The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Scarlatti sonatas are hot again -– and not just at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which has its closing concert this afternoon.

August 31, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Trends come and trends go.

Who knows why?

A few years ago, it seemed as if I hadn’t heard the famous and overplayed “Appassionata” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in decades. Everyone focused on the last three piano sonatas. And then suddenly there were four or five live performances of the “Appassionata” within a year or two. Can the “Waldstein” Sonata be far behind?

This past couple of years, it also seems almost impossible to escape “La Valse” by Maurice Ravel -– in its two-piano version or its original solo version, or in modified solo version, or in its orchestral arrangements. Maybe the popularity of the work says something about the decadence of our times and our society. Or maybe it has to do with the centennial this year of World War I, which destroyed and demolished the old monarchical “waltz” societies, much as Ravel does in his postmodern deconstruction of the waltz.

In any case, you might recall that only last Wednesday night, the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival featured Smith College pianist Judith Gordon (below) in four Scarlatti sonatas along with 12 preludes by Frederic Chopin. (The festival closes with a SOLD-OUT performance of music by Franz Schubert, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy this afternoon at 4 p.m.)

Here is a link to the festival’s website with information about the artists, the program and tickets:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

Judith Gordon plays 2014

The Ear loved that program about the originality of short forms and keyboard music for both its insight and its beauty. Here is a link to my review:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/classical-music-token-creek-festivals-exploration-of-chopin-and-scarlatti-proves-beautifully-compelling-and-teases-ones-desire-to-attend-one-of-the-two-remaining-concerts-on-saturda/

I hadn’t heard live Scarlatti performances in a while.

But that will change soon, I expect.

Because voila!

It turns out that another trend is in the making. Scarlatti is hot again. There are several new recordings of sonatas by Scarlatti (below) that just came out. And they are featured on the exceptional Deceptive Cadence blog done by NPR, or National Public Radio.

The blog posting – “A Surge of Scarlatti Sonatas” – was written by blog chief Tom Huizenga and even features some sound samples from the various records.

Domenico Scarlatti

I’ll be anxious to see how they measure up to The Ear’s favorite recordings, which include, in approximate order, recordings by: Vladimir Horowitz; Alexandre Tharaud; Andras Schiff; and Mikhail Pletnev.

Here is a link to the NPR story and review. I hope you enjoy it.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/28/343705852/a-surge-of-scarlatti-sonatas

And let us know which one of the 555 sonatas by Scarlatti is your favorite. Slow or fast? Major or minor? Extroverted and dance-like or introspective and meditative?

At the bottom is a popular YouTube video of one of my all-time favorite Scarlatti sonatas, in B minor — Longo 33 or Kirkpatrick 87 — and performed to perfection by Vladimir Horowitz, who brings both clarity and soul to its almost prayer-like intensity.

I would also like to dedicate the performance and the sonata to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, for whom a free and public memorial celebration will be held today at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Include a link to a YouTube recording, if you can.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Here are some more stories — including two from The New York Times — about University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, whose FREE and PUBLIC memorial will be this Sunday at 3 p.m.

August 30, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

As you probably already know by now, tomorrow, Sunday, Aug. 31, will bring a FREE and PUBLIC memorial celebration of the life of Howard Karp (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) -– who died in June at 84 — on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in Mills Hall at 3 p.m.

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

It is scheduled to run about two hours and then have a free and public reception after it.

Parking in nearby Grainger Hall is also free.

The memorial will feature live music and recorded music. Works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann and Sergei Rachmaninoff will be featured.

Here is a link to a post a few days ago with more details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/classical-music-here-are-the-final-program-and-details-about-the-free-memorial-on-this-sunday-at-3-p-m-in-mills-hall-for-university-of-wisconsin-madison-pianist-howard-karp/

Karp Family in color

But if you can go, and especially if you can’t, you might be interested in some other stories about Howard Karp, who was both a wonderful man and wondrous musician.

