The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here are the best classical recordings of 2014 from The New York Times, The New Yorker magazine and The Boston Globe as well as NPR.

December 20, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is the last weekend for holiday shipping before Christmas, and retailers expect today to be even bigger and busier than Black Friday.

But whether you go to a local brick-and-mortar store such as Barnes & Noble or use the Internet, there is still time to order and receive such items as gifts.

Plus, whether you are looking for a gift for someone else or for what to buy with that gift card or cash you receive, perhaps you will find the following lists convenient and helpful.

The three lists are compilations of the Best Classical Music Recordings of 2014, even if they appear a bit late. (I seem to recall that these lists appeared closer to Thanksgiving or Black Friday in past years, but I could be wrong.)

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

The first list, a long one, comes from the various critics at The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/arts/music/classical-critics-pick-the-top-music-recordings-of-2014.html?_r=0

It covers solo instruments, vocal music, operas, orchestral music, chamber music – you name it.

The second list from a critic for The Boston Globe:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2014/12/13/the-best-albums/6q7Tin4lPvj5RmqfCCSTFP/story.html

The third list comes from ace music critic and prize-winner Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker Magazine. He names 20 different recordings along with 10 memorable live events from the concert scene in New York City.

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/ten-notable-performances-recordings-2014

Alex Ross 2

The Ear finds it interesting how many agreements there are about certain composers, works and performers – such as the haunting, 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning work “Become Ocean” by the contemporary American composer John Luther Adams (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the Schubert recording by British pianist Paul Lewis (below middle) in late music by Franz Schubert or Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic in two symphonies by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

John Luther Adams

Paul Lewis

Here is a link to a previous Top 10 Best of 2014 list from NPR (National Public Radio), complete with CD covers and sound samples, that I posted:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/classical-music-need-gift-suggestions-npr-names-its-top-10-classical-music-albums-of-2014/

Happy shopping!

And even happier listening!!

It will be interesting to see what 2015 brings.


Classical music education: Superstar violinist Joshua Bell talks about the importance of music education and reaching people in unusual places — like subways. Plus, his terrific new all-Bach CD merits your attention.

October 4, 2014
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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.

joshua Bell

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.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/22/arts/music/joshua-bell-plays-mostly-mozart.html?_r=0

Joshua Bell Bach CD cover

But perhaps the achievement these days it that Bell has become an adamant advocate of music education.

Joshua Bell with students

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:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/29/352494911/three-quick-lessons-from-the-violin-wunderkind-who-became-a-master

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.)

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/violinist-joshua-bell-turns-train-station-concert-hall-encourage-arts-education/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/grammy-winning-violinist-joshua-bell-takes-another-turn-at-a-subway-concert/

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9grpRj-KvtU

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. 


Classical music education: An impressive and long overdue brass festival -– “Celebrate Brass!” — will be held at the UW-Madison School of Music. It opens next Wednesday, Oct. 8, and runs through next Monday, Oct. 13.

October 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

A good friend in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, who also happens to be an avid brass fan, recently wrote to The Ear:

“A young violinist I know heard a brass quintet perform last spring at the UW-Madison School of Music, and afterwards she said to me: ‘I had no idea this music is so beautiful.’

brass photo UW Celebrate Brass festival 2014

“She’s not alone. Most people don’t know. They associate brass with marching bands, or with obnoxious loud horns. And occasionally they notice a high trumpet solo in an orchestra concert (and don’t actually see the trumpeter as she or he is seated so far in back).

“But there’s much, much more. Think of the beauty of strings, with its complex interweavings of melodies and lushness of sound, but applied to trumpets, trombones, “French” horns and the tuba.

And then there are the works that are dramatic and insistent, such as “Quidditch,” written by John Williams (below) for the Harry Potter movie.

john williams 1

That is what the UW is offering during its weeklong Brass Festival — “Celebrate Brass”  – the first in 32 years at the School of Music and organized by John Aley (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), professor and principal trumpet with the Madison Symphony Orchestra as well as a member of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.

This event will even bookend John’s tenure here at the School of Music, as he helped organize the first brass festival 32 years ago.

John Aley Talbot

The main concert, called “Brass Alchemy,” on next Saturday, Oct. 11, will present a varied program of lyrical music that is just as much a part of the classical repertory as anything else.

“And the visiting performers are tops in their fields.

One is Oystein Baadsvik (below) an iconoclastic virtuoso tubist from Norway. Two are UW-Madison women alumna horn players. Another is a top composer and trumpeter.

oystein baadsvik behind tuba

“The two brass quintets – including the Western Brass Quintet (below top) from Michigan and Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below bottom in a photo by Megan Aley) at the UW-Madison School of Music — are frequent commissioners of new works, essential if one is to continue the growth and development of classical music. (The Western Brass Quintet will feature a new work by American composer Pierre Jalbert whose “Howl” Clarinet Quintet scored such a success in its world premiere by the Pro Arte Quartet last Friday night. Below is a link to The Ear’s rave review of the Jalbert work.)

