The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What has the UK’s Scotland contributed to classical music -– besides bagpipes? Plus, this afternoon is the last performance of the season-opening program by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

September 21, 2014
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ALERT: The final performance of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season-opening program of Richard Strauss “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (with the organ theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey”), Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments and Camille Saint-Saens (Symphony No. 3 “Organ”) will be given today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center. Here is a link to a previous post about the concert as well as links to several very positive reviews:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/classical-music-qa-maestro-john-demain-discusses-this-weekends-opening-concerts-of-the-madison-symphony-orchestras-89th-season-music-by-richard-strauss-frank-martin-and-camil/

Here is a link to a review by John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus: 

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43634

John Barker

Here is a link to the review by Gregg Hettmansberger (below) for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/September-2014/New-Season-New-Decades/

greg hettmansberger mug

And here is a link to Lindsay Christians’ review for The Capital Times and 77 Square:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/review-madison-symphony-packs-the-stage-to-celebrate-years-in/article_7599b67a-407b-11e4-ad07-33fa1206b9d0.html

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

All right, then.

The Big Vote is over.

By a wider-than-predicted margin of 55 to 45 percent, Scotland has chosen to remain a member of the United Kingdom.

The outcome surprised The Ear since so many of the arguments offered by Great Britain seemed similar to the ones that were probably made about why the United States should remain a colony of England.

But now the question is answered for at least another generation.

So, in the traditional of newsy arts coverage, the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio (NPR) asked: What has Scottish culture contributed to classical music?

You’d be surprised. I was.

One obvious, and, for many, noisily unpleasant, answer is the bagpipes. We’re not talking about Scotland-inspired music such as Felix Mendelssohn‘s justly famous “Hebrides” Overture (at bottom in a popular YouTube video featuring Claudio Abbado conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, though it sure does seem to capture the dark North Sea atmosphere of Scotland.)

scotland bagpipes

But there are other answers too, and some of them may surprise you.

Be sure to listen to some of the sound samples provided on the NPR website posting. Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/19/349564530/if-its-not-scottish-classical-contributions-of-the-scots

Also be sure to check out the readers’ comments. They are a hoot, or whatever the equivalent saying is in Scotland.

And the reader comments contain one of the all-time best puns, based on The Rolling Stones song “Hey You, Get Off of My Cloud.” Of course, someone says it isn’t funny! Which makes it only funnier to The Ear.

 


Classical music: Which contemporary composer is Bach and which one is Handel? And is it peace or a truce? Philip Glass and Steve Reich appear together at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Which one do you prefer?

September 20, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The New York Times referred to them as Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Frideric Handel getting back together as contemporaries.

The Ear likes that comparison, although the older Baroque composers will doubtlessly remain a lot more influential than either of the newer contemporary ones.

The two “new guys” are the celebrated living American composers Steve Reich (below top) and Philip Glass (below bottom), both of them now 77 years old and considered pioneers of New Music and Minimalism.

Steve Reich

Philip Glass

The have apparently been estranged for quite a few years. But then they appeared last week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music to help mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of Nonesuch Records, a pioneering label that has been home to both of them. (Below is a photo of Philip Glass, left) and Steve Reich, by Betana Sikoria for The New York Times.)

Phlip Glass and Steve Reich CR Betana Sikoria NYT

By all accounts it was a momentous event, with sold-out houses, that stirred audiences to loud cheers when they played, including Steve Reich’s “Four Organs,” which is featured at the bottom in a YouTube video of the original 1970 recording that also featured Philip Glass. (Below, the two are performing the same work in a photo at BAM by Chad Batka for The New York Times.)

Steve Reich (left) and Philip Glass at BAM 2014 CR Chad Batka for NYT

Here is a story from the Deceptive Cadence blog by National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/10/347392860/philip-glass-and-steve-reich-at-bam-together-again-yet-still-apart

And here are two stories — one is a preview for background and the other is a review — that compared their friendship to a piece of music by Reich -– from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/arts/music/philip-glass-and-steve-reich-reunite-at-bam.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/15/arts/music/after-decades-steve-reich-and-philip-glass-reunite-at-bam.html

The Ear tends to like the music of Philip Glass more than Steve Reich, but not always.

