The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: We said goodbye to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp by speaking love to loss. Here in photos is how it went.

September 2, 2014
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

On Sunday afternoon we gathered to say goodbye to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, who died suddenly in June of cardiac arrest at 84 while he was on summer vacation in Colorado.

I don’t think you can have a better send-off.

The day started out sunny and then looked like it would cloud over.

But the sunlight stayed.

Howard Karp (below, in a 2000 photo by Katrin Talbot) would have liked that. There never seemed anything morose about Howard, even when he played music that was introspective and melancholic. And he was such a natural: The piano just seemed to grow out of his long arms and fingers.

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

Sure, like all people he had his share of sorrows and worries. But on his own scale, the joys always outweighed the sorrows.

I found myself thinking of Howard and recalling philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s dictum that “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And I found myself adding: “Without Howard Karp, music in Madison might not have been a mistake, but it certainly would have been severely diminished.”

But I do not want to use this post for me to talk about Howard Karp and what a wonderful man and musician, family member and teacher, he was.

His own family and friends did that so well — and so eloquently — that all I can do today is to use photos and quick descriptions to tell you what you missed if you weren’t there.

The welcome speaker and comforting guide through the celebration was Bill Lutes (below), a longtime friend and former student of Howard Karp. Bill did an outstanding and dry-eyed job of speaking love to loss, as did the entire family.

Karp Memorial Bill Lutes

The event opened with Howard Karp playing the opening movement of the heroic, life-affirming “Hammerklavier” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven, from a newly released 6-CD recording on Albany Records of Howard’s concert recordings.

That was repeated through the event with music of Robert Schumann, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Frédéric Chopin. And it was moving to hear the audience of maybe a two-thirds house in Mills Hall applaud loudly, as if Howard were playing right there, on stage and in person in front of us.

One of the most moving moments came when Howard’s wife, Frances Karp – whose diminutive and even fragile look hides a tremendous strength of character and forceful pianism — was joined by cellist son Parry Karp, violist daughter-in-law Katrin Talbot and guest violinist Leanne League, who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, in the slow movement from the Piano Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann. A photo is below.

It is a heart-wrenching piece by the composer who, more than any other, captures love and longing in sound, as you can hear from the opening cello melody in a YouTube video of the Beaux Arts Trio at the bottom.

Karp Memorial Schumann PIano Quartet

Granddaughters Isabel Karp (below left) and Natasha Karp (below right), both accomplished actresses, then read passages from William Shakespeare, beautifully appropriate lines from the tragedy “King Lear,” from the Sonnets, from the romance “The Tempest,” from the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Karp Memorial Isabel, Natasha smiling better

More recorded Schumann followed, the first movement of the fabulous Fantasy in C Major.

Then came words of friendship and admiration from the renowned keyboard artist Malcolm Bilson (below), who taught with Howard at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Now a semi-retired professor at Cornell University, Bilson also played a superbly rendered version of his own reconstruction of the first movement of the Sonata in F-sharp minor by Franz Schubert. (Bilson didn’t announce his reconstruction because, as he later told The Ear, “It bothers and distracts audiences. They keep listening for where Schubert ends and Bilson begins.”)

Karp Memorial Malcolm Bilson plays Schubert

Fellow Chicagoan and piano student-turned-businessman, Ira Goodkin (below) spoke impressively and engagingly about the lasting effect of having Howard Karp as a lifelong friend and as a personal and professional role model.

Karp Memorial Ira Goodkin

Then came more recordings: impressive duo-piano performances by Frances and Howard Karp of music by Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

During the Rachmaninoff “Barcarolle,” from his Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, there was also an extended slide show that featured photos of Howard at various stages of his life, from infancy and childhood (below) through marriage and maturity, many images with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Karp Memorial slideshow Young Howard

Granddaughter and actress Ariana Karp (below) appeared via video from London and also read Shakespeare and offered moving personal recollections of “grand-père.”

Karp memorial Ariana

Sons Christopher Karp on piano and Parry Karp on cello (below) teamed up to play Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidre,” in a moving and brotherly demonstration of the family music-making that marked the Karps’ family life, and brought beauty to the rest of us, making us all feel like extended family.

Karp Memorial Christopher and Parry

Then came a miraculously humorous and moving eulogy for Howard by cellist son Parry (below), who offered a stirring summing up of his dad’s gifts as a pianist and chamber music partner, as a husband and father, as a baseball fan and an avid amateur expert on trees and plants.

