By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following public service announcement to post, and he is happy to do so because he believes there is no better investment you can make in the future of both classical music and adult success:
Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras will hold its annual Art of Note Gala fundraiser, on Saturday, March 4, 2017 from 6 to 10 p.m., at Marriott West, 1313 John Q. Hammons Drive, in Middleton just off the Beltline on Madison’s far west side.
You can join dozens of major corporate underwriters and small business sponsors as well as individual attendees in helping WYSO to meet its goal of raising $85,000.
Study after study confirms that music education reaps lifelong benefits in academic and career success that go far beyond making music.
No single music educational organization in Wisconsin reaches more students or listeners than the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), which is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.
WYSO has served nearly 5,000 talented young musicians from more than 100 communities throughout south central Wisconsin over the past 51 years.
WYSO provides over $50,000 in scholarships for students in need.
WYSO performs through the community and undertakes local concerts and TV appearances as well as international tours. International tours have included Vienna, Prague (below), Budapest, Argentina and Italy.
The Art of Note Gala garners community-wide support from those who are passionate about music education, ensuring that WYSO remains one of the top youth orchestra programs in the country.
The evening will feature live music performed by several WYSO student groups including the Brass Choir (below), Percussion Ensemble and Youth Advanced String Ensemble.
The event will have an Italian theme to food, drinks and decor to bring back memories of WYSO’s most recent tour of Italy.
Fundraising events include silent and live auctions of more than 100 items that include everything from fine wine and restaurant gift certificates to holiday getaways, jewelry and tickets to major sporting and arts events.
To see the auction items, go to: http://www.wysomusic.org/artofnote/the-live-and-silent-auction-2017/
Of special note are the recycled violins that have been hand-painted and transformed into works of art by local artists. They are currently on display at Goodman Jewelers, 220 State Street. (Below top is the violin by Ellie Taylor, and below bottom by Margaret Andrews.)
Individual admission is $125 in advance, $135 at the door ($85 tax-deductible as a charitable donation per person). You can also purchase a table of four for $450, a table of 8 for $900 and a table of 10 for $1,100.
For reservations and more information about attending or sponsoring the gala, donating auction items as well as WYSO’s overall program and upcoming concerts, visit WYSO’s home website for the fundraising event at www.wysomusic.org/artofnote. You can also call (608) 263-3320, ext. 2.
For more general information about WYSO and its programs, go to: www.wysomusic.org
NOTE: If you are a WYSO student, a WYSO parent or a WYSO donor or supporter and have encouraging words to help others decide about attending the WYSO “Art of Note” fundraiser, please leave them in the COMMENT section.
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. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also provided the performance photo.
By John W. Barker
A Place to Be, at 911 Williamson Street, is a former store converted into a kind of near East Side clubhouse. Amid the chaos and entanglements of this weekend, it has been, indeed, the place to be for lovers of chamber music.
Just as last year, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave a concert in this intimate “chamber” on last Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The string quartet fielded from the larger group consisted of violinists Paran Amirinazari and Eleanor Bartsch (who alternated recurrently in the first and second chairs), violist Beth Larson and cellist Mark Bridges.
Their program mixed music of two traditional classical composers with that of two contemporaries.
Later came Felix Mendelssohn’s “Four Pieces for String Quartet,” dating from 1843 to 1847 and published as a set designated Op. 81. These called for a richer playing style, which the Willys managed easily, and with strong feeling for the extensive fugal writing in two of the movements.
For more recent material, the group offered a tango tidbit by the Argentinian Astor Piazzolla, and a recent work (2005) by Hawaiian-American, Harlem-based, crossover composer, string player and band leader Daniel Bernard Roumain.
The piece by Piazzolla (below), Four for Tango (1988, presumably scored for him by somebody else), is a kind of anti-quartet venture, requiring defiant employment of unconventional string sounds.
Even more unconventional is the three-movement String Quartet No. 5 (2005) by Roumain (below). Given the subtitle of “Rosa Parks,” it pays tribute to the heroic African-American civil rights leader who sparked the desegregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
Roumain is a classically trained musician who draws upon a range of Black music styles in his compositions. He too asks the players to break norms by using hand-clapping and foot-stomping as well as exaggerated bowings.
His musical ideas are interesting but few, and developed only in constant, almost minimalist, repetition. I was impressed, however, by his command of quartet texture, and by how the instruments really could work both together and in oppositions, especially in the long first movement. (You can hear the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is performed by the Lark Quartet, for which it was composed.)
