The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Metropolitan Opera will tour to disaster-stricken Japan. New Mexico Symphony Orchestra falls into silence. Composer Peter Lieberman dies. Sony head and opera baritone Norio Ohga dies. Philip Glass founds a new festival.

April 30, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is getting to be upsetting, with so many obituaries for individuals and for symphony orchestras to include each week.

It’s been a dark spring, as far as The Ear is concerned.

Still, there are some bright spots.

Take a look:

ITEM: And another one bites the dust. A week after the Philadelphia Orchestra files for bankruptcy, so does the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra:

ITEM: Despite initial health concerns, the Metropolitan Opera will go ahead with a tour to disaster-stricken Japan:

ITEM: American composer Peter Lieberson dies at 64, just five years after his singer wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson dies. Hear some of his music and read the details:

ITEM: Former opera singer Norio Ohga, who headed Sony and invented the CD and also conducted, dies:

ITEM: The young American conductor John Axelrod is chosen to head the Verdi Symphony in Milan, Italy:

ITEM:  If you think of early music pioneer John Eliot Gardiner as devoted to baroque German music, think again, which is why he was honored by the French:égion-dhonneur

ITEM: Composer Philip Glass, 74, establishes his own summer festival in California:

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: Madison Opera names new general director. Which is Verdi’s best opera? His most popular opera? The hardest or most difficult opera to stage? What is your favorite Verdi opera? The Ear wants to hear.

April 29, 2011

NEWS FLASH: Last night, the Madison Opera named a new general director to succeed Allan Naplan, who left in February to head the Minnesota Opera. She is Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the current general director of Tacoma Opera and former assistant artistic administrator at the Metropolitan Opera, and she will begin her duties with Madison Opera on July 1, 2011. “We are thrilled to announce Kathryn Smith as the new general director of Madison Opera,” said Madison Opera Board President Fran Klos. “Kathryn brings an impressive wealth of experience to the table, but it is her passion, creativity, and deep knowledge of producing opera that we know makes her the perfect fit for our company and for the community.”  For more information, visit:

By Jacob Stockinger

The big event this weekend is the Madison Opera’s two performances of Verdi’s operaLa Traviata” (below).

The performances, which close out the company’s 50th anniversary season, take place tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall.

It will be sung in Italian with projected English translations

Tickets are $16 to $114 with student and group discounts available. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit, where you will also find more information about the production and the cast (below, with Elizabeth Caballero as Violetta and Giuseppe Varano, in his American debut, as Alfredo in a photo by James Gill).

A classic tragedy set amid the decadence of Parisian high society, “La Traviata” tells the story of the courtesan Violetta as she falls in love with Alfredo, only to be forced to give him up.

For more background and summary, visit:

Want to know more about Giuseppe Verdi (below)? Try this link to Wikipedia:

But here is what The Ear wants to know.

Verdi is only one of two primarily opera composers that New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini recently listed among the Top 10 composers of all time (Wagner was the other).

Sure, it’s a silly game. But let’s play along for a bit.

So what I want to ask is:

What is Verdi’s most popular opera?

“La Traviata”?

or “Aida”?

What is his best opera?


Or maybe the Shakespeare-based “Falstaff”

or “Otello”?

What is the most difficult Verdi opera to stage and produce?

“The Sicilian Vespers”?

Maybe “Nabucco”?

And what is your favorite Verdi opera and your favorite scene or musical moment from that opera?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: UW’s NEW MUSE performs classical music and new music in alterative venues and mixes different musical genres– and will perform Saturday night at Plan B

April 28, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

With all the troubles classical music is facing these days, many see taking the music to the people in alternative venues and through new music is better than waiting for the people to come to the same old venues to hear the same old music.

Locally, a UW student group has been doing exactly that. It will do some again this Saturday night when from 8 to 10 p.m. it performs at the gay dance bar Plan B at 924 Williamson Street. Admission is $5. Dancing will continue after 10.

So today I feature a guest blog essay by one of the founders and performers of New Music.

I hope you find it as encouraging, optimistic and informative as I did.

By Jonathan Kuuskoski

One of the most common questions I get about NEW MUSE – which stands for New Music Everywhere – is: “So how do you decide where to perform?”

This is a major challenge for our group (below, Jerry Hui on the left, Jonathan Kuuskoski in the middle and Paola Savvidou on the right) because the selection of each performance site informs all of our collective decisions related to putting an event together.

