By Jacob Stockinger
Today’s post was supposed to be the second installment of my preview of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which starts this Saturday night and will focus on the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.
But some breaking and important news has happened. So I will postpone the Token Creek follow-up for a day or two.
The big news is this: While not all the labor disputes have ended, the famed Metropolitan Opera (below, in a photo by Victor J. Blue of The New York Times) in New York City -– the largest opera company in the world -– has reached an agreement with two of the largest and most major unions.
The agreement involved far smaller concessions and rollbacks than the Met’s general director Peter Gelb (below) proposed.
The drama is not completely over. More negotiations are under way with other unions. But it now seems that the opening of the Met’s season -– and of the “Met Live in HD:” series – will NOT be postponed, as feared, by a lockout.
Here are two comprehensive stories.
The first is a radio story done by NPR (National Public Radio) by Jeff Lunden:
The second story is from The New York Times:
By Jacob Stockinger
He wasn’t a maestro in the usual sense.
But he surely was a master.
He was a master, even though he never seemed temperamental and never received the kind of acclaim and press that typical orchestral conductors or maestros receive -– from Arturo Toscanini through Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan to Gustavo Dudamel.
He was Frans Bruggen (below). He was Dutch and a fantastic player of the flute and the recorder. He died this past Wednesday at 79 after a long illness.
But he became a pioneer conductor of early music and period instrument authenticity, adopting historically informed performance practices even from the Baroque period, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Georg Philipp Telemann and Antonio Vivaldi into the Classical and early Romantic periods.
As a flutist and recorder player, Bruggen was a prodigy who often performed with Dutch colleagues in the early music movement, including harpsichord master Gustav Leonhardt and cellist Anner Bylsma.
He founded the Orchestra of the 18th Century, but also went on to conduct major mainstream orchestras and to teach at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley,
Even as I write this, I am playing Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony from Bruggen’s set of Haydn’s minor-key, proto-Romantic “Storm-and-Stress” symphonies.
What I especially liked was the expressiveness he often brought to an early music movement that sometimes seemed mechanical or robotic in its early days. Bruggen brought subtlety and emotional connection.
In Brugen’s hands, early music sounded natural, never forced into iconoclastic phrasing or rushed tempi, as it can with Reinhold Goebel and Concerto Koln or Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Bruggen’s performances never sounded deliberately goofy or self-serving. (Below is Frans Bruggen conducting.)
Bruggen must have made his case persuasively. Nowadays, most early music groups also sound more expressive and subjective, not so doctrinaire, dogmatic or orthodox in their approaches.
Bruggen seemed a low-key and modest man and musician, qualities that The Ear identifies with the Dutch, including Bruggen’s own more famous conducting colleague Bernard Haitink.
The Ear hopes that Bruggen’s death brings about many reissues of his prolific discography with more high-profile publicity. His Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven symphonies are, unfortunately, largely now out of print.
Here are some links to obituaries that tell his story:
Here is a link to The Guardian, which also lists Bruggen’s five greatest contributions to early music:
Here is a story from the BBC Music Magazine:
Here is a great piece from The Telegraph, also in the United Kingdom:
Curiously, it probably says something about Bruggen that I could find many obituaries from Europe and the UK, but none from the U.S., not even at The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or NPR (National Public Radio).
Here is a YouTube video of Frans Bruggen, who served both composers and audiences so well, in action, playing a solo fantasy for recorder by Georg Philipp Telemann. In every way it seems a fitting tribute or homage on the occasion of his death:
By Jacob Stockinger
Two of the best sources for reading about classical music are NPR (National Public Radio) with its Deceptive Cadence blog; and The New Yorker magazine, which features Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Alex Ross (below) on its staff.
These days a lot of publications are figuring out how to “monetize” their websites and on-line stories since they are losing readers of printed editions.
Perhaps David Remnick, the reporter-turned-editor of the The New Yorker who has more than doubled the magazine’s circulation and inaugurated a series of best-selling books of story and cartoon collections, may have a new and unorthodox approach. He seems to be thinking “outside the box” and in reverse: Use the web to increase the profile, and profitability of the print edition.
That approach may mean opening up to FREE ACCESS some of the stories that will give people a taste of what they are missing if they do not subscribe to or regularly read the source.
Whatever the reasoning, The New Yorker has opened up its archives to classical music fans with five not-to-miss profiles and stories about high-profile musicians.
They include the Chinese phenomenon and superstar pianist Lang-Lang (below), who is often dismissed by critics as “Bang-Bang” for his Liberace-like flamboyance and unmusicality, but who remains the most sought-after classical pianist in the world. (At bottom, you can see and hear the opening of a BBC documentary about Lang Lang on YouTube.)
Others include the American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is highly articulate about the world of singing and opera; the French woman and highly individualistic pianist Helene Grimaud, who aims for unusual interpretations; the German violinist Christian Tetzlaff, who is renowned for eschewing the customary path of virtuosity; and the famous essay on taking piano lessons “Every Good Boy Does Fine” by American pianist Jeremy Denk (below), who recently won a MacArthur “genius grant”; who has performed recitals twice in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater; and who will be releasing a book-length volume of his essays and postings on his acclaimed blog “Think Denk” this fall.
The weekend is a good chance to catch up on such reading. You will learn a lot if you read these stories.
And maybe you, like The Ear, will also become a loyal New Yorker reader. When it calls itself “the best magazine in the world,” it is not kidding.
That goes for politics, social trends, art and culture, and even poetry.
Here is a link, which also features some audio samples:
By Jacob Stockinger
By most polls and surveys, the most popular composer of classical music remains Ludwig van Beethoven (below). The surly, willful and influential musician bridged the Classical and Romantic eras, and his music retains much of its power and universal appeal even today.
All you have to do is mention the names of works in virtually all the various musical genres and forms — solo sonatas, chamber music, symphonic music, concertos, vocal music — that Beethoven mastered and pushed into new realms of expression:
The “Eroica” Symphony.
The Fifth Symphony.
The “Pastoral” Symphony.
The Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy.”
The “Emperor” Concerto for piano.
The “Razumovsky” and “Late” String Quartets.
The “Ghost” and “Archduke” piano trios, and the “Triple” Concerto.
The “Moonlight,” “Pathetique,” “Tempest,” “Appassionata,” “Waldstein” and “Hammerklavier” piano sonatas.
The “Spring” and “Kreutzer” violin sonatas.
The “Missa Solemnis.”
And on and on.
Such nicknames and so many! Talk about iconic works!
What more is there to be said about Beethoven?
Well, quite a lot, apparently, according to the acclaimed music historian Jan Swafford (below), who did his undergraduate work at Harvard University and his graduate work at Yale University and who now teaches composition and music history at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Swafford, who has also written biographies of Johannes Brahms and Charles Ives, has just published his 1,000-page biography of Beethoven with the subtitle “Anguish and Triumph.”
It is getting some mixed or qualified reviews. But before you look into that, better check into the pieces that NPR (National Public Radio) did on Swafford and his takes on Beethoven, some of which defy received wisdom and common sense.
Here is a summary of some common perceptions about Beethoven that may -– or may NOT –- be true, according to Swafford. It i s an easy and informative read.
And here is another piece on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that deals with how the powerful Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” reveals Beethoven’s personality. (You can hear the opening, played by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Some critics have questioned whether the book (below) is too long, whether it repeats things that are already well known and whether the writing style is accessible to the general public.
But nobody is ignoring it.
Here are two reviews by reputable media outlets.
From The Wall Street Journal:
From The New York Times:
Have you read Jan Swafford’s other work?
What do you think of his music histories and biographies?
Or of his new Beethoven book, if you have read it?
And what is your favorite work by Beethoven?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Will the outcome be tragedy?
In case you haven’t heard about it, the famed Met is negotiating new contracts with its labor unions. The Met currently has a debt of $2.8 million.
According to the Met’s general director Peter Gelb (below), major reductions totaling some $30 million, in salaries are required to put the Met back on a financially sustainable course.
Those are easy words to say for Gelb, whose own salary is reported to be $1.4 million and whose tenure has emphasized extremely expensive productions that have taxed the Met’s budget.
On his behalf, Gelb also is the manager who initiated the “Met Live in HD” that have been so popular in movie theaters around the world – including the Eastgate and Point cinemas in Madison — and have generated a lot of income. (You can see the coming season in a YouTube video at the bottom, although the November broadcast of “The Death of Klinghoffer” by John Adams has been cancelled under a controversial agreement to pacify Jewish and Israeli protest groups and lobbyists who see the opera as too focused on humanizing terrorism and Palestinian terrorists, and who threatened to withdraw much needed needed underwriting for the Met.)
The original deadline for an understanding or agreement was this past Sunday. But that deadline has been extended until Tuesday, today, apparently because negotiations continued and presumably continued in a positive way, despite the appearance of an overall deadlock.
Mediators were called in and apparently an independent audit of the Met’s books is under way.
So by the end of the day we should hear more about the results –- or lack of results. That, in turn, will tell us more about the short-term future and long-term future of the Met.
