The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: March is “Music in Our Schools” Month and features free lunchtime concerts in the state Capitol in Madison

February 28, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Capitol Rotunda isn’t just for protests and politics, no matter what you have seen and heard over the past several weeks.

Soon some different sounds will fill the marble halls.

But let’s back up.

These are not easy days – and they may be about to get even harder — for music education, what with tight school budgets and tight family budgets and curtailed media coverage.

If you favor classical music education, you should know that March is Music in Our Schools Month. That means school groups from around Wisconsin will perform free noon-time concerts (noon to 1 p m.) in the Rotunda (below top) Wisconsin’s state Capitol (below bottom) — assuming that the massive protests don’t interfere with the schedule (stay tuned to various media outlets for updates).

What does that all mean? Check out the following link:

As part of the celebration, Wisconsin Music Educators Association (WMEA) continues its celebrated student performances — Capitol Concerts — this March as part of Music In Our Schools Month.

Selected Wisconsin school music groups will perform a FREE concert within the series in the State Capitol Rotunda twice weekly from this Thursday, March 3, through  Monday, April 11, FROM NOON TO 1 P.M.

Each year, school music teachers from all over Wisconsin apply to WMEA’s Capitol Concerts program to include their students in one of the performances in the state’s Capitol. School music groups are chosen to perform a free concert to the public, emphasizing music and its influence upon Wisconsin students’ lives. Many schools apply, but fewer are chosen. Still, the final choice still offers a wide representation of the entire state.

WMEA’s philosophy statement of “provid[ing] opportunity for visible success and achievement in the school and community” is supported through the Capitol Concerts program as the students selected perform a concert open to the community under the Capitol’s marble rotunda.

This year, Music In Our Schools Month is themed “Music Lasts a Lifetime.”  WMEA Executive Director Michael George — whose office is in nearby Waunakee — agrees with this principle, saying, “The multiple ways that music education affects people do indeed make its impact last a lifetime.   Whether it be lifelong participation, the lasting impact on intellectual development, appreciation of beauty, self-confidence gained through performance, ability to collaborate, or a creative means of self-expression, we all benefit from a culture in which there is access for everyone to study music.”

In other words, music — and the other arts — do for student development and self-esteem what sports do, only with far less media coverage and public awareness and support.

The National Association for Music Education explains that the purpose of Music In Our Schools Month is to “raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children… [and to provide] an opportunity for music teachers to bring their music programs to the attention of the school and community.”


One way the community can help locally is by attending the Barnes & Noble Bookfair on Sunday, March 6, and mentioning their support of music in our schools at the time of purchase.  In fact, between March 6 and March 10, a percentage of each purchase (CDs, DVDs,  books) from any Wisconsin Barnes & Noble store or ANY ONLINE ORDER ANYWHERE will go directly to the Wisconsin Foundation for School Music if you use Bookfair # 10258226 when you place your order or make your purchase. (See below for more instructions.)

Here is a schedule:

2011 Capitol Concerts Schedule (noon to 1 p.m.)

Thursday, March 3: Edgewood High School Orchestra, Madison, under director Carrie Backman

Wednesday, March 9: Afro-Cuban Taiko Ensemble, Marinette, under director: Paul Okray

Friday, March 11: West Bend Treblemakers
under directors Darci Ketter, Heidi Stathus and Jackie Vandenberg

Monday, March 14: Brookwood Senior High Choir, Ontario, under director Debra Olstad

Wednesday, March 16: Stevens Point Area High School Concert Choir and Wind Ensemble
under directors Kevin Morrissey and Brad Schmidt

Friday, March 18: New Richmond High School Kammerchor Mixed Choir under director Andy Schroetter

Monday, March 21: Forest Park Middle School Orchestra, Franklin, under director Susan Anderegg

Wednesday, March 23: Fond du Lac High School Concert Treble Choir, director Sarah McVeigh

Monday, March 28: Lapham Elementary School Choir, Madison, under director Lynn Halie Najem

Monday, April 4: Arrowhead High School Symphonic Band, Hartland, under director Stacey Zwirlein

Friday, April 8: St. James Lutheran School Band and Choir, Shawano, under directors April Black and David Pelow

Monday, April 11: Black Creek Middle School Choir under director Sandra Kailhofer

Monday, April 18: Waukesha West High School Concert Choir under director Thomas Ajack

For more information about the concerts and how to apply to play in the Capitol, visit:

And let’s spread the word. Let’s go viral. Let’s forward this blog posting and spread it around to schools, students, parents, family and friends and even strangers. They may want to help music students and even subscribe free to the blog.

