The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear learns some lessons from violinist Ilya Kaler and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at a terrific opening concert

October 19, 2016
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

By any measure the opening concert last Friday night of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under music director Andrew Sewell was a complete and compelling success.

WCO lobby

It left The Ear with several big lessons:

  1. The same piece played by a chamber orchestra and a symphony orchestra is not the same piece.

The Ear remembers hearing one of the first Compact Discs commercially available: a recording of the famous “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven performed by the popular chamber orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under its recently deceased founder and longtime conductor Sir Neville Marriner.

Was it going to be Beethoven Lite after all the versions from the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan?

Not at all.

It turned out that symphony orchestras are about power while chamber orchestras are about subtlety. The same work sounds very different when performed by the two different kinds of ensembles.

So it was with the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky with Russian prize-winning soloist Ilya Kaler and conductor Andrew Sewell. The WCO players performed beautifully, and with the chamber orchestra you felt a balance and an intimacy between the soloist, the orchestra and conductor Sewell (below).

You could hear with more clarity or transparency the structure of the concerto and the dialogue of the violin with various orchestral sections – the flutes and clarinet stood out – that often get drowned out by bigger accompanying forces.

So when you see the same work programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, do not think of them as duplications you have to choose between. Go hear both. Listen for the differences. You will not be disappointed.

That’s what The Ear did and he came away enthralled and enchanted with this smaller-scale Tchaikovsky.

AndrewSewellnew

  1. There are many great and more affordable soloists whose names we do not recognize. But don’t underestimate them just because you haven’t heard of them.

The world has more first-rate musical talent than ever. Ilya Kaler (below), the only violinist ever to win gold medals at the Tchaikovsky, Paganini and Sibelius competitions, is a case in point. We owe a big thanks to the WCO for finding and booking him. He is right up there with the American violinist Benjamin Beilman, whom the WCO booked last season.

Kaler’s playing was first-rate and world-class: virtuosic, both lyrical and dramatic, but also nuanced. His tone was beautiful and his volume impressive – and all this was done on a contemporary American violin made in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (You can hear Kaler play in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear says: Bring Kaler back – the sooner, the better. The Ear wants to hear him in violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi and other Italian Baroque masters like Francesco Geminiani and Arcangelo Corelli. Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be wonderful. More Romantic concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Nicolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann would also be great. And how about the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev and the neo-Classical Violin Concerto by Igor Stravinsky?

But anything will do. Kaler is a violinist – he records for the Naxos label — we should hear more often. These days, we need fewer big stars and more fine talent that makes attendance affordable. The Ear will take young and talented cellists Alisa Weilerstein and Joshua Roman over such an overpriced celebrity as Yo-Yo Ma, great as he is.

ilya-kaler

  1. Second-tier composers can teach you about great composers.

The WCO opened with a rarely heard eight-minute work, the Symphony No. 5 in D Major, by Baroque English composer William Boyce (below top). It was enjoyable and The Ear is happy he heard it.

True, it comes off as second-rate Handel (below bottom). Why? Because as composer John Harbison explained so succinctly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival he co-directs here every summer, the music by George Frideric Handel has a hard-to-explain “heft.” Just a few notes by Handel make memorable music that somehow sticks in your memory.

So The Ear heard the pleasantness of Boyce and ended up appreciating even more the greatness of Handel. What a two-fer!

william-boyce

handel big 2

  1. Concerts should end on a high note, even if they also start on a high note.

The rarely played Symphony No. 4 “Tragic” by Franz Schubert received an outstanding reading. But it ended the concert and left the audience sitting in its seats.

The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, by contrast, got an immediate standing ovation and an encore – a wonderful rendition of an unaccompanied Gavotte by Johann Sebastian Bach — and they ended the first half triumphantly.

Maybe the Schubert and Tchaikovsky should have been reversed in order. Or else, what about programming a really energetic symphony by Mozart or Beethoven to end the concert on an upbeat note. Just a thought.

If you went to the season-opener by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, what thoughts and impressions did you have?

Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?

The Ear wants to hear.

Advertisements

Classical music: The new concert season features many world premieres in opera, orchestral music and chamber music. So, why not here in Madison?

September 20, 2016
12 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Who says classical music is dying?

You wouldn’t know it from some of the many world premieres of new music that will take place across the U.S. this season. Such events add a lot of excitement to the new concert season. And many critics and observers think they draw in new and younger audiences.

Quite a few of the premieres feature performers and composers familiar to Madison audiences. They include cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below top, in a photo by Harold Hoffmann for Decca Records), pianist Emanuel Ax (below second), composer Kevin Puts (below third) and composer Jake Heggie (below bottom).

alisa-weilerstein-cr-harold-hoffmann-for-decca

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

Kevin Puts pulitzer

Jake Heggie

Here is a round-up of the national scene by Tom Huizenga, who writes the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio or NPR.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/31/491833898/first-impressions-a-guide-to-new-music-in-the-new-season

It makes one wonder: What about the local scene here in Madison?

True, several seasons ago, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison commissioned and premiered six new works to mark its centennial. They included four string quartets, one piano quintet and one clarinet quintet, all of which are now available in terrific recordings from Albany Records.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

This summer the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society featured bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below) in the world premiere of a song cycle it commissioned from American composer Kevin Puts, who is mentioned in the NPR story, to mark its 25th anniversary.

Timothy Jones posed portrait

And this fall, at its annual Labor Day concert the Karp family premiered a new work by Joel Hoffman for piano and cello, based on the life of the late pianist and former UW professor Howard Karp and performed by his sons pianist Christopher Karp and cellist Parry Karp (below).

karp-hoffman-pic

This winter the Madison Opera will stage the new jazz-inspired opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” although Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera will do a world premiere of a work it commissioned. Could the Madison Opera commission again its own new work, such as it did years ago with Daron Hagen‘s opera “Shining Brow” about Frank Lloyd Wright?

And there are other commissions and premieres by smaller groups, such as the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion.

But what is the problem with getting new commissions and world premieres at bigger ensembles such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the UW Symphony Orchestra, which does perform a student work each year? Lack of money? Lack of will? Lack of audience interest?

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: UW-Madison Professor Marc Vallon offers a personal appreciation of the pioneering French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez who has died at 90. Plus, this Sunday afternoon Wisconsin Public Radio starts a 13-week series of concerts by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

January 9, 2016
2 Comments

ALERT: This Sunday at 2 p.m., Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN-FM 88.7 in the Madison area) will start a new weekly two-hour broadcast series. It features 13 weeks of live recorded concerts given by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. This Sunday’s music, conducted by MSO music director Edo de Waart, includes three outstanding works: the Four Sea Interludes from the opera “Peter Grimes” by Benjamin Britten; the beautiful Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar with soloist Alisa Weilerstein; and the lyrical Symphony No. 8 in G Major by Antonin Dvorak. 

For more information about the series and performers, visit:

http://www.wpr.org/programs/milwaukee-symphony-orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

This past Tuesday, avant-garde French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (below) died at his home in Baden Baden, Germany. He was 90. No cause of death was given.

Pierre Boulez obit portrait

Just last year saw celebrations of Boulez, on the occasion of his 90th  birthday, around the world.

That included one here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music by bassoonist and Professor Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) who studied and worked with Boulez and the famous Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris.

Professor Vallon generously agreed to write a personal reminiscence and appreciation of Pierre Boulez for The Ear.

Here it is:

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

By Marc Vallon

I had the privilege to work with Pierre Boulez in the early 1980s, a couple of years after he founded the Ensemble Intercontemporain (below) in Paris, the first-ever fully salaried ensemble devoted to contemporary music.

Ensemble Intercontemporain

Boulez was a very demanding conductor (below) and everyone would come to the rehearsals very prepared. If you were not, you would likely take the sting of his sarcastic humor.

I remember a situation when the flutist kept fumbling on a tricky passage in Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony for Wind Instruments. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, he made the mistake of saying, “I don’t understand, it worked perfectly at home,” to which Boulez replied, “Well then, perhaps we should play the concert in your living room.”

Conductor and composer Pierre Boulez from France conducts the Lucerne Festival Acadamy Orchestra during a concert at the Lucerne Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006. (AP Photo/Keystone, Sigi Tischler)

Conductor and composer Pierre Boulez from France conducts the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra during a concert at the Lucerne Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006. (AP Photo/Keystone, Sigi Tischler)

I was involved in the first performance of the work often considered as Boulez’s masterpiece, Répons for orchestra and live electronics (heard at bottom in a YouTube video). It was a fascinating window into Boulez’s compositional process.

During the two-week rehearsal period, the parts would be collected after each session and would come back on our music stands the next day with numerous additions of grace notes and changed rhythms and dynamics. The longer we worked, the more intricate and multi-layered the piece became.

This is not surprising if one remembers Boulez’s definition of good music: It is complex and can be looked at from so many different angles that it ultimately resists full analysis.

Another important contribution that Boulez brought to the French musical scene, and the artistic world in general, was the often explosive radicalism of his ideas.

From “Schoenberg is dead” to “We have to blow up the opera houses,” who else would proclaim the end of serialism or attack the conservatism of established opera houses in such provocative terms?

Boulez’s public aversion to any artistic conservatism was, in the 1970s, a much-needed antidote to an international musical scene that was often too easily tempted to fill concert halls by programming symphonies by Tchaikovsky again and again.

It is still needed today. “Boulez est mort,” but his fight for the endless renewing of musical creation should go on.

For more obituaries and appreciations of Pierre Boulez, who served as music director of the New York Philharmonic and was a major guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, here are four sources:

The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/07/arts/music/pierre-boulez-french-composer-dies-90.html?_r=0

National Public Radio or NPR:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/01/06/462176284/french-composer-pierre-boulez-dies-at-90

ABC-TV NEWS:

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/pierre-boulez-leading-figure-classical-music-dies-90-36121322

And here is a terrific and insightful personal appreciation of Pierre Boulez, with a link to current issues and events in classical music, by Anthony Tommasini, the senior classical music critic for The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/07/arts/music/recalling-pierre-boulez-a-conductor-composer-with-an-ear-to-the-alternative.html?_r=0

 


Classical music: Are super-high concert fees morally right or wrong? Do they contribute to the wealth gap and lack of young audiences? What can music consumers do?

October 24, 2014
20 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Are artist concert fees — like those charged by tenor Placido Domingo (below top), soprano Renee Fleming (below middle) and violinist Itzhak Perlman (below bottom) —  too high these days and too unaffordable for most American concert-goers?

FRENI

reneefleming

Itzhak Perlman close

What would Janet say?

Maybe that refrain could become the economic equivalent of What Would Jesus Say?

I am speaking of Janet Yellen (below), the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve who last week made headlines when she spoke out publicly against the widening wealth gap as being contrary to America’s historic democratic ideals.

Key Speakers At Seminars At The IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings

But let’s localize the issue.

By all accounts superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, along with pianist Kathryn Stott, turned in a terrific performance — his seventh — at the Wisconsin Union Theater last Saturday night.

The Ear didn’t go, but here is a rave review from the student newspaper The Badger Herald, which agrees with the word-of-mouth reviews I have heard:

http://badgerherald.com/artsetc/2014/10/20/yo-yo-ma-and-kathryn-scott-transcend-classical-music-norms-at-shannon-hall/#.VEfBQYeENUQ

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

And for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy tickets, the Wisconsin Union Theater even webcast the concert live and for free.

Still, with seats that sold for well over $100, The Ear got to wondering: Are really high artist fees morally right or wrong?

We all hear about the widening wealth gap, and especially about the astronomical pay given to CEOs versus their workers as compared to the same ratio several decades ago.

Well, what about well-known and in-demand concert artists?

If The Ear heard correctly, Yo-Yo Ma’s fee for that one-night performance was either $90,000 or $95,000 -– or about $42,500 or $45,000 an hour.

Can Yo-Yo Ma demand and get that extravagant fee in the so-called “free market” society with its corporate welfare and tax loopholes for the wealthy? Of course, he can — and he does. That is why he sold out the Wisconsin Union Theater.

But should he?

It makes one wonder.

Is Yo-Yo Ma really that much better as a cellist and musician -– and not just as a celebrity — than many other cellists, including MacArthur “genius grant” winner Alisa Weilerstein, Alban Gerhardt, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Steven Isserlis, Carter Brey, Joshua Roman and others? (You can hear Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of a movement from a solo cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach in a  YouTube video — with over 11 million hits — at the bottom and decide if it is that much better than other cellists play it.)

Now I don’t mean to pick just on Yo-Yo Ma. I have gone to a half-dozen of his other performances here and I have met him and talked with him. He is without doubt a great musician, a fine human being and an exemplary humanitarian.

The problem that I am talking about transcends any single performer and applies to the whole profession.

Maybe at least part of the problem of attracting young audiences to classical music concerts can be placed right in the laps of the performing artists themselves.

When The Ear was young, he got to hear all sorts of great musical artists—including Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Rubinstein (below), Vladimir Horowitz, Van Cliburn, Itzhak Perlman, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Emanuel Ax and others for quite affordable prices. Not that those artists didn’t live well -– but I doubt that they were paid the equivalent of $45,000 an hour.

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

Maybe it is time for economic populism in the performing arts.

Fees like that exclude a lot of families from participating. Some fans might find it better and cheaper to hear a CD or download than go to a live concert.

Too many performing artists – opera stars come immediately to mind as a class — seem to have taken the same path toward justifying greed as movie stars, sports figures, rock stars and CEO’s who make out like bandits.

In short, can it be that classical musicians are helping to kill off classical music?

Smaller theaters like the Wisconsin Union Theater and even the Overture Center simply cannot book such well-known artists without charging a ridiculous amount of money for a seat – and at a time when many people of all ages just can’t afford it. It just adds to the Wealth Gap and the One Percent problem.

SO THE EAR WOULD LIKE TO ASK CONCERT ARTISTS: PLEASE ADJUST YOUR CONCERT FEES TO HELP SUSTAIN THE FUTURE OF YOUR ART.

Well, these are just some brain droppings.

The Ear wonders what you think of stratospheric artist fees?

Do they contribute to the wealth gap?

Do they hurt the popularity of the art form, especially younger generations?

Are they contributing to the decline of cultural literacy?

In short, are such high artist fees morally right or wrong?

And if wrong, what can we arts consumers do about it? Boycott certain artists until they become more reasonable in their fees?

Ask artist and management agencies to adjust the fees to make them more affordable?

Go to alternative concerts that are perfectly acceptable without star power and cost less or, like those at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, free?

Tell us what you think in a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Here are the 2014 winners of the BBC Music Magazine awards for classic music recordings.

April 26, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

In another week or two, the live concert season will start winding down until mid-June when the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below top) will start its three weeks of concerts. Then in mid-July will come the Madison Early Music Festival (below bottom).

Here are links to those two events:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org/schedule.php

BDDS 3 Ferdinand Ries flute quartet

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

MEMF 2012 left stage

But one of the compensating pleasures of the upcoming spring “intermission” is that you can catch up of some recent or new recordings that you might have overlooked or not had time to listen to during the regular concert season.

At least, you will do that if you are like The Ear.

So, in that spirit, here is a list of the 2014 winners of the BBC Music Magazine for classical recordings, which this year also include the Classical Music App of the Year.

Riccardo Chailly Brahms Symhonies CD Cover

I have sampled some of the recordings, and so far I have to agree: Some bias toward British musicians, music and labels notwithstanding, these are fine, outstanding recordings. You will find some familiar names among the honorees: Daniel Barenboim, Alisa Weilerstein (who has performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater and in the Overture Center with the Madison Symphony Orchestra), Sir Edward Elgar,  Riccardo Chailly, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Johannes Brahms (you can hear some of his symphonies in a YouTube video at the bottom), Ludwig van Beethoven, Benjamin Britten, Johann Sebastian Bach, Elliott Carter,  Richard Wagner, Jonas Kaufmann, Giacomo Puccini and Felix Mendelssohn.

Alisa Weilerstein Daniel Barenboim Elgar and Dvorak CD

But there is always room for more suggestions. So I encourage all readers to send in any relatively new recordings that they consider discovered good enough to be shared. Just leave the information in the COMMENT section.

Meanwhile, here is a link to the BBC winners:

http://www.classical-music.com/news/bbc-music-magazine-awards-2014-winners-announced

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Classical music: Maestro John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera is The Ear’s “Musician of the Year” for 2013. Plus, “New Year’s Day From Vienna” will be broadcast Wednesday once on Wisconsin Public Radio and twice on Wisconsin Public Television.

December 31, 2013
7 Comments

REMINDER: “New Year’s Day From Vienna,” with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performing waltzes, polkas and marches under Daniel Barenboim, will be broadcast live on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio, and then air at 1:30-3 p.m. and again at 7-8:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.

Vienna Philharmonic

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the day last of the old year, New Year’s Eve — which means it is that time of the year again when The Ear looks back over the past year and decides who deserves to be named “Musician of the Year.”

That is never an easy decision, especially in a city with as much fine classical music and as many fine classical musicians as Madison has. There are so many talented individuals and so many outstanding groups or ensembles in the area that any number of them could qualify for the honor.

It was particularly difficult this year because, due to personal circumstances, The Ear didn’t get to attend a lot of live events he wanted to.  Even so, this year the choice seemed somewhat obvious.

For example, here is a link to an insightful overview of the 2013 season offered in Isthmus by critic John W. Barker, who often is a guest writer on this blog. You just have to scroll down through the long story until you find Barker’s spot-on assessments of the year in classical music. It should make any classical music fans envious and proud to be in Madison:

http://www.thedailypage.com/scroll/2013/arts2013/index.html

So on to the man who happens to be the most common denominator among Barker’s Best Picks: John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Let’s start at the beginning.

It has been 20 years since maestro John DeMain came to Madison as the Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Director of the Madison Opera. And he is a supremely articulate — he often does interviews on TV and radio — and cordial advocate of his own causes, as you can hear for yourself in a video at the bottom and in more than a dozen video on YouTube.)

Even before he arrived here, DeMain had a high profile as the artistic director of the Houston Grand Opera, where he commissioned and premiered John Adams’ “Nixon in China” and has a long history with the City Opera, where he conducted while still a student at the Juilliard School. He had also won a prestigious Grammy Award for his landmark recording of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”

But coming to Madison, DeMain had a chance to show his strength as an organizational  builder and planner -– with results that the Madison public could easily see, hear and be impressed by.

John DeMain inherited a fine organization for an amateur or semi-professional orchestra, one that had been built up especially by Roland Johnson during his long tenure.

But once he took over, DeMain vastly improved the playing and then programmed more ambitious pieces for the players, and developed his approach to them. His Brahms now is tighter and leaner and more exciting than when he arrived. John DeMain (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) is devoted to lifelong learning and improvement, and doesn’t take even the music he already knows and performs for granted.

John DeMain conducting MSO CR Greg Anderson

Over his tenure, DeMain has discovered and booked exciting and affordable young guest soloists – pianist Philippe Bianconi, violinists Augustin Hadelich and Henning Kraggerud, cellist Alisa Weilerstein tenor Stephen Costello — although The Ear would also like to see some big and more expensive figures brought to town to allow us to hear these artists live. Plus, DeMain listens to dozens of auditions each year and unerringly picks great young up-and-coming singers for the Madison Opera’s season including the popular Opera in the Park each summer.

opera in park De Main_001

I also find it noteworthy and important. DeMain is in demand elsewhere and every season has many opportunities to guest conduct out of town — for the now defunct New York City Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York and many others.

John DeMain conducting 2

No less important is his willing to expand out into the local scene. In addition to the opera, he has conducted the chamber groups Con Vivo the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. He continues to play the piano — he was trained as a pianist before turning to conducting.

As an administrator and organizer, he has demonstrated great skills at putting together a team. True, the orchestra has suffered somewhat during the Great Recession and its aftermath – as did all artistic groups. It had to cut back its season by one concert, which DeMain says he hopes to restore to the subscription season.

But the same labor strife that has led to great damage to the Minnesota Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and so many others has not touched the MSO. DeMain’s contained the damage.

Having inherited double performances, DeMain took the MSO to three performances of each concert, reaching about 5,000 people or so with each “triple” performance. He continues to experiment with programming, and in late January will try out the “Behind the Score” series of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak (below).

dvorak

And while some listeners might complain about the lack of more adventurous contemporary music, DeMain has seats to fill and still manages to program contemporary works every season, even with many experimental offerings nearby at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

DeMain attends concerts at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and is a tireless promoter of music education from the televised “Final Forte” Bolz concerto competition to the matinée Young People’s concerts (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson).

MSO Fall Youth kid greg anderson

And let’s not forget that DeMain was instrumental in getting the impressive Overture Center built and then programming concerts for the orchestra’s and opera’s home in Overture Hall (below).

Overture Hall

I am sure there is more I am overlooking.

Do I have some disappointments? Sure.

I thought his 20th anniversary season would be a bit more ambitious and adventurous, and feature some big works by Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. I would like to see few more big-name and hot young soloists, including pianists Joyce Yang, Daniil Trifonov and Jeremy Denk (below), who has done two recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater but has yet to perform a concerto. And there are so many young talented soloists out there today, we should be hearing more of them live and while they are still affordable in our market.

Jeremy Denk playing 2

I also get impatient with what I call “playing the Gershwin card” too often -– including again for this year’s season finale -– because the important and identifiable George Gershwin (bel0w) had such an easy-listening and crossover pop-like musical style that it unfailingly draws so many listeners. I loved DeMain’s last concert version of “Porgy and Bess,” but there must be other solutions.

gershwin with pipe

But in the end I have to defer to his judgment. The excellence that John DeMain has brought to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera has extended to the entire city and to other groups. The rising tide he brought has lifted all boats.

If any one individual can take credit for the ever-increasing quality of the classical music that wehear in Madison, that person is John DeMain (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

DeMainOpera

Little wonder, then, that on this 20th anniversary of his arrival in Madison, maestro John DeMain is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

Thank you, John DeMain. We all – listeners and performers alike — are in your debt.

Cheers and good luck in the coming years!


Classical Music: Here is Part 3 of The Ear’s holiday gift-giving guide, featuring NPR’s “Top 10 Classical Albums of 2012.” Plus, how will you celebrate Beethoven’s birthday today?

December 16, 2012
7 Comments

ALERT: Be sure to listen to some Beethoven (below) today. Because Dec. 16 is Ludwig van‘s   242nd birthday  (born Dec. 16, 1770 in Bonn – died March 26, 1827 in Vienna).  

Beethoven big

By Jacob Stockinger

As in past years, and two weekends ago, The Ear will again be offering some holiday gift-giving ideas for classical music fans.

Of course, every year I recommend package gifts – gifts that combine a recording or video with a book or, best of all, a ticket to a live concert.

Two weekends ago, I offered the Classical Nominations for the 2013 Grammys. Here are links to the two postings:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/classical-music-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2013-grammy-awards-can-provide-a-helpful-holiday-gift-shopping-guide-part-1-of-2-plus-the-uw-russian-folk-orchestra-and-madison-handbells-pe/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/classical-music-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2013-grammy-awards-can-provide-a-helpful-holiday-gift-shopping-guide-part-2-of-2/

Grammy

One of my most trusted sources for sound judgment, when it comes to outstanding classical music, is NPR’s outstanding blog “Deceptive Cadence” and its exceptionally well-informed writers Tom Huizenga (below) and Anastasia Tsioulcas.

huizenga_tom_2011

That blog publishes its list of the best classical recording halfway through the year, and then again an expanded version at year’s end. As usual, it provides a fine of established artists and well-known artists; vocalists and instrumentalists; established repertoire and contemporary music; big labels and small labels; large groups, small ensembles and individual performers..

Below is a link to the NPR list for this past year. Be sure to read comments and other suggestion for Best of 2012 by  readers and followers of the NPR blog.

You will notice that the pianist Jeremy Denk made the NPR  post for his Nonesuch debut recording (below) of some fiendishly difficult etudes by Gyorgy Ligeti combined with Beethoven’s epic last piano sonata, Op. 111 in C Minor.

Denk will perform in Madison on April 22 at 8 p.m. in Mills Halls, at the University of Wisconsin School of Music while the historic Wisconsin Union Theater is closed for renovations. A ticket to that concert, which is tentatively scheduled to have program of half-Brahms and half-Liszt, would be a welcome gift.

jeremy denk ligeti-beethoven CD

But you can find other connections — cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below) has performed several times in Madison — to make with local live concerts by orchestras, chamber music ensembles, soloists and opera companies.

AlisaWeilerstein

Here is NPR’s “Top 10 Classical Albums of 2012,” which comes complete with CD covers and audio samples:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/bestmusic2012/2012/12/04/166505256/top-10-classical-albums-of-2012

Have fun figuring out ways to bring about synergy and make your classical music gift even more rewarding and expansive!

In the COMMENTS part, tell me what you think of NPR’s suggestions.

And leave your own gift-giving suggestions!

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Let us now praise American composer Elliott Carter, who has died at 103. Here are obituaries, remembrances and sound samples.

November 10, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It got largely lost in all the hullabaloo coverage of the Presidential Election, but there was other news that happened this past week.

A major piece of culture news is that the dean on American classical music composers, Elliott Carter, died last Monday at 103. Carter had won two Pulitzer Prizes and a host of other honors and awards.

Carter (below top, in his younger years) was a devout modernist who early on was known for the thorny difficulty and cerebral quality of his music – his string quartets (below bottom is the opening page of the score to String Quartet No. 2) were often said to be the most difficult ones ever written. But he apparently loosened up in his later years.

Makes up you wonder what Bach, Handel, Haydn , Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Dvorak, Brahms and many other great composers would have written, had they lived past 100.

To be honest, The Ear was never a big Elliott Carter fan. His music has its moments — some of them in the “Night Fantasies” for solo piano and the Cello Sonata — but is generally too serial and unlyrical for my taste. I’m more of a tunes guy, and for me his music generally lacks my kind of beauty – that moving quality that I look for in all art. Nonetheless, you can hear the masterful craft and original art that went into Carter’s music, whether it speaks deeply to you or not. (Below is Carter in 1989.)

There are some local ties to mention. For one, Sally Chisholm (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) who teaches viola at the University of Wisconsin School of Music and plays with the Pro Arte String Quartet, performed one of this string quartets before Carter to help mark his 100th birthday back in 2008 (below bottom is a New York Times photo with James Levine and Carter at a concert in Carnegie Hall celebrating his centennial.)

Some old media took notice of Carter’s death this past week. But I was particularly pleased to see how the new media, especially blogs and websites, offered information PLUS audio clips of musical performances and interviews given by Carter.

Here are the complete and comprehensive obituaries that ran in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/06/arts/music/elliott-carter-avant-garde-composer-dies-at-103.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/07/arts/music/elliott-carter-composer-and-master-of-gear-shifting.html?_r=0

Here is a terrific account from NPR’s outstanding classical music blog Deceptive Cadence:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/11/06/164364953/elliott-carter-giant-of-american-music-dies-at-103

Here is the story from the British Gramophone Magazine, along with the last interview Carter gave, conducted by cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below). Weilerstein, who has played in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, is also a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” who just released her performance, with conductor Daniel Barenboim, of Carter’s Cello Concerto paired with the popular Elgar Cello Concerto, on Decca Records:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/the-composer-elliott-carter-has-died

Here is the obituary and story of the famed BBC Music Magazine:

http://www.classical-music.com/news/american-composer-elliott-carter-dies-aged-103

And of course there are many more appreciations to be found on Google if you go and simply type in “Elliott Carter.”

While you do, here is some of Elliott Carter’s more popular and accessible music to listen to: the haunting “Symphony for Three Orchestras” from 1976 performed by Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (you can find lots more Carter on YouTube):


Are cellists the most friendly and sociable players in classical music?

March 28, 2012
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

I like festivals.

I also like cellists.

Combine the two, and you have a good thing.

A very good thing.

Just ask, if you could, that most famous cellist and festival founder  of all, Pablo Casals (below), the man who rediscovered and rehabilitated the solo cello suites of J.S. Bach.

But is the old story about cellists being the most friendly and sociable (or is it social?) of all instrument players in classical music true?

Singers might be even more social, especially given the collaborative nature of opera and choral singing.

But I have indeed found that it is very often the cellists who speak for string quartets. Locally, I have spoken with cellists Parry Karp (below), Karl Lavine, Janet Greive, Sarah Schaffer and Benjamin Whitcomb, among others. And the rule holds up.

All the cellists I have interviewed as individuals or orchestra players are also a pleasure to deal with. They often have hearty laughs and a whimsical sense of fun.

They also very often seem to preserve a sense of proportion and to act as the peacemakers in a group.

And in my experience even solo cellists like Alisa Weilerstein, David Finckel and Yo-Yo Ma (below) are gracious, outgoing and sociable.

What is it about the cello and cellists that make them that way?

Could it be because the cello’s tone is so close to the human voice?

Could it be that you learn to offer help to and accept help from others when you lug around a big instrument and pay for a second plane seat on the airplane?

Could it be you feel especially close and human as a musician when you wrap your legs around your instrument?

Could it be the kind of music, very songful and lyrical music, that cellists so often play?

Could it be all of the above, or many of the above in some combination?

Well, it turns out that my own personal impressions are not just mine.

Take a look at the following stories.

The first examines the inaugural First Piatigorsky Cello Festival in Los Angeles, overseen by cellist Ralph Kirschbaum (below), who performed a few seasons ago with the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/17/arts/music/piatigorsky-international-cello-festival-at-walt-disney-concert-hall.html

More to the point, using the festival’s collaborative celebration of J.S. Bach’s 327th birthday last Wednesday, the second story takes a closer look at the reputation cellists have for being amiable.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/21/arts/music/piatigorsky-international-cello-festival-in-los-angeles.html


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,099 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,734,561 hits
%d bloggers like this: