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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.)
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.)
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.)
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:
Here is a fine, comprehensive profile by The New York Times:
Here is a review of the concert in Carnegie Hall that appeared in the New York Times:
Plus here is a review of the same program done earlier on the West Coast by The Los Angles Times:
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.
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.
By Jacob Stockinger
Oscar would no doubt say that movie soundtracks deserve special attention and serious consideration as art music.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Here is an overview of several nominees, including William Butler (below) of Arcade Fire, for Best Score:
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:
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.
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.
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.
“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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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”:
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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.
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:
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.
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.
By Jacob Stockinger
The 40-year-old German heart-throb tenor from Munich, Jonas Kaufmann is on a roll.
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.
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.
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).
Well, what can you say such success?
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:
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.
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.
For a complete schedule of events, check out:
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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,
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:
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.
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.
Here are links to those reviews:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
The Washington Post:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.)
And here is a reaction story from NPR about what’s next that “All Things Considered“:
Here is a story from The New York Times about the same situation followed by another summary:
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.
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: