The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The centennial of British composer Benjamin Britten was Friday. Here are three fine appreciations of him and his music. Plus, you can watch the State High School Honors Concerts today and Monday on Wisconsin Public Television.

November 24, 2013
2 Comments

ALERT: Wisconsin‘s finest young musicians (below) unite for one of the most rewarding musical experiences of their lives. Wisconsin School Music Association’s (WSMA) High School State Honors Concerts were recorded Oct. 24, 2013 at Madison’s Overture Center. The show is part of the Young Performers Initiative to celebrate Wisconsin’s young performers and those who inspire them. The hour-long special airs this afternoon at 5 p.m. and Monday night at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television’s main channel and also on alternative The Wisconsin Channel. For more information about other air times and channels, here is a link: http://wptschedule.org/episodes/44717914/2013-State-Honors-Concerts/

wpt state honors 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

No one could blame you if you missed the centennial of British composer Benjamin Britten (below).

After all, the Britten celebration was largely overshadowed by the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which also fell on this past Friday, Nov. 22.

But Benjamin Britten was a great composer, for more reason than many of us realize.

Benjamin Britten

Here are three essays – two from NPR and one from The New York Times – that I found particularly helpful and insightful, especially the detailed explanations by Baltimore Symphony Orchesrra conductor Marin Alsop (below) explanation to Scott Simon of Britten’s “War Requiem” (see the YouTube video at the bottom) and her three points about what makes Britten so important and unique. (Be sure to listen to the longer program rather than read the short text):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/23/246386046/consumed-by-violence-with-hope-for-peace-britten-s-war-requiem

Marin Alsop big

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/14/245211949/act-like-you-know-benjamin-britten

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/22/arts/music/the-village-that-benjamin-britten-never-left.html?_r=0

Do you have a favorite piece by Benjamin Britten?

What is it and why is it a favorite?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Sexism still greets women conductors.

October 13, 2013
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, isn’t this an unpleasant and unexpected surprise – lo, these many years later and into the 21st century.

Given all the progress that women have made over the past few decades in so many fields and professions including classical music, you might think that the question about whether they have the strength, stamina or smarts to be a conductor would be a totally moot or meaningless question by this point.

But you would be wrong.

Just take a look at the story – and follow the various links in it to other essays and analyses — on the “Deceptive Cadence” blog at NPR to see that the forces of sexism are still trying to shut out or belittle the achievement of women conductors.

Take the American conductors as Marin Alsop (below top) of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra, who also was the first woman in 118 to conduct the BBC Proms concerts in England concerts this summer (in a YouTube video at the  bottom) and who sells a lot pf CDs for Naxos Records;  and such as  JoAnn Falletta of the Buffalo Philharmonic (below middle in a photo by Cheryl Gorski). Or take the Australian conductor Simone Young (below bottom) of the Hamburg State Opera.

Marin Alsop 2

conducting_joann_falletta

simone young 

Locally, we have heard great concerts at the Madison Symphony Orchestra from the firecracker Finnish guest conductor Anu Tali (below).

Anu Tali

Here is a link to the story that you should read and listen to, and then react to in the COMMENTS section of this blog.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/10/09/230751348/what-is-classical-musics-women-problem

Read and listen to it and let us know what you think about what should be done about women conductors and the sexism they face.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Does The Great American Symphony” exist – or even its equivalent in a different form or genre? American conductor JoAnn Falletta takes up the challenging question on NPR with “All Things Considered” host Robert Siegel. Also, the 14th annual Madison Early Music Festival opens tonight with a concert by Piffaro and a lecture on “The Germanies of 1616.”

July 6, 2013
7 Comments

A REMINDER: The 14th Madison Early Music Festival, with the theme “Renaissance Germany,”  opens tonight with a performance by the Renaissance band Piffaro (below) at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. It will be preceded at 6:30 p.m. by a FREE lecture by frequent guest blog contributor John W. Barker on “The Germanies of 1616 and How They Got to Be That Way” in Room L-160 of the Elvehjem Building of the nearby Chazen Museum of Art. For more information, visit: http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/lsa/memf/index.html

piffaro

By Jacob Stockinger

Back when The Ear was an undergraduate, he had a philosophy professor who claimed in an aesthetics course that no one in the class that was full of ambitious artists and especially would-be writers should worry about writing The Great American Novel.

It had already been written.