Karp Memorial Parry Karp speaks

After Parry remark’s about the richness of his father’s life and career, I found myself recalling a saying by the great composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff: “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.” Still, I think Howard Karp came closer to that impossible goal than anyone I know.

Then, with a stirring performance by Howard Karp of the ferocious and relentless finale from Chopin’s Sonata in B minor, it was over — and we moved outdoors to a packed reception in the courtyard of the UW-Madison’s George Mosse Humanities Building.

Karp Memorial Reception

The food was ideal and the audience was in the mood to greet each other and reminisce with the kind of good-natured enthusiasm that would have pleased Howard Karp because it made all of us feel like we belonged to one immense family that will long miss a central and irreplaceable figure.


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
3 Comments

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: Here are the final program and details about the FREE memorial on this Sunday at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall for University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp.

August 28, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received a request from the Karp Family.

It seems there is still some ignorance and some confusion about the memorial event -– a life celebration, really –- set for this Sunday afternoon for the late pianist Howard Karp, who died in June at 84 in Colorado and who had taught and performed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music from 1972 to 2000.

The event is FREE and OPEN to the public.

Here are the details:

“Dear Jake, 

“I hope all is well.

“Here is the program for Sunday.

“I am still hearing from people who want to go to the celebration, but don’t know when or where it will be.  

“My very best to you,

“Parry Karp”

A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF HOWARD KARP (1929-2014, below in a 2000 photo by Katrin Talbot)

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

The celebration will be held this Sunday, August 31, 2014, at 3 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall (below) in the Mosse Humanitites Building,  with a FREE and PUBLIC reception to follow.

MIllsHall2

FREE parking can be found in nearby Grainger Hall of the University of Wisconsin Business School.

“Performances” by Howard Karp come from recordings issued by Albany Records and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Welcome

Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier) by Ludwig van Beethoven:  Movement I. Allegro, Howard Karp, pianist

Words from Bill Lutes (below, with his wife UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer, and a former student and friend of Howard Karp)

martha fischer and bill lutes

Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann,   Movement III. Andante cantabile, performed by Frances Karp, pianist (wife of Howard Karp, below top with Howard); Leanne League (violinist, below bottom, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and  is the assistant concertmaster of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as a member of the Ancora String Quartet); Katrin Talbot, violist (daughter-in-law and wife of Parry Karp); Parry Karp, cellist (eldest son of Howard Karp who teaches cello and chamber music at the UW-Madison and is a member of the Pro Arte Quartet.)

howard and frances karp

Leanne League profile

Readings from William Shakespeare by granddaughter actresses Isabel Karp (bel0w top) and Natasha Karp (below bottom).

isabel karp USE

Natasha Karp

“Fantasie” in C Major, Op. 17, by Robert Schumann, Movement I: Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen, Howard Karp, pianist

Words and music from Malcolm Bilson (below, a well-known teacher and keyboard performer with Howard Karp at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a retired professor from Cornell University); Sonata in F-sharp Minor, D. 571, by Franz Schubert,  Movement I. Allegro moderato

Malcom Bilson 2

Words from pianist and friend Ira Goodkin

Concerto Per Due Pianoforte Soli by Igor Stravinsky, Movement 1. Con moto; Sergei Rachmaninoff, Fantasy-Tableaux: Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, Op. 5: 1. Barcarolle: Allegretto; Howard and Frances Karp, duo-pianists

Words from actress granddaughter Ariana Karp (below), via video

ariana karp portrait

“Kol Nidre” by Max Bruch, Parry Karp, cellist (below top), and Christopher Karp (below bottom), pianist and  youngest son of Howard Karp who is a medical doctor with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)

Parry Karp

Christopher Karp

Words from Parry Karp

Sonata in B Minor, Op. 58, Frederic Chopin, Movement IV. Finale: Presto non tanto, Howard Karp, pianist

FREE PUBLIC RECEPTION TO FOLLOW

Here is a link to the posting on the new UW-School of Music blog A Tempo:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2014/07/17/howard-karp/

And here is a link to another performance by Howard Karp on SoundCloud, a rarely heard work by Johann Sebastian Bach that features a Fugue on a Theme by Tomaso Aliboni as well as works by Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn:

https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom/sets

Howard Karp's hands by Katrin Talbot

 

 

 


Classical music: Violinist Rose Mary Harbison talks about the 25th anniversary of the upcoming Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, while composer John Harbison discusses C.P.E. Bach, whose 300th anniversary will be observed during the festival.

