The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players excel in piano trios by Rachmaninoff, Ives and Mendelssohn

April 3, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

The Mosaic Chamber Players closed their season on Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society of Madison with a program of three trios for piano and strings.

Rather than bypassing the fact that the date was April 1, the three players—violinist Wes Luke (below top), cellist Kyle Price (below middle), and pianist-director Jess Salek (below bottom) — embraced it as a chance for an “April Fool’s” offering, in the form of the trio composed by Charles Ives.

This is a prime example of the patriotic nose thumbing and iconoclasm in which Ives (below) delighted.

As Luke pointed out in his enthusiastic introduction, the second of its three movements is a Presto bearing the title of “TSIAJ,” an anagram for “This Scherzo Is a Joke.” (You can hear the Scherzo movement, played by the Beaux Arts Trio, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The three players dug into it with gusto and almost made its complexities and deliberate off-putting sound plausible—but, fortunately, not quite.

The first half of the program was devoted to the “Elegaic” Trio in D Minor, Op. 9, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This work was modeled self-consciously on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, Op. 50. Each was written in memory of an admired elder colleague.

Rachmaninoff (below) was well aware of the footsteps in which he was walking—and which he could not quite fill. Cast in three movements with a lot of variations on themes, Rachmaninoff’s Trio runs to almost an hour, and sometimes suggests that the composer’s ambition outran his ideas.

As a pianist himself, Rachmaninoff made the keyboard part very much the dominant one, especially in its latter parts, with the two string players often just along for the ride. Nevertheless, it is an impressive work, and the three Mosaic musicians were quite heroic in allowing us a chance to hear it.

The program concluded with the better known of Felix Mendelssohn’s two trios, the first one in D minor, Op. 49. This is intensely serious yet beautifully melodious music, and proved just the thing to restore a sense of stability and balance.

In all of these works, the three players gave performances that would be rated as first-class anywhere. In that, they upheld the tradition that Jess Salek has created with his colleagues of making Mosaic concerts outstanding events in Madison’s chamber music life.

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Classical music: Music for piano-four hands played a vital historical role in disseminating classical music and also in encouraging amateur musicians and a socially acceptable form of erotic intimacy.

April 1, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

First things first — a full disclosure because today is April 1 or April Fool’s Day.

april fools day

But this is no April Fool’s post. The Ear detests using the media, old or new, for April Fool’s stories and pranks. The Ear finds them stupid and reprehensible. They undercut credibility and insult readers or consumers by taking advantage of their gullibility.

So …

Yesterday, you may recall, I posted a preview of the upcoming recital this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. by pianists Peter Serkin and Julie Hsu at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/classical-music-pianists-peter-serkin-and-julia-hsu-will-play-works-for-piano-four-hands-by-mozart-schubert-schumann-and-brahms-this-saturday-night-at-farleys-house-of-pianos/

But as background, or perhaps an appetizer or teaser, I thought you might like to see a link sent to me by a professor friend at Stanford University. It covers a book by his colleague in German that offers not only history but also the role of four-hand playing in encouraging intimacy, a kind of erotic sensuality and sexuality that was socially acceptable. Then, too, music playing also bridged the worlds of professional and amateur musicians.

Whether or not you attend the concert at Farley’s, it is good to read the overview of the vital role that music for piano-four hands (below is the team of Varshavsky and Shapiro who perform quite often in the area) played in the history of Western classical music. They helped to disseminate into ordinary homes versions of the symphonies by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven at a time when hearing a real symphony was a rare occasion.

And of course they also encouraged Hausmusik — the playing of music in private homes before commercial concerts became established. A piano was like the CD player or radio or television of its day.

Stanislava Varshavski-Diana Shapiro

Madison hears its fair share of such music. It is always featured at the Schubertiades, held by wife-and-husband pianists Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music in late January.

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

Such music has also appeared regularly at the free Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen Museum of Art, the annual Karp Family Labor Day Concerts, the summer Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, Farley’s House of Pianos, and other important series.

The Ear has enjoyed such music – in addition to the many social works by Franz Schubert, I have heard Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms, Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak and Polonaises by Franz Schubert, for example — but was never fully aware of what, historically, he was listening to.

So The Ear found the historical essay fascinating and thought you might also appreciate it.

Here is a link to the essay:

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/december/piano-monster-daub-120814.html

And here is a link to a YouTube video of the piece that is perhaps the crown jewel of piano-four hand literature — Franz Schubert’s late Fantasy in F Minor, D. 940 — performed by two of my favorite British pianists, Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis:


Classical music: On Saturday night, the University of Wisconsin-Madison percussion group Clocks in Motion will celebrate its inaugural recording with a concert of highlights from the current season.

April 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Saturday night, the acclaimed and recently formed local percussion group, Clocks In Motion, will celebrate a landmark that area fans and all classical musicians can be proud of.

Here is the press release:

“Clocks in Motion, a cutting-edge new music ensemble from Madison, Wisconsin, will present an expansive program featuring highlights from the 2013-14 concert season, as well as selections from their upcoming debut CD album, “Escape Velocity.”

“Clocks in Motion (below in performance in 2013) consists of percussionists Dave Alcorn, Sean Kleve, Michael Koszewki, James McKenzie and Joseph Murfin plus Jennifer Hedstrom, pianist and percussionist, and conductor Matthew Schlomer.

clocks in motion in concert

“The concert is this coming Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. at Bright Red Studios (below), located at 9 Ingersoll Street in Madison. Admission is $10 for the general public; free with a valid student ID.

Bright Red Studios

“The program will feature captivating performances of works by innovative composers: John Luther Adams, John Cage, John Jeffrey Gibbens, Paul Lansky, and Marc Mellits.

Drums of Winter” is a movement from the breathtaking multimedia composition, “Earth and the Great Weather” by John Luther Adams (below). This genre-defying piece depicts the Arctic landscapes of Northern Alaska, and Clocks in Motion will perform a shattering and powerful drum selection.

John Luther Adams

“Paul Lansky has said that the aim of his percussion quartet, “Threads,” is to “highlight the wide range of qualities that percussion instruments are capable of, from lyrical and tender to forceful and aggressive, and weave them into one continuous ‘thread.’”

paul lansky

Third Construction” by John Cage (below) features a wildly diverse instrumentation. Clocks in Motion will use tin cans, maracas, claves, cowbells, Indo-Chinese rattles, quijadas, cricket callers, a conch shell, ratchets, and various drums in this singular and innovative 1941 work.

John Cage and cat

“John Jeffrey Gibbens (below) is a living composer in Madison whose marimba solo, “Travelling Music,” was only just premiered on March 13.  The vast complexities of this 12-tone work result in some entertaining choreography for the performer and a rich experience for the listener.

Clocks in Motion John Jefffey Gibbens cr MiltLeidman

“The new mallet quintet, “Gravity,” by Marc Mellits (below) was commissioned in part by Clocks in Motion in 2013.  This piece features Mellits’ pop-minimalistic style with driving rhythms and lush harmonies.  The sectional work builds in intensity, resulting in a climactic and satisfying ending.  

marc mellits 1

“Hailed as “nothing short of remarkable” (ClevelandClassical.com), Clocks in Motion is a group that performs new music, builds its own instruments, and breaks down the boundaries of the traditional concert program.

With a fearless and uncompromising ear to programming challenging and adventurous contemporary percussion ensemble repertoire, Clocks in Motion (below in a photo by Megan Alley) consistently performs groundbreaking concerts involving performance art, theater and computer technology.

Clocks in Motion Group Photo 2 cr Megan Alley

“Featuring world premieres alongside rarely performed classic works, the ensemble strives to create a new canon of percussion repertoire.

“Clocks in Motion works passionately to educate the young audiences of the future through master classes, residencies, presentations, and school assemblies. The individual members of Clocks in Motion’s unique skill sets and specialties contain an impressive mix of musical styles including, rock, jazz, contemporary classical music, orchestral percussion, marching percussion, and world music styles. (Listen for yourself to the YouTube posting at the bottom.)

“Clocks in Motion has served as resident performers and educators at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Casper College, the University of Michigan, Baldwin-Wallace University, VIBES Fine and Performing Arts, Traverse City West High School, Traverse City East Middle School, Rhapsody Arts Center, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

“Formed in 2011, Clocks in Motion began as an extension of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Graduate Percussion Group, and now serves as the ensemble in residence with the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music percussion studio.

“For more information, including boomings, recordings, videos, concert/residency schedule, and repertoire, please visit www.clocksinmotionpercussion.com.”

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Classical music: This is no April Fools’ Day joke. Wisconsin Public Television will broadcast the duo-pianists Naughton Twins with the Madison Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday night, tomorrow, at 7 p.m. (NOT 8, as mistakenly listed previously). Also, the U-Madison hosts 2 free public masterclasses for singers on Wednesday afternoon.

April 1, 2013
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An ALERT for singers and singing fans: On Wednesday, April 3, guest artist soprano Judith Kellock, a Professor of Voice at Cornell University, will hold voice master classes from 1:15-3:15 p.m. and 3:30-5 p.m. Both classes are in Music Hall, and are free and open to the public. 

Kellock (below) has been featured with the St. Louis Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the New World Symphony, and many more. As a recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts recitalist fellowship, Kellock has sung major operatic roles in Italy and Greece, toured with the Opera Company of Boston and performed with the Mark Morris Dance Company at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels. For more information, visit: http://www.judithkellock.com/

Judith Kellock

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is April Fools’ Day. But this is no joke.

Tomorrow, on Tuesday night from 7 to 8 p.m. (NOT 8-9, as I mistakenly said earlier), Wisconsin Public Television will broadcast the concert by the twin sister pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

To The Ear, in fact, it seems a win-win.

Or maybe even a win-win-win.

It is a win for Wisconsin Public Television, which continues to make good on its promise to cover more music and other arts as part of its new Young Performers Initiative.

It is a win for the twin sisters, Christina and Michelle Naughton (below and at bottom in a YouTube video) who were raised in Madison and studied with UW-Madison virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor before heading off to the Curtis Institute of Music where they graduated and have now started a career as acclaimed duo-pianists with lots of bookings and a first CD for the Orfeo label.

Christina (left) and Michelle Naughton Lisa Marie Mazzucco

And it is a win for the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which featured the two sisters last fall in the beautiful and spunky Concerto for Two Pianos by Francis Poulenc.

It was a terrific concert. I know because I heard it. The Poulenc — it has a sublimely Mozartean middle slow movement — is as great as it is difficult, and the two sisters performed it to impressive perfection, as well as part of Darius Milhaud’s infectiously Latin “Scaramouche” Suite as an encore.

Here is a Q&A the twin sisters did for this blog about themselves and the whole concert, which featured Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta” and Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 (“The Great”) of which probably only excerpts will be heard on the TV:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/classical-music-qa-the-madison-born-naughton-twins-christina-and-michelle-talk-about-their-performances-of-poulenc-gorgeous-and-witty-concerto-for-two-pianos-this-weekend-wi/

And here is a link to the Naughton Sisters official website:

http://www.christinaandmichellenaughton.com

But it should be impressive event, even with excerpts.

If the camera work from other similar events – like the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society at the Stoughton Opera House (below top), the Honors Concerts of the Wisconsin School Music Association (below bottom) and the MSO Final Forte Competition for students – viewers are in for a treat.

BDDS Schubert Quintet

wpt wisconsin state honors concert 2-13 2

So a few big shout-outs go to WPT’s James Steinbach and his crew; to MSO maestro John DeMain and the players of the orchestra; and of course to the Naughton Twins who made the concert a real musical Homecoming for Madison-area listeners and now viewers.


Classical music news: The discovery of Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony wins first prize from The Ear for The Best April Fools’ Day Story

April 9, 2012
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

On April 1, I posted a contest — the first one ever on The Well-Tempered Ear — to see who could come up with the best or most believable classical music story for April Fools Day.

I talked about how I am probably too sincere and gullible to be a fan of April Fools Day stories, be they on-line, in-print or on-the-air.

But I didn’t have to worry.

It turned out to be pretty popular, judging from the number of hits and comments.

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/

Now I am back home from being on the road and can announce the results.

Several readers sent in very good ideas, as you can see for yourself.

Among others — including Yo-Yo Ma turning to rock on a solid gold cello — the most credible entries included:

Bach Hits Broadway in Baroque Follies

PDQ Bach Was Real”

A piano that was rigged so it wouldn’t sound during an accompanying session proved to be a real-life April Fools’ practical joke or prank.

But the clear winner was Rita Stevens who said: “How about the discovery of a 10th Beethoven symphony?”

Well, great minds think alike.

Naomi Lewin, of NPR’s Weekend Edition, had a similar story, which was the April Fools Day story that was featured by Tom Huizenga on NPR’s outstanding classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/04/01/149697309/beethovens-10th-symphony-for-real

In retrospect, the story about Beethoven (below, another make-believe in the form of a recreation by Getty Images) seems pretty obvious. But only one reader suggested it and she wins.

Let me just say that to add a touch of credibility, I might have suggested qualifying it just a bit: “Extensive Sketches for Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony Discovered.”

That way, Beethoven’s Tenth would be on par with sketches left for unfinished symphonies and other works by Schubert, Mahler and Bruckner among others. And those are for real!

Anyway, the promised prize of a book and a CD will be in the mail shortly.

Thanks to all of you for your help in suggesting entries and reading the post.

Maybe we’ll have to do another kind of contest soon.

Any suggestions?


In classical music, what would be a really clever and outrageous but believable April Fools’ Day story? Tell us the best one and win prizes from The Ear.

April 1, 2012
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is April 1.

That is, April Fools’ Day.

I’ll admit it: I do not like April Fools’ Day stories or so-called jokes.

In fact, I hate them.

When I was working in a newsroom, I always considered it unprofessional to publish such stories. I saw it as a betrayal of the same public trust that newspaper and magazines are always crowing about and citing as grounds for all sorts of rights or even privileges.

But I also hate them personally as well as professionally.

That’s probably just because I am a gullible and sincere guy, a sucker who falls for them.

“Oh, really” I would almost always say – to much laughter and guffawing, disbelief and incredulity, to say nothing of embarrassment, awkwardness and shame. I was always The Joker or The Jerk.

But who knows? Maybe there is a deeper reason for my disdain of April Fools’ Day and all that it entails.

Anyway, for some reason this year I found myself at the end of March idly wondering: What would be a good April Fool’s Day story in classical music?

Steinway Pianos to Go Digital” was one.

“Steinway to Make Violins” was another.

You get the idea. I have a very limited ability for this kind of goofing around and satire.

Maybe I just lack the imagination to be both outrageous and believable.

So I call on you, Dear Readers:

If you are so inclined, come up with and tell me: What would be a good headline for a classical music April Fool’s Day story?

Just send in your suggestions – put them in COMMENTS — and let’s see what you come up with.

If one story clearly emerges as a winner, I will personally send that person a recently published book about classical music and a new CD as a top prize. So include your snail-mail address or e-mail so I can get that address.

Happy Brainstorming!

And Happy April Fools’ Day!

And THAT is no joke.


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