The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Famed child prodigy conductor Lorin Maazel has died at age 84. To the end, he was surrounded by controversy and contradiction.

July 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Sunday. as you may have already heard, the distinguished conductor Lorin Maazel (below, in a photo by AFP-Getty Images) died at his summer festival grounds and home in Virginia from complications of pneumonia. He was 84. Many expected him to live much longer — since conducting is such aerobic exercise, since extreme longevity ran in his family, since  conductors are a very long-lived group as a rule. 

lorin maazel AFP Getty Images

Here is a specially posted tribute video, with Maazel conducting music by Gustav Mahler — the famed Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5:

I read a lot about outstanding and searing performances by Maazel, who had a truly international career, but never heard any first-hand.

I also read a lot about his mechanical and uninspired approach to conducting, despite his mastery of “stick technique” with the baton. I never heard that in person either.

When I did hear him, usually conducting the New York Philharmonic on the PBS program “Live From Lincoln Center” or the Vienna Philharmonic  “New Year’s Day in Vienna,” he seemed perfectly competent and acceptable, if never outstandingly original or impressive or inspired. (You can hear him conduct in Seoul, Korea, the dramatic and moving “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Born in France, Maazel as a major talent who started as a violin prodigy and then went on to conducting major orchestras before he reached the age of 10. Later, he also turned to opera, including appearances at the Metropolitan Opera. And he often talked about how lucky he had been to have parents who did not exploit his talent during childhood. And he was full of forward-looking plans to the end.

Maazel’s death was all over the media -– including media that don’t normally care to give much coverage to the arts, especially to the current arts and to living artists. Perhaps the fact that he made history by taking the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang, North Korea, where he also performed our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” to applause, had something to do with it.

Nonetheless, here are some stories to help you catch up:

Here is a story, with sound clips and a fine appreciation, from the classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/13/331148634/conductor-lorin-maazel-who-brought-america-to-the-podium-dies

Here is an exhaustive and comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/arts/music/lorin-maazel-brilliant-intense-and-enigmatic-conductor-dies-at-84.html?_r=0

Here is a story from the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/conductor-lorin-maazel-dies-at-84-1405273033

Here is a fine memorial from The Washington Post critic Anne Midgette:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/style/wp/2014/07/13/lorin-maazel-1930-2014/

Here is a fine summing up by The New Yorker magazine of the contradictions and controversies that surrounded Maazel’s conducting. I love the headline – “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” which is a timely reminder of the balance needed between intellectualism and emotional directness, the latter of which is, for The Ear, the heart of making music:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2014/07/lorin-maazel-the-man-who-knew-too-much.html

Did you hear Lorin Maazel?

Do you have a favorite memorable performance or recording by him?

A least favorite one?

What do YOU think of Lorin Maazel?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The weeklong Madison Early Music Festival gets more national attention as it marks 15 years. The festival kicks off on Saturday and focuses on Italian early music and art from 1300 to 1600. Part 1 of 2.

July 7, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Can it really be 15 years already?

The Madison Early Music Festival began as a dream and an experiment. But it has endured, survived and prospered. This summer it marks its 15th anniversary with a focus on Italian music from 1300 to 1600. The theme is called “Italia Mia.”

memf banner 2014

This year’s installment starts on this coming Saturday, July 12, and runs through the following Saturday, July 19. It features many of the traditional things such as workshops, lectures and public concerts. But it also features new out-of-town groups and only the second annual Handel Aria Competition, which has been enhanced.

Venues are perhaps the biggest challenge this year, given the upgrading of Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Here is a link to the festival’s home website for information about tickets, events, programs and performers:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

To get things straight, and to provide both some history and a larger context, The Ear asked baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe -– who are the co-artistic directors of the Madison Early Music Festival -– to do an email Q&A for this blog.

They graciously agreed, and the results will be posted in two parts, today and tomorrow.

Handel arias Paul and Cheryl Rowe

How successful is this year’s festival compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, guest performers, ticket sales, media interest, etc.? This is the 15th anniversary of MEMF. After 15 years, is MEMF clearly established now nationally or even internationally?

