The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Superstar fashionista pianist Yuja Wang is in the news again with her new recording of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev concertos. In an interview she talks about everything including her piano playing, her small hands and her controversial concert clothes.

December 28, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There are a lot of talented young pianists on the scene today including Daniil Trifonov, Lang Lang, Jan LisieckiKirill Gerstein, Yundi Lee, Benjamin Grosvenor, Jonathan Biss, Igor Levit and Inon Barnaton, to name just a few.

But few make the waves that 26-year-old pianist Yuja Wang (below) always does. She is nothing short of electrifying to see and hear, according to the reviews I have read – even the reviews that don’t especially like her interpretations. (The Ear would like to hear Wang perform some serious Classical and Baroque works, not just later Romantic or modern music.)

YujaWang casual photo

Yang’s latest venture is an exciting recording for Deutsche Grammophon (below) of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s gargantuan Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor and Sergei Prokofiev’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor.

Yang – featured on the cover in almost a parody of the Madame Butterfly look with fake eyelashes — performs them live with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela under its superstar alumnus Gustavo Dudamel, who is now the music director and conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. (You can hear Dudamel’s take on Wang in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Yuja Wang Rach 3 CD coverGD

I have listened to the recording, and these are high-octane performances that remind one, for better and worse, of Vladimir Horowitz and Martha Argerich — not bad artists to be compared to. 

But Yuja Wang has added to their appeal with an interview she recently did with the Los Angles Times on the occasion of four performances in LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall that was designed by Frank Gehry. It even builds on the one she did with NPR in which she compared Rachmaninoff to jazz great Art Tatum in this mastery of improvisation:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/02/243942819/yuja-wang-rooted-in-diligence-inspired-by-improvisation

In a surprisingly candid and matter-of-fact manner, she covered a lot of topics.

They included he background, her training, her taste in non-classical music, her piano playing and acclaimed technique, even her controversial concert attire such as the scarlet micro-skirt (below top) she wore at the Hollywood Bowl and the thigh-high slit black gown and stiletto heels she wore for her Carnegie Hall debut (below bottom).

yuja wang dress times 3

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Ruby Washington NYTimes

Here is a link to the interview, which I hope you enjoy as much as The Ear did:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-conversation-yuja-wang,0,3852129.story#axzz2oDubILHw


Classical music: Gramophone Magazine announces its 2012 awards for best classical recordings, artists and labels. Do you see evidence of a Brit bias?

October 6, 2012
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Gramophone Magazine (below), the Britain-based periodical that remains the most respected magazine of classical music in the world, this week announced the winners of its 2012 prizes for recordings.

Some of the names are probably familiar, such as conductor Claudio Abbado (below top) and pianist Murray Perahia (below middle), who won in a new category, and pianist  Leif Ove Andsnes (below bottom) in chamber music. Pianist Maurizio Pollini won in the historical category for his very early set of the complete Chopin etudes. You night also recognize the name of singer Danielle de Niese, who has performed in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater, as has Perahia.

But some other names are new or unfamiliar to many such as the Maltese tenor Joseph Callejo (below), the young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, violinist Isabelle Faust, composer Eric Whitacre and the record label Naïve.

The Ear thinks he detects something of an English bias in the choice of winners — artists, labels, repertoire — but that is an old observation or, to some, an accusation. Besides, the Grammy Awards (below) certainly often seems to favor US artists and labels.

Not for nothing is it called the Recording Industry on both sides of the Atlantic.

Anyway, reading about these awards is one of the good ways to spend just a little time catching up on the global classical music scene and what is new and noteworthy in it. And holiday gift-gifting is just around the corner.

Here is link to an introductory story:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/gramophone-awards-2012-announced

And here is a link to the list of winners — with lots of links and audio samples —  by categories and to FREE sample downloads available through iTunes:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/awards/2012

You can also find a lot of the artists’ remarks about the Gramophone awards by going to YouTube and typing the artist’s name into search engine.

And here is a link to a story about the awards on NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog. It offers background and names of the winners upfront, along with some audio samples from the winning recordings:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/27/161736077/the-2012-gramophone-awards-some-surprises-lots-of-repeated-familiar-names


Classical music: What recordings would you add to NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog list of its “Top Classical Recordings of 2012 So Far”?

July 26, 2012
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Many classical music writers — in newspapers, magazine and blogs — wait until the end-of-the-year gift-giving season to list their top picks of new recordings. And generally that works fine – which is why I also do that.

But it can be hard to keep track of a full year’s worth of new recordings.

Plus, that means a lot of catching up to do, a lot of listening in a short time if you want to hear them and judge them for yourself.

So I really like that NPR (to me, it was and remains National Public Radio) and its outstanding “Delayed Cadence” blog lists the best picks for the first half of the year. It’s kind of like celebrating your half-birthday.

They did it last year and they have done it again this year.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/06/13/154911734/npr-classicals-favorite-albums-of-2012-so-far

You’ll notice that it is an eclectic list compiled by the ever-sharp Tom Huizenga (below), with a lot of different kinds of instruments, music and performers.

I am very pleased that it includes pianist Jeremy Denk’s debut solo album (below) for Nonesuch, which includes excerpts from Ligeti’s two books of etudes and Beethoven’s iconic last piano sonata Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor.

You may remember that the talented Denk – whose blog “Think Denk” is a favorite of mine and of acclaimed critic Alex Ross of The New Yorker. So it is small wonder that he writes his ow insightful liner notes for the CD. You may also remember that Denk spent a week in residence at NPR playing J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, which he performed here in Madison two seasons ago and also in Carnegie Hall to great acclaim. NPR also has included Denk (below) is its series of musicians that allowed NPR to peek in on their practicing.

Finally you might recall that Denk is booked on the upcoming season of the Wisconsin Union Theater to perform next spring, and in an interview with The Ear said he might perform Brahms (“Paganini” Variations) and Liszt.

Here is a link to the Q&A Denk did with The Ear, who got to sit on a blogging panel with Denk two years ago:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/classical-music-news-pianist-jeremy-denk-de-normalizes-classical-music-with-his-new-cd-of-beethoven-and-ligeti-and-points-the-way-to-the-future-of-recordings-with-one-that-deserves/

Anyway, I like the NPR list. But to mind, it is hardly exhaustive. I would also add the Pacifica Quartet’s second volume of “Music of the Soviet Union” (for the Chicago-based label Cedille), which couples a Shostakovich cycle with other Soviet-era composers such a Miaskovsky and Prokofiev.

Readers know s me a piano fan So I think I might also add new piano albums by Benjamin Grosvenor, the British pianist who is the youngest pianist ever signed by the major label Decca and who performs Chopin Liszt and Ravel for his debut; and by Inon Barnatan, the acclaimed young Israeli pianist whose playing shines rhythmically and propulsively in his debut album for Avie called  “Darkness Visible,” with music by Debussy, Ravel, Ades and Britten.

What new recordings would you add to the “Best Recordings of 2012 So Far” list?

Leave your nomination in the COMMENT section. I will thank you and so will other readers.


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