The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why do we love Chopin? Ask pianist Jeremy Denk

August 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like playing or hearing the music of Chopin (below).

Can you?

But just why the 19th-century Romantic composer has such universal appeal is hard to explain.

One of the best explanations The Ear has read came recently from pianist Jeremy Denk, whose essay on “Chopin as a cat” appeared in The New York Times.

Denk, who has performed two outstanding solo recitals in Madison, is clearly an important musical thinker as well as a great performer. You can also see that at once if you read his excellent blog “Think Denk.”

The Ear suspects the current essay grew out of some remarks that Denk gave during a lecture on Chopin’s pedaling at the UW-Madison, and will be incorporated into the book he is working on that includes his previous acclaimed essays in The New Yorker magazine.

Denk (below), who has lately been performing an intriguing survey concert that covers 600 years of music, thinks that Chopin’s uniqueness resides in how he consolidated and fused both conservative values and radical, even modern, innovations.

To the Ear, it is the best modern analysis of Chopin that he has read since the major treatment that the acclaimed pianist-musicologist Charles Rosen wrote about the Polish “poet of the piano” in his terrific book “The Romantic Generation.”

Moreover, the online web version of Denk’s essay is much more substantial and satisfying than the newspaper print edition. It has not only audio-visual performances of important Chopin works by major artists such as Arthur Rubinstein and  Krystian Zimerman, it also suggests, analyzes and praises some “old-fashioned” historical recordings of Chopin by Ignaz Friedman, Alfred Cortot and Josef Hoffmann.

Now if only Jeremy Denk would record an album of Chopin himself!

Here is a link to the Chopin essay:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/arts/music/jeremy-denk-chopin.html

Enjoy!

Please listen to the wonderful clips that Denk suggests.

Then tell us what pieces are your favorite Chopin works, big or small, and what performers are your favorite Chopin interpreters.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: Jacques Offenbach’s fantastical masterpiece “The Tales of Hoffmann” will be performed by Madison Opera on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Here is Part 1 of a two-part preview

April 12, 2016
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ALERT: The concert by the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble that was scheduled for this Saturday has been CANCELED due to illness.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Madison Opera write:

Madison Opera will present two performances of  “The Tales of Hoffmann” by French composer Jacques Offenbach (below) this weekend.

Jacques Offenbach

The production will be performed in Overture Hall of the Overture Center on Friday at 8 p.m. and on
 Sunday at 2:30 p.m. It will be sung in French with projected English translations.

Tickets are $18-$129. Student and group discounts are available. Tickets can be purchased at the Overture Box Office, 201 State St., Madison, and by calling (608) 258-4141 or visiting www.madisonopera.org

This will be the company’s first production in 20 years of Offenbach’s masterpiece, which moves in a fantasy world. It offers showpiece arias for the bravura cast, the gorgeous “Barcarolle,” and a moving tribute to what it means to be an artist. (You can hear the famous and familiar Barcarolle in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

THE STORY

As he sits in a tavern, the poet Hoffmann drinks, smokes and encounters Lindorf, his rival for his current lover, the opera singer Stella.

He recalls how his nemesis seems to appear constantly in his life, and urged on by his fellow bar patrons, tells the three tales of his loves: Olympia, who turns out to be a mechanical doll; Antonia, a singer who dies of a mysterious illness; and Giulietta, a courtesan who steals his reflection. His adventures take him from Munich to Venice, always accompanied by his most faithful love, his muse.

The opera ends back in the tavern, as Hoffmann’s muse consoles him and urges him on to the higher purpose of art.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 2

PRAISE AND BACKGROUND

“The Tales of Hoffmann is one of my absolute favorite operas,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “I love the music, the story, the myriad facets to the characters, and the fact that no two productions of this opera are identical. It has comedy, tragedy, drinking songs, lyrical arias, and even some magic tricks.”

Offenbach’s final opera, “The Tales of Hoffmann” premiered in 1881 at the Opera-Comique in Paris. The title character was based on the writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, now most famous as the author of the original “Nutcracker” story; the different acts were adaptations of Hoffmann’s own short stories.