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/classical-music-the-ear-gets-to-hear-a-masterpiece-in-the-making-pierre-jalbert-howl-clarinet-quintet-it-sure-sounds-like-it-will-become-a-chamber-music-staple-of-new-mu/

Western Brass Quintet

Wisconsin Brass Quintet 2014 CR Megan Aley

“The School of Music is ticketing this main concert only — a departure from the recent past but long overdue, one that will be followed during the year for selected other concerts. Money raised will be put toward the many needs of the UW-Madison School of Music, which is another topic in itself.

“All the rest of the week’s events — master classes, colloquia and several other concerts — are FREE and open to the public.

“Tickets for the general public are $25 for the one concert listed below, but all students get in FREE. For information, visit http://www.music.wisc.edu/about-us/tickets/

“One hopes that these performances and educational festivals this year can be continued into the future, as they offer so much more than a stand-alone guest artist.

“One can also hope that listeners will discover an angle that is particularly interesting to them –whether it’s a solo tuba work called “Fnugg” (seriously) or the grace of a choral work performed by soaring brass.

“Here are a few links that illustrate the program for that night’s concert:”

“Quidditch” by John Williams:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdVRaCibYLU

“Of Kingdoms and Glory” by Anthony Di Lorenzo:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4eeOPPon28

“O Magnum Mysterium” (choral music arranged for brass) by Morten Lauridsen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8y5GYboGdc

“Elegy” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Kevin Puts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oliao3JixtY

http://www.amazon.com/Sound-Bells-Works-Brass-Ensemble/dp/B004DKDNYS

The Ear is also providing some other links that seem relevant and informative.

Here is one to the official UW-Madison School of Music press release with the full schedule and list of programs and performers:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/brass-festival/

And here is one to Wisconsin Public Radio’s recent session of “The Midday” with host Norman Gilliland and guest UW-Madison trumpeter John Aley. It has lots of good commentary and great samples of brass music:

http://www.wpr.org/shows/john-aley

And here is a link to a Tiny Desk Concert, given by the Canadian Brass, playing Johann Sebastian Bach in a studio for NPR or National Public Radio:

 


Classical music: Today is the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. What music will you play or listen to in order to commemorate the tragic events and loss of life?

September 11, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today marks the 13th anniversary of 9/11 and the tragic events during the terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda on the United States, in New York City on the Twin Towers; on Washington, D.C,, and the Pentagon; and on United Airlines Flight 93, which passengers made crash into a Pennsylvania field before it could destroy the U.S. Capitol or White House.

Twin Towers on 9-11

There is a lot of great classical music that one could play to commemorate the event and loss of life. There are, of course, requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Giuseppe Verdi and Gabriel Faure.

There are masses and other choral works by them and also Ludwig van Beethoven and others. And there are a lot of opera arias and choruses as well as art songs.

There are large-scale symphonic and choral work as well as more intimate chamber music and solo works, especially the solo cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, one of which, thanks to cellist Vedran Smailovic (below) in 1992, became am emblem of the awful and bloody siege of Sarajevo by the Serbian army. Chamber music by Franz Schubert — such as the slow movement of the Cello Quintet — would at the top of my list.

Sarajevo cellist Vedran Smailovic 1992

Then there is the contemporary work “In the Transmigration of Souls” by the American composer John Adams. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was written specifically, on commission from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, to remember 9/11 and which uses actual tape recordings of the events and responses of that awful day. And another work by Steve Reich.

Myself, I tend towards the tried-and-true, the pieces of music that never fail to take me to the appropriate place in memory and sorrow.

So today, at the bottom, I offer a YouTube video of the last movement of the profoundly beautiful and moving  “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms. It is more secular than religious, and it asserts that “Blessed Are the Dead … for They Rest from Their Labors and Their Works Shall Live After Them.”

Hard to disagree, don’t you think?

So here it is.

But be sure to let us know what music you will be playing and what piece or pieces you favor to commemorate 9/11.

 

 

 


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival’s exploration of keyboard miniatures by Chopin and Scarlatti proves beautifully compelling and teases one’s desire to attend one of the two remaining concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Plus, read two reviews of the festival’s opening concert.

August 29, 2014
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ALERTS: The Ear wasn’t able to attend the opening concert last weekend of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival in the refurbished barn (below). But here are reviews by two local critics who did.

Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43447&sid=9664bddf418a3137f76a449de690c285

Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for the Classically Speaking blog of Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/August-2014/The-25th-Token-Creek-Chamber-Music-Festival-Happy-Anniversary-From-Start-To-Finish/

TokenCreekbarn interior

By Jacob Stockinger

As usually happens at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, the concert of the second program on Wednesday night was a collaborative effort in exploration.

In this case, three key players participated: returning guest pianist Judith Gordon, who is now a professor at Smith College; Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur Foundation “genius” award-winning composer, MIT teacher and co-artistic director John Harbison, who never fails to illuminate the music with his insightful brief commentaries; and co-artistic director and violinist Rose Mary Harbison, who programmed part of the concert as well as performed.

