater completely changed my perspective on stage work in opera and I found myself newly critical of much of the operatic acting I saw.
One day, my friend Paul Rowe (below) –- who teaches voice at the UW-Madison — was in New York hanging out at my apartment (this is very vivid in my mind) and he said something like, “David, you should put this together. You’re now an accomplished actor as well as a singer and you have a pretty unique perspective on how one affects the other.” Bingo!
Long story short: I started teaching Acting for Singers classes, doing small directing projects, and very soon got hired at Queens College to direct the Opera Studio. Almost immediately, this transition from performing to teaching just felt right.
I was hired as an Adjunct Lecturer at Queens with only a bachelor’s degree, and decided that I should probably have at least a master’s. So I enrolled in a terrific M.A. L.S. (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) program at a de-centralized SUNY school, Empire State College. The M.A.L.S. was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It is a self-designed, inter-disciplinary research degree in which the candidates have to articulate their areas of academic inquiry and pursue them by creating individual courses and working with tutors. Over 2 ½ years, I wrote about 300 pages of material focused on operatic acting and production, research that I still regularly call upon in my teaching.
What are my principal influences? I’d say that my principal acting teacher, Caymichael Patten, is a big one. Cay’s a terrific, tough teacher who tells it like she sees it. She has an uncanny knack for “being inside your head –with you.” I learned a huge amount from her and, in many ways, have modeled my teaching on Cay’s. I also have a number of friends – all opera directors working in academia as well as professionally, who are on the same page as I am as far as operatic acting training. They’ve been big influences too -– Stephen Wadsworth (below, who teaches at the Juilliard School) and Robin Guarino, to name just a couple.
As for the future, who knows? I’ve actually never been one to have a detailed life plan. I’ve been very fortunate that opportunities have come my way and I’ve just followed my nose. I do know one thing -– that my passion for directing and teaching seems to be growing (if that’s even possible) and that I very much enjoy working in a university environment.
As an East Coast native, how do you like the Midwest, Madison and the especially the UW-Madison?
I’ve spent plenty of time in the Midwest, mostly working. So I “get” the Midwest and I’m comfortable here. I’m finding what “they say” about Madison to be true -– that it’s a pretty unique place within the Midwest — culturally, politically, intellectually.
I think these are things that make people who are kind of East Coast-centric, like myself, feel more at home, when “home” means lots of intellectual and artistic stimulation. What’s not to like about a city where everyone reads the New York Times and The New Yorker magazine and goes to the Madison Symphony Orchestra!
Why did you choose “Albert Herring” by Benjamin Britten (below top) to do this semester and “The Magic Flute” by Mozart (below bottom) to do second semester? Have you staged them before? What would you like audience members here to know about your productions of them?
I make repertoire decisions based on a variety of factors. This year, we needed to do a piece with small orchestral forces in the fall and a full orchestra show in the spring.
I also like to do shows that involve a good number of students. Both the Britten and the Mozart fit those descriptions.
Also, the “who do we have at school” factor is big. We need to do operas that we can cast well from the student population.
And, most importantly, I consider the educational value of various shows. Albert Herring is not only a great piece of music and theater, but there’s so much that the students learn from working on it. The roles are difficult, both vocally and musically. And since it’s a big ensemble show, students are challenged to develop their ensemble singing and acting skills. So far, I’m very pleased with the results.
I’ve directed The Magic Flute before. We’re going to do a version of a production I did some years ago that locates the drama vaguely in a South Asian environment. Flute, for all of its brilliance, is kind of a dramaturgical mess. Who are the truly good and bad guys/gals? Where do we start and where do we end up and what do each of the characters learn for having gone on the journey?
My take on the story very indirectly alludes to a conflict between East (Sarastro) and West (Queen of the Night), and attempts to examine the two opposing forces on the most basic, human level – even if they are iconic figures. Why makes the Queen tick? Why did Sarastro “steal” her daughter and why is he “holding her captive?” These are the questions that intrigue me.
Was there an Aha! Moment – a work or performer, a concert or recording – that made you realize that you wanted to have a professional life in music and specifically in opera?
My Aha! moment? OK, you’re going to think I’m a nerd. As a high school senior, I took a philosophy elective in which I was reading people like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. At the time, I was obsessed with an LP called “The Genius of Puccini” -– essentially excerpts from operas by Puccini (below) –- which I would play over and over again in my room. I recall going into my parents’ room one night, with record blaring in the background, and ranting on about what I was reading and how it described exactly what filled me up like nothing else. (Cue the big ensemble from the first act of Turandot). From that moment, it was all downhill!
Is there anything else you would like to add or say?
I’d just like to encourage people to come to both University Opera productions. We’ve got a terrific cast for Albert Herring, not to mention an incredibly talented and articulate young conductor in Kyle Knox (below)– Kyle is truly someone to keep your eye on.
We’ve been having so much fun during rehearsals – laughing a lot! I firmly believe that spirit transfers across the proverbial footlights.
If any of your readers are hesitant (perhaps because they tend to respond to 19th century Romantic pieces and might be reticent to go to an opera with which they’re not familiar), I can confidently say that Albert Herring is a very accessible piece –– extremely entertaining and, at times, quite moving. The physical production is coming along –- all in all, I’m very excited about the show.
ALERT: Some local-related news came in too late to include yesterday.
This morning, UW-Madison School of Music alumna and Appleton native Brenda Rae Klinkert (BA, 2004 and seen below in costume) is singing with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in Richard Strauss’ opera “Die Schweigsame Frau” (The Silent Woman, 1935) and the performance is being broadcast LIVE on the Internet. You can watch the free audio-visual transmission at 11 a.m. via http://www.staatsoper.de/en/staatsopertv.html (Staatsoper.TV).
Please pass the word to any students and professors, friends and fans who might be interested in this opera and this performer. Adds local opera fan Dan Shea: “Brenda Rae currently is continuing a series of major breakthroughs in her operatic career, an amazing arc of success in Europe and the U.S. with major roles in major operas. Just take a look at her schedule at brendarae.com
“Personally, I’ve seen a lot of “Traviatas” all over the world, but hers at Santa Fe in the summer of 2013 was especially wonderful, and in a class by itself — as the reviews attested.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Yesterday I wrote about violinist Joshua Bell — a superstar who is both a renowned performer and a devoted teacher, all at the same time.
Today I want to write about someone who established a big performing career when he was young – but then walked away from it all at the same age Joshua Bell is right now, about 50, in order to devote himself to teaching, writing books and composing.
Chances are you haven’t heard about pianist Seymour Bernstein (below), or heard only a little bit if anything.
But it turns out that might all change, thanks to the movie star Ethan Hawke (below left with Bernstein on the right), who met Bernstein at a dinner party and ended up directing a documentary about Seymour Bernstein, who is now 87 years old and still active.
It happened especially after Bernstein help the screen-veteran Hawke to overcome his stage fright, which itself is a fascinating story.
It was also fascinating to read that Bernstein doesn’t think the concert world is the way for classical music to go today. He wants instead to recapture the joy of amateur music-making.
I read a great story about the movie and how it came about in The New York Times. Here is a link:
I got so intrigued that I tried to order some of his books by going to Amazon.com.
It turns out they are all out of print and some go for hundreds of dollars as rarities.
PLEASE NOTE A MISTAKE AND A CORRECTION: The Ear just got a post-posting correction to this error, for which he apologizes. If you go to a Reader Comment by Pru Palachek, you will find out that Seymour Bernstein’s books are indeed available — for a higher price — from a small music publisher, Manduca, in Portland, Maine. You can also visit Bernstein’s own website for more information. Just Google “Seymour Bernstein.”
Well, there is always the library. But being an avid amateur pianist, I would like my own copies to mark up and keep near the keyboard.
So I am hoping somebody can persuade Amazon to reissue them as both regular books and especially e-books. Maybe the success of the movie will help. Maybe Hawke’s fame will help.
And what I read isn’t hype.
It turns out The Ear knows someone who herself took some piano lessons from Seymour Bernstein and played for him. This pianist says Bernstein is all he is cracked up to be -– a cordial and kind man, an excellent teacher and an outstanding performer.
