By Jacob Stockinger
These days, “icon” is an overused word.
But it certainly applies in the case of American pianist Van Cliburn (below). For five decade, he was ever-present in the mind of classical music fans ever since he won, against all odds, the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in 1958, held in Moscow during the height of The Cold War.
I have written before about Cliburn, who died today at 78 after a long battle with bone cancer.
Here is one posting about the controversy that surrounded his playing:
Here is the most important blog posting, and be sure to reader the many intelligent and deeply felt comments by readers:
There are many reasons to like him and his playing. Not for nothing was he the first classical musician to ask and get a concert fee of $10,000 for one night;s performance.
But if you asked me to sum it up, I would say: Van Cliburn made every note come from some place and go to another place, and he always developed a logic – melodic, harmonic or rhythmic — to a particular phrase or passage.
His Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 (below, the first classical recording to sell 1 million copies) and his Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 remain for me the best, the absolute best, versions ever recorded.
I didn’t like his Brahms or Schumann so much, but I liked much of his Chopin — hear the Nocturne he plays at the bottom in a YouTube video — and I adored his playing of Edward MacDowell‘s Piano Concerto No. 2, which also remains definitive for me.
His personal and professional story proved fascinating and courageous as well as inspiring to many young musicians, including myself. (Below is the 23-year-old Van Cliburn in the ticker tape parade he received in New York City after his win in Moscow.)
Here are links to some important obituaries and stories. You’ll find many memorable quotes and many unforgettable facts as well as some wonderful photos from all stages of his life and career:
From The New York Times:
From the Associated Press:
From The Dallas Morning News:
From the Houston Star-Telegram, the first a story and the second, a life in photos:
From National Public Radio:
From The Los Angeles Times:
From The Washington Post:
From USA TODAY:
What would you like to say on Van Cliburn’s passing? Leave a COMMENT.
What is your favorite recording of Cliburn’s?
By Jacob Stockinger
I especially loved his Schumann symphonies. (The first movement from Robert Schumann‘s Symphony No. 4 in D minor is in a YouTube video at bottom, with Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting the Dresden State Orchestra.)
The German conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch always exuded a sense of proportion and rightness in the music he conducted. (Below is a photo from his younger years):
He was not a flashy maestro, but one who let the music do the talking and feeling for him.
Here is a link to an obituary in the Australian arts magazine Limelight, which is well worth following:
And here is the obituary from the Associated Press:
Finally, here is a noteworthy remembrance by the famed British critic Norman Lebrecht:
ALERT: Just a reminder that a Wisconsin premiere takes place tonight — for FREE and with composer Steven Bryant ( below) present — at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below) and the UW Wind Ensemble. Here are some links: http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/February-2013/The-Most-Successful-Composer-You-Never-Heard-of-Is-Here/ and http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/classical-music-qa-american-composer-steven-bryant-explains-why-wind-and-brass-bands-dont-get-more-respect-as-serious-music-ensembles-even-as-he-prepares-for-a-residency-and-a-premiere/
By Jacob Stockinger
It is Oscar weekend.
On this Sunday night at 6 p.m. CST on the ABC TV network, the Beautiful People, in their Beautiful Gowns and Beautiful Jewelry, will line up to collect the gold-plated statuettes knows as The Oscars.
It is the Academy Awards, and after a record-breaking box office year at the cinemas, it should be interesting to see who takes home an Oscar.
Here is a link to all the nominees in the many categories:
Curiously, this has been a terrific year for classical music in the movies. That comes as something of a pleasant surprise, given how much negative coverage is written about the declining state of classical music today.
The film “A Late Quartet” stars (below and from left) Mark Ivanir, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener. It examines the individual lives and collective life of a string quartet. I really liked it, despite some awkward moments. And it centers on the late Op. 131 String Quartet in C-sharp minor by Beethoven. That is the same sublime work of chamber music that a dying Franz Schubert asked to hear played.
Then legendary actor Dustin Hoffman (below) made his directing debut in “Quartet,” about retired opera singers and instrumentalists living in a retirement home for musicians in England. This romantic comedy starred Maggie Smith, she of “Downton Abbey” fame right now, and was a lot of fun to watch and listen to. (“Quartet” is still playing the Point Cinemas on Madison’s far west side.)
“Quartet” stars (below and from the left, in a photo by Kerry Brown for the Weinstein Company) Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins. It features opera music and chamber music by Haydn, Rossini, Puccini and others, but the film centers on a quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” plays an especially pivotal role.
