By Jacob Stockinger
A frequent critic and gifted guest reviewer on this web site recently referred to Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine as the most exciting violin talent to emerge on the American scene.
Well, Barton Pine is indeed special and very gifted, as she proved earlier this month when she opened the Wisconsin Union Theater season with the magnificent Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, performed with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra conducted under the baton of UW alumnus and Madison native Kenneth Woods.
Here is a link to that review:
But The Ear has to respectfully disagree.
For my money, or my taste, or my values — whatever you want to call it — the most exciting violin talent on the American scene is Hilary Hahn (below).
Hahn performs the classics and the great masterworks terrifically, with a great sense of architectural shape and beautiful tone, plus exciting but not exaggerated or distorted interpretations.
She also plays modern works and commissions works, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon (below) who teaches composition at the same Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where Hahn trained.
And her two recitals with the then relatively unknown pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater were among the best performed and most originally programmed recitals that I have ever heard.
Oh, and Hilary Hahn also blogs, by the way.
And she also did her own interviews, posted on YouTube, with the 27 composers — including Max Richter, Lera Auerbach and Avner Dorfman — who composed the encores.
Check out her website: http://hilaryhahn.com
Now the heirloom record label Deutsche Grammophon has released the “The Hilary Hahn Encores in 27 Pieces,” which features 27 recently composed pieces, all commissioned by Hahn for her use as concert encores. It is a welcome throwback, in a way, to salon music and to composers like virtuoso violinist Fritz Kreisler.
I don’t know how they did it – I suspect it was some kind of swap for advertising space – but NPR has terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” and a feature called “First Listen” that also allows you to hear some music before it is released commercially. (But, as I understand it, you can’t download it or recorded it from the NPR site.)
NPR did the same for Jeremy Denk’s acclaimed new recording for the Nonesuch label of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.
Anyway, here is a link to the new Hilary Hahn CD of encores. Enjoy the music and listening to it.
And let us know your Top 5 picks of the 27, or even just your Top Pick.
It will be interesting to see if there is a consensus and what ones are liked the most.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Is the novel dead yet?
Well, some say yes and some say no. I suppose it depends on what you are looking for.
Lots and lots of novels continue to be written and published, and to sell big.
But then again, one can argue, the novel just doesn’t seem to have the cultural power or sway, or the same serious reader appeal, that it once held in the 19th and 20th centuries.
So can one ask the same thing about the symphony?
Why should one compose today in a musical form or genre that can seem so outdated, according to some who critics who point out that it dates back to at least Franz Joseph Haydn in the 18th century with roots going back even further back than that.
The American composer Kevin Puts (below, in a photo by Andrew Shapter), defends writing symphonies, even as he is doing so. Puts, you may recall, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his opera “Silent Night,” about the Christmas Truce on the front lines and in the trenches during World War I.
By the way, Kevin Puts’ own 2001 postmodern orchestral piece “Inspiring Beethoven,” which is based on the famous Allegretto movement of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 (below, in a YouTube video with intriguing schematic graphics and over 5 million hits) was performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra two seasons ago. (You can hear “Inspiring Beethoven” performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Ear finds his case compelling and shares his defense of the symphony. Maybe you will too.
Here is a link to Puts’ essay, which has a lot of specific modern composer names and examples of modern symphonies as well as links:
What do you think? Is the symphony or concerto outdated or dead?
Do you have a favorite modern or contemporary symphony?
What is your favorite symphony of all time?
The Ear wants to hear.
But in the mean time, please excuse me.
I have to get back to working on the pre-deceased novel I am writing.
Maybe I’ll listen to a symphony while I am writing it.
ALERT: Tonight, at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square downtown, is the opening the 30th annual series of Concerts on the Square (below top) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Although most of the programs for the next six Wednesdays (rain dates are Thursdays) feature mostly pop, folk and rock music, tonight’s is an all-classical program with the student violinist David Cao (below bottom), who won this year’s WCO concerto competition for young people. He will solo in the tuneful and irresistible Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (the opening with Janine Jansen is in a YouTube video at the bottom). Also featured are works by Prokofiev (“Peter and the Wolf”), Tchaikovsky (excerpts from “Sleeping Beauty”) and Respighi. For more information about tonight’s event and all six Concerts on the Square, use this link:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s good friend Rich Samuels (below), who loves classical music and hosts his weekly radio show “Anything Goes” every Thursday morning from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. on the community-sponsored radio station WORT-FM (89.9) writes:
“I’ll be broadcasting Madison composer Jerry Hui’s Internet opera “Wired for Love” on my show in two segments: Acts I and II (beginning at 7:08 am) on June 27; the final act will begin at 7:08 on July 4. I’m airing the work in two segments on account of its length. I also want it to air during the 7 a.m. hour when more people are able to listen.
“It will be interesting to see what Jerry Hui — below — comes up with for the next Madison Area Youth Chamber orchestra (MAYCO) concert on Aug. 9.
“On July 11, I’ll be airing a pre-recorded interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning and MacArthur Fellow or “genius” grant-winning composer and Token Creek Chamber Music Festival co-director John Harbison (below).
“I will also play a recording of his “Remembering Gatsby,” a precursor of his opera based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A concert version of “The Great Gatsby,” which was commissioned and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, will be performed at Tanglewood that same evening.”
“I’ll be programing lots more Harbison in weeks to come. He turns 75 at the end of the year.
ALERT: This Friday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW conductor James Smith (below) will lead the UW Symphony Orchestra in the annual FREE concert by the student concerto competition winners and the student composition winner. This year’s program includes: Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s “Capriccio Espagnol”; soprano Shannon Prickett singing the aria “Pace, pace mio Dio” from Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino“; percussionist Jacob Wolbert in the third movement of Joseph Schwantner’s Concerto for Percussion; cellist Philip Bergman in Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto, Op. 129; violinist Nathaniel Wolkstein in the first movement of Camille Saint-Saens‘ Violin Concerto No. 3; pianist Yusuke Komura is the first movement of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor; and “Whispering Seraphim” by student Joshua Hintze, conducted by David Grandis.
By Jacob Stockinger
For The Ear, one of the MUST-HEAR concerts will take place this coming Saturday night, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
That is when the Pro Arte String Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) -– now in its record-breaking 101st season after last year’s commission-filled Centennial -– will perform a very appealing program that is FREE and open to the public.
The first half of the chamber music concert is devoted to quartets based on the theme–and-variations format.
The concert opens with the last unfinished quartet, Op. 81, from 1847 by Felix Mendelssohn (below), who died at 36 that same year. The work has two movements that Mendelssohn supposedly wrote in overwhelming grief at the death of his sister-composer Fanny Mendelssohn.
Then comes the world premiere of a string quartet from 2012 with 14 short movements by the American composer Joel Hoffman (below) of Cincinatti, whose work is often featured in Madison by members of the Karp family at their Labor Day concerts.
As The Ear understands the story, Hoffman wrote the work for the Pro Arte on the occasion of its centennial last season. (The Pro Arte Quartet has a long history, right from its founding, of playing and championing new music, starting from Schoenberg, Webern, Berg and Bartok right through today.)
But the Arte had already commissioned several new works (string quartets and piano quintets) for the centennial — including one quartet by well-known American composer John Harbison, who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” that also features many small or short movements. So this “volunteer” commission by Hoffman was not included in the official centennial, but will finally get a hearing.
I have found Hoffman’s work – a couple of piano trios and a cello sonata, I seem to recall – modern but accessible, interesting and engaging. Se will see how the strong quartet stacks up.
Then the concert will conclude with one of the great all-time masterpieces of chamber music: Mozart’s String Quartet in G Major, K. 387, from 1782, one of the six great “Haydn” quartets that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) composed to honor his older mentor Franz Joseph Haydn, who had basically invented and perfected the string quartet as a genre and whom Mozart admired and loved.
In fact the two geniuses played string quartets together, with Mozart (below right) on viola and Haydn (below left) on violin.
In related news, The Ear has also learned that the Pro Arte Quartet has signed on to do a European tour in the first half of January 2014. The exact itinerary, details and length are still being worked out, but the tour will include at least one stop in Belgium.
Belgium is where the Pro Arte was founded at the Brussels Conservatory in 1911-12 and eventually became the royal court quartet before being exiled in Madison by World War II and accepting an artist-in-residence post at the UW-Madison in 1940, where it has remained ever since.
In addition, a quartet by a contemporary Belgian composer, Benoit Mernier (below), whose work has been commissioned as part of the continuing centennial celebration and will be premiered next season.
By Jacob Stockinger
What should you wish for to benefit classical music in the coming year?
NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog put that question to two outstanding and Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary composers including Jennifer Higdon (below top, with her cat Beau) whose “blue cathedral” will be performed next weekend by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and Kevin Puts, below bottom, whose work the MSO has also performed), a producer, a performer, a presenter and a couple of bloggers.
The answers are predictable, for the most part.
But I see that as a plus.
With such unanimity or at least agreement, maybe these wishes can come true – to the betterment of classical music — in the coming year and the years that follow it.
My favorite wish is asking people to forego recordings for live concerts. Very do-able, no?
But take a look for yourself.
Then let us know what you think.
And leave your own wishes or resolutions in the COMMENTS sections.
Here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
It got largely lost in all the hullabaloo coverage of the Presidential Election, but there was other news that happened this past week.
A major piece of culture news is that the dean on American classical music composers, Elliott Carter, died last Monday at 103. Carter had won two Pulitzer Prizes and a host of other honors and awards.
Carter (below top, in his younger years) was a devout modernist who early on was known for the thorny difficulty and cerebral quality of his music – his string quartets (below bottom is the opening page of the score to String Quartet No. 2) were often said to be the most difficult ones ever written. But he apparently loosened up in his later years.
Makes up you wonder what Bach, Handel, Haydn , Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Dvorak, Brahms and many other great composers would have written, had they lived past 100.
To be honest, The Ear was never a big Elliott Carter fan. His music has its moments — some of them in the “Night Fantasies” for solo piano and the Cello Sonata — but is generally too serial and unlyrical for my taste. I’m more of a tunes guy, and for me his music generally lacks my kind of beauty – that moving quality that I look for in all art. Nonetheless, you can hear the masterful craft and original art that went into Carter’s music, whether it speaks deeply to you or not. (Below is Carter in 1989.)
There are some local ties to mention. For one, Sally Chisholm (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) who teaches viola at the University of Wisconsin School of Music and plays with the Pro Arte String Quartet, performed one of this string quartets before Carter to help mark his 100th birthday back in 2008 (below bottom is a New York Times photo with James Levine and Carter at a concert in Carnegie Hall celebrating his centennial.)
Some old media took notice of Carter’s death this past week. But I was particularly pleased to see how the new media, especially blogs and websites, offered information PLUS audio clips of musical performances and interviews given by Carter.
Here are the complete and comprehensive obituaries that ran in The New York Times:
Here is a terrific account from NPR’s outstanding classical music blog Deceptive Cadence:
Here is the story from the British Gramophone Magazine, along with the last interview Carter gave, conducted by cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below). Weilerstein, who has played in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, is also a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” who just released her performance, with conductor Daniel Barenboim, of Carter’s Cello Concerto paired with the popular Elgar Cello Concerto, on Decca Records:
Here is the obituary and story of the famed BBC Music Magazine:
And of course there are many more appreciations to be found on Google if you go and simply type in “Elliott Carter.”
While you do, here is some of Elliott Carter’s more popular and accessible music to listen to: the haunting “Symphony for Three Orchestras” from 1976 performed by Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (you can find lots more Carter on YouTube):
By Jacob Stockinger
There is a lot of classical music going on next week– to say nothing of the annual Wisconsin Film Festival.
But the biggest series of event involves the final of this season’s four concerts and four world premieres, with accompanying lectures and master classes, celebrating the centennial of the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer).
The guest lecturer for the week with be the Scotland-based Tully Potter, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on the history of recordings.
So get out your datebooks and pencil in — or, better yet, ink in — various events almost of all of which are free and open to the public.
There are many events to go to, but the centerpiece will be on Saturday, April 21, when the composer John Harbison (below) will be present tp hear the world premiere of his String Quartet No. 5.
Here is a link to the detailed story and UW news release about the April 21 Pro Arte Concert, which features works by Haydn, Franck and the world premiere of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 (in 10 short movements):
Or you can visit Pro Arte websites:
For background on the composer John Harbison, who in summer co-directs the nearby Token Creek Chamber Music Festival and who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” among many other honors, visit:
This is part of the season-long celebration of the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet’s Centennial, in residence at the UW since 1940, when they were exiled by World War II from their home in Belgium while on tour in the US. The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in 1940) is the first string quartet in history to reach 100 and has commissioned two new string quartets and two new piano quintets to premiere to mark its centennial. ALL EVENTS ARE FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
Tuesday, April 17, 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park St. The UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below, under the direction of UW composer Laura Schwendinger, performs works by John Harbison and others. Free.
Wednesday, April 18, 4-5:30 p.m. in Room 1351 of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. American composer John Harbison will discuss his recent music and new String Quartet No. 5 in a public composition master class as part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s Centennial. Free.
Thursday, April 19, 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. in Mills Hall, Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. Open rehearsal by the Pro Arte Quartet with composer John Harbison for the world premiere of his Quartet No. 5 for the quartet’s centennial concert on Saturday night, April 21, at 8 p.m. in the Mills Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park St. Free.
Friday, April 20, 4-5:30 p.m. UW School of Music Colloquium in Room 2650 in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. Public lecture and discussion by UK musicologist Tully Potter on early 20th-century European string quartets. Free.
Saturday, April 21, 3-5 p.m. in the Chazen Museum of Art (below), 750 University Ave. Lecture by Tully Potter on “Four Famous Belgians: The Quatuor Pro Arte.” It will be followed by a question-and-answer session. Free. (Pre-concert cocktails and a dinner 5-6:45 with composer John Harbison and UK musicologist Tully Potter in the Chazen Museum of Art, are optional ($35 per head, deadlines of making a reservation is Monday) by calling (608) 265-ARTS or going to www.uniontheater.wisc.edu)
Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building, 750 University Ave. Last of the four concerts with the WORLD PREMIERES of commissioned works: The Pro Arte Quartet will perform Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 54, No. 2 (1788); the world premiere of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 in 10 short movements (2011); and Belgian composer (below) Cesar Franck’s String Quartet in D Major (1889). (Pre-concert events with introductions to composer John Harbison and British critic Tully Potter and with questions from the audience will be held free from 7-7:30 p.m. There will be a free post-concert dessert reception at the nearby University Club, 803 State St., immediately following the concert.) Free.
Sunday, April 22, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III of the Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave. “Sunday Live From the Chazen” will feature part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s Saturday night concert, including the second performance of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5. The event will be broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM). Call 263-2246. Free.
By Jacob Stockinger
On Saturday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble will perform “Circa Now,” a FREE concert of works by living composers, three of whom will be present at the performance.
The program includes “Fanfare for the Uncommon Man” by UW composer John Stevens (below), who was commissioned to honor Marvin Rabin, the founder of WYSO (Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras) and who will conduct the work.
Also on the program are “Concerto for percussion” by Michael Udow, with percussion soloist Anthony Di Sanza; “The Future of Fire” by Zhou Long (below), the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner in music for his opera “Madame White Snake,” with the UW Concert Choir; and “Cosmosis” by Susan Botti, with soprano soloist Mimmi Fulmer and the women of the Concert Choir. Scott Teeple is the conductor of the Wind Ensemble.
A pre-concert discussion with Stevens, Udow and Zhou will take place at 7:15 p.m.
Zhou Long recently gave an emailed Q&A to The Ear:
Can you introduce yourself briefly to readers?
I am Zhou Long and currently a Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC). I was born into an artistic family and began piano lessons at an early age. During the Cultural Revolution , I was sent to a rural state farm, where the bleak landscape with roaring winds and ferocious wild fires made a profound and lasting impression.
I resumed my musical training in 1973, studying composition, music theory, and conducting, as well as Chinese traditional music. In 1977, I enrolled in the first composition class at the reopened Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Following graduation in 1983, I was appointed composer-in-residence with the National Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra of China.
I travelled to the United States in 1985 under a fellowship to attend Columbia University, where I studied with Chou Wen-Chung, Mario Davidovsky, and George Edwards, receiving a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 1993.
My creative vision has resulted in a new music that stretches Western instruments eastward and Chinese instruments westward, achieving an exciting and fertile common ground.