Rose Mary Harbison (below) also played the famous “Spring” Sonata for violin and piano, which John Harbison said pointed to how Ludwig van Beethoven — who aimed for the epic rather than the miniature — checked out the achievements of contemporaries and then figured out his own way to enter the mainstream.

Rose Mary Harbison also partnered with Gordon in a theme-and-variations piece by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a piece The Ear found a little bit charming and a lot underwhelming.

Rose Mary Harbison plays Spring 2014

Then, on both halves of the program, came music by Frederic Chopin and Domenico Scarlatti.

In the very capable hands of Judith Gordon (below), those two composers proved to be the axis of the program and a fascinating coupling.

Judith Gordon plays 2014

The two composers, one Baroque and the other Romantic, were chosen because they both focused on smaller-scale works. Exiled from his native Italy and isolated in courts in Portugal and Spain, Scarlatti (below) wrote 550 keyboard sonatas of astonishing variety, color and virtuosity.

Domenico Scarlatti muted

Chopin (below), on the other hand, turned inward in the bustling artistic scene and intellectual ferment of Paris, and focused on smaller forms -– none smaller than the Preludes played at Token Creek. They seem a kind of Rosetta Stone for deconstructing and understanding the structure of the rest of Chopin’s output; or perhaps they are like a Table of Contents, abbreviated guides to, or outlines or preparatory sketches of, so many other works.

Chopinphoto

But in both cases, as John Harbison explained clearly, the two composers narrowed down their ambitions to achieve the kind of unique and idiosyncratic achievements or originality that many other composers can only dream of achieving. They were like poets who find freedom in the formal confines of the sonnet form.

John Harbison picked two pairs of Scarlatti sonatas for Gordon to perform: one early pair in E major (one is the famous calling card of Vladimir Horowitz in a YouTube video at the bottom) to show Scarlatti at his compositional planning phase with pretty regular development; and two late ones in F-Sharp minor to show how later in life Scarlatti increasingly sounded as if he made things up as he went along.

For her part, Rose Mary Harbison selected two sets of six preludes each by Chopin -– he wrote 24 as a set, then added a posthumously published one –- to demonstrate much the same effect: the contrary moods and Chopin’s extraordinary gift for compression and brevity, for his ability to make a 30-second piece sound complete or whole, as if it has a beginning, middle and end. (At the bottom is a YouTube performance of one of the loveliest preludes on the program, the mini-Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, in a live performance by Maurizio Pollini.)

The compare-and-contrast strategy worked very well, as was demonstrated not only in performance but also in a Q&A-type interview (below) that Judith Gordon did with John Harbison.

Judith Gordon and John Harbison 2014

The Ear will long remember the unusual coupling, which is often the way Token Creek goes about programming unexpected matches, for the insight they shed on both composers, whose works, as it happens, I myself like to play on the piano.

It also tells us what to look for and to value at Token Creek: Unusual and unexpected approaches that yield unforgettable results.

Two more performances remain in this summer’s season, on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., and they will feature the pianist husband-and-wife team of Harvard Professor Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang performing music by Franz Schubert, C.P.E. Bach and Maurice Ravel as well as Rose Mary Harbison in the knockout Violin Sonata by Claude Debussy, his last work and one of his best.

Here is a link for more information and tickets:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

This year the festival is celebrating both its own 25th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below).

carl philipp emanuel bach

To history, the C.P.E. Bach anniversary no doubt matters more.

To my ears, however, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival anniversary matters more.

And despite C.P.E. Bach, whose music will by and large remain on my record shelf and not in my CD player, the night belonged to Domenico Scarlatti and Frederic Chopin.

It is not easy to shed new light on old masterpieces, but that is exactly what the Harbisons and Judith Gordon managed to do.

What can one say but: Thank You!

 


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival starts Saturday. It celebrates 25 years with observing the 300th anniversary of C.P.E. Bach and by offering a wide range of works and composers that includes a world premiere by Jeffrey Stanek and a Midwest premiere by John Harbison.

August 18, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Every year, it marks the end of the summer classical musical season in Madison.

But this year brings something special.

This year, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The festival opens this coming Saturday night, Aug. 23, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31. It features the usual lineup of outstanding imported artists, all assembled by the co-artistic directors, who are the award-winning composer John Harbison (Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”) and his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (both below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). This year, there is NO jazz cabaret.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

The five performances of three programs -– with two Sunday matinee concerts –- will all take place in the lovely renovated barn (below) in nearby Token Creek. The space is ideal for the intimacy of chamber music, which is important since the festival is more of a niche event for serious music fans than a popular or populist event.

TokenCreekbarn interior

In addition to the playing, John Harbison will provide his always pithy and insightful commentaries on the composers and the works.