Young people and especially music students  should know it when they are recognized.

Unfortunately, it’s not like they’re sports teams and you can rely on the media,  new or old, to cover them.

What do you think of music education and its importance?

Of these concerts in the Rotunda?

The Ear wants to hear.


Once again, this coming weekend you can support music in schools by going to a Barnes and Noble bookstore (Madison has eastside and a west side store) and buying or ordering CDs, DVDs and books. Just mention account number 10258226.

Live musical performances are also scheduled at each store from 2 to 4 p.m.

In fact, The Ear has been asked to contribute a list of essential works about the piano.

So tomorrow I will post my list along with instructions about how to support music education through your purchases.

Stay tuned!

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: Why is Franz Schubert so appealing these days? Pianist Paul Lewis reflects on music from “another planet”

February 27, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

I guess like fashion trends or cultural fads, the interest in certain composers comes and goes, depending on big anniversaries and other variables.

But I’m not sure what explains the current revival on interest in the music of Franz Schubert (below).

I like to think that with so much strife and turmoil in the world and at home, we hunger for more humane music. Beethoven, whom Schubert worshipped, is about power and thinking big and being radical; Schubert, on the other hand, is about humanity and beauty and intimacy.

I know I am endlessly drawn to Schubert in my own amateur playing and these days just can’t get enough of him . Others seem to share my fixation. Alfred Brendel’s complete digital cycle of piano music has just been released in a budget box – a good sign of popular demand. I also see lots of Schubert on concert programs and in new recordings. Early in January, for example, pianist Emanuel Ax and friends performed an-Schubert program at Alice Tully Hall. And Matthias Goerner is doing a multi-volume Schubert song set for Harmonia Mundi.

You can also look at pianist Paul Lewis (below), who was a student of another master interpreter of Schubert Alfred Brendel.

The award-winning and critically acclaimed Lewis won accolades and awards for his live performances and recordings of the complete cycles of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas and five piano concerts, to say nothing of his solo Liszt CDs and his Mozart piano quartets and his sensitive accompanying of the singer Mark Padmore in Schubert’s “Winterreise.”

But now the young British pianist is about to embark on recording the complete late works of Schubert, which he is first playing on a world tour that recently took him to Chicago for the first of three appearances this winter and spring. (See a review of the first of the three Chicago concerts below.)

Lewis (below), an articulate speaker as well as player, recently gave a long, fascinating and intelligent interview about Schubert to the Guardian.

Here it is:

It makes me anxious for the recordings, especially of the shorter works like the Impromptus, Dances and the “Moments Musicaux.” (Lewis has already recorded the last three sonatas and a couple of others, though one wonders whether he will redo them and add to them for this cycle.)

What do you think of Schubert?

Of Paul Lewis?

Do you have favorite pieces by Schubert?

Why do you think Schubert’s music is so attractive or appealing right now?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: Opera audiences are still gray. 3-D is coming to the Met. Detroit Symphony cancels season. Anna Nicole Smith goes to the opera. A critic crosses over.

February 26, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week brought a mix of serious news and goofy news in the world of classical music, especially opera.

Here is a round-up:

ITEM: 3-D is coming to the Metropolitan Opera:

ITEM: Opera audiences — and, one presumes, classical music audiences in general — aren’t getting any less gray after all:

ITEM: The Cleveland Symphony, under maestro Franz Welser-Most (below), hires a critic-in-residence to promote it:

ITEM: An opera about Anna Nicole Smith (the real Anna on top, the opera version below) premieres in London, with major US critics there:

ITEM: The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (below) cancels the rest of the season after a musicians strike cannot be settled:

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: The Middleton Community Orchestra is impressive in its inaugural season

February 25, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special post that reviews a concert. It is by a frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

Well aware of how splendidly we are served by our major musical institutions, I am nevertheless constantly delighted to discover how greatly our cultural scene is enriched further by less prestigious but quite enterprising and remarkably good musical organizations that are to be discovered hereabouts.