The four Willys dug into this novel repertoire with zest and careful control. In the entire program, indeed, they displayed an utter joy in making music together. Their artistry and their exploratory adventurism mark the group, more than ever, as Madison cultural treasures, richly deserving of their designation by The Ear as “Musicians of the Year for 2016.”
They will be giving FREE and PUBLIC performances at: Edgewood High School’s Fine Arts Fest (Feb. 14); the Northside Community Connect Series at the Warner Park Community Center (Feb. 19); the Marquette Waterfront Fest (June 11); and at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (June 12). And we await impatiently their announcement of plans for their third series of Friday concerts this July.
For more information about concerts and about the group, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org
Then click on concerts or events.
Due to technical difficulties beyond his control and at the web site host, The Ear cannot publish a new post today that is long or complicated, or has many links in the text. He apologizes and will let you know if and when the problems are solved. In the meantime, he will offer what he can.
There are several noteworthy concerts taking place this weekend:
BACH DANCING AND DYNAMITE SOCIETY
The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society finishes up its Silver Jubilee summer season this weekend. The ensemble will perform two programs at the Playhouse in the Overture Center (Friday and Saturday nights) and in the Hillside Theater (Sunday afternoon and evening) at the Frank Lloyd Wright compound at Taliesin in Spring Green.
The “Quicksilver” program features: the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach; a reduced chamber version of the Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the String Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 — a double string quartet — by Felix Mendelssohn.
The second program is “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” It features a miniature viola concerto, “Soul Garden,” by the contemporary American composer Derek Bermel; and then the “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi and the “Four Seasons of Buenos of Aires” by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla. Movements from the two will be interspersed.
Here is a link with more information:
THE MADISON SUMMER CHOIR
On Saturday night, at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus, the Madison Summer Choir (below), under the direction of Ben Luedcke, will perform a program called “This Is My Song: Music in the Struggle for Peace and Justice.” It includes music by Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn, Jean Sibelius and other composers. It features piano and orchestral accompaniments.
Here is a link with more information:
By Jacob Stockinger
The big classical music event this week is the opening of the 25th anniversary season of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.
It was co-founded and is still co-directed by pianist Jeffrey Sykes, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now teaches at the University of California-Berkeley; and by Stephanie Jutt, professor of flute at the UW-Madison School of Music who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Here is a link to the BDDS website with information about tickets, programs, venues and performers:
Recently, Jutt (below) spoke to The Ear about the upcoming season, which runs June 10-26:
“This silver anniversary season has something for everybody, and we’ve made it extra special in every way, with personnel, with repertoire and with audience favorites that we’re bringing back.
“In the first week, we have two short pieces by our featured composer, Kevin Puts “Air for Flute and Piano” and “Air for Violin and Piano,” and the world premiere of “In at the Eye: Six Love Songs on Yeats’ Poetry,” a piece we co-commissioned, with several other participating festivals, from the American composer Kevin Puts (below).
We commissioned him just before he won the Pulitzer Prize, luckily for us! We have performed several works by him in the past (“Einstein on Mercer Street,” “Traveler” and “Seven Seascapes”), and he will be here for the premiere performances at the Overture Playhouse and the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen compound in Spring Green.
(NOTE: Composer Kevin Puts will speak about “How Did You Write That?” at the FREE family concert on this coming Saturday, to be held 11-11:45 a.m. in The Playhouse of the Overture Center.)
“In Week 2, we have three crazy, inspired works by Miguel del Aguila (below), a Uruguayan composer from Montevideo, who now lives in Los Angeles, that we commissioned and premiered. We’ll be performing “Salon Buenos Aires,” the piece that we commissioned, along with “Presto II” and “Charango Capriccioso.”
During Week Two, we are also bringing back the amazing pianist, arranger and raconteur Pablo Zinger (below), also originally from Uruguay and a longtime New Yorker, to perform his arrangements of movie music by Nino Rota, Henry Mancini and others, as well as some of Pablo’s brilliant arrangements of tangos by Astor Piazzolla.
“In Week 3, we are bringing back the “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla and the “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi. People have begged us to repeat this program for years. It’s one of the most thrilling programs we’ve done, and this seems like the perfect time to return to this beloved repertoire. (You can hear the Summer section of Piazzolla’s Four Season of Buenos Aires in the youTube video at the bottom.)
“In the same Week Three, you will also hear some favorite works, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach and, in Week 1, Franz Schubert’s final song cycle, “Schwanengesang” (Swan Songs”) with one of our favorite artists, bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below top). That third week also features the Ravel Piano Trio with the San Francisco Trio (below bottom), comprised of Axel Strauss on violin, Jean-Michel Fontaneau on cello, and JeffreySykes on piano.