In the meantime let us hope for two things:
1. That the movie, which might win some awards and garner a big audience, gets wide circulation.
2. That Amazon, or some other publisher, agrees to reprint the books in regular and e-book formats.
What do you know about Seymour Bernstein?
Did you ever heard him live or in recording?
Did you ever read his books or use his methods?
What did you think?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
He wasn’t a maestro in the usual sense.
But he surely was a master.
He was a master, even though he never seemed temperamental and never received the kind of acclaim and press that typical orchestral conductors or maestros receive -– from Arturo Toscanini through Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan to Gustavo Dudamel.
He was Frans Bruggen (below). He was Dutch and a fantastic player of the flute and the recorder. He died this past Wednesday at 79 after a long illness.
But he became a pioneer conductor of early music and period instrument authenticity, adopting historically informed performance practices even from the Baroque period, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Georg Philipp Telemann and Antonio Vivaldi into the Classical and early Romantic periods.
As a flutist and recorder player, Bruggen was a prodigy who often performed with Dutch colleagues in the early music movement, including harpsichord master Gustav Leonhardt and cellist Anner Bylsma.
He founded the Orchestra of the 18th Century, but also went on to conduct major mainstream orchestras and to teach at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley,
Even as I write this, I am playing Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony from Bruggen’s set of Haydn’s minor-key, proto-Romantic “Storm-and-Stress” symphonies.
What I especially liked was the expressiveness he often brought to an early music movement that sometimes seemed mechanical or robotic in its early days. Bruggen brought subtlety and emotional connection.
In Brugen’s hands, early music sounded natural, never forced into iconoclastic phrasing or rushed tempi, as it can with Reinhold Goebel and Concerto Koln or Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Bruggen’s performances never sounded deliberately goofy or self-serving. (Below is Frans Bruggen conducting.)
Bruggen must have made his case persuasively. Nowadays, most early music groups also sound more expressive and subjective, not so doctrinaire, dogmatic or orthodox in their approaches.
Bruggen seemed a low-key and modest man and musician, qualities that The Ear identifies with the Dutch, including Bruggen’s own more famous conducting colleague Bernard Haitink.
The Ear hopes that Bruggen’s death brings about many reissues of his prolific discography with more high-profile publicity. His Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven symphonies are, unfortunately, largely now out of print.
Here are some links to obituaries that tell his story:
Here is a link to The Guardian, which also lists Bruggen’s five greatest contributions to early music:
Here is a story from the BBC Music Magazine:
Here is a great piece from The Telegraph, also in the United Kingdom:
Curiously, it probably says something about Bruggen that I could find many obituaries from Europe and the UK, but none from the U.S., not even at The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or NPR (National Public Radio).
Here is a YouTube video of Frans Bruggen, who served both composers and audiences so well, in action, playing a solo fantasy for recorder by Georg Philipp Telemann. In every way it seems a fitting tribute or homage on the occasion of his death:
By Jacob Stockinger
All reports say that the 10-day tour to Argentina, completed just last weekend, was a rousing success for both members of the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and for their many South American hosts and audiences.
Here is a link to the live real-time blog with the complete set of postings done for the tour:
But why take someone else’s word for it?
You can hear the musicians for yourself in some of the same music that the young performers played in several different locations in Argentina.
They will once again perform, under the baton of UW-Madison School of Music conductor James Smith, on this coming Wednesday night from 7 to 9 p.m. in Old Sauk Trails Park on Madison’s far west side at 1200 John Q. Hammons Drive..
The event actually starts at 5 p.m. when the park opens to audiences for picnicking and eating, kind of like a smaller Concert on the Square for the far west side and to greet the approaching end of summer and to reach lots of young people.
The concert typically attracts thousands. Just look at the parking!
Here is a link to the official site:
And here is a link to the major sponsor and underwriter, the real estate development firm The Gialamas Company, with more information:
If you want to know about food, you will probably want at least to check out the two providers — Benvenuto’s and Sprecher’s — with whom you can reserve food and beverages if you don’t want to bring your own.
