The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Autumn arrives today. What composers, works and instruments do you like to listen to in fall? The Ear favors late Brahms – specially the strings, the piano and the clarinet

September 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Fall arrives today.

The autumn equinox will occur at 8:54 p.m. Central Daylight Time.

As the days get markedly shorter and the night longer, one’s mood often changes as do one’s listening preferences.

Many composers have written pieces about autumn, and you are sure to hear many of them on Wisconsin Public Radio or other media outlets.

But The Ear has his favorites.

Not for nothing is the late music of Johannes Brahms described as autumnal, both because it happens late in the composer’s life and because of its bittersweet sounds, its poignant harmonies and its melancholy melodies.

For The Ear, you will find it in most of late Brahms, especially in the slow movements. He loves the string music – the violin, the cello and especially the viola sonatas – as well as the clarinet sonatas and piano intermezzi.

Below are three samples.

Here is the slow movement from the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, played by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Daniel Barenboim:

Here is the slow movement of the Sonata in F Minor, Op. 120, No. 1, for, in this case, clarinet or viola:

And here is a particularly moving piano intermezzo, Op. 117, No. 2, in B-flat minor, played by Arthur Rubinstein:

And should you still be unsure what music you like for the fall, here is a link to two hours of music for fall  — vocal and instrumental music by Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn  Alexander Glazunov, Peter Tchaikovsky, Giuseppe Verdi, Edvard Grieg, Gustav Mahler and others — put together by Minnesota Public Radio:

Is there a special composer who evokes autumn for you?

What instruments most speak to you of fall?

Are there special works you like to listen to in autumn?

Leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section, along with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Are we hearing more Brahms? If so, why?

October 7, 2017
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear got to thinking about concerts, recordings and Wisconsin Public Radio programs over the past year and the ones coming up this season.

And it seems like there was a lot of music by Johannes Brahms (below), often given multiple performances – the “German” Requiem, the symphonies and concertos, the solo piano music, the string quintets and sextets, and the piano trios and other chamber music with piano.

This season alone, in Madison we will hear three performances of the famous Piano Quintet. Two of them will be in the usual version at the Wisconsin Union Theater (the Takacs Quartet with pianist Garrick Ohlsson) and at Farley’s House of Pianos (the Pro Arte Quartet with pianist Alon Goldstein), and, recently, the earlier two-piano version at Farley’s by Robert Plano and Paola Del Negro. (You can hear the gorgeous slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Now it is true that Brahms is one of the standard composers who never really go out of fashion, especially for the way he combined the craft and polyphony of Classicism with a Romantic sensibility. Not for nothing was he lumped in with Bach and Beethoven.

Also true is that Brahms is often described as “autumnal” and fits the concert season.

But not everyone loves Brahms. The British composer Benjamin Britten hated his music and the American crime writer James Ellroy also can’t stand Brahms.

Still, it seems to The Ear that we are hearing more than the usual amount of Brahms.

And if that is true, he wonders, why is it the case? Why does Brahms appeal so?

Is there something in Brahms that matches the times we live in?

Or perhaps something that reassures and consoles us about the times we live in?

Anyway, do you think we are hearing more Brahms?

And if you do, what do you think explains it?

Finally, if you like Brahms what is your favorite piece by Brahms?

Tell us in COMMENTS and provide a link to an audio or video clip is possible

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today is the start of Fall. Here is autumnal music by Richard Strauss. Plus, UW-Madison soprano Jeanette Thompson makes her FREE debut tonight at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall.

September 22, 2017
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ALERT: UW-Madison faculty soprano Jeanette Thompson gives her FREE debut recital tonight at 7 p.m.  in Mills Hall. Guest performers are pianist Thomas Kasdorf and faculty colleague baritone Paul Rowe.

Thompson has put together a concert of some of her favorite love songs, though not always typical of love songs:  some of them are about a love that is lost, some of them are about a love desired, and some of them are about a love for God.