Each of our performances have evolved out of that question, geared towards different audiences: the frequenters of the Farmer’s Market (9/11 Memorial Flash Mob on YouTube), art-lovers (New Muse + Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA), in conjunction with the exhibit “Shinique Smith: Menagerie”), and young children (an interactive performance of “The Story of Babar the Little Elephant” by Francis Poulenc at the Madison Children’s Museum). 

For us, a project’s inception paves new paths towards its realization. This is why each of our concert-events have included different personnel rosters, combinations of musical styles, and have targeted different demographics. And this is what makes NEW MUSE a truly unique ensemble.

Looking at the basic concept of our upcoming concert at Plan B (below) this Saturday night – a vaudeville show that combines live classical music within a dance club – one may not (at first) see high concept in action.


But Le Poisson Rouge in New York and NONCLASSICAL in London have made booming businesses out of the same generative idea. The originality of our idea lies in how we deal with space, the audience, and the fusions of artistic forms and styles.

For more information about Plan B, visit:

Perhaps the most exciting component for us is to have such an amazing team of collaborators joining forces.

The Weather Duo (bel0w top) will start the evening off with some electronic improvisation to set the mood. We’ll then continue with alternating sets of contemporary chamber music, particularly cabaret-style songs by Kurt Weill and UW-trained composer Scott Gendel (below bottom), and works for clarinet, flute, piano, and saxophone.

The student-run dance ensemble Ephemeral Art, winners of the 2010 New Arts Venture Challenge, will be infiltrating the dance floor guerrilla-style at some point, and Madtown Ballroom will also make an appearance, fusing together dance mixes until closing time.

Davina DeVille, one of Madison’s most talented drag queens, will be our MC. Lucky patrons might even have the chance to see her perform a number or two.

Finally, DJ Illy Holiday – AKA Gabriel De Los Reyes from the UW-Madison First Wave program – will be spinning between sets and also responding to the energy of the dancers and musicians, weaving yet another layer of performance art into the evening. For more information, visit:

Madison Fresh Market is supplying fuel, including delicious imported truffles, to keep everyone’s legs moving.

We’re hoping for a big crowd. Just ask anyone looking to hit a dance club on Friday or Saturday night, and Plan B is one of the first places that will be brought up. It’s the ideal location to make live music participatory, because the people who go there want to get up and move!

But there is another reason that we chose to partner with them. Our events aim to tackle the challenge of making contemporary music accessible and fun while still pushing boundaries, which implies the need to find environments that repel genre-prejudice.

We are constantly tasked with overcoming pre-conceived notions of musical appropriateness; addressing, in this case, the current debate about whether Chopin and rapper  Eminem mix very well. We are asking the question, “What if everyone stopped worrying about that for an evening, and, instead of forcing people to judge music from their chairs, invited them to get on the floor and vote with their feet?”

This event is about transforming the audience into agents of the art being created in that moment, and allowing them to inform the evening’s musical trajectory. There is no better place to bend genres than in a venue where no one is proselytizing about the relative merits of any particular style.

Paola, Jerry, and I hope that everyone who attends will leave with an energetic optimism about what classical music may hold for the next decade, and perhaps even spark a new set of ideas of how and where we can bring music to new audiences.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music datebook: From prophets to prostitutes — vocal music dominates this week with Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” and Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

April 27, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

The academic year and the current concert seasons are both drawing to a close, so this week is a big and rich one in Madison for several reasons.

One is that is an alumni reunion weekend at the University of Wisconsin School of Music that place since every five years. Since there is so much else this week to cover and since this blog covered those UW events in yesterday’s posting, on Tuesday, please look there is you want to see more about various performances about wind concerts, band concerts, piano trios and the Javanese Gamelon Ensemble. Visit:’s-spring-season-culminates-with-many-reunion-concerts-on-alumni-weekend/

But also there are two important vocal performances – as well as some smaller, non-UW events — this week I want to emphasize.

Also, one of the most popular operas of all time – Verdi’s “La Traviata” (below, photo by David Bachman for the Pittsburgh Opera) will close out the Madison Opera’s 50th anniversary season in Overture Hall this Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. See below for details.

Also, the UW Choral Union (below), a campus and community chorus with about 160 voices, will perform Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah” with the UW Symphony Orchestra and soloists, all under the direction of Beverly Taylor.