“We wanted to repeat special things and also do new pieces. Some of the music has links to the number 25 for our 25th anniversary – like Opus 25 for the Piano Quartet by Johannes Brahms or the Piano Concerto No. 25 by Mozart.
“We’re spending a lot more on artist fees this summer – it increases our budget by a lot, but it makes for a very special 25th season. We will have special mystery guests and special door prizes, as we love to do, and some special audience participation activities. (Below is a standing ovation from the audience at The Playhouse.)
“Did we think we would reach 25 years when we started? Of course not! We didn’t even think we’d reach two. It was started on such a lark.
“But the festival resonated with the summer audience and has every single year. I think we’ve been a success because listeners love to approach serious music with a light touch. You don’t have to behave very seriously to play serious music in a serious way. Artists from all over the United States come to play with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and it’s what draws them back year after year.
“We make a huge effort to make the music approachable, for ourselves as well as the audience. We talk about the music itself, about what it is like to learn it, and what it’s like to be together in such an intense way during the festival.
“We try to share the whole experience with the audience, and it’s something you just don’t find anywhere else. The concert doesn’t just go on in front of you, presented on a fancy plate. It surrounds you and you are a part of it.”
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement from the outstanding Oakwood Chamber Players, known for giving fine performances of programs that feature both unusual repertoire and classic works:
The Oakwood Chamber Players will round out its 2015-2016 season with a concert entitled Summer Splash on this Saturday, May 14, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 15, at 1:30 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door – $20 general admission, $15 seniors and $5 students. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.
The concert will honor the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death through Six Pieces After Shakespeare by American composer Craig Bohmler (below). This piece – which was commissioned by the Oakwood Chamber Players and which is receiving its world premiere — explores some of the Bard’s most emblematic comedic and dramatic characters: flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and string bass depict the quicksilver movements of Puck, pathos of Ophelia, eeriness of Macbeth’s witches and rollicking nature of Falstaff.
The program will also include Romanesque by Argentine/French composer Reynaldo Hahn (below), a work that radiates charm with its simplicity and heart as well as its sweetly flowing melody. The expressive musical lines are even more emphasized by the melded flute and viola timbres as they join together in unison.
The complexity and artistry of Summer Music by Samuel Barber (below) make it an enduring and fascinating piece of music. Its slow and bluesy beginning shifts to flashes of dissonance with contrasting lofty and flowing lines. As the work draws to its conclusion the listener is returned to the lazily unfolding material of the start, echoing the idle quality of summertime.
Finally, the concert will close with the delightful and uplifting theme and variations movement from the beloved “Trout” Piano Quintet in A Major, D. 667, for violin, viola, cello, bass and piano, by Franz Schubert (below). The work gets its nickname from the theme and variations movement based on the song “The Trout” by Schubert. (You can hear that movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will present “Songs In a New Land” on this Friday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave., in Madison and on Sunday, April 17 at 3 p.m. at Cargill United Methodist Church, 2000 Wesley Ave., in Janesville.
Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for students.
Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org. They are also available at the door.
The WCC’s concert will celebrate composers who were immigrants from the 15th century to the present, including emigres to the United States from China, Russia, Syria, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
At a time when immigration has become a burning issue in national politics, the WCC’s program highlights composers who emigrated from the country of their birth to make new homes elsewhere. They imported traditions from their homelands and enriched the cultural life of their adopted countries in innumerable ways.
Their reasons for leaving home were varied-some moved voluntarily but many were forced to emigrate for political, economic or religious reasons or, often, a combination of all of these.
While the experience of leaving behind all that is familiar and making a new life in a foreign country was rarely easy, the interaction of old and new influences resulted in some of the most lasting and unique artistic creations in history.
Most of the featured composers were or are immigrants to the United States, but the program opens with a set of Renaissance motets—“Stabat Mater” by Josquin des Prez (below top) and “Domine, Convertere” by Orlando di Lasso (below bottom) — demonstrating that migrant composers have played a major role throughout history.
Some of the more recent composers represented are: Kurt Weill, whose Kiddush was composed for Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City; Chen Yi (below top), represented by “A Set of Chinese Folksongs”; Osvaldo Golijov (below bottom), with an excerpt from his “Pasion segun San Marcos” (Passion According to St. Mark); and 20th-century giants Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky.
Although Schoenberg and Stravinsky were known for their dissonant, modernist works, much of the music they composed in the U.S. was tempered by an effort to communicate with audiences here. During the 1940s, both men ended up settling in Hollywood, along with countless other exiled European artists fleeing totalitarian regimes and persecution at home.
In the case of Schoenberg (below), even though he is known as “the father of atonality,” and the originator of “12-tone” music, he continued to compose tonal music throughout his life, and often wrote in a more accessible style for amateur musicians. The WCC will present two such tonal works by Schoenberg: “Verbundenheit” (Solidarity) for male chorus, and the folksong arrangement, “Mein Herz in steten treuen” (My Heart, Forever Faithful).
In the American works of Stravinsky (below), the Credo movement of his 1947 Mass was subtly influenced by American Jazz.
Joining the WCC will be Madison organist Mark Brampton Smith, who will accompany several pieces at the organ as well as perform solo organ works by Paul Hindemith and Joaquin Nin-Culmell (two additional mid-century immigrants to the U.S.).
The movements from Stravinsky’s Mass will be performed with Brampton Smith at organ and guest trombonist Michael Dugan (below), who will also enhance Josquin des Prez’s “Stabat Mater” by playing sackbut, the Renaissance ancestor of the trombone.
Guest percussionist Stephen Cherek will enliven several of the Latin American selections, playing a variety of instruments.
Here are some YouTube links to sample performances:
Josquin des Prez, “Stabat Mater”
Orlando di Lasso, “Domine Convertere”
Kurt Weill, “Kiddush”
Chen Yi, “Mo Li Hwa” (“Jasmine Flower” from A Set of Chinese Folksongs)
Osvaldo Golijov, “Demos Gracias” (from La Pasion segun San Marcos)
Arnold Schoenberg, “Verbundenheit” (from Six Pieces for Male Chorus)
Arnold Schoenberg, “Mein Herz in steten Treuen”
Igor Stravinsky, Credo (from Mass)
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to take place from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, features classical guitarist Naeim Rahmani (below) who will perform music by Domenico Scarlatti, Johann Sebastian Bach, Heitor Villa-Lobos and more.
By Jacob Stockinger
You can celebrate Valentine’s Day this coming Sunday afternoon with “five musical conversations,” a collaborative faculty recital presented by six faculty members from the Music Department at Edgewood College.
The concert is at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.
Performers include mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson, guitarist Nathan Wysock, violinist Laura Burns, percussionist Todd Hammes, and pianists Susan Gaeddert and Jennifer Hedstrom.
Below in the Edgewood College photo are (from left): music department faculty and staff Jennifer Hedstrom (piano), Todd Hammes (percussion), Laura Burns (violin), Nathan Wysock (guitar), Susan Gaeddert, (piano) and Kathleen Otterson (mezzo-soprano).
The six performers will present five musical sets featuring a variety of styles and chamber combinations.
Included on the program are a set of lute songs by John Dowland, performed by Otterson and Wysock; three works by Santiago de Murcia, performed by Wysock and Hammes, a set of modern works by Chick Corea and Todd Hammes, performed by Hammes on vibraphone with Jennifer Hedstrom on piano; Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite (heard at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that features Argentinean Martha Argerich and Chinese Lang Lang in a subtle and colorful performance) for piano, four hands, performed by Hedstrom and Susan Gaeddert; a set of Lieder or art songs by Louis Spohr, sung by Kathleen Otterson with Susan Gaeddert on piano and Laura Burns on violin.
Tickets are available at the door.
Admission is $7, or free with Edgewood College ID.
ALERT: The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 pm. at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features guitarist Steve Waugh, who will perform music by Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Isaac Albeniz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Francisco Tarrega and more.
By Jacob Stockinger
As part of the Salon Piano Series held at Farley’s House of Pianos, Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (below) will perform numerous pieces by Franz Schubert and a concerto by Francis Poulenc, all for one piano-four hands and for two pianos.
The concert is this Sunday, Jan. 17, starting at 4 p.m. when Bill Lutes, a local distinguished piano teacher who also used to be the music director and a program host at Wisconsin Public Radio and a voice coach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and University Opera, will give an introduction to the concert.
Tickets are $45 in advance or $50 at the door, and are available online at salonpianoseries.org, or at Farley’s House of Pianos (call 608 271-2626) or Orange Tree Imports.
But a new development will help students, says Renee Farley.
“The Salon Piano Series recently got word of being awarded a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board,” says Farley. “Their board liked what we do, but wanted us to increase our outreach to younger people. So, effective today we are offering student tickets to this concert for $30 each. Right now this is just being offered for the Bax-Chung concert. But our SPS board meets later this month and will discuss how to handle it for future programs.”
The two-piano pieces will be played on rare “twin” pianos restored by Farley’s House of Pianos: a 1914 Mason & Hamlin CC and a 1914 Mason & Hamlin BB.
Bax, a winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition and the Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center, started off 2016 performing several concerts in Japan with other concerts scheduled in Spain, Chile, South Korea and China.
Chung, an alumna of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School, is a winner of the Virginia Parker Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts and an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Governor General of Canada. In 2015, she performed in Canada, Italy, Germany and Argentina.
Here is the program:
Fantasia in F Minor, D. 940 — Schubert
Andantino varie, D. 823 — Schubert
Military March No. 1, D. 733 — Schubert
Lebensstürme, D. 947 — Schubert
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D minor, original transcription for two solo pianos — Poulenc (NOTE: You can hear the poignant Mozartian second movement in its original form and with the composer at a keyboard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Salon Piano Series is a non-profit organization founded by Tim and Renée Farley to continue the tradition of intimate salon concerts at Farley’s House of Pianos.
For ticket information and concert details see salonpianoseries.org.
All events are held at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near the Beltline. Plenty of free parking is available and it is easy to reach by bicycle or Madison Metro.
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held 12:15-1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature sopranos Susan Savage Day and Rebekah Demaree with pianist Sharon Jensen in duets by Gabriel Faure, Jacques Aubert, Jules Massenet, Claudio Monteverdi, UW-Madison alumnus Lee Hoiby and more.
By Jacob Stockinger
There he was last Thursday, sitting in the lower balcony in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
The Ear was in Piano Himmel, listening to a masterful performance.
And the same thought haunted The Ear, himself an avid amateur pianist, that also came to him during a fine student piano recital this summer.
That thought was simply this: Madison needs to have many more solo piano recitals.
The piano is perhaps the one most commonly studied musical instrument and is a staple of music education, so the potential audience should be there. The repertoire is vast and wonderful. And the piano just hasn’t been receiving its due compared to the many new choral groups and chamber music ensembles that always seem to be proliferating in the area.
The Wise Teacher recalls years ago when almost a dozen solo piano recitals happened during a single season. This season there are only three -– and two have already taken place.
One was the recital of Mendelssohn, Franck and Chopin by Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino (below top) on Oct. 4 at Farley’s House of Pianos on its Salon Piano Series. (The Ear couldn’t go because he is was in Chicago that afternoon hearing a piano recital by Maurizio Pollini.) The second was by Joyce Yang. The third one will be the performance by UW-Madison virtuoso professor Christopher Taylor (below bottom) on Friday, Feb 26. (No program has yet been announced.)
Let’s be clear: This is a matter more of pleasure and education than of justice.
Take Yang’s performance, which drew an unfortunately small house of only 300-400.
The first half was remarkable for both the clarity and color she possessed. Ethnic themes, folk songs and folk dances, especially Latin American and Spanish in nature, united the first half of her program.
She opened with two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the three “Estampes” or Prints by Claude Debussy and two pieces from “Iberia” by Isaac Albeniz and three virtuosic “cowboy” dances by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera.
In all those works, Yang proved a complete and mature keyboard artist. Her technique is rock solid, but it is her musicality that most impresses the listener. The Ear was particularly struck by Yang’s command of dynamics, her ability to play softly and still project, and to delineate and balance various voices.
The second half, all works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, proved less satisfying to The Ear, if not to the audience. It featured two transcriptions of vocal works or songs — “Dreams” and “Vocalise” — by the late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild (below).
Unfortunately, Wild himself possessed a Lisztean (or Horowitzean) command of keyboard technique. And like Franz Liszt (or Vladimir Horowitz), Wild just couldn’t resist adding Liberace-like flourishes, flash and trash to his transcriptions in places where simplicity rather than Big Chords would have more than sufficed.
At certain points in a Wild transcription, the work inevitably sounds louche or decadent and over-the-top, like something you might hear at a piano bar or in a cocktail lounge. In short, they are more piano than music. (You can listen to Earl Wild himself performing his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Then came the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Rachmaninoff (below) in its revised 1931 edition. To be honest, this is a Big Piece that is full of sound and fury signifying not very much that The Ear can discern. (The Ear much prefers Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, preludes and Etudes Tableaux.)
To be sure, the bombastic sonata requires impressive and powerful piano playing, which must explain the muscular work’s popularity among professional pianists and certain segments of the public. It is a Wower and wow us it does, although many of us would rather be seduced than wowed.
The sonata surely is effective in live performance and brought an immediate standing ovation. That, in turn, was rewarded with another Earl Wild transcription this time of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Too bad the love once again seemed overpowered by difficult but flawlessly executed scales and runs.
But putting those shortcomings aside, the sound of an amazingly played piano recital was such a welcome experience.
The Ear hopes that many more of them are somehow in store.