Cheryl: We have been getting more attention in the national press, and we continue to feature ensembles and artists from Europe and Canada. This year the Toronto Consort — seen below and heard at the bottom in a YouTube video of Italian music and art from the period that MEMF will cover — will open the festival with their program “The Da Vinci Codex,” which features Italian Music from the musical world of Leonardo Da Vinci.

Toronto Consort

Leonardo da Vinci

In May, the blog Deceptive Cadence from NPR Classical mentioned MEMF 2014 as a “Can’t Miss Classical Music Festivals” in the Midwest region.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/01/307968750/10-cant-miss-classical-music-festivals.

MEMF was again the only Wisconsin music festival listed on May 14, 2014 in the The New York Times story “Birds Aren’t The Only Music Amid Nature.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/arts/music/birds-arent-the-only-music-amid-nature.html

Besides the attention in the press, we are well-known in early music circles. Our performers and faculty are also hired by many well-established festivals, including the Berkeley Early Music Festival, Boston Early Music Festival (below), Amherst Early Music Festival, Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute and others.

Boston Early Music Festival boston early music festival overview hall

What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and guest performers?

Paul: This year we are adding two new intensive workshops that will run concurrently with MEMF. One is focused on wind instruments that will form a loud band and be led by Robert Wiemken (below top) of Pifarro.

There are eight people in the loud band intensive class who play sackbut, shawm, dulcien and other instruments (below bottom). The other is a Baroque opera workshop that will be led by Drew Minter, Christa Patton and me.

Bob Wiemken

MEMF 14 2013 Piffaro instruments

We will use music from the operas “Orfeo” and “The Coronation of Poppea” by Claudio Monteverdi (below) as source material to explore Baroque gesture and dance as well as ornamentation and stylistic singing. We have 15 singers who will be taking this workshop. The two intensive classes will present an informal performance on Saturday afternoon, July 19, at 2 p.m.

monteverdi

Why was the topic of the Italian music 1300-1600 chosen for the early music festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?

Paul: We wanted to have a broader historical focus this year in order to include very early instruments and music as well as the larger format pieces that are a feature of the later Renaissance and early Baroque.

The most famous composer of this period is Claudio Monteverdi, but there are many others. Italy was really the hub of poetry and music for all of Western culture during the time period we are considering. The poetry of Petrarch (below) will provide the focus for the All-Festival Concert this year. This is the era of Boccaccio and Dante as well as Petrarch.

francesco petrarca or petrarch

Tomorrow: What makes early music in Italy different?  What will the All-Festival Concert next Saturday night be like? What is new about the second annual Handel Aria Competition and the new FREE noontime lectures?

 

 


Classical music: Oh say, Can You See Common Sense? On Independence Day -– the Fourth of July -– let us recall how the national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” has evolved. Standards of social justice and definitions of independence should also do so.

July 4, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today –- July 4, 2014 — is Independence Day in the United States.

TETRRF-00024113-001

We will celebrate with food, drink and fireworks as well as parades and social events.

But make no mistake: Our celebrations have changed, necessarily, with history.

Despite what some misdirected U.S. Supreme Court justices like Antonin Scalia (below top), Clarence Thomas and others think with their so-called “originalism,” we all live in history.

antonin scalia rants

Supreme Court 2010

The assumptions and interpretations of Originalism have been debunked by many scholarly professors who specialize in 18th-century American discourse and law, and whose research disproves those same assumptions and interpretations to be mistaken.

To The Ear, it is kind of like hearing the radically conservative activists of the Right Wing accuse leftists and liberals of being activist: Name-calling hypocrisy dressed up in new clothes.

Here is a link to an overview critique of Originalism, both the new and old kinds:

http://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/new-originalism-a-constitutional-scam

It amounts to this: Whether as individuals or a society, we all change through time.

And so justice and so does music.

The Ear recalls the movements, once fringe and now mainstream, that brought us period instrument and historically informed performances.

That is why we now hear such Baroque masters as Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and Antonio Vivaldi so differently.

It is also why we hear many other Baroque composers and early music masters that were ignored before.

That is why we now say, “The United States is,” while before the Civil War we said “The United States are.”

Usage evolves. It has to.

That is also why we hear and sing the country’s national anthem -– “The Star-Spangled Banner” -– differently today than we once did. (below is a first edition of the national anthem from the Clements Library at the University of Michigan.)

