The Well-Tempered Ear

What are the best classical music apps for smart phones and other mobile devices?

July 31, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Sunday always seems to me to be a great day for cleaning up and doing chores – including answering and clearing out e-mail, and finding and installing new apps or music selections on my iPod (below). You know, doing digital tasks and electronic housekeeping.

In that spirit, I thought you might like to see what one tech writer for The New York Times recommends as the best classical apps to install on your iPhone or other brand of smart phone. (Some will also work on the iPod Touch as well the iPad and similar devices.)

Mind you, these are NOT the best classical music blogs to subscribe too. Periodically, I also recommend some of those and link to other writers who do the same. And I will have more to add in the future.

But try out some of these apps and let us know what you think.

Do you have other classical music apps to recommend?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: Riccardo Muti gives up opera at Salzburg Festival. Deborah Voigt backs of out of Chicago role. Placido Domingo fights piracy. Metropolitan Opera baritone Cornell MacNeil dies. Annna Netrebko to open a restauranht. Andre Rieu premieres a waltz by Anthony Hopkins.

July 30, 2011
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

What is it about opera singers? They always seem to make news, no matter they do.

If they take on a role, it’s news. If they leave a role, it’s news. When they start a career, it’s news. When they end a career, it’s news. The life of many opera starts is … well, operatic.

True, it’s not always about opera stars – conductors also loom large.

Especially opera conductors.

Big egos get big coverage, and I guess opera singers and conductors are the big celebrities of classical music in the commercialized and glamor-hungry culture we live in.

Just take a look at some of the events in this week’s revival:

ITEM: Deborah Voigt (below, as Brunnhilde in Wagner’s “Die Walkure“) backs out of Strauss revival at Lyric Opera of Chicago:

ITEM: After 40 years, Chicago Symphony Orchestra maestro Riccardo Muti (below) will give up doing operas at the annual summer Salzburg Festival:,0,6530748.story

ITEM: Superstar tenor Placido Domingo (below) joins the fight against music piracy:

 ITEM: Red-hot Finnish conductor John Storgards (below) fills in for James Levine at Tanglewood – and draws raves:

ITEM: Metropolitan Opera baritone Cornell MacNeil (below) has died at 88:

ITEM:  Diva Anna Netrebko (below) is turning restaurateur:

ITEM: Schmalzy violin virtuoso and waltz king Andre Rieu gives the world premiere of a waltz by Sir Anthony “Hannibal the Cannibal Lector” Hopkins, who has apparently composed a lot of music:

ITEM: The annual summer rites of Richard Wagner (below) in Bayreuth got started this past week. Here’s an account of opening day:

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: Gustavo Dudamel releases his Brahms Symphony No. 4 from “LA Phil Live” on iTunes. But there is still no word about next season’s programs

July 29, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Apparently, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra has had as much success with its “LA Phil Live” hi-definition, satellite-broadcast live concerts as has the Metropolitan Opera, which started this whole ingenious marketing move to reach outside the groups’ home cities and halls.

(The Met does about a dozen in a season. The La Phil did three — all-Beethoven, all-Tchaikovsky and all-Brahms.)

When I went to the all-Brahms concert (below) on Sunday, June 5 – I went to Point, but it also played at Eastgate –- LA Phil president and CEO Deborah Borda, who landed Dudamel for LA, said the broadcast went out to over 400 cinemas around the globe and would go to even more in the future.

She also said the next season would be announced soon, by the end of June, along with the release of the recorded live performance of Brahms’ fabulous and popular Symphony No. 4.

That sounded like a good choice of natural timing.

Unfortunately, the other piece on the program, the great Double Concerto for Cello and Violin, has not been recorded for release, at least not to my knowledge. Perhaps there were contractual difficulties with the soloists, the Capucon brothers – cellist Renaud and violinist Gautier (below performing the same piece at the BBC Proms) — who did such an outstanding job.

