The Well-Tempered Ear

WORT-FM 89.9 now has a Monday morning show of modern and contemporary classical music with Paul Baker

April 6, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The listener-sponsored, community radio station WORT-FM 89.9 — long a home for classical music from all eras, from the earliest to the newest — has a new program to join its many others about music in all genres and all periods as well as news and commentary about public affairs.

It airs on Monday mornings from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. with Paul Baker (below, in his WORT studio). He is well-known radio host, music critic and amateur musician.

Baker recently shared with The Ear some insights into his new show “Listen Adventurously”:

Are you still doing your show for WSUM, the student-run FM radio station at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

I hosted Only Strings on WSUM-FM 91.7 to focus on chamber music at a time when I was taking cello lessons. I wanted to absorb as much chamber music as possible, and preparing for, and hosting, a radio program was one good way to do that. I ended the show in 2019 when I reached the five-year mark.

How did the new WORT show come about?

I’ve been a WORT fan for more than 30 years. I know many of the program hosts and have been in touch with the music director, Sybil Augustine, for some time.

I had hosted a WORT Sunday early morning show briefly about 20 years ago. The Monday morning classical slot recently became available when Christopher Delamarter stepped down, so I raised my hand.

What can you tell us about the content of the show?

The show has been billed as 20th-century classical music. I am extending that to include pieces from the 2000s as well — things written as recently as last year. There is just so much good material. Younger composers and performers deserve to be heard. 

So the show will feature Bartok and Shostakovich and Samuel Barber, of course, but also Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt and Jennifer Higdon and Laura Schwendinger (below, who teaches at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and whose music is widely performed) and Chicago’s Third Coast Percussion Ensemble. In my opinion, there’s a lack of local availability to hear this music.

I enjoy sharing music with people. When I worked on campus, I programmed three shows for WSUM-FM. Now that I’m retired, I’m happy to have this opportunity on WORT. The only drawback is that I must get up at 4 a.m. for the 5 a.m. air time. But I’m a morning person, so it’s not that bad.

Editor’s note: If you want to see a sample playlist, as well as WORT’s daily show schedule, here a link to the one from this past Monday: https://www.wortfm.org/on-air-schedule/


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As the semester ends, virtual concerts allow UW students to reach many more family members, friends and listeners. Here is how the public can connect to them

April 14, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting tonight and over the next two weeks, as the spring semester at the UW-Madison comes to a close, there will be more than two dozen student recitals to listen to. (Below is the YouTube video for the concert this Thursday night, April 15, at 6:30 p.m. of the Marvin Rabin String Quartet that is comprised of graduate students.)

Often two or more concerts a day are scheduled, often at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. 

That much is typical.

What is not typical during the pandemic is that technology will allow the recitals to be presented live-streamed and virtual.

The downside is that the students will not experience performing before a live audience.

But there is an upside.

Going virtual also means that the recitals will be available longer to family, friends and interested listeners  here as well as around the country and — especially for international students — the world. (Below, in a photo by Bryce Richter for the UW-Madison, is the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the Hamel Music Center.)

It also means you can hear them when it is convenient for you and not at the actual scheduled times.

The Ear has heard his share of student recitals and often finds them to be exceptional events.

If you go to the Mead Witter School of Music’s website, you can see the concerts and the lineups.

You will see that there will be student recitals of vocal music, brass music, wind music, string music and piano music. There are solo recitals, chamber music and even a symphony orchestra concert. (Below, in a photo by Bryce Richter for the UW-Madison, is the Collins Recital Hall in the Hamel Music Center.)

There are too many details for each concert to list them all here individually.

But if you go to the Concerts and Events page on the music school’s outstanding website, you can hover the cursor over the event and then click on the event and get everything from the performers and programs to program notes, a performer biography and a photo with a link to the YouTube performance.

On the YouTube site, if you click on “See More” you will see more details and can even set up an alarm for when the concert starts.

Here is a link: https://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Try it and see for yourself. Below is the YouTube link for pianist Mengwen Zhu, who performs his recital this Saturday, April 17, at 6 p.m.)

Happy listening!

Let us know what you think, especially if it is encouraging for the students.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Can American film director Ron Howard make a sensitive and accurate biopic of Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang? Or is it a cultural appropriation that deserves to be condemned?

September 27, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The self-appointed PC diversity police have struck again.

This is getting silly and tiresome, insulting and embarrassing.

Some advocates of cultural diversity are crying foul over the latest project of the American and Academy Award-winning Hollywood film director Ron Howard: making a biopic of the superstar Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang (below).

The script will be drawn from the pianist’s bestselling memoir “Journey of a Thousand Miles” — which has also been recast as an inspirational children’s book — and the director and scriptwriters will consult with Lang Lang.

It seems to The Ear a natural collaboration, as well as a surefire box office hit, between two high-achieving entertainers. Check out their bios:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lang_Lang

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Howard

But some people are criticizing the project in the belief that because Ron Howard  (below) is white and Western, he cannot do justice to someone who is Chinese or to Asian culture.

Here is an essay, found on the website of Classic FM, by one objector. She is Chinese film director Lulu Wang (below), who says she has no interest in doing the project herself: https://www.classicfm.com/artists/lang-lang/pianist-biopic-ron-howard-faces-criticism-lulu-wang/

Talk about misplaced alarm over “cultural appropriation.”

Don’t you think that Lang Lang will have a lot to say about how he is depicted?

Do you wonder if Wang thinks cultural appropriation works in reverse?

Should we dismiss Lang Lang’s interpretations of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Bartok simply because he is non-Western and Chinese rather than German, French or Russian?

Of course not. They should be taken on their own merits, just as the interpretations of any other Asian classical musician, and artists in general including Ai Weiwei, should be.

But however unfairly, cultural appropriation just doesn’t seem to work in reverse.

Mind you, The Ear thinks that cultural appropriation is a valid concept and can indeed sometimes be useful in discussing cross-cultural influences.

But it sure seems that the concept is being applied in an overly broad and even misdirected or ridiculous way, kind of the way that the idea of “micro-aggressions” can be so generously applied that it loses its ability to be truthful and useful.

Take the example of the heterosexual Taiwanese movie director Ang Lee. He certainly proved himself able to depict American culture in “The Ice Storm” and the gay world in “Brokeback Mountain.”

Let’s be clear. The Ear is a piano fan.

But if he objects to the project, it is because he doesn’t like Lang Lang’s flamboyant playing, his Liberace-like performance manners and showmanship, and his exaggerated facial expressions.

Yet there is no denying the human appeal of his story. He rose from a young and suicidal piano student (below) who was emotionally abused by his ambitious father – shades of the lives of young Mozart and Beethoven and probably many other prodigies – to become the best known, most frequently booked and highest paid classical pianist in the world. 

Yet not for nothing did some critics baptize him with the nickname Bang Bang.

Still, the Curtis Institute graduate does all he can to foster music education, especially among the young and the poor.

And there is simply no denying his virtuosity. (See Lang Lang playing Liszt’s Paganini etude “La Campanella” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So there is plenty to object to about Lang Lang the Piano Star besides the ethnicity of Ron Howard, who also did a biopic of opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti, in telling his story.

What do you think?

Is it culturally all right for Ron Howard to direct a film about Lang Lang?

Do you look forward to the movie and seeing it?

What do you think of Lang Lang as a pianist and a celebrity?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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