Still, there is no getting round the influence of both men.

Which composer do you generally prefer and why?

And what is your favorite piece by each?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

 

 


Classical music: Pop pianist Bruce Hornsby takes a surprising turn to classical music. He performs in Madison on Oct. 30.

September 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pop pianist Bruce Hornsby (below) has made quite the reputation for himself over the past 25 years or so as a keyboard wizard — and singer — who explores all kinds of music, including rock and folk, with impressive improvisations and interpretations.

bruce hornsby with piano

But imagine The Ear’s surprise when Hornsby announced that he was looking and playing and even programming classical music as well as jazz.

And on top of that, some of the classical music he is favoring comes from the Second Viennese School – the difficult 12-tone and atonal composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. He also plays music by Gyorgy Ligeti and Olivier Messiaen.

Clearly, Hornsby’s classical tastes runs to early modernism. One can’t be sure that kind of music will be included in the upcoming concert, but it sure sounds as if it will.

Hornsby’s concert in Madison is in Overture Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 30. Tickets run $39.50 to $59.50.

Here is a link to more information about the concert and tickets, which have been on sale for about two weeks now and which can also be reserved by calling the Overture Center box office at (608) 251-4848.

http://www.overturecenter.org/events/bruce-hornsby

Hornsby also talked to All Things Considered, on NPR or National Public Radio, about his turn toward the classics, especially in the wake of being a relatively late bloomer as a student instrumentalist. (And the classical stuff he plays is hard and very challenging both for performers and listeners.) But you can tell he has impressive technique in the YouTube video at the bottom.

You may also notice that buying a concert ticket gets you a copy of his latest 25-track, 2-CD set with The Noisemakers called “Solo Concerts,” which includes some of the classical music.

Anyway, here is a link to the NPR story about Bruce Hornsby’s Classical Moment:

http://www.npr.org/2014/08/23/341957012/bruce-hornsbys-modern-classical-moment?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=music

 

 


Classical music: The well-named Nonesuch Records turns 50 –– and keeps being a pioneer in music from budget baroque, electronic music and contemporary classical music to folk, ragtime, rock and world music.

September 14, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you judge solely by the size of an operating budget and the number of albums released in a year, Nonesuch Records surely does not rank among the industry titans like Deutsche Grammophon, Decca or Sony Classical.

But what the label does, it does exceptionally well.

Of late, I am especially taken with Nonesuch because they feature two of my favorite pianists -– Richard Goode and Jeremy Denk (below) –- and of one my all-time favorite singers, soprano Dawn Upshaw, as well as the great Kronos Quartet.

Jeremy Denk, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

Here is a link to the label’s website with forthcoming releases and a list of recording artists:

http://www.nonesuch.com

In addition, I find the sonic engineering Nonesuch provides is also top-notch. Much as I loved the old Emerson Quartet, when it moved from DG to Sony, it received inferior sonic engineering that favored an echoing or overly resonant ambient sound. Myself, I prefer a clean and close-up microphone that lets my own living room provide the performance space acoustics.

Anyway, I was listening to National Public Radio Wednesday afternoon last week and heard this terrifically informative report on the 50th anniversary of Nonesuch, which is based in New York City and the anniversary of which is being celebrated with special concerts and special releases.

The story particularly emphasized the foresight of the label’s longtime top boss Robert Hurwitz (below, on the left next to Kronos violist Hank Dett and producer Judith Sherman, who also recorded the world premiere commission of the Pro Arte Quartet centennial at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.)

Using his own taste and instinct, Hurwitz anticipated the best-selling popularity of electronic music, Cuban music, ragtime music and many other genres. (Below in an interview he did at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that can be found on YouTube.) One person, it seems, can make a huge difference.

211033-D162

I do wish Hurwitz had offered a fuller explanation of why the wonderful and cheap budget recordings of Baroque music and early music that Nonesuch issued in the 1960s and 1970s -– the ones with the great art on the covers and the ones that hooked so many of us on relatively littkle-known works as well as masterpieces –- have not been remastered and reissued on CD.

Old Nonesuch cover

But in any case, the NPR story provided a fascinating look at how a record company continued to expand and branch out – not by following listeners’ tastes and desires, but by ANTICIPATING them. It is kind of like what happened with Sony and the success of the Walkman.

