The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: They made chamber music hip. The “forever young” Kronos Quartet turns 40 -– after changing the business model of recording, the repertoire of string quartets, and the public’s taste in chamber music.

April 5, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

They made chamber music hip when it used to be square.

I’m talking about the Kronos String Quartet, which for decades has, in Bob Dylan’s famous lyrics, remained “Forever Young.”

But they aren’t young except in spirit, where it really counts.

In case you missed it, a week ago Friday was the 40th anniversary of the internationally acclaimed and ever-performing, ever-recording, ever-commissioning and ever-morphing Kronos Quartet (below).

Kronos Quartet

The Kronos Quartet, which has a local Wisconsin tie through the original cellist Jean Jeanrenaud (below), who  retired in 1998 from the group and its hectic touring, made history in many ways.

Joan Jeanrenaud

For one, the Kronos changed the notion and model of string quartets and chamber music in general. They were unafraid to go electric when needed. And so they expanded the audience for string quartets and chamber music to younger people.

The Kronos focused on modern and contemporary music and commissioned hundreds of new works from contemporary composers. That is a formidable legacy for the future.

The Kronos focused on crossover music and broke the mold of separate categories. (Below, they are playing outdoors in Warsaw, Poland, in 2006.)

Kronos quartet outdoors in warsaw in 2006

The Kronos focused on ethnic music and Third World composers. (Below, they are playing with celebrated Chinese pipa player Wu Man, who is in the center of the photo.)

kronos quartet with chinese wu man

In the end, they sold millions of recordings and helped change the business model that string quartets and chamber music used to survive and prosper. (Below, they are performing on the BBC Radio in 2012.)

Kronos Quartet plyaing on BBC Radio 2012

Some critics of the Kronos might say they didn’t change it for the better. But what the Kronos did has remained permanent and popular. It changed the scene for many quartets that came after them, including the popular Quartetto Gelato and the Turtle Island String Quartet.

So to catch up with all that the Kronos represents, here are links to some pieces from background history and backstories to concert reviews.

Here is the story that was on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/03/27/294780979/the-kronos-quartet-still-daring-after-all-these-years

And here is a link to the NPR blog “Deceptive Cadence” that also offers sounds samples of pioneering work done by the Kronos. (Below, in 2013 in photo by Jay Blakesberg.)

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/03/25/293849927/kronos-quartet-at-40-songs-we-love

kronos quartet 2013 CR jay blakesberg

Here is a fine, comprehensive profile by The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/arts/music/kronos-quartets-40-year-adventure.html?_r=0

Here is a review of the concert in Carnegie Hall that appeared in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/31/arts/music/kronos-quartets-wide-interests-project-from-the-stage.html?_r=0

Plus here is a review of the same program done earlier on the West Coast by The Los Angles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-kronos-quartet-review-20140317,0,4644880.story#axzz2xe4TjZSL

The Ear likes a lot of the Kronos’ work. But curiously I prefer some of the ethnic and crossover music -– a version of rock and roll icon Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” (in a popular YouTube video at the bottom) is the famous example — better than much of the contemporary stuff.

Two of my favorite Kronos CDs are “Pieces of Africa,” with its contagious rhythms, and “Winter Was Hard,” with its short but intense miniatures that included both early music and new music.

kronos winter-was hard CD

Kronos_Quartet-Pieces_Of_Africa-Frontal

What is your favorite Kronos Quartet album or even single performance?

And what role did the Kronos Quartet play in your own appreciation of chamber music, especially string quartets, and contemporary classical  music or new music?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: NPR explores the music soundtracks for movies that nominated for Academy Awards and could receive an Oscar at tonight’s ceremonies airing on ABC-TV.

March 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Oscar would no doubt say that movie soundtracks deserve special attention and serious consideration as art music.

YL Oscar foods statue

Of course purists will probably argue that movie soundtracks are not really classical music – except in certain cases like Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” “Shine,” “Amadeus” and such obvious fare.

And it would be hard to disagree with them.

Perhaps some would say that movies are the real operas of our day, except that the music plays a secondary or tertiary role.

Besides, more and more symphony orchestras are turning to concert programs that feature movie soundtracks, perhaps to attract new and younger audiences.