I didn’t post a review, by the way, of the concert. But my colleague Greg Hettmansberger did, and I find it a very fair assessment. The music was certainly worth the $18 ticket, as was the chance to look around the impressive Walt Disney Hall by architect Frank Gehry; to see and hear how a conductor rehearses an orchestral;  and to go behind the scenes with both the conductor and the soloists with host actor John Lithgow.

Here’s a link to his review:

I too found both Brahms performances lively without being rushed, full of vitality and energy as well as some fine subtleties.

It renewed my conviction that Dudamel is the real deal, and I look forward to hearing more from him – especially in the LA Live programs in coming seasons. Now, if only I could find out when they are playing and what they are playing for the next season.

Here’s a link for you to keep checking:

Anyway, the symphony is indeed now available, later than first announced on iTunes – and only on iTunes. It costs $5.99 for the download.

Apparently, there are no plans for Deutsche Grammophon to release it as a regular CD. The Ear thinks that is too bad and a terrible business decisions. With someone as popular a phenom as superstar Dudamel, any release should be in all formats, especially these great and well-known works by Brahms.

Does anyone know anymore about the next season of the “LA Phil Live”?

What did you think of this past season and of Dudamel in general?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical Music Alert: Tonight’s Concert on the Square has been moved indoors to the Alliant Energy Center.

July 28, 2011
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Because of weather, tonight’s all-American Concert on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has been moved from the Capitol Square indoors to the Alliant Energy Center (below). Because of rain, it had been postponed from last night until tonight.

The concert will start at 7 p.m. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.

Here is a press release with more details:

MADISON, Wis. (July 28, 2011) – Because of an inclement weather forecast, this evening’s Concerts on the Square performance will be held at the Exhibition Hall at the Alliant Energy Center (below) at 7 p.m. Doors will open at 5:30 pm.

According to Doug Gerhart, executive director of the WCO, “We are very pleased to have the opportunity to perform our program “American Heroes” indoors this evening. The weather forecast calls for rain this evening and our program is just too good to risk. I want to thank the staff at Alliant Energy Center for being our heroes tonight by making the Exhibition Hall available to us on short notice.”

Rehearsals have been spectacular and guest soprano Susanna Phillips is not to be missed.

It is Concerts on the Square as usual. The table area will be set up as usual, and others are welcome to bring lawn chairs or blankets to set up in the surrounding areas.

People are free to bring picnic baskets, although NO ALCOHOL can be brought into the venue. Vendors will be available for food and beverage purchases.

Parking at the Alliant Energy Center will be $6.

“We welcome the opportunity to introduce Susanna Phillips to our audience, and are so pleased that we will be performing tonight’s concert” said Andrew Sewell, music director.

This evening’s concert is a tribute to American composers, Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein and more, with guest artist, soprano Susanna Phillips.

Concert highlights include: Madison composer John Stevens’ “Fanfare for an Uncommon Man”; John Williams’ The “Mission Theme”; Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” from “Rodeo”; and Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to “West Side Story”; George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from “Porgy & Bess.”

Here is a link to a map:

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: What was it like to play with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra this spring? Ask former Madison Symphony Orchestra cellist Sara Sitzer

July 28, 2011
Leave a Comment


By Jacob Stockinger

This is one of those “Catch Up” postings that I meant to put up earlier. But technical issues and other things, including personal commitments and the wealth of live classical music events to keep up with in the Madison area, delayed it.

I hope you still find it enjoyable and informative as I did. AND I extend my apologies for the delay to you and to the guest blogger.

It is by Sara Sizter, a former cellist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. She performed this past spring with the record-setting second YouTube Symphony Orchestra in Sydney, Australia, and I asked her to recount her experiences —  which she did beautifully with words and her own photos. (She also has own blog site where she has written about the YouTube experience among other things:

MSO violist Jasmine Beams was also among the 101 musicians to play with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra 2011, made up of musicians chosen through online auditions from across the world. They were flown to Sydney in March for a week of rehearsals followed by a performance, VIEWED BY OVER ONE MILLION ON THE WEB,  at the Sydney Opera House.

