The Well-Tempered Ear

Classic music: Today is World Cup Sunday. As Argentina and Germany battle to win the soccer championship, here is another installment of the music by the great Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

July 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

As loyal blog readers already know, The Ear has been using the FIFA World Cup (below) competition in soccer — or football, as the rest of the globe knows the sport – as a fine occasion to explore and to hear the music of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

World Cup 2014 playing

After all, the World Cup has taken place since June 12 in some dozen stadiums (below) throughout Brazil. And today’s championship match between Argentina and Germany will take place in Rio de Janiero.

World Cup 2014 stadiums

And after hearing the music of Villa-Lobos performed by the Cello Choir at the National Summer Cello Institute (below) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, The Ear is more convinced than ever that this great but neglected 20th-century composer deserves a wider hearing and more live performances.

Cello Choir 2014 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1

Villa-Lobos (below) attempted an ambitious and ingenious task: To reconcile and incorporate the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and concert hall music in general with the folk songs and folk dances of his native Brazil. Before Astor Piazzolla and his “new tangos,” there was Villa-Lobos and his Bachianas Brasileiras and Choros.

Villa-Lobos BW

Here are links to the previous installments:

This is the link to the Cello Choir concert of the annual National Summer Cello Institute that is held each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and that inspired my Villa-Lobos video postings from YouTube.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/classical-music-the-ear-takes-the-cello-cure-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-and-now-cant-wait-for-another-treatment-next-summer/

And here are the links to the first two installments that feature the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 and No 1, which both deserve repeated hearings:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/classical-music-the-fifa-world-cup-of-soccer-is-a-perfect-time-to-become-acquainted-with-the-astonishing-music-of-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/classical-music-the-united-states-advances-in-the-world-cup-of-soccer-and-the-ear-advances-to-another-great-moment-in-music-by-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

And here is the third installment that featured Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire performing the chorale prelude-type opening of the Bachianas Brasilerias No. 3 for solo piano:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/classical-music-more-world-cup-soccer-means-more-music-by-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos-here-is-installment-no-3/

Villa-Lobos was championed by none other than the great pianist Arthur Rubinstein, who performed his suite “Prole do bebe”:

And his well-known piece “The Little Train From the Caipira,” from “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 2, which Walt Disney was attracted to for possible use in a second “Fantasia” film and which imitates the sounds of a rural choo-choo, as played by a youth orchestra in Great Britain:

Now here is a link to Installment No. 4: A beautiful movement from one of his 17 string quartets — this one is No. 5 and is available on YouTube. It once again shows the lyrical songfulness and folk music vigor of Villa-Lobos. It is even more beautiful than the perfect soccer kick or dribble, pass or goal, and it is more long-lasting:

 

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Classical music: More World Cup soccer this weekend means more music by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. Here is installment No. 3.

July 5, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is the second-to-last weekend for the FIFA World Cup of soccer -– or football, as the rest of the world calls the sport –- in Brazil, especially now that Brazil has survived by defeating Colombia and that Germany defeated France.

World Cup 2014 playing

As I have said before, for The Ear the famed athletic competition has become a great excuse to explore a composer who is also world-class but whose music is too often overlooked.

I am talking about the 20th-century composer Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. So here is another morsel to whet your appetite, to tease you into listening to — and maybe even playing more of –- the music of Villa-Lobos (below).

Villa-Lobos BW

Once again you can hear how he incorporates folk music – folk songs, tunes and dance rhythms – into his concert hall music. In this one you can even hear how he tries to bring in Bach to Brazil. It is neo-Classicism at its best.

At the bottom is the gorgeous first movement from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 for solo piano, as played live by Brazilian native Nelson Freire (seen below with Martha Argerich).

nelsonfreire02

It is slowly and deeply moving, Amazonian Bach that I find is haunting and stays with you, making you want to listen to it again and again. It reminds The Ear of a Chorale Prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), especially the ones reworked in piano transcriptions by Ferruccio Busoni; or maybe a Prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier or an organ work, perhaps the prelude to a toccata; or maybe even a slow movement from one of the French or English Suites or the Partitas; or one of the variations from the “Goldberg” Variations.

Bach1

Here are links to the Cello Choir concert of the annual Summer National Cello Institute that is held each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and that gave rise to the Villa-Lobos postings.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/classical-music-the-ear-takes-the-cello-cure-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-and-now-cant-wait-for-another-treatment-next-summer/

And here are the links to the first two installments that feature the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 and No 1, which both deserve repeated hearings:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/classical-music-the-fifa-world-cup-of-soccer-is-a-perfect-time-to-become-acquainted-with-the-astonishing-music-of-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/classical-music-the-united-states-advances-in-the-world-cup-of-soccer-and-the-ear-advances-to-another-great-moment-in-music-by-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

And finally here is the link to the YouTube video with today’s installment of the greatness of Heitor Villa-Lobos music, the neglect of which is yet another sign of how Eurocentric the concert hall programming usually is:

 


Classical music: The United States advances in the World Cup of soccer and The Ear advances to another great moment in music by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

June 28, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

After its one-point loss to Germany, the U.S. soccer team will advance to the knockout round of the  FIFA World Cup, which is being held in Brazil until July 13.

The next game for the U.S. is against Belgium on Tuesday.

Loyal fans of The Ear may recall that a week or so ago he decided the global soccer event being held in Brazil was a good opportunity to explore the music of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (below), whose music is beautiful and much too under-programmed and under-played here and elsewhere.

Villa-Lobos BW

Here is a link to the original post that also featured the gorgeous Cantilena movement for soprano from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 that has been recorded by folk singer Joan Baez as well as opera divas Kiri Te Kanawa, Barbara Hendricks, Victoria de los Angeles and Kathleen Battle.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/classical-music-the-fifa-world-cup-of-soccer-is-a-perfect-time-to-become-acquainted-with-the-astonishing-music-of-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

Here is another great moment in Villa-Lobos that I heard at the Cello Choir concert by the National Summer Cello Institute that was held this month at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

This moment comes from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 in a YouTube video below. It is the third movement, the finale, that happens in fugal form and again shows how Heitor Villa-Lobos tried to adapt the compositional techniques of Johann Sebastian Bach to the folk music and native dance rhythms of Brazil. That was an ambitious project, to be sure, and one in which The Ear thinks the composer was surprisingly successful.

Enjoy as you prepare to root for Team U.S.A.


Classical music: The FIFA World Cup of soccer is a perfect time to become acquainted with the astonishing music of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

June 20, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Go ahead. Forget the scores.

I know, I know.

In the 2014 World Cup of championship soccer (below), this week the U.S. beat the odds-makers and won against favored Ghana while Spain disappointed the odds-makers when it lost to underdog Chile.

World Cup 2014 playing

Nonetheless, The Ear is no jock.

But he knows a lot of people here and around the world will spend this weekend watching the competition.

So he got to wondering.

What would be good classical music to post in honor of the World Cup soccer championships that are taking place in Rio de Janeiro and many other stadiums (below) throughout Brazil between June 12 and July 13?

World Cup 2014 stadiums

And then last Saturday I went to the Cello Choir concert (below), a free concert given by the “the National Summer Cello Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and BAM!!! there was the answer.

Here is a link to the positive review I did of the concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/classical-music-the-ear-takes-the-cello-cure-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-and-now-cant-wait-for-another-treatment-next-summer/

Cello Choir 2014 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1

It was there that I heard two totally absorbing works by the 20th-century Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Villa-Lobos (below) was a very prolific composer, writing over 2,000 works in his lifetime (1887-1959). Given such productivity it is not surprising that some works seems second-rate. What is more amazing is how many seem so memorable and so first-rate.

Boy, did that man ever have a sense of melodic line, of poignant harmonies, of contagious and fiery Latin African rhythms. His music seems as robust and straightforward as the portraits that show the beefy composer chomping away on big cigars.

The Ear suspects that Villa-Lobos would have been a lot of fun to know and pal around with. He seems as outsized and rich in natural resources as his native country.

Villa-Lobos BW

And so does his body of work.

So why isn’t Villa-Lobos better known and more often performed outside his native country? I can’t think of the last time a work of his was performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or by pianists and chamber music groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Maybe some readers can.

And Villa-Lobos used his native land to inform his work and the effect can be enthralling and even magical. He is a sure remedy to Eurocentric programming, and especially with a growing Hispanic population. (I know: Portuguese, not Spanish, is the colonial culture and language of Brazil. But still.)

Anyway, there I was, sitting in Mills Hall and listening to two outstanding works performed by the choir of 16 cellos and one soprano in works designed to “Brazilian-ize” Johann Sebastian Bach and update his Baroque musical style -– which I think they succeed in doing. Bach goes ethnic!

The first work was the famous Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 –- with its soaring aria-like Cantilena that has been recorded by great singers from folksinger Joan Baez (below top) to opera divas such as Victoria de Los Angeles, Anna Moffo (below bottom), Kiri Te Kanawa, Kathleen Battle and Barbara Hendricks.

Joan Baez

anna moffo

The performance that I heard live featured the UW-Madison soprano Anna Whiteway, who was absolutely exquisite. She had fabulous pitch, big volume, smooth vibrato, great diction and lovely tone. She was superb, and the cellists and conductor thought so too.

Cello Choir 2014 Anna Whiteway

Then there was the less famous Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1, which included a gorgeous second movement and fabulous fugal finale.

So below is a sample from YouTube, where you can find quite a lot of quality performances of music by Villa-Lobos.

And I think that during the month-long World Cup play in Brazil, we can’t do better than to listen to other samples of beautiful music by this prolific composer who seems to The Ear way, way underplayed and under-appreciated.

Personally, these days The Ear is checking out the Bachianas Brasileiras, the Choros and the chamber music, especially the cello sonatas and the string quartets.

But there is also much more in the way of piano music, guitar music and vocal music.

So from now to the end of the World Cup, I will periodically offer examples of music by Villa-Lobos.

And what do you think of Villa-Lobos?

Do you have a favorite piece that others should listen to?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music education: The Ear takes the “Cello Cure” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now can’t wait for another “treatment” next summer.

June 19, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, for the first time ever, I went to the free public concert put on every June by the National Summer Cello Institute, which takes place each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Cello Choir 2014 with Uri Vardi

The NSCI is under the direction of University of Wisocnsin-Madison cello professor Uri Vardi (below top) and his wife Hagit Vardi (below body), who works with the UW-Madison Institute of Integrative Medicine and emphasizes the use of the Feldenkrais Method to help performers in workshops called, fittingly, “You Body is Your Strad.”

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

hagitvardistretching artm

Here is a link to a previous post about the cello institute, with still other links to even earlier stories:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/classical-music-a-free-cello-choir-concert-will-take-place-this-saturday-night-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-it-features-new-music-and-works-by-villa-lobos-poulenc-j-s-bach-cesar-frank/

The event proved so thoroughly enjoyable and so deeply pleasurable, and put me in such a great mood and frame of mind, that a close friend referred to the experience as the “Cello Cure.”

I won’t argue because it sure did feel curative.

But then I find that experiencing great beauty often feels that way.

One came away from the concert -– which included a cello choir of 16 undergraduate, graduate and professional cellists, selected by audition, from around the nation and perhaps even the world –- completely understanding why the cello, with its human voice-like singing tone, is the favorite instrument of so many listeners. (For The Ear, the cello ranks right up there, just below the piano and alongside the violin and the oboe.)

Cello and bow

One thing The Ear liked was the lack of purism. Enjoyment was the goal of the evening, and so the program featured some simply gorgeous isolated single movements from sonatas and concertos, and NOT the entire pieces. The Great Hits format worked exceptionally well. And so was featuring soloists, and not just ensembles, for the first time.

And on top of all the cellos, The Ear also had two special and bonus experiences: He heard Anna Whiteway, a fabulously talented undergraduate soprano at the UW-Madison, and he heard what sounds like an eminently listenable contemporary composer, Kyle Price, who will be attending the UW-Madison for a graduate degree.

So here are the highlights with photos and not a lot of commentary except to say I found excellence from everyone and disappointment from no one.

The concert opened up with UW-Madison conductor James Smith (below right) leading the famous “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5, with its soaring and lyrical soprano aria or wordless vocalise, by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. In it and the other similar suites, the composer attempted to adapt and update the musical style of Johann Sebastian Bach to his native country’s indigenous folk melodies and dance rhythms.

Cello Choir 2014 Jim Smith

Here are members of the cello choir, which wouldn’t fit well in a single photo.

Cello Choir 20144 left

Cello Choir 2014 right

And here is Anna Whiteway, who got enthusiastic applause from the cellists and the woefully small audience of several dozen listeners. No wonder. She is The Real Deal. She possesses beautiful tone, big volume, pleasant and modest vibrato, excellent diction and a thoroughly confident stage presence:

Cello Choir 2014 Anna Whiteway

Here is Brian Klickman and pianist Claire Mallory in the poignantly moving Cavatina movement from the Cello Sonata by Francis Poulenc.

Cello Choir 2014 Brian Klickman, Claire Mallory piano

Here is that wonderfully tuneful last movement from Cesar Franck‘s Violin Sonata transcribed for cello and played by Cordula Aeschbacher with pianist Claire Mallory:

Cello Choir 2014 Cordula Aeschbacher

Then Aleks Tengesdal played the impressively turbulent first movement of the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, with piano accompaniment.

Cello Choir 2014 Aleks Tengesdal, Claire Mallory piano

Julian Mueller closed out the first half with the gorgeous Andante Cantabile by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who, it seems, was never at a loss for a beautiful, bittersweet melody. (You can hear it played by superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a YouTube video at the bottom):

Cello Choir 2014 Julian Mueller

The second half opened with seven cellists playing the Recitative and Meditation movements from the young contemporary American composer Kyle Price’s “Requiem in Memory of Connie Barrett.” The Ear found it a very promising and appetizing foretaste of what sounds like a listener-friendly composing style, something too often missing from new music:

Cello Choir 2014 Kyle Price Requiem cellos

Then came back-to-back performances by father and son cellists.

Son Andrew Laven played three movements –- the Bourees 1 and 2 and the Gigue -– from the Suite No. 4 for Solo Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach:

Cello Choir 2014 Andrew Laven

Father Steven Laven, with pianist Christina Lalog, played “The Tears of Jacqueline” by Jacques Offfenbach, a work he said he first heard when it was dedicated to the late great British cellist Jacqueline du Pre. You understand the dedication because the piece is appropriately lyrical in its lament:

Cello Choir 2014 Steven Laven, Christina Lalog piano

And then the concert closed as it opened, with the music of Villa-Lobos. But this was a work The Ear didn’t know, the “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 1, which has a lovely and soulful slow movement and catchy fugal finale:

Cello Choir 2014 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1

As an encore, the cello choir demonstrated an improvisational exercise that it used during the two-week workshop. It involves a conductor using unusual and unpredictable hands movements that are unrelated to a particular score or piece of music, and to which the cellists must each respond as they desire or hear is necessary. To The Ear, it sounded a bit like the famous simultaneous, full-orchestra crescendo in the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” song from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

Cello Choir 2014 Improvisation exercise

Uri Vardi graciously thanked the small but very appreciative audience that rose to its feet and added: “See you next year.”

Indeed, he will.

He will almost certainly see The Ear, although I hope the NSCI can find a way to avoid a conflict with a concert on the same night by the popular Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. Audiences shouldn’t have to choose between two such deserving groups.

And Vardi should also see a full house in Mills Hall.

The Cello Choir concert is that good and that lovely, that beautiful and, yes, that curative.


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