August 21, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

On Monday, The Ear offered an overview of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival that opens this coming Saturday night and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31.

Here is a link to that post:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/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-rage-of-works-and-composers-t/

TokenCreekbarn interior

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/

TokenCreekentrance

Today, as promised but postponed by stories about the Metropolitan Opera labor negotiations and about two local concerts this Friday, the blog features two important essays by the two co-artistic directors of the festival.

The first essay is a discussion by violinist Rose Mary Harbison about the 25th anniversary of the festival.

The second is a personal essay by composer John Harbison about the composer C.P.E. Bach, whose 300th anniversary will play an important role in the festival.

NEW BEGINNINGS AT TOKEN CREEK

By Rose Mary Harbison (below)

RosemaryHarbison

When the Token Creek Festival began, 25 years ago, we had many ideas and many ideals, but none of our plans involved growth. The reason for that was at first practical. We wanted to perform in a converted barn, the very space where we already practiced and played.

The space, and its surroundings, is welcoming, but able to seat, optimally, no more than 80 people. We had no stage, no lights and no parking plan. We were our own maintenance and grounds-keeping staff.

We also had ideas about the music we would like to present. We had participated in various summer festivals, and were not too interested in the concept of “summer” music. Along with our founding colleagues, Jorja Fleezanis and Michael Steinberg, we came up with some initial programs — Ludwig van Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Arnold Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon, recent pieces by Helps and John Harbison, thinking of music we wouldn’t likely be asked to prepare at other festivals, in late August.

In the official re-opening season (1994) there were three concerts: all Bach, all Mozart, all Schoenberg. Single composer concerts have since been rare at Token Creek, but we have instead done series: many Haydn trios, the complete Mozart concertos for which he made chamber music arrangements; the “esoteric” final period of Bach (below), including generous selections from The Art of Fugue, and The Musical Offering in two different orderings and instrumentations.

Bach1

Our guests have been friends whom we have cone to know in our various travels. We were once told by a possible patron that he would fund the festival for two seasons if we would bring X, a conductor with whom we were in close partnership. But this is not the way we have chosen to construct our seasons — independence in programming and staffing has remained our most precious freedom.

We have presented what interests us, and the varying audience sizes, from sold-out to modest, reflects that determination. Thirty excited, involved listeners provide a sufficient presence, in our small barn, for an unforgettable occasion, like Leonard Stein’s lecture-demonstration on the Hammerklavier sonata (played in live performance by Daniel Barenboim in a YouTube video at bottom) by Ludwig van Beethoven (below).

Beethoven big

Ten years ago, we expanded into jazz, eventually composer-focused, with an idea that some of the players would play in both, and we would encourage an audience to embrace the whole series. In the early years we stressed themes and issues shared by both forms. (An audience survey later revealed that, in fact, the crossover audience is very small; we were surprised.) The jazz became popular, and began in certain ways to drive the festival, especially logistically (a night-club set up, an eventual two-concerts-per-day schedule). Part of our effort to recapture the original spirit of the festival involves letting go of the jazz for this year, becoming smaller and more thoughtful again.

One of our best colleagues, a performer, has a brother, a violinist, who started a European festival. It grew and it added things on, his responsibilities changed. Is he happy with the growth? we asked. “Well of course, it’s a success, but he is pretty sad. … he no longer plays the violin.”

Every musician is challenged, at every point in their development, to try to remember why they went into music, to recapture the basic impulse. Sometimes that requires going back to a starting point, and either starting over, or summarizing what has happened.

Institutions, like individuals, are always challenged to grow, to go forward, to move on, and must occasionally reconstruct themselves, at the risk of not fitting expectations, dreams, or the economic model.

I write with the hope of encountering their best instincts and reconnecting with like souls, the natural constituency.

CARL PHILIP EMMANUEL BACH (1714-1799), AN ANNIVERSARY

By John Harbison (below)

JohnHarbisonatpiano

One of the many privileges of co-directing a music festival is study, a chance to pause over music that might go by too fast; a chance, even, to make a connection with music that has remained alien too long. For many years I cherished a suspicion of, close to an aversion to, CPE Bach’s music.  This was based on a large number of keyboard pieces I heard in the ‘60s played by the eminent harpsichordist Louis Bagger.  The pieces had a pronounced WOW factor, they were calculated to immediate effect, they asked provocative questions, then shirked answering.  The non-sequiturs, as in many of today’s novelties, seemed mere posturing, the work of a gadfly without a message.

