By Jacob Stockinger
Not being a close follower of choral music, I do not know a lot of choruses or choirs around the nation or world by name.
And like most Madisonians, I know the name of the Festival Choir, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Madison Opera Chorus, among other local groups.
But the nationally known choir that I remember mostly fondly is the same one I heard decades ago with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Leonard Bernstein and with pianist Rudolf Serkin in Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 9 “Choral” and his “Choral Fantasy,” which is a preliminary sketch-like work for the Ninth Symphony with a piano part thrown in.
The name of that first-rate choir is The Westminster Choir (below).
And it is REALLY good, as I was reminded again recently when I listened to their CD of holiday music.
No surprise, I suppose. After all, it is composed of specialists: of student from Westminster choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. Every summer it is in residence at the internationally renowned Spoleto Festival in South Carolina.
Its 40 members form the core of the 175-voice Westminster Symphonic Chorus that still performs regularly with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and other major European orchestras.
In any case, sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Westminster Choir is coming to town and will perform this Saturday night in Overture Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $19.50. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141. For more information about the performers and a complete program, visit www.madisonsymphony.org/westminster.
The concert’s generous program includes vocal music from the 15th through the 21st centuries, including works by J.S. Bach, Debussy, Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten and Morten Lauridsen among others, and will also feature several works for solo organ, some quite virtuosic, played on the impressive custom-built Klais concert organ (below) in Overture Hall.
Decide for yourself. Here is a sample, the most visited one on YouTube, with such lovely quality singing, of the Westminster Choir:
REMINDER: On Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, bass trombonist Gerry Pagano (below) will give a FREE recital on the Guest Artist Series at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. Joining Pagano will be pianist SeungWha Baek, trombone professor Mark Hetzler and trumpet professor John Aley. The program will feature “Duo for Bass Trombone and Piano” by Jeffrey Miller; “Sonata Rhapsody ‘the Arch’” by James M. Stephenson; “Pastorale for trumpet, bass trombone and piano” by Eric Ewazen, featuring John Aley on trumpet; “Three Preludes for Piano” by Dmitri Shostakovich, featuring Mark Hetlzer on trombone; and works by Vivaldi and J.. Bach.
By Jacob Stockinger
Happy Silver Anniversary!
Pianist Jeffrey Siegel (below) — who for decades has done more than his fair share of building audiences for classical music — will be performing and discussing compositions by J.S. Bach tomorrow night, on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall as part of his 25th annual Keyboard Conversations® series in Madison.
The program is all J.S. Bach (below) and includes the Chorale Prelude “Rejoice, Beloved Christians,” BWV 734; Toccata in D Major, BWV 912; Prelude in B-flat Major, Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, BWV 866; Prelude in B-flat Minor, Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, BWV 867; and Italian Concerto, BWV 971, as well as the Bach-Busoni Chaconne from Violin Partita No. 2, BWV 1004.
The program is followed by a Q & A session.
It could be a good chance to ask about the new book “Reinventing Bach” by Paul Elie, which talks about the music of Bach and how it successfully get transplanted to new technology. The Ear posted about it this past weekend. Here is a link:
Tickets are $32 for the general public, and $28 for Union Members, UW Faculty and Staff, and non-UW Students. This is a family savings event with up to two youth tickets (age 6-18) at only $14 with the purchase of an accompanying adult ticket. Age is verified at the door.
University of Wisconsin-Madison students get in for FREE.
For information and tickets, call the Box Office at 608-265-ARTS (2787), fax your order at 608-265-5084, buy online here, or purchase in person at the Campus Arts Ticketing box office in Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave.
Jeffrey Siegel has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as well as with numerous symphonies and orchestras abroad.
Siegel will play an evening of Bach, providing commentary on the music’s history, its form and structure. The Los Angeles Times has said that Siegel has “An unusual gift for commentary as well as extraordinary pianism [which] bring Siegel’s audience wholly into the musical experience.”
Keyboard Conversations is designed for novices and experts alike, combining a masterful performance with illuminating commentary. Here is an example of one of the Keyboard Conversations about one of the world’s most popular and well-known piano pieces,”Fur Elise” by Beethoven:
By Jacob Stockinger
Offhand, I can’t think of many Turkish pianists who have stood out in their interpretations of Western classical music.
But the young keyboard wizard Fazil Say (below), 42, is one of the exceptions.
Maybe the only one.
Say, who is also a composer and who plays and performs jazz, has the impressive technique — the chops if you will — plus the interpretive ability and artistic affinity to leave you deeply impressed with his reading of, say, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Ravel among others.