By Sara Sitzer

Last December, I auditioned for the 2011 YouTube Symphony Orchestra.  I submitted an audition video on YouTube, and after a committee of musicians from various orchestras around the world selected me as a finalist, my video was released to the Internet at large for anybody who happened to stumble across it to vote for me.

I won enough votes to make it into the orchestra, and in March, I traveled across the world to sunny, summery Sydney, Australia, for one week of intensive rehearsals, engaging coaching, and, of course, some sightseeing and downtime in an incredible city.

Most of us first arrived in Sydney early in the morning, and since our hotel rooms weren’t available to check into yet, we headed straight onto a boat cruise of the Sydney Harbor.  Here I am on the boat with the Sydney Harbor Bridge in the background.

That night we took a tour of the opera house and had a chance to see most of its many halls and theaters.  Although the main hall of the opera house is not acoustically ideal, it is incredibly beautiful and the organ is absolutely magnificent (one of the largest in the world—it took 10 years to build and install).

The next day, we had our first rehearsal.  Honestly speaking, it was pretty rocky.  And how could it not be?  There were 101 musicians from 33 different countries, all with completely different playing styles and completely different levels of orchestral experience.  Michael Tilson Thomas was incredibly patient though, and although we had a long way to go, the hard work paid off in the end.

Each section had a coach who came from a different prestigious orchestra around the world.  The cello coach was Tamas Varga, principal cellist of the Vienna Philharmonic.  Tamas was an incredible teacher and an extremely kind person.  He helped bring us together as a section, musically and personally, and gave us an inspiring coaching on the slow movement of Villa-LobosBachianas Brasileiras No. 1, which we decided to perform for Open Mic Night at the Basement Bar in Sydney.  This is Tamas, warming up before a rehearsal.

One of the incredible things about being a part of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra was the unbelievable royal treatment we received from Google and YouTube.  Besides having all of our travel expenses paid, we were put up in single rooms at the Four Seasons Hotel right on the Sydney Harbor, given complimentary Nexus S Android phones, and offered incredible opportunities that would have been hard to come by if we were just in Sydney as tourists.

One such opportunity was the chance to climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge, which we did at sunrise one morning.  Once we got to the top of the bridge, we were each given a flag for each of the countries represented in the YTSO, and we had a mini-photo shoot atop of the bridge.  If you look in the background of this picture, you’ll see the Sydney Opera House behind us.

The grand finale concert was incredible, musically and technologically.  I had never been a part of an orchestra that had come so far so fast.  In just one week, the orchestra actually sounded as if we had all been playing together for years.  Intricate lighting, videos and projections filled the inside of the concert hall as well as the outside “sails” of the Opera House.  It was a true technological spectacle.  Both the music and the technology enhanced each other and made for an even richer experience for the audience—inside the hall, outside the Opera House, and on the Internet.

The inside of the concert hall:

The outside of the Opera House, from a park across the harbor where the concert was being broadcasted:

All in all, the YTSO experience was something that I would not have traded for anything.  I met some really wonderful people, saw some amazing sights, and performed in a concert that truly propelled classical music forward in our rapidly changing world.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music News Flash: Tonight’s Concert on the Square has been POSTPONED until tomorrow night, Thursday, July 28, at 7 p.m.

July 27, 2011
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight’s Concert on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with guest soprano Susanna Phillips, which features an all-American program (Copland, Bernstein and others including the “Fanfare for an Uncommon Man” by Madison composer John Stevens) HAS BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL TOMORROW, THURSDAY, JULY 28TH, AT 7 P.M.


Posted in Classical music

Classical music: John Stevens’ “Fanfare for an Uncommon Man” gets its second performance at tonight’s “all-American” Concert on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

July 27, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Here’s another Catch-Up posting that had to wait until some pieces fell into place.