He was written up no less than twice by Anthony Tommasini (below), the celebrated senior classical music critic for The New York Times who is himself an accomplished pianist with degrees from Yale University and who studied piano with the late Donald Currier, the same terrific teacher with whom The Ear studied privately in high school. (Small world, no?)

tommasini-190

Here is the first story published in 1998, about the differences in temperament more than talent between academic teaching pianists and professional touring pianists. It is full of insight and affection:

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/27/arts/critic-s-notebook-master-teachers-whose-artistry-glows-in-private.html?pagewanted=all

And here is a recently published review by Anthony Tommasini of the new 6-CD set of performances by Howard Karp that have been released by Albany Records. You will hear music from this set and from some CDs issued by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, at the memorial:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/17/arts/music/box-sets-highlight-leonard-shure-and-howard-karp.html?_r=0

Howard Karp Albany CD cover

Here is a story — a tribute, really — by the local critic Greg Hettmansberger (below), who writes the Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/August-2014/Howard-Karp-Memorial/

greg hettmansberger mug

And here is a long and beautifully written personal essay done in 1994 by Jess Anderson, a fine amateur pianist and former longtime music critic for Isthmus:

http://www.madisonmusicreviews.org/doc/p_199401_karp.html

Jess Anderson

There may be more. If you know of them, please leave word – and a link, if possible – in the Comments section. This seems like the right time.


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival’s exploration of keyboard miniatures by Chopin and Scarlatti proves beautifully compelling and teases one’s desire to attend one of the two remaining concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Plus, read two reviews of the festival’s opening concert.

August 29, 2014
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ALERTS: The Ear wasn’t able to attend the opening concert last weekend of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival in the refurbished barn (below). But here are reviews by two local critics who did.

Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43447&sid=9664bddf418a3137f76a449de690c285

Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for the Classically Speaking blog of Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/August-2014/The-25th-Token-Creek-Chamber-Music-Festival-Happy-Anniversary-From-Start-To-Finish/

TokenCreekbarn interior

By Jacob Stockinger

As usually happens at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, the concert of the second program on Wednesday night was a collaborative effort in exploration.

In this case, three key players participated: returning guest pianist Judith Gordon, who is now a professor at Smith College; Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur Foundation “genius” award-winning composer, MIT teacher and co-artistic director John Harbison, who never fails to illuminate the music with his insightful brief commentaries; and co-artistic director and violinist Rose Mary Harbison, who programmed part of the concert as well as performed.

Rose Mary Harbison (below) also played the famous “Spring” Sonata for violin and piano, which John Harbison said pointed to how Ludwig van Beethoven — who aimed for the epic rather than the miniature — checked out the achievements of contemporaries and then figured out his own way to enter the mainstream.

Rose Mary Harbison also partnered with Gordon in a theme-and-variations piece by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a piece The Ear found a little bit charming and a lot underwhelming.

Rose Mary Harbison plays Spring 2014

Then, on both halves of the program, came music by Frederic Chopin and Domenico Scarlatti.

In the very capable hands of Judith Gordon (below), those two composers proved to be the axis of the program and a fascinating coupling.

Judith Gordon plays 2014

The two composers, one Baroque and the other Romantic, were chosen because they both focused on smaller-scale works. Exiled from his native Italy and isolated in courts in Portugal and Spain, Scarlatti (below) wrote 550 keyboard sonatas of astonishing variety, color and virtuosity.

Domenico Scarlatti muted

Chopin (below), on the other hand, turned inward in the bustling artistic scene and intellectual ferment of Paris, and focused on smaller forms -– none smaller than the Preludes played at Token Creek. They seem a kind of Rosetta Stone for deconstructing and understanding the structure of the rest of Chopin’s output; or perhaps they are like a Table of Contents, abbreviated guides to, or outlines or preparatory sketches of, so many other works.

Chopinphoto

But in both cases, as John Harbison explained clearly, the two composers narrowed down their ambitions to achieve the kind of unique and idiosyncratic achievements or originality that many other composers can only dream of achieving. They were like poets who find freedom in the formal confines of the sonnet form.

John Harbison picked two pairs of Scarlatti sonatas for Gordon to perform: one early pair in E major (one is the famous calling card of Vladimir Horowitz in a YouTube video at the bottom) to show Scarlatti at his compositional planning phase with pretty regular development; and two late ones in F-Sharp minor to show how later in life Scarlatti increasingly sounded as if he made things up as he went along.

For her part, Rose Mary Harbison selected two sets of six preludes each by Chopin -– he wrote 24 as a set, then added a posthumously published one –- to demonstrate much the same effect: the contrary moods and Chopin’s extraordinary gift for compression and brevity, for his ability to make a 30-second piece sound complete or whole, as if it has a beginning, middle and end. (At the bottom is a YouTube performance of one of the loveliest preludes on the program, the mini-Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, in a live performance by Maurizio Pollini.)