Just look at all the 5-star User Ratings his CDs get on Amazon.com:
Here is a link to his official fan website:
But now it looks as if Say, who admits to being secular and to supporting a secular government in his native Turkey, will have to take up a home in exile (probably in Japan, he says) because he has been charged with the equivalent of heresy or blasphemy by Turkey’s government and threatened with arrest, trial and prison. (Below is the famed Blue Mosque in Turkey.)
Specifically, he is accuse of, and investigated for, insulting Islam, and other religions, because he Tweeted that he is an atheist. He was indicted and a trial is set for Oct. 18.
It all sounds very similar to what happened to the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk (below) who was charging with libeling or insulting the Turkish government because he referred to the Armenian genocide by Turkey in 1915 — which Turkey officially denies ever took place, despite the testimony and evidence provided by many experts and historians.
After worldwide protest, Turkey dropped those charges,
Maybe the same outcome could happen for Fazil Say (below and at bottom, playing ironically Mozart’s “Turkish” Rondo).
Here are links to stories and other blogs about Say’s unfortunate predicament:
No matter what the right-wing here says about the need for more state-sponsored religion, now you can see why the Founders wisely wanted in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to establish a wall of separation between church and state. In their own lifetimes, they had seen what the mix of religion and government or politics did in Europe and elsewhere.
So: Looks like it’s time to speak up for free speech, artistic freedom and freedom of religious in Turkey.
What do you say about Say and his plight?
Leave a note of protest and support in the COMMENTS section. Maybe it will persuade Turkish authorities to relent – although I wouldn’t count on it.
Shame on Turkey!
Shame on Islam, Christianity, Judaism and all other forms of religious intolerance and oppression!
Shame on religious zealots of all kinds in all places and at all times!
By Jacob Stockinger
Child prodigies intrigue, astound and fascinate us, even as they sometimes intimidate us or confuse us.
We wonder what the art world would be without them. And we wonder how they will mature and what they will become.
Most historians seem to agree that the three biggest prodigies in classical music were Mozart, Mendelssohn and Saint-Saens. Beethoven was no prodigy, but his drunken father abused him physically while trying to make him another Mozart who earned big money and fame as a wunderkind.
To be sure, there are some child prodigies who went on to accomplish major and important things. But The Ear bets there were many, many others who didn’t pan out and who were ruined by the adult or parental desire to have talented and gifted children.
Recently, a work by a young – very young – composer got performed by the New York Philharmonic. His name is Milo Poniewozik, a 10-year-old who is a fifth-grader, and his work was performed as part of the orchestra’s Very Young Composers program.
Here is a story with a link to the performance and a story about it:
Be sure to check out the many comments from readers and listeners.
Is this just an exploitative gimmick to attract young people to classical music by educational outreach programs? (Some local groups, including the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, have also performed works by young members and young composers.)
What do you think of the phenomenon of such a young composer?
Is he a flash in the pan?
Or is he the real deal, a promising and talented composer?
Is such public exposure helpful or harmful to the young boy?
The Ears wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Just because we are in the intermission between the end of the spring concert season and the beginning of the summer concert season doesn’t mean there isn’t some very good live classical music to be found.
The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will present a concert entitled “Bernstein and Friends” featuring Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” on Sunday, June 3, at 3 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Avenue, in downtown Madison.
Also on the program is the world premiere of “The God of Glory” by Virginia composer Judith Shatin, along with works by composers whom Bernstein championed as a conductor, including music of Copland, Beethoven, Schumann and Ives.
Tickets are available in advance for $14 through Brown Paper Tickets or via www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org or at the door for $16. Student tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door. Tickets also available at Orange Tree Imports and both Willy Street coop locations.
Founded in 1999, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of Bach oratorios, a cappella masterworks from various centuries, and world-premieres. Dr. Robert Gehrenbeck (below) is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s Artistic Director.
For more information, visit: http://www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org/
Leonard Bernstein (below) composed “Chichester Psalms” in 1965 while on sabbatical from his conducting post with the New York Philharmonic. Working on commission from Chichester Cathedral in England, Bernstein used the original Hebrew texts of six different psalms, and the resulting music has a distinctly popular flair that recalls the style of “West Side Story.”
The WCC’s performance will feature boy soprano Nathaniel Johnson, harpist Karen Atz, organist Theodore Reinke and percussionist Tobie Wilkinson.
Other Bernstein works on the program include selections from the musical theatre work “Mass” and a rarely heard early work, “Hashkiveinu,” a setting of a prayer from the Jewish Sabbath evening service.
In the spirit of Bernstein’s own advocacy on behalf of younger composers, the WCC is proud to present the world premiere of “The God of Glory” by Judith Shatin, who teaches composition at the University of Virginia and Director of the Virginia Center for Computer Music. Having made her own translation of Psalm 29, Shatin explains that her music “was inspired by the strength of the poetry, and seeks to sonically amplify its images.”