The festival will focus not on itself and its own anniversary so much as on the 300th anniversary of the birth of composer Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (below), one of the composer sons of Johann Sebastian Bach.

carl philipp emanuel bach

The acclaimed musicologist and keyboard artist Robert Levin (below top) will return from Harvard University -– John Harbison teaches at nearby MIT –- and will perform with his pianist wife Ya-Fei Chuang (below bottom).

Levin with piano

Ya-Fei Chuang 2014

Boston-area pianist Judith Gordon (below) will also return to play works by Scarlatti and Chopin.

judith gordon

But once again, as is customary, fine local talent will also perform, including Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra principal cellist Karl Lavine (below top, in a photo by Brynn Brujinn), Madison Symphony Orchestra violinist Laura Burns (below middle, by Brynn Brujinn) and flutist Dawn Lawler (below bottom).

IV Karl Lavine, CR Brynn Bruijn

- Laura Burns CR Brynn Bruijn

Dawn Lawler

Rose Mary Harbison will perform Bach and Debussy among other works.

And new music will not be forgotten. There will be a world premiere of a specially commissioned piece by local composer Jeff Stanek (below) and the Midwest premiere of John Harbison’s own “Songs America Loves to Sing.”

jeffrey Stanek

Today, The Ear offers an overview of the festival with the artists, programs and concert information. Tomorrow, The Ear will offer two appetite-whetting essays: the first, by Rose Mary Harbison, talks about the festival anniversary; the second, by John Harbison, talks about the achievement and music of C.P.E. Bach.

For more information, including programs, performer biographies and archives, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org

For tickets ($30 with a limited number of $10 student tickets):

Call (608) 241-2524 or visit http://tokencreekfestival.org/2014-season/tickets/

Token Creek 2011 Mozart Trio, Levin, Harbison, Ryder

PROGRAM I: AMERICAN SPRING

Saturday, Aug. 23, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 24, at 4 p.m. (The Sunday performance is SOLD-OUT.)

Works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, John Harbison and Jeffrey Stanek will be featured.

Says John Harbison: “It would be inarticulate to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of C.P.E. Bach without the music of J.S. Bach and Joseph Haydn, both his origins and in some sense his destiny. Let’s not kid ourselves, these anchors have more weight than the ship we are launching.

“But CPE’s virtues are made clearest by juxtaposing his cheeky, mischievous and iconoclastic imagination against the stabilizing, normative and, finally, more clear-minded music of his father precursor and his successor ‘heir.’

“It could be said that CPE’s task was to dismantle some of his father’s synthesis, and Haydn’s was to reassemble, balance and clarify the brilliant musical vistas glimpsed by CPE.”

“Songs America Sings proposes to adapt J.S. Bach’s chorale prelude principle, his inclusion of familiar melodies as tugboats through unfamiliar musical waters, into a modern setting, the tune supposedly widely and currently familiar, the compositional terrain complicated by canons, re-harmonizations and diversions.”

The program includes:

J.S. Bach: Solo Violin Partita in E Major (selections)

Haydn: Trio in D major for violin, cello, and piano, Hob XV:24

Jeffrey Stanek: A WORLD PREMIERE (commissioned for the festival’s 25th anniversary) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

C.P.E. Bach: Sonata V in E minor for piano, violin, and cello, Wq 89, no. 5

John Harbison: “Songs America Loves to Sing” (Midwest Premiere) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

Dawn Lawler, flute; 
Joe Morris, clarinet; 
Rose Mary Harbison, violin; 
Karl Lavine, cello; 
John Harbison, piano
; Jeffrey Stanek, commissioned composer

TokenCreekentrance

Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 8 p.m.
 Works of C.P.E. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Frederic Chopin and Ludwig van Beethoven

“What can we say about a composer who winds up composing entirely, or at the least primarily, for one medium? Chopin (below) and Scarlatti both found that restriction to the keyboard, rather than limiting their resources, freed their imaginations. By immersing themselves in the sound and attach of a single instrument they each became more peculiar, un-imitatable, and irresistible. In small forms, they found snowflake variety.

“Anchoring the program, Beethoven, a universal large-scale composer whose Sonata in F somehow acquired the title “Spring.” If spring, it is the changeable, difficult weather, more showers than flowers.”

The program includes:

Scarlatti: Selected keyboard sonatas

Chopin: Selected Preludes for piano

C.P.E. Bach: Arioso with Variations in A, for keyboard and violin, Wq 79

Beethoven: Violin Sonata in F major, Op. 24 (“Spring”)

Judith Gordon, piano; 
Rose Mary Harbison violin

Chopinphoto

PROGRAM III: THE PERENNIAL AVANT-GARDE

Saturday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 31, at 4 p.m.

Works of C.P.E. Bach, Franz Schubert, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy

“Occasionally, but not always, composers decide to take it further, to write a piece with absurd levels of discontinuity (C.P.E. Bach’s Fantasy), radical conciseness and semaphoric, sketchy formal outline (Debussy’s Sonata), over-the-top nostalgia and apocalyptic prediction (Ravel’s La Valse), and form and scope too big for its medium (Schubert’s Grand Duo, for one piano, two players). A program of extremes: in the service of liberty — no vice.”

The program includes:

C.P.E. Bach: Fantasia in F-sharp minor for Keyboard, Wq 67; 
 Sonata in C Minor for Keyboard and Violin, Wq 78

Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano (heard in a performance by James Ehnes in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Ravel: La Valse (arranged for piano by Ya-Fei Chuang)

Schubert: Grand Duo, for one piano-four hands

Robert Levin, piano; 
Ya-Fei Chuang, piano; 
Rose Mary Harbison, violin

Tomorrow: Violinist and co-director of Token Creek Festival Rose Mary Harbison writes about 25 years of presenting the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Composer John Harbison writes about his changed appreciation of C.P.E. Bach.

 

 


Classical music: The New Yorker magazine opens up its on-line archives. You can read for FREE fascinating profiles of pianists Lang-Lang, Helene Grimaud and Jeremy Denk; of mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato; and of violinist Christian Tetzlaff. Follow these links on NPR.

August 16, 2014
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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.

AlexRoss1

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.)

Lang Lang Liszt cover

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.

Jeremy Denk, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

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:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/12/339560307/read-these-while-theyre-still-free

 


Classical music: On Day 2 in Belgium, the University of Wisconsin Pro Arte Quartet is offered rehearsal time in a bar; meets descendants of the original members of the quartet; and performs its first concert to applause, appreciation and acclaim.

May 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Editor’s note: The Well-Tempered Ear has asked people and participants on the one-week tour in Belgium with the UW Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) to file whatever dispatches and photos they can to keep the fans at home current with what is happening on the concert stage and off.

Thanks goodness for iPads, iPhones and other smart phones, computers and digital cameras!

Here is a link to the dramatic first installment:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/classical-music-the-university-of-wisconsin-pro-arte-quartet-lands-in-belgium-gets-detained-at-customs-and-is-rescued-in-time-for-practicing-and-playing-concerts/

And here, below, is the second installment:

Pro Arte 3 Rick Langer copy

After troubles at customs and catching up from jet lag, the Pro Arte Quartet got down to the business of eating and sleeping, rehearsing and performing, of meeting its public and catching up with its history.

The quartet members and their entourage of groupies -– the quartet consists of violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm, cellist Parry Karp plus manager Sarah Schaffer — spent time meeting and greeting the descendants of the original quartet members who started the ensemble over a century ago at the Royal Belgian Conservatory of Music in Brussels before it became a Court quartet and then World War II stranded the quartet in Madison.

That’s when, in 1941, the quartet became artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where they have remained ever since.

Here are some updates on Day 2 of the Belgium tour:

Read on:

Sarah Schaffer writes:

Day 2 — Thursday:

Much calmer!

Today’s “crisis” is small compared to yesterday’s:

The quartet needed a place to rehearse.

We’d assumed, incorrectly it turned out, that the hotel would have something like a meeting room that might be used.

No luck.

They offered instead the BAR! It is not open mornings.

And that is where Michel Arthur Prevost (below left in my photo), the grandnephew of founding violist Germaine Prevost and the impresario of the opening concert at Flagey Hall, first encountered the quartet when he unexpectedly arrived at the hotel this morning. On the right is his brother Jean Marie Prevost.

PAQ in Belgium brothers Michael Arthur Prevost (left) and Jean Marie Prevost Sarah Shaffer

Acoustics at Flagey were fantastic, as they quartet found out when rehearsing.

PAQ in Belgium rehearsing i Flagey Hall Sarah Schaffer

The opening concert was much enjoyed by a small but extremely appreciative audience.

PAQ in Belgium Performing in Flagey Hall Sarah Schaffer

Tomorrow we meet King Philippe’s counselor, Herbert Roisin, and offer him our gift of the photos of the old and current quartet members and a letter from our new University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank that we carried with us to Belgium.

Plus, the Pro Arte Quartet has received media attention, the local newspaper running a story (below) in French under a headline in English:

PAQ Belgium newspaper

Adds violist Sally Chisholm, who always has an eye for the feature and the fun:

What a fine way to travel!

Here is a very professional taxi driver taking us to Flagey Hall.

Much acceleration, good humor and the local title of Place des Morts (Square of the Dead) for the number of pedestrians crossing the street.

We are now in Studio 1, safe and greeting the grandnephews of Germain Prevost and many Pro Arte friends.

PAQ in Belgium taxi driver Sally Chisholm

Here is the grandson of cellist Robert Maas, speaking with Anne Van Malderen who is writing a documentary history of the Pro Arte. He speaks no English, but is very easy to understand!

PAQ in Belgium grandson of cellist Robert Maas  speaks with Anne van Malderen who is writing a documentary study of PAQ Sally Chisholm,

And here is the great-granddaughter of Robert Maas:

PAQ Belgium great grand daughter of Robert Maas Sally Chisholm

What a wonderful hall and appreciative audience.