And the shattering, much nominated film “Amour,” by Michael Haneke, featured the story of the decline and death of a piano teacher. (Haneke also directed the unsettling film “The Piano Teacher” several years ago, and seems to have something with pianos and pianists.)
“Amour” (with screen vetefans Jean-Louis Trintignant (below top) and Emmanuelle Riva (below bottom) is playing in Madison at the Sundance Cinemas at Hilldale.
It also uses piano music of Bach-Busoni, Beethoven and Schubert (below bottom), played by the young and wonderful French pianist Alexandre Tharaud (below bottom), who is best known for his playing of Baroque music (Francois Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti ) on the modern piano although he has also recorded Chopin, Ravel, Satie and others. His playing is a model of clarity and fluidity.
Anyway, I have heard somewhat mixed reactions to the various films, although the shattering “Amour,” comes the closest to being unanimous in the acclaim it has received and it is up for several Oscars, including Best Picture.
As for the two “Quartet” films: a very perceptive and understanding appreciation was published several weeks ago by Anthony Tommasini (below), the senior music critic for the New York Times.
Here is a link:
What do you think about the resurgence of classical music in the films, as both plot and soundtracks?
And what do you think of the films and of Tommasini’s take on them?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, features Madison Symphony’s Orchestra principal cellist Karl Lavine (below) and pianist Karen Boe in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff.
By Jacob Stockinger
In fact, one nationally famous opera expert – who had studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison – once told me it was his top choice to see for people who didn’t yet know opera. (The Ear would have surely thought that his choice for a first-timer would be Puccini’s “La Boheme.” But, nooooo.) The inexperienced listener would surely fall in love with the art form of opera after experiencing “Rigoletto,” he claimed.
Well, no one can deny that the 1851 opera by Verdi (below) does have its share of great drama and great tunes, including the famed “La donna e mobile” and “Questa o quello” (at bottom in a YouTube video).
You can see and hear why the work is so great this Saturday afternoon when “Live From the Met in HD” will broadcast the newest production by the Metropolitan Opera of the classic work.
The live broadcast – complete with commentary and behind-the-scenes looks – will be at Point Cinemas on Madison’s west side and the Eastgate cinemas on Madison’s east side.
The show will begin at 11:55 CST and run about 3-1/2 hours. But seats often fill up quickly, and many audience members arrive at least one hour early to get the best seats or the ones they like.
The adventurous concept staging (below) updates the opera from 16th-century Italy, complete with a palace, duke and court jester, to mid-20th century Las Vegas, complete with show girls. The production has drawn some interesting and conflicting reviews. Is it really opera or a musical? some have asked.
So in preparation for going, you can look at these:
Here is a review by the senior critic for The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini (below), who spoke in Madison during the centennial celebration of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet:
And here is a review by Pulitzer Prize-winner Manuela Hoelterhoff (below), who now works for Bloomberg News but who used to work for the Wall Street Journal:
Here is some background and context I found particularly interesting at boston.com:
And here is a link to the actual promos for “Rigoletto” at the website for “Live From the MET in HD.” It features video and audio samples as well as links to a synopsis, a cast list and other information:
What do you think of the new production? The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
I guess the same web-inspired blood-letting that drove The Ear out of the Madison-based print media continues.
In yet another round of buyouts, The New York Times, is seeking to have 30 employees retire.
Among those accepting a buyout this time is someone of local interest: Classical Music Editor James Oestreich (below). He is of local interest because he was born and raised in Wisconsin (I think the Appleton area) and graduated Phi Beta Kappa (sorry, I don’t know his major) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1965.
Here are several links to stories relating to James Oestreich:
Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry about James Oestreich with a good summary of his career, which includes stints with other organizations and being a concert notes writer:
Here is a link to the New York Observer with some facts and context surrounding the overall picture, including how many buyouts are needed before layoffs begin:
And here is a link to a blog that includes both high praise from colleagues and competitors as well as sharp criticism (for ignoring current or new trends) of James Oestreich’s tenure at The New York Times:
And here is a link to some harsh words from famous and snarky critic Norman Lebrecht (below) along with the farewell letter that Oestreich himself wrote:
By Jacob Stockinger
To The Ear, this seems a particularly promising time for young violinists, and especially for young women violinists such as Julia Fischer, Lelia Josefowicz, Lisa Batiashvili, Janine Jansen and Hilary Hahn.
But among all those violinists and their prodigious amounts of talent, one in particular stands out as unique: Jennifer Koh (below, in a photo by Christopher Berkey for The New York Times).
