By Jacob Stockinger
After Labor Day, the school year, for both K-12 and high education, will officially start.
Imagine walking into a classroom or lecture hall with more than 30,000 students.
That is what the acclaimed young pianist Jonathan Biss (below) who teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia – the most selective higher educational institution in the country, according to one report – faces when he tackles his first course on the 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven. (Several seasons ago, Jonathan Biss turned in a superb performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Major, K. 467, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)
That Biss will reach so many clasiscal music fans is thanks to a MOOC – a “Massive Open Online Course.”
(Biss is recording all 32 of the Beethoven piano sonatas for Onyx Classics, which will release volume 3 this fall. The Ear finds his performances extraordinary and convincing. You can hear Biss in an interview on the PBS “Newshour” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Then there is another great pianist, Stephen Hough, the MacArthur “genius grant” winner from the United Kingdom, who has done a special app on Franz Liszt’s legendary Sonata in B minor. That too will allow him to reach many thousands of listeners and new audiences who can follow his playing with the score and his own annotations as well as view his finger playing the virtuosic work. (Hough has performed in Madison in both solo recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater and in concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and gave a terrific masterclass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.)
So The Ear wonders: Will MOOCs and APPs come to the rescue of classical music, which seems increasingly to be losing relevance and popularity?
It could happen.
The possibilities have certainly been treated in the media lately.
Here, for example, is a great story, with a lot of specifics and details, about Jonathan Biss’ Beethoven course and the Stephen Hough’ Liszt app, that was published by The New York Times:
And here is a similar story that appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal:
Over 30,000 people have enrolled in the Beethoven course to date: seven times the total number of students who have attended Curtis since the school opened its doors in October 1924.
The five-week course starts this coming Tuesday, September 3, 2013–the first day of Curtis classes–and is aptly named “Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.” Biss has posted recommended reading and listening materials here.
In the course description, Biss writes, “It is not necessary to have studied an instrument or to have any knowledge of music theory to take the course. Rather, it is designed for students of all backgrounds who have a desire to learn more about Beethoven and his world.”
Coursera offers classes that are free of charge and are designed to help the student master the material. A key factor in the design of the Coursera system is the extensive use of interactive exercises. Within videos, there are multiple opportunities for interactions: the video frequently stops, and students are asked to answer a simple question to test whether they are tracking the material.
There will also be stand-alone homework that is not part of video lectures. Students can watch Biss’s lectures at their leisure, but the classes are structured with regular deadlines. Each student who completes the course will receive a statement of accomplishment at the end of the series.
Curtis will a launch a second Coursera class in October titled “From the Repertoire: Western Music History through Performance.” Taught by Jonathan Coopersmith, chair of Musical Studies, and David Ludwig (’01), the Gie and Lisa Liem Artistic Chair of Performance Studies and a member of the composition faculty, the course illuminates Western music history through explorations of seminal works over the past six centuries.
As for the Beethoven course by Biss, here is a preview:
And here is a way to sign up for it:
You can find Stephen Hough’s Liszt app in the app store of Apple and Google’s Play.
By Jacob Stockinger
Literally overnight, Madison’s classical music scene will move from the Summer season into the new Fall season.
On Sunday afternoon the final concert – a mostly Mozart program – will take place at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.
On the very next night, Monday night, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, three generations of the Karp Family (below) plus friend Suzanne Beia, the second violinist of the UW-Madison Pro Arte String Quartet, will present their 36th Labor Day Concert in Mills Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Last year’s concert was cancelled at the last minute, you may recall, because of illness.
This year’s program includes Pro Arte Quartet second violinist Suzanne Beia (below) plus three generations of the Karps.
The patriarch and matriarch are husband-and-wife pianists Howard and Frances Karp. Here is a link to an informative and appreciative profile of Howard Karp by Jess Anderson, the former music critic for Isthmus.
The Ear would only add that Frances Karp, who taught piano privately for many years in Madison, is also an astounding performer and interpreter, especially in chamber music. She is physically a small woman but one who possesses a big, beautiful sound and fleet fingers
Also performing are their two accomplished sons: cellist Parry Karp (below top), the cellist with the Pro Arte Quartet who also teaches cello and heads the chamber music program at the UW School of Music; and Christopher Karp (below bottom), a fine violinist and pianist who is a medical doctor and who travels the globe to fight infectious diseases on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Parry’s wife, Katrin Talbot, will play viola, as she does with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and two of their three daughters will take part: the eldest, Ariana (below with her father in 2011) will play cello and the youngest Isabel, along with her sister Ariana, will recite Shakespeare.
It sounds like a terrific program, and all the more terrific when you realize that the Karp Family Labor Concerts have never repeated the same piece twice. That is quite the accomplishment, and also a testament to the richness of the repertoire as well as to the hard work on the Karp family. Talk about enriching the musical knowledge of the audience!
The year’s program includes: the Sonata in G minor, Op. 2 No. 8 for Two Cellos and Piano (ca. 1719) by George Frideric Handel; “ November 19, 1828” for Piano and String Trio (1988) by John Harbison, who wrote the work to memorialize the death of Franz Schubert; the Sonata in D major for Piano and Cello, Op. 102, No. 2 (1815) by Ludwig van Beethoven; and dramatic excerpts from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Op. 61, with incidental music by Felix Mendelssohn. (Below are Frances and Howard Karp at a performance for the Red Hot Lava Festival in Hawaii.)
Here are program notes about the concert written for The Ear by Howard Karp, who taught piano for decades at the UW-Madison and who studied with Rosina Lhevine, the famed Juilliard School piano teacher whose most famous students were the late Van Cliburn and John Browning.
Writes Howard Karp:
“The program will consist of Handel’s Sonata for Two Cellos and keyboard, performed by Parry Karp, Ariana Karp and Howard Karp.
“That will be followed by Quartet for piano and strings “November 19, 1828”, composed in 1988 by John Harbison (below). The title refers to the date of Franz Schubert’s death in Vienna at age 31.
“Shortly before his death, Schubert went to the theorist Simon Sechter (below) to work on a very specific problem pertaining to the tonal answer of the fugue subject, important to Schubert in the composition of his masses. Sechter, well aware that he was teaching the most extraordinary student who ever came for a lesson, concluded by assigning Schubert a fugue subject on Schubert’s own name.
Schubert (below) was unable to undertake the task; he died about a week later. Harbison’s completion of the Fugue in the finale is one of the musical highlights of the work.
The composition will be performed by violinist Suzanne Beia, violist Katrin Talbot, cellist Parry Karp and pianist Frances Karp.
Pianist Christopher Karp will join his cellist brother Parry Karp in a performance of Beethoven’s fifth and final sonata in D major, Op.102 No. 2, with its lengthy fugue finale (at bottom in a YouTube video).
The intricate fugue led Beethoven (below) later to the mammoth fugue finale of the Hammerklavier piano sonata, Op.106, as well the “Grosse Fuge” from the string quartet Op. 130 and Grand Fugue from the “Missa Solemnis,” Op. 123, all three in B-flat major.
After Intermission, Howard and Frances Karp will be joined by two of their three grand-daughters as narrators, with the incidental music from Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The music will be played in the piano, four-hands version arranged by the composer. (Below is Isabel Karp.)
All three of Parry and Katrin’s daughters have had extensive experiences with Madison’s “Young Shakespeare Players” (YSP). The organization is led by the remarkable couple, Richard and Anne DiPrima. Ariana is a graduate of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and Isabel is a junior at Memorial High in Madison.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review 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
The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has long-established a reputation for unusual programming, combining seemingly distinct genres, and exploring rare or unconventional material within them.
This season, the Festival seems to have become even more adventurous. There is the usual balancing of jazz and classical music, with more investigation of improvisatory techniques. The tiptoe into Shakespeare (below) made last year has this time has been expanded into a full and quite adventurous program, called “Shakespeare: The Bard in Songs and Scenes.”
The program opened with the premiere of a new composition by John Harbison (below), the co-director of the Festival who is also an award-winning composer. Called “Invention on a Theme by Shakespeare,” it takes as its “theme” a sequence of six solmization pitches (notes in a scale that are equated to syllables) talked of by a comic character in “Love’s Labours Lost” — a piece of music by the poet, if you will. Written for solo cello with string quartet, it begins with a long solo monologue and then develops into a sequence of more animated ensemble episodes.
Thereafter, the program developed into a series of nine sets, each built around one of the plays. In each case, a passage from the given play was recited by actor Allison Schaffer, while the songs around it were sung by soprano Mary Mackenzie), with pianist Molly Morkoski (below) accompanying stylishly.
