ALERT: The Ear’s friend and radio host colleague Rich Samuels writes: “I’ll be airing the performance of Felix Mendelssohn‘s Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, by the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) on this Thursday morning (Dec. 31) at 7:14 on my “Anything Goes” broadcast on WORT-FM 88.9. (It was recorded July 31, 2015 by WORT at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church). I think this was the high point of the ensemble’s inaugural season. It’s nice to know WSCP will be back next summer and that they have a special event scheduled on Jan. 23 and 24.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Both organizations are outstanding friends of classical music, although sometimes The Ear wishes there was more music and fewer British mysteries — which this year interfere with arts programming and push music broadcasts later.
NEW YEAR’S EVE
On Thursday night from 10 to 11:30 p.m., Wisconsin Public Television will air an all-French program from New York City with Alan Gilbert (below top) conducting the New York Philharmonic and guest soloist mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (below bottom). “Live From Lincoln Center” will broadcast “La Vie Parisienne” (Parisian Life) program includes music by Jacques Offenbach and Camille Saint-Saens.
The Ear likes the program and wonders if it was decided before or after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.
However, The Ear is very disappointed by the late hour of the airing. It would be better if young people and children could hear and see it. He would much prefer prime-time broadcasts from 8 to 9:30 p.m. or maybe 9 to 10:30 p.m.
What do readers think?
NEW YEAR’S DAY
On Friday morning from 10 a.m. to noon, Wisconsin Public Radio will air a broadcast from Vienna’s Golden Hall (below) of “New Year’s Concert From Vienna,” with waltzes and polkas by the Strauss family as well as some other music.
This is the 75th anniversary of the event that will be broadcast to more than 90 countries and seen by some 50 million people. It is billed as the world’s largest classical music event.
Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons, who leads the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and appears regularly with major orchestras around the world, is returning for his third stint as the conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic for this program.
Here is a link with more information, which is hard and confusing to find on the website (look under Seasonal Programming, not the regular schedule):
In the afternoon from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and in the evening form 10 to 11:30 p.m., the 32nd annual television version of “Great Performances” will be broadcast by Wisconsin Public Television. Actress Julie Andrews (below) returns to host for the seventh time, and dancers from the Vienna State Ballet will be featured along with great landscape shots of Vienna and its historical landmarks.
And of course there will be the final clap-along encore: The Radetzky March, which you can hear conducted by Daniel Barenboim in a YouTube video at the bottom.
Once again, The Ear recalls that it used to air at a much earlier, more family-friendly hour.
For more information, go to:
Maybe next year will see earlier broadcast times and more information about the programs and broadcast’s duration on the web and the regular radio schedule.
By Jacob Stockinger
It’s officially winter.
Christmas and other holidays except New Year’s are over or close to over.
Winter break is taking place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other schools.
All that makes it a good time to see movies.
So there The Ear was, sitting in one of the cinemas at Sundance 608 on the near west wide in Hilldale Mall.
Before the movie and the previews began, lovely piano music was playing.
What is that? someone asked quietly.
The Ear wishes that maybe Sundance could find a way to show the composer, work and performer on some section of the screen that also shows advertisements.
Anyway, this time it was a beautiful but rarely heard piece that The Ear recognized right away.
It is a gorgeously poignant Romantic piece by an accomplished Russian musician and pianist.
It is so hauntingly beautiful.
And it is useful as well.
It is really the same piece of music repeated twice. That makes it serve as a small and slow etude, a study in voicing of first the right hand and then the left hand.
The piece also makes the player coordinate and strengthen the fourth and fifth fingers on the right hand, and execute wide 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 endless sixteenth notes — the stream that the word “Bach” means in German. What a fitting name for the composer whose flow of music was endless!
All in all, it is a great little miniature that deserves to be learned and performed more frequently. It has even been used by some major piano competition winners as a calming change-of-pace piece, a way to get into or out of the zone.
Just listen to it in the hands of a master, as the late Emil Gilels plays it in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where Siloti himself was a teacher of the famous pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (who is seen below on the right with Siloti on the left).
