The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music commentary: John Adams’ “On the Transmigration of Souls” fails to transcend the occasion of 9/11 terrorist attacks and stand alone as music — as commemorative music usually does.

September 20, 2011
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ALERT: THIS WEDNESDAY NIGHT FROM 8 TO 10 P.M., WISCONSIN PUBLIC TELEVISION WILL BROADCAST THE OPENING OF LINCOLN CENTER’S NEW SEASON ON PBS’ “LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER.” THE PROGRAM FEATURES SOPRANO DEBORAH VOIGT IN MUSIC OF RICHARD STRAUSS AND RICHARD WAGNER ALONG WITH THE NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC UNDER ALAN GILBERT PERFORMING MUSIC OF SAMUEL BARBER. FOR MORE INFORMATION AND A VIDEO, VISIT:http://www.pbs.org/programs/live-from-lincoln-center/

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a commentary written by 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, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. 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

John Adams’ “On the Transmigration of Souls” was commissioned in 2002 for the first anniversary of the 9/11/01 horror.  I obtained the New York Philharmonic‘s Grammy winning-recording of of the Pulitzer Prize-winning work when it almost instantly appeared, and I was quite underwhelmed by it.

Its performance by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and choirs on Labor Day and then in the opening concert program of the regular season (Sept 16-18) allowed me to give it a second chance, and for it to make a more distinct impression on me.

All credit to John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill) for bringing this work to Madison, and for making a contribution to the 10th anniversary commemorations of the 9/11 tragedy.  John Adams is by now, I supposed, the best-known living composer of classical and operatic music, with a reputation now unchallengeable. We have a virtual obligation to listen to what he produces. But if his creativity warrants hearing, it also merits honest judgment.

And what did he give us to judge?

The composition is a mixture of pre-recorded sounds — street noises, readings of victims’ names or poster phrases — with wails and statements by a mixed chorus and a children’s choir, against static chords and shapeless heavings from the orchestra.  It is, by some measures, an evocative sound collage loaded with emotion-laden associations for Americans.

But is it a piece of music?  Well, there is not a single musical idea or identifiable figure among all the notes presented. Nothing to be developed into any shaping. Nothing to be remembered.

The most basic response to this work is simply this: Would you ever want to listen to it other than as part of a commemoration of 9/11  (below)?  Is it something that can stand on its own as a concert piece?  Is it anything more than a sonic collage meant to focus our feelings on a non-musical subject?  If you answer to these questions with “No,” then you have made a devastating judgment.

Part of the issue here is how we make musical commemoration of immensely meaningful events.  If the events are so immense in their meaning and associations, can music really make a commemoration that is valid as music by itself?  Are there events that defy commemoration, events that art cannot really transcend?

Think of the Holocaust.  Has any composer been able to contribute any musical statement that stands as music to be appreciated on its own as music?  Please don’t give me Penderecki, who used Auschwitz to his own opportunistic ends, to peddle his indigestible music through the associative emotions he could stir up.  Have I missed any other musical address to the Holocaust that is music of substance in its own terms?

So here we are with 9/11 (below).  Really, is it going to be possible –especially so soon (a mere decade!)– to compose a piece that measures up the meanings of that event, but yet can transcend its occasion and invite our continued attention as a work of art?  Perhaps no such commemoration of any important event can really be brought off.

To be sure, composers in the Renaissance could do it with their restricted resources: Dufay with his tribute to Brunelleschi’s Dome for the Florence cathedral; Jannequin with his evocation of the Battle of Marignano; Isaac with his elegy on the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici.  Of more recent vintage?  Well, how do you rate musically Beethoven’s “Battle Symphony” or Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”?  Remember, too, that Beethoven nullified his originally intended celebration of Napoleon in what became his “Eroica” Symphony. Have I missed any other possibilities?  Maybe Carl Nielsen’s Forth and Fifth Symphonies, in response to World War I, but those are not really “commemorative” works.

Perhaps I have overlooked some real candidates. Valid musical tributes to individuals have been brought off over the centuries.  But, honestly, are there any genuine musical masterworks that historic occasions have generated in the last two or three centuries?  I am hard-pressed to think of any.

Of course, it is easier for composers to celebrate some success than to commemorate some disaster.  How much great music has been written about the sinking of the Titanic or the San Francisco earthquake?

It may just be that music can only do so much to honor events of significant, and especially of horrible implications. Music does best by going about being music.

Public occasions warrant artistic participation.  But let’s keep our heads above the hype.  However much the piece by Adams (below) might concentrate our feelings for a moment about 9/11, it serves no other purpose than that.  It is not a substantive piece of music.  One might even argue that is not a piece of music at all, merely a “sonic event” for associative purposes.

And an expensive one, too — think of the enlarged orchestra, the choral voices, and all that extra electronic circuitry.  No, I can be a better, more patriotic American citizen by seeking and supporting genuine American creativity, not by being befogged by solemn assertions of commemorative message, with our unmusical national anthem piled on top.


Posted in Classical music

Classical music: Oakwood Chamber Players to open another season of rarities and gems this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

September 19, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

For many years, the Oakwood Chamber Players have offered Madison audiences outstanding performances of some of the most interesting and rarely heard works in the chamber music repertoire.

The very accomplished Oakwood members (below in a photo by Bill Arthur), who also perform with many other highly thought of local groups, are : (rear left to right) pianist Vincent Fuh, Leyla Sanyer, Marilyn Chohaney, Amanda King Szczys; (front left to right) Maggie Darby Townsend, Anne Aley, Nancy Mackenzie, Christopher Dozoryst.

For one, the combinations of instruments are often unexpected or unusual, and hard to find in regular presenters.

For another, the works and composers are often overlooked or even neglected. So it particularly welcome when the Oakwood ensemble resurrects or even give local premieres of them.

This year is no different, as you can see when you look at the coming season of five concerts – with two performances each – starting this coming Saturday night 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. The overall theme of the season is “Poem” — as in lyrical and miniature tone poems.

Like last year, the group will once again perform in two different and contrasting venues. On Saturday nights, the group is keeping its traditional home base in the comfortable auditorium at the Oakwood Village West, on Madison’s far west side at 6201 Mineral Point Road. Then on Sunday afternoons, the players perform in the natural surrounding of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum’s Visitors Center (below).

For information about ticket prices, both season subscriptions and individual tickets, and for other information about programs, artists, recordings and more, visit the group’s beautifully designed and eye-pleasing website:

http://www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com/

Here is a run-down of the season:

Concert No. 1: “Serenade”

Sept. 24, 2011 – Oakwood Village University Woods Auditorium at 7 p.m.; Sept. 25, 2011; Arboretum Auditorium at 1:30 p.m.

Max Reger (1873-1916): Serenade No. 1 in D major, Op. 77a, for flute, violin and viola

Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857): Trio Pathétique for clarinet, bassoon and piano

Simon Mayr (1763-1845): Bagatelle No. 2 for flute, clarinet and bassoon

Malcolm Arnold (1920-2006): Trio, Op. 6, for flute, viola and bassoon

Jean Francaix (1912-1997): Trio for clarinet, viola and piano (see bottom)

Concert No. 2: “Christmas Lights”

Annual Christmas Lights concerts – with a new shuffle format this year, includes audience participation; Nov. 25, 2011-  Oakwood Village University Woods Auditorium and stage (below) 2:30 and 7 p.m.

Concert No. 3: “Prose poem”

Feb. 11, 2012: Oakwood Village University Woods Auditorium at 7 p.m.; Feb. 12, 2012 at Arboretum Auditorium at 1:30 p.m.

Schumann: Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 47

Faure: Piano Quartet No. 1 in c minor

Concert No. 4: — “Aubade”

March 3, 2012 at Oakwood Village University Woods Auditorium at 7 p.m.; March 4, 2012 at Arboretum Auditorium at 1:30 p.m.

Herzogenberg: Quintet for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and piano

Gwyneth Walker: Threesome for flute, oboe and clarinet

De Wailly: Aubade for flute, oboe and clarinet

Concert No. 5: “Song”

April 21, 2012 at Oakwood Village University Woods Auditorium at 7 p.m.; April 22, 2012 at Arboretum Auditorium at 1:30 p.m.

Carter Pann: “Summer Songs” for clarinet, violin, cello and piano

Franz Schreker: “Der Wind” for clarinet, horn, violin, cello and piano

Dvorak: “Cypresses” for string quartet

Beethoven: Trio for flute, bassoon and piano, WoO (works without opus) 37

Beethoven: Duo for violin and viola


Posted in Classical music

Classical music is healthier than most people – and many classical musicians themselves — think it is. Just look at audiences, CD sales and more.

September 18, 2011
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

You find a lot of doomsday prophecies out there about the future of classical music. Most are based on the state of the art these days.

But then every once in a while comes an antidote with some great news and statistics about how classical music is actually prospering and expanding, contrary to the superficial indicators.

But what about if you look at the record 33 million viewers who watched and heard the YouTube Symphony perform under Michael Tilson Thomas in Sydney?

And there is more, including an unexpected rise in CD sales.

Why, it is enough to give one hope!

Look for yourself:

http://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/music/classical-music-hits-a-high-note

What kind of future do you think classical music has?

And what kind of present is it having right now?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

Classical news: San Francisco Symphony turns 100 while Louisville Symphony cancels a third month of concerts. The Montreal Symphony gets a new hall and higher pay. Is Euro-debt hurting Wagner? Is China the New Europe for opera?

September 17, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

Symphony orchestras are making news – good news and bad news – this week. And what is up in Europe and China? Will Western classical music end up being Eastern classical music?

ITEM: The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra turns 100 and celebrates in style (below):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2011/09/06/140233097/the-san-francisco-symphony-at-100

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/09/16/DDS61L1C2C.DTL&type=entertainment

 

ITEM: Canada escapes the Great Recession. So the Montreal Symphony gets a new hall (below) – plus a new and higher paying contract for musicians:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/music/montreals-new-symphony-hall-is-about-to-make-its-debut-acoustically-will-it-thrill/article2151614/?utm_medium=feed&utm_source=feedburner&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheGlobeAndMail-Entertainment+%28The+Globe+and+Mail+-+Arts+News%29

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Entertainment/20110906/montreal-symphony-orchestra-pay-hikes-110906/

ITEM: Meanwhile, the troubles of the Louisville Symphony (below) continue. After cancelling concerts for September and October, the orchestra has also cancelled concerts for November:

http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20110908/SCENE05/309080059/Louisville-Orchestra-cancels-November-concerts?odyssey=mod%3C/p%3E%3Cp%3Enewswell%3C/p%3E%3Cp%3Etext%3C/p%3E%3Cp%3EHome%3C/p%3E%3Cp%3Ep

ITEM: New Yorker critic Alex Ross has some interesting points to make about the Metropolitan Opera and Fabio Luisi (below) replacing James Levine as well as the moves of director Peter Gelb. Read about the possible end of the Levine era::

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/09/james-levine.html?mbid=gnep

ITEM: Will China’s cultural Long March include opera and being a training ground for the West?

http://www.npr.org/2011/09/06/140095183/in-search-of-a-stage-western-opera-singers-try-china

ITEM: Are Euro-companies, surrounded by fears of debt, facing retrenchment in arts patronage? Siemens ends sponsorship of  Bayreuth, that iconic and historic summer festival for showcasing Richard Wagner (below):

http://www.expatica.com/de/news/german-news/siemens-ends-bayreuth-festival-sponsorship_173970.html


Posted in Classical music

Classical music: Pianist Eugene Alcalay commemorates 9/11 and traces the Beethoven-Chopin connection through two “Funeral March” sonatas this Sunday on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Sunday Live from the Chazen.”