These songs include excerpts from Gustav Mahler’s Rückert Lieder and Johannes Brahms’ Volksbuchlieder. In addition to Rückert, they include some of her favorite poets like Charles Baudelaire and Eduard Möricke. She will perform songs by Cole Porter and George Gershwin, and will be joined by baritone Paul Rowe to sing two of the most beautiful “Porgy and Bess” love duets ever written.

Thompson (below) will conclude the concert with some of her favorite spirituals, including her mother’s favorite song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.“

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the autumnal equinox, which arrives at 3:02 p.m. CDT. It marks when the day has an equal amount of daylight and night.

It also means that today is the first official day of Fall.

And despite the hot weather right now, Fall is often a great time to start returning to indoor activities.

That makes it a good time for listening to classical music.

There are the usual candidates such as Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and its modern counterpart “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by tango master Astor Piazzolla.

If you want to hear other season-appropriate music, YouTube, Spotify, Classical-music.com and other websites have generous compilations. Just Google “classical music for autumn.”

But today The Ear want to feature just one selection to celebrate the season. It is soprano Jessye Norman singing “September” from “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss.

What is you favorite music to greet autumn with?

Use the COMMENT section to let us know, along with a link to a video performance if possible.


Classical music: Con Vivo turns in a polished performance of mixed and unusual repertoire, and allows a comparison of acoustics and seating distance to be made

January 20, 2016
5 Comments

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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos, some at the First Congregational United Church of Christ and some at the Capitol Lakes Retirement Center.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Last Friday night, the chamber music ensemble Con Vivo (Music With Life) gave its winter concert at the First Congregational United Church of Christ.

Con Vivo core musicians

It was a large program of nine relatively short pieces, designed to allow eight members of the group to show off their skills in solos, in duets and in trio pairings.

Participants were: Robert Taylor, clarinet; Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon; Olga Pomolova and Kathryn Taylor, violins; Janse Vincent, viola; Derek Handley, cello; Dan Lyons, piano; and Don DeBruin, organ.

The opening and closing items—Mikhail Glinka’s Trio pathétique and Felix Mendelssohn’s Konzertstück No. 2, combined clarinet and bassoon with piano (below).

Con Vivo 2016 bassoon, clarinet and piano

A corresponding combination of clarinet, viola and piano (below) was mustered for two of Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces, Op. 83.

Con Vivo 2016 viola, clarinet and piano

In string groupings, two violins (below) played one of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Canonic Sonatas (you can hear an example in a YouTube video at the bottom), and, with piano added, Three Duets by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Con Vivo 2016 two violins

Violin and viola rendered the Little Suite for Autumn by Peter Schickele (the real person behind “P.D.Q. Bach”).

Franz Danzi’s Duet, Op. 9., No. 1, called for viola and cello (below), while George Crumb’s Sonata was for solo cello.

Con Vivo 2016 viola and cello

And, for good measure, there was a duet by Clifford Demarest for piano and organ.

Con Vivo 2016 organ and piano

The program was certainly varied. It ranged from deeply diluted pseudo-Copland (Schickele) and unabashedly entertaining trivia (Shostakovich) through Telemann’s contrapuntal wit and Danzi’s artful string contrasts (though too deeply caught up in the viola’s upper register), to the varied colors of winds and piano.

Surely the most striking piece was Crumb’s sonata, a tough work that is not easy listening but provocatively interesting, and was dazzlingly played by Handley.

Rather a throwaway, though, was the Demarest duet, in which the powerful organ sound all but totally overwhelmed the piano.

As it happened, this group gave the same program (less the Demarest) at the Grand Hall of the Capitol Lakes Retirement Center the evening before.

I found it a good opportunity to compare the contributions of differing acoustics to chamber music listening. For such experience, I like to sit very close to the players, and I could do this at the Thursday performance, and in a modestly sized hall with fine acoustics for music.

But the First Congregational Church is a long, deep hall, and I sat about halfway back in it. Its reverberations can add a nice bloom to projected sound, but also some blur.

This was certainly the case where the two wind instruments tended to meld. And when the viola was at the piano, at the back of the chancel, it almost disappeared at times, while other two-string combinations were not always crystal clear.

I have had growing concerns about First Congo as a venue for chamber music, and I should think the Con Vivo folks must think about this. And listeners should, also. Clearly, where you sit for intimate music-making has its effects.

For all that, I enjoyed the group’s program in each setting, and renewed my admiration for their artistry and enterprise.

 


Classical music: Don’t overlook the many FREE and varied student recitals at the UW-Madison School of Music as the semester comes to an end. Plus, this week’s concert of new music is POSTPONED and the Fall Opera Scenes Workshop takes place on Thursday night.

November 17, 2015
2 Comments

ALERTS: The concert by the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble that was scheduled for this Wednesday night has been POSTPONED. No word yet about the new date.

The fall edition of University Opera’s Opera Scenes will offer its latest production on this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. The FREE event features work by students in the Fall Opera Workshop class at the UW-Madison. Students direct, stage and sing the scenes. Piano accompaniment is again the norm,  but this time a small Baroque orchestra of strings and winds will also be there.

The program will include scenes from “Der Freischütz” by Carl Maria von Weber; “Arabella” by Richard Strauss; “La Clemenza di Tito” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and “Orlando” by George Frideric Handel. Also, violist, conductor, singer and critic-blogger Mikko Rankin Utevsky will make his opera conducting debut in the half-hour excerpt of Handel, which includes a mad scene. For more information, including a list of the singers, here is a link: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/opera-workshop-fall/

By Jacob Stockinger

There are still quite a few big, important and appealing concerts left as the semester and the year wind down, with just over six weeks remaining until 2016.

At the UW-Madison, there are several major choral concerts, several of them with holiday music and holiday themes, just as many other music organizations — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Madison Bach Musicians  among them — do as the holidays approach.

There are probably some noteworthy student recitals at Edgewood College too, but The Ear generally doesn’t hear about those.

So The Ear wants to direct your attention to the many student degree recitals – both undergraduate and graduate – that begin to pile up as the semester comes to a close.

All are free and usually take place at 6:30 or 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

Morphy Hall 2

The variety is stupendous. There are piano and chamber music recitals of all sorts. There are voice recitals. You can hear music for the flute, horn, violin, viola, saxophone, clarinet and percussion. (Below is student Sara Giusti in a recent piano recital.)

Sara Giusti playing

Here is a link to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music online calendar of events and concerts for November and December (click forward to advance the schedule of events):

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Click on the event you are interested in for details. Some of the listings have specific programs; others don’t. But almost all are good bets, given the caliber of the teaching and performing at the UW-Madison music school.

Happy Listening!

And please use the COMMENT section to let The Ear and his readers know about outstanding results when you hear them.

Let us now praise students too!

 


Classical music: Here is music to greet Fall, which arrives today. Plus, up-and-coming coloratura soprano Brenda Rae returns to her alma mater UW-Madison from this Friday through Sunday to raise money for University Opera.

September 23, 2015
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ALERT: Autumn is here. The Fall equinox arrives today at 3:31 a.m. CDT. If you are looking for some appropriate music to listen to, here is a good selection — complete with audio samples – from Minnesota Public Radio:

http://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2014/09/23/classical-music-for-fall-autumn

Plus: The long-term weather prediction is for a warm Fall , according to the Web site Accuweather. Here is a link:

http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/warmth-to-continue-in-midwest/52475030

By Jacob Stockinger

Attention all opera fans!

Here is a press release for you from the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Music, written by concert manager and publicity director Kathy Esposito:

“Gazing at herself in a bewitched mirror, she is obsessed with her radiant beauty; she caresses her own face and simpers at an imagined lover.”

“That would be the Appleton, Wisconsin coloratura soprano Brenda Rae (below) in the Seattle Opera’s February production of George Frideric Handel’s “Semele,” in which she was described by Opera News as “sensual,” “dazzling” and “moving.” (You can see a clip in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Soprano Brenda Rae

Brenda will be on the UW-Madison campus September 25-27 as part of a larger three-day fund drive to put University Opera -– which has existed at UW-Madison for 57 years, but which relies mostly on ticket sales and donations to finance productions -– on a secure financial footing.

For a more detailed biography of Benda Rae, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/soprano-brenda-rae-with-the-uw-symphony-orchestra/

Here is a link to a story about Brenda Rae and the University Opera written  by Gayle Worland in The Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/music/dollars-bring-new-era-to-university-opera/article_677707d4-fbd6-5dfd-acf6-f50525ae73c4.html

On Friday, there will be a FREE and PUBLIC master class in Music Hall from 5 to 7 p.m.

On Saturday, two special donor events are planned: the first, a VIP dress rehearsal followed by a private University Club reception for event sponsors.

For more about level of sponsorship and the fundraising drive visit:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com

And on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, a ticketed public concert ($25 for adults) will feature Brenda Rae singing Reinhold Gliere’s rarely heard Concerto for Coloratura Soprano, accompanied by the UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith. Also on the program are scenes and an aria from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “La Traviata” and “Symphonic Dances” by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The two events are part of a fund-raising drive that honors opera alumna Karen K. Bishop, who passed away in January. We hope you will consider becoming a supporter of University Opera by sponsoring this event and attending one or more performances.


Classical music: Today, Sept. 22, 2014, is the first day of Fall. So The Ear plays two of Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs.” But what would you listen to to mark the coming of Autumn?

September 22, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the first day of Fall in the Northern Hemisphere. The Autumn Equinox arrives tonight at 9:29 p.m. CDT.

autumn-leaves

This year, the timing of the season and the music I recently listened to worked out just perfectly.

Last week, you see, The Ear went to see the film “The Trip to Italy” (below), a sequel with British funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. It was made by the award-winning director Michael Winterbottom, who also directed the first installment.

Steve Coogan and Rob†Brydon in†Camogli, Italy

I loved the first one, “The Trip,” in 2010. But like so many sequels, this film suffers from self-indulgence. There was too little plot, a lot of impersonations that are not immediately recognizable or entertaining, and the film goes on for too long.

The movie has its enjoyable, entertaining  and touching moments. to be sure.  But the really outstanding characters in this film are the Italian landscape and Italian cuisine, captured in stunning cinematography.

But, oh, the music! That was the high note, so to speak, for The Ear.

A recurrent theme is from “Four Last Songs” by the Late Romantic Richard Strauss (below, in 1914). It is “Im Abendrot,” and it strikes the right notes, even for The Ear, who not a big voice fan, whether in choral music, opera or Lieder and art songs.

richard strauss in 1914 Hutton Archive Getty Images

I was thinking of some appropriate music to play for the coming of the new season. There is always “Autumn” from “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi or the new “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla.

Then there is the late piano music and chamber music of Johannes Brahms, so often and aptly described as “autumnal.” Of course, the symphonies and songs of Gustav Mahler qualify as do many of the songs of Franz Schubert. And there is more, much more.

But this year, perhaps because of personal circumstances and sheer coincidence, anyway I found the Strauss songs — which were composed in 1948, a year before Strauss died at 84 — perfectly appropriate and fitting in mood.

Here are two of them, found on YouTube video and sung by the incomparable soprano Jessye Norman with Kurt Masur conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on the Philips label.

The first is “In Abendrot” (At Sunset). The poem or text, written by Joseph von Eichendorff — which is translated on the YouTube site if you click on “Show More” – – does not deal with autumn per se, but with loss and death. So the mood is surely autumnal and, I find, deeply moving. And it is a common motif in the film:

And then there is “September” from the poem by Nobel Prize-winning German writer Hermann Hesse.

I hope you enjoy these two songs by Strauss and also find them fitting to the season, just as I hope we have sunny and warm, a long and colorful Fall.

And I would love to know what other music best expresses the new season for you.

Just leave your suggestions, with YouTube links if possible, in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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