Here are some links mostly to websites for newspapers and radio. The Ear has heard NOTHING – at least nothing that I recall – on the major TV outlets and network, commercial or cable. Well, maybe they are too busy doing features about dogs and children who raise money for good causes. I am sure they have polling and surveys to back up their story selection.
To learn about the major players in the Met drama – or the Cast of Characters, so to speak, here is a story:
How the negotiations were going? Read this:
If you want an overview of the situation, try these:
And here in another selection of stories from The New York Times:
Here is the latest news from The Wall Street Journal about an independent audit of the Met’s books:
Do you have an opinion on the matter?
Given the recent bankruptcies and closings of American symphony orchestras and the City Opera of New York, what do you think the Metropolitan Opera drama signifies or means for the classical music scene in the U.S.?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: The Youth Orchestra (below), under the baton of University of Wisconsin-Madison conductor James Smith and part of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), is into the final day of its 10-day tour to Argentina. Here is a link to the live blog:
By Jacob Stockinger
When did World War I start?
Some might argue it started with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. And the media had many features on that day a little over one month ago.
Then on July 28, 1914, the first shots were fired. That too received media coverage last week.
But the best I can find out, the actual and formal beginning of the “War To End All Wars” was Aug. 1, 1914 -– with the 100th anniversary falling yesterday.
See for yourself:
Quite a number of media stories -– on-line, in print, on TV and radio –- have focused on World War I. They usually take the tack of how it changed the world and its cultural politics and economics for many years after, and so directly set up the circumstances that led to World War II.
But NPR also ran a series of stories on what would have happened if World War I had never taken place. The consequences ranged from a much later discovery of antibiotics, technology and space travel to a completely different map of the Middle East that might have allowed us to escape some of the current turmoil.
And what was the effect of World War I on music?
You can Google the question and find a lot of entries.
Here are some of the more interesting ones that The Ear found:
The outstanding “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR (National Public Radio) by Tom Huizenga used audio samples to explore how the composers Maurice Ravel (below) and Gustav Holst responded to the war, as did the famed tenor Enrico Caruso:
From the BBC, here is a list of poets and composers. It asks the question: Why do we remember the poets more than the composers? When he wrote his “War” Requiem, British composer Benjamin Britten (below) used great texts from World War I poets to commemorate World Wart II and dedicate the reconstruction of the Coventry Cathedral. (You can hear the opening in a YouTube video at the bottom. Be sure to read the lyrics.)
Here is another British website that discusses British music, perhaps because that country’s composers responded more than other nations’ composers did, certainly more than American but also French, German and Russian composers:
Here is a story from The Wall Street Journal:
And here is a list of some important music composed during World War I:
What classic music and composers do you identify with World War I?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
This past Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of The Three Tenors phenomenon -– a blockbuster “crossover” concert (below) that was held outdoors on July 16, 1994 in Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles to mark the FIFA World Cup final.
The concert, which featured a mix of light, popular and serious music, took something of a drubbing from the serious classical music critics.
But it didn’t matter.
The public loved it –- and then some.
And the public kept on loving it and still does. Which is while you still see it on TV and hear it on radio, even two decades later, and why it has spawned so many imitators.
The event turned opera singing into a rock concert-like stadium event for the masses and the popular media, and brought to singing a huge global audience. Talk about genius in marketing and branding!
The event no doubt also helped pave the way for such mass outdoor concerts as the Madison Opera’s 13th annual FREE “Opera in the Park” (below),” with this year John DeMain conducting soloists plus members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera Chorus. It will take place this coming Saturday night, July 26, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side.
Here is a link to the upcoming Madison Opera event, which previews the coming season and which usually attracts more than 10,000 listeners each summer. You can find information about directions, seating, artists and repertoire:
It brought all of them – and also conductor Zubin Mehta – unbelievable amounts of money for a one-night stint. And that, in turn, translated into astronomical fees for future individual tours by each of them.
You can relive the 1994 event through a sound sample in the story as well as through a YouTube video, which has almost 3 million hits, at the bottom of The Ear’s favorite aria, by Giacomo Puccini, from the event. It is in a terrifically comprehensive story, filled with lots of facts big and small, that Anastasia Tsioulcas researched and wrote for the outstanding “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR or National Public Radio.
Here is a link:
What do you think of The Three Tenors and its impact on the classical music scene and the opera scene? On the culture in general?
Did it help or hurt the cause of great singing and staging serious opera?
And who do you think was the greatest tenor of the three?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Last night, I heard a fine concert of works by Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Joseph Haydn performed by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO). The youth group was founded and is still directed and conducted by the young violist and conductor Mikko Utevsky, who is a scholarship student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Mikko (below) is very accomplished and clearly started viola lessons when he was very young, as I suspect most of the outstanding orchestra musicians and the exceptional piano soloist Thomas Kasdorf did. By the time he was a student at Madison East High School, Mikko had founded MAYCO. He had also spent many years in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.
He is articulate and impressive, to be sure.
Truth be told, I am always impressed by the achievements of young musicians, whether they are pre-school or elementary school students in Suzuki classes or in piano recitals, or middle school and high school students.
But what about adult students?
The Ear knows many newly retired people who say they want to take music lessons but are reluctant and think it is simply too late to start and have any success.
Now, I will admit that feel lucky that I play the piano, which I think is easier to pick up again later in life, largely because the notes are there right under your fingers and you don’t need a great ear.
But other instruments — strings, winds and brass — can also be learned or resumed late in life.
As a way of encouraging such people, I offer this story from NPR. It is an interview with Ari L. Goldman (below top and in a YouTube video at the bottom), a journalism professor at Columbia University in New York City, about his new book, a first-person account of resuming cello studies and participating in “The Late Starters Orchestra” (below bottom), which is an orchestra made up of fellow late-starters, of older people and adult students.
Enjoy –- and start practicing if that is what you really want to do — because it is possible.
Here is a link to the NPR story and interview:
By Jacob Stockinger
Can it really be 15 years already?
The Madison Early Music Festival began as a dream and an experiment. But it has endured, survived and prospered. This summer it marks its 15th anniversary with a focus on Italian music from 1300 to 1600. The theme is called “Italia Mia.”
This year’s installment starts on this coming Saturday, July 12, and runs through the following Saturday, July 19. It features many of the traditional things such as workshops, lectures and public concerts. But it also features new out-of-town groups and only the second annual Handel Aria Competition, which has been enhanced.
Venues are perhaps the biggest challenge this year, given the upgrading of Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Here is a link to the festival’s home website for information about tickets, events, programs and performers:
To get things straight, and to provide both some history and a larger context, The Ear asked baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe -– who are the co-artistic directors of the Madison Early Music Festival -– to do an email Q&A for this blog.
They graciously agreed, and the results will be posted in two parts, today and tomorrow.
How successful is this year’s festival compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, guest performers, ticket sales, media interest, etc.? This is the 15th anniversary of MEMF. After 15 years, is MEMF clearly established now nationally or even internationally?
Cheryl: We have been getting more attention in the national press, and we continue to feature ensembles and artists from Europe and Canada. This year the Toronto Consort — seen below and heard at the bottom in a YouTube video of Italian music and art from the period that MEMF will cover — will open the festival with their program “The Da Vinci Codex,” which features Italian Music from the musical world of Leonardo Da Vinci.
In May, the blog Deceptive Cadence from NPR Classical mentioned MEMF 2014 as a “Can’t Miss Classical Music Festivals” in the Midwest region.
Besides the attention in the press, we are well-known in early music circles. Our performers and faculty are also hired by many well-established festivals, including the Berkeley Early Music Festival, Boston Early Music Festival (below), Amherst Early Music Festival, Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute and others.
What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and guest performers?
Paul: This year we are adding two new intensive workshops that will run concurrently with MEMF. One is focused on wind instruments that will form a loud band and be led by Robert Wiemken (below top) of Pifarro.
There are eight people in the loud band intensive class who play sackbut, shawm, dulcien and other instruments (below bottom). The other is a Baroque opera workshop that will be led by Drew Minter, Christa Patton and me.
We will use music from the operas “Orfeo” and “The Coronation of Poppea” by Claudio Monteverdi (below) as source material to explore Baroque gesture and dance as well as ornamentation and stylistic singing. We have 15 singers who will be taking this workshop. The two intensive classes will present an informal performance on Saturday afternoon, July 19, at 2 p.m.
Why was the topic of the Italian music 1300-1600 chosen for the early music festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?
Paul: We wanted to have a broader historical focus this year in order to include very early instruments and music as well as the larger format pieces that are a feature of the later Renaissance and early Baroque.
The most famous composer of this period is Claudio Monteverdi, but there are many others. Italy was really the hub of poetry and music for all of Western culture during the time period we are considering. The poetry of Petrarch (below) will provide the focus for the All-Festival Concert this year. This is the era of Boccaccio and Dante as well as Petrarch.
Tomorrow: What makes early music in Italy different? What will the All-Festival Concert next Saturday night be like? What is new about the second annual Handel Aria Competition and the new FREE noontime lectures?