The Well-Tempered Ear

What’s your favorite classical music CD right now?

October 31, 2009
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There are so many good recording that have been released lately.

Even the summer off-season brought a bunch of notable new releases.

But one classical CD has continued to surface as my favorite to listen to, especially as I run about in my car.

It is Till Fellner’s recording for ECM of J.S. Bach’s Two-Part Inventions, Three-Part Sinfonias and French Suite No. 5 in G Major. FellnerBach

Fellner (below right), who studied with Alfred Brendel, established his ability to play classical and especially baroque music on a modern grand piano several years ago with his outstanding first release for ECM, Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, a top choice of many WTC recordings for me.

Fellner’s virtues are many,

His use of the pedal is judicious, but he is no dry purist. His Bach is both singing and robust, but restrained.

He uses ornaments, but doesn’t overuse them. Fellner

His two-part inventions often seem fast, too fast,  at first. But then you realize he is playing all 15 of them as a cycle. And a cycle needs variety. Same goes for the Three-Part Sinfonias.

So the more I listen, the more I grow convinced by his performances and fond of them.

Other friends tell me they are listening repeatedly to Renee Fleming’s “Verismo” (Decca). FlemingVerismo

What is your favorite classical CD that you listen to repeated — either new or old?

What one classical CD do you listen to most right now  — in the car or at home?

Let the rest of us know, so we can hear it too.

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

UW to host free public class on preventing hand and finger injuries

October 30, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

So there I was, practicing a Bach prelude and fugue, and my thumbs began to hurt, to ache.

Had I used them too much that day? Had I practiced too long?

A couple days later I went to my piano lesson and asked my teacher about the problem.

“Funny you should ask,” he and his pianist wife both said. “We were just talking about that.”

Turns out that it’s normal for many people as they get older to have some osteoarthritis, (the normal, ager-related kind, not the severely debilitating rheumatoid arthritis that is more of an illness, an auto-immune disease).

Are the thumbs a particularly vulnerable part of the hand in piano playing?

Was I practicing wrong?

Playing a wrong piece?

Not really, they said. Just play more off the tip of the thumb rather than playing flat or near the knuckle.

The human thumb it seems just wasn’t designed by evolution to be optimal in playing the piano.

Should I practice less or play different pieces?

Not really. In fact, they said, sometimes not playing makes the thumbs feel worse. Sometimes just take some Tylenol or ibuprofen or some other pain reliever. And use common sense.

One thing you can do, they agree, is to go hear an expert on hand injury for pianists who is coming to Madison to perform a recital and give two free lectures. Lister-Sink

Barbara Lister-Sink (right) will perform a free public recital on Friday, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program includes Schoenberg’s Three Piano pieces, Gershwin’s Preludes for piano, Ravel’s fiendishly difficult “Gaspard de la Nuit” and Mendelssohn’s “Variations serieuses.”

Then the next day, Saturday, Nov. 7, she will often two lectures that are  free and open to the public.

At 10 a.m. in Morphy Hall. she will discuss hand juries and how to prevent them.

Then at 1 p.m. in Morphy Hall, she will discuss problems of performing in public.

Both sound like great sessions by a pianist who has won awards and tours the country speaking about these issues.

Lister-Sink, artist-in-residence at Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was formerly keyboardist for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and has performed as soloist throughout Europe and North America, including collaborations with Guarneri String Quartet first violinist Arnold Steinhardt, former principal flutist of the Boston Symphony Doriot Anthony Dwyer and the late American mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani.

She has appeared at the New Hampshire, Skaneateles, Brevard and Chautauqua music festivals and has collaborated with notable composers such as Gyorgy Ligeti, Leon Kirchner, Vincent Persichetti and Witold Lutoslawski.  She was a member of the artist faculty of the Eastman School of Music from 1979 to 1986 and has taught at Duke University and the Brevard Music Center.

Lister-Sink’s critically acclaimed video “Freeing the Caged Bird — Developing Well-Coordinated, Injury-Preventive Piano Technique” won the 2002 MTNA (Music Teachers National Association )-Frances Clark Keyboard Pedagogy National Award and was praised as “a monumental work” by pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. She has given numerous presentations on the subject for national and international music organizations and has written articles and reviews for leading music journals.

Have you experienced hand or finger injuries in playing an instrument?