Rounding out the program are works by composers closely associated with Bernstein’s career. His lifelong friend Aaron Copland (below) is represented by selections from Copland’s “Old American Songs” in choral arrangements both old and new. Romantic choral works by Beethoven and Schumann pay tribute to Bernstein’s passionate interpretations of these composers’ music.
Finally, a group of light-hearted early works by Charles Ives highlights Bernstein’s affinity for one of America’s most original composers.
By Jacob Stockinger
We are all disappointed when we buy a ticket to hear a well-known musician perform a great piece of music, only to find out that the artist is “indisposed” and has cancelled.
In some cases, of course, it can be downright ludicrous.
For example, whenever pianist Martha Argerich (below) – who was notorious for cancelling concerts – used to release a schedule of her upcoming concerts for the next seasons, some waggish critics would joke about her releasing her list of upcoming cancellations for the next season.
Sometimes it is something as simple as a scheduling conflict. That is how the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra gave us the local debut of the terrific young Israeli-American pianist Shai Wosner (below) last spring when Anne Marie McDermott had to cancel. (She will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Minor with the WCO next March.)
But most often, I suspect it is genuine. Still, there is an upside when a performer becomes ill or sick or otherwise indisposed.
It often marks the beginning of another stellar career and gives a break to a promising artist who needs a break to advance their career or have a major debut. Just ask conductors Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas and Fabio Luisi; pianists Lang-Lang, Yuja Wang, Jonathan Boss and Jeremy Denk; and superstar singer Renee Fleming among many others who got their big break through someone else’s illness.
In fact, you have to wonder if sometimes the famous artist who cancelled wasn’t really sick at all but instead cancelled deliberately to give a younger talented colleague they admired a break in such a competitive profession. Why not? I say. Whatever works.
For example, that’s how soprano Renee Fleming (below) got to make her Metropolitan Opera debut a year earlier than scheduled, much like Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic. And there are many such stories and examples. Just look up musicians’ biographies in Wikipedia and check out their early careers.
Here is a link to a fine in-depth story, which also talks about repertoire complications and how the right substitutes are found, in the Wall Street Journal about that phenomenon:
Have you ever heard a great musician by chance and because he or she was a substitute for the scheduled “indisposed”performer who had to cancel?
Who was it and what did you think?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Thanks to the Juilliard School of Music, where Gilbert heads up the conducting program, and to New York University’s Movement Lab and its motion-capture computerized graphics, Gilbert was recorded conducting and then explaining what the movements mean.
It is like taking a mini-seminar is an art that takes many years to master, and even then some conductrors obviously do it much better than others. Some conductors — like Leonard Bernstein — flamboyantly sand dangerously danced around a lot on the podium while other conductor — like Fritz Reiner and Herbert van Karajan — were known for an almost total economy of movement.
Here is a link to the terrifically inventive, well researched and well written story by Daniel J. Wakin of The New York Times:
It is fun to take in because it is printed and also an interactive video with highlighted comments by conductor Gilbert (below). Take a look:
And here is a link to a background story and video about how it was made in the lab. It is a fascinating and illuminating explanation that suggests we can expect a lot more in the future of seeing technology illuminate art:
By Jacob Stockinger
If you want to know why so many people respect The New York Times – despite the all the pietistic carping on the right about how liberal and biased it is – just check out the fairness, accuracy and thoroughness the newspaper brought to one small story.
This past Tuesday night, conductor Alan Gilbert (below) halted a performance of Mahler’s moving Symphony No. 9, Mahler’s last completed symphony, with the New York Philharmonic in Avery Fisher Hall, because a loud cellphone went off during a particularly quiet and moving section of the music. He put down his baton and announced he would wait to resume until the phone was turned off.
Many news outlets, including NBC TV’s nightly newscast, reported on the incident, which had the other audience members cheering Gilbert and his admonishment to turn off the annoying and persistent marimba ring-tone of the phone before continuing .
But the Times went a step further.
It found out who was the person with the ringing cellphone, how the whole incident happened, and then reported on the reaction of the user of the offending iPhone (below) to the incident and what the follow-up story was. Knowing all the facts actually makes you at least somewhat sympathetic to the offender.
And then it published the story in the news section, rather than the arts section.
The coverage makes you respect both Gilbert and the offending cellphone owner, as well as the editors and reporters at the Times. It should also make you wary of alarms and other pre-set features of sophisticated smart phones.
Here is a link to the story:
Here is the clever video that mixes Mahler’s Ninth (under Leonard Bernstein) and the marimba ring-tone:
By Jacob Stockinger
Yesterday I reviewed and commented on two classical music concerts that took place in New York City on New Year’s Eve. Both seemed largely, even overwhelmingly, successful, according to my own views and to the reviews I directed you to.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, however, things did not go as smoothly – at least not as far as The Ear is concerned.