Here is the stage before I played the Elegy for solo viola that was composed by Igor Stravinsky for one Pro Arte member and dedicated to the passing of another, Germaine Prevost. I performed it after remarks, in French, by Dr. Prevost, grand-nephew of Germain Prevost.

PAQ Belgium Stage Sally Chisholm

And here is the brief review by Dr. Robert Graebner, a UW-Madison alumnus and retired Madison neurologist who, with his wife Linda Graebner, is following the Pro Arte on its one-week tour and who commissioned for the quartet’s centennial the String Quartet No. 6 by American composer John Harbison — who teaches at MIT and co-directs the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival near Madison each August, and who has won both the Pulitzer Prize and a coveted MacArthur “genius” grant:

We just returned from a private concert at the historic Art Deco Flagey Studio 1. (Below is a photo of the concert posters taken by Sarah Schaffer.)

The Pro Arte was in top form, and attendees included two relatives of Germaine Prevost and two relatives of Robert Maas.

PAQ in Belgium Flagey concert poster Sarah Schaffer

Tomorrow brings a concert at the Royal Library.

So stayed tuned as the Pro Arte performs again (below is the printed program from Sarah Schaffer)  and meets The Royals – or at least their reps.

PAQ in Belgiium concert prgram Sarah Schaffer 

 

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Classical music: Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society announces its 23rd season “23 SKIDDOO” this June, with an emphasis on Latin American chamber music, a Midwest premiere by American composer Alan Jay Kernis and a silent Charlie Chaplin film with a musical score. It will take place June 13-29 and includes 3 weekends, 3 venues and 12 concerts with six different programs.

April 7, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Madison-based fun-filled and pun-filled Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society –- which The Ear named as Musician of the Year –- has announced its 23rd annual summer concert series, called “23 Skiddoo.”

The eclectic and unorthodox chamber music series, which will emphasize Latin American music, will take place this summer, from June 13 to June 29, 2014. It will be held over three weekends in three different venues and with 12 concerts offering six different programs. (Below is the official poster logo for 23 SKIDOO.)

23Skiddoo logo

Here is the official press release:

Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society (BDDS) presents its 23rd annual summer chamber music festival, “23 SKIDDOO,” from June 13 to June 29, 2014.

This festival features 12 concerts over three weekends, each weekend offers two different programs.

Concerts will be performed in The Playhouse at the Overture Center in Madison (below top); the renovated historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle); and the Hillside Theater at architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (below bottom). 

BDDS Playhouse audience

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

taliesin_hillside2

Combining the best local musicians and top-notch artists from around the country, a varied repertoire and delightful surprises, BDDS presents chamber music as “serious fun” infused with high energy and lots of audience appeal, and makes this art form accessible to diverse audiences.

Led by artistic directors and performers Stephanie Jutt, flute, and Jeffrey Sykes, piano, (below in a photo by C Photography) 15 guest artists will perform in the festival.

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

“23 Skiddoo” is early 20th century American slang that refers to leaving quickly or taking advantage of an opportunity to leave. Jutt and Sykes have taken some great colloquial expressions and found musical connections for them: sometimes obvious, sometimes oblique — but always leading to thrilling music.

Highlights for this season include Latin American music — especially from Argentina — two pianos on stage in one weekend, a Midwest premiere by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Aaron Jay Kernis, and a silent film score including a screening of the film, below, by and with Charlie Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplin The Count

WEEK 1

We have two spectacular programs our first week, “Getta Move On” and “Exit Strategy.”

“Exit Strategy” features music written at the end of composers’ careers. It includes Claude Debussy‘s profound Sonata for Violin, the last work he wrote; Maurice Ravel’s popular “Bolero” in its original two-piano incarnation, almost his last work; Arnold Bax’s beautiful sonata for flute and harp; and the scintillating “Paganini” Variations of Witold Lutoslawski for two pianos.

“Getta Move On” features music inspired by dance, including Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s thrilling “Symphonic Dances” for two pianos, Ravel’s nostalgic “La valse” for two pianos, and the Midwest premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’ evocative work “The Art of the Dance” for soprano, flute, harp, viola and percussion.

Madison’s piano star Christopher Taylor (below top) will pair up with BDDS artistic director Jeffrey Sykes on the two-piano works. The programs will also showcase the talents of Canadian harp virtuoso Heidi Krutzen and Pro Musicis award winner Yura Lee (below bottom) on violin and viola.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Yura Lee 2

Icelandic soprano Dìsella Làrusdóttir, hailed by Opera News as “a voice of bewitching beauty and presence,” will join in the premiere of the work by Aaron Jay Kernis (below)  and other works.

Concerts will be performed at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Friday and Saturday, June 13 and 14, at 7:30 p.m. and Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 15, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

aaron jay kernis at piano

WEEK 2

The second week features “Take a Hike” and “Hasta La Vista, Baby.”

“Take a Hike” includes music inspired by the countryside, from an Amy Beach “Romance,” to Johannes Brahms’ gorgeous Clarinet Trio and Mozart’s pastoral Piano Concerto No. 23, which celebrates the Austrian countryside, to works by Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino (below).

Carlos Guastavino

“Hasta La Vista, Baby” is an extravaganza of Latin American chamber music from the sultry, sensuous, heart-on-the-sleeve tangos of Astor Piazzolla (below) to the mystic profundity of Osvaldo Golijov‘s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.”

We are thrilled to have clarinetist Alan Kay, principal of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, joining BDDS for the first time.

He will be joined by audience favorites Carmit Zori and Suzanne Beia, violins; David Harding, viola; and Tony Ross and Beth Rapier, cellos.

astor piazzolla

Finally, we have invited master pianist and arranger Pablo Zinger (below), one of Piazzolla’s champions who played with Piazzolla own’s quintet and is an international authority on Latin music, to give our programs authentic Latin flair. (You can hear Pablo Zinger playing with the composer in a popular YouTube video with over 1 million hits at the bottom in the beautiful bittersweet song “Adios, Nonino” that Piazzolla wrote when his father died. Zinger opens with a long and impressive solo piano riff and at about 1:48 minutes finally breaks into the heartbreaking melody.)

Concerts will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m.; at the The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 21, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, on Sunday, June 22, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Pablo Zinger at piano

WEEK 3

The final week includes “Cut and Run” and “Hightail It.”

“Cut and Run” features music by composers who made well-timed exits or transitions in their lives. Bohuslav Martinu escaped Europe just before the outbreak of World War II; when he arrived in the US, he wrote his jazzy Trio for flute, cello and piano. In Russia, Dmitri Shostakovich (below) responded to the war by writing his very moving piano trio. In this work, he got himself back into the good graces of the Soviet authorities—and yet still managed to sneak into his work an ironic critique of Soviet life.

dmitri shostakovich

Darius Milhaud’s great work for piano four hands, “Le boeuf sur le toit,” was originally intended as the score for Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie “The Count,” a movie (below) that culminates in a hilariously well-timed exit. Our program will reunite the movie with its erstwhile score.

Charlie Chaplin The Count 2

“Hightail It” includes music with fast codas. “Coda” is the Italian word for “tail,” and it refers to the final section of a movement or a piece. This program includes William Hirtz’s fun, over-the-top “Fantasy on the Wizard of Oz” for piano four-hands, and the jazzy, rhythmic Sonata, for violin and cello, of Maurice Ravel. The thrilling, symphonic Piano Trio in F minor of Antonín Dvořák brings the season to a close.

The San Francisco Piano Trio (below) — violinist Axel Strauss, cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau and BDDS artistic director pianist Jeffrey Sykes — will be joined by Boston Symphony pianist Randall Hodgkinson and BDDS Artistic Director flutist Stephanie Jutt in these programs.

San Francisco Trio 1

Randall Hodgekinson 1

Concerts will be performed at The Playhouse of the Overture Center for the Arts on Friday, June 27, 7:30 p.m.; at the Stoughton Opera House on Saturday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, on June 29, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

FREE FAMILY CONCERT

For the fourth year, BDDS will also perform one FREE family concert, “Getta Move On Kids,” an interactive event that will be great for all ages. Together with the audience, BDDS will explore why dance-like melodies and rhythms can get people on their feet; they’ll listen to and repeat rhythms and move to the music.

This will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 14, in The Playhouse at the Overture Center.  This is a performance for families with children ages 6 and up and seating will be first come first served. CUNA Mutual Group, and Overture Center generously underwrite this performance.

University of Wisconsin-Madison artist Carolyn Kallenborn (below top with a set from 2011 below bottom), who works in textiles artist, will create a stage setting for each concert in The Playhouse. All concerts at The Playhouse, the Opera House and Hillside Theater will be followed by a meet-the-artist opportunity.

BDDS Carolyn Kallenborn 2

BDDS 2011 Kallenborn installation

The addresses of location and venues are: Stoughton Opera House, 381 East Main Street in Stoughton; the Overture Center in Madison at 201 State Street; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.

Single general admission tickets are $39. Student tickets are only $5. Various ticket packages are also available starting at a series of three for $111.  First-time subscriptions are 50 percent off.

For tickets and information, call (608) 255-9866 or visit: www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com (additional fees apply).  Hillside Theater tickets may be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900.  Tickets are available at the door at all locations.

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Classical music Q&A: The Annals of Accompanying, Part 1 of 2. The Ear talks with baritone Paul Rowe and pianist Martha Fischer, both of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, about the challenges of accompanying in their joint FREE performance this Wednesday night of Hugo Wolf’s complete “Italian Songbook.”

March 24, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Baritone Paul Rowe and pianist Martha Fischer have been performing song and song cycles together for almost two decades at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Some performances, like Schubert’s “Winterreise,” have even been published and recorded in book-and-CD format (bel0w) that also features moody theme-related, black-and-white photographs by the Madison-based photographer and violist Katrin Talbot and a foreword by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison.