Performances will be given in Mills Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $15 for general admission; $8 for seniors 60 and over and UW students.

For more information about both events, see below.


The free Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 pm. in the historic Landmark Auditorium (below) at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature flutist Kyle Dzapo, cellist Carol Wessler and harpist Linda Warren in trios by Debussy and Respighi. For information, call (608) 233-9774.

On Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2:30 p.m., in Overture Hall, the Madison Opera will close out its 50th anniversary season with Verdi’s “La Traviata,’ one of the most popular operas of all time.

It will be sung in Italian with projected English translations.

Tickets are $16 to $114 with student and group discounts available. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit

A classic tragedy set amid the decadence of Parisian high society, “La Traviata” tells the story of the courtesan Violetta as she falls in love with Alfredo, only to be forced to give him up.

For more background and summary, visit:

The Madison Opera production features sets and costumes (below) by the Tony Award-winning designer Desmond Heeley, originally created for the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Garnett Bruce (below) directs, and Madison Opera Artistic Director John DeMain conducts the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra.

“La Traviata is Verdi at his best,” says DeMain (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). He continues, “The music is instantly recognizable, the story utterly moving, and the production is on a grand scale fitting for Madison Opera’s 50th anniversary celebration.”

The compelling Cuban-American soprano Elizabeth Caballero (below) stars as the infamous party girl Violetta Valery, having last appeared with Madison Opera as Micaela in Carmen in 2009.

In his U.S. debut, the Italian tenor Giuseppe Varano (below) sings Alfredo Germont, following performances of the role in Austria, Germany and Italy.

Grammy Award-winning baritone Donnie Ray Albert (below) was a hit at Opera in the Park in 2005 and returns to Madison as Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont in La Traviata.

Pre-Opera Talks will be hosted one hour prior to each performance.

Special events surrounding the production include the April 29 launch of “Out at the Opera,” a new affinity group for Madison Opera’s LGBT fans, and the company’s Golden Anniversary Gala on April 30.

For more information about those events as well as the cast and the production, visit:


The UW Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra, directed by Beverly Taylor, perform Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah” at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 30, and at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 1, in Mills Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St.

The 160-voice choir and 66-piece orchestra will be joined by baritone soloist Paul Rowe (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), portraying Elijah; tenor James Doing, Obadiah; sopranos Celeste Fraser and Kristin Schwecke; and mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck.

Tickets for this concert are $15 (general) and $8 (senior/student) and are available at the door or through Campus Arts Ticketing at (608) 265-ARTS or and in person during regular hours at the Wisconsin Union Theater box office, 800 Langdon St.

For more information about the oratorio, visit:

Also on Saturday night, from 8 to 10 p.m, in the gay dance bar Plan B, 924 Williamson St., the UW student group New Muse (below) will perform contemporary chamber music, along with dancers and other musicians. The cover is $5. A special essay about this event at an alternative venue, written by New Muse participant and co0founder Jonathan Kuuskoski (below middle with Jerry Hui on the left and Paola Savvidou on the right) will be featured here on this blog tomorrow, on Thursday.


For its penultimate concert of the season, “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” features the Lawrence Chamber Players from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art. The free concert will be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio.

The program will feature Laurie Altman’s “South of New Jersey,” Frank Proto’s Trio, and Antonin Dvorak’s Quintet, Op. 77.

The Lawrence Chamber Players is a Conservatory of Music, in Appleton, Wis., faculty string ensemble consisting of four core players Janet Anthony, Anthea Kreston, Matthew Michelic, Stephane Tran Ngoc.

The players change from concert to concert, and this week the ensemble features Samantha George, David Rubin, Matthew Michelic, Janet Anthony, Mark Urness, and Wen-Lei Gu.

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.


If you are interested in helping young music students in the area, you may want to read this letter from a friend and fellow amateur musician, Sig Midlefort:

“It was good to speak to you about our program of violin and guitar instruction with Madison Music Makers, which for five years has been providing free or low-cost instruction and instruments.

“I want to follow up by inviting you to an evening of music-making at my home at 4611 Winnequah Road in Monona on Monday, May 2, at 7:30 p.m.

“This brief house concert will present wonderful music by professional players, one of whom has placed in international competitions.  There will also be a cameo appearance of several children from the Music Makers’ program.  Bonnie Greene, the executive director, will be on hand to answer any questions you may have about the organization.

“If you cannot make it (or even if you can), could you perhaps use your blog this week to introduce Madison Music Makers to the Madison community and to announce our house concert?

“Music and music instruction can become vitally important components in the lives of our Music Makers’ children.  For these young people especially, music study and performance provide an expressive voice, inspiring discipline and achievement.

“We hope you will join us for a delightful evening of music and conversation.

“Places are limited, so we would appreciate it if you and your readers would RSVP at (608) 221-0382 or

“You can check out our website:

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: University of Wisconsin School of Music’s spring season culminates with many reunion concerts during alumni weekend and the coming week

April 26, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks and pocket calendars.

This coming weekend is a big one – make that a BIG one – for the University of Wisconsin School of Music in Madison.

The alumni weekend features programs – faculty, student and community — that take place once every five years.

But you don’t have to be an alumnus or alumna to attend.

Here is the summary send by Concert Manager Rick Mumford:

“Every five years, the School of Music Alumni Association (SOMAA) holds a reunion on campus at which alumni reconnect with classmates and their alma mater via a variety of events and concerts. The last reunion took place in October 2005.

“When the time came to plan the 2010-11 reunion, SOMAA board members met with staff of the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) who proposed a joint venture that would embrace all UW-Madison alumni and capitalize on the programmatic, marketing and technological resources at WAA’s disposal.

“It did not require much consideration for SOMAA officers to realize the benefits of this new model.  SOMAA would not be saddled with the need to plan or promote an entire weekend through predominantly volunteer effort, time and expense; music alumni could take advantage of campus-wide presentations, receptions and tours; and non-music alumni could choose from a rich offering of concerts at the School of Music.

“The resulting collaboration will come to fruition with Alumni Weekend on Thursday, April 28, through Sunday, May 1.  Alumni from all departments, schools and colleges are warmly invited to the following concerts and recitals at the School of Music; all have free admission except for the two performances by UW Choral Union with the UW Symphony Orchestra:

“Friday, April 29 at 8 pm, Mills Hall—Wind Ensemble (below, in a photo by Jessica Moore), conducted by Scott Teeple and former Wind Ensemble conductors H. Robert Reynolds, Michael Leckrone and James Smith.  For this end-of-semester program, Teeple has invited all Wind Ensemble and Concert Band alumni to perform side-by-side with current students.  More than 20 have already signed up to do so, representing classes from the 1950s to 2008.  They will participate in a rehearsal at noon for the evening program of music by Richard Strauss, Michael Daugherty, Leckrone, UW composer John Stevens, Ralph Vaughan Williams and others, along with Gustav Holst’s classic showpiece for band, “First Suite in E-flat.”

“Saturday, April 30 at noon, Music Hall—World Percussion Ensemble (below), directed by Anthony Di Sanza, performing music from Brazil, Cuba, and the Middle East.

“Saturday, April 30 at 3:30 p.m., Morphy Hall—Perlman Piano Trio, an advanced undergraduate trio supported through the generosity of Dr. Kato Perlman, a retired UW-Madison research scientist.  The trio was organized in the fall of 2007 and has given spring concerts each year since, to enthusiastic audience acclaim.  Thomas Kasdorf, the original pianist, will graduate this spring; other current members are senior violinist Eleanor Bartsch and junior cellist Taylor Skiff.  For this program, they will be joined by senior violist Daniel Kim, who also receives support from Perlman.  The program includes piano trios by Beethoven and Chausson and the “Piano Quartet in E-flat major,” Op. 47 by Schumann.  A reception for musicians and audience will follow the concert.

“Saturday, April 30 at 4 p.m., Mills Hall—Javanese Gamelan Ensemble (below), directed by R. Anderson Sutton.  The annual concert features two dances and a variety of musical selections. The dancers include Peggy Choy (Dance Department), visiting artist Valerie Mau Vetter and members of Choy’s Javanese dance class.  The musicians, in addition to the ensemble, include guest artists Roger Vetter (Grinnell College) and Mary Jo Wilson, UW-Madison Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

“Saturday, April 30 at 8 p.m. AND Sunday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m., Mills Hall—The Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra (below), directed by Beverly Taylor, performs Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah.”  The 160-voice choir and 66-piece orchestra will be joined by baritone soloist Paul Rowe, portraying Elijah; tenor James Doing, Obadiah; sopranos Celeste Fraser and Kristin Schwecke; and mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck. Tickets for this concert, at $15 (general) and $8 (senior/student) are available at the door or through Campus Arts Ticketing at (608) 265-ARTS or

“Sunday, May 1 at 1 p.m., Mills Hall—Concert Band, directed by Michael Leckrone (below).

