By Jacob Stockinger
They made chamber music hip when it used to be square.
I’m talking about the Kronos String Quartet, which for decades has, in Bob Dylan’s famous lyrics, remained “Forever Young.”
But they aren’t young except in spirit, where it really counts.
In case you missed it, a week ago Friday was the 40th anniversary of the internationally acclaimed and ever-performing, ever-recording, ever-commissioning and ever-morphing Kronos Quartet (below).
The Kronos Quartet, which has a local Wisconsin tie through the original cellist Jean Jeanrenaud (below), who retired in 1998 from the group and its hectic touring, made history in many ways.
For one, the Kronos changed the notion and model of string quartets and chamber music in general. They were unafraid to go electric when needed. And so they expanded the audience for string quartets and chamber music to younger people.
The Kronos focused on modern and contemporary music and commissioned hundreds of new works from contemporary composers. That is a formidable legacy for the future.
The Kronos focused on crossover music and broke the mold of separate categories. (Below, they are playing outdoors in Warsaw, Poland, in 2006.)
The Kronos focused on ethnic music and Third World composers. (Below, they are playing with celebrated Chinese pipa player Wu Man, who is in the center of the photo.)
In the end, they sold millions of recordings and helped change the business model that string quartets and chamber music used to survive and prosper. (Below, they are performing on the BBC Radio in 2012.)
Some critics of the Kronos might say they didn’t change it for the better. But what the Kronos did has remained permanent and popular. It changed the scene for many quartets that came after them, including the popular Quartetto Gelato and the Turtle Island String Quartet.
So to catch up with all that the Kronos represents, here are links to some pieces from background history and backstories to concert reviews.
Here is the story that was on NPR:
Here is a fine, comprehensive profile by The New York Times:
Here is a review of the concert in Carnegie Hall that appeared in the New York Times:
Plus here is a review of the same program done earlier on the West Coast by The Los Angles Times:
The Ear likes a lot of the Kronos’ work. But curiously I prefer some of the ethnic and crossover music -– a version of rock and roll icon Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” (in a popular YouTube video at the bottom) is the famous example — better than much of the contemporary stuff.
What is your favorite Kronos Quartet album or even single performance?
And what role did the Kronos Quartet play in your own appreciation of chamber music, especially string quartets, and contemporary classical music or new music?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
HAPPY BELATED BACH BIRTHDAY
For The Ear, Sunday morning is always Bach Time.
True, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below) is good to listen to anytime of the day or night. And indeed on Friday, which as Bach’s actual birthday in 1685, the commercial station Sirius XM radio played all-Bach while Wisconsin Public Radio played generous helping of Bach.
But something about the Baroque style and about Bach’s music in particular, beyond its religious or theological aspects, seems especially suited to morning and especially to Sunday morning. (Am I alone in that feeling?)
That is when I especially love to listen to a cantata, a violin or keyboard concerto, some of the solo suites for violin, cello and piano. It just feels right for Sunday morning.
So, go ahead: Celebrate Bach’s birthday today, even if it is a bit belated. What piece of Bach do you most love to listen to? Tell The Ear in the COMMENT section.
And while you are at it, try taking the Bach Puzzler quiz that appeared on NPR. It asks 10 questions about Bach’s music and life, and teaches you things you might not know. The Ear scored 9 out of 10. He’s betting many of you can do better.
Here is a link:
THE FINAL FORTE
The FREE concert, under the baton of University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music guest conductor James Smith (below), who is filling in for John DeMain, features performances by the four finalists (two other rounds have already been completed) for the Bolz Young Artist Competition -– in other words, a teenage concerto competition.
It will start at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast LIVE over Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio.
To add to the excitement, right after the performances are over, and while the orchestra plays on its own, the judges will caucus and vote, and the winners and prize placements will then be determined and announced.
PLEASE NOTE: Those attending the performance in person must be in their seats by 6:45 p.m. And they must make reservations by calling the MSO at (608) 257-3734.
The four young artists competing are (below, from left to right, in photo by James Gill):
Violinist David Cao, 15, who attends James Madison Memorial High School in Madison and who will play the first movement of the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
Violinist Bethany Moss, 17, is a senior home-schooled in Appleton, Wisconsin. He will perform the third movement of the Violin Concerto in B Minor by French composer Camille Saint-Saens.