Some things you just cannot judge by polls and surveys, no matter what the branding and PR experts say. They take personal vision and leadership and risk-taking. That is what the Nonesuch way.

Anyway, here is the link to the NPR story. I hope you find it compelling as The Ear did.

http://www.npr.org/2014/09/10/347155810/nonesuch-at-50-a-record-label-without-borders

 

 


Classical music: A video of UW-Madison violinist Eleanor Bartsch serenading two elephants at Circus World in Baraboo with Bach goes viral — and makes a National Public Radio blog.

September 9, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This isn’t the first time that one or both of the extremely talented violinist Bartsch sisters — Alice (below top) and Eleanor (below bottom), who come from the Twin Cities — have made news and generated headlines during their time as students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, or even in the time following graduation.

Alice Bartsch

Eleanor Bartsch

But it may well be the first time that the event and headline went national, or even international.

Here’s the situation: Eleanor Bartsch played two gigs of the famous and beautiful Concerto for Two Violins by Johann Sebastian Bach with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top). (This  spring her sister Alice left her position as concertmaster of the Middleton Community Orchestra.) One concert, at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, went well and without incident.

Then, she and her concerto partner, violinist Tim Kamps (below bottom) — who also studied at the UW-Madison and who is a member of the Kipperton String Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra as well as the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — moved on to Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

WisconsinChamberOrchestrainCapitolTHeaterlobby

Tim Kamps playing

Just as an aside, Bartsch decided to use some of her warming up time, her practicing and rehearsing, to go serenade two of the elephants at the world-famous headquarters of Circus World with her part of the Bach concerto. The elephants started swaying in time and it was all captured on video and then posted on YouTube.

Eleanor Bartsch and elephant closeup

The Ear was put onto the elephant-violin encounter and its video – which runs under one minute and has been called “adorable” and “cute” by some viewers  — by a close friend and loyal reader of this blog.

But then the word spread like – well, like an elephant stampede. The video has gone viral with almost 2 million hits since August 24.

And of course someone who knows animals pointed out that the way the elephants were swaying was NOT really their way of dancing happily to the Bach rhythms and tune. It was instead a pitiful sign of what happens to animals in captivity when the are subject to obsessive compulsive behavior. Or perhaps what happens when they are in Musk (like heat or rut) and ready to reproduce. Or when they are ready to attack.

Some viewers even said it amounted to distress or animal abuse.

Here are the original videos:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/08/29/a-woman-plays-bach-on-the-violin-to-swaying-elephants-is-this-cute-or-cruel/

And then: VOILA

The outstanding blog Deceptive Cadence, put together by NPR or National Public Radio, linked that video to four other memorable and unusual music videos -– and included the objections from animal-lovers.

By the way, the other four videos are also well worth a look and a listen.

Here is a link to the more comprehensive NPR story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/05/345593233/five-new-classical-videos-you-need-to-see-to-believe

You can decide for yourself.

But somehow The Ear can empathize with those who do not like to see caged animals since I am among them. But I surely do not consider hearing violin by Bach as insult added to injury.

Make up your own mind – and let us know: WHAT DO YOU THINK? Thumbs up or down?

The Ear wants to hear.

And for the record and your listening pleasure, as they say on radio, here is a link to a great performance – WITHOUT elephants — of the same Bach Double Violin Concerto with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman:

 

 


Classical music: Classical music is hardly dying. As the new seasons begins, National Public Radio (NPR) surveys the many new works and world premieres that will take place across the U.S.

September 6, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight marks the opening of a lot of concert seasons across the country. That includes the new season right here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

UW-Madison flutist Stephanie Jutt (below, in a photo by C&N Photography) will perform a FREE program of Latin American music and German music at tonight 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall. She will be accompanied by UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor and UW-Milwaukee pianist Elena Abend.

Stephanie Jutt CR Dick Ainsworth

And over the next several weeks the many other classical music institutions in Madison will also open their seasons: the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Oakwood Chamber Players, the Madison Bach Musicians and so on.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Yet the idea that classical music is moribund, that it is a dying form of culture and art, persists. And critical observers cite smaller audiences, older audiences and debt-strapped organizations as proof.

