The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz explains Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade,” which she will perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend in concerts that also feature Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

May 7, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear supposes that Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade for violin and orchestra  qualifies as program music since it aims to translate Plato’s famous dialogue about love — “Symposium” — into music. (At the bottom, is a YouTube video of Joshua Bell performing the work with the New York Philharmonic under conductor Alan Gilbert in 2013.)

This much is sure. The 1954 work by Bernstein — to be performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) — is part of what makes this weekend’s one of the most interesting programs, maybe THE most interesting, of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

The combination of Romantic and post-WW II modern music includes the performance of a major symphony that is beloved around the world: the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, also known as the “Choral” and Ode to Joy” symphony.

That was the symphony that Leonard Bernstein himself famously conducted in Germany to celebrate to fall of the Berlin Wall. So, what better offering is there to accompany it than something composed by Bernstein?

(John DeMain talked about the Beethoven symphony in a Q&A here earlier this week. Here is a link to that post: )

Love and joy: Can there be a better way to finish out a season?

The program will be performed under the baton of longtime MSO music director John DeMain, who studied and worked with Leonard Bernstein. It will feature the Madison Symphony Chorus, as prepared by MSO assistant conductor Beverly Taylor, who heads the UW-Madison choral department.

Guest vocal soloists are: soprano Melody Moore; contralto Gwendolyn Brown; tenor Eric Barry; and bass Morris Robinson.

Performances are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Times are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12-$84.

For details, go to or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, including audio samples and a link to program notes by MSO bass trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen, visit:

Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A about Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” with The Ear:

Naha Greenholtz profile

How would you compare Leonard Bernstein’s work to the great historical violin concertos by Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius? What about to modern and contemporary violin concertos by, say, Samuel Barber and Philip Glass, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich? Are there any you would draw parallels or contrasts to?

The five-movement format in Bernstein’s “Serenade” differentiates it substantially from some of the 18th and 19th century classics. While there’s no literal program, there is the suggestion of a basic narrative in Bernstein’s re-imagination of Plato’s communal dialogue. This element alone connects the work more closely to the late 19th and 20th century sub-genre of “program music.” (Below is a portrait of Leonard Bernstein composing at the piano in 1955, around the time of the “Serenade.”)

In its familiar tonal language — combing modal and traditional harmonic elements — it has some resemblance to the Barber concerto. I don’t think middle-of-the-century American composers like Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein were consciously adhering to style parameters.

That said, there is a distinctive “American-ness” to their works.  Much the same way music by Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev has a “Russian” sound, without necessarily being nationalistic.  It’s subtler than that.  It is more like these composers shared some common aesthetic DNA due to their national and cultural origins.

Leonard Bernstein composing in 1955

Where do you place it among Bernstein’s body of works? Is he generally underappreciated as a composer compared to his work as a conductor and his music for the Broadway theater?

To the latter question, this is certainly true.  He was such a charismatic public figure in music, especially in his work as an educator, conductor and composer of popular music. In light of this, I think his remarkable contributions to “art” music are easily overlooked.

In the Serenade he manages to blend many stylistic elements.  I hear the Devil’s Dance from Igor Stravinsky’s “Histoire du Soldat” and, in the fourth movement, glimpses of Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.  The instrumentation is a nod to Bela Bartok in his “Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste” and the tonal language shows Paul Hindemith’s influence.

But despite all of that, Bernstein’s unique language is apparent within the first five seconds of the piece when the rising augmented 4th resolves up a half step.  That’s what is so remarkable about Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell) — he manages to blend disparate elements of other great artists without losing his own intrinsic style.

Leonard Bernstein CR Jack Mitchell

How does Bernstein express the idea of Platonic dialogue?

Each of the movements is loosely based on the themes of the seven speakers in the work by Plato (below is an ancient sculptural depiction of the philosopher). The concerto begins with the soloist alone in a rhetorical statement and the piece unfolds as each orator presents his perspective on the topic of love. By the end of the fifth movement, drinking seems to have taken over the gathering, leading to a thrilling depiction of a boisterous dinner party.


How is the idea of love as a carnal and spiritual subject that the guests discuss get expressed?

On describing the duality of love, as a force that cuts both ways, Bernstein is explicit. For example in the third movement Erixymathus, he uses the soloist and orchestra as warring factions. The orchestra explodes with a three-note jab. Then the soloist introduces a quasi-tone row that’s passed back and forth with contrasting intensity. Further into the movement, he piles these themes on top of each other in a frenetic fugue that expresses the mystery and ecstasy of love.

In contrast, the next movement Agathon features the same three-note motive that opened the previous movement, but stretched to 10 times its initial length, utterly transforming it into a spiritual and intimate aria. Bernstein does this all over the piece, taking material from previous movements and showing them in a new light. (Below is a fresco depiction of the Symposium.)

