The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Veterans Day in the U.S. and this week brings Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth nations including Great Britain, Canada and Australia. To honor veterans -– both military and civilian — The Ear plays the “Nimrod” section from Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” What music would you play?

November 11, 2014
4 Comments

ALERT: On this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Guitar Ensemble, under the direction of UW-Madison professor Javier Calderon, will give a FREE concert of music by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Gilbert Bibarian and others.

Javier Calderon color

By Jacob Stockinger

He may be wrong, but The Ear does not think that Veterans Day — and Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth nations of the former British Empire — is just about war. And there is plenty of music one could play that aims to depict war and conflict.

But Veterans Day -– which was originally Armistice Day and was intended to mark the end of that vicious meat-grinder World War I that started 100 years ago this year and officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 –- is more about people and loss. So is Remembrance Day.

world war1 somme

Given the way “total war” has evolved and been waged since World War I — just look at the Middle East and ISIS these days — one has to wonder: Shouldn’t civilians, including women and children, also be honored? When war is waged, usually all suffer and all sacrifice.

Not that the armed forces don’t come at the head of the line and hold a special place in our thoughts.

But these days a Requiem for All seems fit and appropriate.

That is why The Ear can’t think of a more moving and quietly appropriate piece of music than the “Nimrod” section from the Edwardian era British composer Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations.

That is probably why the prize-winning and popular documentary filmmaker Ken Burns also used the same music, arranged for solo piano, in his 2007 epic film about World War II called, simply, ‘The War.”

Here it is, played by conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra  in a popular YouTube with more than 2.5 million hits — as a salute to all those who suffered and who served:

 

 


Classical music: Are super-high concert fees morally right or wrong? Do they contribute to the wealth gap and lack of young audiences? What can music consumers do?

October 24, 2014
16 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Are artist concert fees — like those charged by tenor Placido Domingo (below top), soprano Renee Fleming (below middle) and violinist Itzhak Perlman (below bottom) —  too high these days and too unaffordable for most American concert-goers?

FRENI

reneefleming

Itzhak Perlman close

What would Janet say?

Maybe that refrain could become the economic equivalent of What Would Jesus Say?

I am speaking of Janet Yellen (below), the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve who last week made headlines when she spoke out publicly against the widening wealth gap as being contrary to America’s historic democratic ideals.

Key Speakers At Seminars At The IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings

But let’s localize the issue.

By all accounts superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, along with pianist Kathryn Stott, turned in a terrific performance — his seventh — at the Wisconsin Union Theater last Saturday night.

The Ear didn’t go, but here is a rave review from the student newspaper The Badger Herald, which agrees with the word-of-mouth reviews I have heard:

http://badgerherald.com/artsetc/2014/10/20/yo-yo-ma-and-kathryn-scott-transcend-classical-music-norms-at-shannon-hall/#.VEfBQYeENUQ

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

And for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy tickets, the Wisconsin Union Theater even webcast the concert live and for free.

Still, with seats that sold for well over $100, The Ear got to wondering: Are really high artist fees morally right or wrong?

We all hear about the widening wealth gap, and especially about the astronomical pay given to CEOs versus their workers as compared to the same ratio several decades ago.

Well, what about well-known and in-demand concert artists?

If The Ear heard correctly, Yo-Yo Ma’s fee for that one-night performance was either $90,000 or $95,000 -– or about $42,500 or $45,000 an hour.

Can Yo-Yo Ma demand and get that extravagant fee in the so-called “free market” society with its corporate welfare and tax loopholes for the wealthy? Of course, he can — and he does. That is why he sold out the Wisconsin Union Theater.

But should he?

It makes one wonder.

Is Yo-Yo Ma really that much better as a cellist and musician -– and not just as a celebrity — than many other cellists, including MacArthur “genius grant” winner Alisa Weilerstein, Alban Gerhardt, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Steven Isserlis, Carter Brey, Joshua Roman and others? (You can hear Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of a movement from a solo cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach in a  YouTube video — with over 11 million hits — at the bottom and decide if it is that much better than other cellists play it.)

Now I don’t mean to pick just on Yo-Yo Ma. I have gone to a half-dozen of his other performances here and I have met him and talked with him. He is without doubt a great musician, a fine human being and an exemplary humanitarian.

The problem that I am talking about transcends any single performer and applies to the whole profession.

Maybe at least part of the problem of attracting young audiences to classical music concerts can be placed right in the laps of the performing artists themselves.

When The Ear was young, he got to hear all sorts of great musical artists—including Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Rubinstein (below), Vladimir Horowitz, Van Cliburn, Itzhak Perlman, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Emanuel Ax and others for quite affordable prices. Not that those artists didn’t live well -– but I doubt that they were paid the equivalent of $45,000 an hour.

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

Maybe it is time for economic populism in the performing arts.

Fees like that exclude a lot of families from participating. Some fans might find it better and cheaper to hear a CD or download than go to a live concert.

Too many performing artists – opera stars come immediately to mind as a class — seem to have taken the same path toward justifying greed as movie stars, sports figures, rock stars and CEO’s who make out like bandits.

In short, can it be that classical musicians are helping to kill off classical music?

Smaller theaters like the Wisconsin Union Theater and even the Overture Center simply cannot book such well-known artists without charging a ridiculous amount of money for a seat – and at a time when many people of all ages just can’t afford it. It just adds to the Wealth Gap and the One Percent problem.

SO THE EAR WOULD LIKE TO ASK CONCERT ARTISTS: PLEASE ADJUST YOUR CONCERT FEES TO HELP SUSTAIN THE FUTURE OF YOUR ART.

Well, these are just some brain droppings.

The Ear wonders what you think of stratospheric artist fees?

Do they contribute to the wealth gap?

Do they hurt the popularity of the art form, especially younger generations?

Are they contributing to the decline of cultural literacy?

In short, are such high artist fees morally right or wrong?

And if wrong, what can we arts consumers do about it? Boycott certain artists until they become more reasonable in their fees?

Ask artist and management agencies to adjust the fees to make them more affordable?

Go to alternative concerts that are perfectly acceptable without star power and cost less or, like those at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, free?

Tell us what you think in a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The FREE world premiere by the Pro Arte Quartet of American composer Pierre Jalbert’s Clarinet Quintet — based on Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” — takes place this coming Friday night at 8 p.m. in the renovated Wisconsin Union Theater. The concert includes a composer interview and then a FREE dessert reception, where you can meet the composer and performers. A FREE encore performance is on this Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. at the Chazen Museum of Art and will be web-streamed live.

September 23, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday night will bring the FREE world premiere of the final work of the six commissions to mark the centennial of the Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Pro Arte Qartet  Overture Rick Langer

The work is a Clarinet Quintet, written Pierre Jalbert (below), a prize-winning American composer with French-Canadian roots. It will receive its world premiere at 8 p.m. on Friday night in the newly renovated Wisconsin Union Theater. A FREE dessert reception in the Memorial Union follows. There is also a FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC rehearsal, with the composer advising the string quartet, from 9 a.m. to noon on this Thursday morning in Mills Hall.

Pierre Jalbert

Here is a link to the Pro Arte Quartet’s website

http://proartequartet.org

And here is the official press release about the new work and the upcoming concert. It was researched and written by Mike Muckian (below), who also writes and blogs for Brava Magazine and the Wisconsin Gazette.

Michael Muckian color mug

MADISON, Wis. – When Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg (below) published “Howl” in 1956, he may have anticipated the obscenity charges he faced because of the work’s highly charged content. Chances are he didn’t foresee his epic poem, now considered a significant work of American literature, as the source of inspiration for a 21st-century chamber music composition.

Allen Ginsberg 1

Pierre Jalbert, an American composer of French-Canadian descent, thought otherwise. When commissioned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet to compose an original work to help the quartet celebrate its centennial season, Jalbert chose Ginsberg’s poem as his source of inspiration.