An American of Korean heritage who was born in Chicago, Kho is an international competition winner who also came into a career in professional music somewhat via the back door, which has only deepened her music-making and her interpretations. Koh is anything but predictable and mainstream or traditional. A master of the old classics, she is also devoted to new music.
Her breadth of interests and her open personality show in her intense and exciting playing. We in Madison are lucky that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its music director-conductor Andrew Sewell booked her to perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto early on, in 2004 before word got out and she became so in demand. (Below, a photo by Karsten Moran for The New York Times.)
Kohn has made many acclaimed recordings. But the first CD (below) in her three-volume series of “Bach and Beyond” (for the non-profit, Chicago-based label Cedille Records) made many critics’ lists of The Best Classical Recordings of 2012” – including mine. (At bottom, she discusses the project.)
I had been a waiting for a Q&A from Jennifer Koh. But she is obviously busy with more important things like playing the violin and, one suspects, reading serious English literature (you have to know her background to understand the reference!).
All the more reason, then, to read the excellent profile that appeared recently in The New York Times.
Here is a link to that detailed but readable and very accessible profile that leaves you wondering: How can you not like Jennifer Koh?:
By Jacob Stockinger
We all remember the superstar conductors, conductors like Arturo Toscanini, Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein. Even the popular media recognize them as celebrities. More recently, one could conceivably put Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim and Valery Gergiev in the same category.
The most recent one to capture and hold the public’s imagination in such a charismatic way was Gustavo Dudamel (below), the passionate and almost hyperactive young man who emerged from poverty in Venezuela through the “El sistema” that offered free classical music education. He now is music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
Probably the latest candidate for that elite club is Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below, in a photo by Torsten Kjelstrand/NPR with the Philadelphia Orchestra in a Carnegie Hall concert of Shostakovich, Ravel and Szymanowski that was webcast last night by NPR.) And I can think of no better introduction to him than a long profile by The New York Times critic and writer Daniel J. Wakin that appeared last weekend.
Where do you start to convey his personality? The fact that the 35-year-old French-Canadian native of Montreal is openly gay? The Tahitian Turtle Tattoo? The great reviews? The pumped-up chest that earned the short 5-5 conductor the nickname of Mighty Mouse from renowned soprano Joyce DiDonato? His quick rise to the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra and to the ranks of top, world-class orchestra conductors?
I doubt he will be known as Yanni, since Yanni is already reserved for the New Age composer, who also is often dubbed “Yawni.”
But the boyish conductor just might become a one-name celebrity – something like “Yannick” in the way that Bernstein was “Lenny.” He certainly projects that kind of intensity and he sure gets results.
You can make up your own mind about the man who hopes to rebuild the special “Philadelphia Sound” of Eugene Ormandy that relied on strings the way the Chicago Symphony Sound relied on brass.
Here is a link to the profile:
And here is a link to the archived webcast of last night’s concert in Carnegie Hall. Be sure to read the “Read More” button:
If you heard him, what did you think?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Over the holidays, The Ear offered you a half-dozen or so lists of the Best Classical Recordings of 2012 as chosen by NPR critics, critics for the New York Times, Grammy nominations for 2013 and the New Yorker’s respected critic Alex Ross.
But what were the most popular, the best-selling classical recordings of last year? (Kind of like the 34th annual “People’s Choice Awards” for TV, music and movies that were announced last night. Here is a link to them
Well, I just read that the top-selling Best Instrumental Album of 2012 digital downloads on iTunes was the debut by Leif-Ove Andsnes’ on Sony with “The Beethoven Journey” featuring the critically acclaimed and also best-selling Norwegian pianist as both soloist and conductor of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in Beethoven’s Piano Concertos No. 1 in C Major and No. 3 in C Minor. It is well-deserved honor (listen to the YouTube excerpts at the bottom), but there are so many great performances of those great concertos available. Those by Yefim Bronfman and Richard Goode are among The Ear’s favorites. (PS: for more of iTunes favorites, use this link: iTunes Best of 2012)
But here is a list as compiled from other sources by the famed New York City classical radio station WQXR. It features actually two lists, one compiled from the station’s own Recording of the Week feature and web traffic, and the other compiled by Billboard magazine, which has a goofy and uneven sense of what constitutes classical music.
Take a look and see what appeals to you and how many of these you added to your own collection – or want to with those post-holiday gift cards and cash.