The Great American Novel, he said, was “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (below):

f. scott fitzgerald writing

It’s a great choice, though others might disagree and name Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” or Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

Still, overall, I think the decades have proven him right – which is why Gatsby has been made into several movie versions, including an older one with the actor Robert Redford and a recent one by director Baz Luhrman, and John Harbison’s full-length opera (below, with Dawn Upshaw as Daisy and Jerry Hadley as Jay Gatsby). And maybe a TV drama based on the novel is yet to come.

John Harbison Great Gatsby

But even though that quite of question somehow seems impertinent or irrelevant, it can lead to some memorable discussions and exposure to new music.

So last week, when everyone was looking up American music to play on Independence Day or the fourth of July, the question of The Great American Symphony arose.

And it was discussed on NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog by Tom Huizenga and also on “All Things Considered” by veteran host, the cultured, cultivated and witty Robert Siegel (below top) and American conductor JoAnn Falletta (below bottom), in a photo by Cheryl Gorski), who now leads three different orchestras as music director. (The three are the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland.) Falletta comes up with some interesting choices of American composers and works — some you have heard of and some you haven’t. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the beautiful slow movement from Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1, which I had never heard either live or in a recorded performance.)

robert siegel in npr studio

conducting_joann_falletta

It would be interesting to hear what some other American-born and American-trained maestros and champions of old and new American music – from Leonard Bernstein and Alan Gilbert of the New York Philharmonic to Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas (below) of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra said or have to say when they took on the same question.

gam_callout

Anyway, here are links to the NPR discussions. I recommend listening to the program and not just reading the transcript.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/07/02/197590007/IN-SEARCH-OF-THE-GREAT-AMERICAN-SYMPHONY

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/07/03/198018168/the-innovative-mosaic-of-american-symphonies

What do you think?

Do you have an orchestral work to nominate as The Great American Symphony or its equivalent?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Native son trumpeter Andrew Balio returns to Wisconsin and Madison this Saturday night with organist Felix Hell; and the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra performs Sunday afternoon.

February 22, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Two noteworthy concerts will take place this weekend.

On Saturday might at 7:30 p.m. — NOT 8 p.m. — in Overture Hall, the organist Felix Hell and trumpeter Andrew Balio  will perform a recital concert sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra

The recital by acclaimed German organist Felix Hell (below) and trumpeter Andrew Balio, a Wisconsin native and principal trumpet of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, will feature a century-spanning program that concludes with multiple works by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is presenting The Hell/Balio Duo as part of its Overture Concert Organ (below) Series.

To see the full program and see other information, use this link:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/hell

And here is a sample video from YouTube of Felix Hell playing an organ transcription of Samuel Barber’s famous “Adagio for Strings”:

overture organ

Tickets are $19.50 and are available through the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141 or online at madisonsymphony.org.

The concert career of Felix Hell (below) began at the age of nine and has included more than 700 recitals worldwide. He has received global recognition for his performances of the entire organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach in three full cycles as well as the complete organ works of Felix Mendelssohn. A frequent guest of American orchestras, Hell gave his debut performance in Boston’s famous Symphony Hall in 2004.

Felix Hell

Wisconsin native Andrew Balio (below) was appointed as principal trumpet of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2001. He was previously the principal trumpet of the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and the Orquesta Sinfonica del Estado de Mexico. His solo debut, at age fifteen, was with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, performing the Haydn trumpet concerto.

Here is a link to his official and impressive biography:

http://www.bsomusic.org/main.taf?p=4,4,1,1&id=AndrewBalio

Andrew Balio

And here is a sample of Andrew Balio’s playing in a YouTube video:

Then on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel at Edgewood College, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra, under Edgewood professor and conductor Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci),

blake walter john maniaci

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will perform works include Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” Overture; Beethoven’s Symphony Number 2 in D (at bottom in a YouTube video with Christian Thielemann conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the first movement); and Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” narrated by guest performer John Fields, interim Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Edgewood College.

Admission is $5; free with Edgewood College I.D.


Classical music: For Black History Month, conductor Marin Alsop rediscovers jazz master James P. Johnson as a serious classical musician and composer of symphonies. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie String Quartet plays a FREE concert of Mozart and Brahms in Stoughton on Tuesday evening.