The pattern worked very well, with song composers ranging from Thomas Morley, a contemporary and friend of Shakespeare, to John Harbison himself, our contemporary and friend.
What was most engaging was the frequent pairing of settings by different composers of the same texts. This practice was brought to a peak by the presentation of three of the song texts from “The Tempest,” first as set by Henry Purcell (2) and Pelham Humfrey (1), and then all by Michael Tippett. It provided fascinating insights into the varied possibilities and aesthetics of musical word treatment.
For me, though, at least as fascinating was the unit devoted to “Hamlet,” and to the sad character Ophelia. Framing Queen Gertrude’s famous description of Ophelia’s death were two complete song cycles, each setting the words of the demented songs that the poor girl sings in her madness.
One cycle, using five of those song cycles was a rarely heard and posthumously published set by Johannes Brahms (below top). The other, using only three of the texts, was a set published as his Op. 67 by Richard Strauss (below bottom). (And not by Johann Strauss, as the program erroneously claimed, and as carefully corrected by Harbison in his astute spoken commentary.)
These texts were set by each composer in German translations, which itself highlighted the Bard’s important cultural outreach beyond the English language. (And that point was furthered by inclusion of two Shakespeare songs by Schubert, in German; as well as one by Haydn, if in English.) The Brahms settings were in a direct and rather simple style, perhaps reflecting his extensive activity in treating German folksong.
By contrast, Strauss used them to venture into almost experimental writing, in treatments that emphasized dramatic and powerfully tragic sensibilities. I wondered when anyone else would have the enterprise to put these two cycles together for comparison.
It was a measure of their total commitment that both actress and singer delivered their work totally from memory.
Allison Schaffer (below) is just beginning a career in theater, but she demonstrates a firm sense of textual integrity, vocal clarity, and stage instincts. She will be a local product to watch for.
Mary Mackenzie (below) has a full, ripe soprano voice of great power and beauty. She put it to use, with effective utilization of facial expression, body movement, and even gestures, to make each song an individual piece, with its own distinct mood. This is a superb artist of whom I want to hear more.
The usual printed program was supplemented this time by a set of notes by Harbison himself, giving a concise and helpful roadmap through the plays and the selections offered.
There was, alas, one fly in the ointment. Each of the spoken selections was “accompanied” by improvisations for violin and cello devised by guest composer and violinist Andrew Waggoner (below).
Everyone I spoke to afterwards agreed with me that these improvisations were intrusive, distracting, and often downright unpleasant–certainly a serious injustice to Ms. Schaffer’s work. I know that Harbison himself is most interested in the art of improvisation, and it deserves its space; but this was not the space into which to impose it.
The Festival concludes on this Saturday, Aug. 31, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, Sept. 1, at 4 p.m. with a program called ‘The Old and the Unfamiliar,” which features unfinished Mozart works completed by Harvard University scholar and pianist Robert Levin and by festival co-director and composer John Harbison. As always, it will take place in “The Barn” (below) off Highway 19.
For more information and tickets, call (608) 241-2525 or visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has heard from two loyal readers and friends – period keyboardist Trevor Stephenson and the WORT FM radio host Rich Samuels about events that will take place on the airwaves this Thursday morning and noon.
Rich Samuels (below), who hosts the weekly classical radio program “Anything Goes” from 5 to 8 a.m. on WORT FM 89.9 and who records and emphasizes local music and local musicians, writes:
“This Thursday morning, Aug. 29, starting at 30 seconds past 7:07 to about 7:45 a.m., I’ll be airing (on WORT 89.9) a recut of an interview I recorded last August with Howard, Frances, Parry, Ariana and Isabel Karp in anticipation of the 36th FREE annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert on Monday, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. (As you recall, that same concert last year was cancelled on account of Illness).
“Recorded music for this segment includes recordings of Howard and Parry performing the final movement of John Ireland’s Sonata in G minor for Piano and Violin (adapted for violin and cello); Howard and Frances Karp playing Antonin Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance in E minor Op. 72, No. 2, for piano, four hands version; and Joel Hoffman’s “Karptet” (featuring Frances Karp, Howard Karp, Christopher Karp, Parry Karp and Katrin Talbot).”