Finally, courtesy of WYSO, here is the complete program with approximate timings:
CONCERT IN THE PARK, AUGUST 13, 2014
Overture to Candide. By Leonard Bernstein. (6 minutes)
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op.36, Fourth movement: Finale: Allegro con fuoco. By Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky. (10 minutes)
El sombrero de tres picos Three-Cornered Hat) Suite No. 2 By Manuel de Falla (12 minutes)
Symphony No. 8, in G major, Op. 88, Movement 4: Allegro ma non troppo. By Antonin Dvořák (10 minutes)
“Billy the Kid” Suite. By Aaron Copland (22 minutes)
“Over the Rainbow.” By Harold Arlen (4 minutes) with the acclaimed local jazz singer Gerri DiMaggio (below top). The performance is dedicated to the memory of Candy Gialamas (below bottom on the right, with her husband George Gialiamas).
“Malambo” from Estancia Suite, Op. 8a. By Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (4 minutes). It is an audience favorite, a participation piece in South America. You can hear the high-octane and colorful orchestral music performed to an uproar of approval at the BBC Proms by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestsra of Venezuela in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Have some fun, hear some fine music and learn how good music education is in WYSO and in this part of Wisconsin.
See you there.
Come say hi to The Ear.
By Jacob Stockinger
This is a reminder.
This is A Tale of Two Tours.
Like the tours, both of which will run exactly from July 24 through August 3, the two local groups will also offer competing sendoff concerts at exactly the same time — tonight, Tuesday, July 22, at 7 p.m.
But it is best not to dwell on the conflict or competition.
Instead, The Ear prefers to see it as a reminder that Madison, Wisconsin, is a great place to be not only for culture in general and for classical music, but for classical music education, which has been shown again and again by researchers to reap lifelong benefits in terms of development and maturity.
It involves two FREE sendoff concerts by two important groups of young musicians in Madison.
One is by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras’ Youth Choir, under conductor UW-Madison professor James Smith, which will perform tonight at 7 p.m. at Olbrich Botanical Gardens on Madison’s East side. The program, a preview of the concert fare to be performd in Argentina, features music by Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Peter Tchaikovsky and Alberto Ginastera.
Here is a link to a previous blog posting about the WYSO concert:
The other concert is the Madison Boychoir (below, in a photo by Jon Harlow), which will perform tonight at 7 p.m. in the Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 South Segoe Road, on Madison’s near west side.
And here is a statement from Nicole Sparacino, the director of development for the Madison Youth Choirs:
“By a strange coincidence, the MYC send off concert is the same night as WYSO’s send off concert, and the dates of both tours are exactly the same, July 24-August 3!
“It’s pretty neat to think that, combined, over 100 of Madison’s finest young musicians will be sharing their talents on two very different parts of the world’s stage at the same time.
“Over the course of the tour, 71 MYC boys ages 9-18 will sing in medieval cathedrals, perform a joint concert with the National Youth Choir of Scotland, and have the chance to meet hundreds of other young artists from across the world. Our boys will even get the chance to test their foreign language skills, as they will have the honor of singing the national anthems of all participating countries during the festival’s Opening Ceremony. (You can see a promotional video for the Scotland tour at the bottom in a YouTube video.)
“We’re so excited for the boys to have this outstanding opportunity.
“Tonight, over 70 boys ages 9-18 from Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) will share an exciting free concert with the community before taking off to perform at the Aberdeen International Youth Festival in Scotland.
“As the only boychoir from the United States invited to perform at the festival, MYC’s lads (below, in a photo by Jon Harlow) will pay homage to the rich musical traditions of their homeland, from folk songs to cowboy melodies.
“It will perform classic boychoir repertoire in three different languages. Concert selections will include the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts,” the powerful “Anthem” from the musical Chess, “Laudamus Te” by Antonio Vivaldi and the Shakespeare and “Macbeth”-inspired “Sound and Fury.”’
The latter is a world premiere work by composer Scott Gendel (below), who is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
For further information: visit www.madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464.