But if you want to judge the vitality – and possible future -– of classical music in America, you might want to take a look at the season preview that was posted on the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog by NPR or National Public Radio.

The preview looks at world premieres of new works and unusual events or programming of all kinds — but mostly orchestral and operatic — that will take place around the country. The story includes new works by such well-known and prize-winning composers as Jennifer Higdon (below top), John Adams, John Corigliano and Kevin Puts (below bottom) — all of whom have had works performed in Madison.

Jennifer Higdon and cat Beau

Kevin Puts pulitzer

The Ear finds it encouraging and heartening, although he finds it dispiriting that Madison doesn’t make the list, and wonders why? Is it an oversight on the part of NPR? Or the lack of large-scale new music here, despite upcoming appearances by the Jack Quartet and premieres of works by UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger (below) and the world premiere on Sept. 26 by the Pro Arte Quartet of a commissioned Clarinet Quintet by composer Pierre Jalbert. And this summer saw a world premiere by Jeff Stanek at the Token Creek Chamber  Music Festival.

Laura_Schwendinger,_Composer

Anyway, whet your appetite for the new music and for repeat performances of it elsewhere -– like here at home — by reading about it or, better, listening to it. One of the important sites for new works is the impressive outdoor amphitheater at the Santa Fe Opera, (below, in photo by Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera).

Santa Fe Opera auditorium CR Ken Howard SFO

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/03/345259101/great-expectations-a-new-season-of-new-music

Do you think classical music, for all the challenges it faces, is a dying art form?

Or will it persist in some form or another?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Scarlatti sonatas are hot again -– and not just at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which has its closing concert this afternoon.

August 31, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Trends come and trends go.

Who knows why?

A few years ago, it seemed as if I hadn’t heard the famous and overplayed “Appassionata” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in decades. Everyone focused on the last three piano sonatas. And then suddenly there were four or five live performances of the “Appassionata” within a year or two. Can the “Waldstein” Sonata be far behind?

This past couple of years, it also seems almost impossible to escape “La Valse” by Maurice Ravel -– in its two-piano version or its original solo version, or in modified solo version, or in its orchestral arrangements. Maybe the popularity of the work says something about the decadence of our times and our society. Or maybe it has to do with the centennial this year of World War I, which destroyed and demolished the old monarchical “waltz” societies, much as Ravel does in his postmodern deconstruction of the waltz.

In any case, you might recall that only last Wednesday night, the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival featured Smith College pianist Judith Gordon (below) in four Scarlatti sonatas along with 12 preludes by Frederic Chopin. (The festival closes with a SOLD-OUT performance of music by Franz Schubert, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy this afternoon at 4 p.m.)

Here is a link to the festival’s website with information about the artists, the program and tickets:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

Judith Gordon plays 2014

The Ear loved that program about the originality of short forms and keyboard music for both its insight and its beauty. Here is a link to my review:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/classical-music-token-creek-festivals-exploration-of-chopin-and-scarlatti-proves-beautifully-compelling-and-teases-ones-desire-to-attend-one-of-the-two-remaining-concerts-on-saturda/

I hadn’t heard live Scarlatti performances in a while.

But that will change soon, I expect.

Because voila!

It turns out that another trend is in the making. Scarlatti is hot again. There are several new recordings of sonatas by Scarlatti (below) that just came out. And they are featured on the exceptional Deceptive Cadence blog done by NPR, or National Public Radio.

The blog posting – “A Surge of Scarlatti Sonatas” – was written by blog chief Tom Huizenga and even features some sound samples from the various records.

Domenico Scarlatti

I’ll be anxious to see how they measure up to The Ear’s favorite recordings, which include, in approximate order, recordings by: Vladimir Horowitz; Alexandre Tharaud; Andras Schiff; and Mikhail Pletnev.

Here is a link to the NPR story and review. I hope you enjoy it.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/28/343705852/a-surge-of-scarlatti-sonatas

And let us know which one of the 555 sonatas by Scarlatti is your favorite. Slow or fast? Major or minor? Extroverted and dance-like or introspective and meditative?

At the bottom is a popular YouTube video of one of my all-time favorite Scarlatti sonatas, in B minor — Longo 33 or Kirkpatrick 87 — and performed to perfection by Vladimir Horowitz, who brings both clarity and soul to its almost prayer-like intensity.

I would also like to dedicate the performance and the sonata to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, for whom a free and public memorial celebration will be held today at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Include a link to a YouTube recording, if you can.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Meet the Met. Here is a historical pop quiz about the Metropolitan Opera from NPR. But don’t grow complacent because the labor disputes are settled. Troubles are far from over, says one expert.

August 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Now that the labor strife is over and the new season at the Metropolitan Opera (below) will open on time after all, it is time to lighten up and shout out a bit.

Metropolitan Opera outdoors use Victor J. Blue NYT

But no one should be naïve. And no one should get too complacent. Even with the labor negotiations now settled, the future may not be so rosy for the Met, or for other big opera companies:

Here is a commentary in The Wall Street Journal by the acclaimed cultural historian Joseph Horowitz (below, speaking in Madison in 2011) who, you may recall, came to Madison to open the Pro Arte Quartet’s centennial celebration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison three years ago:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/joseph-horowitz-union-trouble-isnt-the-mets-only-problem-1407537082

Joseph Horowitz 2

Still, this season will go on, starting on Oct. 27 with Giuseppe Verdi‘s epic “Aida.” So to see how much you know about the Met –- The Ear finds that opera fans, like sports fans, are vast repositories of historical trivia and statistics.

Try this quiz, based on historical facts, about the Met that was posted by NPR (National Public Radio:

But a word of advice or warning: Make sure your speakers are turned on or use headphones, since sound is an integral part of the quiz:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/20/318464055/the-music-geek-s-met-opera-puzzler

Metropolitan Opera quiz Valkyries Ken Howard The Met

 


Classical music: Good news! The Metropolitan Opera season will open on time, now that it has settled disputes with its labor unions.

August 23, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

A week ago, The Ear offered readers an update on the labor strife at the Metropolitan Opera (below), which had been partially resolved.

The final results, and successful settlement, came in earlier this week.

And the news is good.

metropolitan opera 1

Here is a wrap-up of what happened from several major media outlets, plus a link to the Met so you can check into its various seasons and productions. 

Met from stage over pit

First, here is link to the back story about the first settlements between general director Peter Gelb (below top), who sought even bigger salary rollbacks, and the unions (below bottom):

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/classical-music-the-shows-will-go-on-or-so-it-seems-as-the-metropolitan-opera-and-two-major-unions-reach-agreement/

Peter Gelb

Metropolitan Opera union members

Now here are links to three stories that wrap up the labor disputes and the final outcome:

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/21/arts/music/metropolitan-opera-labor-talks.html?_r=0

From The Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/metropolitan-opera-reaches-deal-with-stagehands-1408526766

From the Associated Press via Billboard magazine:

http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/6221948/metropolitan-opera-reaches-deal-with-stagehands-union

Last but not least, here is a link to the Met’s own website, where you can see the schedule of productions for the regular Met season -– which opens on Oct. 27 with Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” (below, the opera’s show-stoppping Act 2 Triumphal March from a 1989 Met Opera production in a YouTube video) –- and for the productions for “The Met Live in HD,” which are shown locally at the Eastgate and Point cinemas:

https://www.metopera.org/metopera/season/index.aspx?nav=top&gclid=Cj0KEQjw1NufBRCx8ayaqY2t6KkBEiQA2nLWm0XjHlAakMLoTzDM-NoyRoahceCgKqUcDjUgrwGFTjIaAvWB8P8HAQ


Classical music: The shows will go on. Or so it seems as the Metropolitan Opera and two major labor unions reach agreement.

August 19, 2014
1 Comment

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.

Metropolitan Opera outdoors use Victor J. Blue NYT

The agreement involved far smaller concessions and rollbacks than the Met’s general director Peter Gelb (below) proposed.

Peter Gelb 2

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.

Metropolitan Opera union members

Here are two comprehensive stories.

The first is a radio story done by NPR (National Public Radio) by Jeff Lunden:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/18/341369803/met-opera-tentatively-settles-with-two-major-unions

The second story is from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/19/arts/music/in-met-opera-deal-both-sides-give.html?_r=0

Met from stage over pit

 


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