The Well-Tempered Ear

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

April 5, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

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

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

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

Kronos Quartet

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

Joan Jeanrenaud

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

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

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

Kronos quartet outdoors in warsaw in 2006

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

kronos quartet with chinese wu man

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

Kronos Quartet plyaing on BBC Radio 2012

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

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

Here is the story that was on NPR:

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

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

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

kronos quartet 2013 CR jay blakesberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kronos winter-was hard CD

Kronos_Quartet-Pieces_Of_Africa-Frontal

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

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

The Ear wants to hear.

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

March 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

YL Oscar foods statue

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

And it would be hard to disagree with them.

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

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

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

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

erich wolfgang korngold at piano

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

Silk Road Ensemble

astor piazzolla

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

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

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

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

Alice Herz Sommer CR Yuri Dojc

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

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

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

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

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

william butler of arcade fire

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

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

Judi Dench in %22Philomena%22

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

March 1, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

The Ear hopes that this time Oscar gets it right.

YL Oscar foods statue

I recall one memorable year when they got it wrong.

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

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

50942748VB024_afistreep

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

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

crash 1 thandie Newton, matt dillon

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

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

But Ebert was wrong.

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

brokeback mountain 1 jake gyllenhaal and heath ledger

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

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

brokeback mountain 2 Jake Gyllenhaal (l) and Heath Ledger

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

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

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

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

brokeback mountain opera tom randle (left) and daniel okulitch

How good are the results?

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

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

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

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

http://www.medici.tv

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

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

Here is a link to the NPR story:

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

Annie Proulx

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

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

http://www.oscars.org

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

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

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

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

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

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

By Jacob Stockinger

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

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

And coming out.

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

gay marriage in suits

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

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

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

Michael Sam in football uniform

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

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

Ellen Page

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

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

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

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

Patricia Racette soprano

Patricia Racette in Tosca

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

Fort Worth Opera 2008

Wu Han and David Finckel BIG

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

Here is a link:

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

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

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

Saint Valentine

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