But it works out better than I ever thought because at tonight’s 7 p.m. Concert on the Square (below), the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, under Andrew Sewell, will give the second performance of Madison resident and UW composer John Stevens’ “Fanfare for an Uncommon Man.”

The program is an all-American on with guest soprano Susanna Phillips and works by John Williams, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein as well as Stevens.

Here are the original circumstances on how the fanfare come into being: On May 21, Marvin Rabin (below), the founder of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award by the Wisconsin Foundation for School Music.

It was only the third such Lifetime Award the Foundation has given, the other two going to electric guitar inventor Les Paul and the legendary UW band director Mike Leckrone.

More than 160 people (below) from 13 states, coming form the East and West Coasts and from all over the US, came to the Cherokee Country Club on Madison’s northeast side to mark the event with a dinner and presentation.

I think pictures I took will do a lot of the talking, so here they are.

But I am also include a link (below) to a press release and to an impressive video biography (at bottom) and portrait of Rabin that ran into a technical snag — computer projector overheating, apparently — and is now posted for those who attended the dinner but didn’t get to see all of it. It is also intended for the general public who wasn’t at the dinner. Everyone who loves music, education and children should know what a treasure we have in Marvin Rabin:

Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (below) served as master of ceremonies and welcomed the guests. He also read the proclamation from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker marking Marvin Rabin Day.

Young students from Music Makers and the Bonnie Greene Studio came to play and perform and did themselves proud with a fine appearance:

Many of Marvin’s colleagues, including Dick Wolf and Richard Mannisto, spoke of his work, and some of his former students and admirers– including the groups Harmonious Wail and the Brown Dolphin Duo — performed. Marvin’s daughter, Martha Rabin, who flew in from California, spoke eloquently, lovingly and humorously about her father.

UW-Madison composer John Stevens (below) presented Rabin with an autographed and framed copy of the first page of the “Fanfare for an Uncommon Man,” which had been commissioned for the event and which received its world premiere from WYSO, iwth Stevens as the cbnductor, the following night, May 22:

Rabin is 95 and has some hearing and seeing problems. But he had no problem standing at the podium (below) and taking his time to graciously acknowledge and thank all the other people who helped make his dream of youth music-making come true.

For background about the music, and both Rabin and Stevens, who is the new director of the UW School of Music, here is a two-part Q&A I did and posted with Stevens about the commissioned work and his friendship with Rabin:

And if you want to know more about Rabin’s achievement and impact in founding WYSO, which has educated some 5,000 students from over 100 communities since 1964, here is a link:

And here (at bottom) is the world premiere performance by WYSO, conducted by the composer, of John Stevens’ “Fanfare for an Uncommon Man.” You can see how it compares to tonight’s performance by the WCO.

What do think of the honor?

Of the music?

Do you want to leave a message for Marvin Rabin?

For John Stevens?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music riddle: Why does “The Tree of Life” use Francois Couperin’s “Mysterious Barricades? What are the barricades? And what’s the mystery? Tell The Ear about the movie and the music.

July 26, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

I have longed loved and been fascinated by Francois Couperin’s composition “Les Barricades Mysterieuses” (below) or “The Mysterious Barricades.”

An excerpted movement from a longer suite, it’s a short piece (2-1/2 minutes or so) for keyboard – harpsichord originally, but often played effectively on the piano (at bottom).

To my ears, the work’s repetition seems almost Minimalist centuries before Minimalism became popular and commonplace.

And the work by Couperin (below) possesses an undeniable sense of mystery, of French sexy mystery – much like you also find in Debussy, Faure and even Ravel and Messiaen.

So I was pleased to see that it was used – not once, but several times — in Terrence Malick’s award-winning film “The Tree of Life” (below) that is still playing in cinemas.

Not that I liked the film.

Sure, I know it won the Golden Palm at Cannes.

