REMINDER: If you can’t or won’t go hear superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott in music by Johannes Brahms, Igor Stravinsky, Astor Piazzolla and others at their SOLD–OUT recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater TONIGHT, you can stream it LIVE and for FREE by going to this website at 8 p.m.:
By Jacob Stockinger
Talk about mixing politics and art!
And especially at a time so close to a contemporary conflict — Hamas, Gaza and Israel — that reflects the continuing tensions, frictions and bloodshed depicted in the original art decades ago.
No wonder, then, that the Metropolitan Opera has been protested and has received death threats over the new production of American composer John Adams’ controversial reality-based opera about Israel and Palestinian terrorists called “The Death of Klinghoffer.”
Due to pressure from the pro-Israeli lobby and some Jewish groups, the opera was already canceled as part of this season’s “Live From The Met in HD” telecasts.
Both detractors and defenders of the opera are deeply displeased with the Met.
But the actual production — which has gone on without incident in other cities at other times — continues in rehearsal as it heads to its opening this Monday night. (At bottom is a YouTube video with the director, conductor and composer of “The Death of Klinghoffer.”)
And here is another story from The Los Angeles Times:
And finally here is a terrific and well-balanced, well-sourced summary story, which includes an interview with librettist Alice Goodman (below) — who converted from Judaism to Christianity and is now an Episcopalian priest in England — about the opera and the protests. It was broadcast Friday on NPR (National Public Radio):
What do you think about the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer”?
Would you be a defender?
Or a detractor and protester?
The Ear wants to hear.
REMINDER: This Saturday night, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below right) will make his seventh appearance at the Wisconsin Union Theater at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall. His recital features works by Igor Stravinsky, Johannes Brahms, Olivier Messiaen, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzolla and others with piano accompanist Kathryn Stott (below left). The event is SOLD OUT to the general public, although some student tickets may remain. For more information, here is a link:
BUT: If you didn’t get a ticket to the sold-out Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott concert Saturday night, October 18, in Shannon Hall in the Wisconsin Union Theater, don’t fret. The concert will be webcast if you go to the page above at 8 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear loves the sound of the viola, with its mellow mediating between the higher violin and the lower cello.
And he will have the chance to hear it in some unusual repertoire this coming Wednesday night, Oct. 22, when the Madison-born violist Vicki Powell (below top) returns to solo with the Middleton Community Orchestra (below bottom, in a photo by William Ballhorn) under conductor Steve Kurr.
The MCO opens its fifth season at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Middleton Performing Arts Center, 2100 Bristol Street, that is attached to Middleton High School. Tickets are $10 general admission; students get in for FREE. Advance tickets can be bought at the Willy Street Coop West.
The program includes the Overture to “William Tell” (which contains the brass fanfare theme to TV show “The Lone Ranger”) by Gioachino Rossini; the Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra by Johann Nepomuk Hummel; the Romance for Viola and Orchestra by Max Bruch; and the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak.
For more information about the amateur but very accomplished ensemble, including how to join it and support it and find out what the coming season will bring, call (608) 212-8690 or visit: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org
Violist Vicki Powell (below) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:
Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers and tell us a bit about yourself, including when you started music lessons, your early preparation and your life in Madison as well as your personal interests (hobbies, etc.) and professional career plans?
Greetings from New York City, the city that never sleeps and that is certainly never lacking in cultural events. I am a native Wisconsinite, raised in Madison, but for the past eight years I have been living on the East Coast.
After earning my Bachelor’s of Music at the Curtis Institute, where I studied with Roberto Diaz and Misha Amory, I moved to New York City to pursue my Master’s at the Juilliard School, and have lived in the city ever since.
My life consists of a potpourri of musical activities, from performing with the Jupiter Chamber Players, to playing with the New York Philharmonic, to collaborating with ballet companies alongside my new music group Ensemble39. I’ve traveled across the globe and collaborated with many incredible musicians, but my most fond memories are from my time back home, the formative years of my musical being.