The program this year includes Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia plus the above Karp family members. The program includes: the Sonata in G minor, Op. 2 No. 8 for Two Cellos and Piano (ca. 1719) by George Frideric Handel (below in a YouTube video); “ November 19, 1828” for Piano and String Trio (1988) by John Harbison ; Sonata in D major for Piano and Cello, Op. 102, No. 2 (1815) by Ludwig van Beethoven ; and music and dramatic excerpts from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Op. 61, with incidental music by Felix Mendelssohn. Notes about the concert will be featured on this blog on Friday. (Below are daughter Ariana Karp and father Parry Karp at the Labor Day family concert in 2011.)
Adds Samuels: The Karp segment runs 37 minutes and 43 second. The show concludes with a recording John Harbison gave me from last year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival: the first movement of Mozart’s Concerto in D Major for Piano and Orchestra K. 537 in a chamber arrangement featuring some pretty amazing improvising by Harvard University pianist Robert Levin (below) who will perform some of his Mozart completions this coming weekend at the Token Creek Festival. Other instrumentalists are Heidi Braun-Hill and Rose Mary Harbison (violins), John Harbison (viola) and Rhonda Rider (cello).
WERN 88.7 FM
Another fan and friend, Trevor Stephenson (below) writes:
I’ll play selections by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, and Norman will interview me about the all things fortepiano: How and why it came about in the 18th century? How its construction (thinner wire, leather hammers, all wooden frame, etc.) facilitates playing of Classical-era repertoire?
I’ll talk about why the fortepiano is particularly theatrical, affectively polarized really — from its giddy, fizzy, articulate highs, to its moody, menacing, growling lows. Wisconsin Public Television will also be filming the broadcast and that will air on WPT later in the year.
Also, this Fall — on Monday evenings from October 14 through November 18 — I’m offering a course on the keyboard music of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. I’ll discuss the stylistic similarities and divergences of these three masters — all born in 1685 — and will also examine how each composer integrated elements of various national styles (French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Hungarian . . .) to form their own personal compositional voice.
I’ll talk about each composer’s life and personality as well as the social circles within which they moved. I’ll also discuss and demonstrate—at both the harpsichord and piano — approaches to performing their music and we will look into elements of performance such as fingering, tempo, rubato, articulation, voicing, instruments, and the ever-elusive yet oh-so-important Affect, or interpretation, or feeling for the moment at hand!
Here is some of the specific repertoire we’ll look at: Johann Sebastian Bach – English Suite in G minor, “Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother,” “Art of Fugue” Contrapunctus XIX (ending with the B-A-C-H fugue), the C major Prelude and Fugue from Book I and Book II of “The Well-Tempered Clavier to compare them; George Frideric Handel – Suite in E major (which concludes with the “Harmonious Blacksmith” variations), Gavotte in G major, Suite in D minor (which includes the famous Sarabande), Impertinence, Allegro in G major; Domenico Scarlatti – Sonatas: K. 238 and 239 both in F minor, K. 159 in C major, K. 9 in D minor “Pastorale,” and K. 380 in E major.
The course is geared for those people with a reading knowledge of music. The classes will be given at my home studio from 7-8:30 p.m. on the following Monday evenings: October 14, 21, Nov. 4, 11, 18. My home studio (below during a “house concert”) is at 5729 Forsythia Place, Madison, WI 53705. Enrollment for the course is $180. Please let me know by September 15 if you’d like to attend. Contact me at www.trevorstephenson.com or by calling (608) 238-6092.
The Madison Bach Musicians 2013-14 season is now posted and tickets are available! This is our 10th season! Opening concert is October 5. See www.madisonbachmusicians.org Sign up and more details will com by email in a couple of days.
By Jacob Stockinger
This year is the bicentennial of the birth of composer Richard Wagner.
Just about everything about Richard Wagner (below) is epic and titanic, dramatic and revolutionary.
Little wonder, then, that he is known especially for “The Ring of the Nibelung,” that 16–hour, four-opera mythological cycle that challenges the most resourceful singers, actors, stage directors, orchestras, conductors and opera companies. It took many complications and until the 1960s for conductor Sir Georg Solti to make the first complete recording of “The Ring” for Decca — and it still holds up to the best complete recordings since then.
Stop and think and consider this: In the time it usually takes to hear “The Ring” you could listen to all the symphonies and concertos of Beethoven, or all his string quartets and most of his piano trios.
True, some of Wagner’s vocal music is quite stirring and enthralling.
But only some of it — at least to my ears.
I share some of the sentiments of his detractors, who included some pretty good artists and discriminating musicians.