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below, rehearsing), founded just last year, is an offshoot of the Madison Community Orchestra, whose own foundation goes back to 1965 and to the initiative of Madison Symphony Orchestra conductor Roland Johnson.

I missed the November and December concerts of the Middleton group, but on Wednesday night I finally caught up with it in the third of its four concerts in this, its very first season of activity. And I found it really remarkable for a new group of its kind.

Its members come mainly from the Middleton-Madison area, with a goodly number of UW students, of course. But its outreach extends beyond, and not just with players drawn from residences further afield.

Of course, families and friends of the performers make up much of the audience, but I spoke to proud parents who had come great distances to hear their children play — one all the way from Dayton, Ohio.

There were also local soloists involved, two who happen to have spousal connections of distinction but who are accomplished professionals in their own right.

The first half of the program was dominated by Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, and the soloist was Isabella Lippi (below). She is enjoying a lively career, both domestic and abroad, both as soloist and as concertmaster, and she is currently one of the candidates to be new concertmaster of the MSO. She is also the wife of David Perry, first violinist of the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet.

And, in the second half, a group of French opera arias were sung by Middleton-raised Rebecca de Waart (below), a superb singer who also happens to be the wife of the world-famous conductor Edo de Waart, the music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra who currently resides with her and their children in Middleton.

Lippi does not have a big, bold tone, but a beautifully controlled one that she uses to avoid overdramatizing her playing. Her approach scales down the epic scope of this great concerto, imparting to it at times almost a Mozartean delicacy, even within its grand scope.

This approach paid off in the slow movement, too easily passed over as a mere breathing spell between the grandiose sonata form of the first movement and the rousing rondo structure of the third. The result was a valid intermezzo of relaxed but genuine lyricism. One might suggest that her approach was meant to accommodate the modest means of this orchestra, but it was a very satisfying rendition for its own sake, and a testimony to Lippi’s true artistry.

Gifted with a gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice and a fine dramatic flair, Rebecca de Waart addressed two arias from Bizet‘s “Carmen” and one from Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delilah.” For the Bizet items, she was joined by tenor Heath Rush, a fine product of the UW Music School. They not only sang their parts, but also acted them out appropriately.

As an accompanying ensemble, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) was well within its comfort zone in the arias and even in the Beethoven. And conductor Steve Kurr (below bottom) proved a very sympathetic and supportive accompanist.

What really put the orchestra to its test, however, were three workouts of their own.

Opening the second half, the brass players stood forth and delivered the prefatory Fanfare that Paul Dukas composed for his ballet score, “La Peri,” a grandiose piece that might be called, in an inversion of Copland’s famous counterpart, a Fanfare for the Uncommon Man.

The Middleton players certainly have a lot of strong blowing power, but one must admit that they could have benefitted from a bit more rehearsal. But the full orchestra showed utmost bravery in the works that opened and closed the concert.

Almost reckless bravado was displayed in their tackling Anatol Liadov’s short orchestral portrait of a wicked witch in Russian folklore, “Baba Yaga.” With its deliberately elusive colors and jerky rhythms, it is a very tricky piece indeed.

And at the other end of things was Liszt’s grandiose symphonic poem, “Les Preludes,” which requires a kaleidoscope of colors and sonorities of big-orchestra scope.

Totalling only 65 players in all, the Middleton group made an amazing showing for just its first season. Yes, there were a few tripped entries here and there, and the strings were overstressed in ensemble and strength (though congratulations for properly opposed first and second violins!).

But there are quite fine players among them. At the risk of neglecting other worthies, I express particular admiration for Andy Olson, a truly artistic master of oboe and English horn.

Above all, the orchestra in general showed such dedication and commitment that the rough passages of their initial character could be taken as merely growing pains in the course of their progress.