First, here is the Bach original played by Glenn Gould:
And here is the live performance of Siloti’s reworking and transcription 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?
Other classical music you hear in movie theaters?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friends at the Madison Symphony Orchestra have asked for the following announcement to be posted.
The Ear is more than happy to do so. For one, he believes in the lifelong benefits of music education as it applies to many other fields and to learning and life enhancement in general by fostering creativity and imagination. Just listen to the Australian music educator talking about the benefits of music education in the YouTube video at the bottom.
A lifelong teacher himself, The Ear also thinks that these days teachers are getting an undeserved bad rap from state and national politicians – especially Republicans – who are looking for scapegoats to blame for their own bad stewardship and inadequate funding of public education.
Here is the announcement:
The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO), in partnership with Ward-Brodt Music, is accepting nominations for its Award for Excellence in Music Education to one outstanding music educator in southern Wisconsin.
Nominations will be accepted until January 15, 2016 and the nomination form can be found on the Madison Symphony website.
For more information visit: http://madisonsymphony.org/award
Cultivating the artistic growth of young students is one of the most unique and challenging jobs for teachers in Wisconsin.
Recognizing this challenge, the Award for Excellence in Music Education is intended to salute and honor one outstanding individual who displays leadership, passion, dedication, and innovation within the music classroom, positively affecting the lives of her or his students and the community at large.
The award will consist of a commemorative plaque and a $500 prize, to be presented at the recipient’s school.
These prizes have been made possible through the generosity of Ward-Brodt Music of Madison, Wisconsin.
To be qualified, the nominee must teach within a 75-mile radius of Madison in a public or private K-12 school and instruct a band, orchestra, choir or general music course.
Colleagues, current or former students, parents of students, or friends can nominate a music educator for the award.
The review panel will consist of representatives from public and private school administration, teachers, university staff, community members and one MSO representative. (For the sake of full disclosure, The Ear should announce that he has also accepted an invitation to serve on the panel.)
By Jacob Stockinger
By now most of the Christmas gifts have been bought, given and opened.
And soon the gift cards will be spent.
So how commercial is the holiday?
And how does one return to the true meaning of the holiday?
Those were the issues that composer and librettist Mark Adamo set out to explore in his new opera ‘Becoming Claus,” which recently received its world premiere at the Dallas Opera, where it was commissioned. (You can hear Mark Adamo discuss how he became an opera composer in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
It might interest local readers especially because the Madison Opera will stage Mark Adamo’s opera version of Louisa May Alcott‘s “Little Women” on Feb. 5 and 7 in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.
Here is a link to more information about that local production:
In fact, perhaps the new chamber opera (below) will one day be staged in Madison, where its message would be sure to resonate.
By Jacob Stockinger
Not many arts figures get to achieve what German conductor Kurt Masur (below) did in his lifetime.
He was credited with turning in great performances of great classical repertoire with many of the world’s greatest orchestras.
He was credited with reviving the artistic stature of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
And he was credited with helping to peacefully bring down the Berlin Wall and reunite East Germany and West Germany.
Quite the legacy!
A week ago, on Dec. 19 in Greenwich, Conn., Kurt Masur died at 88 of complications from Parkinson’s disease, from which he had been suffering for a long time.
That same day, Wisconsin Public Radio played some recordings by Kurt Masur. The Ear praises such news tie-ins and thanks WPR for being so on the ball. It is a model of timely radio programming and makes classic music more urgent and relevant.
Here are two obituaries for Kurt Masur.
The first is from The New York Times:
And here, in a YouTube video, is one of the performances for which he will be most remembered and which seems particularly fitting on his death: The “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms that he conducted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Christmas Day 2015.
The Ear has only a few words, but a lot of music, to offer.
First, he wants to thank all his readers for the ongoing gift of their eyes, ears and attention as well as their comments.
In return, The Ear is offering his readers his favorite Christmas music.
It is performed superbly below in a YouTube video by Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists in a superb performance that comes from their worldwide Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.
Listen to it for the energetic and brassy opening movement.
Listen to it for various other wonderful moments, including the lovely Sinfonia.
Listen to it for the gorgeous solo and choral singing.
Listen to it in its entirety or in parts.
Stream it on or around Christmas Day.
But listen to it, now or later, especially if you don’t already know it.
And be sure to let us know in the COMMENT section what your favorite piece of Christmas music is.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting that is perfect for Christmas Eve. It is 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 12 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.
By John W. Barker
On last Saturday night, at the fully filled Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, director Robert Gehrenbeck led the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) through a program that managed blessedly to combine the seasonal with the musically substantial.
The program was constructed with very great insight and imagination, around the Magnificat, the hymn in the Gospel of St. Luke that the Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth are supposed to have improvised during their Visitation.
The Latin version is probably, with the exception of passages from the Mass Ordinary,, the most frequently set of all liturgical texts, given its varied utilities — not only for Advent celebrations but as the culminating part of the Office of Vespers.
Of the absolutely innumerable settings made of this text and its counterparts through the ages, Gehrenbeck (below) – who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater — selected six versions, mingling them among related musical works. The program was organized in six segments, three given before intermission, three after.
An initial German segment was dominated by the Deutsches Magnificat, which uses Martin Luther’s translation, a late and very great Baroque masterpiece for double choir by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672).
That was supplemented with a five-voice motet by Johannes Eccard (1553-1611) that absorbs some of the Magnificat imagery, and a textually unrelated double-choir German motet by the post-Baroque Gottfried Homilius (1714-1785) — a piece that reminded me strikingly of the neo-polyphonic style that Johannes Brahms would develop a century later for his own motets.
Johann Sebastian Bach found his place with three of the four Advent texts that the composer inserted in the original E-flat version of his Latin Magnificat setting. One of those adapts the chorale Vom Himmel hoch (From Heaven High), so the three were prefaced by a chorale-prelude for organ by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) that elaborates on that hymn. (NOTE: Bach’s lovely full choral version of the Magnificat can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom. It features conductor John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and period instruments played in historically informed performances.)
Then we had settings of the Latin text.
First, one that alternates plainchant on the odd-numbered verses with organ elaborations by Johann Erasmus Kindermann (1616-1655) on the even ones.
Second, we had a full setting by the late-Baroque Czech composer, Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), with a skeletal “orchestra” reduced to oboe, violin and cello played beautifully by, respectively, Andy Olson, a graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, who works at Epic and who has performed with the Middleton Community Orchestra; Laura Burns of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and Eric Miller of the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble.
A clever venture was made into Orthodox Christian treatments of the text in Church Slavonic. The full text in that form was given not in one of the more standard Russian Orthodox settings, but in a highly romanticized treatment by César Cui (1835-1918), a member of the “Mighty Five” group.
This was supplemented with beautiful settings of the Bogoróditse devo and the Dostóyno yest hymns of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, both of which paraphrase parts of Luke’s text: the former composed by the Estonian modernist Arvo Pärt (below, b.1935), the latter by the Russian Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998).
English-language treatments finally came with one of the settings by Herbert Howells (1892-1983) of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis pairing that is standard in the Anglican church. This was prefaced by a simple organ elaboration by John Ireland (1879-1962) of an unrelated English Christmas song.
The final group drew back from the Magnificat motif by presenting two works each of two contemporary American composers who, for their time, are able to write with lovely and idiomatic results for chorus: Peter Bloesch (below top, b. 1963) and Stephen Paulus (below bottom, 1949-2014).
Each was represented by an arrangement and an original piece. Paulus’ treatment of the traditional “We Three Kings” carol went with his setting of a charming poem by Christina Rosetti (slightly suggestive of what Gian-Carlo Menotti portrayed in his opera Amahl and the Night Visitors).
Bloetsch’s elaboration of an old French Christmas song was balanced with his lovely setting of a 15th-century poem that does vaguely hint at some verbiage of the Magnificat after all. Both works by Bloetsch, who was in the audience, received their world premieres.
The 53-voice choir sounded superb: beautifully balanced, precise, sonorous and often simply thrilling. Along the way, four women from the ranks delivered solo parts handsomely. Mark Brampton Smith (below) was organist and pianist as needed.
It proved a superlative seasonal offering, in all, organized with a rationale that was both ingenious and illuminating.
For more information about the Wisconsin Chamber Choir and its future concerts, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
Time is running out for Christmas and holiday shopping.
But there may still be time to either find a gift in a local store or to use that gift card you will receive.
The list, posted a bit late in the shopping season this year, runs from early music through mainstream classics to contemporary music, including John Adams‘ Beethoven-like work “Absolute Jest” (the origins of which you can hear John Adams discuss in the YouTube video at the bottom):
You can hear samples on the website:
And here are the previous five gift-giving guides that The Ear has posted:
And an overall gift guide from The New York Times that was published around Thanksgiving on Black Friday:
And the 2015 Grammy nominations:
Even if you don’t use these listings to buy gifts for others or yourself, they will give up some idea of what happened in the world of classical music recordings during the past year.
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 12 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.
By John W. Barker
Happily avoiding all the holiday falderal this month, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) gave Ludwig Beethoven a slightly delayed birthday tribute in the form of an unusual concert program on last Friday night that drew a full house.
Led by the bold and enterprising conductor Steve Kurr (below center), the orchestra plunged straightway into no less than Beethoven’s epochal Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica.”
NOTE: For more background, here is a link to The Ear’s interview with Steve Kurr about this program:
The 50-minute long “Eroica” is a work that transformed the symphonic genre, and it continues to challenge performers. Provocative sounds, passages of complex counterpoint and assertions of tonal power—all these call for a disciplined and confident performance.
Kurr brought that off handsomely, to his and his players’ great credit. I had the feeling that he asked of these players more than they had first thought they could give, and he drew it out of them, to their obvious pride and satisfaction.
To be sure, there were some occasional smudges here and there, but the ensemble standards were otherwise consistently high. I am always interested to hear, in an orchestra that does not have overwhelming strings, the more balanced audibility of the winds, especially the woodwinds.
Here it was the brass (complete with four horns) that offered particular heroics. At times Kurr perhaps allowed them too much freedom when only filling out chords; but where they deserved prominence they sounded magnificent—notably in the scherzo’s trio section. In all, the overall mix really brought out the daring use by Beethoven (below) of pungent dissonances and harmonic shocks.
Kurr took the opening movement at a particularly brisk speed, while the second movement, the profound funeral march, was paced much more slowly than most conductors would take it — but to truly eloquent effect. (You can hear the astonishing Funeral March movement performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
I found the symphony’s finale sometimes was given a rather foursquare quality, but the enthusiasm maintained momentum.
It was a difficult act to follow. But the choice of the other item on the program was a brilliant one, bringing us a remarkable Beethoven work that is rarely ever heard in concerts.
How often can an orchestra afford to assemble a brilliant pianist, six vocal soloists and a chorus — all for one 25-minute work? But those are the demands of Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy,” a product of a time when concerts often brought together a whole circus of performers.
In a special way, this novelty made a perfect pairing with the “Eroica.” In the two works, we catch Beethoven in his two great instances of self-borrowing to the end of evolving perfection.
The finale of the “Eroica” was the fourth and final destination for a set of variations on a contradance tune. In its turn, the Fantasy, after opening with an improvisatory exercise for the pianist, turns into a concerto-like set of variations on a tune, which is finally taken up by solo vocalists and then the chorus.
The brilliant and versatile Thomas Kasdorf (below), a familiar soloist around these parts who was raised in Middleton and studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — was the energetic pianist.
Six young singers were the solo battery, and a corporal’s guard from the Madison Symphony Chorus (below top and bottom) provided the brief but telling final justification for calling this a “Choral Fantasy.”
(The singers, below but not in order, were sopranos Allison Vollinger and Kirsten Larson; alto Jessica Lee Kasinski; tenor Richard Statz; baritone Gavon Waid; and bass Robert Dindorff.)
The orchestra played its role with gusto, and it’s wonderful how, by the end, it almost sounds as if we are moving into the Ninth Symphony.
This was an exhilarating concert, and a wonderful achievement for all involved.