Offenbach was celebrated for over 100 comic operettas such as “Orpheus in the Underworld”; “Hoffmann” was intended to be his first grand opera. Unfortunately, he died before completing the opera, and other composers finished it. Over the past century, there have been many different versions of the opera, with different arias, different plot points, and even different orders of the acts.

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

“The Tales of Hoffmann, for me, is the perfect blend of great music and
 great theater,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera and the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. “It’s particularly fun to conduct because the orchestra plays a central role in
the moment to moment unfolding of the drama, and Offenbach achieves this at the same time as he is spinning out one gorgeous melody after another.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

THE CAST

Madison Opera’s cast features a quartet of debuts in the leading roles. Harold Meers (below), who sang at Opera in the Park in 2015, makes his mainstage debut as Hoffmann, the poet.

Harold Meers

Sian Davies (bel0w) makes her debut singing three of Hoffmann’s loves – Antonia, Giulietta and Stella – a true vocal and dramatic feat. Jeni Houser returns to Madison Opera following her most recent role as Amy in Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” to sing the role of his fourth love, Olympia. She has also appeared here in George Frideric Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” and Stephan Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.”

Sian Davies

Baritone Morgan Smith makes his debut as Hoffmann’s nemesis, who appears in forms both sinister and comic.

Making her debut as Hoffmann’s sidekick Nicklausse, who also turns out to be his Muse, is mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala.

Returning to Madison Opera as the four servants is Jared Rogers, who sang Beadle Bamford in Stephen Sondheim‘s “Sweeney Todd.” Thomas Forde, last here as Don Basilio in Giaocchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” sings the dual roles of Luther and Crespel. Robert Goderich, who sang Pirelli in “Sweeney Todd,” sings Spalanzani, the mad inventor. Tyler Alessi makes his debut as Schlemil.

Three Madison Opera Studio Artists round out the cast: Kelsey Park as the voice of Antonia’s dead mother and William Ottow and Nathaniel Hill as two students.

SETTING

Madison Opera’s production is set in the Roaring 1920s, with stylish costumes that are perfect for Offenbach’s fantasy that travels time and location.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 3

Kristine McIntyre (below), who directed Jake Heggie‘s “Dead Man Walking” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” for Madison Opera, stages this complex story that has a vast dramatic scope.

Kristine McIntyre 2016

Tomorrow: Artistic and music director John DeMain and stage director Kristine McIntyre address the differences between the reputation and the reality of “The Tales of Hoffman.”


Classical music: This week brings some appealing solo recitals and chamber music performances for piano, violin, cello, guitar and piano trio.

November 8, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming week has some big musical events, including the Madison Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème” on Friday night and Sunday afternoon; and the annual two days of fall concerts by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras on Saturday and Sunday. Both of those events will be previewed at length later this week.

But there is also some very appealing music on a smaller scale, including a solo piano recital, a violin and piano recital, a guitar recital, and a chamber music concert that features piano trios.

Here are the four stand-out events:

TUESDAY NIGHT

On Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Canadian-born pianist Joel Hastings will give a FREE guest artist concert.

His program features five transcriptions by Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Il m’aimait tant – Mélodie; Die Gräberinsel der Fürsten zu Gotha – Lied von Herzog Ernst, zu Sachsen-Coburg- Gotha; Spanisches Ständchen – Melodie von Graf Leó Festetic Romance du Comte Mikaïl Wielhorsky; Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth – Elegie/ Also included is piano music by Jean Roger-Ducasse (1873-1954) including Barcarolle No. 1, Chant de l’Aube, Sonorités and Rythmes; and Twelve Etudes, Op. 8, by Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915).

Joel Hastings (below), who teaches at Florida State University in Tallahassee, was the winner of the 2006 Eighth International Web Concert Hall Competition and the 1993 International Bach Competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
 After his performance at the 10th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, one reporter designated Hastings the “audience favorite” while another declared, “the kinetic fingers of this young Canadian reminded me strongly of his late countryman, Glenn Gould.”

Hastings will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Wednesday, Nov. 11, from noon to 2 in Morphy Hall.

For more information about events at the UW-Madison including student performances, visit:

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

Joel Hastings

WEDNESDAY 

The UW-Madison Guitar Ensemble (below) will perform a FREE concert at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall under director Javier Calderon. Sorry, The Ear has received nothing specific about the program.