Which ones and what kind?

What did you do?

What suggestions do you have about technique and repertoire to prevent or cure injuries?

The Ear wants to hear.



Posted in Classical music

Should Wisconsin Public TV broadcast Madison and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestras?

October 29, 2009
3 Comments

It’s been a good — make that great — month or so for orchestral music in Madison.

So I found myself thinking: Why do we have to wait for the national PBS’ “Great Performances” to broadcast concerts from the East Coast (New York Philharmonic last month) and the West Coast (Los Angeles Philharmonic this month)?

I heard the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra perform a wonderful program of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.

Then this past weekend I heard the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) perform Glinka, Piazzolla and Mahler in a triumphal and dazzling concert. MSO-HALL

Both local performances struck me just as broadcast-worthy as the bigger groups from far away.

So, I ask: Why doesn’t Wisconsin Public Television broadcast some concerts by those state-based groups?

I mean, Wisconsin Public Radio airs performances by both the Madison and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestras.

So, why not Wisconsin Public Television?

And Wisconsin Public Television broadcasts usually one of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Concerts on the Square.

So, why not the classical fare?

Maybe it’s not as popular as pops or rock or blues. But Public TV is supposed to be an alternative. It is funded, after all, by state tax dollars and Wisconsin-based donations?

I suppose there may be some issues and questions about expenses and staff and scheduling and permission rights from soloists. But my guess is that those aspects or problems are not insurmountable, especially at a time when all classical musicians need more exposure to the public.

Maybe the orchestras themselves are concerned that free TV concerts could cut into the attendance, although I think just the opposite. The more people who see and hear them on the TV, the more who will want to attend them and hear them live.

And why stop there?

Why not videotape and broadcast some performances, even in short segments, by the UW pianist Christopher Taylor, the UW Pro Arte Quartet or other faculty members who are also state workers in state-financed  School of Music that ranks very high nationally.

Well, you get the idea. And classical music groups can use all the coverage they can get right now in a bad economy just as consumers who lack money to attend live concerts might appreciate TV broadcasts of Wisconsin-based classical music groups.

So, again I ask: Why shouldn’t Wisconsin audiences see Wisconsin classical music groups and individual performers on TV?

Do you think we should?

Here are links (first telephone, then e-mail) to tell public TV if you think so?

http://www.wpt.org/contact/

http://www.wpt.org/contact/index.cfm?action=contact

And be sure to leave an answer or comment here too as a kind of informal survey.

Maybe we can even launch a movement–if the idea appeals to enough people since it is the people who really do own Wisconsin Public Television.

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

Classical music best bets for Oct. 28-Nov. 4: Massenet opera goes disco at UW, Pro Arte plays great quartets

October 28, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

FRIDAY, OCT 29: At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW’s Pro Arte String Quartet will present three selections: String Quartet in D major, Op. 20, No. 4 by Joseph Haydn; String Quartet No. 2 in F major by Sergei Prokofiev; and String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 74 (“Harp”) by Ludwig van Beethoven. ProArtecolor

It’s a terrific program by a group that rarely disappoints. So it gets a MUST-HEAR rating from The Ear.

Plus, it is FREE and open to the public.

ALSO ON FRIDAY, OCT. 29:  The premiere performance of the University Opera’s production of “Thais” by Jules Massenet (below)– the work is best known for its often excerpted and anthologized violin interlude or meditation–  at 7:30 p.m. in Carol Rennebohm Auditorium of Old Music Hall at the foot of Bascom Hill. Jules_Massenet

But going to the Pro Arte doesn’t mean you have to miss “Thais.”

Two other performances of the opera are scheduled again on Sunday, Nov. 1, at 3 p.m. and Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 7:30 p.m. For information, go to http://www.music.wisc.edu/opera.

University Opera head William Farlow directs the production with the UW Symphony Orchestra under music director and conductor James Smith.

According to the UW School of Music, this is the University Opera’s premiere production of “Thaïs,” which premiered in  Paris in 1894. The setting examines issues of the sacred and profane inspired by New York’s 1970s licentious discotheque culture. The libretto is based on a novel by the French writer Anatole France (1844-1924) who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921.

Adds the press release: “This is the first staging of ‘Thaïs’ during director William Farlow’s extensive career. Referring to the production’s dualistic nature, Farlow said, “‘Thaïs’ is a tale of two extremes – religious fanaticism and hedonism. Religion is offered up as an antidote for the ills of society, but in reality proves to be a far greater poison.”

Hmmm – does that theme ring a bell or strike a familiar note in 21st-century America?

“Written for the famed American soprano Sybil Sanderson, Jules Massenet’s “Thais” is a cautionary tale of the zealous monk Athanael’s conversion of the infamous courtesan Thais. Amid an atmosphere of sexual depravity, Athanael battles for the soul of Thais only to jeopardize his own.”

The opera will be sung in French with projected English supertitles.

The title role for performance on Friday and Tuesday will be played by Emily Birsan and on Sunday by Kristin Schwecke. Other roles are performed by Justin Niehoff Smith (Athanael), Anders Tobiason (Palemon), Ryan P. McEldowney (Nicias), Anna Danielle Slate (Crobyle), Emily Campbell (Myrtale) and Leigh Akin (Albine).

Production staff includes costume designers Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park, technical director Greg Silver, lighting designer Steven M. Peterson, set designer Angelina Paoli, vocal coach Bill Lutes and chorus master Susan Goeres. The English surtitles, paid for by Opera Props (http://www.uwoperaprops.org) are by Christine Seitz.

Tickets are $20; $18 for seniors 60 and above; $18 for non-UW students; and $10 for UW students.

Contact the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office at (608) 262-2201 to purchase tickets.

It is recommended that small children not be brought to the performances.

On SUNDAY, NOV. 1 (don’t forget that Daylight Saving time ends): The Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below) will perform on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” from 12:30 to 2 p.m. The performance will be broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area). WisconsinBrass Quintet

Also on SUNDAY, NOV. 1, from Noon to 2 p.m. (NOTE: changed from 4 to 6 p.m.) in the Lecture Hall of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center, Madison Opera‘s general director Alan Naplan will present “Opera Up Close,” a preview of Bizet’s “Carmen” that will be performed in Overture Hall at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6, and on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Admission to the preview is $20.  Call 258-4141 or visit http://www.madisonopera.org

If you go to the UW Opera’s production of “Thais,” I’m especially in knowing what you thought of how well the updating of the setting worked?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: Madison Symphony Orchestra stands out in Piazzolla’s ‘Seasons’, Mahler’s ‘Titan’

October 27, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

“I think it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever heard them do,” said one very satisfied concertgoer after Sunday afternoon’s performance by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. NadiaSS

She thought right.

Under the baton of MSO music director and conductor John DeMain, the orchestra turned in some first-rate performances of very difficult repertoire and gave listeners a concert that was breathtaking in its excitement.

The showcase centerpiece, at least judging by the enthusiastic standing ovation, was Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires,” with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (above) as the violin soloist.

It’s great music, a postmodern pastiche that draws on, and even quotes, the original Vivaldi, but also brings in the bittersweet sensuality of the tango, that brothel-born Argentinean dance that the French composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger, who also taught Aaron Copland, once advised Piazzolla to pursue if he wanted to be true to his roots and become a great modern classical composer with his own distinctive voice.

So Piazzolla wrote this music, patched together by an editor into a quilt of slow and fast movements. It had the poignancy and sexiness and torrid dazzle of the original taboo dance. And if the purpose of music is to communicate to the listener, Salerno-Sonnenberg showed she has few equals.

Her transfixing stage manner adds to her sense of connection to the audience. Sometimes she looked as if she were marching; sometimes as if she were dancing; and sometimes gyrating in a seductive swoon. But at all times she threw herself, her soul and her total body, completely into this sizzling work that is at once pyrotechnical, moving and ironic.

To the MSO’s credit, the scaled-down string players matched her virtuosity with string snaps, glissandos and unusual sounds with a precision that was flawless. Karl Lavine’s lyrical cello solo was a stand-out, but the all-string, chamber orchestra-like ensemble was really of a unified piece. And it was terrific.

It all brought an encore from the soloist — “Bess You Is My Woman Now” from “Porgy and Bess” – most fitting to perform in front of a conductor who won a Grammy for his interpretation of Gershwin’s iconic American opera.

The second half of the concert turn from south to north, from the spice of artifice and dance halls to the more sober world of nature, as Gustav Mahler heard it and used it in his Symphony No. 1, dubbed “The Titan.”

It is a great work that was performed greatly, and the MSO performance stood the test of the week by holding its own against the same work as performed on TV by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Only two minor flaws kept the Mahler from being as close to perfect as one gets. A solo by the principal string bassist seemed a bit shaky and scratchy pitch-wise – after all, how often do bassists get to solo? And one brass player seemed slightly off in a loud brass passage (and of course when 10 of anything are trying to perform in unison, you always hear the weakest one or the one that is slightly off.)

But those quibbles aside, the almost hour-long symphony was filled with energy and drive as well as carefully calculated dynamics and balance to say nothing of deeply felt emotion. The dance movement, based on the German peasant laendler, was robust and much less halting or plodding than in the earlier Dudamel performance. And there is little to say about the overwhelming and riveting climax of the final movement since it achieved that perfect blending of abandon and control.

In short, it worked. The magic happened.

I suppose it all might have been expected, since the MSO raised the curtain with a vigorous reading of Glinka’s Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla.” But that’s the secret to great music-making: the well rehearsed surprise, well practiced spontaneity.

And Sunday the MSO possessed that secret in abundance. It was a performance to long remember and savor.

But what did you think?

Here are links to two other reviews:

John W. Barker of Isthmus, who really, really dislikes both Piazzolla’s music and Salerno Sonnenberg’s performing manner:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=27248&sid=d1e5a8b20d4f71303122c68584094ead

And Jessica Courtier of The Capital Times/Wisconsin State Journal/77 Square, who focused more on background than the actual performance:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/article_234855da-c0a0-11de-b7a0-001cc4c002e0.html

So which review of these three rings truest to your experience?

Which one teaches you the most about what you heard or didn’t hear?

What would you add to or say about any of them?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

Don’t listen to a recording before a live classical music concert — but after

October 26, 2009
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Over the three decades I was a music critic for a daily newspaper in Madison, one of the questions I was asked most frequently was: Do you listen to a piece of music before you go to review it? listening2

The answer is: No.

And I don’t think that, barring special circumstances, others should either.

It is a great feeling to let the live performance take you, to ket it sweep you away.

(It just happened recently, when I heard the UW Pro Arte Quartet turn in a superlative and riveting performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6. It’s a work I know well in many performances from the Tokyo, the Guarneri, the Emerson and other famous string quartets. But how terrific it was to hear it again as if it were new. The American poet Ezra Pound wisely advised modernist poets  to “make it new” — and that’s a good motto for interpreters, no?)

If it is a piece you already know, going without preparation might well freshen it for you.

If it is a piece you don’t already know, the elements of surprise and pleasure might be all the greater.

Either way, not listening to it beforehand allows you to enter the live performance better.

Plus, listening beforehand often creates unfairly high expectations and unfair comparisons. Suddenly you will find yourself comparing how a living pianist interprets the work to historical readings by, say, Arthur Rubinstein or Vladimir Horowitz, Rudolf Serkin or Glenn Gould.

I followed the same practice when I was reviewing plays or operas. I would not read the text or listen to the music before going to see a live production. I want to take it on its own terms.

Of course after the hearing the live performance, turning to a recording is a different story.

Then I say go ahead and listen and compare. Then comparing becomes an act of connoisseurship that doesn’t mar either performance or detract from the live one.

What do you say?

Do you listen to recording of music (or read a play or see an opera) before you go to a live performance?

Or do you deliberately avoid that?

Tell us why you do what you do, what works best at serving the art and what you suggest others do.

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

Richard Goode’s Beethoven piano concertos set a top pick. What is your favorite Beethoven piano concerto?

October 25, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

Right now, even as I am writing, I am listening to one of the most enjoyable classical CD releases (pictured at right) I’ve heard in a very long time.Goode CD cover

The acclaimed American pianist Richard Goode—who is very likely to be booked for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s 2010-11 season, according to WUT cultural arts director Ralph Russo  — is performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which was in reality the first one that Beethoven composed, but the second one he published.

Over the summer, Nonesuch release Goode’s readings of the five piano concertos in a specially-priced, 3-CD Nonesuch set with Ivan Fischer conducting the Budapest Festivals Orchestra. (The veteran and award-winning Fischer, a student of famed Nikolaus Harnoncourt, is the principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and guests conducts all around Europe and the world. Would the Madison Symphony Orchestra consider booking him for a guest stint?)

I find these interpretations well-balanced readings with lots of dialogue between the piano and the orchestral instruments as well as an energy that never veers into the eccentric. (This set is a good bet for a Grammy nomination and even a win.)

Goode, whose complete cycle of 32 Beethoven piano sonatas has been a standard measure for well over 15 years, turns in fine performances that remind me of Rudolf Serkin, who just happened to be one of Goode’s teachers.

Goode (pictured at right), something of a musical chameleon who is also terrific in Bach, Mozart, Schubert and BrahmsGoode among others, takes a more restrained and classical approach than some other virtuosos such as Martha Argerich. This summer, he performed an intriguing Bach-Chopin concert in Carnegie Hall – an event I would like him to repeat in the studio and have issued in a recital format.

Goode is no showboat and he sees Beethoven more as an apex of classicism that as a full-blown Romantic. Sure, you can find more exciting performances of any particular concerto. (My second choice these days is Yefim Bronfman’s set with David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra for the budget label Arte Nova.)

But this is a wonderful set, and a convenient, compact set on the bookshelf. I, for one, find the five concertos more listenable and likable than the piano sonatas, taken as a whole. And I also find all five piano concertos more consistent than even the nine symphonies.

My favorite concerto, like that of many listeners, is the Fourth, which has poetry and virtuosic subtleties galore. The heroic “Emperor” is still striking and the pivotal Third, composed in that most Beethovenian key of C minor, contains the right mix of drama and poetry.

Still, these days I really like the early concertos with their touches of Mozart and Haydn. I have soft spots especially for the First (published first, but actually composed second) in C major, Op. 15, and the Second, in B-flat Major, Op. 19.

Neither is performed very often, but both show Beethoven possessed all the gifts and uniqueness that marks his mature works right from the beginning of his career. (The same goes for his early piano sonatas, especially Op. 2, Nos. 1, 2 and 3, and Op. 7, and Op. 10, Nos. 1, 2 and 3, which are often overlooked for the more heroic middle-period sonatas and the more profound and quirky late sonatas. And I feel the same way about the six early string quartets, Op. 18, and the three piano trios, Op. 1.)

So:

What do you think is the best Beethoven piano concerto?

Right now I rank them, from top to bottom, as 4, 2, 3, 1, 5. In what order do you rank all five?

What is your favorite performance of your favorite concerto?

And what is your favorite complete cycle of Beethoven piano concertos?

If you know this new Richard Goode recording, what do you think of it?

The Ear wants to hear.

In the meantime, excuse me while I return to Beethoven’s Second — piano concerto, that is, not symphony.


Posted in Classical music

Take that Gustavo! Maestro Riccardo Muti gives a preview of his Chicago Symphony Orchestra tenure

October 24, 2009
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The spotlight this week was pretty much on the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its new director, the 28-year-old Venezuela-born wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel.

But Chicago may just have an answer to Dudamel — as least musically and perhaps even celebrity-wise.

Muti3

If  you are a fan of the world-class Chicago Symphony Orchestra and are looking forward to the start of the Riccardo Muti era next season, you might find this review of the Italian maestro’s performance last week of Bruckner and Mozart illuminating, reassuring and even inspiring:

http://chicagoclassicalreview.com/2009/10/muti-returns-with-balletic-bruckner-and-memorable-mozart/

Check out the comments and other links on the  site.

Let’s hope when the time comes that PBS pays some attention to Muti, the CSO and the Windy City.

Do you think Muti is a good fit for Chicago?

Will he take the CSO to a new level?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

It’s time to start practicing for UW amateur Chopin concert in March

October 23, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

Attention, amateur pianists, piano teachers and piano students of all ages!

It’s time to start practicing that favorite piece you play — or want to play — by Chopin: mazurka or waltz, etude or prelude, nocturne or impromptu.

And almost anyone who has studied the piano has studied and learned a piece by Chopin, the “Poet of the Piano” who lived from 1810 to 1849.

Chopinphoto

As part of the University of Wisconsin School of Music‘s celebration of the 200th birthday of Chopin next March 12-13, plans are to include an amateur “concert” where community members and students can perform a short Chopin work.

Here’s the word from Paola Savvidou, a UW piano graduate student and the head of Piano Partners, a support group to raise money for piano scholarships and to advertise upcoming piano events.

“We are planning on hosting an event next semester where we will invite amateur pianists from the Madison area to perform short Chopin works,” Savvidou emails The Ear. “This will go together with a presentation from us on Chopin’s Mazurkas and the Mazurka extravaganza (all the mazurkas played by UW students, graduate and undergraduate) concert in March.

“I will keep you posted on more details about the event as we get closer to it.

“It will be a great opportunity for us to connect with the community in that way and have the opportunity to celebrate Chopin’s legacy together.”

The Ear hopes to participate. Right now I’m looking at a couple of waltzes and several mazurkas and two nocturnes. Not sure which one is best to play and perform since I’d rather not duplicate pieces or compete with others. But Chopin’s body of work is so rich, it shouldn’t be a problem.

In related news, The Ear’s post of Aug. 24 said UW virtuoso Christopher Taylor would perform an all-Chopin concert on March 12. Updated information says Taylor will perform Chopin’s Sonata in B Minor and maybe some other works, but he will also play works by other composers. (Maybe Schumann since 2010 is also the 290th anniversary of Schumann’s birth?)

Will you perform Chopin?

Which piece?

Will you attend?

What do you think of the idea?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: Gustavo Dudamel wows ’em, and wows me: He proves he’s the Real Deal

October 22, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

He has been dubbed the “Latin Lenny” because he shares the youth and passion and teacherly mission and wild style of Leonard Bernstein when he first came to national attention in the 1940s. dudamel-wild49754818

He has been called the Barack Obama of classical music because he is Latino, a non-white in that most Euro-white world of classical music.

Some refer to him simply as The Dude, after his last name.

But until tonight only a relatively small number of people, mostly in South and North America and Europe, have been able to judge the mop-topped maestro for themselves.

Then Wednesday night, the Venezuela-born Gustavo Dudamel, 28, made his official debut as he opened the new Los Angeles Philharmonic season in Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Hall on PBS’ “Great Performances.”

And that TV broadcast, taped in early October, no doubt allowed him to reach more listeners — millions, one assumes — in one performance than many other conductors reached in their lifetime.

So how did he do?

Dudamel exudes joy. He possesses the ability simultaneously to seem in total control and to seem on the verge of being out of control, to be at once thoughtful and passionate — the ideal balancing act of art. He got his orchestra to play tight and not for nothing did he receive an immediate and prolonged  standing ovation and loud cheers — even from home viewers — as he stood for the applause amid his musicians.  dudamel-players49754783

His conducting style showed confidence in his tempi, balancing of parts and dynamics. He knows what he wants to do, and he gets others to do it. That is a substantial gift that will take him far.

Dudamel also knows how to build a program.

Quite appriopriately, he commissioned minimalist John Adams to compose “City Noir,” a world-premiere piece that pays homage to LA’s Hollywood and literary past. At times, especially in the final movement, this contemporary tone poem proved an exciting curtain-raiser that will receive many other performances. Still, to my ears, it could easily be edited by up to one-half. But at least it didn’t have the monotonous drone that can make a self-parody of so much minimalism. The work had plenty of mood and texture, with the jerky jazziness adding to its effect. But shorter would be better.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 “Titan” seemed a perfect choice for this young titan, especially since he has already recorded to critical success Mahler’s Fifth Symphony with the famous “Death in Venice” Adagietto. In Dudamel’s hands, the work was emotional and dramatic, but never exaggerated or distorted. This is an endlessly smiling Latin man who well understands the frowning German-Austrian-Jewish man and the marginality and anguish Mahler knew so deeply, so personally. The reading showed how much Dudamel has pondered and mastered the score since he first conducted it over a decade ago as a beginning apprentice conductor.

The only real flaw of the two-hour evening was the tendency of the opening of the program to be overproduced, filled with too much hyperbole, too many Hollywood stars and celebrities, too much self-promotion. But, then, it is LA and it was TV.

In the end, one looks forward to many more concerts, many more recordings and much more attention paid to classical music in the schools and in society.

Dudamel is a gift and, considering sagging classical music ticket and CD sales, he arrives just when we need him most.

But what do you think of Dudamel and his music-making?

How do you rate his debut?

Write a critique and publish it here.

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music
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