The compare-and-contrast strategy worked very well, as was demonstrated not only in performance but also in a Q&A-type interview (below) that Judith Gordon did with John Harbison.

Judith Gordon and John Harbison 2014

The Ear will long remember the unusual coupling, which is often the way Token Creek goes about programming unexpected matches, for the insight they shed on both composers, whose works, as it happens, I myself like to play on the piano.

It also tells us what to look for and to value at Token Creek: Unusual and unexpected approaches that yield unforgettable results.

Two more performances remain in this summer’s season, on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., and they will feature the pianist husband-and-wife team of Harvard Professor Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang performing music by Franz Schubert, C.P.E. Bach and Maurice Ravel as well as Rose Mary Harbison in the knockout Violin Sonata by Claude Debussy, his last work and one of his best.

Here is a link for more information and tickets:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

This year the festival is celebrating both its own 25th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below).

carl philipp emanuel bach

To history, the C.P.E. Bach anniversary no doubt matters more.

To my ears, however, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival anniversary matters more.

And despite C.P.E. Bach, whose music will by and large remain on my record shelf and not in my CD player, the night belonged to Domenico Scarlatti and Frederic Chopin.

It is not easy to shed new light on old masterpieces, but that is exactly what the Harbisons and Judith Gordon managed to do.

What can one say but: Thank You!

 


Classical music: Here are the final program and details about the FREE memorial on this Sunday at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall for University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp.

August 28, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received a request from the Karp Family.

It seems there is still some ignorance and some confusion about the memorial event -– a life celebration, really –- set for this Sunday afternoon for the late pianist Howard Karp, who died in June at 84 in Colorado and who had taught and performed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music from 1972 to 2000.

The event is FREE and OPEN to the public.

Here are the details:

“Dear Jake, 

“I hope all is well.

“Here is the program for Sunday.

“I am still hearing from people who want to go to the celebration, but don’t know when or where it will be.  

“My very best to you,

“Parry Karp”

A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF HOWARD KARP (1929-2014, below in a 2000 photo by Katrin Talbot)

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

The celebration will be held this Sunday, August 31, 2014, at 3 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall (below) in the Mosse Humanitites Building,  with a FREE and PUBLIC reception to follow.

MIllsHall2

FREE parking can be found in nearby Grainger Hall of the University of Wisconsin Business School.

“Performances” by Howard Karp come from recordings issued by Albany Records and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Welcome

Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier) by Ludwig van Beethoven:  Movement I. Allegro, Howard Karp, pianist

Words from Bill Lutes (below, with his wife UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer, and a former student and friend of Howard Karp)

martha fischer and bill lutes

Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann,   Movement III. Andante cantabile, performed by Frances Karp, pianist (wife of Howard Karp, below top with Howard); Leanne League (violinist, below bottom, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and  is the assistant concertmaster of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as a member of the Ancora String Quartet); Katrin Talbot, violist (daughter-in-law and wife of Parry Karp); Parry Karp, cellist (eldest son of Howard Karp who teaches cello and chamber music at the UW-Madison and is a member of the Pro Arte Quartet.)

howard and frances karp

Leanne League profile

Readings from William Shakespeare by granddaughter actresses Isabel Karp (bel0w top) and Natasha Karp (below bottom).

isabel karp USE

Natasha Karp

“Fantasie” in C Major, Op. 17, by Robert Schumann, Movement I: Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen, Howard Karp, pianist

Words and music from Malcolm Bilson (below, a well-known teacher and keyboard performer with Howard Karp at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a retired professor from Cornell University); Sonata in F-sharp Minor, D. 571, by Franz Schubert,  Movement I. Allegro moderato

Malcom Bilson 2

Words from pianist and friend Ira Goodkin

Concerto Per Due Pianoforte Soli by Igor Stravinsky, Movement 1. Con moto; Sergei Rachmaninoff, Fantasy-Tableaux: Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, Op. 5: 1. Barcarolle: Allegretto; Howard and Frances Karp, duo-pianists