Also note that the chamber orchestra The Knights (below top) will be appearing in Madison as part of the Wisconsin Union theater series on Feb. 9 with acclaimed pipa player Wu Man (below bottom). (Similarly, pianist-blogger Jeremy Denk, whose Nonesuch debut CD with Beethoven and Ligeti made lists by NPR and Alex Ross, will perform again in Madison for the Wisconsin Union Theater on April 11.)
Here is a link to the WQXR lists of popular classical music:
And for reference here are the other lists offered by The Ear:
By Jacob Stockinger
After 200 years or so, are we starting to see a trend developing whereby the stigma of performing solo music with a score is disappearing and the use of scores is increasing in legitimacy? Many conservatories or schools of music even require students to perform without a score for a degree recital. But that may be changing.
Tommasini’s column had the perfect headline: “Playing by heart – without or without the score.”
And Tommasini drew on three specific recent examples of pianists: Alexandre Tharaud, who played Scarlatti and Satie’s “Le Boeuf sur le Toit” at Le Poisson Rouge with a score; Andras Schiff, who played both books of J.S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” without a score; and Emanuel Ax, who used a score for solo Bach but did not use a score for solo Schoenberg. I have also seen Christopher O’Riley and others use scores on an iPad with a foot switch to turn pages. (All of Tommasini’s examples are seen below. First is Alexandre Tharaud, below, in a photo by Ruby Washington of The New York Times. Tharaud’s playing is also heard at the bottom.)
Is this a healthy or unhealthy development? Well it seems to depend on the individual performer and certain kinds of music (generally you find Chopin played without a score, but Elliott Carter and other new music with a score.)
Here is a link to Tommasini’s think piece:
The Ear is of two minds.
On the one, hand I remember reading pianist veteran Murray Perahia (below) saying that although he loved playing chamber music and did so with a score, he felt most on top of the music when he memorized it and played it without a score. And the concerts I have heard by him all suggest he is right.
I’ll also bet that Murray Perahia has excellent nerves for performing, and a relative lack of stage fright of the incapacitating kind. He has the right temperament.
On the other hand, even a master like Sviatoslav Richter (below) spent his last years using a score – and many critics said with great results. Of course, he said he turned to the score because age brought a decline in his perfect pitch, which used to help guide him through scoreless performances without wrong notes. Plus, the ability to memorize deteriorates with age.
And I can’t deny it: There is something so basic, so elemental and essential, about seeing a musician sit down at a piano or a cello and or stand with a violin, and start making music without any music in front of him or her.
It just all comes from within. Yes it is showy and impressive, but it also inner and poetic. I feel like I am hearing more directly and personally from the performers and that the lack of a score allows for certain liberties of subjective interpretation. (Below is a photo by Ruby Washington of The New York Times of Andras Schiff recently playing J.S. Bach by memory at the 92nd Street Y.)
What do you think about playing with a score?
Should solo pianists, singers, cellists, violinists and others now feel that using a score is just fine?
I’ll bet that many of them don’t t really use the score They have already have the music memorized and simply find the score reassuring, as a kind of insurance against memory lapses and the like. (Below is a photo by Hiroyuki Ito of The New York Times of Emanuel Ax using a score to play some solo Bach before he played with an ensemble.)
But what about opera singers using a score?
What do you think?
If you are a performer, The Ear especially wants to hear from you.
And if are an audience member, I also want to hear from you about what you think of heating a performer play scoreless or with a score.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a link to his enjoyable and informative blog:
In the New Yorker, as he usually does, Ross recently listed his top 10 recordings – along with a top book and a top video – of 2012 along with his Top 10 Live Performances. Although he is a strong advocate for new music, Ross also lists a generous share of new recordings of Josqjin, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner and other “standard” classical composers. And perhaps even more surprisingly, his choice of Bach is a “Saint Matthew Passion” performed NOT by an early music group but by the venerable Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle and bad-boy avant-garde director Peter Sellars (a clip is at the at bottom).
Ross’ list also includes some audio sampling or excerpts of his various selections, including royal queenly arias sung by Joyce DiDonato.
As we come into another post-holiday weekend, when you might want to use the gift cards or cash you received for the holidays, it seemed like a good list to add Ross’ list to my other holiday gift guides.
So here is a link to Ross choices:
Here are links to those postings:
(Below is a collage by photographer Tony Cenicola of the New York Times of favorite recordings of 2012 as picked by critics for The New York Times.)
Please leave your own suggestions n the COMMENTS section, especially by genre (chamber music, opera, symphony, solo piano) and by artist plus composer and work. It would also be good to know to know why you like it and why you recommend it.
The Ear wants to hear.