And I know a lot of big name critics like it.

And I really loved the visuals (below) that often seemed like breath-taking shots from the Hubble Space Telescope. And I loved the music, so much of its classical and great, much of it mentioned in an earlier post:

Here’s a link to the list:

And I pretty much liked some elements of the plot, certain scenes and some of the characters played by Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.

But overall, as a whole, the movie struck me as pretentious, ponderous and insipid. Maybe it’s just too deep for me, even though I enjoy reading Proust and Wallace Stevens.

I know this much: When it comes to “The Tree of Life,” whatever the IT is, I didn’t get IT.

Still, I do like the music by Couperin.

But I would be interested in what readers and others have to say about what the enigmatic title of Couperin’s piece means.

What barricades?

And what mystery?

Or maybe it isn’t meant o make sense or have a specific reference. Maybe it is like Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, where we can’t be sure of what the enigma really is.

Anyway, what did you think of “The Tree of Life”?

Do you like Couperin’s “Les Barricades Mysterieuses”?

What do you think the “mystery” and the “barricades” are?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: Let’s celebrate Australian bicyclist Cadel Evans’ victory in the 2011 Tour de France with world-class Australian musicians soprano Joan Sutherland and conductor Richard Bonynge

July 25, 2011
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

I’m not going to stretch too far today. Just enough to be newsy and sporty — which itself in unusual for The Ear.

On Sunday, Cadel Evans became the first Australian ever to win the grueling three-week Tour de France bicycle race. (At 34, he was also the oldest winner of the Tour since World War II.)

I confess: I am a Tour fan. After all, how many other people do you know who ride their stationary exercise bikes while watching the Tour de France racers cross the finish line in Paris? But even when I’m not riding along, I like to look at the landscape and the buildings the riders pass. I also like some of the commentators. I don’t Ask Bobke, but I do like listening to Phil Liggett.

Cadel Evans’ victory is yet another sign that Australia, which once seemed, justly or unjustly, far off the main stage, is squarely at stage center these days.

So here are other famed Aussies I offer to celebrate the occasion of Cadell’s victory: Australian coloratura soprano Joan Sutherland and Australian conductor Richard Bonynge (who was also her husband) performing the virtuosic “Bell Song” from Delibes‘ opera “Lakme”  at the Sydney Opera House.

Maybe you can think of other performers and other pieces — perhaps even some Australian classical music — that are more fitting choices.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: With Borders gone, what is the best way to find and buy classical music CDs?

July 24, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Now that Borders bookstores have gone out of business (below), what is the best way to find and go buy classical music CDs?

Especially new releases.

And especially in Madison, Wisconsin, where I live and where the nearby Borders used to be pretty good.

First, some background:

Of course, there is always Barnes and Noble, though they have cut back drastically ont heir stock.

I tend to favor the Exclusive Company on State Street (bel0w). The manager David has proven very helpful in ordering classical CDs and getting them in quickly for a good competitive price. But their in-store stock has also been cut way back.

There are used stores, like Strictly Discs on Monroe Street, for older releases or out-of-print CDs.

And then there are on-line companies like Amazon, Tower and Arkiv, though I feel bad about doing business with some of the very places that put Borders outy of business.

But maybe I’m overareacting.

After all, you could say that what the big-box, national chain Borders did to local independent booksellers, the on-line sellers have to Borders. As always, it seems what goes round comes round.

Anyway, I would love any advice about the best way and best place to keep up with new classical music releases.

With one exception.

I don’t want to hear  iTunes as a solutions because I don’t like what earphones or earbuds to to my inner ear (experts say it is unhealthy) and if I burn a CD I like all the cover stuff.  I just like it as “hardware” software and I just like to hear the music through a good speaker system, not just a pod or MP3. 

So readers: What advice do you have?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music
Next Page »

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

    Join 1,245 other subscribers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,426,144 hits
%d bloggers like this: