The Well-Tempered Ear

NPR names relevant classical albums in a musical Diary of the Plague Year of the pandemic, racial protests, wildfires and hurricanes

December 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

For an unusual and difficult year, NPR (National Public Radio) and critic Tom Huizenga have found a new and unusual way to recommend this past year’s top classical music recordings.

On the  “Deceptive Cadence” blog for NPR, Huizenga kept a personal month-by-month diary of “music and mayhem.”

For last February, for example, this ancient image of The Dance of Death inspired contemporary composer Thomas Adès to compose his own “Totentanz” or Dance of Death. (You can hear an excerpt from the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Some of the thematically-related music is modern or contemporary, some of it is from the Baroque or Classical era.

In June, as protests against the death of George Floyd (below top) flared up and spread worldwide, NPR names a recording of the “Negro Folk Symphony” by African-American composers William Dawson and Ulysses Kay (below bottom), thereby helping to rediscover Black composers whose works have been overlooked and neglected in the concert hall and the recording studio.

Devastating wildfires on the West Coast, Presidential impeachment and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast also found their way into the choices of music to listen to.

It is an unusual approach, but The Ear thinks it works.

See and hear for yourself by going to the sonic diary and listening to the samples provided.

Here is a link to the NPR album diary: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/12/21/947149286/music-and-mayhem-a-diary-of-classical-albums-for-a-troubled-2020

But many roads, if not all, lead to Rome, as they say.

What is also interesting is that a number of the NPR choices overlap with ones listed by music critics of The New York Times as the 25 best classical albums of 2020.

Some choices also are found on the list of the nominations for the Grammy Awards that will be given out at the end of January.

In other words, the NPR diary can also serve as yet another holiday gift guide if you have gift cards or money to buy some new and notable CDs, and are looking for recommendations.

Here is a link to the Times’ choices, which you can also find with commentary and a local angle, in yesterday’s blog post: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/arts/music/best-classical-music.html

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/12/27/the-new-york-times-names-the-top-25-classical-recordings-of-2020-and-includes-sample-tracks/

And here is a list to the Grammy nominations: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/11/28/for-holiday-shopping-and-gift-giving-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-63rd-grammy-awards-in-2021/

What do you think of the NPR musical diary of the plague year?

Do you find it informative? Accurate? Interesting? Useful?

Would you have different choices of music to express the traumatic events of the past year?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: UW festival will honor American composer George Crumb at 85. It runs from this Friday through Monday and features master classes as well as the acclaimed violinist Miranda Cuckson and the new music groups Nunc and Due East.

March 19, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed prize-winning composer Laura Schwendinger, who teaches composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, has sent the following announcement to The Ear:

Pulitzer Prize-winner George Crumb (below, b. 1929) is one of America’s foremost composers and one of the most influential and innovative composers of the latter half of the 20th Century.

George Crumb

UW-Madison composer and professor Laura Schwendinger, who is the Artistic Director of the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, designed the 2015 CRUMB FESTIVAL – to take place from this Friday, March 20, through Monday, March 23, at the UW-Madison School of Music — to celebrate his 85th birthday.

“We wish to celebrate this unique and singular voice,” says Schwendinger. She describes Crumb’s influence in this way: “He is one of the most important, and influential composers of our time. He simply makes us listen to sound in a new way, and there are very few composers who can do that.”

The Festival will feature four concerts and nine works by Crumb.

Here is a schedule of events by each day.

FRIDAY

On Friday, March 20, at 8 p.m. in Music Hall, “Lakeshore Rush,” which features three all-star UW alumni, will be performing Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale).

SATURDAY

On Saturday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m. and also in the Music Hall, the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below top) will be presenting a concert featuring the Pro Arte String Quartet’s Parry Karp (below bottom) in Crumb’s Solo Cello Sonata and saxophonist Steve Carmichaelin’s Quest.

UW graduate student, conductor Kyle Knox will be conducting University of Southern California professor Donald Crockett’s “Whistling in the Dark” and Les Thimmig will be leading his saxophone quartet in a work by University of California-Davis professor Laurie San Martin, in her Miniatures for Saxophone quartet; a work by University of California-Berkeley Music Department Chair Cindy Cox will round out the program.

Schwendinger adds “none of these works could have been composed without Crumb’s influence, yet are distinctive examples of their composers’ individual styles.”

Contemporary Chamber Ensemble

Parry Karp

SUNDAY

On Sunday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, Nunc (below top, Latin for “now”), a New York-based music ensemble will perform, headed by the star violinist Miranda Cuckson (below middle), called “superb,” “deeply satisfying,” and “prodigiously talented” by the New York Times.

The program includes Eleven Echoes of Autumn, and the Four Nocturnes for violin and piano as well as works by Augusta Read-Thomas, Sebastian Currier, and Laura Schwendinger’s The Violinists in My Life, a work for which the third movement is dedicated to Cuckson. Schwendinger (below bottom) adds that “this work of hers, is much influenced by the drama of the Crumb’s Solo Cello Sonata.”

Nunc

Miranda Cuckson

Laura_Schwendinger,_Composer

MONDAY

Finally, on Monday, March 23, at 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, Due East (below), the flute and percussion duo of Erin Lesser and Greg Byer, lauded as “superb” (New York Times) and “brilliant” (New York Concert Review), will be joined by NYC-based harpist, Jacqui Kerrod, vocalist Amanda deBoer and bassist Mark Buchner, will be performing George Crumb’s colorful and enticing Madrigals (1-4) in a stunning multi-media presentation, which presents a “triptych video montage” that becomes a “magical and powerful environment,” along with works written for them by the Chicago Composers Consortium and also inspired by the works of Crumb.

The consortium has been a staple of Chicago’s New Music scene for 25 years now and has counted as part of its membership some of Chicago’s best-known composers.

due east

In addition to the four concert offerings, Miranda Cuckson, Blair McMillen, Erin Lesser and Greg Beyer will all be offering master classes, and Nunc will be reading works by student composers as part of a composer workshop.

Schwendinger says “the festival is a fantastic opportunity for the next generation of composers to be exposed to Crumb and learn from the performers who play his music.”

Susan C. Cook (below), music historian and director of the UW-Madison School of Music, is currently teaching a course focusing on George Crumb.  An expert in contemporary and American music of all kinds, Cook singles out Crumb as central to her own desire to study modern music.

“As an undergraduate at Beloit College, I first heard Crumb’s ‘Ancient Voices of Children,’ then less than a decade old, in a music theory course,” Cook says. “It simply grabbed hold of me, and I knew I wanted to understand how it came to be and share it with others.”

Susan C. Cook UW SOM BW CR Michael Forster Rothbart

All events are open to the public.

Nunc and Due East are ticketed events. Visit the Events Calendar at www.music.wisc.edu for more information.

Here are some online resources, including YouTube videos:

Crumb Quest:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dpy3_BVBIA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XJ0cJJLrRQ

Crumb: Vox Balanae

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uU_5cg9dG8

Crumb: Eleven Echoes of Autumn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYVw4BcRAgU

Links to other works on the concerts:

Donald Crockett Whistling in the Dark

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKuymSYeHqk

“Violinists in My Life” with violinist Eleanor Bartsch and pianist Thomas Kasdorf performing with the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble in Mills Hall in 2014

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNUc6-hJJV4

Sebastian Currier, Verge:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7PDj8AS_cg

Featured performers in other works:

Due East

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6LzjnyRijQ

Miranda Cuckson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Chs6LxlOU78

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7X4t-DIU2m0

 


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