Fresco of Symposium USE

What do you think of the work itself and how its fits with Beethoven’s Ninth? Have you played it before or is it new to you?

Until last year I’d only known the Serenade by recording, so I was thrilled when John suggested we perform it here with the MSO.

It’s strangely neglected in the solo violin repertoire. Maybe that is because of the unconventional five-movement format, or that the title “after Plato’s Symposium”   is somehow intimidating or off-putting.

It’s clearly one of Bernstein’s great orchestral works and is a firework of a showpiece for the violin. As far as pairing with Beethoven’s Ninth, the themes of brotherhood and platonic love feature prominently in both works.

How challenging is it to play and what are the challenges both technically and interpretively? What would you like the audience to pay special attention to?

I find all music challenging. Mozart is simpler in terms of notes and patterns than, say, Shostakovich or Bernstein, but in its own way it is just as hard to play and requires just as much diligent work to pull off.

The Bernstein is full of musical challenges and requires lots of imagination and characterization to communicate the narrative of Plato’s dialogue.

That being said, it’s a major 20th-century solo work so it’s also chock full of technical hurdles. Isaac Stern (below, in 1977) – for whom this piece was written — has left us fingering and bowing suggestions, so I know the thorny passages are at least theoretically possible!

Isaac Stern in 1979

In any event, I’m really looking forward to these performances and think these will be fantastic concerts for anyone who loves great music.


Classical music: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor Marin Alsop lends her late parents’ valuable violin and cello as living memorials to them and as a way to help musicians in her orchestra.

February 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps you have read about the rapidly escalating cost of great musical instruments.

That puts a lot of younger or less well-known, cash-strapped players in a difficult spot.

For quite a while, banks and other financial institutions as well as museums and historical institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution have been putting the investment-quality instruments on loan to younger players whose playing deserves the instrument.

But individuals can do so too.

Take the case of the pioneering conductor Marin Alsop (below), a protégée of Leonard Bernstein who now heads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Sao Paulo State Symphony in Brazil, and who is being mentioned as a prominent candidate to follow Alan Gilbert when he steps downs from the podium of the New York Philharmonic in 2017.

Marin Alsop

When both her parents, who were distinguished professional musicians, died last year, they left behind valuable string instruments — a violin and a cello.


Cello and bow

Alsop didn’t want to sell the instruments.

But she also didn’t want them to lie unused and defeat their original purpose.

So Alsop (below, in a photo by Gabriella Dumczek of The New York Times) decided to turn the violin and cello into living memorials by placing them on loan with players in her Baltimore orchestra -– a move that has benefitted everyone and the instruments as well.

Here is a story from The New York Times:

It gives you ideas about what might be done on the local level, where some very fine instruments – including pianos — could benefit some very young but very fine local players who otherwise couldn’t afford to have them.

Marin Alsop  2015 CR Gabriella Demczuk NYT

Classical music: Here are the best classical recordings of 2014 from The New York Times, The New Yorker magazine and The Boston Globe as well as NPR.

December 20, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is the last weekend for holiday shipping before Christmas, and retailers expect today to be even bigger and busier than Black Friday.

But whether you go to a local brick-and-mortar store such as Barnes & Noble or use the Internet, there is still time to order and receive such items as gifts.

Plus, whether you are looking for a gift for someone else or for what to buy with that gift card or cash you receive, perhaps you will find the following lists convenient and helpful.

The three lists are compilations of the Best Classical Music Recordings of 2014, even if they appear a bit late. (I seem to recall that these lists appeared closer to Thanksgiving or Black Friday in past years, but I could be wrong.)

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

The first list, a long one, comes from the various critics at The New York Times:

It covers solo instruments, vocal music, operas, orchestral music, chamber music – you name it.

The second list from a critic for The Boston Globe:

The third list comes from ace music critic and prize-winner Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker Magazine. He names 20 different recordings along with 10 memorable live events from the concert scene in New York City.

Alex Ross 2

The Ear finds it interesting how many agreements there are about certain composers, works and performers – such as the haunting, 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning work “Become Ocean” by the contemporary American composer John Luther Adams (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the Schubert recording by British pianist Paul Lewis (below middle) in late music by Franz Schubert or Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic in two symphonies by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

John Luther Adams

Paul Lewis

Here is a link to a previous Top 10 Best of 2014 list from NPR (National Public Radio), complete with CD covers and sound samples, that I posted:

Happy shopping!

And even happier listening!!

It will be interesting to see what 2015 brings.

Classical music: Three new releases highlight familiar and unfamiliar Danish music. Here are reviews from NPR (National Public Radio.) Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and violinist Sarah Chang in an all-Scandinavian program that gets rave reviews.

November 9, 2014
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to catch the all-Scandinavian program by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top)  and guest violinist Sarah Chang (below bottom) under John DeMain.

The Ear didn’t go on Friday or Saturday night.

But here are two reviews by reliable critics who did.

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

Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes the Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine:

Here is a link to Jess Courtier’s review for The Capital Times:

And here is a link to a previous posting on this blog that served as a preview and included a Q&A with violinist Sarah Chang:


Sarah Chang playing

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear was very pleased to see that music director John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra had programmed an all-Scandinavian program this weekend.

It featured the accessible a d folk-like Lyric Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; the famous Violin Concerto in D minor by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius with violinist Sarah Chang as guest soloist; and the powerful Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”), done in the aftermath of World War I — which also makes it timely choice for Veterans Day on this Tuesday — by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

That got The Ear to thinking: Which Nordic country is least well represented in classical music performances?

I think Norway is pretty popular precisely because of Edvard Grieg (below), especially his Piano Concerto in A Minor and his “Peer Gynt” Suite and his Lyric Piece for solo piano.

edvard grieg

And Jean Sibelius (below) is a in a kind of one-man band for Finland, plus he seems to be rediscovered, especially thanks to the new Grammy-winning Sibelius symphony cycle on the BIS label by the Finnish award-winning conductor Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra.


The Swedes seem pretty underrepresented to me and probably take the prize. But I really need to do some research and know more about Swedish composers .

But Denmark is also not especially well-known, although may be changing, The current revival of Carl Nielsen (below), who was championed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, the same superstar conductor and composer who did so much to bring Gustav Mahler into the mainstream, has been renewed by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.

Carl Nielsen at piano

Anyway, just by coincidence it turns out that the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog on the website of NPR (National Public Radio) feature reviews of recent recordings of music by three Danish composers.

The three Danish composers featured are: the experimental Per Nørgård (below top); the more mainstream Poul Ruders (below bottom, in a  photo by Kirsten Bille), whose Violin Concerto is at the bottom in a YouTube video; and of course Carl Nielsen, who represented by the “Inextinguishable” Symphony as interpreted by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.

contemporary music guide Per Norgard

Poul Ruders CR Kirsten Bille

Here is a link that also has sound samples as well as background and critical comments.




Classical music: Longtime New York Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow retires to teach. The Ear remembers him from TV and sees why the media jumped on his leaving.

July 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

I have seen him live in concert and in person only once.

But over decades I have seen him many times in The New York Times and especially on PBS, particularly on “Live from Lincoln Center” and, if I recall correctly, “American Masters.”

I have heard him in regular subscription concerts and also, I think, in Mainly Mozart concerts. I think I have even heard him solo at least once or twice, maybe more.

And chances are, so have you.

He is violinist Glenn Dicterow (below), the longtime concertmaster of  the world-class New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

glenn dicterow

The Ear is not surprised that the retirement of Glenn Dicterow this past weekend made the media in a major way.

He is a smart, talented, humorous, good-natured and articulate man and musician who has a lot to say about music and about working with some celebrated figures, including conductors Leonard Bernstein (below), Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Alan Gilbert.


The stories about Dicterow also give us a renewed and expanded appreciation of the role of a concertmaster, and how a concertmaster can affect an entire orchestra and how the orchestra sounds and how its members get along with each other and with the maestro.

Dicterow played his swan-song concert this past weekend.

Here are backstories and a review of his final “New York Phil” concert:

Here is the story that appeared on the outstanding “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR:

And here is a similar story, with lots of facts, including his incredible salary, from The New York Times:

Here is the story that ran in the Wall Street Journal:

glenn dicterow 2

Here is a review of his last concert with the New York Philharmonic performing the Triple Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven with New York Philharmonic principal cello Carter Brey and guest pianist-in-residence Yefim Bronfman, who played two Beethoven piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5, the “Emperor”) this past season with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.

Finally, and in case you thought ensemble players were necessarily less virtuosic than soloists, here is a YouTube video of Glenn Dicterow playing the fiendishly difficult “Carmen” Fantasy by  composer Franz Waxman (below), who is better known for the Hollywood movie scores he wrote after he fled Nazi Germany. Dicterow plays it with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta. (You can also see him perform other works and talk about his role as concertmaster on YouTube.)

Franz Waxman

Sounds like Glenn Dicterow will be a fantastic teacher at the same school in Los Angeles, California where the legendary violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz taught for so many years:



Classical music Q&A: Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan compares great music-making to great acting, and the concert hall to an exciting museum. He makes his MUST-HEAR Madison debut on this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall in a solo recital program of works by Schubert, Barber, Franck and Ravel.

April 17, 2014

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.

By Jacob Stockinger

The prize-winning and critically acclaimed young Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan will make his Madison debut this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall for the Wisconsin Union Theater, which has been closed for two seasons while being renovated.

Inon Barnatan

Barnatan’s MUST-HEAR program is ambitious and appealing; Franz Schubert’ late Sonata in G Major, the one that the young critic Robert Schumann praised so effusively; Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata, which was premiered by Vladimir Horowitz; the “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue” by the late French Romantic composer Cesar Franck that was a favorite of Arthur Rubinstein; and Maurice Ravel’s dazzling “La Valse” for solo piano.

Tickets are $25 for the general public; $10 for University of Wisconsin-Madison students. For more information about Inon Barnatan and his recital, including reviews, program notes, audio clips and ticket information, visit:

You might recall that Inon Barnatan won raves this past winter for his last-minute appearance with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under Edo de Waart when he stepped in to substitute for an ailing Radu Lupu and played the titanic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor by Johannes Brahms.

In 2009, he won a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, and he has been recognized by the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

The Ear has been listening to his recordings: from violin works (the last Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven and a Fantasy by Schubert) and his impressive readings of the famous last three sonatas and final impromptus and sonatas by Schubert to his performances of “Darkness Visible” by the contemporary British composer Thomas Ades. They all demonstrate his virtuoso technique but also his abundant musicality, subtle interpretations and full tone. Most impressive is his ability to play softly and lyrically. It leaves no doubt: Inon Barnatan is a major poet of the piano.

Clearly, Inon Baranatan is someone to watch, as his career continues to be extremely promising. You can listen to his interview for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in a YouTube video at the bottom. And here is a link to his own website:

And here is the email Q&A that Inon Barnatan did for The Ear:

Inon Barnatan face

You were just named the first-ever Artist in Association at the New York Philharmonic for the 2014-15 season. What plans do you have for that position? How could it affect your career?

What is so special for me about this position with the New York Philharmonic is that it is stretched over several seasons, so I will be performing with the orchestra both in New York and on the road for three consecutive seasons — which enables me to build a real relationship with this great orchestra as well as the audience.  It removes a little of the pressure of the debut– since I know I will be coming back the following season and the one after that.

Of course there is pressure to live up to the expectations and the faith that the orchestra and Alan Gilbert (both below) have shown in me, but it feels wonderful to know that the organization is behind me from the get-go. This appointment has only recently been announced but has already had significant effect on my career. New York is the center of so many things and when the New York Philharmonic does something, people take notice!  I really couldn’t be more thrilled with it.

New York Philharmonic Alan Gilbert

How would you describe your approach to playing and interpreting music? Are there other musicians, and especially pianists, either historical or current, whom you admire and why?

I feel that we classical performers are like actors — we have a text that we try to internalize and bring to life, but ultimately it is not ourself that is being presented, but the character, or, in our case, the music, that is being communicated. A great actor like Meryl Streep becomes whichever role she is playing, embodying it in such a way that she herself disappears and becomes the role.

That is what I think my job as a performer is.  I don’t want an audience to listen to me playing a piece — I would love for them to feel like the piece is being created at that very moment, the same way I would want to believe an actor IS the person that they are playing, not merely reading the text convincingly.

There are great performers, as well as actors, that are compelling not because they disappear in a role, but because of the very force of their personality. There are phenomenal actors and musicians that don’t change much with different roles or pieces, but bring their particular magnetism and virtuosity to every role.

When the performer is great both types can be very compelling, but I tend to gravitate towards the former. (Below is Inon Barnatan performing at Carnegie Hall in a photo by The New York Times.)

Inon Barnatan playing at Carnegie Hall NY Times

Your terrific and critically acclaimed new recording for the Avie label is an all-Schubert recital. But here you will perform a different big work, the G Major Sonata. What do you want to say about that particular work and its place in Schubert’s overall body of works? Why does Schubert hold particular appeal for you, and will you do more recording of his works, perhaps even a Schubert cycle?

Thank you! Back in 2004 I participated in a Schubert workshop with the great Leon Fleisher (below) at Carnegie Hall, and in some ways that was the start of my love affair with Schubert. I was familiar with his pieces, of course, but delving into the late sonatas as we did, I became intoxicated with the beauty and depth of the music.

Leon Fleisher

The music of Schubert (below), and especially the music he wrote later in his short life, became a staple of my repertoire.  I even curated a project of solo, chamber and vocal music from the miraculous last year — and both the Schubert CDs I’ve recorded so far feature pieces from that year.

That said, the G Major sonata, even though it was not written in the last year but a couple of years before, stands proudly amongst the greatest. It is one of his most lyrical and poetic pieces. It is not played nearly as often as the last three, and I am excited at the prospect of some audience members discovering it for the first time.

As for a possible Schubert cycle, it has been a dream of mine for a long while — perhaps I will keep playing his works one by one until I discover that I have recorded the whole cycle!

Franz Schubert writing

What would you like the public to know about your Madison program, which includes Franck, Barber (below) and Ravel?

This is a very special program to me. The pieces are magical: They manage to be at once very emotional and very intellectual, without compromising one for the other. The pieces all have a sense of nostalgia about them, in different ways.

The composers of the pieces in the first half take Baroque and Classical forms, such as fugues, chorales, sonatas, etc. and imbue them with their own innovation and emotion. The second half has more of a sense of fantasy, a sense of light that by the end of the recital turns to dark. I guess the second half goes from the sublime to the grotesque.

Samuel Barber

How do you think classical music can reach new and young audiences? And what advice would you give to aspiring young musicians and especially pianists?

That’s the million-dollar question. I think there are many things we need to do. It starts with education — putting an instrument in a child’s hand teaches them a lot about communications, listening and a huge variety of other important skills. It also encourages future curiosity about music and culture.

We also need to be more inclusive in some ways, make the concert experience something that would appeal to a young person as well as an older one.  Nowadays, when there are so many ways to consume culture without leaving your home, the concert experience needs to have an energy and excitement to it that is unique to the live experience.

A great museum knows that in order to attract a variety of ages and stay relevant, they need to have not only great art, but great curating.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York, for example, is always teeming with people of all ages, newcomers, repeat visitors, young and old, experts and lay people. They have a collection of some of the great, established artists as well as new exciting art and they are always providing new and interesting ways to look at things. People who go there expect to be challenged as well as be entertained. You may come to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (below) but it’s the new or unexpected stuff around it that keeps you coming back. It’s that combination of edge and quality that makes it cool.

We can learn a lot from that. As performers we need to strive for the highest possible quality of performance, and at the same time try to present it in a context that is interesting, and sometimes challenging or unexpected.



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Classical music Q&A: Pianist Yefim Bronfman, who mixes power and poetry, talks about his stamina and the two piano concertos he will perform during this weekend’s all-Beethoven concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

March 4, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

He may not yet be a household name like Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz or Van Cliburn, but pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) — a prolific recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber music partner — commands great respect from critics and his fellow musicians.

Yefim Bronfman portrait

And with good reason.

“Fima,” as he known to friends and even his loyal followers, possesses a technique that other pianists envy plus a total commands of style, ranging from early period works through Romanticism and Modernism to new music.

He also is renowned for his stamina and power, but, at the same time, for subtle playing without banging. Combining power and poetry seems to be his signature.

Yefim Bronfman hansd in air

Here is a link to his website with his full biography — he emigrated to Israel from his native Tashkent — and critical reviews plus a discography, sound samples and other information:

People in the Madison area can hear Yefim Bronfman’s talents for themselves this weekend. That is when he joins the Madison Symphony Orchestra under its longtime music director and conductor John DeMain in a MUST-HEAR all-Beethoven program.

Bronfman will play the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat Major, Op. 19, AND the famous Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, also known as  “The Emperor.” Also on the program are the Symphony No. 1 in C Major, and “The Creatures of Prometheus” Overture that Beethoven incorporated into his epic Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $16.50-$82.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, including audio samples of the various pieces and of playing by Bronfman, visit:

For program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allman, visit:

Yefim Bronfman recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

Yefim Bronfman playing a concerto

You are known for your stamina and power, as your cycle of the complete sonatas and concertos by Sergei Prokofiev and this Madison Symphony Orchestra concert with two Beethoven concertos prove. Are there special tricks or secrets you have to cultivate that kind of “marathon” playing and also avoid injury? Or is it just a natural gift?

It certainly helps to be in good physical shape, but recitals require the same kind of stamina and no one really questions that. Playing two concertos is actually less effort than playing a full solo recital.

Yefim Bronfman emotional

What are your current plans and future projects, both for live concerts and recordings, especially of works by living composers?

I just played a lot of new music in a chamber program with members of the New York Philharmonic, including the world premiere of a solo piano piece written for me by Marc Neikrug and a trio commissioned by Carnegie Hall several years ago by Marc-Andre Dalbavie. In Asia, on tour with the New York Philharmonic, we performed the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Magnus Lindberg (below, in a  photo by Saara Vuorkjoki), which is a co-commission with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and Gothenburg Symphony of Sweden. (Editor’s note: Bronfman’s recording of it was nominated for a Grammy Award.)

I’m always on the lookout for talented composers. My natural curiosity makes me wonder about the language of composers of today who often give me ideas that contribute to playing the music of composers who are no longer alive.

Magnus Lindberg Saara Vuorjoki

You frequently perform Beethoven concertos and have made outstanding recordings of them with David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra on the Arte Nova budget label. What would you like to say to the general public about Beethoven (below), about his Piano Concertos No. 2 and No. 5, the “Emperor”?

These two pieces belong to very different worlds. The first one belongs to the Mozartean period of Beethoven, very classical in structure and texture. But a lot happened between concertos No. 2 and No. 5.

They come from a composer with a great deal of desire to experiment, so those two concertos are like works of two different composers. Yet we never stop to wonder at the genius of someone able to do that. (At bottom is a YouTube video in which Yefim Bronfman, as Artist-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic, and conductor Alan Gilbert discuss the complete cycle of Beethoven’s piano concertos they performed together.)

Beethoven big

I first heard you here years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  Do you have any special memories of or thoughts about Madison?

Madison and this particular theater have some wonderful memories from my youth because I played here some of the earliest concerts of my career. Playing Beethoven 1 with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in Madison could have been one of the first Beethoven 1’s I ever performed.

What advice would you give today to young pianists and young musicians in general about pursuing a career in music? And how can classical music reach more young people and new audiences?

Arts and culture in general enrich our lives, and we have to give that understanding to the young generation. Without it our lives diminish greatly, and we have to learn to cherish what past artists have left to us.

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Classical music: Here is update and analysis of this year’s Grammy Award winners in classical music. Plus, the Madison Symphony Chorus under conductor Beverly Taylor will sample American choral traditions this Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Overture Center.

February 1, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Madison Symphony Orchestra have sent in the following announcement:

“Can you name all the different distinctly American choral traditions?

“Director Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and the Madison Symphony Chorus will answer that question this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 2, at 2 p.m., when they’ll appear in “Apple Pie America: A Slice of Choral Americana” in Promenade Hall at the Overture Center for the Arts. (Taylor is also the head of the choral department at the university of Wisconsin-Madison, where she directs the UW Choral Union and UW Concert Choir, and is the assistant conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. And sorry, I have so specific titles of works on the program but I have been told that the concert is closing in on being sold-out, with only a few tickets remaining.)

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot

The concert will start with classical music selections from Charles Pachelbel, Lukas Foss, Randall Thompson and others, while the second half will be dedicated to folk songs, hymns, and spirituals.

Many of the works will be accompanied by Madison Symphony Orchestra principal pianist Daniel Lyons (below).

Dan Lyons

Tickets are $15, and are available at or at the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141 or 201 State Street.

Formed in 1927, the Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) gave its first public performance in 1928 and has performed regularly with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ever since.

It was featured at the popular Madison Symphony Christmas concerts in December, and it will be joined by four soloists for the MSO’s performance of Mozart’s Requiem on April 4, 5 and 6.

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

The Chorus is comprised of more than 125 volunteer musicians from all walks of life who enjoy combining their artistic talent, and new members are always welcome. Visit for more information.


Last Sunday was the Grammy Awards.

Here is a complete list of the nominees and the winners. It makes for a good listening list or buying list.


Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4

Osmo Vänskä, conductor (Minnesota Orchestra)
Label: BIS Records

Atterberg: Orchestral Works Vol. 1

Neeme Järvi, conductor (Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra)
Label: Chandos

Lutosławski: Symphony No. 1

Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
Track from: Lutosławski: The Symphonies
Label: Sony Classical

Schumann: Symphony No. 2; Overtures Manfred & Genoveva

Claudio Abbado, conductor (Orchestra Mozart)

Stravinsky: Le Sacre Du Printemps

Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker)
Label: EMI Classics


 WINNER  Adès: The Tempest
 Thomas Adès, conductor; Simon Keenlyside, Isabel Leonard, Audrey Luna & Alan Oke; Jay David Saks, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Britten: The Rape Of Lucretia

 Oliver Knussen, conductor; Ian Bostridge, Peter Coleman-Wright, Susan Gritton & Angelika Kirchschlager; John Fraser, producer (Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble)
Label: Virgin Classics

Kleiberg: David & Bathsheba

Tõnu Kaljuste, conductor; Anna Einarsson & Johannes Weisser; Morten Lindberg, producer (Trondheim Symphony Orchestra; Trondheim Symphony Orchestra Vocal Ensemble)
Label: 2L (Lindberg Lyd)

Vinci: Artaserse

Diego Fasolis, conductor; Valer Barna-Sabadus, Daniel Behle, Max Emanuel Cencic, Franco Fagioli & Philippe Jaroussky; Ulrich Ruscher, producer (Concerto Köln; Coro Della Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Lugano)
Label: Virgin Classics

Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen

Christian Thielemann, conductor; Katarina Dalayman, Albert Dohmen, Stephen Gould, Eric Halfvarson & Linda Watson; Othmar Eichinger, producer (Orchester Der Wiener Staatsoper; Chor Der Wiener Staatsoper)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon


 WINNER Pärt: Adam’s Lament
Tõnu Kaljuste, conductor (Tui Hirv & Rainer Vilu; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Sinfonietta Riga & Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Latvian Radio Choir & Vox Clamantis)
Label: ECM New Series

Berlioz: Grande Messe Des Morts

Colin Davis, conductor (Barry Banks; London Symphony Orchestra; London Philharmonic Choir & London Symphony Chorus)
Label: LSO Live

Palestrina: Volume 3

Harry Christophers, conductor (The Sixteen)
Label: Coro

Parry: Works For Chorus & Orchestra

Neeme Järvi, conductor; Adrian Partington, chorus master (Amanda Roocroft; BBC National Orchestra Of Wales; BBC National Chorus Of Wales)
Label: Chandos

Whitbourn: Annelies

James Jordan, conductor (Arianna Zukerman; The Lincoln Trio; Westminster Williamson Voices)
Label: Naxos

 WINNER  Roomful Of Teeth

Brad Wells & Roomful Of Teeth
Label: New Amsterdam Records

Beethoven: Violin Sonatas

Leonidas Kavakos & Enrico Pace
Label: Decca

Cage: The 10,000 Things

Vicki Ray, William Winant, Aron Kallay & Tom Peters
Label: MicroFest Records

Duo Hélène Grimaud & Sol Gabetta

Labe;: Deutsche Grammophon

Times Go By Turns

New York Polyphony
Label: BIS Records


 WINNER  Corigliano: Conjurer – Concerto For Percussionist & String Orchestra
Evelyn Glennie; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)
Track from: Corigliano: Conjurer; Vocalise
Label: Naxos

Bartók, Eötvös & Ligeti

Patricia Kopatchinskaja; Peter Eötvös, conductor (Ensemble Modern & Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Label: Naïve

The Edge Of Light

Gloria Cheng (Calder Quartet)
Label: Harmonia Mundi

Lindberg: Piano Concerto No. 2

Yefim Bronfman; Alan Gilbert, conductor (New York Philharmonic)
Track from: Magnus Lindberg
Label: Dacapo Records

Salonen: Violin Concerto; Nyx

Leila Josefowicz; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Schubert: Piano Sonatas D. 845 & D. 960

Maria João Pires
Label: Deutsche Grammophon


 WINNER Winter Morning Walks
 Dawn Upshaw (Maria Schneider; Jay Anderson, Frank Kimbrough & Scott Robinson; Australian Chamber Orchestra & St. Paul Chamber Orchestra)
Label: ArtistShare
winter morning walks

Drama Queens

 Joyce DiDonato (Alan Curtis; Il Complesso Barocco)
Label: Virgin Classics


 Cecilia Bartoli (Diego Fasolis; Philippe Jaroussky; I Barocchisti)
Label: Decca

Schubert: Winterreise

Christoph Prégardien (Michael Gees)
Label: Challenge


Jonas Kaufmann (Donald Runnicles; Markus Brück; Chor Der Deutschen Oper Berlin; Orchester Der Deutschen Oper Berlin)
Label: Decca


 WINNER Hindemith: Violinkonzert; Symphonic Metamorphosis; Konzertmusik
 Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Label: Ondine

Holmboe: Concertos

Dima Slobodeniouk, conductor; Preben Iwan, producer
Label: Dacapo Records

Tabakova: String Paths

 Maxim Rysanov; Manfred Eicher, producer
Label: ECM New Series


 WINNER Schneider, Maria: Winter Morning Walks
Maria Schneider, composer (Dawn Upshaw, Jay Anderson, Frank Kimbrough, Scott Robinson & Australian Chamber Orchestra)
Track from: Winter Morning Walks
Label: ArtistShare

Lindberg, Magnus: Piano Concerto No. 2

Magnus Lindberg, composer (Yefim Bronfman, Alan Gilbert & New York Philharmonic)
Track from: Magnus Lindberg
Label: Dacapo Records

Pärt, Arvo: Adam’s Lament

Arvo Pärt, composer (Tõnu Kaljuste, Latvian Radio Choir, Vox Clamantis & Sinfonietta Riga)
Track from: Arvo Pärt: Adam’s Lament
Label: ECM New Series

Salonen, Esa-Pekka: Violin Concerto

Esa-Pekka Salonen, composer (Leila Josefowicz, Esa-Pekka Salonen & Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Track from: Out Of Nowhere
Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Shaw, Caroline: Partita For 8 Voices

Caroline Shaw, composer (Brad Wells & Roomful Of Teeth)
Track from: Roomful Of Teeth
Label: New Amsterdam Records
And here is an excellent analysis of the classical Grammy winners that appeared on NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog and the rise of new music — including work by the relatively unknown Minnesota composer Maria Schneider (below, in a photo by Michael Buckner for Getty Images), whose “Winter Morning Walks,” using the poems of Ted Kooser and the voice of soprano Dawn Upshaw, capture three Grammy Awards. You can hear a sample of the moving songs and accessible songs by the three cancer survivors in a YouTUbe video at the bottom:

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Classical music: Are iPhones and YouTube videos killing off live musical performances? The outspoken Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman said he thinks so as he walked out of a recital being illegally recorded in Germany.

June 10, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

It seems that these days just about everybody has an iPhone or some other small, convenient and easily concealed smart phone that can take and email photos and videos.

iphone 5

And those photos and videos can change the world. They certainly fostered the Arab Spring  (below) and other populist uprisings and protests, including those that led to the democratization of Burma/Myanmar and to the current civil war in Syria.

arab spring

But it can also have downside, especially where the performing arts are involved and where questions of intellectual property are centrally involved.

Witness the recent episode in which the acclaimed and award-winning Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman (below), known for his playing of Chopin and his championing of Polish music, who was angry and annoyed when he stormed off the stage at a festival in Germany after someone in the audience refused to stop filming the recital on his iPhone.

krystian zimerman gray

It is food for thought, and it raises a lot of issues, including intellectual copyright as well as mass media and citizen reporting and blogging, to say nothing of private use.

It seems to The Ear that all of this is the logical outcome, change or consequence of the rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter and our changing notions of privacy. And it seems hard to allow it and praise it in one sphere of life yet try to contain its influence in another.

facebook logo

you tube logo

And of course it goes way beyond the rudeness of people who don’t turn off their cell phone that then ring during a performance. (The New York PHilhatmonic’s music director and conductor Alan Gilbert had to stop a performance of a slow movement of a Mahler symphony –- No. 9, I think it was — because of that kind of interruption.)

Now I myself don’t take unauthorized photos for this blog or authorized videos that I then put on YouTube.

But the issue is certainly close to me and relevant to the current performing arts scene.

But what do you think? The Ear wants to hear.

Did Krystian Zimerman do the right thing and sound an appropriate warning?

Or did he overreact as someone who is used to performing before thousands of audience members and even cameras and microphones? Is he trying to resist an inevitable social and technological change?

Read about it and leave your take in the COMMENT section.

Here are some links to stories about the incident:,0,1139427.story

Krystian Zimerman annoyed 001

Krystian Zimerman is not alone in his point of view. Here is a link to a BBC story about musical artists in all genres protesting YouTube:

If I recall correctly, it was the 19th-century French novelist Stendhal who remarked that mixing politics in literature is like firing a pistol during a concert — rude but something one ignores at one’s own peril.

Pianist Zimerman has a history of being outspoken about various political and social issues — including the presence of American missiles in his native country — during his performances.

Here is a good background piece from the British newspaper The Guardian:

And here is a video of a YouTube recording of the piece by 20th century composer Karol Szymanowski — appropriately his Variations of a Polish Folk Theme, Op. 10 — that has sparked some of Zimerman’s outbursts or comments, or at least provided a context for them.

Classical music: There is more to conducting than just waving your arms and pointing your fingers. The New York Times, the Juilliard School of Music and New York University’s Movement Lab offer a revealing deconstruction of a maestro’s movements and motions.

April 15, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most exciting and informative classical music stories to appear in a long time is the recent story about what the movements of an orchestra conductor mean.

The conductor is question was the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director Alan Gilbert.

Thanks to the Juilliard School of Music, where Gilbert heads up the conducting program, and to New York University’s Movement Lab and its motion-capture computerized graphics, Gilbert was recorded conducting and then explaining what the movements mean.

It is like taking a mini-seminar is an art that takes many years to master, and even then some conductrors obviously do it much better than others. Some conductors — like Leonard Bernstein — flamboyantly sand dangerously danced around a lot on the podium while other conductor — like Fritz Reiner and Herbert van Karajan — were known for an almost total economy of movement.

Here is a link to the terrifically inventive, well researched and well written story by Daniel J. Wakin of The New York Times:

It is fun to take in because it is printed and also an interactive video with highlighted comments by conductor Gilbert (below). Take a look:

And here is a link to a background story and video about how it was made in the lab. It is a fascinating and illuminating explanation that suggests we can expect a lot more in the future of seeing technology illuminate art:

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