Tied to this was an impression that CPE was an ingenious person.  In spite of his good stewardship of the materials left to him from his father, he seemed self-servingly willing to promote J.S. Bach’s teacher reputation, a prescription that stemmed from the competition between them.

I now believe many of these impressions were wrong, or at best uninformed.  CPE Bach is a complicated case, and needs a much more attentive examination.

He was J.S. Bach’s second son.  The first, Wilhelm Friedemann, was more talented, but less industrious. Friedmann’s best pieces seem to have a naturalness and pure musicality unavailable to CPE, but they lack a strategy to fully separate from his father.

Such a strategy does CPE deploy, with a vengeance.  This took courage and an investigative mind.  It seems clear that the son’s valuation of his father’s music grew during the course of his career.  Together with his vast experience as a composer came an appreciation of the foundation he had received from his only teacher, together with a perception of the enormity of that teacher’s artistic achievement.

Carl Philip Emmanuel (below, in a 1733 portrait by a relative Gottfried Friedrich Bach) was too good a musician not to notice something: In spite of being the most famous and highly regarded composer in the world by the 1740s (J.S. Bach was still alive), he was not in the same league with the old man.  He becomes, instead, an avatar of the new, often at his best while disturbing the logic, proportion and density that were his father’s hallmark.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1733 painted by Gottfriend Friedrich Bach, a relative

Much has been said about the manner, the tone of much of his music, which says: This need not always be so serious, this need not be so responsible, this is apprehendable right away. These are things worth stating, periodically, and can be expressed, as in CPE’s music, by a kind of nervousness, hurry, irresponsibility — winning qualities in his best pieces.

But the main agent of change in CPE can be very simply described: He dismantles his father’s bass-line—radically clears it out, reduces it much of the time to skeletal support, thus placing new emphasis on the charm, buoyancy and unpredictability of the melodies.

J.S. Bach’s music, in asserting that the bass possesses a profile very like the upper parts in activity and articulateness (and often surpasses them in importance) draws on very old principles carried forward from Renaissance polyphony. In reducing and domesticating the bass, CPE achieves a new intelligibility and friendliness of texture, and cuts his hereditary umbilical cord.

Still he retains a lot of J.S. in his ability, when he chooses, to develop and vary motives, to spin out large phrases, and to create drama and propulsion.

In this 300th anniversary year there is an added fascination: A scholarly filling out of his canon.  A great proportion of his output is being made available for the first time in published form. There are many surprises, especially in the form of vocal and instrumental chamber music.

“Premieres” are being offered, around the world, and the music, which has always been valued as a necessary historical moment, is now being valued for itself.

We can hear not only the way he both holds and breaks with his father, we can also hear why Joseph Haydn (below and at the bottom in a YouTube video of the famed Beaux Arts Trio playing the same Haydn piano trio that will be played during this year’s festival) was so taken with this music.  It has its own surprises, quirks, and above all a burning energy, singular, bold, drawing our attention, chastening our misconceptions.

Haydn

 

 


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
Leave a Comment

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: Is there more to say about Beethoven and his music? Acclaimed musicologist Jan Swafford thinks so, and says so in his new biography of The Ludwig.

August 9, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

By most polls and surveys, the most popular composer of classical music remains Ludwig van Beethoven (below). The surly, willful and influential musician bridged the Classical and Romantic eras, and his music retains much of its power and universal appeal even today.

All you have to do is mention the names of works in virtually all the various musical genres and forms — solo sonatas, chamber music, symphonic music, concertos, vocal music — that Beethoven mastered and pushed into new realms of expression:

The “Eroica” Symphony.

The Fifth Symphony.

The “Pastoral” Symphony.

The Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy.”

The “Emperor” Concerto for piano.

The “Razumovsky” and “Late” String Quartets.

The “Ghost” and  “Archduke” piano trios, and the “Triple” Concerto.

The “Moonlight,” “Pathetique,” “Tempest,” “Appassionata,” “Waldstein” and “Hammerklavier” piano sonatas.

The “Spring” and “Kreutzer” violin sonatas.

The “Missa Solemnis.”

“Fidelio.”

And on and on.

Such nicknames and so many! Talk about iconic works!

Beethoven big

What more is there to be said about Beethoven?