And radio stations seem to be mixing in and playing more and more movie music on their classical programs.

And more and more composers who aspired to be classical composers but who were forced earn a living in Hollywood –- Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below) comes immediately to mind –- are being increasingly programmed for their classical fare as well as their commercial Hollywood work.

erich wolfgang korngold at piano

Besides, “crossover” and “fusion” are the key words of the day in the classical music scene, as you can see with the success of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project (below top) and the “new tangos” by Astor Piazzolla (below bottom), to name but two examples.

Silk Road Ensemble

astor piazzolla

So perhaps it is only natural that, in the run-up to the Academy Awards tonight, NPR and its terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence’ have featured several posts about the music that is featured in nominated movies, especially the story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the late 110-year-old pianist (below, in photo by Yuri Dojc) who survived Auschwitz by playing music, especially the etudes of Frederic Chopin -– and who just died last week. (You can hear her speak and play the piano at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that has almost a million hits.) 

The Ear suspects her story, “The Lady in Number 6,” will win the Oscar for short documentary because she was the oldest survivor of the Holocaust and was a testament to the power of music, and therefore of all art and beauty, over evil and adversity. She embodied hope — a cherished value.

Here is a link to her fascinating and detailed obituary in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/28/world/europe/alice-herz-sommer-pianist-who-survived-holocaust-dies-at-110.html

Alice Herz Sommer CR Yuri Dojc

So as you prepare to watch the live broadcast on ABC-TV tonight starting at 6 p.m. CST (it will also be streamed live), here are links to consider when you think about music and films.

Here is the link to a story about music and documentaries:

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/28/283072030/music-takes-center-stage-in-oscar-nominated-documentaries

Here is an overview of several nominees, including William Butler (below) of Arcade Fire, for Best Score:

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/26/283026146/and-the-oscar-goes-to-mr-star-wars-or-arcade-fire

william butler of arcade fire

And here is a link to another story about quiet music – specifically, composer Alexandre Desplat and his score for “Philomena” starring Judi Dench (below) — and how hard it is to compose and perform:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/02/08/273151282/philomena-and-the-power-of-a-quiet-film-score

Judi Dench in %22Philomena%22

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Classical music: Oscar got it wrong for the Best Picture in 2006, but that Academy Awards mistake has been corrected and now, for a couple of months, you can hear the new opera version of “Brokeback Mountain” for FREE.

March 1, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tomorrow, on Sunday night, March 2, the annual Oscars, the 86th annual Academy Awards, will be given out starting at 6 p.m. CST on ABC-TV, which will also stream the awards broadcast live.

The Ear hopes that this time Oscar gets it right.

YL Oscar foods statue

I recall one memorable year when they got it wrong.

That was in 2006 at the 78th annual Academy Awards.

Even the late, great and popular film critic Roger Ebert (below, in a photo by Vince Bucci), whose choices I usually admired and concurred with, got it wrong.

50942748VB024_afistreep

In 2006, two of the top contenders for Best Film were “Crash” and the heavily favored ‘Brokeback Mountain.”

“Crash” dealt with race and racial tensions in Los Angeles, and focused in interrelated stories that were well told and well acted by some fine names, including Thandie Newton (below left), Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon (below right) and Don Cheadle.

crash 1 thandie Newton, matt dillon

“Brokeback Mountain,” based on the short story by Annie Proulx that was first published in The New Yorker magazine, dealt with two young modern-day cowboys in Montana struggling to deal with and acknowledge their gay identity and their love for each other.

Late in the game, Roger Ebert came out in favor of “Crash” as the most deserving film to receive the Best Picture award.  His influence may well have set the upset in motion.

But Ebert was wrong.

“Brokeback” deserved the honor. It was a moving film with great music and great cinematography. Most of all, its story and character study were very poignant and bittersweet, even heartbreaking. And it was masterfully acted by Jake Gyllenhaal (below left) and by the late Heath Ledger (below right).

brokeback mountain 1 jake gyllenhaal and heath ledger

Not that Crash wasn’t a fine film. It was. But race had been dealt with very well in a many other films over the years.

