The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Roland Johnson, co-founder of the Madison Opera and longtime conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, has died at 91.

June 3, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Roland Johnson (below), a longtime pioneer of classical music in Madison who paved for the way for the current artistic and financial successes of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera, died Wednesday at the age of 91.

He was also active as the head of the music department at Madison Area Technical College and cultivated local talent at MATC and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music as well as working with the many stars and guest soloists of the classical music world he brought to the city. During his retirement, he also guest conducted in Japan and elsewhere.

So far, no cause of death has been given.

Here is a link to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal (whose archives also provided the photo below) and The Capital Times/77 Square.

And here is a link to the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s website entry on Johnson and Music Director Laureate, which has a lot of background:

I have not yet seen a full obituary published, but I expect one soon. I also so far do not know about plans for a memorial service. When I know details, I will pass them along.

PLEASE NOTE: I just heard details of the Memorial Service,  Here they are: Funeral services will be held on Saturday, June 9, 2012 at 11 a.m. at MIDVALE COMMUNITY LUTHERAN CHURCH, 4329 Tokay Boulevard, Madison. A visitation will start at the church at 10 a.m. and a reception will follow. Memorials may be made to the Madison Opera, the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Midvale Community Lutheran Church.

Johnson died just a year after the death of his very close friend Ann Stanke, who, along with Johnson’s late wife Arline, co-founded the Madison Opera and led the Madison Symphony Chorus.

I personally knew Johnson to be a generous and amiable man, one who took great pride in his fidelity to a composer’s intention and who also prided himself on studying with the great German conductor Hermann Scherchen.

Johnson, a dedicated violinist, also played in a string quartet at the University of Alabama, prior to coming to Madison in 1961. He retired in 1994 and was succeeded by John DeMain.

Johnson was not a temperamental artist but a forgiving man. When I once criticized in print the tempo at which he took a Beethoven symphony, he later explained in the most friendly of terms why he chose that tempo but at the same respected my right to disagree with his choice.

For me, Roland Johnson was a great man and a great musician. He embodied the idea of the artistic humanist who is more than a performing perfectionist. I and many other will miss him.

Please leave your tributes and observations in the Comments section.

Classical music news: It’s all about sex and stardom for pianists as Lang Lang gets roasted by the New York Times and Lola Astanova gets the seal of approval from famed Vladimir Horowitz pupil Byron Janis.

June 3, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is it a mark of the times that the piano news this week seems more about sex and superstardom than about substance?

You may recall that last week on Tuesday, I posted an alert about the links at the New York City radio station WQXR so that readers could listen LIVE to the Carnegie Hall recital of Bach, Schubert and Chopin by the Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang (below, in photo from that recital by Ian Douglas for The New York Times).

Here is a link to that post, where you can still stream that concert and listen to it for yourself:

This time the reviewer who roasted the pianist was Vivien Schweitzer (below), though in the past I seem to recall that all of the Times’ critics have had their turn, and all pretty much agreed: Lang Lang has made some progress from being the flamboyant and flashy virtuoso to being a serious musician, but he still  has a long way to go.

Here is a link to that review that shows that Lang Lang’s tricks are getting a little stale, tiresome and dated for someone who is almost 30:

Speaking of making progress:

You may also recall several posts I had regarding the fashion plate and leggy pianist Lola Astanova (below top) and whether she would challenge the controversial but popular micro-skirted Yuja Wang (below bottom).

I also pointed out that a lot of the critics didn’t particularly like Astanova’s playing when she made her Carnegie Hall debut — in a program billed as a Tribute to Horowitz — at a benefit for the American Cancer Society.

But good luck recently smiled on Astanova.

No one less than the famed pianist Byron Janis (below), the virtuoso and former pupil of Vladimir Horowitz who had to curtail his career because of arthritis, recently picked Astanova as the only pianist to play at an event marking his receiving an lifetime achievement award from the Yahama Music and Wellness Institute at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center.

No word that I can find from critics yet about how well she played. But here is a story with the particulars:

Janis, by the way, has a new compilation (below) of his older and out-of-print Chopin recordings – shorter and less virtuosic or technically demanding works like mazurkas, waltzes and nocturnes – reissued by EMI, with a flashy red cover and sexy Jean Cocteau-like or Matisse-like swirling drawing , to celebrate the event. It is a fine compilation and one well worth having.

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