“Sunday, May 1 at 3:00 p.m., Mills Hall—University Bands, directed by Justin Stolarik, Erik Jester and Matthew Schlomer.

In addition, eight student-degree recitals are scheduled during the four-day weekend, including five pianists, a tenor and trumpet and horn performers.

For a complete schedule of the weekend’s concerts, see and check the box marked “Show student recitals available.”

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: Pianist Jeremy Denk teaches, lectures and performs – all superbly – and proves he is the complete professional

April 25, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Pianist Jeremy Denk (below, in a photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco) was in Madison last week.

Big time.

On Wednesday and Thursday, he tirelessly gave a variety of events.

First up was a master class on the stage of the Wisconsin Union Theater (below) with middle school and high school students, sponsored by the Madison Area Piano Teachers Association.

Then came a lecture on pedaling in Chopin at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where faculty and graduate student as well as the public came to hear him.

That same afternoon the Union held a public panel discussion of blogging with the The Ear and Denk, whose own blog, “Think Denk,” is as interesting as it is highly regarded.

The next day came a live interview, with a lot of humor, on Wisconsin Public Radio; and that night, finally, a lamentably small house heard Denk in his stupendously successful recital of Ives and Bach at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

So are those reasons why I consider Denk a complete professional? Yes, but there is an even simpler reason: The night before his recital, Denk’s laptop computer — filled with his images and notes for his lectures, his blog and his other unbacked-up writing projects — was stolen from backstage at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Now I myself am the kind of person – and I suspect I am not alone – who gets very upset, worked up and out of sorts from misplacing even a pencil or pen or pair of eyeglasses – let alone having my laptop stolen.

Yet despite being upset,  Denk apparently got a good night’s sleep and when he came out the following evening to play his mammoth and muscular program of Charles Ives’ Piano Sonata No. 1 and J.S. Bach’s complete “Goldberg” Variations, he pulled himself together and showed no signs of playing on a sub-part or distracted level.

Indeed, his performance was for me one of the highlights of the whole season. The work by Ives (below), a complex piece that he introduced, was nothing short of revelatory; and the Bach was impressive, especially for how he transcribed this epic Baroque work for harpsichord to the modern grand piano with clear articulation, wonderful voicing and a great singing line. And he even topped it off with an encore he reportedly hadn’t planned on – the transcendently beautiful “The Alcotts” movement from Ives’ Piano Sonata No. 2 “Concord.”

Only a professional could move beyond such personal concerns and focus himself enough to pull that off.

But of course there were many ways to admire Denk’s professionalism as it revealed itself.

His enthusiasm and patience with four local piano students (below) were boundless. (They were seventh-grader Roy Weng (front) playing Mozart; 11th-grader Kevin Chen (back row) playing Schumann; eighth-grader Antonia Rolfing (middle row, left) playing Debussy; and 11th grader Kate Stein (back row, left) playing Grieg – all before an audience of about 25.)

Always animated and enthusiastic with his praise, he gave them tips on hand position, finger motion, body posture, scores to use, tempi to adopt and attitudes to have. (He is big on smiling and having fun and taking pleasure from playing the piano.) And in every case, you could hear the difference in the students’ playing within minutes. It was not easy for them to subject themselves to such criticism for a half-hour at a time, but they all rose to occasion.

Later that afternoon, over in Morphy Hall, Denk discussed how Chopin’s frequently ignored pedal markings are important indicators of harmonic structure and melodic phrasing, of intended sound mixes.

But his lecture was anything but esoteric as he projected images of Chopin scores and manuscripts, including the Ballade No. 3, on a screen (below).

Then he read various texts from his laptop computer and played section on the piano to illustrate his points. He was nothing short of absorbing and convincing.

He concluded that day by offering a blog workshop tips on how he as a professional develops themes – and ignore certain celebrity or scandalous behind-the-scenes information – to write his highly acclaimed blog “Think Denk.” which can be found at his home page:

He also admitted that his purpose as a professional performer is different from, say, a critic’s or from that of a general member of the public who writes a blog. He said he aims to demystify the music and the world of professional music-makers, and he wants to discuss complex musical subjects in-depth.

He also said he doesn’t particularly care about reactions or comments. But the more he spoke, the more he made you want to read his blog, which he said he often ignores when he busy because each posting takes him 20-25 hours to write.

As if he isn’t busy enough practicing, performing and playing the piano. That is a serious blogger and an interesting person (not for nothing did he major in both piano performance and chemistry at Oberlin).

I’ll add just to things.

First, I want to thank the Wisconsin Union Theater, whose staff and students put together the wonderful package.

Second, this university city needs more such complete packages that combine education, scholarship and performance. I just hope the theft of his laptop won’t keep the affable, accessible and prodigiously gifted Denk from returning to Madison, maybe even to play a concerto with the UW Symphony Orchestra. (He has been here once before when he accompanied violinist Joshua Bell several years ago.) I have no doubt he has a lot more music and thoughts to share.

And I sure hope he gets his laptop back.

If you heard Denk’s master class, Chopin lecture, blogging panel or recital, what did you think?

Would you like him to return to Madison?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: It’s Easter Sunday, so which recorded cycle of Bach’s cantatas is the best? Ask Alex Ross.

April 24, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Easter Sunday.

I can’t think of a better time to listen to — or to perform — the music of J.S. Bach (below).

Specifically, his vocal and choral music.

Specifically his “St. Matthew” and “St. John” Passions.

And especially his cantatas, numbering over 200 of which another 100 or so have been lost.

That means I also think of a better time to offer you an excellent summary review of two outstanding recorded cycles of Bach cantatas by famed music critic Alex Ross (below) of  The New Yorker magazine.

One is by John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir, recording during the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage (below).

The other is by Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan (below). (There is no criticsl assessment of Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s pioneering period performance efforts or Ton Koopman’s or Helmut Rilling’s cantatas. But that is another story for another day.)

I like them both, sometimes for different reasons and sometimes for the same reasons. It depends on the cantata and on me  and on my mood. Sometimes you want more clarity and precision;  sometimes, you want more emotion.

But in the end, of course, it is kind of like deciding which Beethoven piano sonata cycle or which Mahler symphony cycle is the best.

The best thing is probably not to put all your Easter eggs in the same Easter basket, so to speak.

And it is probably best to seek out the best individual recording of each work, since no one artist or ensemble can do all of them full justice. Or maybe to get both sets.

But here is Alex Ross’ essay, loaded with insight and fine judgments – or so I hope you agree.

To believers and to non-believers alike, I hope you find this guide to some of the most moving and, yes, spiritual, music ever written as compelling, enjoyable and informative as I did:

Which Bach cantata cycle do you prefer and why?

What is your favorite Bach cantata?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: Pulitzer Prize for music goes to Zhou Long for his new opera. BBC Magazine announces awards. A recovered Riccardo Muti triumphs in New York. How does the brain connect music and feelings of well-being? Plus, two concerts to watch on Easter Sunday.

April 23, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s springtime not just on the calendar and in the backyard but also in the classical music world where prizes are handed out and renewals are at hand.

But it must feel like winter in Philadelphia.

ITEM: The Chinese-American composer Zhou Long (below) wins a Pulitzer Prize for his new opera:

ITEM: BBC Music Magazine (below) hands out its top awards. Best of Show goes to ..:

ITEM: Chicago Symphony Orchestra maestro Riccardo Muti (below) is back in top form with Verdi and Berlioz, and conquers New York at Carnegie Hall:,0,162109.column

ITEM: The revered Philadelphia Orchestra (below) does it, and files for bankruptcy:

ITEM: How do classical music and feelings of well-being connect in the human brain?

ITEM: Here are two events, with Simon Rattle (below) conducting Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and Yundi playing Chopin,  to watch on Easter Sunday:

Posted in Classical music

What classical music best honors Earth Day? How about the environmental music of John Luther Adams?

April 22, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Earth Day, an international event celebrating environmental causes that was started in 1970 by the progressive politician, and former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson .

Not something you’d expect the likes of our new regressive governor, Scott Walker, to come up with.

Anyway, here is some history and background:

So what classical music is appropriate to listen as you mark the event?

Chances are you have heard of John Adams, the modern American Minimalist who is best known for the operas “Nixon in China,” “Dr. Atomic” and “Klinghofer” as well as various other instrumental works.

But chances are you may not know of John Luther Adams (below).

This Adams uses natural sounds of the Earth to create a haunting environmental music. He is championed and given a whole chapter by famed critic Alex Ross (below), of The New Yorker magazine, in his latest book, “Listen to This.”

Here is a sample of Adams’ music with his own commentary. Take a look and listen, and let me know what you think.

And then let me know what music you like most to celebrate Earth Day?

Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony or “Pastorale” piano sonata?

Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”? Holst’s “The Planets”?

Haydn’s “The Seasons” or “The Creation”?

Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet or a particular song about nature?

Dvorak;s Symphony no. 8 or the “American” Quartet?

Debussy’s “La Mer” or Smetana’s :”The Moldau”?

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (“Titan”) or Symphony No. 3?

There is a lot of music that, in whole or part, would seem appropriate, no?

I’d love to hear of some things I’ve never heard of before.

But tried-and-true classics will do too.

What do you think of John Luther Adams and his music?

And of other choices?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: Madison Opera announces its new season will feature three company premieres by Tchaikovsky, Philip Glass and Rossini

April 21, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera has announced that the company’s 51st season, 2011-12, will feature three company premieres and the annual summer concert, Opera in the Park (below, from 2010).

Highlights include the company’s first Tchaikovsky opera, “Eugene Onegin”; a new production of Philip Glass’ “Galileo Galileo” to mark the American composer’s 75th birthday; and a production of Rossini’s “Cinderella” (La Cenerentola), updated to 1930s Hollywood. (below are photos provided by the Madison Opera.)

“This is an exciting and important season for Madison Opera, one that builds on our tradition of expanding the operatic repertoire while engaging subscribers and new audiences alike,” said Madison Opera Artistic Director John DeMain in a prepared statement.

The Madison Opera is still conducting a nationwide search for a new general director. The former left Feb. 15 to head the Minnesota Opera. The final choice is expected to be announced soon, possibly at the two performances of Verdi’s “La Traviata” on April 29 and May 1 in Overture Hall.

For more informaiton about the new season, visit:

Here are comments from the company’s press release:

Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” will open the new season in Overture Hall on Nov. 4 and 6, 2011. The opera tells of the country girl Tatiana and her youthful love for the mysterious and worldly Eugene Onegin. While she dreamed of passion, her love instead brings rejection and triggers the undoing of her family in this epic drama based on the novel by Alexander Pushkin.

Baritone Hyung Yun and soprano Maria Kanyova return to Madison Opera in the roles of Eugene Onegin and Tatiana, with Wisconsin-native and acclaimed tenor Scott Ramsay making his Madison Opera debut as Vladimir Lenski. Candace Evans returns to direct the production, with John DeMain conducting.

Galileo Galilei,” an opera by Philip Glass (below), will be produced in The Playhouse at Overture from Jan. 26 to 29, 2012, just days before the composer’s 75th birthday. Featuring Glass’ trademark minimalist style, the opera traces the life of the famed astronomer Galileo Galilei, beginning with his final days—blind and defeated by the Inquisition—and ending in his youth, as an audience member witnessing an opera by his father.

Renowned tenor William Joyner stars in the title role, with soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine returning to Madison Opera as Marie Celeste. Baritone John Arnold debuts as the Young Galileo. A. Scott Parry returns to direct this new production, and Kelly Kuo conducts. Galileo Galilei premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2002.

Rossini’s Italian take on the classic fairy tale “Cinderella” will be presented in Overture Hall on Apr. 27 and 29, 2012. In Madison Opera’s production by director Garnett Bruce, the action is updated to the swinging Palace Pictures studio of 1930’s Hollywood, where the put-upon maid Angelina soon finds herself the star of her very own rags to riches tale.

Rising star mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack makes her Madison Opera debut in the title role. Tenor Gregory Schmidt returns as her Prince Charming, Don Ramiro, and Grammy Award-winning baritone Daniel Belcher makes his Madison Opera debut as Dandini. John DeMain conducts.

Subscriptions for the 2011-2012 Season are now available online at and by phone at (608) 238-8085. New subscribers save 15 percent.

Contact Director of Marketing and Community Engagement Brian Hinrichs at (608) 8085 or at

Sounds like a great and unusual season to The Ear.

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music
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