February 11, 2013
4 Comments

ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie String Quartet (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) will play music by Mozart and Brahms in a FREE concert tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Skaalen Retirement Community Chapel , at 400 North Morris Street, in Stoughton. Free-will donations will be welcome at the door. The quartet brings together some of the brightest stars of the MSO: Co-concertmaster Suzanne Beia, Principal Cellist Karl Lavine, Principal Violist Christopher Dozoryst and violinist Laura Burns. The concert will include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s  String Quartet No. 15 in D minor, K. 421, and Johannes Brahms‘ Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 155, featuring MSO clarinetist Nancy Mackenzie. The Rhapsodie String Quartet is the resident quartet of the MSO’s HeartStrings Community Engagement Program which reaches beyond traditional learning environments to bring live, interactive performances by some of the MSO’s best players into healthcare and residential facilities.

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

February is Black History Month.

That makes it a great time to once again ask a question that I posted last month on Martin Luther King Day: Where are African-American classical musicians, and why don’t we see and hear more of them?

Apparently, I’m not the only person with that question on my mind. In fact, if you follow this link back to that posting, you can read reader Comments and see some very fine suggestions for more names of black composers and performers.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/classical-music-on-martin-luther-king-jr-day-and-president-barack-obamas-second-inauguration-day-the-ear-wonders-why-arent-there-more-african-american-players-in-and-audiences-fo/

But there is more.

National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” with Scott Simon also featured a terrific story about Marin Alsop (below), the conductor and music director of the Baltimore Symphony and the Sao Paul Symphony in Brazil.

Marin Alsop big

It turns out that Alsop uncovered long-lost manuscripts of serious music by the forgotten James P. Johnson (below, in a photo by William Gottlieb), best known as an outstanding jazz stride pianist who also taught Fats Waller.

And as a jazz composer, he wrote THE piece that embodied an entire age: “The Charleston.”

But it runs our that there was a classical side to Johnson too. He wrote “Harlem” Symphony (an excerpt in a YouTube video is at the bottom) and several other works that were actually performed in Carnegie Hall during the 1940s.

alsop_johnson

Moreover, Alsop – a Leonard Bernstein student in spirit as well as name — is trying to bring Johnson back into the mainstream.

Alsop is attempting to restore the lost manuscripts that languished in an attic for decades. And she intends to give performances of the music that will become, one suspects, recordings. The story even includes some excerpts, so stream it and listen to it, don’t just read it.

And more live performances and recordings of a black composer just might also lead to more black students and black audiences.

At least one can hope so.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/02/02/170864270/treasures-in-the-attic-finding-a-jazz-masters-lost-orchestral-music


Classical music: Will 2013 give us more proof that the future of Western European classical music can be found in South America, Asia and elsewhere in the Developing World? American conductor Marin Alsop seems to think so.

January 3, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most interesting stories I heard about classical music in 2012 points yet again to a curious paradox.

Even while many First World audiences, as well as school programs, in Western Europe and North America seem to be turning their backs on classical music, that same classical music is thriving and blossoming in South America and Asia, and even in Africa (below is a double bass player in the Kinshasa Symphony).

Kinshasa Symphony bassist

Curiously, the greatest success often seems to come from the most unlikely source: The poor and undereducated young people and students, plus their families and friends, for whom the music takes on even more personal and cultural or social meaning.

landfill harmonic cello

One example is Gustavo Dudamel (below), the fiery and charismatic superstar conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel  and “el sistema” in Venezuela, which trained him and gets countless young people into making classical music.

dudamel-wild49754818

You may remember that on Christmas Day I touched on this same theme with a very moving video of poor young in Paraguay who are featured in the upcoming documentary “Landfill Harmonic” about poor students who recycle trash into instruments of musical beauty.

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/

And here is a link to the story, which aired on NPR in which Leonard Bernstein protégée and conductor Marin Alsop, who leads both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Sao Paulo Orchestra in Brazil, discusses her exhilarating experience south of the border.

Those experiences include an outdoors concert for 20,000 (below) and taking the first South American orchestra ever invited  to the famed British Proms concerts, where the crowds went wild. (At bottom is a YouTube video of Alsop and the Sao Paulo Orchestra playing encores at the 2012 Proms in Britain.)

alsop_brazil

Such beauty, meaning and enthusiasm are indeed contagious. Let us hope 2013 brings more of that same energy and devotion to beautiful music and a lifelong appreciation of it right here!

I found the story hopeful and inspiring, and I hope you do too:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/12/22/167459993/marin-alsop-a-utopian-musical-dream-from-south-america


Classical music: Fifth Symphonies, like Ninths, can mark a turning point in a composer’s career and in the history of music.

August 23, 2012
5 Comments

ALERT and REMINDER: A new chamber group in the area, the Black Marigold wind quintet (below) performs its second feee concert tomorrow, on Friday, Aug. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Hall of Capitol Lakes Retirement Center, 333 W. Main St. For more  informaiton about the performers and the program, go to: http://host.madison.com/calendar/music/black-marigold-summer-concert-series/event_0b76af2a-e0b3-11e1-9f8f-1777522ac029.html#.UCFecwfQz_A.facebook

By Jacob Stockinger

Most classical music fans know about the so-called Curse of Beethoven’s Ninth, which seems to have intimidated many composers who cam later and kept them from completing more than nine symphonies. (A small number compared to Haydn’s 104 and Mozart’s 41, no?)

But Fifth Symphonies also mark a sea change in a composer’s career and inspire a certain kind of awe and legend, also going back to Beethoven (below).

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conductor Marin Alsop (below), who has recorded for Naxos Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony with her new additional orchestra, the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil. She discussed Fifth Symphonies with NPR’s Scott Simon.

It is an illuminating talk with great audio clips that help her explain the music. Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/21/157113606/a-grand-soviet-symphony-by-way-of-brazil

Curiously, my favorite fifth symphony – after Beethoven’s Fifth, that is – was never even mentioned: Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, with its great final movement featuring brass and strings plus an unbeatably dramatic finale punctuated by silence (at bottom).

I also don’t recall hearing them talk about Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, which is also a great one, though Shostakovich’s great Fifth Symphony gets a nod.

Do you have favorite Fifth Symphony?

Let The Ear know what it is.


Classical music: There is more to graduation and commencement — and to British composer Sir Edward Elgar — than “Pomp and Circumstance No. 1.” We need to hear more Elgar.

May 20, 2012
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend once again brings graduation and commencement ceremonies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Other universities, colleges and all kinds of schools all around the country will follow soon.

And many proud graduates, parents, family members and friends will hear the familiar strains of Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D Major – which is still a stirring and appropriate choice of music for a processional. It may be a cliché, but it works.

But as a recent NPR interview with Baltimore Symphony conductor Marin Alsop (below) made clear, there is much more to the music of Elgar than that old standby, wonderful as it is.

There is also more, much more, than the “Enigma” Variations and the Cello Concerto, his other two most popular works performed in concert halls.

For example, there is the “Salut d’amour” which the The Ear thinks is one of the most lovely pieces of violin salon music ever composed. It is  at the bottom; take a listen and see if you agree.

But there are also bigger pieces by the relatively untrained Elgar (below) that we should know better and hear more often. Like Brahms, Elgar struggled to write symphonies and composed them later in life – as almost everyone after Beethoven did.

But Marin Alsop takes NPR’s Scott Simon and listeners through a crash course it Elgar’s Symphony No. 1, which I heard conducted here by Kenneth Woods (below), a Madison native and graduate of West High School and the UW who is now the conductor of the Orchestra of the Swan in Cardiff, Wales. Several years ago, Wood returned to Madison to conductor the UW Symphony Orchestra in Symphony No. 1 (below). It proved to be an exciting and enlightening performance by a great Elgar advocate.

I thought the discussion between Alsop and Simon, complete with musical snippets from each movement of the Symphony No. 1, which was premiered in 1908, proved terrific and illuminating. See it and hear it for yourself:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/05/06/151884589/elgars-belated-symphony-majestic-noble-and-perfectly-british

But I was puzzled by one thing: They see Elgar as a great representative of the kind of noble majesty of Edwardian England – and he is. They are 100 percent right on that score.

But neither of them remarked on the devastating effect of World War I, which decimated English society and left a lasting effect on the arts and so much more. World War I changed everything. That’s a major reason why Elgar’s music summons up a different world, a more reassuring and kinder, gentler world, a more stable world based on a strictly stratified and classist society. Think “Downton Abbey.”

Anyway, listen to the discussion and musical excerpts on this NPR broadcast and then let The Ear know what you think and which pieces by Sir Edward Elgar you love best and in what performances.

Maybe we should even make Graduation Weekend each year also  Sir Edward Elgar Weekend, and use it as a time to reconsider his work, which in many ways still remains underestimated and underperformed more than a century later.


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