By Jacob Stockinger
The young musicians of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and its premier performing ensemble, the Youth Orchestra, are preparing for a fantastic opportunity this month when they will tour to Argentina.
Youth Orchestra members will have a chance to visit the three cities of Buenos Aires, Rosario and Mar del Plata. While in these cities they will visit some of the most beautiful places in South America and perform in world class venues.
The tour will be led by WYSO Music Director James Smith (below). He has served as conductor of the Youth Orchestra for 29 years and also serves as the Director of Orchestras for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where WYSO is housed.
The 67 WYSO musicians who will participate in the tour range in age from 14 t0 18 years old and hail from 19 different communities across southern Wisconsin. (You can hear a great sample of the Youth Orchestra under James Smith in the “Carmen” Suite by Georges Bizet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The tour will run from July 24 to August 3. It will include performances at Facultad de Derecho, the famed Teatro Colon (below) in Buenos Aires, Escuela 23 Distrito Escolar, La Usina de Musica, and Teatro el Circulo.
Repertoire for the tour will include the Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein, “Billy the Kid” Suite by Aaron Copland; Liturgical Scenes by Dwane S. Milburn, the Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36, by Peter Tchaikovsky; and “Malambo” from “Estancia” Suite, Op. 8a by Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera (below).
The Youth Orchestra will be posting a live blog before and during their trip to keep friends, family, and supporters of WYSO up to date with how the tour is going.
The writers will mainly be students, but a handful of chaperones will also be offering their perspectives.
You can visit the blog, and bookmark it, at http://wysotour2014.blogspot.com.
FREE PREVIEW CONCERT ON TUESDAY
Prior to departing on their international tour, the Youth Orchestra members will give a bon voyage send-off concert at Olbrich Botanical Gardens this coming Tuesday night, July 22, at 7 p.m. The concert is FREE and outdoors (weather permitting; otherwise it will be held indoors), and is open to the public, with a $1 suggested admission donation to support the gardens.
The Ear thinks it would be great if local media – especially television – paid as much attention and gave as much coverage (even an audiovisual sample or clip with a voiceover) to these distinguished cultural ambassadors and exceptional products of music and arts education as they do to, say, student athletes.
Since 1966, WYSO has been providing excellence in musical opportunities for more than 5,000 young people in southern Wisconsin.
WYSO includes three full orchestras and a string orchestra, a chamber music program, a harp program, a percussion ensemble, and a brass choir program. The orchestras rehearse on Saturday mornings during the academic year, perform three to four public concerts per season, and tour regionally, nationally and internationally.
By Jacob Stockinger
I have seen him live in concert and in person only once.
But over decades I have seen him many times in The New York Times and especially on PBS, particularly on “Live from Lincoln Center” and, if I recall correctly, “American Masters.”
I have heard him in regular subscription concerts and also, I think, in Mainly Mozart concerts. I think I have even heard him solo at least once or twice, maybe more.
And chances are, so have you.
The Ear is not surprised that the retirement of Glenn Dicterow this past weekend made the media in a major way.
He is a smart, talented, humorous, good-natured and articulate man and musician who has a lot to say about music and about working with some celebrated figures, including conductors Leonard Bernstein (below), Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Alan Gilbert.
The stories about Dicterow also give us a renewed and expanded appreciation of the role of a concertmaster, and how a concertmaster can affect an entire orchestra and how the orchestra sounds and how its members get along with each other and with the maestro.
Dicterow played his swan-song concert this past weekend.
Here are backstories and a review of his final “New York Phil” concert:
Here is the story that appeared on the outstanding “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR:
And here is a similar story, with lots of facts, including his incredible salary, from The New York Times:
Here is the story that ran in the Wall Street Journal:
Here is a review of his last concert with the New York Philharmonic performing the Triple Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven with New York Philharmonic principal cello Carter Brey and guest pianist-in-residence Yefim Bronfman, who played two Beethoven piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5, the “Emperor”) this past season with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.