September 16, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pianist Eugene Alacalay (below) will perform a recital on “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” this Sunday, Sept. 18, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III at the University of Wisconsin’s Chazen Museum of Art. As usual, the FREE concert will be broadcast live statewide on Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area.)

His program includes Liszt’s Ballade No. 2 in B Minor; Beethoven’s Sonata in A-flat Major (“Funeral March”), Op. 26; Rachmaninoff’s “Etudes Tableaux,” Op. 39; and Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor (“Funeral March”), Op. 35.

Coming in the wake of last weekend’s 9/11 musical commemorates all over the US and the world, this program could be seen as a 9/11 tribute on the piano. It also traces the historical connection between Beethoven (below top) and Chopin (below bottom). Chopin did not much like the music of Beethoven, but he made an exception for the Sonata Op. 26, which he himself played and also taught, and which became the model for his own famous “Funeral March” sonata, with its universally used “Pray for the dead and the dead will pray for you” theme.

A professor of piano at the UW-Platteville, Alcalay is a native of Bucharest, Romania. He has performed internationally and has been praised for his “command of line, color, temperament, imagination,” and the “extraordinary qualities” of his artistry.

A student of Leonard Bernstein, who affirmed his “outstanding talent as both a performer and composer,” Alcalay was the first recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Scholarship for gifted young musicians at Indiana University School of Music. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School, respectively.

Alcalay will also perform music of Liszt, a composer whom he has recorded on a CD (below).

For more about Alcalay, visit:

http://www.uwplatt.edu/~alcalaye/index.html

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 (below) 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.

The series, hosted by WPR 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.


Posted in Classical music

Classical music: Composer John Adams discusses his 9/11 work “On the Transmigration of Souls” that the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the Madison Youth Choirs will perform this weekend

September 15, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

The big classical music event in town this weekend will be the three performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. My best guess is that it will be a MUST-HEAR concert, especially for people relatively new to classical music.

The celebrated American virtuoso pianist Andre Watts (below) will return to Madison to perform Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. (An interview with Watts about the Grieg concerto was featured on this blog yesterday.)

Also on the season’s opening program, which features the Madison Symphony Chorus and Madison Youth Choirs (the advanced Cantabile Choir of high school women), are Beethoven’s iconic, triumphant and irresistibly dramatic Fifth Symphony and “On the Transmigration of Souls, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work about the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by the American composer John Adams (below).

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $16.50 to $78.50 with $10 student rush available with student ID. (You can purchase up to two tickets for best seats available with each ID.)

For more information about tickets and program notes, visit:

http://madisonsymphony.org/watts

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1112/1.Sep11.html

But I also thought that, whether you plan on going or are thinking about it, you might appreciate this interview that NPR (National Public Radio) did with John Adams (below) about his 9/11 work (featured at the bottom). Both may also help reassure wary listeners who might be shy about either contemporary classical music or music pertaining to the horrible terrorist attacks of 9/11:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2011/09/10/140341459/john-adams-memory-space-on-the-transmigration-of-souls


Posted in Classical music

Classical music Q&A: Pianist Andre Watts talks about rediscovering the greatness of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and his Piano Concerto

September 14, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the celebrated American virtuoso pianist Andre Watts (below) will return to Madison where he will perform Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. My best guess is that it will be a  MUST-HEAR concert,  especially for people relatively new to classical music.

Also on the season opener program, which features the Madison Symphony Chorus and Madison Youth Choirs (the advanced Cantabile Choir of high school women), are Beethoven’s iconic and irresistibly dramatic Fifth Symphony and “On the Transmigration of Souls, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work about the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by the American composer John Adams.

Performances are in Overture Hall, which Watts says he likes because it reminds him of the old Philharmonia Hall that preceded Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, the hall where he started his career at 16 as  a protege of Leonard Bernstein. Performances are on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $16.50 to $78.50 with $10 student rush available with student ID. (You can purchase up to two tickets for best seats available with each ID.)