Undergraduates Erik Anderson, left, and Anthony Caulkins perform a duet during a UW Guitar Ensemble music concert in Mills Hall at the Mosse Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during spring on April 17, 2013. The photograph was created for #UWRightNow, a 24-hour multimedia and social-network project. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Undergraduates Erik Anderson, left, and Anthony Caulkins perform a duet during a UW Guitar Ensemble music concert in Mills Hall at the Mosse Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during spring on April 17, 2013. The photograph was created for #UWRightNow, a 24-hour multimedia and social-network project. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

FRIDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a  photo by Caroline Bittencourt), the new professor of violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will make her local debut. (She is seen below teaching in a photo by Michael R. Anderson.)

Altino (left), with freshman violinist Lydia Schweitzer, has developed a specialty in addressing overuse injuries.

Altino (left), with freshman violinist Lydia Schweitzer, has developed a specialty in addressing overuse injuries.

Her must-hear program features the Sonata No. 3 in C Major for Solo Violin, BWV 1005, by Johann Sebastian Bach (which you can hear performed by Hilary Hahn in a YouTube video at the bottom); the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano by Johannes Brahms; the Romance, Op. 23, by American composer Amy Beach; and the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano by American composer Charles Ives. UW professor of collaborative piano Martha Fischer will perform with her. Admission is $12 for the public; free for all students.

For more information, visit these sites:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/debut-faculty-concert-soh-hyun-park-altino-violin/

For a Q&A:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2015/07/31/welcoming-new-faculty-violinist-prof-soh-hyun-park-altino/

For a fine background story and preview about a “world-class talent” from Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/music/violin-professor-soh-hyun-park-altino/

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

SATURDAY

This Saturday afternoon, Nov. 14, at 3 p.m., St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), located at 1833 Regent Street in Madison, will host a performance by participants in The Leonard Sorkin International Institute of Chamber Music.

Parking is on the street and admission is a free-will offering.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

The Leonard Sorkin International Institute of Chamber Music (ICM) offers a concentration in chamber music performance for advanced level graduate students and young professional musicians. The program is based at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is directed by violin professor Bernard Zinck.

Leonard Sorkin Institute logo

The program prepares students for careers in performance with a combination of weekly masterclasses, coaching and private lessons as well as financial and facility support. ICM students enjoy a rehearsal space and office dedicated to their use, mentors on self-management or advice on seeking professional management, and contest travel finances in addition to generous fellowships which pay tuition plus a modest stipend.

Leonard Sorkin Institute class

Typically, individual students form chamber ensembles such as string quartets or piano trios, give one group recital each semester, and use the repertoire from these recitals in outreach presentations, concerts and competitions.

The program to be performed at St. Andrew’s is: Piano Trio, Op. 33, in E-flat major by Louise Farrenc; Sonata for Cello and Violin by Maurice Ravel; and Piano Trio No. 3 in C Major, Op. 87, by Johannes Brahms.

For more information and biographies of the performers, go to an scroll down:

http://www.standrews-madison.org/saint-andrews-concert-series.html


Classical music: It’s Father’s Day as well as the Summer Solstice plus the second FREE Make Music Madison festival. What music would you play for your father?

June 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a lot of things.

It is the summer solstice — the first day of summer — so a lot of people will be listening to “Summer” section (below in a popular YouTube video with more than 9 million hits) from “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi. Or perhaps they will celebrate the coming of summer with other music and other composers?

It is also the FREE citywide and mostly outdoor festival of Make Music Madison. Here is a link to the website, where you can find a search engine that feature genres and performers as well as locations:

http://makemusicmadison.org

Make Music Madison logo square

But because it is Father’s Day, I would like to hear what music you would play for your father. Leave your suggestion, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENTS section.

My father liked his music less heavy. Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner and Richard Wagner were not for him.

But something like the Barcarolle to Jacques Offenbach’s opera “The Tales of Hoffmann” was exactly to his liking.

So here it is, for you Dad.


Classical music: We said goodbye to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp by speaking love to loss. Here in photos is how it went.

September 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Sunday afternoon we gathered to say goodbye to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, who died suddenly in June of cardiac arrest at 84 while he was on summer vacation in Colorado.