On the other hand, “Brokeback Mountain,” directed by the incomparable and eclectic Ang Lee, was a break-though work of art, a pioneering achievement that proved nothing less than revolutionary in the way it introduced gay subject matter and characters into mainstream Hollywood cinema in a sympathetic way.

brokeback mountain 2 Jake Gyllenhaal (l) and Heath Ledger

And the current move of public opinion towards approving of marriage equality – or gay marriage or same-sex marriage – just goes to prove the point.

“Brokeback” did win three Oscars – but NOT the one for Best Picture, which went instead to “Crash,” a good movie but not a better movie than “Brokeback.”

But American composer Charles Wuorinen also found something inspiring in the story of two lonesome gay cowboys up on an isolated Montana mountain. So he asked the author to rework the story into an opera libretto while he went to work composing the music. (Below, in the title roles, are Tom Randle, left, and Daniel Okulitch, right):

The results are an opera based on the revised short story. 

brokeback mountain opera tom randle (left) and daniel okulitch

How good are the results?

Here is a balanced and insightful review of the opera’s world premiere at the Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain, from senior music critic Anthony Tommasini for The New York Times, who rightly thinks a love story calls for a little more singing and melody. He seems to be saying: Right story, wrong composer.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/arts/music/lyrical-cowboys-in-love-on-stage.html?_r=0

And here is an overview, with a link to a streaming site for the opera, from the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR-FM:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/brokeback-mountain-opera-critics-weigh/

http://www.medici.tv

But more to the point, you can judge for yourself. You can now hear the opera FREE via streaming for another 60 days or so thanks to Medici TV. (You can get a taste in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is link to the story on NPR’s “Morning Edition” that features an interview with Proulx (below) and also give some background as well as a link to the opera broadcast on Medici.

Here is a link to the NPR story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/02/06/272533010/seen-the-brokeback-mountain-movie-now-watch-the-opera

Annie Proulx

So let’s hope The Academy gets the right movies for the right awards Sunday night.

Here is a link to much more information about the Oscars.

http://www.oscars.org

And you can return here tomorrow where you will find more Oscar-related stories about music top serve as background before you tune into the always endless live broadcast with this years; host, Ellen DeGeneres –- an out lesbian whose appearance attests to the prescience of “Brokeback Mountain.”

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Classical music: Court victories favoring same-sex marriage equality and an extended Valentine’s Day weekend add up to a magical and loving mix for musical partners, including opera star Patricia Racette, who comes out as a lesbian.

February 16, 2014
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ALERT: If you are undecided about going to this afternoon’s concert at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth (below), here are links to positive reviews by John W. Barker for Isthmus and by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42078&sid=4d977189e5be9d039af0d641c547219f

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/February-2014/Madison-Symphony-Gives-the-Large-Variety-Box-for-Valentines-Day/

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, when a holiday falls on a Friday – like Valentine’s Day this year — one can be forgiven for prolonging it over the weekend, don’t you think?

But it seems a good chance to blend two recent stories and trend lines that are increasingly coming together.

And coming out.

One is the recent various court victories for marriage equality, or same-sex marriage, or gay marriage. Whatever you want to call it, it seems to becoming more and more a legal and social reality with every week that passes.

gay marriage in suits

And those legal victories lead to more and more gays and lesbians coming out, including the star football player and top NFL draft possibility star Michael Sam (below top) and “Juno” actress Ellen Page (below bottom).

Here is a link to a New York Times story about Michael Sam:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/10/sports/michael-sam-college-football-star-says-he-is-gay-ahead-of-nfl-draft.html?_r=0

Michael Sam in football uniform

And here is a link to a Washington Post story about Ellen Page:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/juno-actress-ellen-page-comes-out-as-gay/2014/02/15/f3327800-9627-11e3-ae45-458927ccedb6_story.html

Ellen Page

As for Valentine’s Day, imagine what how rewarding it could be to work cooperatively in the performing arts with your life partner and love.

That is exactly what was documented in a recent story on NPR’s great blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

NPR highlighted various musical couples in classical music who met in a musical setting and fell in love while working, and who now get to work together.