Words from actress granddaughter Ariana Karp (below), via video

ariana karp portrait

“Kol Nidre” by Max Bruch, Parry Karp, cellist (below top), and Christopher Karp (below bottom), pianist and  youngest son of Howard Karp who is a medical doctor with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)

Parry Karp

Christopher Karp

Words from Parry Karp

Sonata in B Minor, Op. 58, Frederic Chopin, Movement IV. Finale: Presto non tanto, Howard Karp, pianist

FREE PUBLIC RECEPTION TO FOLLOW

Here is a link to the posting on the new UW-School of Music blog A Tempo:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2014/07/17/howard-karp/

And here is a link to another performance by Howard Karp on SoundCloud, a rarely heard work by Johann Sebastian Bach that features a Fugue on a Theme by Tomaso Aliboni as well as works by Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn:

https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom/sets

Howard Karp's hands by Katrin Talbot

 

 

 


Classical music: How much is an autograph by pianist Vladimir Horowitz worth?

August 27, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

I was going through some old papers and found something I thought that I had somehow lost or that had been stolen: An autographed card from Ukrainian-born superstar pianist Vladimir Horowitz from a concert he gave in Washington, D.C., in 1973.

Here it is:

Horowitz autograph copy

But I have no idea of the price it would bring on today’s market. Maybe a look on  Ebay could tell me.

Not that I want to sell it. Its sentimental value is priceless. A family member gave it to me. He collected it especially for me, and then sent it out of affection for me and for my love of playing the piano.

Still, I wonder: How much is it worth? True, it is not signed on a program or recording. But it does have a date and is an official autograph card with a printed version of his name on it. (Below is Vladimir Horowitz bowing to a packed house in Carnegie Hall.)

Vladimir Horowitz in Caregie Hall Don Hunstein,jpg

I have had it framed. and will keep it in a secure place, and I hope it will inspire me to play better.

I am also sorry I never collected an autograph from Artur Rubinstein (below) during the several times I heard him perform.

Arthur Rubinstein

In the meantime, I would welcome any educated guess or documented estimate of the value of this Horowitz autograph.

Finding it again, 41 years after it was signed and almost 25 years after the death of Horowitz (below, in his later years and towards the end of his career), is pretty lucky for me, don’t you think?

Vladimir Horowitz

And here is a popular YouTube video, with more than 4.4 million views, of one of my favorite Horowitz performances: Chopin‘s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23, during a live TV performance.

Do you have a favorite?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The new early music, a cappella vocal group Voces Aestatis (Voices of Summer) makes an impressive debut with many Renaissance composers and works. Plus, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival opens to acclaim.

August 26, 2014
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ALERT: Perhaps you didn’t make it to the opening of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival last Saturday night or Sunday afternoon (below is a photo of the renovated barn concert hall). The festival runs through this coming Sunday afternoon and is celebrating both its 25th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach. Here is a link to a review written for the Classically Speaking blog of Madison Magazine by Greg Hettmansberger, along with two preview stories from this blog:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/August-2014/The-25th-Token-Creek-Chamber-Music-Festival-Happy-Anniversary-From-Start-To-Finish/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/classical-music-the-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-starts-saturday-it-celebrates-25-years-with-observing-the-300th-anniversary-of-c-p-e-bach-and-by-offering-a-wide-rage-of-works-and-composers-t/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/classical-music-violinist-rose-mary-harbison-talks-about-the-25th-anniversary-of-the-upcoming-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-while-composer-john-harbison-discusses-c-p-e-bach-whose-300th-anniv/

TokenCreekbarn interior

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Friday was one of those nights, one of those increasingly frequent “train wrecks,” as The Wise Critic likes to call them, when two or more worthy classical musical events conflict and compete.

The Ear could not be in two places at once.

The two concerts were given by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which was reviewed yesterday by John W. Barker.

At another venue, at exactly the same time, the new early music vocal group Voces Aestatis made its Madison debut.

To give you an idea of that performance, The Ear welcomes another new reviewer -– Ann Boyer, a retired medical research librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a longtime member of the UW-Madison Choral Union.

Here is her review debut for The Well-Tempered Ear:

Ann Boyer

By Ann Boyer

The new Renaissance Choral group Voces Aestatis (Latin for Summer Voices) — all 13 of them, including director Ben Luedcke — delighted the 200 or so listeners who filled St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, on Regent Street, last Friday night. (Below is a photo of the choral group, minus Jerry Hui, the composer, singer and teacher who did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.)