Briefly, what should listeners pay attention to and know about “The Future of Fire” and about the meaning of the title?
Memories of my years in the countryside surface again in “The Future of Fire” (2001, rev. 2003). With melodic material taken from a Shaanxi love song, it is a brief symphonic anthem vibrantly depicts my memories of farmers burning off dried grass to prepare the land for planting, but losing control of the flame to the passing wind — a vivid, if charitable, metaphor for the Cultural Revolution (below).
Although a mixed chorus is featured in the recording singing the piece’s text-less vocalise, I have also suggested using a children’s chorus to emphasize the piece’s dedication to “the powerful energy of the younger generation and the passionate hope for peace in the new millennium.”
How has winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 changed your life? Has it helped get your music performed more often?
The prize might have been a sign of things to come, but mostly I feel my works finally have been accepted. I’ve lived here for almost 30 years, and have been entirely working to blend the cultures. I think that I carefully combined Western and Eastern cultures, and that I did it well. I don’t want the opera “Madame White Snake” (at bottom) that won the Pulitzer Prize to taste like wine and beer mixed together. You can’t ever say that you have the right or perfect result, but I believe in what I did.
The Pulitzer gave me more confidence. It’s a quintessentially American award. That it could be offered not only to American-born composers, but also to a composer who immigrated to the United States and became an American citizen, really means something to me. I would say, for a composer’s career there’s no ending, you have no ceiling. You don’t talk about everything when you reach the top.
So far, I feel honored by this recognition. But it doesn’t guarantee you will continue to write good music and it doesn’t guarantee you will get more opportunities. The prize does not provide opportunities. That is provided by pure recognition and the recognition is respect.
What are your current and future projects and plans?
Recently, I have just completed The New York New Music Ensemble (below) commissioned work “Cloud Earth,” for flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet in B-flat, percussion, piano, violin and cello, to be premiered on April 16, 2012 for its 35th Anniversary Celebration, at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York City.
I will also start a Portland State University commission, a solo piano piece for Prof. Susan Chan to be premiered at UMKC Musica Nova Concert in April 2012. My new projects, including a major work “Beijing Wind,” a 40-minute symphonic suite, commissioned by the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, to be premiered in 2013.
A lot of Chinese, and other Asian, composers such as Bright Sheng and Tan Dun are working within the tradition of Western classical music. What do you see as the effects of such an ethnic mixing or blending, and what do you see happening in the future of classical music both here and in Asia?
I think that makes sense for me as a composer who works here in the States. It’s international and metropolitan, and inviting to the multicultural society here. For the quarter century I’ve been living in the States, I think that’s my goal — to meld the Western and Eastern cultures together.
By Jacob Stockinger
To many Madison-area residents and local classical music fans, John Harbison may be best known as the co-director of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival each summer during which he gives excellent talks, plays jazz and serves as a violist.
Yet John Harbison (below) is far better known throughout the rest of the world as a composer—and a very fine, respected and yes, frequently performed, composer. Many people forget that he has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and that he remains a favorite of Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine, who commissioned Harbison’s opera “The Great Gatsby” to kick off the millennium in 2000.
He continues to teach at MIT and concertizes, especially with the music of Bach, but Harbison is busier than ever with composing new commissions.
This last week saw the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which, under Levine’s direction, started last season to hold a complete retrospective of Harbison’s symphonies.
For health reasons, Levine has left the Boston post, as well as the Met post for next season. But the reviews for the performance under conductor David Zinman and with mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy, are in and they are by and large very positive and agree that Harbison is not a composer to rest on his laurels or repeat himself.
Some critics even called the work, which used both an orchestra and a mezzo-soprano, a “masterpiece” and described it as “powerful.” Below is John Harbison coaching during a rehearsal.
You can read some of the reviews for yourself:
Here is also a good set-up or background piece with Harbison talking about his own new symphony (below he takes a bow with the conductor and singer who performed the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6):
And the world premiere for John Harbison aren’t over by any means. On Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, in a FREE and PUBLIC concert, Habison’s 10-movement String Quartet No. 5 will receive its world premiere from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer). The Pro Arte Quartet commissioned the work to celebrate its centennial this season.
For details of that FREE and public performance and other centennial events, visit: www.proartequartet.org