True, the largely Strauss family concert of waltzes and polkas from the legendary and beautiful Golden Hall (below) in Vienna went largely as it usually has over almost 30 years. As always, it seemed sold-out. And as always, the audience was enthusiastic, clapping merrily along with The Radetsky March finale.
But I also noticed some sharp contrasts with the New York Philharmonic, long-standing contrasts that I did not like.
It is simply this:
Why are there so few women playing in the Vienna Philharmonic (below), especially when compared to the New York Philharmonic? The Vienna Philharmonic is one of the world’s greatest orchestras and would seem to be a draw for top women instrumentalists from around the world.
Is the orchestra’s administration just outright sexist?
Are the audiences and the Viennese public in general that sexist or narrow-minded?
Do women players avoid the orchestra because they feel unwanted or demeaned in the mostly male and possibly hostile or misogynist ensemble, no matter how prestigious it is. I remember the unfortunate trouble that pioneering clarinetist Sabine Meyer faced with the Berlin Philharmonic when she was hired sand then drummed out of it many years ago.
There is no getting around it, Vienna is a very conservative city and always has been, even though it would like to deny or forget its Nazi past. But you would nonetheless expect more progress over the years, especially given the global spotlight on women’s rights and gender equality in the wake of the Arab Spring.
And how about making history by booking for the widely broadcast New Year’s Day concert a woman guest conductor – say, the critically acclaimed American protégée of Leonard Bernstein, Marin Alsop (below):
Or the widely travelled and much recorded American conductor JoAnn Falletta (below)?
Or the dynamic Estonia conductor, who has wowed Madison audiences, Anu Tali (below)
And I am sure there are many other fully qualified and capable women conductors I have not named.
If they have already done that, I am unaware of it,. But doing that would send a good signal to young and older women alike, and might even help the orchestra recruit more female musicians. After all, the New Year’s Day concert is billed as the world’s biggest live concert and with an audience of more than one billion listeners in 72 countries.
Would that really be so radical a step?
The Ear says it is time — in fact, long overdue time — for more women players in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and for a woman conductor to stand on its podium, especially for the always symbolic and hopeful New Year’s Day Concert.
Hey, Vienna! Make some good history! Strike a blow for women’s equality!
In the mean time, readers and listeners, let us know:
And what you think of so few women playing in the Vienna Philharmonic?
What explains it?
Would you like to see a woman conductor preside ever the New Year’s Day concert?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Well, if you weren’t out dining and dancing, or making merry at some party somewhere, the chances are pretty good that you spent New Year’s Eve at home.
And if you did that the chances are pretty good, especially if you are a classical music fan, that earlier in the evening you watched the New Year’s Eve festive all-American concert of music by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein given by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet under the baton of the orchestra’s music director Alan Gilbert (below).
The Ear saw and heard much of the concert that sold-out Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center and also reached millions of viewers via PBS’ award-winning “Live From Lincoln Center” series that is produced by UW-Madison alumnus John Goberman.
I could write up what I most liked about it. (Thibaudet’s sloppy dress and disheveled tuxedo, below, for the “Rhapsody in Blue” finale was really the only thing I didn’t like.) But New York Times critic Alan Kozinn did a pretty good job of that.
So I direct you to his review and his analysis of how the Alan Gilbert Era seems to be putting its own American stamp of New Year’s Eve festivities in the Big Apple. I like the idea of ringing in the New Year by celebrating American music.
That same night, the Metropolitan Opera also celebrated the coming of the new year with the world premiere of its scissors-and-paste baroque opera “The Enchanted Island” with an impressive cast that included superstar tenor Placido Domingo as Neptune (below) as well Danielle de Niese (at bottom), Joyce Di Donato and countertenor David Daniels.
But you will have to wait until the “Met Live in HD” broadcast on Saturday, Jan. 21, at 11:55 CDT at the Eastgate ad Point cinemas in Madison, to enjoy that production.
As we draw closer to that HD broadcast, I will post something with more details about the specially commissioned pastiche Baroque opera that uses music by Handel, Vivaldi, Purcell and Rameau among others and combines characters and plots taken from two Shakespeare plays (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest”).
But in the meantime here is Anthony Tommasini’s informative and entertaining rave review in the New York Times about the world premiere. It sounds like a MUST-HEAR to the Ear, though I doubt it will become a new year’s institution the way the other concerts or events less difficult to produce might.
And here is another positive review:
And here is a third, one that uses the word “triumph”:
We call all judge how just it is and whether we agree with it when we finally get to see and hear this engaging novelty production nearer the end of the month.