Voces aestratis 1

They had rehearsed four times, we learned, but had been instructed to come prepared. They were professionals, and it showed.

Songs were arranged in thematic pairs or threes, the sacred songs reflecting such themes as the imperfection of humankind, the birth of Jesus (emphasizing Mary’s role), and the death of Jesus.

Composers included Michael Praetorius, De Victoria and Giovanni di Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons and Heinrich Schütz. A particularly beautiful song was one by Antonio Lotti (below)

Antonio Lotti

The second half of the program consisted of secular songs: the famous “Mille Regretz” (A Thousand Regrets) by Josquin des Prez (below and at bottom in a YouTube video performance by the famed Jordi Savall), sung sweetly and gently; the strange, expressionistic harmonies of Gesualdo and a work by Claudio Monteverdi with surprisingly erotic lyrics. A final pair of somber songs by Weelkes and Wilbye ended the program on a dark note, relieved by the encore: the chipper ”El Grillo” (The Grasshopper).

Josquin Des Prez

The group demonstrated fluidity of line, diction which varied from very clear to less so, good phrasing in particular songs, and good vocal blending. Towards the beginning the women’s voices seemed to dominate, but this corrected itself as the program continued.

The energy of director Ben Luedcke (below) – another UW-Madison graduate who was the music director of Lake Edge Lutheran Church and the founder-director of the Madison Summer Choir and who is completing a master’s degree at the University of Iowa — carried us all along.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

We hope that the group will reassemble next summer.


Classical music education: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) excels in its inspiring performances of Mozart, Barber and Shostakovich –- and gives us hope at a time when we really need it.

August 25, 2014
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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 for many years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

Hope for humanity is not always easy to conjure up these days. But last Friday night at Music Hall, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, brought me a genuine dollop of it, thanks to the concert by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below. Performance photos are by The Ear.)

MAYCO Aug. 2014 1

That came, in fact, despite the frustration of an infuriating schedule conflict with the debut performance by the new early music chamber choir Summer Voices the same evening. Even in summer, we have these train wrecks now — and always on weekends! Have we reached the point of such musical riches here that no one person can really catch all the worthy musical events any more?

MAYCO was founded in 2010 by Mikko Utevsky (below) as a “summer training orchestra” for local high school and college students — and, at the same time, as a kind of training program for himself in conducting (while just moving from high school to college himself).

Mikko Utevsky with baton

What he has accomplished over four seasons is little short of a miracle. Here are young musicians, looking like confident kids, but playing with adult skill and intensity. And Utevsky’s enterprise has prompted him to take on challenging examples of orchestral literature, with convincing success.

The program this time was a very engaging one.

It began with the beloved Overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, itself a musical miracle, and wrought by a precocious young musician at the end of his scant 36 years. It took a few measures for security to settle in, but the performance was spirited, well-gauged and thoroughly satisfying.

For this concert, the student orchestra had a vocal soloist. She was soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below left), herself a recent product of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music voice program, and currently studies with former UW-Madison professor soprano Julia Faulkner, who now teaches in the Ryan Center program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Miller and Utevsky discovered a shared love for Samuel Barber’s solo cantata, Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and arranged to have her perform it.

MAYCO 2014 Caitlin Ruby Miller and Mikko Uevsky

A gem of period nostalgia and childhood memories, contained in a text by James Agee, this work is one of the masterpieces of American vocal writing.

It proved ideal for Miller, whose full, ripe, beautiful soprano voice has been trained in careful diction, allowing her to escape a lot of the word-swallowing that afflicts the soprano range. The full text was printed in the program, but it was almost unnecessary, thanks to the very clear projection of the words by Miller (below). She was supported, in a slightly reduced chamber version of the orchestral score, with a very sensitive accompaniment, marked by truly beautiful woodwind playing.

MAYCO Aug. 2014 Caitlin Ruby Miller singing

As a treat, Miller sang an encore, the beguiling song “Early in the Morning of a Lovely Summer Day” by the 90-year-old contemporary American composer Ned Rorem (below, in a photo by Christian Steiner) in an orchestrated version — made by Utevsky himself. (You can hear the original version for voice and piano with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in a YouTube video at the bottom. Talk about diction!)

Ned Rorem CR christian steiner

After the intermission came perhaps the most demanding test for the orchestra players: the Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major by Dmitri Shostakovich (below). Composed in the aftermath of World War II, this is a piece of whimsy and of defiance to Soviet expectations — it brought the composer a raft of trouble and danger.

dmitri shostakovich

But its relatively brief five movements add up to a gem of Shostakovichian satire and sarcasm. It is full of theatrical suggestions, and its texture is as much that of chamber music as orchestral writing, with intimate interaction of sections and soloists.

The MAYCO players brought it off with real flair, under Utevsky’s amazingly expert direction. (And, by the way, he is a splendid writer as well, as his notes for the program booklet demonstrated.)

MAYCO Sug. 2014 violins

MAYCO Aug. 2014 cellos

MAYCO Aug. 2014 Shostakovich 9

Considering the fact that there could only be four or five rehearsals for each concert, it is astounding what this group of 42 gifted youngsters (only 19 of them string players) could bring off in the way of effective orchestral ensemble—even allowing for some rare blips and less than ultimate string polish.

MAYCO Aug. 2014 audience applauds

That our area alone could produce such talent is what has stirred my hope for humanity. Assuming, of course, that our country, in its currently muddled cultural condition, can find for these youngsters, as they mature, the jobs in which to make the careers they so richly deserve.

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Meet the Met. Here is a historical pop quiz about the Metropolitan Opera from NPR. But don’t grow complacent because the labor disputes are settled. Troubles are far from over, says one expert.

August 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Now that the labor strife is over and the new season at the Metropolitan Opera (below) will open on time after all, it is time to lighten up and shout out a bit.

Metropolitan Opera outdoors use Victor J. Blue NYT

But no one should be naïve. And no one should get too complacent. Even with the labor negotiations now settled, the future may not be so rosy for the Met, or for other big opera companies:

Here is a commentary in The Wall Street Journal by the acclaimed cultural historian Joseph Horowitz (below, speaking in Madison in 2011) who, you may recall, came to Madison to open the Pro Arte Quartet’s centennial celebration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison three years ago:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/joseph-horowitz-union-trouble-isnt-the-mets-only-problem-1407537082

Joseph Horowitz 2

Still, this season will go on, starting on Oct. 27 with Giuseppe Verdi‘s epic “Aida.” So to see how much you know about the Met –- The Ear finds that opera fans, like sports fans, are vast repositories of historical trivia and statistics.

Try this quiz, based on historical facts, about the Met that was posted by NPR (National Public Radio:

But a word of advice or warning: Make sure your speakers are turned on or use headphones, since sound is an integral part of the quiz:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/20/318464055/the-music-geek-s-met-opera-puzzler

Metropolitan Opera quiz Valkyries Ken Howard The Met

 


Classical music: Good news! The Metropolitan Opera season will open on time, now that it has settled disputes with its labor unions.

August 23, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

A week ago, The Ear offered readers an update on the labor strife at the Metropolitan Opera (below), which had been partially resolved.

The final results, and successful settlement, came in earlier this week.

And the news is good.

metropolitan opera 1

Here is a wrap-up of what happened from several major media outlets, plus a link to the Met so you can check into its various seasons and productions. 

Met from stage over pit

First, here is link to the back story about the first settlements between general director Peter Gelb (below top), who sought even bigger salary rollbacks, and the unions (below bottom):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/classical-music-the-shows-will-go-on-or-so-it-seems-as-the-metropolitan-opera-and-two-major-unions-reach-agreement/

Peter Gelb

Metropolitan Opera union members

Now here are links to three stories that wrap up the labor disputes and the final outcome:

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/21/arts/music/metropolitan-opera-labor-talks.html?_r=0

From The Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/metropolitan-opera-reaches-deal-with-stagehands-1408526766

From the Associated Press via Billboard magazine:

http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/6221948/metropolitan-opera-reaches-deal-with-stagehands-union

Last but not least, here is a link to the Met’s own website, where you can see the schedule of productions for the regular Met season -– which opens on Oct. 27 with Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” (below, the opera’s show-stoppping Act 2 Triumphal March from a 1989 Met Opera production in a YouTube video) –- and for the productions for “The Met Live in HD,” which are shown locally at the Eastgate and Point cinemas:

https://www.metopera.org/metopera/season/index.aspx?nav=top&gclid=Cj0KEQjw1NufBRCx8ayaqY2t6KkBEiQA2nLWm0XjHlAakMLoTzDM-NoyRoahceCgKqUcDjUgrwGFTjIaAvWB8P8HAQ