And for good measure, they included the Metropolitan Opera star soprano Patricia Racette (below top, out of costume, and below bottom in the title role of Puccini’s “Tosca”), who openly talks about what a great marriage she has with her female partner. (You can hear Patricia Racette as the title character Cio-Cio-San sing the finale of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Patricia Racette soprano

Patricia Racette in Tosca

Of course, most of the couples are heterosexual in the story just as they are in real life. And we have seen some of them – tenor Stephen Costello (below top) at the Madison Opera‘s Opera in the Park as well as cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han (below bottom) at the Wisconsin Union Theater, in Madison.

Fort Worth Opera 2008

Wu Han and David Finckel BIG

But it is both sensitive and brave of NPR, which is always under the gun and budget knife of the self-righteous and nutty right-wing extremists and homophobes, to do the story.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/02/11/273159447/classical-couples-sweethearts-sharing-the-stage

One can only hope and imagine the chain reaction that is to happen as each coming out brings several more, as bravery and tolerance build, and as the visible becomes visible.

Saint Valentine -– at least my Saint Valentine — would be very pleased.

Saint Valentine

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Classical music: The German hunka-hunka tenor Jonas Kaufmann is profiled at length as he heads into the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Massenet’s “Werther” and prepares for his Carnegie Hall debut next Sunday. Plus, Sony releases his CD of Schubert’s “Winterreise.”

February 15, 2014
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ALERT:  The University of Wisconsin School of Music’s Guest Artist series will present flutist Sarah Frisof (below) of the University of Kansas and pianist-composer Daniel Pesca in a FREE recital on this Sunday night at 7 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall.  The program includes Ballade by Frank Martin; Sonata in E minor by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach; “A Memory of Melisande” and “Brief Pause” by Daniel Pesca; and Sonata No. 1 in A Major for Violin by Gabriel Faure (transcribed by Stallman).

Frisof trained at the University of Michigan, the Juilliard School theEastman School of Music. She was a semi-finalist in the 2009 Kobe International Flute Competition, and 2nd Prize winner of both the National Flute Associations’ Young Artist Competition in 2008 and the Heida Hermann?s International Woodwind Competition in 2007. Dr. Frisof is the principal flute of the Dallas Wind Symphony and a frequent performer with the Dallas Symphony. She has performed with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony and Boston Symphony. Daniel Pesca (b. 1985) is currently pursuing a DMA in Composition at the Eastman School of Music. He is the recipient of many commissions; his work for wind ensemble. Pieces by Pesca have been performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Huntsville (Alabama) Symphony Orchestra, and Eastman’s Musica Nova.

Sarah Frisof

By Jacob Stockinger

The 40-year-old German heart-throb tenor from Munich, Jonas Kaufmann is on a roll.

jonas kaufmann leather coat

Well, truth be told, he has been for years.

But this week seems a kind of trifecta for Jonas (pronounced Yonas) Kaufmann.

On Friday, Feb. 17, Maestro Hunka-Hunka opens the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of French composer Jules Massenet’s “Werther,” the opera based on the famous and influential early 19th century Storm-and-Stress novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Jonas Kaufmann in %22Met's Werther%22

Then two days later, Kaufmann makes his Carnegie Hall debut – presumably and unfortunately, if you have seen his Met production of Wagner’s “Parsifal” (below, in a photo by Sara Krulwich of The New York Times), with his shirt on — with a recital of Romantic songs by Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. It seems rather late for his first appearance at Carnegie Hall, but I bet it is a sell-out.

The Ear hopes they have some smelling salts handy, just in case.

Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal Sara Krulwich NYT

All that plus Sony Classical is releasing an album of Franz Schubert’s famous and season-appropriate song cycle “Winterreise” (Winter Journey, below top) on the heels of Kaufmann’s bestselling and critically acclaimed CDs for Decca Records of arias by Richard Wagner (below  bottom) and Giuseppe Verdi (below bottom and in a YouTube video of “La donna e mobile” from “Rigoletto” at the bottom of the post).

Jonas Kaufmann Winterreise CD cover

Kaufmann Wagner CD

Well, what can you say such success?

Not much.

But you can read about how Kaufmann’s career has developed and what kind of rather modest and thoughtful person lies behind the glamorous and charismatic tenor, who may be the first really BIG vocal and operatic talent to emerge in this century.