I don’t think you can have a better send-off.

The day started out sunny and then looked like it would cloud over.

But the sunlight stayed.

Howard Karp (below, in a 2000 photo by Katrin Talbot) would have liked that. There never seemed anything morose about Howard, even when he played music that was introspective and melancholic. And he was such a natural: The piano just seemed to grow out of his long arms and fingers.

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

Sure, like all people he had his share of sorrows and worries. But on his own scale, the joys always outweighed the sorrows.

I found myself thinking of Howard and recalling philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s dictum that “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And I found myself adding: “Without Howard Karp, music in Madison might not have been a mistake, but it certainly would have been severely diminished.”

But I do not want to use this post for me to talk about Howard Karp and what a wonderful man and musician, family member and teacher, he was.

His own family and friends did that so well — and so eloquently — that all I can do today is to use photos and quick descriptions to tell you what you missed if you weren’t there.

The welcome speaker and comforting guide through the celebration was Bill Lutes (below), a longtime friend and former student of Howard Karp. Bill did an outstanding and dry-eyed job of speaking love to loss, as did the entire family.

Karp Memorial Bill Lutes

The event opened with Howard Karp playing the opening movement of the heroic, life-affirming “Hammerklavier” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven, from a newly released 6-CD recording on Albany Records of Howard’s concert recordings.

That was repeated through the event with music of Robert Schumann, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Frédéric Chopin. And it was moving to hear the audience of maybe a two-thirds house in Mills Hall applaud loudly, as if Howard were playing right there, on stage and in person in front of us.

One of the most moving moments came when Howard’s wife, Frances Karp – whose diminutive and even fragile look hides a tremendous strength of character and forceful pianism — was joined by cellist son Parry Karp, violist daughter-in-law Katrin Talbot and guest violinist Leanne League, who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, in the slow movement from the Piano Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann. A photo is below.

It is a heart-wrenching piece by the composer who, more than any other, captures love and longing in sound, as you can hear from the opening cello melody in a YouTube video of the Beaux Arts Trio at the bottom.

Karp Memorial Schumann PIano Quartet

Granddaughters Isabel Karp (below left) and Natasha Karp (below right), both accomplished actresses, then read passages from William Shakespeare, beautifully appropriate lines from the tragedy “King Lear,” from the Sonnets, from the romance “The Tempest,” from the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Karp Memorial Isabel, Natasha smiling better

More recorded Schumann followed, the first movement of the fabulous Fantasy in C Major.

Then came words of friendship and admiration from the renowned keyboard artist Malcolm Bilson (below), who taught with Howard at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Now a semi-retired professor at Cornell University, Bilson also played a superbly rendered version of his own reconstruction of the first movement of the Sonata in F-sharp minor by Franz Schubert. (Bilson didn’t announce his reconstruction because, as he later told The Ear, “It bothers and distracts audiences. They keep listening for where Schubert ends and Bilson begins.”)

Karp Memorial Malcolm Bilson plays Schubert

Fellow Chicagoan and piano student-turned-businessman, Ira Goodkin (below) spoke impressively and engagingly about the lasting effect of having Howard Karp as a lifelong friend and as a personal and professional role model.

Karp Memorial Ira Goodkin

Then came more recordings: impressive duo-piano performances by Frances and Howard Karp of music by Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

During the Rachmaninoff “Barcarolle,” from his Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, there was also an extended slide show that featured photos of Howard at various stages of his life, from infancy and childhood (below) through marriage and maturity, many images with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Karp Memorial slideshow Young Howard

Granddaughter and actress Ariana Karp (below) appeared via video from London and also read Shakespeare and offered moving personal recollections of “grand-père.”

Karp memorial Ariana

Sons Christopher Karp on piano and Parry Karp on cello (below) teamed up to play Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidre,” in a moving and brotherly demonstration of the family music-making that marked the Karps’ family life, and brought beauty to the rest of us, making us all feel like extended family.

Karp Memorial Christopher and Parry

Then came a miraculously humorous and moving eulogy for Howard by cellist son Parry (below), who offered a stirring summing up of his dad’s gifts as a pianist and chamber music partner, as a husband and father, as a baseball fan and an avid amateur expert on trees and plants.

Karp Memorial Parry Karp speaks

After Parry remark’s about the richness of his father’s life and career, I found myself recalling a saying by the great composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff: “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.” Still, I think Howard Karp came closer to that impossible goal than anyone I know.

Then, with a stirring performance by Howard Karp of the ferocious and relentless finale from Chopin’s Sonata in B minor, it was over — and we moved outdoors to a packed reception in the courtyard of the UW-Madison’s George Mosse Humanities Building.

Karp Memorial Reception

The food was ideal and the audience was in the mood to greet each other and reminisce with the kind of good-natured enthusiasm that would have pleased Howard Karp because it made all of us feel like we belonged to one immense family that will long miss a central and irreplaceable figure.


Classical music: In the next few days, three groups with a big and loyal local following will perform duo-piano music, woodwind music and clarinet trios.

March 12, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

With limited space — after all there are only so many days in the week and the local classical music scene keeps getting more and more crowded — sometimes The Ear has to combine performers and events. And that is the case today.

Several smaller concerts, some featuring performers with a loyal local following and all being offering for FREE, will take place this week and weekend.

DUO-PIANISTS VARSHAVSKI AND SHAPIRO

On Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the Oakwood Village West Center for Arts and Education, 6205 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne, duo-pianists Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro (below) will perform.

The program includes the “Allegro Brilliante” by Felix Mendelssohn; the “Lebenssturme” (Life Storm) by Franz Schubert; and “Petrushka” by Igor Stravinsky as arranged by Varshavi and Shapiro. (At the bottom you can hear a YouTube video in which the two women perform a beautiful Barcarolle from a suite by Sergei Rachmaninoff.)

For more information about the duo-pianists and samples of their music, visit:

http://www.piano-4-hands.com

Stanislava Varshavski-Diana Shapiro

THE KAT TRIO

On this Friday at 7:30 p.m., the Kat Trio -– short for the Ekaterinberg Trio that uses the violin, clarinet and piano  — will perform a FREE concert at First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Avenue in Madison.

The original violin, clarinet and piano ensemble (below) from Ekaterinburg, Russia, was formed in May of 1998 in Ekaterinburg by three friends: Victoria Gorbich (violin), Vladislav Gorbich (clarinet) and
 Vasil Galiulin (piano). They had just graduated from the Ural State Music Conservatory.

original Kat Trio

Today’s “The Kat Trio” (below) -– which is well-known to Madison audiences -– is made up of Victoria, Vladislav and pianist Justin Snyder (below standing). Victoria and Vlad are doctoral graduates of Arizona State University. Justin is a graduate of University of Michigan and recently finished studying in London at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

According to publicity materials, Kat Trio concerts showcase unique Russian arrangements and transpositions of timeless melodies and feature classical works, well-known inspirational songs, and even American pop standards, including Scott Joplin’s rags.

This week’s program includes: a trio by Aram Khachaturian, plus works by Vladimir Vavilov, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Peter Tchaikovsky, Louis Moreau Gottschalk; Amy Beach; Samuel Barber; Michael Joncas; Joseph Lamb; Jerry Bock; and Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach).

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., but the three performers will do an audience Q&A prior to their performance, so you might arrive early.

The concert is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. A free will offering will be taken.

The Ekaterinburg Trio’s website, www.thekattrio.net, features a Music page where fans can hear music files from all 10 CDs. The Video link also features dozens of Kat Trio videos on YouTube.

kat trio with justin

BLACK MARIGOLD

This week will also see two performances by the Madison-based woodwind quintet Black Marigold (below).

Black Marigold will perform on this Friday, March 14, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s FREE Noon Musicale from 12:15 to 1 p.m. They will perform in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic building that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Then on Sunday, Black Marigold will perform on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.” The FREE concert will be held from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The concert will also be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area).

The program for both concerts includes: the Quintet, Op. 88, No. 2, by Anton Reicha; Six Bagatelles by Gyorgy Ligeti; “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky, and arranged by Jonathan Russell; and “Vignettes Balletiques” by Brian DuFord.

For more information about Black Marigold, visit or write to:

https://www.facebook.com/BlackMarigold

blackmarigoldwinds@gmail.com

Black Marigold

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