Pianist Bobby Levinger, 17 is a senior at Central High School in LaCrosse. He will play the first movement of the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.
Marimba player Ephraim Sutherland, 15, is a sophomore at Viroqua High School. He will perform the Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra by French composer Emmanuel Sejourne. (You can hear the first movement in a YouTube video at the bottom)
In case you have to miss the Final Forte this Wednesday night, you can always record it. But there will also be encore broadcasts of the competition.
For more about these impressive sounding performers, including more complete biographies of them, and for broadcast dates and times, visit these two sites:
By Jacob Stockinger
In case you missed it, March 8, 2014 – a week ago Saturday — was the 300th birthday of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below in a painting from 1733 by a relative), one of the several famous musical sons of the illustrious Johann Sebastian Bach.
What should you know about C.P.E. Bach? What is his importance in artistic and musicological terms? He was a seminal figure in crossing over from the Baroque era and style to the Classical era and style.
But the details about how he did that are fascinating — and make for good listening. And they make him seem under-appreciated and underperformed. (One important example you can hear in his important Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Fortepiano in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
I can’t think of a better introduction than the one provided by the “Deceptive Cadence: blog on NPR. It feature historical and biographical background. And it also included sound samples and recording recommendations.
Here is a link:
For live music, you might want to read the following announcement from blog friends and local music, baroque violinist Edith Hines and keyboardist (harpsichord and organ) UW-Madison professor John Chappell Stowe who together make up the Ensemble SDG (below).
Next Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23, they will perform a 300th birthday tribute.
Here are details:
“In the month of March 2014, Ensemble SDG celebrates the 300th anniversary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (born March 8, 1714) with a recital of his music along with works by three of his close contacts: his famous father, Johann Sebastian Bach (below who also has a birthday this month); his godfather, Georg Philipp Telemann; and one of his colleagues, Johann Gottlieb Graun.
“We will present the program twice in Madison: on Saturday, March 22, at 7 p.m. at the Chocolaterian Cafe (2004 Atwood Avenue); and on Sunday, March 23, at 3 p.m. at the Madison Public Library (Central Library, Room 301, 201 West Mifflin Street).
“Both performances are free, although donations will be gratefully accepted at the Chocolaterian. Not to mention, of course, that the Chocolaterian would appreciate your patronage—and we can affirm that when you look at the menu or in the bakery case, you may find it difficult not to oblige!
“For more information, including program details, please visit our blog at jsb1685.blogspot.com
“We hope to see you there!”
By Jacob Stockinger
The headlong rush toward the end of the semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is about to begin with the Spring Break, which runs from March 15-23. After that is over, about six weeks or so of concerts remain, and the UW-Madison School of Music concert calendar will get even more jammed with conflicts.
So here are the events for this week before the break.
At 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, an Opera Workshop will take place –probably the last one for University Opera to be done by its outgoing director Bill Farlow (below, in a photo by Kathy Esposito), who will retire at the end of the semester.
The event usually features student singers in scenes from famous operas with piano accompaniment. Sorry, no word yet about the specific performers or works on the program. But the programs and performers usually get high marks from local opera fans.
Also on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, guest marimba player Andy Harnsberger (below), will perform a FREE concert.
Harnberger will perform with members of the UW Western Percussion Ensemble (below), though The Ear has not received word of specific works on the program.
Andy Harnsberger (below) has performed as percussionist with numerous American orchestras, as well as the contemporary music ensemble “Currents”, and has toured extensively as percussionist and xylophone soloist with The Jack Daniel’s Silver Cornet Band. He has also made several guest appearances on NPR, both in interviews and in live performances, to bring public awareness to the marimba as a solo instrument.
Harnsberger is Assistant Professor of Music and Percussion Coordinator at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee and is active throughout the year as a freelance percussionist and recitalist. He is in demand as a clinician across the country and internationally, presenting clinics and master classes at many universities each year.
His compositions have been performed at PASIC and around the world and he is a recipient of the ASCAP PLUS award for his contributions to American Concert Music. Harnsberger earned his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Performance and Literature at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he also received the prestigious Performer’s Certificate. Andy is a performing artist and clinician for Pearl Drums and Adams Musical Instruments, Innovative Percussion, Inc., Evans Drum Heads, Sabian Cymbals, Ltd., and Grover Pro Percussion.