Finally, and in case you thought ensemble players were necessarily less virtuosic than soloists, here is a YouTube video of Glenn Dicterow playing the fiendishly difficult “Carmen” Fantasy by composer Franz Waxman (below), who is better known for the Hollywood movie scores he wrote after he fled Nazi Germany. Dicterow plays it with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta. (You can also see him perform other works and talk about his role as concertmaster on YouTube.)
Sounds like Glenn Dicterow will be a fantastic teacher at the same school in Los Angeles, California where the legendary violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz taught for so many years:
By Jacob Stockinger
Spring is the time for year-end piano recitals, for piano teachers and students to show off their stuff as the school year ends.
If you are looking for something to give a young piano student -– or, for that matter, even an older piano student -– The Ear can’t think of a better gift than a new album from ECM Records.
It is the debut recital of solo piano works by the prize-winning Korean conductor and pianist Myung Whun Chung (below), whose fabulously musical family includes a famous violinist sister and a cellist brother with whom he recorded many famous trios by Antonin Dvorak, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn and others. (Below, he is seen conducting at the BBC Proms.)
Here is a link to his biography:
And here is a taste with some description from ECM:
The CD features great sonic engineering. The piano sound is clear and upfront, not overly resonant and not percussive. The treble and bass are well-balanced. And the playing seems relaxed and natural, never tense or forced, whimsical or neurotic.
The album contains a variety of 10 pieces for different levels of playing, though most are for advanced beginners or intermediate students. As Chung explains at the bottom in a YouTube video, he made this album not for pianists, but for young people. We need more of that kind of caring and music education.
“Fur Elise’ by Ludwig van Beethoven and Peter Tchaikovsky’s “Autumn Song” lead on to more difficult works like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as well as two Impromptus from Op. 90 (E-flat Major and G-flat Major) by Franz Schubert and two Nocturnes by Frederic Chopin.
The simpler “Traumerei” from “Scenes of Childhood” by Robert Schumann, which the great virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz always used as a signature encore, leads to the underplayed as well as harder and longer Arabesque by the same composer. (Below is Myung Wha Chung recording at the piano in a photo by Rainer Maillard for ECM Records.)
So there is a variety of learning levels built-in as a teasing incentive to push on to the next one.
But such playable beauty is its own incentive.
The CD makes clear that great music is not necessarily hard or virtuosic music. Chung’s “Fur Elise” is not rushed, but instead beautiful and unrushed Beethoven at his best.
I also like the way Chung opens the recital slowly with Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune.” It proves an engaging and inviting way to set the mood, to calm the often hectic and nervy experience of a solo recital. (Below, Chung is seen playing on stage at the plush and warmly Old Word-elegant Teatro La Fenice in Venice in a photo by Sun Chung for ECM Records.)
You can see why Chung won second prize at the Tchaikovsky International Competition and why he guest conducts so frequently. He is a born musician. This is fine playing, not over-pedaled. Good rhythms and very fine tempi rule the day. And Chung demonstrates a fine use of rubato, or flexible tempi and timings, as well as a legato singing tone.
The album also serves as a reminder to piano students that there is more to music, and to possible professional and even prominent careers in music, than solo playing. The many famous conductors who went on from playing the piano include George Solti, Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein and, locally, both John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera, and Andrew Sewell of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
This CD reminds The Ear of the albums “My First Recital” and “My Second Recital” albums by the late Ruth Laredo. They too also had all good pieces, all very well played. The Ear thinks we could use more albums that help show how great musicians started and then got great. As for music education and music appreciation, it serves a similar purpose to Leonard Bernstein’s great “Young People’s Concerts.”
Sure, I would have liked to hear something included by Johann Sebastian Bach, who is so essential to learning music — maybe one or two of the Two-Part Inventions that most piano students get to know. Or maybe one of the easier Preludes from “The Well-Tempered Clavier” or a movement from one of the French or English suites.
But then you could also ask for some of the easier Chopin preludes, mazurkas or waltzes, or maybe a Brahms Waltz.
Maybe those will come in a sequel, and maybe by next spring’s recital time.
One can hope –- and listen to this lovely recording while waiting.
But for this lesson, in any case, Myung Whun Chung — seen below in photo by Jean Francois Leclerq for ECM Records– gets a gold star.
By Jacob Stockinger
A couple of weeks ago, after 26 consecutive seasons, pianist Jeffrey Siegel (below) gave what is likely to be his last “Keyboard Conversation” in Madison at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. “Music and Mistresses” focused on Romantic music that was inspired by love and composed by Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy. (For an introductory sample of that program, listen to the YouTube video at the bottom.)
For more about his concert-conversation format and the cities where he still performs, visit:
As a fond farewell, I want to tell the public and Jeffrey Siegel how welcome and successful he was.
Not that the series didn’t run into trouble. But I expect there were many reasons why the attendance at the concert-discussion series finally fell to the point where no amount of cutting back or finagling could save it or keep it financially viable.
One reason was the perception, true or not, that Siegel’s concerts began to seem repetitive and predictable, even though he played a wide range of repertoire that also included works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Sergei Rachmaninoff and many others.
Another reason was the overall arts competition in Madison and specifically that more exciting pianists and contemporary or unusual piano programs — Christopher Taylor comes to mind — came on the local scene and cut into his appeal.
Scheduling was one another reason.
My own life became complicated when I started teaching an evening class in journalism at the University of Wisconsin while I also worked my regular day job as a reporter, writer and editor at The Capital Times. The mid-week days just became too long.
For some listeners, I expect, the tickets also became too expensive, especially if you weren’t a UW-Madison student.
But an even bigger factor probably, I suspect, was the explosive growth of the Madison classical concert scene since Siegel first started here 26 seasons ago. For example, the Madison Symphony Orchestra now gives three performances of its subscription concerts and the UW School of Music hosts some 300 FREE events, including concerts by the Pro Arte Quartet (below, with Juilliard Quartet violist Samuel Rhodes). People, music fans included, are unbelievably busy.
But I also want to propose that another major reason why Jeffrey Siegel ended up losing his series in Madison is that his approach proved so popular that other competing musicians adopted it.
In that way, Jeffrey Siegel was ahead of his time in learning how, as a performer and not just musicologist, to cultivate music appreciation, how to grow new and younger audiences for classical music. He was among the first to link musical performance with music education.
In that sense, Jeffrey Siegel -– who first discusses a piece of music and then plays it in its entirety -– was a pioneer who eventually became a victim of his own success.
After all, when The Ear first started attending the concerts by Siegel -– who always proved a generous and genial interview as well as a fine musician -– few or none of the serious “longhair” performers talked about their program. Pre-concert lectures were the exception, NOT the rule.
True, Leonard Bernstein (below) had done the Young People’s Concerts, which might have been a model for Siegel. But there were precious few followers.
But these days I hear prefatory remarks from performers done regularly by conductor John DeMain at the Madison Symphony Orchestra; by conductor Andrew Sewell at the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; by general director Kathryn Smith of the Madison Opera; by cellist Parry Karp of the Pro Arte Quartet; and by virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.
I have heard it done at the Madison Early Music Festival by Paul Rowe and Cheryl Bensman Rowe. Every MEMF concert has a pre-concert lecture.
And I have learned that the upcoming Piano Arts Competition in Milwaukee will even require participants to talk about the music they will play, and judge them on how they do.
In short, concert etiquette these days seems to prefer the Siegel approach of providing a frame for the painting, of giving listeners a historical and aesthetic context and not just assuming that the music can speak for himself.
In Jeffrey Siegel, classical music found a powerful ally and inventive advocate.
In that way, the end of Keyboard Conversations should be seen as vindication of Siegel’s approach and as a success, not as a validation that it was somehow wrong-headed or outdated and so proved a failure.
So The Ear doesn’t know what else to say except: Thank you, Jeffrey. I — and no doubt many others — wish you success in other places and with other ventures.
Imitation, the old saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. And so the classical music in Madison will continue to pay homage to you -– even without your presence.
That may not be just or fair. But that seems to be the way it is.
Classical music here and elsewhere owes a debt to you. You can and should be proud of that legacy. You were not a failure, but a success. It’s just that success can exact as severe a price as failure does.