About his return to Madison, Watts says simply: “I’ve always had a good time there. John DeMain and I have an easy working relationship and a certain respect as well as affection for each other. That always makes it easy and fun to look forward to.”

For more information about tickets and program notes, visit:

http://madisonsymphony.org/watts

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1112/1.Sep11.html

I recently spoke with Watts (below)  via telephone from his home in New York City about Edvard Grieg:

What should the public know about Grieg’s Piano Concerto?

Rachmaninoff once said the Grieg Concerto is the most “perfect” piano concerto ever written. That might be hyperbole. But the concerto is extraordinarily well written.

Grieg is a really great composer. Our problem nowadays in society and in the entire world is figuring out who is the greatest composer in the world and then saying everybody else is schlock. But that’s not real life.

Grieg (below) is very individualistic. His harmonic movement is very specific. That is why it is easy to recognize Grieg’s music. As far as his being a great composer, he is also a wonderful craftsman. Even the cadenza is amazing. To have it written out and yet sound that improvisatory is a neat little trick.

On the one hand Grieg was somewhat shy and fearful and retiring about his own worth. Yet there is this story in the diary of his wife Nina. They were at a dinner party and she was seated between Brahms and Tchaikovsky, which is already a big deal because Tchaikovsky wrote terrible things about Brahms. His wife said, “I can’t sit between these two men.” And Grieg said, “Well, then we’ll trade places. I can.” He understood he had worth and could stand beside them.

Would you call him underestimated or unjustly neglected these days?

Besides the concerto, I have only played the Third Violin Sonata and some of the Lyric Pieces but not a lot of Grieg. So I don’t have a sense of where he sits in the music world among conductors and orchestra players.

For many years this concerto was very much a kind of pops concerto piece, which I have never understood. I’m pleased to see that it is now accepted as a standard piece of the classical literature.

I’m 65, so when I was a teenager the Grieg concerto was one of the wonderful piano concertos. On recordings, it was always paired with the Schumann Piano Concerto and it was a very respected piece.

But then it is always the case that rather than overexposure and poor performances being recognized for what they are – namely, we’ve heard it too many times in too many poor performances – the music itself gets dumped on and people say, “Well that’s not a very good piece.”

But this piece stands on its own. What has been done to it is the fault of the people doing it. I think the music is quite wonderful.

To you, what accounts for the appeal of Grieg?

There is always the Nordic aspect, that northern coolness, you hear. It certainly is not necessary to have been to Norway to play this piece. But having been in Norway and been to his home (below top) by the water, where he is buried (below bottom), I can see it is all of a piece. You get a real sense of him.

Grieg was very much a child of his surroundings. He was not happy unless he was home. You can feel that in his music.

Why is Grieg so popular whenever he is played?

He has a great melodic sense. There are no really long stretches but a lot of change. There are shifting views of the same music. There are nice orchestral solos and chamber music interplay and a big solo passages and a cadenza for the piano. It is altogether very interesting.

It is fun to play, but it can be tricky. Pieces like that can lose their luster easily if they aren’t handled with care. Grieg was very precise about his phrasing. If you follow his directions, it becomes quite pure and not schlocky. For example, when the Romantic theme comes in the last movement, his indication is that it should be melancholy but not slow down; it should have deep emotional impact but not slow down. It must have sentiment but not sentimentality.

Things fall in and out of favor, like the Grieg concerto. There are cycles. It is a human quality. That tells you that you never really need to be apologetic for a love or belief you have in a composer or in some kind of music.


Posted in Classical music

Classical music poll: Which version of a Bach violin sonata sounds better? The one with piano? Or the one with harpsichord?

September 13, 2011
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

About a week ago, on the occasion of the all-Bach concert that closed the Token Creek Festival, guest reviewer John W. Barker (below) made the case that although the piano is not really the correct instrument, historically or esthetically, for playing any works by J.S. Bach, it is especially wrong to use it in chamber music and orchestral combinations.

Barker made an articulate and appealing defense of his position, one that many early music and Bach fans share.

Here is a link to his review and commentary:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/classical-music-review-token-creek-festival-concludes-with-beautiful-bach-from-emmanuel-music-of-boston-but-can-modern-instruments-–-especially-the-piano-really-do-justice-to-his-music/

I have written before on this blog about how much I like the music of Bach (below) on the modern piano and feel that the modern piano allows for more subtle shading and dynamics as well as clearer voice leading — when played well and judiciously, of course. I think it also has a far more pleasing sound than the harpsichord, at least to my ears.

I was mostly talking about solo works such as the Two-Part Inventions and Three-Part Sinfonias, the Partitas, the French and English suites, and the Well Tempered Clavier.

And I will agree that using the piano for a continuo part in Bach’s chamber music is a different case.

Still, I find myself torn.

My head says Barker is right.

But then I my heart recalls a Bach chamber performance with piano that nearly always brings me to tears.

The work is the Andante movement, the third of four movements, from Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Keyboard in F minor, BWV 1018.

So here are two versions with which we can play audio optometrist (or simply audiologist. if you will). That is: Which is clearer – A or B? Which is sharper – A or B? Which is more expressive and musical — A or B? Which do you prefer – A or B?

The first version (call it A) is performed on violin and harpsichord:

The second version (call it B) is performed by Canadian pianist Glenn Gould with the Bolivian-born and American-trained violinist Jaime Laredo:

So there it is.

Tell me, readers, what you think and which version you prefer and why?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: The 35th Karp Family Concert brought new faces and new music to the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

September 12, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

This review should have appeared sooner and would have, had it not been for the plethora of concerts and stories centered on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 events and other timely concerts, including the season openers of “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” on Wisconsin Public Radio and of Classical Revolution Madison, which performs in non-traditional venues.

But I really would remiss if I didn’t say something about the 35th annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert  (below) last Monday night, which is the traditional and very popular concert that opens the concert season and school year at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

There were some very familiar faces to be sure, including grandparent pianists Howard and Frances Karp; cellist son Parry Karp and violist daughter-in-law Katrin Talbot; UW clarinetist Linda Bartley; and violinist Suzanne Beia, who performs with the Pro Arte and Rhapsodie Quartets, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

But part of what made the concert a week ago so appealing and impressive was the new faces and the new music that the audience – probably somewhere between a one-half and two-thirds house — got introduced to.

The adventure started right away with cellist Parry Karp playing Sol B. Cohen’s Two Duos for Cello, which were composed for him in 1966, with his daughter Ariana, newly returned from Reed College where she majored and graduated not in music but theater. Yet playing with her dad, she easily held her own.

The two short pieces (“At Twilight: Andante” and “At Sunrise: Allegretto”) were accessible and delightful, hardly experimental or bold. But the performances was endearing as you can judge for yourself from the video below (I apologize for the missing first second or two at the beginning – a lag in the recorder’s finger push):

Another new face was introduced in another new piece: UW hornist Daniel Grabois (below, pronounced gra-BOY), the successor to the retired Douglas Hill, made his local debut in Robert Schumann’s rarely heard Andante and Variations for Two Pianos, Two Cellos and Horn, Op. 46. Composed at the height of Schumann’s career, it is quintessentially Schumannesque in its quirky scoring. But it worked beautifully in the hands of these performers who brought out both the Romantic lyricism and the rhythmic verve.

Grabois possesses a golden tone and nailed the high notes, something hard to do on the French horn. Moreover, he also blended seamlessly so that you could hear all the various interplay and dialoging going between the two pianos and two cellos and all the permutations of the various instruments. One looks forward to hearing more from Grabois, especially in the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.

Listeners were on more familiar turf with Parry Karp’ cello transcription of Brahms’ gorgeous Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108, performed by himself and his father Howard (below). Parry Karp does many transcriptions, and they all seem extremely suited to the cello and to its singing-like sonorities and tone. This one was no exception, and he and his father played in a soulful and balanced manner. Was ever more beautiful music composed than the slow movement?

After intermission, Frances Karp played the rarely heard Piano Quintet in D Major by the 19th century Czech composer Zdenek Fibich (1850-1900. below)). Mind you, this work is no undiscovered masterpiece. It stands a notch or two above most salon music but also several notches below, say, Dvorak or Brahms.

Still, it is a good chance not only to enjoy something new but to ponder just how selective history is when it comes to determining what later generations will hear as great masterpieces.

The work also provided a good occasion to think about playing and performing. Frances Karp (below, at the piano) is a small figure who makes a big and beautiful sound, especially in a difficult piece. In such a distinguished musical family, she stands as a full equal.

The work by Fibich – which uses a clarinet rather than a second violin — has its charms with many lyrical moments plus the feel of ethnic dance rhythms and harmonies much like you find in Fibich’s countrymen Dvorak and Smetana. The at times klezmer-like tone of the clarinet part, played beautifully by Linda Bartley, may account for much of that.

Several standing ovations greeted the performers throughout the concert, a sign of the affection and esteem that they and their annual Labor Day gift (they have never repeated a piece) are deservedly held in.

If you missed the concert and want to hear it, you can stream the audio (but, alas, not the video) on the UW School of Music’s homepage under the Events Calendar. Look for the miniature loudspeaker. (The streaming versions are posted usually within 24 hours of the concert. I would like to see the school stream major concerts live and also include video with the audio, though I have been told it is a question of money, personnel and technology or storage space.)

I hope you enjoy the whole concert as much as I did. Here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/calendar

Let us know what you thought of the performers and the pieces.

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

Classical Music: Today is the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Here is music by Bach and Gorecki to commemorate the terrorist attacks and remind us of the deadly consequences of religious intolerance and extremism, whether Islamic or Christian. What music do you think is best to mark 9/11?

September 11, 2011
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. – and of the one foiled by the ill-fated Flight 93.

What should you listen to?

The choices are vast. There will be a lot of music. Locally, regionally and nationally. Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and Mahler’s “Symphony No. 2” (“Resurrection) are sure bets, as are requiems by Mozart, Brahms and Faure.

You can check this posting from earlier this week as an overview of local events:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/classical-music-news-this-sunday’s-10th-anniversary-of-sept-11-commemorations-in-the-madison-area-include-various-local-and-state-groups-including-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-and-the-new/

Also relevant are columns by Washington Post critic Anne Midgette about the role of 9/11 and commemorative music in general as well as how 9/11 has inspiring a lot of new music:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/thoughts-on-the-commemorative-concert/2011/08/20/gIQA4tWVgJ_story.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/911-commemorative-music-should-do-more-than-comfort/2011/08/22/gIQAOcPtgJ_story.html

NPR has also conducted several interviews with composers, including Ned Rorem and Steve Reich, about composing music in the wake of 9/11. Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/music/genres/classical/

And here are the two choices I have to offer.

The first is “Erbarme dich” or “Have Mercy on Me” from J.S. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.”

I like it and find it appropriate because the legacy of death among survivors and a plea for comfort from the pain of loss is an ancient story never better expressed than by this early music:

The second is an excerpt from Symphony No. 3 (“The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”) by the late modern Polish composer Henryk Gorecki. Dawn Upshaw and David Zinman’s recording of it proved a surprise bestseller.

I particularly like this work on this occasion because it uses texts from the inmates at Auschwitz death camp, where this version was also recorded. And so many of those who question the events of 9/11 or who committed them or the motives of the terrorists  — especially those who question them in Islamic and Arab countries , also are Holocaust deniers. That’s something that should not be forgotten when weighing their credibility and compassion.

In a sense, the Nazi’s war of genocide against the Jews can be seen an extension of a holy war waged over centuries by Christians against Jews. All in all, this work is a fine reminder – like the events of 9/11 and their aftermath – of the deadly results of religious intolerance and extremist beliefs, including fundamentalism of all stripes, whether it is Islam or Christianity, Judaism or Hinduism.

What do you think of these choices?

What music do you think best commemorates the events of 9/11?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music
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