Well, quite a lot, apparently, according to the acclaimed music historian Jan Swafford (below), who did his undergraduate work at Harvard University and his graduate work at Yale University and who now teaches composition and music history at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Jan Swafford color

Swafford, who has also written biographies of Johannes Brahms and Charles Ives, has just published his 1,000-page biography of Beethoven with the subtitle “Anguish and Triumph.”

It is getting some mixed or qualified reviews. But before you look into that, better check into the pieces that NPR (National Public Radio) did on Swafford and his takes on Beethoven, some of which defy received wisdom and common sense.

Here is a summary of some common perceptions about Beethoven that may -– or may NOT –- be true, according to Swafford. It i s an easy and informative read.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/05/337857557/ask-us-anything-about-beethoven

And here is another piece on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that deals with how the powerful Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” reveals Beethoven’s personality. (You can hear the opening, played by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

http://www.npr.org/2014/08/03/336656578/beethovens-eroica-a-bizarre-revelation-of-personality

Some critics have questioned whether the book (below) is too long, whether it repeats things that are already well known and whether the writing style is accessible to the general public.

But nobody is ignoring it.

Jan Swafford Beethoven cover

Here are two reviews by reputable media outlets.

From The Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/book-review-beethoven-anguish-and-triumph-by-jan-swafford-1406927297

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/books/review/beethoven-by-jan-swafford.html?_r=0

Have you read Jan Swafford’s other work?

What do you think of his music histories and biographies?

Or of his new Beethoven book, if you have read it?

And what is your favorite  work by Beethoven?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music education: WYSO’s Youth Orchestra will perform a FREE concert of music by Antonin Dvorak, Peter Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Manuel DeFalla and more from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday night at Old Sauk Trails Park, thanks to the Gialamas Company.

August 8, 2014
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

All reports say that the 10-day tour to Argentina, completed just last weekend, was a rousing success for both members of the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and for their many South American hosts and audiences.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

Here is a link to the live real-time blog with the complete set of postings done for the tour:

www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

But why take someone else’s word for it?

You can hear the musicians for yourself in some of the same music that the young performers played in several different locations in Argentina.

They will once again perform, under the baton of UW-Madison School of Music conductor James Smith, on this coming Wednesday night from 7 to 9 p.m. in Old Sauk Trails Park on Madison’s far west side at 1200 John Q. Hammons Drive..

WYSO Concert in the Park, playing under Jim Smith 3

The event actually starts at 5 p.m. when the park opens to audiences for picnicking and eating, kind of like a smaller Concert on the Square for the far west side and to greet the approaching end of summer and to reach lots of young people.

The concert typically attracts thousands. Just look at the parking!

WYSO Concert in the Park Photo aeriel view

Here is a link to the official site:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/events/concerts-recitals/

And here is a link to the major sponsor and underwriter, the real estate development firm The Gialamas Company, with more information:

http://www.gialamas.com/Events/tabid/164/vw/3/itemid/26/sm/615/d/20140813/Default.aspx

If you want to know about food, you will probably want at least to check out the two providers  — Benvenuto’s and Sprecher’s — with whom you can reserve food and beverages if you don’t want to bring your own.

http://www.gialamas.com/Portals/0/CITP2014/Benvenuto’s%20Menu.pdf

http://www.gialamas.com/Portals/0/CITP2014/Sprecher’s.pdf

WYSO Concert  the Park Tent 4

Finally, courtesy of WYSO, here is the complete program with approximate timings:

CONCERT IN THE PARK, AUGUST 13, 2014

Overture to Candide. By Leonard Bernstein. (6 minutes)

Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op.36, Fourth movement: Finale: Allegro con fuoco. By Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky. (10 minutes)

El sombrero de tres picos Three-Cornered Hat) Suite No. 2        By Manuel de Falla     (12 minutes)

  1. Los vecinos
  2. Danza del molinero (Farruca)
  3. Danza final

Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28. By Camille Saint-Saëns (12 minutes) with WYSO concerto contest winner violinist Savannah Albrecht (bel0w)

Savannah Albrecht

INTERMISSION

Symphony No. 8, in G major, Op. 88, Movement 4: Allegro ma non troppo. By Antonin Dvořák   (10 minutes)

“Billy the Kid” Suite. By Aaron Copland (22 minutes)

  1. The Open Prairie
  2. Street in a Frontier Town
  3. Card Game at Night (Prairie Night)
  4. Gun Battle
  5. Celebration Dance (after Billy’s Capture)
  6. Billy’s Death
  7. The Open Prairie Again

“Over the Rainbow.” By Harold Arlen (4 minutes) with the acclaimed local jazz singer Gerri DiMaggio (below top). The performance is dedicated to the memory of Candy Gialamas (below bottom on the right, with her husband George Gialiamas).