Take the composer Gioachino Rossini, who quipped “Wagner’s music has great moments but dull quarter hours.”
The American writer and humorist Mark Twain observed that “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”
The comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen remarked: “Every time I listen Wagner, I get the urge to invade Poland.”
If you like those, here is a link to some more quips about Wagner, including some by French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire and French composer Claude Debussy:
I am probably a dissenter, but I think Wagner generally wrote better for instruments than he did for the voice. At least I generally find his orchestral music tighter and more enjoyable to listen to.
Indeed, I would like to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra do one of the various versions of “The Ring Without Words,” perhaps the orchestral anthology of highlights from “The Ring” and other operas that famed conductor George Szell (below) arranged and conducted with the Cleveland Orchestra (in a YouTube video at the bottom).
I love the overtures and preludes, and I don’t think they get programmed often enough these days. Same for the charming “Siegfried Idyll.”
I remember an old vinyl LP recording with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. How I loved, and found endlessly thrilling the Overture to “Tannhauser,” the “Prelude and Liebestod” to “Tristan und Isolde,” the Overture to “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” preludes from “Lohengrin,” and the magically static and haunting Prelude to “Parsifal.” They are terrific curtain-raisers.
I also love “best moment” anthologies so it is also good to see choices like the new recording by the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann – a great choice since Kaufmann (below) seems a perfect Wagner singer who has a huge but subtle voice, stamina and the handsome good looks for the parts.
Anyway, here is a link to the Wagner discography in The New York Times:
What is your favorite Wagner recording? What piece and what performer?
And do you favor his vocal or instrumental music?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
I have nothing really profound or subjective to share today.
I just want to pass along to two pieces of news from the Madison Symphony Orchestra that I deem worthy of being covered.
The first is that the MSO has elected a new board of directors, including former UW-Chancellor, Provost and engineering professor John Wiley – an amateur pianist and avid classical music fan – as President of the MSO.
I share this press release in the belief that more members of the community need to know how such important cultural institutions depend on participation from the public it serves — from us. Indeed, many of the names, I suspect will be familiar to you from other contexts, whether commercial, educational, artistic, political, social or legal.
Here is the press release:
MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA BOARD ANNOUNCES NEW OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS
“The Madison Symphony Orchestra Board recently elected former University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor John Wiley as its Board president along with other officers and new directors to serve a three-year term. The Board consists of 39 elected directors plus several ex-officio directors, who also have voting privileges.
“The following are the newly-elected officers and directors for the 2013-2016 seasons:
President: John Wiley (below), former chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Vice President: Elliott Abramson, former law professor
Vice President: Mary Lang Sollinger (below), community leader, fundraiser and volunteer
Vice President: Lynn Stathas, shareholder, Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren
Secretary: Anders Yocom (below, in a photo by Jim Gill), music host, Wisconsin Public Radio
Treasurer: Jeffrey Ticknor, managing director, BMO Harris Bank
Directors, newly elected are:
Darrell Behnke, market leader, The Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank
Rosemarie Blancke, vice president, Madison Symphony Orchestra League; life member, Max Kade Institute
Lorrie Keating-Heineman, director of development, University of Wisconsin Foundation; former secretary, Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions
Gary Mecklenburg, executive partner, Waud Capital Partners, L.L.C.
Fred Mohs (below), past president, Madison Symphony Orchestra, Inc.; partner, Mohs, MacDonald, Widder, Paradise and Van Note
Beverly Simone (below), president emeritus, Madison Area Technical College
Mary Alice Wimmer, former professor of art, University of Wisconsin System; community volunteer
For more information about the Madison Symphony Orchestra Board, its other directors and advisors, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/contact#board
The MSO will mark its 88th concert season in 2013-2014 by celebrating the 20th anniversary of John DeMain as music director.
The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below in Overture Hall) engages audiences of all ages and backgrounds in live classical music through a full season of concerts with established and emerging soloists of international renown, an organ concert series, and diverse educational and community programs. Learn more at: www.madisonsymphony.org
Also important to announce is that a special gala fundraising dinner will be held a week before the opening concert of the season to mark music director and maestro John DeMain’s 20th season with the MSO. (DeMain, who trained at the Juilliard School, came to Madison from the Houston Grand Opera after the retirement of Roland Johnson, who died last year.)
