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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Is there more than can be done?
One world-famous musician thinks so.
And so does The Ear.
Tune in tomorrow.
ALERT: Remember that today from 1 to 8 p.m. is Double Reed Day at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Hosts are UW professors oboist Kostas Tiliakos (below left) and bassoonist Marc Vallon (below right) Registration is $20 at 1-1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The event features master classes, exhibits, a dinner and free concerts of music for bassoon and oboe. Here is a link to a previous blog post about the day:
By Jacob Stockinger
One opera composer and musical titan – Mozart (below) – had it.
Another opera composer and musical titan – Richard Wagner (below) — did NOT have it.
So, how important is having perfect pitch to having a successful career in composing or performing music?
And is perfect pitch a question of chemicals and drugs as well as of genetics and heredity?
Here is a quick summary of perfect pitch with some names of classical musicians who are said to have possessed it.
And here is an even longer and more detailed background piece with more names, examples and anecdotes from The New York Times:
Being one of the 1-in-10,000 people who have perfect pitch can pose problems, as a YouTube video about best-selling hip-hop violinist Paul Dateh at the bottom discusses.
The question of perfect pitch was also raised by a recent story on NPR. A scientist challenged the notion that perfect pitch is genetic and made claims for a drug that can confer it.
But many readers remain dubious. They say the story not only contains inaccurate reporting and underreporting of the drug’s side effects, but also confuses perfect pitch with relative pitch.
Here is a link to the story. But sure to read the more than 100 reader comments, many of them very strong, about the story. And leave your own reaction there or even better in the COMMENT section of this blog.
REMINDER: Madison keyboardist Trevor Stephenson writes: “On this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 12, at 3 p.m., I’ll play a fortepiano house concert at my home at 5729 Forsythia Place on the west side of music ranging from Haydn to Bartok. (I know that Bartok is not usual fare on the fortepiano—but the other day I was reading through his Romanian Folk Dances at the fortepiano and was simply stunned by how energetic they sounded—since the style of these comes largely from cimbalom playing (Romanian hammer dulcimer, and the fortepiano is really a hammer dulcimer in a tuxedo). So this really makes perfect sense. The concert will also feature Mozart’s charming variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata, Op. 13, two Mazurkas by Chopin, and Haydn’s waggish Sonata No. 23 in F major. Sweet and savory treats, drinks, and will be wine served. Admission is $35. Reservations are required: email firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 238-6092.
By Jacob Stockinger
It happens once every four years.
The contestants for the unusual Gilmore competition,which is based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for classical pianists don’t even know that they are in the running. Unlike other major competitions like the Tchaikovsky, the Van Cliburn, the Arthur Rubinstein and the Chopin, in the Gilmore the anonymous judges follow an individual’s career over a period of time and then choose the “winner.”
This year’s winner in the polish pianist Rafal Blechacz (below), who has already won the Chopin competition at 20 – the first Polish pianist to do so in 20 years, he also took all the gold medals in individual categories and was so good that no second prize was awarded. He has recorded half a dozen acclaimed CDs of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Karol Szymanowski and Claude Debussy and of course Chopin for Deutsche Grammophon.
The year’s recipient has been all over the airwaves and the web, so here is everything you may want to know about Rafal Blechacz plus his inaugural concert as the winner that was streamed live Wednesday night by famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City, which then archived it for those of who missed the live event.
Here is the official announcement:
Here is an candid and cordial interview done by Tom Huizenga and NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that was broadcast on “All Things Considered”:
Here is the announcement in a story in The New York Times:
Archived video of his sold-out concert Wednesday at the Greene Space that can be found at WQXR. No one listed the program even though it was live-streamed – but instead announced the works AFTER they were played.
That is too teasing for my taste, whether it is done on WQXR or on Wisconsin Public Radio. Can we please have the pieces to be played up front before the performance and then again after the performance?
The program included a Chopin waltz (the soulful valse triste in A Minor, Op. 34, No 2) and the two Op. 40 Polonaises the “Military” Polonaise and one in C minor; the Largo slow movement Beethoven’s Sonata in D, Op. 10, No. 3, and the scherzo from the same composer’s Sonata in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2; the spirited first movement from Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 311; and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”
All works except the Debussy and the Chopin waltz are available on recordings. (But you can hear a YouTube video of Blechacz playing the three waltzes of Op. 64, including the famous “Minute” Waltz, at the bottom.)
In the broadcast, Dan Gustin, head of the Gilmore Foundation, speaks about the unusual award, as does the last 2010 winner Kirill Gerstein, who uses Skype. Here is the link:
Some of the Gilmore winners seem to disappoint and peter out. I keep expecting to hear big things from the very talented Argentinian Ingrid Fliter, for example, but no such luck. Rafal Blechacz, on the other hand, seems more likely to follow the path of Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who is perhaps the Gilmore winner who has maintained the highest profile and had the biggest career.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is another leftover from 2013 for consumption in the new year.
As you may recall, 2013 was the bicentennial of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi (below), the great and prolific Italian opera composer known especially for dramatic plots, often borrowed from Shakespeare, as well as outstanding vocal and instrumental music.
Right at the end of the year, with only a few days left on the calendar, the various critics for The New York Times did one of their compilation roundups of their favorite recordings of Verdi’s operatic and orchestral masterpieces in their favorite and formative performances, which often happened at the Metropolitan Opera. One of the favorites is Leontyne Price in “Aida,” which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.
Here is the list:
Perhaps you will find it helpful.
Perhaps you have your own favorite performances of favorite Verdi works.
The Ear would love to hear about them in the COMMENT section.
ALERT: Madison-born marimba player and composer Nathaniel Bartlett (below, in the setup he will use), who specializes in hi-tech, 3-D computer music and experimental new music, will return from Philadelphia to perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday in the Promenade Hall of the Overture Center. Tickets are $9-$16 at the Overture Center box office (608) 258-4141. The program includes the premiere of his own new work “In Balance”as well as “Vivre” by Allan Schindler, who teaches at the Eastman School of Music. Here is a link for information and tickets:
By Jacob Stockinger
Well, the calendar says it is 2014.
But there is still some unfinished business from 2013 to take care of.
This lag happens almost every year for a couple of reasons.
One is that so many local live music events take place around the holidays – including the concert by the Madison Bach Musicians (below) — and that is where I put my blog’s priority in previews and reviews.
Another reason is that so much blog space in December is justifiably devoted to holiday gift-giving guides that name the best recordings of the past year as chosen by NPR, The New York Times, The New Yorker magazine and other sources. (Box sets, below, were big this year.) I always hope they are helpful and that putting them in one place makes it easy to follow them.
In any case, here is an usual year-end offering that I don’t recall from previous years.
I would tweak it bit and put the memoir-essay by prize-winning pianist and blogger Jeremy Denk (below, in a photo from the MacArthur Foundation) about piano teachers and piano lessons in The New Yorker magazine – it was titled “Every Good Boy Does Fine” — higher up on the list than an Honorable mention. A lot of people take piano lessons — or music lessons some kind — and Denk’s essay was a terrific summing up of what goes into being a great student and a great teacher.
But there are a lot of good choices, and – best of all — the blog post provides links so you can read them all at once or parcel them out to, say, one a day.
Anyway, The Ear hopes you enjoy them. The range is terrific from an assessment of Van Cliburn’s early and formative career (below top) asit began while he was a young boy to a piece about Richard Wagner and an African-American opera singer by Alex Ross (below middle). Also included are a piece on orchestras in crisis and two essays about the centennial of composer Benjamin Britten (below bottom).
And if you have any other suggestions to recommend for reading, please leave a comment or send me an email.
Despite some severe problems, the state of Classical Music still seems pretty healthy or at leafs not hopeless, judging from this pieces. So here’s looking forward to 2014!
Cheers to you all!
By Jacob Stockinger
Just like the list of the past year’s best classical recordings (below) from The New York Times, which I posted yesterday and which has a link below, other media outlets are checking in with their lists.
And once again, The Ear has to ask: Why so late? There isn’t much time let to go shopping in local traditional brick-and-mortar stores or even on-line in time for Christmas.
Could it be that the late Thanksgiving threw everyone off?
Are maybe such lists just receiving a lower priority than they used to?
Were reviewers more interested in other things, like the expensive box sets that companies are pushing and they got review copies of?
Or have staff cuts at various newspapers added to the work load and made it more difficult to cover live events and also get out this seasonal features?
The Ear wonders and is waiting to hear some answers from others in the media or from his readers.
In the meantime, here are even some other lists and suggestions from various less well-known sources.
Use them for holiday gifts guide, for others or – at this point in time – for yourself if you receive some gift cards to, say, Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com or Archivmusic.com
Here is one from the San Jose Mercury-News:
And here is one from the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.
You will notice some crossovers and agreements with NPR. The San Jose Mercury News and The New York Times. That bodes well, it seems to me, and makes the choosing that much easier.
But, as I have said often before, add immensely to the holiday gift by including some tickets to live local concerts – don’t forget that the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering cut-rate tickets for the rest of the season through midnight of Christmas Eve — and the promise of your companionship and help or assistance.
For more information local concerts, here is a link:
Music, like other forms of art, is a pleasure to be shared and is social in its origins.
By Jacob Stockinger
Well, The Ear thinks it was a little late in coming –- especially since there are few local traditional brick-and-mortar record stories still in business and since buying on-line requires time for delivery.
But at the end of last week, the critics of The New York Times finally published their collective picks of the best classical recordings of the past year. (A sample of 20 is below in a photo by Tony Cenicola for the Times.)
It is a list I particularly trust since the critics of The New York Times -– Anthony Tommasini, James Oestreich, Vivien Schweitzer, Zachary Woolfe and Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim –- are among the best, the most discerning, experienced and reliable critics in the business. (At the bottom is a promotional video from Decca and posted on YouTube for one of the choices I especially agree with: violinist Leonidas Kavakos playing the complete violin sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven.)
Now, a cynic might think that an earlier publication about bigger and more expensive box sets (below), with dozens of CDs, came first because those sets are quite expensive and were probably provided free of cost or at a steep discount to reviewers. So perhaps the reviewers felt a duty to get that story into print over the pick of cheaper single and maybe double CDs -– kind of like the way legislators respond to lobbyists.
But maybe not. Maybe it is all just coincidence.
Anyway, here is a link to my blog posting about the box sets story, to which a link is also provided and which appeared the day after Thanksgiving:
But be all that as it may, the list has been at last been published. And I find that agree whole-heartedly with many of the choices. And if it proves to late to be a good guide for giving, perhaps it is a good guide for how to spend those gifts cards you might get as gifts.
Here is a link to the Best Recordings of 2013 story:
By Jacob Stockinger
Could it be because their volume makes them less downloadable? Or does their appeal have to do with the novelty of having the complete collection of something — you know, the desire for total possession of beauty as well as convenience?
True, the box sets, which often run into dozens of CDs, have their own scale of economy that brings the per disc price down to as low as $5 or less.
But more importantly, the sets also feature reissues of historical recordings by major artists that have not generally been available singly — or at all! You can hear the complete Van Cliburn; the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz playing live at Carnegie Hall between 1943 and 1973 in recently discovered recordings (a sneak peek sampler is in a YouTube video at the bottom) the world’s great singers doing Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner at the Metropolitan Opera; conductor Fritz Reiner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; conductor Carlo Maria Giulini and several orchestras; and former superstar pianists Gary Graffman and Leon Fleisher whose early careers later got sidetracked by injuries.
Here is what the critics for The New York Times recommended a few weeks back:
In addition, NPR also provides audio samples from many of the sets to whet your appetite and help you decide, so if you can listen to it – don’t just read it.
They also provide links to other stories and blog postings that NPR has done about the major artists.
Here is a link to the story by Tom Huizenga and Anastasia Tsioulcas:
It seems to me, comparing the two stories, that both The New York Times and NPR agree on a lot of the boxed sets – a good sign, don’t you think?
Do any of you have personal experiences and opinions about the various boxed sets? Let us know in the COMMENTS section.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here’s comes another weekend, and you know what that means at this time of the year.
Last week, on Black Friday, the classical music critics for The New York Times offered their gift suggestions for this holiday season.
They added a nice twist.
Instead of keeping up with brand new recordings, the critics went to “the vault” and focused on the things historical – recordings and videos.
Some newer things did sneak in – like John Eliot Gardiner’s new book about Johann Sebastian Bach (below) called “Music in the Castle of Heaven” — it would go well with a set of the cantatas recorded by Gardiner — which also received a separate rave review from Times critic and editor James Oestreich:
Anthony Tommasini chose lots of opera – especially Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner at the Metropolitan Opera as well as Richard Tucker — was covered, but so was a lot of other music, including the complete music by Benjamin Britten (below), whose birthday centennial was Nov. 22.
Leonard Bernstein (below), as musician and educator, was also well represented.
And to be fair, the prices of the suggested gifts ranged from under $20 to several hundred dollars of massive boxed sets.
Here is a link to the story
Happy hunting and happy listening.
And rest assured: I will be posting more gift guides as they appear.
But don’t forget to leave your own gift suggestions in the COMMENTS section of this blog.
The Ear wants to hear.