“Malambo” from Estancia Suite, Op. 8a. By Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (4 minutes). It is an audience favorite, a participation piece in South America. You can hear the high-octane and colorful orchestral music performed to an uproar of approval at the BBC Proms by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestsra of Venezuela in a YouTube video at the bottom.)                                                      

Gerri DiMaggio

George and Candy Gialamas

Have some fun, hear some fine music and learn how good music education is in WYSO and in this part of Wisconsin.

See you there.

Come say hi to The Ear.

 

 


Classical music education: This Thursday, Music con Brio will hold its first-ever “Summer Shindig” to raise money to support music education for diverse and economically disadvantaged young people. Plus, check in on the last day of WYSO’s tour in Argentina.

August 4, 2014
1 Comment

ALERT: The Youth Orchestra under University of Wisconsin-Madison conductor James Smith (below), of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), just concluded its 10-day tour to Argentina. Here is a link to the live blog where you can catch on up all the entries and events, including a final word from WYSO executive director Bridget Fraser:

wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

Normally, The Ear doesn’t post about fundraisers. There are just too many of them given by too many groups.

But certain kinds of fundraiser stand out as special, especially since The Ear considers money spent on music education the best possible investment one can make for both the future of musical performance and music appreciation by audiences.

So I have invited Music con Brio to submit a post. Think of it as “A friend writes” column from the New Yorker magazine.

Here it is, with photos by Scott Maurer, as written by Carol Carlson, who holds a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who is a co-founder and co-director of Music con Brio (Music with Force)

Musc con Brio

“In summer, the song sings itself.” From American poet William Carlos Williams

What a beautiful time it is in Madison right now! The flowers, the birds, the Dane County Farmers’ Market in full bloom –- it’s enough to make anyone hum a little tune with a spring in their step.  And what better place to enjoy all that the Madison summer has to offer than the beautiful Capitol Square?

You are cordially invited to Music con Brio’s first-ever Summer Shindig on Thursday, August 7 from 6-8 p.m., generously hosted by the Boardman Law Firm, 1 South Pinckney Street, in downtown Madison on the Capitol Square.

Music con Brio, Inc. is committed to offering high quality music lessons at an affordable graduated tuition schedule to a diverse mix of Madison area students, forming an inclusive, supportive community to build students’ self-esteem and pride in their talents. (A sample of Music con Brio’s music-making from a 2013 appearance at Emerson Elementary School can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Music con Brio 1 CR Scott Maurer

Music con Brio’s first-ever Summer Shindig will be held on this Thursday, August 7, from 6 to 8 pm, generously hosted by the Boardman Law Firm. The Pecatonica String Quartet (below) will be performing, as well as Music con Brio’s own Eagle Feather Fiddlers and advanced violin group. The Shindig will feature goodies by Barriques and artisan brews by Mobcraft Beer.

For a suggested donation of $10 per person or $20 per family, you can:

- Check out the fantastic view of the Capitol from Boardman’s beautiful balcony terrace.

- Enjoy Barrique’s goodies and Mobcraft beer.

- Bid on the fabulous silent auction filled with awesome, local arts-related items.

- Meet current Music con Brio students.

Music con Brio 2 CR Scott Maurer

And you can do all this while listening to the beautiful music of the Pecatonica String Quartet, featuring Music con Brio’s own Carol Carlson and Amber Dolphin.

Check out more event details and RSVP here.

Donations of items for the silent auction are greatly appreciated -– if you have something you’d like to contribute, please email info@musicconbrio.org to let us know.

Music con Brio, Inc. is committed to offering high-quality music lessons at an affordable graduated tuition schedule to a diverse mix of Madison area students, forming an inclusive, supportive community to build students’ self-esteem and pride in their talents.

Music con Brio 3 CR Scott Maurer

Now beginning its fourth year, the organization serves almost 100 students in 1st-9th grade, representing 10 different Madison schools. In addition to lessons in violin, cello, piano and percussion, Music con Brio presents an annual Community Concert Series around Madison in collaboration with local bands such as The Handphibians, Yid Vicious, and The Big Payback.

Contemporary percussion group Clocks in Motion (below), an affiliate ensemble with the UW-Madison School of Music, will be in residency with Music con Brio during 2014-15, which will include performing with Music con Brio on the Community Concert Series.

Clocks in Motion outside

The Pecatonica String Quartet was founded in 2008 by young, vibrant musicians in the Madison area. The name of the group comes from a quaint, twisting stream in southwest Wisconsin, the Pecatonica River. The PSQ plays frequently around southern Wisconsin at weddings, private parties, schools, and in concert. Their performance for Music con Brio will include all types of music, ranging from arrangements of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos to contemporary rock.  The quartet is happy to take requests as well.

Pecatonica String Quartet

For more information visit www.musicconbrio.org or write to carol@musicconbrio.org

Thank you so much for your support of Music con Brio!

Carol Carlson

 

 


Classical music: The Ear does some more catching up. This time he takes in the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO). Plus, here is more news from Day 4 of WYSO’s tour in Argentina.

July 28, 2014
6 Comments

Here is the daily alert for the tour though Aug. 3 by Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) in Argentina. Here is a link to the latest news from Day 4: www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

As I said yesterday, The Ear is finally getting a chance to catch up on some old business, now that live concerts have quieted down a bit for a while.

Here is an overdue review.

MADISON AREA YOUTH CHAMBER ORCHESTRA (MAYCO) EXCELS IN OLD MUSIC AND NEW MUSIC

On Friday, July 11, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) performed “Triumph and Delight,” the first of its two concerts this summer. This one was at the handsome new Atrium auditorium, with its bright acoustics, of the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive.

Founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky (below), who is currently a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, led the group through an intriguing program that include the Piano Concerto No. 11 in D Major, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn; and the world premiere of a “Experiment No. 1” by his fellow student, composer Olivia Zeuske.

Mikko Utevsky with baton

The soloist in the Haydn Piano Concerto was UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below). The Ear recently heard him in the Romantic and evergreen Piano Concerto In A Minor by Edvard Grieg, played with the Middleton Community Orchestra. And the performance was impressive, so expectations were high.

And those expectations were both met and surpassed in the Haydn.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

This was not, thank goodness, period Haydn. From what The Ear heard, Kasdorf made no attempt to scale back his part and treat the piano like some Classical-era fortepiano. Instead this was robust and rich Haydn, an interpretation that made Papa Haydn sound more alive than dead. The humor and tunefulness plus the effective, if sparing, use of dissonance, all came through convincingly and in a contemporary way.

Add in the orchestra’s careful attention to part-playing and to dialogue with the piano, and you had a performance that The Ear loved.

Thomas Kasdorf at FUS MAYCO Haydn

The work by Olivia Zeuske (below) proved highly atmospheric –- not exactly 12-tone or atonal, but not exactly not, either. For the most part, The Ear found it appealing, engaging and attractive.

But for The Ear, who admits to being a “tunes” guy, it could have used some kind of melody or motif that was recognizable and repeated. In addition the piece could use more distinctiveness among the three sections, so the structure guides your listening.

True, the very end did seem to build to some kind of climax, and you knew something was about to happen. But a lot of the rest of the piece seemed to have a tad too much lateral drift. A good statement or speech is not made by a series of “um”’s and “you know”’s and similar filler. And it takes more than sound to make music.

Still, The Ear thinks that she has a future and looks forward to hearing more from Olivia Zeuske.

olivia zeuske 2014

The famous and familiar “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn was not weak except by comparison to the other performances. Some of it seemed a bit muddled, and The Ear wondered if it couldn’t have used more rehearsal time, which more likely went to working with the soloist and the world premiere. Still, the music carries itself in a great way.

Plus, it was set off and spotlighted by a stroke of genius and inspiration in programming. Utevsky opened the entire program with the chorale prelude-type arrangement by Johann Sebastian Bach for orchestra of the hymn by Martin Luther “Ein Feste Burg” (A Mighty Fortress is Our God”). (At bottom, you can hear an arrangement by Leopold Stokowski that sounds a bit Wagnerian and even “Parsifal”-like at the end because of the horns.)

That is the same Lutheran hymn that Mendelssohn, a Jew who converted to Christianity but was nonetheless banned from being performed under the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, used in the finale to his irresistible symphony.

Kudos, then, to this fine group of young up-and-coming musicians, who were warmly applauded by a good size audience of more than friends and family members.