I began taking violin lessons with Maria Rosa Germain at the age of four after hearing my brother, Derek, play the violin. I have such a vivid memory of the moment when I decided that I wanted to play the violin: It was dusk, and I was curled up on the green shag carpet of our basement floor, the last bits of daylight leaking in through the windows above. Derek was practicing the Waltz by Johannes Brahms from Suzuki, Book Two a few feet away.
I was exhausted after an afternoon of monkeying around on the jungle gym, and the waltz was the most soothing lullaby to my ears, transporting me to that surreal state of half sleep where time seems to stand still. I felt so peaceful, so warm, so content, the effects combining to make the moment so magical that the only logical thing to me upon waking was that I would some day be able to recapture that sensation and make music as beautiful.
My main violin studies were with Eugene Purdue (below, in a photo by Thomas C. Stringfellow), of the famed “Buddy” Conservatory of Music, with whom I studied for nine years. Mr. Purdue also introduced me to the wonderful world of chamber music, taking on the role of devoted coach to my string quartet, the Élève Arte (wannabes of the Pro Arte String Quartet).
The challenge to my string quartet was that there were three of us violinists, and no violist to speak of, so we took it upon ourselves to switch around our roles in order for us each to have a turn at playing the viola. As the years rolled on, it became clear to us that in order to compete at competitions, it was not practical for us to be lugging so many instruments onstage (there exists some comical video footage of this phenomenon).
At this point, I decided that my role in life was not that of diva (ahem, First Violin). Although I find the role of Second Violin extremely vital to the ensemble, challenging, thrilling and full of guts, I was drawn to the uniquely dark tone of the Viola.
To me the viola (below) represented the real meat and soul of the string quartet, and the tone of the viola was the perfect vehicle for expressing all of the rage, pain and suffering that I felt (Bela Bartok’s works were the perfect outlet for those emotions).
Most violists also play the violin. What attracted you to the viola? What would you like the public to know about the viola, which seems less well-known and more mysterious than, say, the violin or the cello?
Having now overcome my teenage angst, I still adore the viola and its role in music -– to be entrusted with the core of harmony, the real color within every texture, gives me such a sense of quiet power with which I can subtly control the direction of a phrase and the shape of an entire work.
Mr. Purdue once shared a piece of wisdom relating to his wife, Sally Chisholm (below), who teaches at the UW-Madison School of Music and performs with the Pro Arte Quartet. She was my first formal viola teacher and the person responsible for expanding my creative horizon beyond the physical realm of music-making.
Those words of wisdom were: “People feel at ease when playing with Sally, and they easily credit themselves for sounding so magnificent. However, it is Sally who, through her playing, acts as such a strong guiding force that the flow of musical intention is undeniable.” That is a powerful statement that has stayed with me to this day, and which I strive to achieve every single day.
Was there an Aha! Moment – an individual piece or composer or performance or recording, when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career and be a violist?
I can’t imagine pursuing a life in anything unrelated to music and the arts, but it was not always that way.
As a teenager, I refused even to dream of becoming a musician –- I’m a very realistic person, and the idea of fighting my way through a world that is so competitive and which is not quite so financially lucrative was not one that appealed to my sensibilities. During my early high school years, I focused my attentions on math and the sciences, preparing myself for a life as a dentist or pathologist.
Then my “Aha!” moment came with my 16th birthday when I gave my debut as a solo violist on the nationally syndicated radio show From the Top on NPR (National Public Radio). It was the first time I had ever played for an audience to which I had no connection — the show was taped in Dallas, Texas — and I suppose the whirlwind story behind my debut as a violist sans string quartet helped to convince me that a life in music would never be boring.
I had such a blast meeting new people, and the thrill that came with being onstage was unforgettable that from that point forward I was hooked.
How do you think classical music can attract more young people?
We so often hear that classical music is dying, a sentiment with which I strongly disagree. Times have changed, and the world has turned to an era of short attention spans and an addiction to social media. I myself am victim to a few of these [shortcomings], but because of them, I am also aware of the enormous amount of interest in the classical world.
I believe that in order to attract more young (and old) fans of classical music, we must be conscious of providing inviting points of entry.
I am very fortunate to be privy to several hip events around New York City that target young people looking to be cultured and have a great time doing so. A few examples are: Groupmuse, Wine by the Glass, NYC House Concerts, the Le Poisson Rouge (below) nightclub. They all introduce music in a social setting where it’s cool to explore, and where you don’t feel constrained by rules of concert-watching etiquette.
What can you tell us about Hummel’s Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra?
Hummel (below) was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, both of whom played the role of mentor for their younger counterpart. Hummel is most well-known for his fantasies, which are said to be “the peak and keystone of virtuosic performance.” The Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra takes on different operatic themes, three of which appear in the version that I will be performing with the Middleton Community Orchestra. (You can hear the Hummel Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
What can you tell us about the Bruch Romance for Viola and Orchestra
The Romance by Max Bruch (below top) holds a very special place in my heart. It was the very last work I performed — with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) — before departing Madison to begin my studies at the Curtis Institute of Music eight years ago! The lush, tonal soundscape will draw in any sucker for Romantic music.
Is there something else you would like to say or add?
I’m very much looking forward to performing at home again, with people that are like family to me. Mindy Taranto, cofounder of the Middleton Community Orchestra, has been such a great friend and supporter to me throughout the years, and I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to collaborate with her and the orchestra.
By Jacob Stockinger
The perennially boyish Joshua Bell, now a veteran of the concert stage and recording studio for more than 25 years, is in his third season as the artistic director of the famed British chamber orchestra Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.
Sony Classical has just released his new recording – which has a program that is all by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). It features two violin concertos plus three arrangements, including the famous Chaconne from the Solo Partita No. 2, for violin and orchestra. (His previous release as conductor and concertmaster of the ASMF players was a fine reading of Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven.)
And despite his Pretty Boy status, Bell — who has performed recitals here at the Wisconsin Union Theater and concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — once again shows himself to be a gifted and serious musician. The Ear finds that he makes sense of notes that often get passed over by other violinists. Bells finds patterns in scales of climbing notes that help give the music momentum and melodic appeal. When he wants, Bell can be absolutely revelatory.
The Ear is not alone in his admiration for Bell at his best. Read the review by New York Times critic Steve Smith when Bell performed the glorious Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at this past summer’s “Mostly Mozart” Festival.
But perhaps the achievement these days it that Bell has become an adamant advocate of music education.
In that capacity he recently was featured in a 30-minute HBO special program about master classes with 9 students.
The Ear recently heard and saw him defend music education as a means not just to raise musicians but to give student more self-esteem and self-confidence. Playing music also brings other benefits, he adds, from better grades and a better sense of teamwork to a lower likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse.
But it is best to let Joshua Bell speak for himself.
Here is a link to an interview his did with NPR or National Public Radio:
And here is a link to a television interview Bell did with reporter Jeffrey Brown of PBS’ The NewsHour as well as to the second, and final, subway appearance. (You may recall how his first anonymous appearance, at the bottom in a popular YouTube video with more than 5 million hits, made such a splash and even won the reporter a Pulitzer Prize.)
Here is a 10-question video interview Bell did with Time magazine, in which he also discusses his love of gambling, his $5-million violin and possible alternative career choices:
And here is the original “anonymous” “Stop and Hear the Music” subway busking “concert” with more than 5 million hits:
Do you have any thoughts about Joshua Bell?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: Just a reminder that there is a lot of live music competing for audiences this afternoon. But if you can, be sure to catch the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet and guest clarinetist Charles Neidich giving the FREE second world premiere performance of American composer Pierre Jalbert‘s Clarinet Quintet — which is based on Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” — at the Chazen Museum of Art at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery 3. The new work, which The Ear heard on Friday night, is the real thing: a winning gem of new music. Of course the short-sighted Wisconsin Public Radio is no longer broadcasting local and regional live music from the museum, so forget the radio. But you can stream the concert live from the Internet at the museum’s website www.chazen.wisc.edu.
And here is a link with an overview of all the music concerts available this afternoon:
Well, here is another reason to welcome the end of the work week and the coming of the weekend.
NPR is saying TGIF.
Every Friday afternoon, the Deceptive Cadence blog folks at National Public Radio gather with the public via Twitter to check out issues and performers, performances and recordings — including the new CD “Motherland” by pianist Khatia Buniatishvili (the Sony Classical CD cover with her Frida Kahlo-like portrait is below and a sample is at the bottom in a YouTube video in which she plays an arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “Sheep May Safely Graze“). You should try checking it out and add your own comments and recommendations.
And that’s just what you can do using the link below:
The Ear thinks you will like it for several reasons.
The discussion keeps you updated on new recordings, new performers and new music. But it also suggests older composers and repertoire to listen to, including recommended interpretations of that repertoire.
It also features some very insightful and some very funny comments from other readers and followers that you can check out.
So don’t be afraid to hop on in – or at least to add to your To Do List checking out Deceptive Cadence at NPR every Friday.
By Jacob Stockinger
Christopher Hogwood (below, in a photo by the Associated Press), who, along with Trevor Pinnock, Gustav Leonhardt, John Eliot Gardiner and Frans Bruggen, became synonymous for many us with the movement to promote early music with authentic instruments and historically informed performance practices, has died.
He died Wednesday and was 73, and he had been ill for a brief time. He died at his home in Cambridge, England.
There are many things that The Ear loved about Hogwood, but nothing more than his recordings of string concertos by Antonio Vivaldi for their verve and of symphonies and concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for their sweetness and transparency, energy and clarity. (You can hear Hogwood conducting the Academy of Ancient Music in 2009 in Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan. They are playing the spectacular and virtuosically contrapuntal last movement of Mozart’s last symphony — Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”– at the bottom in a YouTube video. Just listen to the cheers!)
Hogwood’s version of the popular oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel is still my preferred one. Hogwood always seemed to serve the music first and foremost, and not fall into the kind of goofy or quirky readings that, say, Nikolaus Harnoncourt often did. Everything he did seemed balanced and just plain right, but nonetheless ear-opening in its originality. He made you say: THAT’S the way it should sound.
But curiously, Hogwood (below, in a photo by Marcus Borggreve) seems to have understood other people and performers who prefer early music played in more modern approaches or idiosyncratic or individualistic manners. The Ear likes that kind of non-purist and tolerant approach to early music, to all music really. He is what Hogwood said in one interview:
‘THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH PLAYING THINGS HISTORICALLY COMPLETELY INCORRECTLY: MUSIC IS NOT A MORAL BUSINESS, SO YOU CAN PLAY ABSOLUTELY IN A STYLE THAT SUITS YOU AND PLEASES YOUR PUBLIC. IT MAY BE COMPLETELY UNRECOGNISABLE TO THE COMPOSER BUT SO WHAT, HE’S DEAD.’
Here is a fine story from NPR (National Public Radio):
Here is a comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:
Here is a story from The Washington Post:
And here is a small story that appeared in Hogwood’s native Great Britain, even though Hogwood also directed American groups in Boston, St. Paul and elsewhere:
Here is a link to a 70-minute podcast that the magazine Gramophone did to mark Hogwood’s 70th birthday:
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:
Here is a link to a review by John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:
Here is a link to the review by Gregg Hettmansberger (below) for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:
And here is a link to Lindsay Christians’ review for The Capital Times and 77 Square:
By Jacob Stockinger
All right, then.
The Big Vote is over.
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.
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.)
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:
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.
By Jacob Stockinger
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.
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.)
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.)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Here is a link to the label’s website with forthcoming releases and a list of recording artists:
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.
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.
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.