Here is that announcement:
MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA GALA CELEBRATES 20 YEARS WITH JOHN DEMAIN
Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Gala on Friday, Sept. 20, at 6 p.m. at the Overture Center will honor its Music Director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) and his 20 years of musical contributions to the Madison arts scene.
An elegant evening of gourmet food, music by world-renowned University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below) and members of the Symphony, and a video tribute will celebrate Grammy and Tony Award-winning maestro John DeMain.
The Madison Symphony Orchestra League and the Madison Symphony Orchestra Board are hosting the Gala, which is open to the public.
Limited seats are available and reservations are due Sept. 9. To learn more and to register, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/gala
By Jacob Stockinger
Much or even most of the festival is directed by Bard College president Leon Bostein. Concerts are held in the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts (below) that was designed by the noted architect Frank Gerhy.
This year’s theme was Igor Stravinsky, and the first weekend of the festival examined his Russian roots and his earlier work. Last weekend I offered the insightful account and assessment by The New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe, who has been named by some sources — including famed critic Norman Lebrecht — as the designated successor to senior music critic Anthony Tommasini.
Here is a link to that posting:
Lass weekend saw the conclusion of “Stravinsky and His World.” It examined later works, with an emphasis on his neo-Classical works (listen to the tuneful clarity of the YouTube video of Stravinsky’s “Pulchinella” Suite at the bottom performed by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic); the composer’s and culture’s reaction against Richard Wagner and the lushness of late Romanticism as well; and the general career and music of Stravinsky (below, in a photo by Richard Avedon) while he was in exile in France and the U.S.
The activities included a performance of “Perspehone” with Jean Stillwell as the narrator (below in a photo by Cory Weaver of the New York Times).
Here is a link to another perceptive assessment by another critic for The New York Times, Steve Smith (below):
I’m sure the festival was filled with great music, great performances and rare insights.
For that reason as I wrote last time, the Bard Music Festival is one that really tempts me. What other festival would treat music more as philosophy and history and less as entertainment? What other festival would devote itself, for example, to Camille Saint-Saens or Jean Sibelius?
By Jacob Stockinger
It turns out that composer Igor Stravinsky (below) was on to something when he urged people to listen to live performances of music with their eyes open.
But The Ear is betting that even he did not realize just what he was on to since maybe all you need is eyes.
So let me put the question to you:
How could you best predict the winner of a music competition? By using: A) audio only; B) visuals only; or C) audio and visuals.
I would have answered probably A followed by C.
And I suspect so would many of you.
But a new study says we would be wrong.
The correct the answer is definitely B.
That’s right. The music doesn’t matter after all. Don’t even listen. Forget the music. Just look! Or if you are a contestant, just send in a silent video.
It turns out that even very experienced professional musicians – yes, including the judges of competitions — did better using silent visuals than other sources including the combination of audio and visual.
Not surprisingly, a number of classical music websites have been buzzing with news of the study.
But the best summary I know of so far was done by NPR’s “Morning Edition”’s social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam (below) who also blogs on the website www.hidden brain.org. Here is a link you can use to listen to his story (don’t just look at his picture):
And here is another good version from the Harvard Gazette of Harvard University where pianist and human behavioral psychologist specializing in organizational behavior Chia Jung-Tsay (below in a photo by Kris Snibbe) was a co-researcher of the surprising study:
I do wonder if an earlier generation, less used to social media and YouTube, would have yielded different results. But we won’t ever know, will we?
So perhaps the Liberace-like flamboyant gestures and physical antics or performing style of the superstar Lang Lang (below) have their place in communicating musical beauty after all.
By Jacob Stockinger
Lately, I have been listening to a lot of transcriptions of Johann Sebastian Bach (below) on the piano. You know how these things go in spurts.
As I have said before, transcription is a time-honored practice, especially for Baroque composers.
Most often, the transcriptions are based on preludes and fugues, passacaglia, toccatas, chorale preludes and movements from the cantatas.
But I have found that far too many transcriptions get too grand for my taste – too orchestral and powerful with too much emphasis on deep bass octaves and too many thick chords. The piano is not a pipe organ, which is part of its virtue.
I prefer that the transcribers preserve at least some of the transparency of the original Bach.
Which is one reason why I like the transcription in B minor by Alexander Siloti (below) of a prelude in E minor from the first book of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Siloti basically took a motif and developed in into a separate piece.
It is so hauntingly beautiful.
Plus it is useful as well as beautiful.
Having played it myself – or at least played at it — I can tell you that it is harder to pull off than it sounds. Siloti’s transcription is really the same short piece of music repeated twice. So it serves as an etude, a study in voicing of first the right hand and then the left hand.
It is also a question of coordinating and strengthening the fourth and fifth fingers on the right hand, and the wide, rolled arpeggios in the left hand with an emphasis on the thumb as the carrier of a melody.
And like so much of Bach’s music, it is also an etude in the evenness of all those sixteenth notes.
I’ll bet a lot of his students and subsequent piano students at the Moscow Conservatory benefitted from practicing and playing this gorgeous miniature that some artists use as effective encore, bringing a concert to a quiet and soulful close.
All in all, it is a great little miniature that deserves to be heard, learned and performed more frequently.
Just listen to it in the hands of a master, as the late and great Emil Gilels plays it in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where Siloti himself was a teacher of the great pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninov (seen below on the right, with Siloti on the left).
First, here is the Bach original, with the fugue, played in a YouTube video by Friedrich Gulda, a teacher of Martha Argerich:
And here is the live performance by Gilels:
What do you think of the work and the performance (read the listener comments on YouTube)?
Do you have favorite Bach transcriptions for the piano?
What do you look for in a piano transcription of Bach?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
From 6 to 9 p.m. this Friday, Aug. 23, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (below) in the Overture Center will host a night that focuses on the great artists of Mexican modernism. Admission is free for MMOCA members and $10 for non-members.
The event will feature an evening of Mexican paintings, prints and photographs as well as refreshments, a gallery talk 6:30-7 p.m. by University of Wisconsin-Madison art professor and artist Jim Escalante and movie screenings.
Here is a link with more details and some visuals;
As luck or coincidence would have it, the event is happening around the same time that I received some CDs in the mail from the outstanding Chicago-based non-profit regional label Cedille. The recordings feature the works of several composers who also brought modernism to Mexican classical music.
Those composers include Carlos Chavez (1899-1978, below top), Manuel Ponce (1882-1948, below middle), Jose Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958), Jose Rolon (1876-1945) and Samuel Zyman (b. 1956) – all performed by the gifted Chicago pianist Jorge Federico Osorio (below) who possesses great tone, lyricism and drama. He plays with confidence born of natural affinity for the music and an abundance of musical talent.
I have sampled all the recordings and am both impressed and pleased.
This is not the Viennese modernism of, say, Arnold Schoenberg and the 12-tonists or atonalists. In fact much of this is much more accessible and listener-friendly. Much of that is due, my ears tell me, to the incorporation of tuneful Mexican folk songs and rhythmically catchy folk dances.
That makes it not so different from the photos of Manuel Alvarez Bravo (below top), the paintings of Frida Kahlo (below second), the expressionist style woodcuts of Leopoldo Mendez (below third), the murals of Diego Rivera (below bottom) – all of which are distinctly modern with overtones of traditional Mexican culture and society.
But for whatever reason this beautiful music has not caught on in the Northern Hemisphere and the United States, and Europe. Perhaps that is yet another expression of the inherent racism or provincialism that runs throughout Euro-centric classical music, as I touched on in recent post that drew some excellent responses form readers. Here is a link:
That is especially regrettable, given that many music ensembles would like to attract more Hispanic or Latino audiences.
It says something that even the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is giving its premiere performance of the Chavez Piano Concerto this season.
The Ear keeps thinking that it would be a smart move, and probably not too an expensive booking, for the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra to book Jorge Federico Osorio to play, and maybe even premiere, the spiky but accessible Chavez Piano Concerto here in Madison. It would certainly add some rarely heard repertoire and much needed ethnic diversity to the music scene.
Similarly, I think a lot of solo piano recital would benefit from the music of Manuel Ponce, who composed a lot ore than the ever-popular “Estrellita.” Once could try his Concerto Etudes and “Trozos Romanticos,” his “Mazurcas” (at bottom in a YouTube video), his “Cuban Suite” or even his two etudes written for Arthur Rubinstein. They have elements of Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Debussy and even Scrabin but with a Latin American flavor. These piano pieces certainly a more serious look than they seem to be getting.
But until this repertoire comes to you live, you can’t do better than these recordings that support Jorge Federico Osorio’s remarkable performances that are supported with great sound engineering and informative liner notes.