Also on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. but in Morphy Recital Hall, cellist Mark Kosower and his pianist wife Jee-Won Oh (both below) will perform an evening of famous piano quartets: one in G minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (at the bottom you can hear a popular YouTube video the final movement of the Mozart quartet with an intriguing abstract animation or illustration); the other in C Minor by Johannes Brahms.
They will be joined by another wide-and-husband team: UW violin teacher and Madison violinist Eugene Purdue (below top) and Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm (below bottom).
Principal Cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra, Kosower will be at the UW School of Music March 10-12. He is on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music, and previously taught at the San Francisco Conservatory. He is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and has performed in Madison on many previous occasions.
Kosower will also offer a cello master class on Wednesday, March 12, in the afternoon. The time and place are yet To Be Announced.
Learn more about Kosower at:
There is an afternoon master class with resident guest cellist Mark Kosower (below). SEE ABOVE.
At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra (below), under director and conductor James Smith, will give a FREE concert.
The program includes the “Lucient” Variations by Milwaukee-born composer Michael Torke; “The Birds” by Ottorino Respighi; and the Serenade No. 2 by Johannes Brahms.
By Jacob Stockinger
Oscar would no doubt say that movie soundtracks deserve special attention and serious consideration as art music.
And it would be hard to disagree with them.
Perhaps some would say that movies are the real operas of our day, except that the music plays a secondary or tertiary role.
Besides, more and more symphony orchestras are turning to concert programs that feature movie soundtracks, perhaps to attract new and younger audiences.
And radio stations seem to be mixing in and playing more and more movie music on their classical programs.
And more and more composers who aspired to be classical composers but who were forced earn a living in Hollywood –- Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below) comes immediately to mind –- are being increasingly programmed for their classical fare as well as their commercial Hollywood work.
Besides, “crossover” and “fusion” are the key words of the day in the classical music scene, as you can see with the success of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project (below top) and the “new tangos” by Astor Piazzolla (below bottom), to name but two examples.
So perhaps it is only natural that, in the run-up to the Academy Awards tonight, NPR and its terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence’ have featured several posts about the music that is featured in nominated movies, especially the story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the late 110-year-old pianist (below, in photo by Yuri Dojc) who survived Auschwitz by playing music, especially the etudes of Frederic Chopin -– and who just died last week. (You can hear her speak and play the piano at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that has almost a million hits.)
The Ear suspects her story, “The Lady in Number 6,” will win the Oscar for short documentary because she was the oldest survivor of the Holocaust and was a testament to the power of music, and therefore of all art and beauty, over evil and adversity. She embodied hope — a cherished value.
Here is a link to her fascinating and detailed obituary in The New York Times:
So as you prepare to watch the live broadcast on ABC-TV tonight starting at 6 p.m. CST (it will also be streamed live), here are links to consider when you think about music and films.
Here is the link to a story about music and documentaries:
Here is an overview of several nominees, including William Butler (below) of Arcade Fire, for Best Score:
And here is a link to another story about quiet music – specifically, composer Alexandre Desplat and his score for “Philomena” starring Judi Dench (below) — and how hard it is to compose and perform:
By Jacob Stockinger
Tomorrow, on Sunday night, March 2, the annual Oscars, the 86th annual Academy Awards, will be given out starting at 6 p.m. CST on ABC-TV, which will also stream the awards broadcast live.
The Ear hopes that this time Oscar gets it right.
I recall one memorable year when they got it wrong.
That was in 2006 at the 78th annual Academy Awards.
Even the late, great and popular film critic Roger Ebert (below, in a photo by Vince Bucci), whose choices I usually admired and concurred with, got it wrong.
In 2006, two of the top contenders for Best Film were “Crash” and the heavily favored ‘Brokeback Mountain.”
“Crash” dealt with race and racial tensions in Los Angeles, and focused in interrelated stories that were well told and well acted by some fine names, including Thandie Newton (below left), Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon (below right) and Don Cheadle.
“Brokeback Mountain,” based on the short story by Annie Proulx that was first published in The New Yorker magazine, dealt with two young modern-day cowboys in Montana struggling to deal with and acknowledge their gay identity and their love for each other.
Late in the game, Roger Ebert came out in favor of “Crash” as the most deserving film to receive the Best Picture award. His influence may well have set the upset in motion.
But Ebert was wrong.
“Brokeback” deserved the honor. It was a moving film with great music and great cinematography. Most of all, its story and character study were very poignant and bittersweet, even heartbreaking. And it was masterfully acted by Jake Gyllenhaal (below left) and by the late Heath Ledger (below right).
Not that Crash wasn’t a fine film. It was. But race had been dealt with very well in a many other films over the years.
On the other hand, “Brokeback Mountain,” directed by the incomparable and eclectic Ang Lee, was a break-though work of art, a pioneering achievement that proved nothing less than revolutionary in the way it introduced gay subject matter and characters into mainstream Hollywood cinema in a sympathetic way.
And the current move of public opinion towards approving of marriage equality – or gay marriage or same-sex marriage – just goes to prove the point.
“Brokeback” did win three Oscars – but NOT the one for Best Picture, which went instead to “Crash,” a good movie but not a better movie than “Brokeback.”
But American composer Charles Wuorinen also found something inspiring in the story of two lonesome gay cowboys up on an isolated Montana mountain. So he asked the author to rework the story into an opera libretto while he went to work composing the music. (Below, in the title roles, are Tom Randle, left, and Daniel Okulitch, right):
The results are an opera based on the revised short story.
How good are the results?
Here is a balanced and insightful review of the opera’s world premiere at the Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain, from senior music critic Anthony Tommasini for The New York Times, who rightly thinks a love story calls for a little more singing and melody. He seems to be saying: Right story, wrong composer.
But more to the point, you can judge for yourself. You can now hear the opera FREE via streaming for another 60 days or so thanks to Medici TV. (You can get a taste in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Here is link to the story on NPR’s “Morning Edition” that features an interview with Proulx (below) and also give some background as well as a link to the opera broadcast on Medici.
Here is a link to the NPR story:
So let’s hope The Academy gets the right movies for the right awards Sunday night.
Here is a link to much more information about the Oscars.
And you can return here tomorrow where you will find more Oscar-related stories about music top serve as background before you tune into the always endless live broadcast with this years; host, Ellen DeGeneres –- an out lesbian whose appearance attests to the prescience of “Brokeback Mountain.”
By Jacob Stockinger
For quite some time now, NPR has featured “Tiny Desk Concerts” — classical, jazz, folk, roots music — during which major performers play live in the crowded NPR studio. They are easy to link to and stream over your computer or maybe even your TV set these days. (NPR books great guests, including, below bottom, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma.)
You can also find NPR links to and archives of other live performances -– often through radios stations such as WQXR-FM in New York City and WGBH in Boston –- and include a recital of live music in major halls and venues, including one of Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Claude Debussy and Frederic Chopin by the acclaimed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes at Carnegie Hall (below). And there are many, many others.
And now Deceptive Cadence seems to be acting like musical anthropologist. The time they went out “into the field” – that is, not in the usual venues and concert halls.
That’s not unheard of, of course. That is how the great composer Bela Bartok (below) started out as a musical anthropologist or ethnologist of Hungarian and Romanian folk music, and then used his research to morph into one of the pioneers of musical modernism. Chopin used Polish music like the mazurka to create a new Romanticism. And in American folk music, the musical anthropology of Alan Lomax is legendary.
Specifically, NPR went to the piano factory of Steinway and Sons in New York City and recorded the red-hot glam pianist Yuja Wang playing the fiercely difficult Toccata in D Minor, Op. 11, with all its hypnotic repetition of a single note, by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev on a brand new Steinway concert grand. (You can see and hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom. Don’t forget to click on the icon that is second from the right to enlarge the video image to fill your computer screen.)
The music and the physical virtuosity or dexterity is amazing to behold.
It is also kind of cute and informal to watch the diminutive figure of the glamorous Wang playing difficult cert music in a cold, wood-strewn and equipment-strewn warehouse in fingerless wool hobo gloves that go up her forearm –- but only after she uses the reflective fallboard above the keys to put on glossy lipstick and so complete her outfit of black fur-like boa, black stiletto heels and geometrically high fashion black-and-white dress.
Ah! Those tribal ceremonies and native attire!
Anyway, here is a link to the performance by Yuja Wang at the Steinway and Sons factory in the borough of Queens, not the usual Steinway showroom in Manhattan where most pianists test and choose pianos for their performances.
The Tiny Desk Concerts archive has lots of kinds of live performances.
For example, here is the famed Kronos Quartet (below) doing a recent Tiny Desk Concert featuring its latest recordings. Many other such concerts by other artists have been archived and are readily accessible:
And here is a link to the archive, with links to other older archives, of music Live in Performance housed at NPR. It includes chamber music, orchestral music (below is the Mideast peace-promoting Palestinian-Israeli West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under co-founder and director Daniel Barenboim in Carnegie Hall), operas and recitals:
ALERT: If you are undecided about going to this afternoon’s concert at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth (below), here are links to positive reviews by John W. Barker for Isthmus and by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:
By Jacob Stockinger
Well, when a holiday falls on a Friday – like Valentine’s Day this year — one can be forgiven for prolonging it over the weekend, don’t you think?
But it seems a good chance to blend two recent stories and trend lines that are increasingly coming together.
And coming out.
One is the recent various court victories for marriage equality, or same-sex marriage, or gay marriage. Whatever you want to call it, it seems to becoming more and more a legal and social reality with every week that passes.
And those legal victories lead to more and more gays and lesbians coming out, including the star football player and top NFL draft possibility star Michael Sam (below top) and “Juno” actress Ellen Page (below bottom).
Here is a link to a New York Times story about Michael Sam:
As for Valentine’s Day, imagine what how rewarding it could be to work cooperatively in the performing arts with your life partner and love.
NPR highlighted various musical couples in classical music who met in a musical setting and fell in love while working, and who now get to work together.
And for good measure, they included the Metropolitan Opera star soprano Patricia Racette (below top, out of costume, and below bottom in the title role of Puccini’s “Tosca”), who openly talks about what a great marriage she has with her female partner. (You can hear Patricia Racette as the title character Cio-Cio-San sing the finale of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
Of course, most of the couples are heterosexual in the story just as they are in real life. And we have seen some of them – tenor Stephen Costello (below top) at the Madison Opera‘s Opera in the Park as well as cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han (below bottom) at the Wisconsin Union Theater, in Madison.
But it is both sensitive and brave of NPR, which is always under the gun and budget knife of the self-righteous and nutty right-wing extremists and homophobes, to do the story.
Here is a link:
One can only hope and imagine the chain reaction that is to happen as each coming out brings several more, as bravery and tolerance build, and as the visible becomes visible.
Saint Valentine -– at least my Saint Valentine — would be very pleased.
By Jacob Stockinger
What is the best way to listen to classical music?
How can you get the most out of what you are listening to?
One way is not to use the music as wallpaper – as background music to brunch or some other social event or personal task.
But even if you give the music your full attention, what is the best way to get the most of out of your listening?
The Ear suspects that a lot of people — especially performing musicians and composers — have a lot of different answers.
Tsioulcas lists and elaborates on four ways to turn your listening experience into a richer and more informative as well as enjoyable experience.
Here is a link:
Of course many of us have learned other lessons in listening over the years.
The Ear, for example, would suggest not always comparing the performance you are listening now to the first or favorite performance of the same work that you heard live or recorded long ago and grew to love. Otherwise you are more likely to overlook whatever originality the new performer you are listening to brings to the score.
For example, comparing all Chopin performances today to those by Arthur Rubinstein (below top) or Vladimir Horowitz (below second) might cause you to overlook what some of the new young Chopinists like Daniil Trifonov (below third) and Jan Lisiecki (below bottom, in a photo by Mathias Bothor for Deutsche Grammophon) bring with them, as I will explain further in another posting.
The same goes for orchestral, chamber music, vocal music and opera performances: Try to remain open to newness and difference.
But different kinds of music an instruments might even demand different approaches to listening, as the deaf but acclaimed and popular percussionist Evelyn Glennie explains in a widely circulated YouTube video about whole body listening at the bottom.
Do you have suggestions or tips about listening to classical music that might help others? Share them in the COMMENTS section.