Jalbert’s “Howl” for clarinet and string quartet will receive its world premiere by the Pro Arte on Friday, Sept. 26, at the Wisconsin Union Theater in the historic Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

The event, free and open to the public, will be the first classical music concert to take place in the venerable theater’s newly refurbished Shannon Hall (below top). 

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

The 8 p.m. concert will be preceded by a 7 p.m. concert preview discussion with Pierre Jalbert in Shannon Hall. In addition to Jalbert’s composition, the evening’s program includes the String Quartet No. 2 in A Major (1824) by Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (below top) -– known as “the Spanish Mozart” — and the gorgeous Clarinet Quintet in A Major (1791) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below bottom).

Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga

Mozart old 1782

The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) includes violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

PLEASE NOTE: The Pro Arte Quartet concert will be repeated Sunday, Sept. 28, at 12:30 p.m. in Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art, also on the UW-Madison campus. The concert will be streamed live worldwide on the Internet by the Madison-based Audio for the Arts.  Check the Chazen Museum of  Art’s website (www.chazen.wisc.edu) on the day of the concert. Details of  the Chazen music series for 2015 will be announced on Sunday at the concert. The new series is designed to replace the “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” series (below) of live chamber music concerts that was abruptly canceled by Wisconsin Public Radio last spring after 36 years.  Sunday’s concert is FREE and OPEN to the public; however, Chazen Museum of Art members can call 608-263-2246 to reserve seating.

SALProArteMay2010

Joining the Pro Arte for both concerts will be guest clarinetist Charles Neidich (below, in a photo by Sallie Eichson), a regular member of the New York City-based Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and noted guest performer with orchestras and string quartets worldwide. Here is a link to Neidich’s own impressive website:

http://www.charlesneidich.com

“The Jalbert quintet is a very exciting composition, often very rhythmic, but with very serenely quiet contrasting sections,” said Neidich. “It is also interesting in that the clarinetist has to switch to bass clarinet, creating a very different sound for the group.” (At bottom is a YouTube interview with Pierre Jalbert, who explains his philosophy of composing and his concern with the audience’s understanding of his work.)

Charles Neidich CD Sallie Erichson

Ginsberg (below, young), who died in 1997, began work on “Howl” as early as 1954. The poem was first published in “Howl and Other Poems” in 1956 as part of the “Pocket Poets” series by fellow beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, also known as founder of City Lights Books in San Francisco.

allen ginsberg young

Upon the poem’s release, both Ferlinghetti and City Lights manager Shigeyoshi Murao were arrested and charged with distributing obscene material because of the poem’s profanity, drug references and frank sexual content. Four months later, Judge Clayton Horn ruled that the work was not obscene and charges against Ferlinghetti and his employee were dropped.

Judge Horn deemed “Howl” to have redeeming social content, and over the years it has proved its worth both in terms of social and literary value, according to Dr. Lynn Keller, the Martha Meier Renk Bascom Professor of Poetry in the UW-Madison Department of English.

lynn keller uw-madison

“’Howl’ stands out stylistically in its compellingly and varied repetition of words beginning successive lines, its near surrealist imagery, and its combination of agonized depictions at once hellish and lofty with a very appealing sense of humor,” Dr. Keller said. “In terms of content, it also stands out in celebrating the down-and-out hipster as spiritual quester and visionary.”

As part of the Beat Generation – as much a social as a literary phenomenon – Ginsberg’s celebration of physical pleasures and suspicions about “the military industrial complex” created a new path that still appeals to younger audiences.

“It is a powerful poem, a howl from the heart of an agonized generation in a repressive era,” Dr. Keller said.

Allen Ginsberg Howl cover

Jalbert was familiar with the poem prior to the Pro Arte commission, but it was only after he started composing the work that he began to realize the influence Ginsberg had on the music. Those similarities had less to do with the poem’s content and more to do with its structure and rhythm, the composer said.

“At the beginning of my piece, the clarinet is basically playing long tones, creating a long line much like the long lines in Ginsberg’s poem, while the strings present the rhythmically pulsating harmonic underpinning,” Jalbert said. “Ginsberg’s poem has been called a  ‘litany of praise,’ and the second movement of my work becomes a litany, much like a series of prayers in a liturgy, with the strings creating chant-like lines while the clarinet becomes the vox Dei, or “voice of God,” hovering mysteriously over everything. The third movement returns to the musical materials from the first movement, but now the bass clarinet takes on the virtuosic role.”

In keeping with emotional soundings in parts of “Howl,” Jalbert also has attempted to capture the “shrieks” that were characteristic to the poem alongside the aforementioned litany of praise.

allen ginsberg with flower

“There are buildups to shrieking moments in my piece as well as a “howl” motive of a low chord slurred up to an immediate high cluster, all played very forcefully,” said Jalbert. “There’s also something very urban about parts of the poem and to me, there’s an urban quality in my first and third movements. There are also many religious allusions and the last words of Christ on the cross, so the second movement uses some of this.”

The Jalbert composition is the final of six commissions for the Pro Arte Centennial seasons, and it has all the earmarks of a contemporary work with staying power, according to clarinetist Neidich.

“Having studied the score, I believe that it will be accessible to listeners and exciting to hear,” said Neidich. “It features the clarinet both in the role of soloist and as contributor to the sonority of the ensemble. It has all the necessary attributes to become a significant work.”

The Jalbert commission also brings to an end the Pro Arte’s seasons of centennial celebration in honor of the quartet’s long and storied history.

The Quatuor Pro Arte of Brussels, first formed in 1911-1912, was performing quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven at the then-new Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW-Madison campus on May 10, 1940, when Belgium was overrun and occupied by Nazi forces, turning three of its original four musicians into war orphans.

By October of that year, the group had officially become the UW Pro Arte Quartet, making it the first artists ensemble-in-residence at any university in the world. At more than 100 years old, Pro Arte also is thought to be the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet.

Pro Arte Quartet in 1928 Onnou far left

The Pro Arte in May traveled back to Belgium to perform the European premiere of its fifth centennial commissioned work, Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3. The work had received its world premiere on March 1 in Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus with the composer in attendance.

A 2-CD set (below) of the first four commissions was released last year by Albany Records. It includes two string quartets by Walter Mays and John Harbison as well as two piano quintets, one by William Bolcom and the other by Paul Schoenfield.

pro arte cd commission cover

 

 

 

 


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

September 21, 2014
3 Comments

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

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

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

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

John Barker

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

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

greg hettmansberger mug

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

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

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

All right, then.

The Big Vote is over.

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

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

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

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

You’d be surprised. I was.

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

scotland bagpipes

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

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

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

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

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

 


Classical music: 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
2 Comments

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

September 9, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

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

Alice Bartsch

Eleanor Bartsch

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

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

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

WisconsinChamberOrchestrainCapitolTHeaterlobby

Tim Kamps playing

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

Eleanor Bartsch and elephant closeup

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

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

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

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

Here are the original videos:

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

And then: VOILA

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

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

Here is a link to the more comprehensive NPR story:

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

You can decide for yourself.

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

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

The Ear wants to hear.

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

 

 


Classical music: Today is Labor Day — a great time to remember all the anonymous people behind the scenes who make concerts happen and who bring us the beauty and music we love.

September 1, 2014
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day, Sept. 1, 2014.

To The Ear, the holiday seems a great occasion and a very appropriate time to remember all the people behind the scenes — and behind the performers — who make music happen.

That is especially true because the regular concert season is about to start, and once again these unseen people will help bring us beauty. And beauty doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work.

We usually don’t know or recognize their names, even when those names are given to us in  program credits.

So let us today praise the technicians and the stagehands (below) , the office staffers and the business managers, the publicity people and the development experts, the government and private sponsors and donors, and even the box office ticket-sellers and the ushers who all support the musicians and the music we so love.

Stagehands in MIlls

I am thinking of some people with whom I could not write this blog or ever attend a lot of concerts. There are many, many more than the ones I will name. But high on my list are: Katherine Esposito (below top), who is the concert manager for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music; Teri Venker (below middle), who is the marketing director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and Sue Ellen Maguire (below bottom), who is the marketing director of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Katherine Esposito

Teri Venker

Sue Ellen Maguire

I recently came across something I wrote and posted about this before, about 2-1/2 years ago. The occasion was NOT Labor Day, but a spring memorial service for Ann Miller Chastain (below), who headed marketing for the Madison Symphony Orchestra before she died of breast cancer. She specialized in developing a loyal student audience, and she worked hard but charmingly for her success.

Ann Miller Chastain smiling Facebook 2

But I think what I said then about Ann Miller also reflects on a lot of other people.

After all, it takes a lot more than the performers, the musicians — who, to be sure, are also hard-working — to put on concerts. And that is a wise lesson to remember today, on the day that traditionally serves as the dividing line between the summer season and the start of the regular concert season in the fall.

So here is a link:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/classical-music-news-let-us-now-praise-all-the-invisible-people-behind-the-scenes-who-make-concerts-and-culture-possible/

Happy Labor Day to all those who labor to bring us the great classical music and the beauty we love!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

August 31, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Trends come and trends go.

Who knows why?

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

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

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

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

http://tokencreekfestival.org

Judith Gordon plays 2014

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

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

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

But that will change soon, I expect.

Because voila!

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

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

Domenico Scarlatti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Is Beethoven still relevant and our political contemporary with his opera “Fidelio”?

August 10, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

You might recall that Ludwig van Beethoven (below) composed only one opera.

It is “Fidelio,” and it reflected his Enlightenment-era political ideas about equality and democracy –- despite the composer’s own financial reliance on patronage by aristocrats and royals.

Beethoven big

And you may recall that the Madison Opera has slated “Fidelio” for a production this coming season in Overture Hall on Friday night, Nov. 21, and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 23.

The production comes during a time of great political unrest and perhaps upheaval at home, with crucial national and state elections, and especially overseas and in foreign affairs with Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Africa’s Ebola strife and many other hot spots showing no sign of letting up.

So will the local production of “Fidelio” be more or less a traditional one? Or will the Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith and its artistic director, John DeMain, who is also the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, have other ideas about how to tweak the opera and recast it for modern or contemporary relevance?

It will be interesting to see, although The Ear understands that the production will be traditional.

Here is a link to the Madison Opera’s website:

http://madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/

Currently, the acclaimed Santa Fe Opera is staging a controversial new version of “Fidelio”(below), created by director Stephen Wadsworth, that takes place in the Nazi death camp Bergen-Belsen. Sounds very Peter Sellars-like. (You can hear the moving music from the Prisoners’ Chorus at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

FIDELIO in Bergen-Belsen at Santa Fe

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, of The New York Times, did not like it and, in fact, said it offended her because it belittled the Holocaust. She also complained that the roles in the actual text did not match the roles that the new staging created. She saw the production as too inconsistent.

Her larger complaint seems to reflect the notion that after the Holocaust, writing poetry and creating art is impossible, that beauty has been ruined.

It is an ambitious, lofty and tempting thought, but one that is clearly not true. In fact, it is downright wrong. Great suffering and art are old pals. Sometimes art takes you away from suffering; sometimes it takes you deeper into it. It depends on the work and on the performers. But we need both.

Anyway, here is the review from the Times as well as another one with a different take. Read them for yourself. Then decide and make up your own mind. It sure sounds like a concept worth pursuing, even if flawed, to The Ear.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/04/arts/music/santa-fe-opera-sets-fidelio-in-a-concentration-camp.html?_r=0

Critic Heidi Waleson, of The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, praised the production:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/opera-review-santa-fe-opera-1407191039

Be sure to tell The Ear, and other readers, including members of the Madison Opera, if you have ever seen an updated version of “Fidelio” and what you thought of it.

Where do you think “Fidelio could be recast to best advantage The Holocaust? The Spanish Inquisition? The Soviet Gulag and Great Terror? The Killing Fields of Cambodia? The Rwandan genocide? Abu Graib prison in Iraq? A CIA black site torture prison in Egypt? The Chinese Cultural Revolution?

Or, given the fact that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, how about a Supermax prison in Wisconsin?

You get the idea.

Go wild with your imagination, and then write in.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Metropolitan Opera is playing out its own dramatic opera plot as it renegotiates contracts with labor unions and seeks major cutbacks. If an agreement isn’t reached, a lockout could throw off the Met’s opening for the new season. Read and hear about it in a variety of sources selected by The Ear.

August 5, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Metropolitan Opera (below top is the Met’s exterior and bottom below is the Met’s grand interior) in New York City’s Lincoln Center is playing out its own dramatic plot.

metropolitan opera 1

The Met hall 1

Will the outcome be tragedy?

Or farce?

Or both.

In case you haven’t heard about it, the famed Met is negotiating new contracts with its labor unions. The Met currently has a debt of $2.8 million.

According to the Met’s general director Peter Gelb (below), major reductions totaling some $30 million, in salaries are required to put the Met back on a financially sustainable course.

Peter Gelb

Those are easy words to say for Gelb, whose own salary is reported to be $1.4 million and whose tenure has emphasized extremely expensive productions that have taxed the Met’s budget.

On his behalf, Gelb also is the manager who initiated the “Met Live in HD” that have been so popular in movie theaters around the world – including the Eastgate and Point cinemas in Madison — and have generated a lot of income. (You can see the coming season in a YouTube video at the bottom, although the November broadcast of “The Death of Klinghoffer” by John Adams has been cancelled under a controversial agreement to pacify Jewish and Israeli protest groups and lobbyists who see the opera as too focused on humanizing terrorism and Palestinian terrorists, and who threatened to withdraw much needed needed underwriting for the Met.)

Met HD Rheingold

The original deadline for an understanding or agreement was this past Sunday. But that deadline has been extended until Tuesday, today, apparently because negotiations continued and presumably continued in a positive way, despite the appearance of an overall deadlock.

Mediators were called in and apparently an independent audit of the Met’s books is under way.

So by the end of the day we should hear more about the results –- or lack of results. That, in turn, will tell us more about the short-term future and long-term future of the Met.

Some of the best coverage of this potentially major event can be found on the Deceptive Cadence blog written by NPR (National Public Radio):

Here are some links mostly to websites for newspapers and radio. The Ear has heard NOTHING – at least nothing that I recall – on the major TV outlets and network, commercial or cable. Well, maybe they are too busy doing features about dogs and children who raise money for good causes. I am sure they have polling and surveys to back up their story selection.

To learn about the major players in the Met drama – or the Cast of Characters, so to speak, here is a story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/01/337161589/keeping-score-in-the-met-s-labor-misfortunes

Metropolitan Opera union members

How the negotiations were going? Read this:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/31/336586571/on-the-eve-of-a-possible-lockout-met-opera-talks-remain-contentious

If you want an overview of the situation, try these:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/24/334974965/labor-conflict-may-lock-out-met-opera-workers

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/26/335336345/war-of-words-at-met-opera-may-signal-shutdown

And here in another selection of stories from The New York Times:

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/m/metropolitan_opera/index.html?inline=nyt-org

Here is the latest news from The Wall Street Journal about an independent audit of the Met’s books:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/met-operas-books-to-undergo-financial-review-1407120687

Do you have an opinion on the matter?

Given the recent bankruptcies and closings of American symphony orchestras and the City Opera of New York, what do you think the Metropolitan Opera drama signifies or means for the classical music scene in the U.S.?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

 

 


Next Page »

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 877 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,128,025 hits
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 877 other followers

%d bloggers like this: