The Well-Tempered Ear

Which classical composer has helped you the most during the Covid-19 pandemic?

January 4, 2021
6 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

The holidays are over and as we close in on marking a year of the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, The Ear has a question:

Which composer has helped you the most to weather the pandemic so far?

The Ear wishes he could say Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin or Brahms. And the truth is that they all played a role, some more than others.

But The Ear was surprised by the composer whose works he most listened to and liked — Antonio Vivaldi (below), the Red Priest of Venice who lived from 1678 to 1714 and taught at a Roman Catholic girls school.

Here is more about his biography, which points out that his work was neglected for two centuries and began being rediscovered only in the early 20th-century and still continues being rediscovered to the present day: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Vivaldi

The Ear isn’t talking about popular The Four Seasons although that set of 12 solo violin concertos has its charms and originalities.

The Ear especially appreciated the lesser-known concertos for two violins and the cello concertos, although the concertos for bassoon, flute, recorder, oboe, lute, trumpet and mandolin also proved engaging, as did the concerto grosso.

It was the 20th-century composer Igor Stravinsky (below) – the modern pioneer of neo-Classicism — who complained that Vivaldi rewrote the same concerto 500 times. “Vivaldi,” Stravinsky once said, “is greatly overrated – a dull fellow who could compose the same form many times over.”

But then did anyone turn to Stravinsky – who, The Ear suspects, was secretly envious — when they needed music as medicine or therapy during the pandemic? 

Vivaldi was, in fact, a master. See and hear for yourself.  In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear a performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in G minor, RV 535,  performed by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.

Why Vivaldi? You might ask.

Well, it’s nothing highbrow.

The best explanation is that Vivaldi’s music simply seems like caffeine for the ears and sunshine for the eyes. His music isn’t overly introspective or glum, and it isn’t too long or melodramatic.

The melodies and harmonies are always pleasing and energizing, and the tempi are just right, although bets are that the music is much harder to play than it sounds.

In short, Vivaldi’s extroverted music is infectious and appealing because it just keeps humming along — exactly as those of us in lockdown and isolation at home have had to do.

Happily, there are a lot of fine recordings of Vivaldi by period instrument groups from England, Italy and Germany and elsewhere that use historically informed performance practices. But some the most outstanding recordings are by modern instrument groups, which should not be overlooked.

With a few exceptions – notably Wisconsin Public Radio – you don’t get to hear much Vivaldi around here, especially in live performances, even from early music and Baroque ensembles. If you hear Vivaldi here, chances are it is The Four Seasons or the Gloria. Should there be more Vivaldi? Will we hear more Vivaldi when live concerts resume? That is a topic for another time.

In the meantime, The Ear wants to know:

Which composer did you most listen to or find most helpful throughout the pandemic?

Leave your choice in the comment section with, if possible, a YouTube link to a favorite work and an explanation about why you liked that composer and work.

The Ear wants to hear.

Thank you and Happy New Year!

 


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Classical music: Four “passion” chorales by J.S. Bach are perfect music to mark Easter and Passover. What music would you choose?

April 5, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend both Easter and Passover are being celebrated.

Perhaps the earliest Easter music I heard was by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), the so-called “Passion Chorale” from the St. Matthew Passion.

Back then it seemed perfect music for the occasion.

It still does.

I suspect it always will.

It reaches into your heart and soul like no other music, even if you are not religious.

Bach1

It doesn’t matter whether it is the crucifixion of Jesus or the bondage of the Israelites under the Egyptians, the music suits the occasion of portraying the suffering some people inflict on other people.

That old music seems all the more timely, given the new religious conflicts and religion-based terrorism the world now confronts.

And now along comes a genius-like a cappella setting by Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe (below), who combines four different settings into a single work that is profoundly moving.

philippe herreweghe conbducting

Here it is, at the bottom in a YouTube video.

Listen for the glorious dissonances and the lovely part-singing.

Choral music just doesn’t get better, or more empathetic and compassionate.

Listen to it and tell me what you think.

Also tell us what music you prefer to mark this weekend’s spiritual and religious holidays.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover.


Classical music: The classical music nominations for the 2013 Grammy Awards can provide a helpful holiday gift shopping guide. Part 2 of 2.

December 9, 2012
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

On Wednesday night, the nominations for the 55th annual Grammy Awards, to be awarded in early 2013, were announced and posted. The actual air time on the TV show goes to the more popular genres such as rock, pop, hip-hop, country and the like.

You can tell that by the numbers listed next to the various classical categories, numbers that I left in. They are a good indication of the priority of classical music to The Industry.

But as I have done in past years, I will post this list in two installments over the weekend. The nominations can help guide you to some fine holiday gifts for classical buffs. And shopping, whether in brick-and-mortar stores or on the Internet, will be in high gear this weekend and for the next several weekends, I imagine.

Grammy

I won’t provide a lot of commentary on the Grammy nominations, although I will provide more detail commentary by other critics and bloggers as they appear.

But I will remark on how the Grammys seem to be getting further and further away from standard composers and works.

Similarly, the Grammys seem to be focusing on smaller and less well-known labels. Many of which are the in-house labels of the performing organizations. Of course, that is also a trend in the recording industry, and the Grammys exist to promote the recording industry.

The final awards will be announced live on Feb. 10, 2013 at 8 p.m. EST on the CBS network.

You can also find the complete list of nominations and, later, winners at www.grammy.com

Any comments or advice to others you can provide about the nominees would be appreciated. Just use the COMMENT section.

So, maestro, a drum roll, please! Here is part 2 of 2:

 72. BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

Adams: Harmonielehre & Short Ride In A Fast Machine: Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony); [SFS Media]

Mahler: Symphony No. 1: Iván Fischer, conductor (Budapest Festival Orchestra); [Channel Classics]

Music For A Time Of War: Carlos Kalmar, conductor (Oregon Symphony); [PentaTone Classics] (below)

Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances: Valery Gergiev, conductor (London Symphony Orchestra); [LSO Live]

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 5: Osmo Vänskä, conductor (Minnesota Orchestra); [BIS]

Music in a Time of War

73. BEST OPERA RECORDING

Berg: Lulu: Michael Boder, conductor; Paul Groves, Ashley Holland, Julia Juon & Patricia; Petibon; Johannes Müller, producer (Symphony Orchestra Of The Gran Teatre Del Liceu); [Deutsche Grammophon]

Handel: Agrippina; René Jacobs, conductor; Marcos Fink, Sunhae Im, Bejun Mehta, Alexandrina; Pendatchanska & Jennifer Rivera (Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin); [Harmonia Mundi]

Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress; Vladimir Jurowski, conductor; Topi Lehtipuu, Miah Persson & Matthew Rose; Johannes Müller, producer (London Philharmonic Orchestra; Glyndebourne Chorus); [Opus Arte]

Vivaldi: Teuzzone: Jordi Savall, conductor; Delphine Galou, Paolo Lopez, Roberta Mameli, Raffaella; Milanesi & Furio Zanasi (Le Concert Des Nations); [Naïve Classique]

Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen: James Levine & Fabio Luisi, conductors; Hans-Peter König, Jay Hunter Morris, Bryn Terfel & Deborah Voigt; Jay David Saks, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus); [Deutsche Grammophon] (below)

Wagner Ring DG Levine Luisi

74. BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

Handel: Israel In Egypt: Julian Wachner, conductor (Trinity Baroque Orchestra; Trinity Choir Wall Street); [Musica Omnia]

Life & Breath – Choral Works By René Clausen; Charles Bruffy, conductor (Matthew Gladden, Lindsey Lang, Rebecca Lloyd, Sarah Tannehill & Pamela Williamson; Kansas City Chorale); [Chandos]

Ligeti: Requiem; Apparitions; San Francisco Polyphony. Peter Eötvös, conductor (Barbara Hannigan & Susan Parry; WDR Sinfonieorchester; Köln; SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart & WDR Rundfunkchor Köln); [BMC] (below)

The Nightingale. Stephen Layton, conductor (Michala Petri; Danish National Vocal Ensemble); [OUR Recordings]

Striggio: Mass For 40 & 60 Voices. Hervé Niquet, conductor (Le Concert Spirituel); [Glossa]

Ligeti San Francisco

75. BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

Americana. Modern Mandolin Quartet; [Sono Luminus]

Meanwhile. Eighth Blackbird. [Cedille Records] (below)

Mind Meld. ZOFO Duet; [Sono Luminus]

Profanes Et Sacrées. Boston Symphony Chamber Players; BSO Classics]

Rupa-Khandha. Los Angeles Percussion Quartet; [Sono Luminus].

Meanwhile eighth blackbird

76. BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Clavier. András Schiff; [ECM New Series] (below)

The Complete Harpsichord Works Of Rameau. Jory Vinikour; [Sono Luminus]

Gál & Elgar: Cello Concertos. Claudio Cruz, conductor; Antonio Meneses (Northern Sinfonia); [AVIE Records]

Holst: The Planets. Hansjörg Albrecht; [Oehms Classics]

Kurtág & Ligeti: Music For Viola. Kim Kashkashian; [ECM New Series]

Schiff Bach WTC ECM

77. BEST VOCAL SOLO

Debussy: Clair De Lune. Natalie Dessay (Henri Chalet; Philippe Cassard, Karine Deshayes & Catherine Michel; Le Jeune Coeur De Paris); [Virgin Classics]

Homecoming – Kansas City Symphony Presents Joyce DiDonato. Joyce DiDonato (Michael Stern; Kansas City Symphony); [Kansas City Symphony]

Paris Days, Berlin Nights. Ute Lemper (Stefan Malzew & Vogler Quartet); [Steinway & Sons]

Poèmes. Renée Fleming (Alan Gilbert & Seiji Ozawa; Orchestre National De France & Orchestre Philharmonique De Radio France); [Decca Records] (below)

Sogno Barocco. Anne Sofie Von Otter (Leonardo García Alarcón; Sandrine Piau & Susanna Sundberg; Ensemble Cappella Mediterranea); [Naïve Classique]

renee fleming poemes

78. BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM 

Partch: Bitter Music. Partch Ensemble; John Schneider, producer. [Bridge Records, Inc.]

Penderecki: Fonogrammi; Horn Concerto; Partita; The Awakening Of Jacob; Anaklasis. Antoni Wit, conductor; Aleksandra Nagórko & Andrzej Sasin, producers; [Naxos]

Une Fête Baroque. Emmanuelle Haïm, conductor; Daniel Zalay, producer; [Virgin Classics] (below)

Fete Baroque

79. BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

Hartke, Stephen: Meanwhile – Incidental Music To Imaginary Puppet Plays. Stephen Hartke, composer (Eighth Blackbird); Track from: Meanwhile; [Cedille Records]

León, Tania: Inura For Voices, Strings & Percussion. Tania León, composer (Tania León, Son Sonora Voices, DanceBrazil Percussion & Son Sonora Ensemble); Track from: In Motion; [Albany Records].

Praulins, Ugis: The Nightingale. Ugis Praulins, composer (Stephen Layton, Michala Petri & Danish National Vocal Ensemble); Track from: The Nightingale; [OUR Recordings]

Rautavaara, Einojuhani: Cello Concerto No. 2 ‘Towards The Horizon’. Einojuhani Rautavaara, composer (Truls Mørk, John Storgårds & Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra); Track from: Rautavaara: Modificata; Percussion Concerto ‘Incantations’; Cello Concerto No. 2 ‘Towards The Horizon’; [Ondine]

Stucky, Steven: August 4, 1964. Steven Stucky, composer; Gene Scheer, librettist (Jaap Van Zweden, Dallas; Symphony Chorus & Orchestra); [DSO Live] (below)

Steve Stucky Aug. 4, 1964


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