Winterreise UW Press

Fischer, who teaches Collaborative Piano at the UW-Madison, has also accompanied countless instrumentalists.

This Wednesday night, March 26, Rowe and Fischer will give a FREE performance of Hugo Wolf’s complete “Italian Songbook” at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

To The Ear, it seemed like the perfect occasion to explore the complexities of accompanying and of musical collaboration. The two musicians (below left and center with UW alumna Julia Foster, right, who teaches voice at Rollins College and will join in the singing of the Wolf songs) generously agreed to respond to the same questions. Those questions and their answers will be featured today and tomorrow on this blog.

Paul Rowe, Martha Fischer and Julia Foster 1

Why is “accompanying” now referred to as “collaboration”? What distinction is one trying to make? What would you like the audience to listen for and hear in an exemplary collaboration?

PAUL ROWE: To me, this is all in the interest of equal billing for equal participation.

In the past the singer was often the “star,” who hired a pianist to play for them. This started to change in some cases as far back as the 1840s when Felix Mendelssohn and then Johannes Brahms played with selected singers in salons and concert halls. They would do what we now call recitals and might feature music by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann or Brahms or Mendelssohn.

The first of the great modern collaborators was Gerald Moore (below in 1967, seated, with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on the left, and also at the bottom in a 1957 YouTube video that celebrates spring with two songs by Franz Schubert). Moore joined many of the great post World War II recitalists including Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Fritz Wunderlich, Kathleen Ferrier, Janet Baker and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in many performances.

Other great pianists who also collaborated since that time have included Leonard Bernstein, Wolfgang Swallisch, Daniel Barenboim, Benjamin Britten and Mstislav Rostropovich. The next generation included Graham Johnson, Harmut Höll, Jorg Demus and many others. All of these great pianists deserve equal billing with the singers or other musicians.

MARTHA FISCHER: When thinking about the specialty of “pianists-who-prefer-playing-with-others,” Collaborative Piano is a more inclusive term.  It refers to all of the many possibilities of collaboration – duos, trios, larger chamber works, piano-four-hands, two pianos, accompanying choirs, playing as orchestral pianists or with wind ensembles, etc.

This is the explanation from a purely practical standpoint.  But in addition to that, there is the fact that over time “accompanying” had come to have a pejorative connotation — that “those who can’t really play SOLO piano become accompanists.”  In more recent years, I believe that we (including pianists, by the way) have come to understand that it is an art in and of itself that deserves the same respect as any other kind of music-making.

I usually have a whole class in my undergraduate accompanying course where I talk to the students about the importance of approaching their collaborative repertoire with the same kind of integrity that they do their solo repertoire.

If we, as pianists, think of it as “just accompanying” — as a lesser experience — then we are perpetuating the stereotype that accompanists are good sight-readers who should stay in the background and be nothing more than pretty wallpaper to the soloist’s great artistry.

If we as pianists bring all we have to offer to the table and are as prepared (or more so) than our partners, then we play in a way that demands respect.  And that’s where it should all begin.

dietrich fischer- dieskau and gerald moore in 1967

Historically or on the contemporary scene, are there great collaborations that you admire and view as role models?

PR: I would have to rate the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Gerald Moore (below) and Peter Pears/Benjamin Britten duos as among the most influential for me. Also, Pierre Bernac/Francis Poulenc and Gerard Souzay/Dalton Baldwin rank very high.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore 1

MF: Some of the greatest collaborations between singers and pianists?  They include Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (below), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the great Gerald Moore (Fischer-Dieskau collaborated with many pianists, among them being Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Sviatoslav Richter and others; and Gerald Moore collaborated with virtually every great singer in the mid-20th century, but Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore’s collaborations are still very special). And then there’s Francis Poulenc and Pierre Bernac!

Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten

Today, I often look to the British pianist, Graham Johnson (below top), who created “The Songmakers’ Almanac,” a group of singers who would do projects of art songs and specially designed programs. (He has done HUGE recording projects for the Hyperion label including the complete Schubert songs, the complete Brahms, Schumann, etc.).

Graham Johnson is also a gifted writer about music and I absolutely love his extensive notes on every song he has recorded. His writing gives us a glimpse into the detailed scholarship, creativity, and imagination that he possesses as an artist (In fact, I have especially enjoyed reading his notes on Wolf’s “Italian Songbook”!) In America, pianist Steven Bleier (below bottom), who teaches at the Julliard School and who played at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival with the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, has put together The New York Festival of Song that does similar song-related concerts on special topics or composers.

Graham Johnson at piano

There are many other great accompanists today, all of whom I see as role models: Malcolm Martineau, Roger Vignoles, Helmut Deutsch, Justus Zehen, Julius Drake, Craig Rutenberg, Warren Jones and Martin Katz, just to name a few.

steven bleier

TOMORROW: What qualities make for a great accompanist or collaborator? What are the most rewarding and most challenging parts of working together? Are some styles of music easier to accompany? And what makes Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Songbook” special?

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