Classical music: Bach and the H-Bomb. The Ear celebrates five years of writing his blog by offering a poem about thermonuclear weapons, Edward Teller and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

August 22, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, marked the fifth anniversary of The Well-Tempered Ear blog, which this past June surpassed one million hits and now has over 1,800 daily posts and 6,200 comments. Thank you, all, for your loyalty and your participation. The results have exceeded my wildest expectations or hopes.

To mark the occasion, I thought I would do something different, something I have not done before: Offer a poem of my own from a personal project: A collection of poems I often write about the piano pieces that I am myself playing or listening to. Maybe a reader out there who likes the poem will know, or even be, a literary agent or a publisher of some kind who would be interested in seeing the poem, and others like it, reach a larger audience. The YouTube link at the bottom to the music in question adds a certain unusual attraction.

This particular poem is based on historical fact, but I have of course taken some liberties. It is like historical fiction, only in the form of poetry.

The poem concerns Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) and the late Hungarian-born and controversial theoretical physicist Dr. Edward Teller (1908-2003, below bottom), who was the model for Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick’s famous 1964 satirical movie of the same name. Teller developed the Atomic Bomb, created the Hydrogen Bomb and proposed Star Wars.

Bach1

Edward Teller

Here is a photo of the young Dr. Edward Teller, whose mother was an accomplished concert pianist, playing the Steinway piano that he bought at a hotel auction in Chicago, while his wife Mici looks on:

Edward Teller plays piano with wife MIci CR Jon BrenneisIf you wish to check out more biographical information, including his being named Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1960, here are some links:

http://www.webofstories.com/play/edward.teller/7;jsessionid=2C9ABDC3269E3F2ABC31706C137871EA

Here is a biography with a video clip at the bottom of the web page of Edward Teller playing the first movement, in an overheated manner, of the “Moonlight” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven at his home at Stanford University, California, in 1990, when he was 90 years old. He died there of a stroke at 95, two months after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush.

http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/tel0bio-1

At bottom is a link to a YouTube performance by Friedrich Gulda –- a famous jazz musician but also an important teacher of classical piano titan Martha Argerich — of the Bach prelude and fugue in question.

I hope you like the poem and find it rewarding. If you do, let me know, and perhaps I will post some more in the future.

Hydrogen Bomb

DR. EDWARD TELLER PLAYS BACH

By Jacob Stockinger

Late at night, when he is not in his lab
Building the world’s first atomic bomb,
Dr. Edward Teller is back in his barracks.
He thinks through his fingers
As he pedals with his fake right foot,
Practicing and playing on the century-old Steinway
He had shipped to the high New Mexico desert.

The physicist’s taste runs to Mozart and Beethoven.
But tonight he is working on Prelude and Fugue No. 8
In E-flat Minor and D-sharp Minor,
from Book I of Johann Sebastian Bach’s
The Well-Tempered Clavier.”

Since childhood, his mind has been held captive
By only two things: the music of mathematics
And the mathematics of music.

This slow, melodious and mournful
Music, he finds, is solidly, stolidly built.
The paired-up pieces match,
Mirror-like in their linkage
Like fission and fusion,
Like Bombs A and H.

Bach and bombs seem compatibly ingenious,
Old equations for a new beauty.
He likes how the main melody at the core
Radiates and grows, outward and inward,
Down and up, across treble and bass.
The multiple voices echo in a chain reaction of sound,
Like the counterpoint of nuclei and electrons,
And the dialogue of chalkboard equations.

The transparent thickness of Baroque beauty
Suits his scientific bent and emotional need,
His taste for a stately and elegant destruction
In which he can lose himself and others.

He knows that the two pieces remain something of a mystery,
The only ones Bach wrote in those keys,
Obscure keys that no one used back then.
But rarity equals a kind of originality
and that attracts Teller, who is still thinking up
“The Super,” his own word for an even
more powerful thermonuclear device.

That is what he now calls apocalyptic energy,
When he is not playing Bach.

And especially when he is.

© Jacob Stockinger

 


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