Mikko Utevsky and MAYCO at FUS

MAYCO audience at FUS July 2014

It makes one look forward to MAYCO’s next concert at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 22. That’s when soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below) will join then in Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer 1915” with words by James Agee and music by Samuel Barber; the Symphony No. 9 in E-Flat Major, Op. 90, by Dmitri Shostakovich; and the Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

caitlin ruby miller

The advertised venue is Music Hall, though the Atrium auditorium and other venues are still being considered, so stay tuned. Tickets are an affordable $7 with students being asked to donate what they can.

The Ear says: Don’t miss it.

 

 


Classical music: The Ear catches up again. This time he takes in a terrific evening sampler of Edvard Grieg at Taliesin in Spring Green. Plus, here is more news from Day 3 of WYSO’s tour in Argentina.

July 27, 2014
Leave a Comment

Here is the daily alert for the tour though Aug. 3 by Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) in Argentina. Here is a link to the latest news from Day 3: www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

As I said yesterday, The Ear is finally getting a chance to catch up on some old business, now that live concerts have quieted down a bit for a while.

I have another short review for today.

THE EAR HEARS A GREAT GRIEG SAMPLER AT TALIESIN

Earlier this month, The Ear found himself wondering: Why don’t we hear more music by Edvard Grieg?

Well, we know that famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright -– better known to his cult-like following as Mr. Wright –- much preferred the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Wright1

Beethoven big

Makes sense. One big and difficult ego attracted to another big and difficult ego. One would-be artistic titan wanting to cloak himself in the mantle of another.

But nevertheless on July 14 -– forget Bastille Day — the Hillside Theater (below) at Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green saw an evening sampler of the 19th-century Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, and some other Scandinavian composers, performed, thanks to the Rural Musicians Forum and its director Kent Mayfield.

taliesin_hillside2

Called “Songs of Norway,” the program featured the kind of variety that The Ear would like to see in more concert programming: a dozen or so songs; 10 solo piano pieces from the “Lyric Pieces”; and the Sonata No. 2 in G Major, Op. 13, for violin and piano.

I found the music somewhat uneven, but never bad. And all the performances, turned in by three outstanding musicians (below), proved quite satisfying.

3 Grieg musicians

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music soprano Mimmi Fulmer (below) showed fine control and tone while singing songs both a cappella and with the piano. Moreover, her Norwegian diction and pronunciation were quite good, or so I was told by a native Norwegian speaker.

Mimmi Fulmer at Taliesin 2014

Pianist Michael Keller, a retired professor from UW-Stevens Point, performed admirably both as soloist and accompanist or collaborator. He excelled at conveying the quickly changing moods of miniature Lyric Pieces, of which he played 10 contrasting ones.

Michael Keller playing

And violinist Stephen Bjella, an artist-in-residence at the UW-Stevens Point, played the more ambitious violin sonata with conviction and aplomb.

steven bjella norway

Now truth be told, Edvard Grieg’s music is no match for the achievement of Bach. Or Beethoven. Or Mozart. Or Haydn, Or Schubert. Or Schumann. Or Brahms. Or Mahler. And so on and so on. But The Ear thinks of Grieg as The Dvorak of the North. I think Claude Debussy once said his works were bonbons filled with snow.

That doesn’t mean his music is without value. His “salon”-like music certainly is enjoyable and worth hearing more often. Major artists like pianists Arthur Rubinstein, Emil Gilels and Stephen Hough play his Lyric Pieces and included several in their active repertoire. I think the violinist Jascha Heifetz also liked his three violin sonatas. And his songs are too rarely heard, perhaps because of the difficulty of singing Norwegian instead of German and French, Italian and English. Plus, the Emerson Quartet won a Grammy with his one string quartet.

edvard grieg

So this was a thoroughly enjoyable concert that reminded The Ear that the music of Grieg deserves to be heard more often in live performance than it currently is. Just listen to the lovely Nocturne, played by a contestant in the Grieg Piano Competition, in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Thanks go to Kent Williams (below top), to the Rural Musicians Forum –- which he directs and which is presenting a FREE tango quintet this Monday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Unity Chapel in Spring Green –- to Taliesin and especially to the three performers as well as to the full house (below bottom) that makes such a proposal all the more feasible and appealing.

Kent Mayfield at Taliesin

Grieg audience

Hear more music by Edvard Grieg?

As the late Eileen Stritch would sing: “I’ll Drink to That.”

Better break out the ice water.

 

 

 

 

 


Next Page »

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

    Join 859 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,059,837 hits
    September 2014
    M T W T F S S
    « Aug    
    1234567
    891011121314
    15161718192021
    22232425262728
    2930  
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 859 other followers

%d bloggers like this: