The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Orchestras, players (Lang Lang) and operas are using new media and texting more raise funds, to program pieces, to circulate critiques

July 31, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

Those of you who read my review of Opera in the Park two weeks ago saw that, for the first time, the Madison Opera was using texting as a way to raise money for the annual outdoors event that drew 14,000 this year — much the way texting has been used to raise money for victims of the Haiti earthquake and other causes.

But the Madison Opera is hardly alone.

Other orchestras, opera companies and individual players are increasingly turning to texting — which appeals to younger audiences especially — not only to raise money, but also to choose repertoire (voting for encores, for example) and even to file immediate and populist critiques of a concert.

Here is a story from The New York Times that reports on how texting was used at a recent concert in Central Park by the New York Philharmonic (in honor of guests from the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, below top) with superstar pianist Lang Lang (below bottom), who recently switched labels from Deutsche Grammophon to Sony.

As a reward for texting in their votes, participants received a discount offer on a new Lang Lang 2-CD recording “Live in Vienna (below), which features music by Beethoven, Albeniz, Prokofiev and Chopin) and is set for release Aug. 24,  and an invitation to become his electronic “friend.”

I find it a fascinating read — and a telling glimpse into the future and how classical music is revising its “traditions” and using new media.

Here is a link:

What do you think of classical musicians using texting?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: University of Wisconsin School of Music spring concert wrap-up shows increased attendance and good donations

July 30, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

Earlier this week, I posted the fall concert schedule at the University of Wisconsin School of Music – and a rich, attractive one it is.

I also recently received this comparative wrap-up of the spring semester from UW Concert Manager Rick Mumford.

You’ll remember that this last year – like the upcoming season – features free admission to the never-fail Faculty Concert Series and relied on donations rather than admission fees.

So, how did the UW School of Music do?

Here is Mumford’s memo:

“Looking back on the second half of 2009-10, the Faculty Concert Series (which takes place in Mills Hall, below) had 15 concerts scheduled.  Of these, two were postponed from early in the semester to April, and two were cancelled (but have been rescheduled for 2010-11).

“Four changes in one semester are more than we sometimes have over a period of two years!  But we managed to learn about them in time to get the word out through the e-mailed Digest (which currently reaches about 500 subscribers), web calendar and media.

“During the spring, three short-term faculty members — flutist Dawn Lawler, pianist Ina Selvelieva and percussionist Neil Sisauyhoat — performed as well, adding vital new musical “voices” to the mix.

“The series continued to hold its own among such an abundance of concert offerings in Madison.

Free admission, when compared with the fall semester, appeared to have less of an impact, with some concerts showing greater numbers than comparable figures for the same artists last year, and some having fewer.

(The figures apply to Mills Hall, which seats about 700.)

“The attendance for pianist Christopher Taylor (below top) was higher by 57 and for trombonist Mark Hetzler (below bottom) was higher by 48 than their spring 2009 dates.

“Others who performed in both spring semesters had smaller differences, positive or negative, from 28 greater to 17 fewer.

“Overall, the FCS in spring 2010 registered 1,667 (for 13 concerts) vs. 1,772 in 2009 (for 15 concerts).  Adding the three extra concerts performed by short-term faculty brings the spring 2010 total to 1,821.

“As usual, there are many variables to consider when making an evaluation of these numbers.  The instruments and ensembles, programs, other arts events on campus and around town and even the weather can affect turnout.

“I continue to be grateful for the loyalty and enthusiasm of the school’s audiences and their appetite for exploring new or unfamiliar repertoire along with well-known standards.

“But I’d be happier yet if others joined the cause!  Free admission again in 2010-11 will, we hope, provide an incentive to do so.

“When the school suspended its admittedly modest admission charges this past year, it asked for voluntary contributions to the student scholarship fund for music students.

“Previously, ticket revenue had been allocated to student scholarships after the expenses of administering the series (box office, brochures, postage, etc.) had been covered.

“As of late June, we had collected just under $4,300 through this solicitation.  That’s a significant beginning, but one I hope we can improve upon.

“I’m excited about the upcoming season and look forward to sharing highlights with the public over the coming months.”

What do you make of Mumford’s report?

What do you think of the UW faculty concerts?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: We should hear many more Scarlatti keyboard sonatas — so Volume 11 in Naxos’ series of the complete Scarlatti is a fine addition to an outstanding series

July 29, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

When you hear a great Scarlatti sonata – and there are many great ones among the 555 sonatas that Domenico Scarlatti (1885-1757) composed for the keyboard – you inevitably wonder: Why haven’t they found a bigger place in the active performing, recording and teaching repertoire?

Chopin knew of Scarlatti (below) and his sonatas, and apparently played them and taught them. But it wasn’t until the early and mid-20th century when virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz and baroque scholar Ralph Kirkpatrick made them a staple of the piano repertoire.

Then came many more great interpreters including Robert Casadesus, Dinu Lipatti, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Andrea Schiff, Maria Tipo, Ivo Pogorelich, Alexis Weissenberg, Martha Argerich, Murray Perahia and Mikhail Pletnev, among others. (Of course, there is a whole other school of harpsichordists, led by the late Scott Ross, who played and recorded the complete or selected works of Scarlatti.) But why no Scarlatti from Sviatoslav Richter? Maurizio Pollini? Emanuel Ax?

Moreover, even among those prestigious names you keep hearing the same two dozen or so sonatas.

All the more reason, then, to welcome the budget-label Naxos project, which uses different pianists to record all the sonatas on a modern piano.

With Volume 11, the series is approaching the half-way mark. And the latest volume has many of the virtues of the previous volumes.

You hear a lot of unknown or unfamiliar sonatas — new repertoire — form the early, middle and late periods. True, many seem only mediocre to above-average, hack work for the Spanish court. But almost all volumes also offer real treasures that have lain hidden or unknown for too long.

I, for example, have found increasingly that I like the slower, ballad-like sonatas over the faster and more dance-like, more Spanish-influenced, sonatas Scarlatti, who began his career in Italy and finished it at a Spanish court.

I also find that the series give me good ideas of how to program them two or three at a time, making up either a contrasting pair (often major key-minor key or slow-fast) or a fabricated three-movement Classical-era sonata.

The pianist in Vol. 11 is Gottlieb Wallisch (below). He has won his share of prizes and played his share of recitals and concertos. He is no star and I doubt he will become one. To my ear, he doesn’t quite rise to the level of Vols. 5, 7, 8 and 10, which feature (respectively) Benjamin Frith, Konstantin Scherbakov, Soyeon Lee and Colleen Lee. But he is very good.

Wallisch seems solid and competent, occasionally even inspired. (I wonder: Did he get to choose the 18 sonatas on this recording?) You can check out his web site via this link:

One of the things I also like is that Scarlatti helps the Italian baroque to compete with the predominance of the German baroque, with Bach, Handel, Telemann and other of their contemporaries.

In some ways, I think of Scarlatti as the Vivaldi of the keyboard. His work is appealing and prolific, plus it can be repetitive and easy to digest with its sense of accessible pathos and joy. It is also fun to, if challenging, to play with its lighter and less contrapuntal, more songful and guitar-like texture.

And speaking as an amateur pianist, I also find Scarlatti’s sonatas are great for doing exactly what the composer designed them to do: Serve as exercises that limber up the fingers and advance musicality.

What do you think of the Naxos Scarlatti series using different pianists?

What do you think of Scarlatti sonatas?

On the piano versus harpsichord?

Do you have favorite volumes in the Naxos series?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: The Wisconsin Union Theater finalizes Jerusalem Quartet program; the quartet gets a new violist and wins a record second BBC award for its second Haydn CD. Will protesters greet the quartet in Madison this fall?

July 28, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

There is news to pass along about the critically acclaimed Jerusalem String Quartet, the relatively young chamber music group that will open the annual classical music concert series at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The quartet (pictured below from left: Sergei Bresler (2nd violin), Kyril Zlotnikov (cello), Alexander Pavlovsky (1st violin), Ori Kam (viola),  will perform in Madison on Friday, Oct. 22, at 7:30 p.m. -– a new curtain time instead of the traditional 8 p.m.

If you recall, the cultural arts director Ralph Russo asked The Ear to ask readers which of the proposed programs they wanted.

And it turns out that is the program Russo and his staff have selected.

It’s a winner: The lovely and moving Haydn String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20, No. 5 – the Jerusalem is renowned for its Haydn — the Debussy Quartet and the Brahms String Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 51, No. 1.

Here is a link to the Wisconsin Union Theater’s announcement and web site, which has a video clip of the Jerusalem Quartet, ticket information, parking and other information including a link to the group’s web site with reviews and press coverage:

Two other things are worth noting:

After 17 years together, the Jerusalem recently lost its violist Amihai Grosz, who has become the principal violist in the Berlin Philharmonic – a major post.

The Israeli-American Ori Kam will replace Grosz and join the quartet for the October, 2010 tour, including its concert in Madison. (Kam is featured in the photo on this post except for the CD covers.)

But the personnel change looks promising.

Kam was born to Israeli Parents in La Jolla, CA in 1975, and grew up in Israel. He started his musical Education at the age of 6, and began playing the viola at 15. In Israel, he studied with Renowned Teacher Chaim Taub, and between 1994 and 1997, studied with Pinchas Zukerman and Patinka Kopec at the Manhattan School of Music in New York.

(In the photo below, from left, are: Alexander Pavolovsky (1st violin), Sergei Bresler (2nd violin), Ori Kam (viola), Kyril Zlotnikov (cello)

Later, he concluded his studies with Wilfried Strehle at the University for the Arts in Berlin. Kam has been the winner of several awards and prizes including The Swiss Prize at the Geneva Int’l Music Competition, The “Paganini” Prize in the International Lionel Tertis Competition, and in ’95 was the winner of the concerto competition at the Manhattan School of Music. From 1990 to 2000, he has been a recipient of scholarships from the America-Israel Culture Foundation.

In additional news, the group became the first classical artist to win a second BBC Music Magazine Award. It won the honor for its second album of Haydn quartets. (The quartet — which records for Harmonia Mundi — has made seven recordings. In 2008, it won its first BBC award for the CD of Shostakovich’s Quartet Nos. 6, 8 and 11. In 1200-9, it won an ECHO Award for its recording of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet.)

Finally, there is some question about whether the quartet’s appearance in Madison will be the target of political protests. That has happened in Europe and England. And Madison is a political town.

But protesters apparently are unaware that, despite its name, the Jerusalem Quartet has nothing to do with the Israeli government, let alone the government’s policies about Palestinians, Gaza and West Bank settlements.

The quartet receives no government subsidies.

Here are links to previous posts about the Jerusalem– with interesting comments – on this blog:

What do you think of the Jerusalem Quartet?

Of its Madison program?

Do you think the Jerusalem Quartet’s concert in Madison will be protested or picketed?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: ‘Music By the Lake’ in Lake Geneva can be proud of this year’s production of Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’

July 27, 2010
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By John W. Barker

Today’s posting is an opera review by guest critic John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known and highly respected classical music critic who writes for Isthmus in Madison and the American Record Guide.

LAKE GENEVA, WIS. — Right in the middle of the triangle formed by the cities of Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago, sits Lake Geneva — reasonably accessible from any of the three, yet somehow beyond the orbit of each and not noted as a cultural center itself.

Yet George Williams College, a satellite campus of Aurora University in Illinois, has a tradition of presenting important concert events going back to the 1950s, under the heading of Music By the Lake, as overlooking scenic Williams Bay.

Here is a link:

These summer festivals were renewed in 2001, offering varied fare. 2002 saw the launching of annual performances of popular operas and operettas.

Initially, these were concert events. But last year Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” was given a fully staged presentation, in the original Italian. This year, it was followed by Verdi’s “La Traviata” on July 24 and 25.

The performances are given in a large covered pavilion (below), with open sides, commanding a lovely view over the bay, and amid the campus’ rich foliage. Neither the pit nor the stage is very deep, but the best is made of them.

For this Verdi production, elegant decor and sets — moveable units artfully manipulated — were rented from the University of Colorado Opera.

Artistic Director and conductor Christine Flasch (below), herself a professional singer of long-standing, is a dab hand at organizing coherent musical performances. And stage director Carin Silkaitis created action wisely fitting just what Verdi’s libretto and music portray.

The chorus of 22 members sang with admirable discipline and dramatic engagement, while the 31-member orchestra gave secure and able support.

The cast, mainly of young singers gathered from far and wide, was a vocally outstanding one. Rochelle Bard (below) is a lovely woman and a fine actress. Her soprano voice is a bit heavy, but she could handle well the juxtaposition of dramatic and lyric singing that the role of Violetta demands, and by the end she was genuinely moving.

As her lover, Alfredo, tenor Joel Burcham (well-known to Madison audiences and pictured below in a different opera) provided full-throated singing and a good characterization of an ardent provincial bumpkin.

Baritone Jacob Lassetter made Alfredo’s father, Germont, less a caricature of bourgeois stuffiness and more a figure of understandable dignity, even sympathetic. The other roles were all handled with equal effectiveness.

There were a few cuts in the score, in Act II. Dropping Germont’s cabaletta at the end Scene 1, is still common; but the excision of just the Gypsy episode in the danced divertissement in Scene 2 was difficult to understand.

Of course, the necessary evil of outdoor performances nowadays is amplification. The soloists used body mikes, and the exaggerated volume made things rather overblown — though not as harsh as sometimes happens. But the offstage carnival singers in Act III were a perfect disaster.

The use of projected surtitles in English is now standard practice, quite effective here for evening conditions, but the sunlight of the matinee performance made the titles virtually unreadable.

The operatic aspect of Music By the Lake still has some refining to do. But it is definitely here, and it is now a distinctive feature of the ever-growing cultural life of southeastern Wisconsin summers.

Where else in our broad area can one find fully staged and handsomely sung opera in the middle of summer?

Music director Flasch can justly be proud. Aurora University deserves our thanks for supporting this project, and our musical public should be aware of such valiant activity.

Have you been to Music by the Lake?

What is your opinion?

Do you recommend it?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: UW-Madison finalizes Fall Concert Calendar

July 26, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks and a pencil.

It’s getting to be time to plan your concert calendar for the fall.

Some organizations – Edgewood College, Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen and the First Unitarian Society among others – have not yet announced concerts.

But now that the University of Wisconsin School of Music – which presents some 300 events a year – has checked in along, along with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra – you can get a pretty good idea of hat a busy fall it will be.

For the second year in a row, the Faculty Concert Series (FCS) will be free and open to the public, as will the Guest Artist Series (GAS)

Mills (below) and Morphy halls are located in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St., Music Hall, N. Park St., at the foot of Bascom Hill (clock tower).

Admission is FREE to all listed programs except where noted ($)

Carillon recitals by Lyle Anderson each Sunday at 3 p.m. during semester, Memorial Carillon Tower, Observatory Drive between Ingraham Hall and Social Science Building

Program information and schedule changes can be found in the Events Calendar at

The UW Concert Line, recorded weekly, is at  608 263-9485

The Digest is e-mailed weekly: Send subscription requests to


Friday, 3: Nay Palm Bones (GAS); Mills, 8 p.m.

Monday, 6: 34th Karp Family Opening Concert (FCS); Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, 11: John Aley, trumpet (FCS); Martha Fischer, piano; Mills, 8 p.m.

Wednesday, 22: Suzanne Beia, violin (FCS) ; Karl Lavine, cello; Karen Boe, piano; Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, 23 Black Music Ensemble; Richard Davis, director; Morphy, 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, 25: Pro Arte Quartet (FCS); Mills, 8 p.m.

Sunday, 26: Les Thimmig, woodwinds (FCS); Matan Rubinstein, piano; Mills, 2 p.m.


Friday, 1: Christopher Taylor, piano (FCS); Mills, 8 p.m.

Sunday. 3: UW Symphony Orchestra; James Smith, conductor; Mills, 2 p.m.

Friday, 8: Wind Ensemble Collage; Mills, 8 p.m.

Sunday, 10: Chamber Orchestra (GAS); James Smith, conductor; Marc Vallon and John Miller, bassoon; Mills, 2 p.m.

Saturday, 16: Trio Antigo (GAS); Mills, 4 p.m.

Sunday, 17 Choral Collage; Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, 17 Adam Unsworth, horn (GAS); Morphy, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, 20: Contemporary Chamber Ensemble; Laura Schwendinger, artistic director; Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, 21; Neeraj Mehta, percussion (GAS); Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, 22: Wind Ensemble; Scott Teeple, conductor; Mills, 8 p.m.

Friday, 22: Jeri-Mae Astolfi, piano (GAS); Morphy, 8 p.m.

Saturday, 23: John Chappell Stowe, harpsichord (FCS); Mills, 8 p.m.

Sunday, 24: Concert Band; Scott Teeple, conductor; Mills, 2 p.m.

Sunday, 24: University Bands; Justin Stolarik, Erik Jester and Matthew Schlomer, directors; Mills, 4 p.m.

Thursday, 28: Pro Arte Quartet (FCS); Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, 29, and Sunday, 31 and Tuesday Nov. 2 Nov: University Opera with Symphony Orchestra  ($) William Farlow, director, and James Smith, conductor; “Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi” by Puccini; Music Hall, 7:30 pm (Friday and Tuesday), 3 p.m. (Sun)

Saturday, 30: Wisconsin Brass Quintet (FCS); Martha Fischer, piano; Mills, 8 p.m.


Wednesday, 3: Symphony Strings; James Smith, conductor; Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, 4: UW Chamber Orchestra; James Smith, conductor; Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, 5: Parry Karp, violoncello (FCS); Mills, 8 p.m.

Saturday, 6: Concert Choir; Beverly Taylor, conductor; Mills, 8 p.m.

Saturday, 6: Tyrone Greive, violin (FCS); Ellen Burmeister, piano; Morphy, 8 p.m.

Sunday, 7: Horn Choir, Douglas Hill, director; Mills, 2 p.m.

Sunday, 7: Madrigal Singers, Bruce Gladstone, conductor, “Vespers of 1610,” by Monteverdi; Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, 9: Little Big Band; Les Thimmig, director; Morphy, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, 9: Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel: “The Romantic Music of Robert Schumann: Fantasies Forbidden and Fulfilled”; Mills, 7:30 p.m. ($)

Wednesday, 10: Jack Quartet (GAS); Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, 11: Wind Ensemble Chamber Winds; Scott Teeple, conductor; Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, 11: Black Music Ensemble; Richard Davis, director; Morphy, 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, 13: Chorale, Bruce Gladstone, conductor; Mills, 8 p.m.

Sunday, 14: Tuba and Euphonium Ensemble; John Stevens, director; Mills, 6:30 p.m.

Monday, 15: Marc Vallon, bassoon (FCS); Dawn Lawler, flute; Karen Beth Atz, harp; Morphy, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, 16: Mark Hetzler, trombone (FCS); Martha Fischer and Jessica Johnson, piano; Todd Hammes, drums and percussion; Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, 17: Gramercy Trio (GAS); Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, 18: Guitar Ensemble; Javier Calderón, director; Morphy, 8:30 p.m.

Friday, 19: University Chorus and Women’s Chorus; Michael Pfitzer, Sarah Riskind and Brian Gurley, conductors; Mills, 8 p.m.

Friday, 19: Ronald Leonard, cello (GAS) with Christopher Taylor, piano; Morphy, 8 p.m.

Saturday, 20: Ronald Leonard, cello master class (GAS); Morphy, 10 a.m.

Saturday, 20 & Sunday, 21: UW Choral Union with UW Chamber Orchestra ($); Beverly Taylor, conductor; “Israel in Egypt” by Handel; Mills, 8 p.m. (Sat.) and 4 p.m, (Sun.)

Tuesday, 23: Opera Workshop; Music Hall, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday 23: Concert Band; Scott Teeple, conductor; Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, 30: Early Music Ensemble; Jeanne Swack, director; Morphy, 8:30 p.m.


Wednesday, 1: Jazz Orchestra; Jim Doherty, director; Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, 3: Wind Ensemble; Scott Teeple, conductor; Mills, 8 p.m.

Saturday, 4: World Percussion Ensemble; Todd Hammes, Tom Ross and Neil Sisauyhoat, directors; Music Hall, noon.

Saturday, 4: All-University String Orchestra; Janet Jensen, conductor; Mills, 4 p.m.

Sunday, 5: Winter Choral Concerts; Luther Memorial Church, 2 and 4 p.m.

Sunday, 5: University Bands; Justin Stolarik, Erik Jester and Matthew Schlomer, directors; Mills, 4 p.m.

Monday, 6: Masters Singers; Sarah Riskind, Russell Adrian and Brian Gurley, conductors; Mills Hall, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, 7: Western Percussion Ensemble; Todd Hammes, Tom Ross and Neil Sisauyhoat, directors; Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, 8: Wingra Woodwind Quintet (FCS); Morphy, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, 10: UW Symphony Orchestra; James Smith, conductor; Mills, 8 p.m.

So what do you think of the line-up?

And of the UW School of Music in general, which always seems to me to be getting better?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music trend: Is classical music today in decline? Or is it enjoying a Golden Age? Read this article and see what you think.

July 25, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

A very close friend and loyal fan of the blog sent The Ear this article by Heather Mac Donald in the City Journal.

It’s a rather long article, so I won’t waste your time with a lot of introductory remarks.

Suffice it to say that Mac Donald — often described as a conservative or right-wing intellectual who is affiliated with the Manhattan Institute —  offers a very interesting, eclectic and, to my mind, informative piece of analysis. I tend to dismiss a lot of conservative viewpoints today, especially conservative culture critics who focus on so-called “family values” even while they are hurting families. But conservatives can be right at times — and this, I think is one on those times.

Mac Donald (below) tracks the early music and period-instrument movement and its repercussions throughout later periods and styles, right up to the state of classical music today — which she describes, contrary to many observers and doom-sayers, as a “golden age of classical music.”

Contrary to those who see a decline in classical taking place today, Mac Donald sees us in a golden age with more and better classical musicians than ever before. That rings true to what I see and hear in Madison and elsewhere.

It is a deeply thought out and original analysis, even if you don’t agree with it — though I find it persuasive and convincing.

Along the way you learn some interesting facts about individual composers and works, and about Western classical music in China and Venezuela. The article is full of details and examples, and cites many specific composers, works, performers and recordings or performances.

It makes you wonder: Maybe Western classical music is the real world music, no matter what sales figures and publicists say.

It also takes on and counters modern critics who insist that programming modern or contemporary music is the way to revitalize the concert hall.

Just what constitutes “new” music? the article wisely asks and then goes on to answer the question.

All is all, it is a fascinating read and analysis that should interest a lot of people with divergent tastes and points of view.

Here’s hoping you enjoy it and find it as thought-provoking as much as I did.

As a treat, here is a comparison clip — using Chopin’s etude Op. 10, no. 1 — of current virtuoso Martha Argerich and much earlier turn-of-the century virtuoso Vladimir de Pachmann, the self-described “Chopinzee” who is mentioned in the story as an example of how taste changes and remolds our perceptions of what is old and new:

What do you think of the Mac Donald’s main arguments?

Do you agree with the article’s main points or not?

Is classical music today in decline or enjoying a golden age?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: What makes great violins, how much are they worth and how do they sound different? And which Wisconsin school of music sold off a great violin?

July 24, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

I love the piano. Always have, always will.

But my second favorite instrument is the violin.

I love hearing it solo, in chamber music and as an orchestral instrument.

I’m not sure why making violins is so much more difficult than making pianos or horns or flutes, but I guess it is.

So I was pleased to hear the following stories on National Public Radio (or simply NPR as they now want — a la BP — to be officially called these days).

If you have already heard these stories or reports, well consider this an encore.

If you missed them, however, I hope you enjoy them.

Does anyone know which Wisconsin Conservatory — mentioned in the first story — wanted to sell off a Old Master violin?

I’m pretty sure it was NOT the University of Wisconsin School of Music, but I don’t know more.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: Young and old meet through music and a piano recital at Oakwood Village West

July 23, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday I blogged about the way a concert can be used to reunite friends and family.

On Sunday night, I went to another event that also showed the social as well as the artistic side of music: How music helps to bridge young and old.

The occasion was a short, one-hour recital at Oakwood Village West, a local retirement community on Madison’s far west side.

It was given by 15-year-old Garrick Olsen (below, all photos by me). Make no mistake — despite his homonymic name, he is NOT the famous concert pianist Garrick Ohlsson. But he sure shows a lot of the same promise and talent. The concert also featured his teacher piano and concert partner Bill Lutes. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that Bill is also my teacher.)

The concert was organized by Joel Jones (below), the retired piano technician from the UW-Madison who arranges musical programs at Oakwood for the third Monday of every month.

Now the idea that retirement communities are not active places is just plain wrong. The residents go on trips and excursions, and they get to see a lot of entertainment and to interact with people right where they live.

This program seemed especially appealing and drew a large, attentive and considerate crowd.

Part of it, of course, was the music.

Olsen and Lutes opened the program with three well-known “Hungarian Dances” (Nos. 1, 4 and 5) by Brahms. They are as irresistible and charming as they are lively and passionate. The two blended as one in perfect balance. Whjat a way to start — all-paino chamber music.

Then Olson went on to solo in a variety of works. His playing of Debussy’s “Reflections in Water” was full of sensual tonal color. His reading of Chopin’s difficult Etude in C-sharp minor, Op. 10, No. 4, was full of dynamism, virtuosity and clarity.

His playing of Scriabin’s Etude in C-sharp minor, Op. 2, No., 1 was well paced to bring out bittersweet songfulness — inner voices and dialogue; the  same composer’s Nocturne for Left Hand (learned when Olsen broke a pinky while log-rolling) was artfully and lyrically done, all the while the pianist holding his right hand tight to his right thigh.

Lutes returned and the duo did three dance movements from Samuel Barber’s “Souvenirs,” Op. 28. The modern harmonies combined with lovely melodies and traditional rhythms to make for infections listening. It was a great way to mark the Barber centennial this year.

Then it was back to solo Olsen for the finale.

He finished up with two big works.

First came Rachmaninoff’s famous march-like Prelude in G minor, Op. 23, No. 5, which he dispatched with bravura and sureness, and with sharp rhythm — but no pounding.

And to top it all off, the home-schooled young pianist, who, unbelievably, has only 5-1/2 years of lessons under this belt, seemed to toss off Liszt’s “Paganini” Etude No. 2 in E-flat. The octaves were thundering but accurate and clean, the scales passages swift and fluid.

In short, he wowed them.

The audience applauded enthusiastically and called him back to the stage several times. He, in turn, rewarded them with a wonderful encore: a fleet and light-fingered playing of Chopin’s Prelude No. 3.

In everything he played, the young pianist showed both solid technique and marvelous musicality.  The tall redhead has stage presence too.

It was especially interesting to overhear the audience’s comments.

“He’ll go far.”

“We’ll be hearing more from him.”

“He’s quite the young man.”

The audience was attentive throughout the concert — except for a few young children who showed up and went unchecked in their misbehavior — and it was clear they took special delight in hearing a talented young person who had come to play for them.

And after the concert, the audience flocked outside to shake Olsen’s hand and offer him compliments and ask about him.

He seemed pleased and they seemed pleased.

Now, it is good practice — and good public service — for young musicians  to play in public and entertain others. It seasons a would-be professional performer.

But my guess is that the live music also makes the Oakwood residents more active and less isolated from mainstream society. They feel a part of what is happening – not just what has already happened.

Everyone wins.

For young or old, for player or listener — music really can be the best of gifts.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: Native son Eric Daub’s fine piano recital at Farley’s reunites family and friends

July 22, 2010
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

I attended two special events this week where music was advertised as the main point, the focal point or pretext, if you will. But music was not by any means the only meaning to be drawn from the two events.

Music, in short, possesses a special power to bring people together, as these two events demonstrated so vividly.

Today, I will blog about the first one, a family and friends event. Tomorrow, I will write about the second one, an inter-generational event that brought together young and old.

The first one took place Sunday’s night at Farley House of Pianos on Madison far west side. Farley’s sponsors some very fine piano recitals, which I will write about at length another time and which Renee Farley (below), wife of owner Tim Farley, explained before the concert.

On this occasion, the event was a recital by Eric Daub (below), a professor at Texas Lutheran University who grew up in Madison and received his bachelor’s degree in piano from the UW-Madison School of Music, where he studied under Tait Barrows and Leo Stephens.

His recital, play on Farley’s historic restored 1877 Steinway “centennial” concert grand (below) – which has scrolled woodwork and even has iron bass strings (not the copper used today) that affect the softness of the tone – featured a combination of Austro-Germanic Romanticism and softer, more sensual Spanish and Latin American music.

Daub was articulate and personable in speaking about himself and offering prefatory remarks about the program.

The contrasts worked terrifically. Each half was a kind of fusion concert.

The first half featured Beethoven’s “Variations on a Theme in C Minor” and a number of extremely appealing bitter-sweet and poignant miniatures by the 20th century Spanish-Catalan composer Federico Mompou. (Daub did his doctoral thesis at the University of Texas –Austin on Mompou.)

The second half featured Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, Op. 143, a difficult and very Beethovenian work, plus the folk-infused suite  “Andalucia” by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona. (His “Malaguena” was a dramatic staple of piano students when I was learning to play decades ago. But we rarely played it with the subtlety and musicality that Daub brought to it.)

And then as an encore, it all came together when Daub, who teaches music theory and performs jazz, improvised on a tune by jazz giant Chick Correa.

But as enjoyable as the music was, the real joy I saw was people making contact and reuniting.

After all, Daub left Madison 25 years ago – so this recital was the return of a native son, who, even before the concert mingled with the audience and greeted people. One had even come from Singapore to attend his friend’s concert.

This concert was a chance for him and his family and friends to get together and meet his wife and prize-winning flutist daughter, both of whom came with him to Madison.

Indeed, Farley’s has a cultivated approach to offering concerts. It always throws in a very light post-concert reception with wine, tasty dips and excellent bread, fruit kabobs plus lots of conversation.

The reception room is all done is a very appropriate atmosphere  — discarded piano parts and old posters line the walls (below). The atmosphere usually offers great informality — Daub changed from his formal tux into a T-shirt and shorts — and sociability.

It was there that family members lined up for several friends who wanted to take a photo (below: the daughter, the wife, Eric Daub, his mother, his father Ed Daub (a retired UW professor) and his brother).

It was there that Daub’s boyhood friend, outgoing Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard, who took his piano-paying daughter to meet his fellow 1976 West high school classmate and graduate.

The music and performance were memorable enough.

But the real pleasure was seeing how people gathered around the music and the musician.

Music, too, is food — fine nourishment that sustains friendship and family.

Little wonder, then, that music generates almost universal appeal and admiration as well as a desire to make it.

Music may indeed be the greatest of human languages — and an invaluable social bond, don’t you think?

Posted in Classical music
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