I mean, Kaufmann has it all: strength and endurance, great tone, variety and handsome looks.

Did I mention handsome looks?

Yep. Kaufmann is thoroughly beautiful in his singing and thoroughly believable in his acting. Now that is a combination devoutly to be wished, don’t you think?

Here is a link to the comprehensive profile of Jonas Kaufmann by Zachary Woolfe that shows just how much consideration goes into Kaufmann’s personal life and professional career. All that talent, plus he seems like a nice guy:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/arts/music/jonas-kaufmann-chooses-his-met-roles-carefully.html

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Classical music: Is it payback time for Russian musicians at the Winter Olympics in Sochi? Conductor Valery Gergiev is the official maestro of Vladimir Putin’s big show that opens tonight with grand ceremony.

February 7, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you have been waiting for the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics (below is the official logo), tonight is the night it all begins for real –- at least officially because some preliminary rounds of sporting events like figure skating and snowboarding have already been held — even amid the terrorist threats, corruption, unfinished construction, dog roundups, authoritarianism and homophobia.

winter olympics 2014 logo

Many of us here in the U.S. will be tuning in at 8 p.m. EST to NBC-TV and streaming the games on-line. Here is a link to a schedule, to background stories and to other links.

http://www.nbcolympics.com

For a complete schedule of events, check out:

http://www.sochi2014.com

And tonight is the opening ceremonies, the March of Nations, where all the athletes will march into the main stadium.

Could it also be payback time for Russian superstar musicians?

The maestro of music for the Olympics is the ever busy, often unshaven and always critically acclaimed conductor Valery Gergiev (below), who guest conducts around the world and holds his own podium at the Mariinsky Theatre in St.Petersburg.

Gergievin NY

But ironically, the maestro is a very close friend and political supporter – as is superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below), who may or may not show up at Sochi — of the heavy-handed and thuggish Russian President, and former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin. (Below is a photo of Vladimir Putin pinning a state decoration on Valery Gergiev.)

vladimir putin decorates valery gergiev

The combination of the two V-Men — Vladimir and Valery — creates certain ironies and some wariness or even dissatisfaction.

Here is a link to a fine story about Gergiev, Putin and the Olympics that aired in NPR. It also has links to some music.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/02/03/271168650/valery-gergiev-the-powerful-and-polarizing-maestro

And The New York Times has also published a story about Gergiev that focuses on his role as an ambassador and defender of Russian culture’s rebirth under Putin, whom Gergiev endorsed in the last presidential election (both are below), despite the foreign political fallout.

Valery Gergiev and Putin

So, will Anna Netrebko (seen below in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin”), who also endorsed Putin, show up to sing?

Met Eugene Onegin Anna Netrebko face

Will some of the famous ballet dancers from the famed but beleaguered Bolshoi company in Moscow also perform?

Tune in and see.

But while we wait for the Winter Olympics to reveal themselves and for their many cultural contradictions to surface — and to help warm you up in this cold, cold Midwest winter -– here is some of the best music ever composed for the Olympics or sports events: A YouTube video of Milwaukee-born composer Michel Torke’s “Javelin” written for the 1996 Summer Olympics Games in Atlanta, Georgia:

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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra sells out Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony tomorrow. Critic Greg Hettmansberger weighs in on the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. And NPR provides a terrific comprehensive look at the life and career of the late Italian conductor Claudio Abbado.

January 25, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

FIRST, SOME LOCAL NEWS:

1. The Madison Symphony Orchestra has scored a SOLD-OUT HOUSE with its inaugural “Beyond the Score” performance of the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak (below) this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center. The official word comes from MSO marketing director Teri Venker.

That sellout –- the first in a while for the MSO, I think — bodes well for future success and repeat performances of the “Beyond the Score” format applied to different symphonic works.

Dvorak sepia photo

Here are two other links to posts I did about the concert.

The first post describes what happens during the multi-media “Beyond the Score” format that was pioneered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-will-unveil-its-first-beyond-the-score-multi-media-performance-of-antonin-dvoraks-popular-symphony-no-9-fro/

The second link is to a Q&A with MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) who discusses how the “Beyond the Score” format came about and how likely it is that future such concerts will be programmed by the MSO:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/classical-music-conductor-john-demain-takes-listeners-behind-the-scenes-of-the-madison-symphony-orchestras-inaugural-beyond-the-score-concert-of-dvoraks-popular/

John DeMain full face by Prasad

All in all, The Ear is impressed with what seems a smart marketing move that will benefit the MSO (below), but will also attract new listeners and younger, inexperienced audiences. As for seasoned, symphony loyalists, the multi-media format sounds as if it will deepen anyone’s appreciation of the iconic work — or so DeMain promises.

But WHAT DO YOU THINK? Leave a comment that tells The Ear and the MSO.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

2. A week ago Friday, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top), under the baton of music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, (below bottom) turned in a superb performance as it opened the second half of the current season. I offered a review of my own and linked to a review by John W. Barker of Isthmus.

WCO lobby

andrewsewell

Here are links to those reviews:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/classical-music-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-shows-its-impressive-mastery-of-many-musical-styles-in-a-concert-of-mozart-castelnuovo-tesdeco-and-bruckner-that-marks-again-just-how-superb-its-music/

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41864

But unfortunately, I overlooked another very positive and very perceptive review by Madison Magazine’s experienced classical music blogger Greg Hettmansberger (below top). Here is his review of the WCO with its guest guitar soloist Ana Vidovic (below bottom) and its program of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Anton Bruckner.

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/January-2014/Wisconsin-Chamber-Orchestra-Goes-Big-Small-and-Just-Right/

greg hettmansberger mug

Ana Vidivic

Finally, as you may have already heard, Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below) died this past week at the age of 80.

Earlier, I provided some links to stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Here they are.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/arts/music/claudio-abbado-italian-conductor-dies-at-80.html?_r=1

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/claudio-abbado-age-italian-conductor-who-led-european-orchestras-into-modern-era/2014/01/20/d23c267c-30f7-11e3-8627-c5d7de0a046b_story.html

Claudio Abbado

But the best summary of Claudio Abbado’s career – which also included recommended recordings and even sounds clips from some of those recordings (include a symphony by Gustav Mahler and an opera  by Giacchino Rossini – came later, as it often does, on NPR’s outstanding classical blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

Here is a link that you how Abbado developed from a young man into a world-class star complete with compelling professional and personal information, including testimonials from musicians who loved performing under his direction of this refreshingly and even surprisingly humble and self-effacing master maestro.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/21/264506409/tracing-the-career-of-claudio-abbado-a-consummate-conductor

And here – to mark his passing — is Claudio Abbado’s memorial video on YouTube. He is conducting the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is the lovely, bittersweet and pensive Adagietto movement from Mahler’s Symphony no. 5, the same piece of music that was memorably used as the soundtrack to the film of Thomas Mann’s famous novella “Death in Venice.”

If you have a favorite Abbado performance – operatic or symphonic – leave a comment to direct the rest of us:

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Classical music: Critic John W. Barker says Eliza’s Toyes impressively surveyed early British music while exploring the religious shift from Latin Catholicism to English Anglicanism. Plus, acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado dies at 80.

January 21, 2014
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NEWS: As you have probably heard by now, the acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below) has died at 80. Here are links to some stories about this maestro who had such a varied and prolific career:

The New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/arts/music/claudio-abbado-italian-conductor-dies-at-80.html?_r=0

The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/claudio-abbado-age-italian-conductor-who-led-european-orchestras-into-modern-era/2014/01/20/d23c267c-30f7-11e3-8627-c5d7de0a046b_story.html

Claudio Abbado

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 hosts 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

It was a great pity that no more than 25 people turned out at the Gates of Heaven on Sunday afternoon for the latest program offered by Jerry Hui’s early-music group, Eliza’s Toyes (below, inside Gates of Heaven).

His program this time was a post-Christmas survey of English sacred music. The range of material ran from late-Medieval three-voice pieces through composers of the early 17th century, adding up to 13 selections in all.

Toyes in Gates - 2

This is the kind of music most regularly performed by a choir of some or another size, sometimes of mixed voices, sometimes in the British-cathedral style of all-male voices, with boys on the upper parts.

Hui (below) fielded a consort of six singers (three female, three male), so that each item was sung one singer per part — with a couple cases of a little doubling, I believe. While the result favored clarity against sonority, it must be said that, in certain full-textured items, some very lovely sonority was achieved.

Jerry Hui

My principal reservation was that the ordering of the program seemed aimed at a smooth variety of sounds, rather than at a demonstration of the momentous changes in English sacred composition. The key to those changes was the liturgical shift in the Anglican Reformation from motets setting traditional Latin texts to the new anthems with English texts.

The shift could be noted in the dominant composer of the program, the great William Byrd (1540-1623, below), represented by two Latin motets, and then an English anthem. “Sing joyfully”, which served as the dazzling finale (see the YouTube video at the bottom).

William Byrd

Byrd’s teacher, and then partner, Thomas Tallis (below), likewise spanned the reforming shifts, but was heard in one Latin motet, “O scrum convivium”, and a gorgeously harmonized Latin hymn, “O nata lux de lumina”. Earliest in the pre-Reformation lineup was Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), whose five-voice setting of the Magnificat was in the traditional alternatim setting (odd-numbered verses of the canticle sung in chant, the even-numbered ones set polyphonically).

Thomas Tallis

On the other hand, a poignant victim of the Reformation was Peter Philips (1560-1628, below), a staunch Roman Catholic who fled his homeland for a successful career in Catholic music on the Continent. His five-voice “O beatum et sacrosanctum Deum” made a noble closer to the first part of the program.

Peter Philips

As for the Anglican, English-language composers, besides the case of Byrd, and besides the 15th-century para-liturgal songs, we had a rousing anthem by Christopher Tye (1505-1573, below top), “A sound of angels,” and, finally, a six-voice secular piece, “Music divine”, by the last survivor of the great era of Tudor music, Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656, below bottom).

christopher tye bw small

Thomas Tompkins

The six singers who have been making up Eliza’s Toyes have settled into a beautifully balanced and smooth ensemble. They listen to, and sing in sync with, each other. There is nothing else like them, as a continuing performing group for early sacred ensemble music in Madison. Although he is a UW-Madison graduate who now teaches at University of Wisconsin- Stout, Hui has kept up his association with the group, convinced of its need for continuity.

It is one more of those blessings that make Madison’s musical life so wonderfully rich!

 

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Classical music: The Minnesota Orchestra will play again – at last — because the long lockout is over. Is this good news in general for classical music? New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini sees optimism amid crises as a lesson of the past year.

January 17, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

By now you have probably heard the good news:

The lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra (below, playing with its Grammy-nominated conductor Osmo Vanska who has resigned) is over. It was ended by an agreement, long sought after and long disputed, between the musicians and the administration.

Minnesota Orchestra with Osmo Vanska

Here are several stories about the ending of the unfortunate situation that even led the superb  and acclaimed conductor Osmo Vanska to resign. (You can hear Osmo Vanska’s farewell speech in a YouTube video at the bottom,  in which he plays with the musicians an performs the “Valse Triste” or Sad Waltz of his fellow Finn Jean Sibelius as a final encore. The sadness of him, the musicians, the audience and the music is palpable.)

The first is a fine summary story from NPR’s outstanding blog “Deceptive Cadence”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/01/15/262717374/strike-up-the-band-minnesota-orchestra-lockout-ends

And here is a reaction story from NPR about what’s next that “All Things Considered“:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/15/262788971/the-minnesota-orchestras-labor-dispute-is-over-whats-next

Here is a story from The New York Times about the same situation followed by another summary:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/15/us/minnesota-orchestra-contract-ends-long-lockout.html?_r=0

http://www.redwoodtimes.com/nationandworldnews/ci_24917631/how-minnesota-became-scene-classical-music-showdown

Of course, the Minnesota Orchestra is just one of several American orchestras that faced serious financial crises. You may recall that last year saw problems for other orchestras, and the New York City Opera (below, with its final production, the world premiere of “Anna Nicole”) even went bankrupt.

anna nicole opera

Yet one longtime and perceptive observer of the classical scene – New York Times senior critic Anthony Tommasini – see good news amid the rules and dire predictions.

Here is a column he wrote recently about “The Lessons of 2013” for classical music. In his column he doesn’t downplay the many difficulties, which mostly concern finances and smaller, aging audiences. But he does suggest that if you take a longer view, the future of classical music doesn’t look quite so bleak or dismal.

Read it and see what you think and whether you agree. Then tell The Ear by sending in your remarks in the COMMENT section of this blog:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/09/arts/music/lessons-in-a-year-of-crises.html?_r=0

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Classical music: How do the flu and classical music mix? What can be done now that the flu season is peaking here and in the concert hall. How should musicians and presenters deal with a sick and coughing audience?

January 15, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As I remarked in blog posts of the past three days, the winter intermission is coming to an end with a recital at Arbco housing by the Madison-based Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Kitt Reuter-Foss, with a concert this coming Friday by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and with performances of Medieval and Renaissance English music by Eliza’s Toyes on Saturday and Sunday .

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/classical-music-madison-and-metropolitan-opera-mezzo-kitt-reuter-foss-will-perform-a-song-journey-next-saturday-to-benefit-the-piano-restoration-at-arboretum-cohousing/

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/classical-music-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-kicks-off-the-second-half-of-this-concert-season-with-a-performance-this-friday-night-of-orchestral-music-by-mozart-and-bruckner-and-a-guitar-concerto/

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/classical-music-the-early-music-group-elizas-toyes-celebrates-winter-with-medieval-and-renaissance-british-vocal-music/

So it is undeniable: The second half of the concert season is picking up.

So, unfortunately, is the flu season, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Here is a link to a report on NBC-TV about how many states gave started to report serious cases of flu, including deaths, in the majority of states. And there is no sign of a let up. In fact, predictions are for it to get worse — including right here in Wisconsin.

http://www.nbc-2.com/story/24417052/flu-season-may-be-heading-toward-peak#.UtLEoXmKMds

So when you add in a major spike in flu cases to public events held in public spaces — like, say, concerts – you have a volatile and even dangerous risky mix.

BDDS Playhouse audience

Even in healthy times, The Ear finds it bad enough to sit next or near a chronic cougher — whether from allergies, sinus problems or illness — who simply will not leave the hall to hack but prefers instead to fight it out in the hall and ruin much of the music for others.

Coughers at concerts

But right now those same people are not just annoying. They pose public health risks.

One obvious solution is for people who feel ill to stay home. PLEASE. But that may be hard to do when you pay out big money for tickets and don’t want to lose out on the investment or the beauty of the music.

Some presenters offer free cough drops, which some audience members love to unwrap during the slow movement. But a lot of listeners apparently don’t avail themselves of them — or of taking cough medicine before the concert and during intermission.

Perhaps the YouTube video at the bottom about how to use how you breathe to stop coughing can help.

It might also be good if more performing arts organizations offered rebates or switches on tickets for people who need to cancel to protect their own health and the health of others – including, let us not forget, the musicians or performers themselves.

I wonder how realistic that solution is and how many presenters do offer or would offer such a deal for th eska elf public health. If they don’t, they should.

Recently, The New York Times ran a combined story-column, part humorous and self-deprecating and part serious, by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim about how musicians deal with coughing. Her examples included famous conductors (such as Michael Tilson Thomas, below top, when he conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and instrumentalists (including pianist Andras Schiff, below bottom in a photo by Robert Torres, when he performed a monster concert of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “Goldberg” Variations and Ludwig van Beethoven‘s “Diabelli” Variations back-to-back in Boston and then went on to play an encore) dealt with coughers in the audience.

Michael Tilson Thomas Hiroyuki Ito for NY TImes

Andras Schiff. Credit Robert Torres

I remember a concert years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater during which pianist Alfred Brendel suddenly stopped playing and chastised the audience for spoiling his music with coughing and noise. He then started over again and – miracle of miracles – the audience was indeed quieter.

If many coughers can keep quiet when asked, why can’t they do so on their own? Silence is part of good concert etiquette.

Anyway here is the amusing yet totally serious Times story about how the performers themselves deal with coughing audiences:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/01/arts/music/maestro-at-work-hold-that-cough.html

Is there more than can be done?

One world-famous musician thinks so.

And so does The Ear.

Tune in tomorrow.

 

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