Offered in the really fine auditorium of the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below), part of the local high school, this was a genuinely enjoyable affair. It makes the point that area music lovers do not have to limit themselves to the major orchestras and big name guest artists (whose reputations are not always lived up to!) to experience local solo and ensemble performances of satisfying quality.

The Middleton Community Orchestra deserves fullest support in pursuing its growth and maturing.

For more information about the orchestra and concert dates, visit:

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: Wisconsin Public Radio to hold 2nd annual “Bach Around the Clock” marathon concert on March 19 to mark Johann Sebastian’s birthday

February 24, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s time to get out those scores and start practicing.

Wisconsin Public Radio and the Pres House are teaming up again to offer the second annual “Bach Around the Clock” marathon concert. Can’t you just dig the Warhol-like poster that suggests a watch face (12, 3, 6 and 9):

It will be held from noon to midnight on Saturday, March 19, at the Pres House, 731 State St., which has a good organ, a fine piano and a nicely intimate performance space (below). Last year, snacks and refreshments were also available for free in the nearby cafeteria.

The purpose of the event is to mark the birthday (March 21, 1685) of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach, who died at 65 on July 28, 1750 is generally conceded to be the greatest composer of all time and the one who most affected the future path of Western classical music.

The organizer of the event, and the person who inaugurated the event based on a similar event in her native New Orleans, is Cheryl Dring (below). Dring hosts the “Morning Classics” program on WPR from 9 to 11 a.m. each weekday morning. She is also the music director of Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here is my account of it last year, complete with a lot of photos:

Once again, Drink is calling on all kinds of musicians to take part in the celebratory event.

Last year, the performers included professionals like Trevor Stephenson and the Madison Bach Musicians and violinist Edith Hines and some church organists and choirs. Others who took part included elementary, middle and high school students as well as UW students and faculty members and amateurs from the community. One of my favorites was saxophonist Marc Mayes performing a transcribed solo cello suite:

Several local piano teachers made the event a kind of class or studio project, a good way to practice performing in front of a very friendly, supportive and enthusiastic but small audience.

The performances — which are NOT broadcast on the radio — were also webcast live to the rest of the state in real time. Dring told the Ear she is trying to arrange that again, but I have had no final word about this year.

It was a lot of fun last year, both to play in and to listen to – though I do not have new Bach to offer this year. Last year’s official logo was also playful and captures the spirit of the event.

But it may be more difficult to organize this year because of the timing. That week is also Spring Break for the University of Wisconsin, if not also some public schools.

For more information or to book a time slot, visit the site below and contact Dring on the following page:

You can also email Dring at:

What do you think of Bach Around the Clock last year?

Did you take part or listen?

What did you think?

Will you take part in or listen to BATC-2 this year?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music datebook: Students and amateur community performers headline a busy week

February 23, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week’s concerts are especially notable for the performances by UW students and by amateur instrumentalists who perform for the love of it in the Middleton Community Orchestra.


Today at noon in Morphy Hall, UW master’s alumnus horn player Bernard Scully (below) and pianist Kirstin Ihde will play works by Beethoven and Gounod.

Admission is free and unticketed.

Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below), which is attached to Middleton High School, the Middleton Community Orchestra (bottom), under conductor Steve Kurr, will perform its Winter Concert.

The program includes Liadov’s “Babi Yaga,” Liszt’s “Les Preludes,” Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with soloist Isabella Lippi (below top), one of the candidates to fill the vacant Concertmaster’s chair at the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and mezzo-soprano Rebecca De Waart (below bottom) in arias from Bizet’s “Carmen:” and Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delilah.”

Tickets are $10 general admission. Students are free.

Tickets are available at Willy St. Coop West and at the door.

Call 212-8690 for information and advanced tickets.

For more information, visit:

Also tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Western Percussion Ensemble Student Ensembles will perform under director Anthony Di Sanza (below).

Admission is free and open to the public.


At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith (below), will perform. Featured are winners of the annual concerto and composition competition.

Concerto soloists are bass-baritone John Arnold, pianist Hyojung Huh, cellist Taylor Skiff and violinist Qi Cao; composition winner is Thomas C. Lang.  Graduate assistant conductor David Grandis directs the opening work, Wagner’s Overture to “Die Meistersinger.”

Admission is free and open to the public.

The backgrounds of the student competition winners are impressive.

John Arnold is pursuing the doctoral degree in vocal performance, studying with Julia Faulkner.  In January, he was a winner of the Middle/East Tennessee District of the 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.  He will perform the first three movements of Maurice Ravel’s “Don Quichotte à Dulcinée.”

Qi Cao is pursuing his doctoral degree in violin performance in the studio of Felicia Moye.  Cao, originally from Shanghai, China, has been a winner of the Wisconsin and Connecticut solo competitions, Singapore’s national piano and violin competition and the Kennedy Center/National Symphony Orchestra Summer Institute concerto competition.  She will perform Henryk Wieniawski’s “Fantaisie brillante on themes from Gounod’s Faust,” Op. 20.

Hyo Jung Huh is pursuing his doctoral degree in piano performance and a master’s degree in choral conducting.  She studies piano with Christopher Taylor.  Originally from Seoul, Korea, Huh received the first place award in the World Peace Piano Competition and second place in the Korean Young Artists Competition. In 2009, she was a winner of the UW Beethoven Piano Competition.  Hyo Jung Huh will perform Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Piano Concerto No. 2.”

Taylor Skiff, a junior, is pursuing the B.M. degree in cello performance in the studio of Uri Vardi.  Hailing from Mequon, Wisconsin, Skiff has been a winner of the UW-Milwaukee Young Artist Competition, Civic Music Association of Milwaukee’s High School Showcase Competition and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition.  At the School of Music, he holds the coveted Music Clinic scholarship and is a member of the Perlman Trio, an undergraduate piano trio receiving generous support from Dr. Kato Perlman.  In addition, he is the assistant principal cello of the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra.  Taylor Skiff will perform the first seven variations of Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme.”

Thomas C. Lang, originally from Avon, Minnesota, is pursuing his doctoral degree in music composition, under the guidance of Laura Schwendinger and Stephen Dembski. Lang’s music has been performed at the Midwest Graduate Music Consortium; UW-Madison New Music Festival; University of Minnesota Xperimental Theatre; and UW-La Crosse New Music Festival and by the Winona State University Wind Ensemble.  “Music for Orchestra in Eleven Incarnations” will eventually have 11 movements, each one a character sketch of the 11 actors who portrayed Dr. Who for the BBC.  The first two movements are denoted with the initials “W. H.” and “P. T.” for the actors William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton.  Lang says the second movement is virtually a mini-percussion concerto utilizing temple blocks and tom-toms, befitting the second Dr. Who’s personality.

For more information, see Capital Times reporter Lindsay Christians’ interviews with and story about the students and judges:


At noon, the “Live at the Met in Hi Def” production of Gluck’s “Iphigenia en Tauride,” with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and tenor Placido Domingo (below, as Orestes), will be screened at Point and Eastgate cinemas.

Tickets are $24 with discounts for seniors and students.

For more information, visit:

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall: the UW Wind Ensemble, conducted by Scott Teeple (below) and graduate assistant conductor Matthew Schlomer, performs a program entitled “ca. Now” featuring recent compositions.

The new works include: “Precious Metal” (concerto for flute and wind ensemble) by D. J. Sparr, with flutist Stephanie Jutt (below top, Wisconsin premiere); “Braziliano” (concerto for trombone and wind ensemble) by James Stephenson, with trombonist Mark Hetzler (below bottom, Wisconsin premiere); “Passacaglia and Fugue” by Marianne Ploger; “Poema Alpestre” (tone poem for symphony wind ensemble) by Franco Cesarini; and “Figures in the Garden” by Jonathan Dove. Ploger and Sparr are composers-in-residence this week, supported in part by gifts from Lau and Bea Christiansen and the White House of Music.

Admission is free and open to the public.


“Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” features the UW-Whitewater Faculty from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art.  The performance will feature Libby Larsen’s “Mary Cassatt,” African American songs by various composers, and Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25.

Featured are UW-Whitewater faculty members Julie Cross a mezzo-soprano, Michael Dugan on trombone, Leanne League on violin, Jennifer Paulson on viola, Benjamin Whitcomb on cello, and Myung Hee Chung on piano.

Members of the Chazen Museum of Art or Wisconsin Public Radio can call ahead and reserve seats for Sunday Afternoon Live performances. Seating is limited. All reservations must be made Monday through Friday before the concert and claimed by 12:20 p.m. on the day of the performance. For more information or to learn how to become a museum member, contact the Chazen Museum at (608) 263-2246.

A reception follows the performance, with refreshments generously donated by Fresh Madison Market, Coffee Bytes and Steep & Brew. A free docent-led tour in the Chazen galleries begins every Sunday at 2 p.m.

“Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” is a free, weekly chamber music series presented by the Chazen Museum of Art and Wisconsin Public Radio, with the cooperation of the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Music.

The series, hosted by music commentator Lori Skelton, is broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio stations WERN, 88.7 Madison; WHRM, 90.9 Wausau; WPNE, 89.3 Green Bay; WUEC, 89.7 Eau Claire; WVSS, 90.7 Menomonie; WHSA, 89.9 Brule; WGTD, 91.1 Kenosha; WLSU, 88.9 LaCrosse; and WHND, 89.7 Sister Bay. Generous support for the series is provided by individual donations to the Chazen Museum of Art and Wisconsin Public Radio.

At  2:30 p.m., in the St. Joseph Chapel at Edgewood College, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, guitarist Nathan Wysock performs a faculty recital. The performance will include Suite Venezolana by Antonio Lauro, selections from Cinco Pieces by Astor Piazzolla, Nightshade Rounds by Bruce MacCombie, Three Preludes by George Gershwin, and Toccata “in Blue” by Carlo Domeniconi.

Nathan Wysock (below) began playing guitar at the age of 9 and started classical studies at 15.  He is an active soloist and chamber musician and has performed in competitions in the United States and abroad.  He has been a featured performer on Wisconsin Public Radio’s ‘Live at the Chazen’ and ‘Higher Ground.’  He has performed with the Lawrence University chamber players, the Festival City Orchestra, the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble, and L’ensemble Portique.  A native of Wisconsin, Wysock is currently on the faculty of Lawrence University in Appleton and Edgewood College in Madison.

Admission is  $7 to benefit the Music Scholarship fund.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: Talented pianist Simone Dinnerstein tends toward exaggeration while the Madison Symphony Orchestra displays impressive tightness

February 22, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Despite the weather and fear of finding no parking because of the ongoing mass protests at the state Capitol, I managed to attend Sunday’s concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. I just had to find out what I would hear from the sensational and best-selling pianist Simone Dinnerstein (below) in Beethoven’s famous “Emperor” Concerto.

I wasn’t disappointed. I got my answer.

The controversial Dinnerstein (below) proved to be a very talented performer who inspires over-the-top praise for the “spirituality” of her playing. Yet to my ears, I discerned a pattern in the Beethoven that helps to explain what I find disturbing about some – though by no means all — of her playing. She tends to exaggerate whatever the composer or score indicates and seems given to extremes.

As a result, I think, she often takes slow passage too slow (the opening of the second and third movements of the “Emperor”) and fast passages too fast (the loud and cascading scales, arpeggios and octaves in the first and third movements of the concerto.) I think she often mistakes slowness as bring profound and poetic, just as she mistakes very fast playing for virtuosity and drama.

Too often, for me at least, the thrill of the “Emperor” just wasn’t thrilling. And in the right hands (say, Rudolf Serkin’s or Alfred Brendel’s (see bottom) or Richard Goode’s) it can be hair-raisingly thrilling.

The truth is that Dinnerstein has a fine technique, a good musical sense and frequently a big sound. But in this “Emperor,” too often Beethoven’s penchant for repeated patterns (especially dance rhythms) in the passage work got lost; and too often uneven retards and prolonged silences interfered with the melodic line or flow of the slow passages.

Still, clearly Dinnerstein’s approach speaks to many other listeners, who gave her a standing ovation and received the opening movement of Robert Schumann’s simple but poignant “Scene of Childhood,” the “Of Foreign Lands and People” as an encore. (Personally, I wish she had played the Bach she apparently played as an encore on Friday night.)

And there were undeniable moments when she and the orchestra under John DeMain (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) seemed clearly in some kind of sync or mind-meld. She really nailed the difficult finale, for example, which features a big, loud and fast solo run at the end of which the piano and orchestra must hit a single chord together.

Still, I prefer more straightforward, clearer and less mannered playing. Great music often speaks well enough for itself and the “Emperor” is undoubtedly great music. The martial element can certainly be overdone, I suppose; but now I have also learned that it can be underdone. Such an extroverted piece simply deserves more extroverted playing.

The opening “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 5” by Sir Edward Elgar (below), is not the strongest of the set, but it proved a fine curtain-raiser, especially with its stately middle theme. And it served as a good reminder of how differently English, German and Russian composers see the role of music in an imperial or wartime culture.

To my ears, the most impressive playing of the afternoon came in the least appealing piece: the Fifth Symphony of Prokofiev. Indeed I found the playing much more impressive than the piece. True, it is grand and impressive work that spotlights many of Prokofiev’s skills for melody, harmony and especially orchestral color. Still, I find that is less accessible and less interesting or engaging than, say, some piano and violin concertos or the ballet suites by Prokofiev (below).

But the MSO played this wartime symphony with all the uptempo ferocity it deserved. Especially notable were the brass and the percussion sections, although the winds and strings were also strenuously tested and passed with flying colors. And to play with such clarity and precision while playing fast and loud is not easy.

The atmospherics were astonishing and the tightness of the ensemble playing was what got the audience to jump to its feet, I think, more than the music itself, which is very good but not great, at least not to my ears. Prokofiev composed better. See for yourself:

There were plenty of empty seats, no doubt because of the same weather and parking concerns I had. But it was surprising that the hall was as full as it was, and the smaller audience made up for its size with enthusiasm.

I’ll add simply, too, that this was an extremely well planned program that showed cohesion and unity. I just couldn’t help thinking that at the end I’d rather have heard the Shostakovich Fifth than the Prokofiev Fifth.

Care to compare reviews? Here is John W. Barker’s review for Isthmus:

What did you think of Simone Dinnerstein and her “Emperor”?

Of the Prokofiev Fifth?

Of the whole program?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: Recitals don’t come more perfect than the one by violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater

February 21, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Can anyone today plan and perform a more imaginative or original recital program than violinist Hilary Hahn (below)?

The question lingered in my mind after the performance by her and pianist Valentina Lisitsa on Thursday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

It was no quirk, since several years ago in the same hall Hahn and Lisitsa also gave one of the most memorable recital programs I have ever heard.

Hahn knows how to build and execute a program in an unusual or unconventional but thoroughly convincing way.

This time, she opened with a Fritz Kreisler (below) arrangement of Tartini, one of those technical bonbons that should close a program or even be a throw-away, show-off encore, but instead raised the curtain with infectious energy.

Then it was on to a beautifully restrained reading of Beethoven’s evergreen “Spring” Sonata. No schmaltz, but lots of subtlety than made this staple seem fresh.

And to close out the first half came the Charles IvesSonata No. 4, with its alternating dissonances and lyricism plus its references to hymn tunes at a camp meeting. In Hahn’s hands the eclecticism of Ives (below) seemed so natural, so deeply American.

After intermission, Hahn came out solo to perform the Partita No. 1 in B Minor for solo violin by J.S. Bach.

Because of chronology, it is the kind of piece many violinists would open a program with. But Hahn showed it shouldn’t be. The Bach is very, very hard both in notes and in depth. The performer needs to be warmed up technically and emotionally, and the audience has to be ready and receptive too.

She was and we were.

For this listener, Hahn’s Bach was the highlight of the evening. The tone was beautiful and the as pitch unfailing as the articulation. And yet Hahn always kept the music about music, not about the violin or her own virtuosity. You heard no ego, but instead a wonderful mixing of voices and themes, in a call and response fashion. It proved a subtle display of supreme musicality.

The duo finished with the relatively unknown and self-consciously avant-garde Violin Sonata No. 1 (1932) by George Antheil. As music, I find it more impressive than likeable, especially with its strong piano part and the sharp rhythmic motifs, big leaps and repeated notes and percussiveness that made it at times seems like American Bartok.

But it sure worked. Impressed by what they saw as well as heard, the large audience of perhaps 1,000 was worked up and gave the performers a prolonged standing ovation.

Hahn rewarded them with more Bach, the sprightly and tuneful opening movement of the Solo Partita No. 3, which she has recorded.

More applause. Much more.

Then in a really classy move — and for the first time I’ve ever heard or seen it done — pianist Lisitsa came out for a solo encore. She offered a splendid and stunningly gorgeous reading of Chopin’s much overdone Nocturne in E- Flat, from (Op. 9, the so-called “Eddie Duchen” nocturne).

Lisitsa stripped off the yellow waxy buildup and in a straightforward way revealed the piece for the beauty it contains with a great singing line, long phrases and a deeply warm, rich tone with the right color. This was memorable night music for a memorable night.

It displayed all the many virtues and gifts of Lisitsa who seems an ideal chamber music partner. She neither steals the spotlight nor hides in the shadows. She plays strongly as a true collaborator and equal partner, not just an accompanist. Give-and-take marked the entire program.

Hahn and Lisitsa (below), in short, make a great team.

Now if the record companies would just let them do some of their great recital programs instead of concerto recordings, I’ll be the first in line to buy them.

And you can count on this: Barring some accident or something unforeseen, Hilary Hahn, still only in her early 30s, is a major talent with any decades of great music-making still ahead of her.

Care to compare critics?

Here is a review by Lindsay Christians of The Capital Times:

What did you think of the Hahn and Lisitsa recital?

Of the program?

And of the performance of the program?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music poll: How good are Tiger Mom methods in preparing young musicians?

February 20, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

I know a lot of people who are talking about the Tiger Mom parenting phenomenon as decribed in a book by Yale Law School professor and militant overachieving mother of two daughters Amy Chua (below).

It appeared as a book and then an article in The New Yorker magazine and then elsewhere in many publications and on many TV and radio shows, including commercial networks, PBS and NPR. Check it out on Google. You’ll finds lots.

Some people see it as a much needed corrective to lax and indulgent parenting that leads to little success in adulthood.

Other see it as questionable and bordering on, or crossing over into, child abuse.,8599,2043313,00.html

Practicing the piano and the violin played a big role in the strict parenting – with the mother present and the practice sessions running up to five hours.

Yes, five hours.

How healthy is that?

Does well does it work?

What do professional musicians think of it?

Here is a discussion from a story from the Houston Chronicle that you might find interesting.

Were you raised that way?

What do you think about such a parenting method, especially as it applies to classical music?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music new clips: Father of piano group The 5 Browns is guilty of sexually abusing 3 daughters. Riccardo Muti heals and tours. Marin Alsop goes Brazilian. UW composer Laura Schwendinger gets a Carnegie Hall premiere. Flutes in space. And another Grammy post-mortem.

February 19, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a busy week for news from the world of classical music, with the news running the gamut from the trivial to the sordid and the extra-terrestrial.

ITEM: Keith Brown (below top), 55, the father of the bestselling brothers and sisters piano group The 5 Browns (below bottom), has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing the three daughters when they were young:

ITEM: After becoming ill last fall, then recently fainting and falling off the podium and breaking his jaw and then winning a Grammy, touring is another chapter in the ongoing drama of Riccardo Muti (below) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra:

ITEM: Sir Colin Davis is maestro collapse No. 2:

ITEM: UW composer Laura Schwendinger (below) will premiere and perform her own work at Carnegie Hall on March 4:

ITEM: Marin Alsop (below) takes on a conducting post in Sao Paulo Brazil as well as Baltimore:

ITEM: Playing flute music in space – does that make it spacey?

ITEM: Indie classical labels at the Grammys? Read NPR’s Tom Huizenga (below) on the Grammy awards for classical music. (The Ear’s posted p both nominees and winners on Tuesday. You can scroll back or find it in the search engine):

Posted in Classical music
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