Star-Spangled Banner first edition Clements Library University fo Michigan

Here is a line to an extended story with more details about the historical evolution of our national anthem in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/arts/music/the-star-spangled-banner-has-changed-a-lot-in-200-years.html?_r=0

Have a Happy and Safe Fourth of July.

And here is the most popular version — with more than 7 million hits and many outrageous listener comments to read — of the national anthem that The Ear could find on YouTube:

 


Classical music: Longtime New York Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow retires to teach. The Ear remembers him from TV and sees why the media jumped on his leaving.

July 2, 2014
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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.

He is violinist Glenn Dicterow (below), the longtime concertmaster of  the world-class New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

glenn dicterow

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.

bernstein-new-york-city-nightlife-rmc-image-1001-bw

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:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/06/24/325176636/new-york-philharmonics-lead-fiddler-rests-his-bow

And here is a similar story, with lots of facts, including his incredible salary, from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/25/arts/music/glenn-dicterow-discusses-leaving-new-york-philharmonic.html?_r=0H

Here is the story that ran in the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/new-york-philharmonic-legend-nears-his-last-performance-1403313764

glenn dicterow 2

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.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/26/arts/music/glenn-dicterows-finale-with-the-philharmonic-is-beethoven.html

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.)

Franz Waxman

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:

 

 


Classical music: Conductor Julius Rudel, longtime director of the defunct New York City Opera, has died at 93.

June 29, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Julius Rudel (below, in a 2010 photo from The New York Times), the longtime artistic director of the now defunct New York City Opera, has died at 93.

Julius Rudel at home in 2010 NY Times

By all accounts, Rudel was a knowledgeable, impeccable and insightful musician, and a generous man and instructive role model. And that is how he comes across in an interview for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) you can listen to at the bottom in a YouTube video.

An unassuming man and a populist for the arts, Rudel, who was a native Austrian and a refugee from Adolf Hilter’s Nazi Germany at 17 in 1938, had the misfortune to outlive the opera company that he so nourished but which went bankrupt and defunct eight months ago.

He had a local tie in that, early on, he recognized and encouraged the talent of a young piano and conducting graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City who was also a student at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s famed Tanglewood Festival.

Julius Rudel middle age conducting NPR

That man was John DeMain (below), who is the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera. Before coming to Madison, DeMain led the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Huston Grand Opera.

Here is a link to the story where John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) talked briefly about his link and debt to Rudel.

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/classical-music-madison-symphony-orchestra-and-madison-opera-conductor-john-demain-talks-about-the-role-of-the-piano-in-his-career-and-his-upcoming-performances-this-weekend-of-robert-and-clara-schum/

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Rudel lived a long and productive life, filled with nurturing many famous opera singers, including Beverly Sills who is seen below, at left, in 1976 talking to Rudel) and Placido Domingo, and with guest stints around the world conducting all kinds of music.

new york city opera in 1976 soprano Beverly Sills, stage director Sarah Caldwell and then-director Julius Rudel

Here is a great story from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/06/26/325809149/julius-rudel-longtime-director-of-new-york-city-opera-dies-at-93

And here is an impressively comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/arts/music/julius-rudel-longtime-city-opera-impresario-dies-at-93.html?_r=0

And here is the NEA interview on YouTube:

 


Classical music: The Ear sees blackmail, censorship, self-censorship and moral weakness –- NOT “compromise” – in the Metropolitan Opera’s decision to cancel the “Live in HD” broadcast of John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer” next fall.

June 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

It sure doesn’t seem like the Metropolitan Opera (below) could or should be the hero in this opera. More like it plays the role of the bad guy, the villain.

Met from stage over pit

Or is it really more of a soap opera?

In case you haven’t been following the news, the general director of the Metropolitan Opera Peter Gelb has caved in to pressure from Israeli lobbies and agreed to cancel the scheduled “Live in HD” broadcast of the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” by the acclaimed contemporary American composer John Adams (below and at bottom in a YouTube video with the stage director of the Met’s production.)

John Adams

 The Ear finds that action thoroughly reprehensible.

It seems the pro-Israeli lobby thinks the opera is anti-Semitic and too kind in the way it treats the four Palestinian terrorists — from the Palestine Liberation Organizations — who in 1985 took over the luxury cruise ship the Achille Lauro and killed the disabled Jewish passenger Leon Klingerhoffer in his wheelchair and then threw him overboard.

Well, I want to tell the head honchos at the famed Met: Don’t do my thinking about terrorism and Mideast peace for me. Just give me the facts and let me make up my own mind.

I want to see art, not propaganda, which is apparently what some pro-Israeli activists think would be good for the rest of us. I think I can see tragedy where there is tragedy, whether it is Jewish or Arab tragedy, Israeli or Palestinian tragedy. Just listen to the “Night Chorus” (below) and watch the videos that go with it:

This whole affair sound more than a little to my mind like a protester who would censor William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” or Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” in the name of a higher morality.

I say: Let us see the opera –- it is one of next season’s “Live in HD” satellite broadcasts that I would like most to attend -– and then decide for ourselves.

Stop condescending to us, stop underestimating us.

Now, one suspects that the poor finances of the Met would help to explain a lot of the shameful action. And Gelb admits that donors didn’t pressure him but that groups connected to donors did.

So here is the compromise: There will be no protesting at the actual opera production in New York City –- where tickets can run hundreds of dollars and seating is limited and most of the world cannot and will not see it — and no boycotting or withdrawing of financial support if the Met doesn’t broadcast it worldwide to a much larger audience.

I think I smell blackmail.

What do you smell?

I know I smell censorship on the part of the protesters and self-censorship of the part of the famed opera company’s administrators who caved in to their demands.

“The Death of Klinghoffer” would seem to build on the other news-based or reality-based operas of John Adams that the Met has staged and then broadcast so successfully by the Met: “Nixon in China” (below) about President Richard Nixon meeting Chairman Mao; and “Doctor Atomic,” about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the building of the first atomic bomb.

DeMainNixon Orth2

Here is a line to the story in The New York Times about the original decision:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/18/arts/music/met-opera-cancels-telecast-of-klinghoffer.html?_r=0

And here is a link to reaction from the composer John Adams, who counters objections and make convincing points:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/arts/music/klinghoffer-composer-responds-to-mets-decision.html

Here is a link to a fine critique from the longtime senior music critic for The New York Times Anthony Tommasini:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/arts/music/what-the-death-of-klinghoffer-could-have-accomplished.html

Here a link to a fine editorial that appeared in The Boston Globe:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2014/06/21/met-opera-embarrasses-itself-and-cheats-its-audience-cancelling-klinghoffer-broadcast/2zsWa83uXtcIsFU5eQd0nI/story.html

And here is another great editorial, this one from The New York Times, which is located in a city known for its large Jewish population and, one presumes, its large body of Jewish subscribers:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/opinion/the-metropolitan-operas-backward-move.html

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Acclaimed Spanish conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos dies at 80 of cancer.

June 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed Spanish conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos died on Wednesday. He was 80, and the cause of death was cancer that caused him to announce his retirement just a week ago. (He is seen below conducting The New York Philharmonic in a photo by Richard Termine of The New York Times.)

Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos NY PHil CR Richard Termine

The Ear gives credit to Wisconsin Public Radio and afternoon radio host Lori Skelton (below top), who, it seems, probably made a quick programming change and played a recording by him and the legendary Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha (below bottom, 1923-2009) of Manuel de Falla’s lushly quiet piano concerto-like tone poem “Nights in the Garden of Spain.”

Lori Skelton in studio

Alicia de Larrocha BIG at piano

It is refreshing to see arts events treated as newsy and important as, say, politics, sports and economics.

Plus, music by Manuel de Falla (below top) was a specialty of the conductor, as was other Spanish music, including works by Isaac Albeniz (below bottom). But he was also known for his interpretations of standard repertory, and led orchestras around the world to popular and critical acclaim. He also recorded many standard works for many different labels.

manuel de falla

Isaac Albéniz 1901

Here is a link to the background story and obituary on the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog at NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/06/11/320927999/rafael-fr-hbeck-de-burgos-versatile-spanish-conductor-dies-at-80

And here is a link to the obituary in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/12/arts/music/rafael-fruhbeck-80-dies-made-the-world-a-podium.html?_r=0

And here is a YouTube video in which the conductor discusses his family and personal history and in which you can hear him conduct music from Franz Schubert ‘s Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” and Manuel de Fall’s “La vida breve.”


Classical music: When the proverbial Fat Lady sings, is it rude and sexist to call her “fat”? The opera world continues to weigh in on critics who attacked a female mezzo for being too overweight.

June 8, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps you already know the simple facts of the controversy:

A number of critics lambasted a relatively unknown Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught (below top) when she recently sang the role of the young, handsome and androgynous Octavian (below bottom on the left) in Richard Strauss’ extraordinarily popular and moving operaDer Rosenkavalier.”

tara erraught

tara erraught (left) as octavian

All agreed that she sang gorgeously. But being overweight, she was also criticized for short-changing the believability of the theatrical side of the opera. One critic who lauded her singing also described her as a “chubby bundle of puppy fat.”

True, The Ear can recall when superstar tenor Luciano Pavarotti (below) was criticized for being way too heavy — indeed, obese and not just overweight — and lumberingly awkward to play certain romantic leads with any creditability. But, oh, that voice!

Luciano Pavarotti

But these new critical remarks seem to cross those boundaries and veer off into gratuitous meanness and rudeness that had more than a smack of sexism and bias about them. Unless you are a top female diva, maybe women do indeed remain second-rate citizens of the opera world.

PX*2527755

Anyway, here are links to three stories that provide good summaries of the conflict and the kerfuffle.

Be sure to read the many reader and listener comments that greeted them. They give you a feeling for the state of the art when it comes to the public’s changing standards of physical fitness for playing the dramatic or theatrical sides of opera roles.

The first is the story that NPR aired on its excellent classical music blogDeceptive Cadence”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/20/314007632/in-2014-the-classical-world-still-cant-stop-fat-shaming-women

Then other voices in other media weighed in.

Here are responses from The New York Times chief critic Anthony Tommasini (below top) and his colleague Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim (below bottom):

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/23/arts/music/new-york-times-critics-respond-to-glyndebourne-fat-reviews.html?_r=0

tommasini-190

Corinna da Fonseco-Wollheim

And here is another piece done by NPR that provides a kind of post-mortem following the two weeks of scandal and reactions:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/06/03/318454668/what-weeks-of-debate-have-shown-us-about-women-in-classical-music

Plus in all fairness, you should also listen to the intelligence, charm and vivacious energy — to say nothing of her lovely voice in singing Rossini — that Tara Erraught projects in a Lincoln Center “spotlight” profile you will at the bottom in a YouTube video.

What do you think of the criticism of her size and weight?

Have TV and films made us more literal in what we expect in the way of realistic portrayals of characters in the theatrical side of opera versus the musical side?

If you find the critical remarks about physical weight inappropriate, how and why do you think so? Do you find them sexist or genuinely biased?

And am I the only person who thinks Tara Erraught — who I am sure felt hurt by the deeply personal nature of the criticism —  might well have the last laugh from all the publicity that has brought her to the world’s attention?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Classical music: Here are some suggestions for summer music festivals from NPR, the BBC and The New York Times that may help you plan your summer vacation.

June 5, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear admits it: He is more of an armchair traveler than a true explorer of the globe and its many cultures and cultural events.

But that approach has its compensations. At least it gives me a certain satisfaction that my carbon footprint is smaller than many “eco-friendly” people and “greens” who say they worry about global warming and climate change but think nothing of hopping on a jet to travel thousands of miles.

Jumbo jet taking off

But if I were to go on big trips, I might well plan some of them around the many wonderful classical music festivals that have sprung up in the area, the regional, the nation and the world.

Here is a link to 10 “can’t miss” classical music festivals. They include the always intriguing Bard Festival (below) that takes place near New York City on the Hudson River and in a concert hall (below) designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry. Here is a link to the list on the terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/01/307968750/10-cant-miss-classical-music-festivals

Bard Music Festival Frank Gehry Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts hall

The New York Times has a more international list that includes the Salzburg Festival (below top) in Austria and the self-consciously hip Bach Festival (below bottom and at the bottom in a YouTube video) in Leipzig, Germany:

Salzburg Festival outdoors

Bach Festival in Leipzig 2013

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/23/arts/international/a-summer-feast-of-classical-music.html?_r=0

The list of festivals from the BBC Music Magazine is understandably heavy on festivals in the United Kingdom:

http://www.classical-music.com/festival-guide-2014

The Ear also found it helpful to Google “2014 summer classical music festivals.” He found quite a few festivals that were not listed in the other guides.

Of course, you still have to pay attention to the local media for word of local music festivals. This month, for example, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below) kicks off its annual three-weekend season of chamber music on Friday, June 13.

BDDS Haydn symphony 85 La Reine

In July, to offer another example, the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) will take place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. This year it is devoted to Italian music from 1300 to 1600, and will take place July 12-19. MEMF (below) made the New York Times listing last year, if I remember correctly, but not this year.

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

MEMF 2012 left stage

And then in late August the annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which takes place in a renovated barn (below), will happen. The 2014 season is the 25th anniversary season. Specific programs of composers and works are not listed, although performers and concert titles or themes are given. The site says to check back soon for details:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

TokenCreekbarn interior

 

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Classical music: Why didn’t Beverly Taylor get to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Mozart’s Requiem last weekend and fill in for maestro John DeMain? Was it sexism or something more innocent? You can hear Taylor tonight conduct the University of Wisconsin Concert Choir and the UW Chamber Orchestra in J.S. Bach’s “St. John Passion” and then on Saturday night, April 26, when she conducts the UW Choral Union in Rachmaninoff’s a cappella “Vespers.”

April 12, 2014
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There I was last Sunday afternoon, sitting in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, deeply engaged in and enjoying Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s glorious and poignant Requiem, incomplete as the original score is.

Now, I have my own personal reasons why the performance and music proved especially moving to me.

But suffice it to say that during the outstanding performance that was turned in by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top), the Madison Symphony Chorus (below bottom, in a photo by Greg Anderson), guest soloists including UW graduate soprano Emily Birsan and guest conductor Julian Wachner, from the famed Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City, I kept wondering:

Why isn’t Beverly Taylor conducting this program?

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

You may recall that Beverly Taylor has headed the choral department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music for 19 years. Before that, she was at Harvard. Plus, she regularly tours and does guest stints.

And if you are like The Ear, Beverly Taylor (below) has probably brought you more memorable moments of great choral music than any other musician in town since Robert Fountain, especially through her almost two decades at the UW-Madison during which she has directed the main community and campus group, the UW Choral Union, as well as various other UW groups, including the Concert Choir.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

She has also conducted world premieres and Midwest premieres, and she has worked with some pretty big names, singers and instrumentalists (cellist Matt Haimovitz) as well as composers such as Robert Kyr (below top) and John Harbison (below bottom).

robert kyr

JohnHarbisonatpiano

So then I started thinking:

When have I heard Beverly Taylor conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra -– of which she is the assistant conductor, the same kind of post that launched the meteoric career of Leonard Bernstein (below) when he was the assistant conductor to Bruno Walter at the New York Philharmonic? Assistants often get to fill in when the principal conductor is ill or out-of-town. Same thing happened to assistant conductor Seiji Ozawa when Bernstein was ill disposed.

bernstein-new-york-city-nightlife-rmc-image-1001-bw

Perhaps memory fails me, but I could not think of a single time when I heard Taylor conduct the MSO in a regular season subscription concert.

Can it be true that she is good enough to keep her post, but not good enough to perform its duties when the occasion arises. And if it is true, is it right? Would that happen to a man?

Now, it is true that Taylor’s many duties include preparing the MSO Chorus. And she performed that important duty in a fine manner for the Mozart Requiem, which was acknowledged both in critics’ reviews and in the loud applause when she came on stage to take a bow. One suspects she herself has conducted Mozart’s Requiem several times in her long career.

Not that guest conductor Julian Wachner (below top) was in any way a failure or proved unsatisfactory. He conducted just fine, even if the program was somewhat odd because it opened with a single Slavonic Dance by Antonin Dvorak, which is usually an encore instead of a curtain-raiser; and because it featured Joseph Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante” for Organ and Orchestra with guest organist, and a real real virtuoso, Nathan Laube (below).

The Jongen is a work that wasn’t performed here at all until the Overture Center opened with its custom-built, million-dollar Klais concert organ; and now we have heard it twice in 10 years. I think I can go another 10 or 20 years without hearing this second-tier work again. It has its moments, but they are not very many and they are not very long.

Julian Wachner conducting

Nathan Laube at console

Anyway, just to be sure, I checked the biographies of Julian Wacher and Beverly Taylor. I compared and decided that Taylor’s holds up just fine. See for yourself:

http://www.julianwachner.com/press/biography/

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/btaylor

http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/bio?faculty_id=54

You will notice that Taylor, who has a good training pedigree, is not only the chorus preparer for the MSO, but also the Assistant Conductor -– the one who helps the main maestro and music director John DeMain help balance the orchestra during rehearsals and who consults with him on other occasions for other reasons.

And Beverly Taylor has certainly conducted her share of major chorus and orchestra masterworks with the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra: Requiems by Giuseppe Verdi and Johannes Brahms as well as Mozart; Benjamin Britten’s “War” Requiem’; Antonin Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater”; and many other works including Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and B Minor Mass, Mozart’s great C Minor Mass, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” (below); Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” George Frideric Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” (at bottom in a YouTube video performance by the UW Choral Union under the baton of Taylor), Franz Joseph Haydn’s “ Lord Nelson” Mass, the “Symphony of Psalms” by Igor Stravinsky and other works by Gabriel Faure,  Anton Bruckner, Leonard Bernstein and Francis Poulenc.

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

In fact, you can hear Beverly Taylor in action TONIGHT at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, when she conducts the UW Concert Choir and the UW Chamber Orchestra in Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” (tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for seniors and students); and again on Saturday night, April 26, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, when she will conduct the UW Choral Union in the large-scale a cappella “Vespers” by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) for one performance only.  Admission for the “Vespers” is $10 for the public, free for seniors and students. 

rachmaninoffyoung

So I am again left with the question: Why didn’t Beverly Taylor get to fill in on the podium for MSO conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), who is also the artistic director of the Madison Opera and who was off in Virginia guest conducting Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen.” It sure seemed like her kind of program.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

I want to give the MSO the benefit of the doubt and not jump to the conclusion that Taylor didn’t get the podium to herself because of sexism, especially since the MSO has booked guest women conductors, including the Finnish firecracker Anu Tali (below top), and hired a woman concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below bottom), whom it has often highlighted as a soloist.

Anu Tali

Naha Greenholtz profile

But then I also remembered that the MSO used Taylor’s colleague at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, instrumental conductor James Smith, for this year’s “Final Forte” Bolz Young Artist Competition concert and broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.

And I also read a New York Times story about how even the great and high-profile Metropolitan Opera has had only three -– yes, count them, three -– women conductors  (below top is Anne Manson leading the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra) in its entire history, even during the time when women conductors like Marin Alsop (below middle) and JoAnn Falletta (below bottom) are much in the news. Here is a link to that story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/22/arts/music/female-conductors-search-for-equality-at-highest-level.html?_r=0

women conductors NY Tmes Anne Manson leading the Manitoba Chamber orchestra

Marin Alsop 2

conducting_joann_falletta

So what about our own hometown woman conductor? Maybe it really is a question of sexism, perhaps the unconscious or subconscious kind, or the kind that is camouflaged under other concerns like incompetence and low public appeal. Or maybe it is just a question of the orchestra’s history, habit and tradition in action.  Or perhaps it is something as simple and innocent as a schedule conflict or an overbooked schedule. But it looks suspiciously like the old vicious circle: She is inexperienced, so we can’t give her the experience.

I raise the question more than I claim to I have the answer. But I also want to know if I am alone in my curiosity and concern.

I want to hear what other readers and musicians in the area and elsewhere have to say, even though they may be reluctant to speak up using their real names to question or criticize such a major player as the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

But Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is a major player in Madison too. And she deserves a chance to move from behind-the-scenes and once in a while have her talents place in the public spotlight for the same organization that she has served so well for so long.

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot

Who knows, she might even have saved the MSO some money in booking fees and her local fans might even have helped filled some of the empty seats I saw last Sunday afternoon.

So The Ear says: Come on, MSO, give Beverly Taylor the chance she has earned to stand alone and conduct by herself after almost 20 years of being a team player. Please shine the spotlight on her when the chance next presents itself.

What do readers and audience members think?

Don’t be shy.

The Ear wants to hear.

 

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