The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Gift guide or gift or both? Critics for The New York Times name their top classical recordings of 2018, and so does National Public Radio (NPR)

December 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is “Panic Saturday” — another, newer theme day on the commerce-driven Holiday Consumer Calendar that goes along with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber-Monday and Giving Tuesday. 

In past years, by this time many media outlets would publish the list of the top classical recordings of the past year. And The Ear has offered them as holiday shopping guides with links to the lists.

They seem to be running late this year, probably too late for many shoppers.

But recently the team of critics for The New York Times named their Top 25 classical recordings of 2018 that run from the 15th century to today (sample album covers are below).

This time, the website didn’t just reproduce something that first appeared in the printed edition. And something more than small snippets or excerpts are offered.

This time, the newspaper took full advantage of the electronic possibility of the web and used streaming to add hours of sound samples — some as long as 40 minutes – so you can see what you think of the recordings before you buy them. (Be sure to look at reader reactions and comments.)

It is a new and innovative way to do a Top 25 list – very appealing or entertaining as well as informative. Even if you don’t use it to buy anything for others or yourself, it can provide many minutes of listening pleasure. You can think of it as a gift guide or a gift or both.

Of course, there are also the usual short and very readable, to-the-point narratives or explanations about why the recording stands out and what makes it great music, a great performance or a great interpretation.

So there is a lot to listen to and help you make up your mind. The Ear has enjoyed it and found it helpful, and hopes you do too, whether you agree or disagree with the choice:

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/arts/music/best-classical-music-tracks-2018.html

Since this is the last weekend for holiday shopping before Christmas, here is the previous list – notice the duplications in the two lists — posted here, which was of the nominations for the upcoming 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/

And here is the Top 10 list, which was chosen by the always discerning Tom Huizenga (below) — who explains the reasons for his choices — and which also offers generous sound samples, from National Public Radio (NPR) and its Deceptive Cadence blog. Also look for duplications:

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/18/677776208/npr-musics-best-classical-albums-of-2018

What recordings would you suggest? 

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Black Friday started the holiday shopping rush. What gifts about classical music would you recommend?

November 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday was Black Friday – the day that ushers in the start of frantic holiday gift shopping.

Today is Small Business Saturday for local shopping and Monday is Cyber Monday for on-line shopping.

It sure sounds like decadent capitalism that is growing ever more desperate for sales and marketing gimmicks.

And it sure sounds overwhelming.

But some help is available.

As in past years, from now through late December The Ear will offer some gift ideas of his own, including books, recordings and tickets to live performances.

Also as usual, he will offer the new Grammy nominations plus list of the Top 10 of 2017 and similar lists from The New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR), WQXR-FM (see the link below), The Washington Post, Gramophone magazine, and other sources.

In fact, you can use the blog’s search engine to look up suggestions from past years. You might be surprised at how relevant a lot of them still remain.

http://www.wqxr.org/story/hand-picked-gift-guide-classical-music-lover-your-list/

Is there a trend this year?

Well, because of the Leonard Bernstein centennial there is a lot of Lenny (below) being repacked for holiday sales, including his mid-century revival of Gustav Mahler with the New York Philharmonic. (You can hear Bernstein introduce and explain Mahler to young people in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And the growing prevalence of digital streaming means that more and more wonderful box sets of operas, orchestral music, choral music, vocal music, chamber music and solo music are available for about $3 a disc or less.

But this year, The Ear also wants to encourage his readers, who are often very knowledgeable, to send in their own suggestions for holiday gift-giving.

It should be something you would either like to give or like to receive.

Plus, the recordings or whatever other products you mention do not have to be new.

The only important criterion is that you think either yourself or the recipient would enjoy it and somehow benefit from it.

Maybe it is something new you think up.

Or something you heard from someone else or another source.

Maybe it is a gift that you yourself received and think others would enjoy getting.

Anyway, let’s all educate each other and please each other this holiday season.

Let the suggestions begin!


Classical music: For this coming Giving Tuesday, The Ear takes note that symphony orchestras are not alone in now being more like charities than businesses

November 26, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Tuesday, Nov. 29, is Giving Tuesday.

It follows such hyped-up promotional and for-profit business days as Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

But this year Giving Tuesday seems more important than ever.

It’s no secret that the conservative political forces now in ascendancy do not favor government subsidies of the arts. And one has no idea about what the taste in the arts is for the incoming administration.

Plus, economic competition among proliferating music groups has only tightened the screws even further on many organizations.

Of course, lots of music organizations – small, medium and big – need your help.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Union Theater and increasingly the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music all seek out and solicit donations with more and more frequency.

And it is no secret that The Ear especially favors supporting music education organizations for young people such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below, at the group’s 50th anniversary concert last winter). They not only train future musicians but also build future audiences for classical music.

WYSO 50th players

But in whatever direction your philanthropy and generosity extend, here is some relevant news.

It is a story from The New York Times about how symphony orchestras are now less like businesses and more like charities.

Symphony orchestras aren’t alone, so the account seems especially timely with Giving Tuesday looming.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/16/arts/music/its-official-many-orchestras-are-now-charities.html?_r=0

If you have some thoughts, please leave them in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today is Cyber Monday. Here are some gift guides and links to local music organizations if you want to buy tickets and look into performers, concerts and dates.

November 30, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Cyber Monday, which follows on the heels of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.

Just look at those names of Institutionalized Shopping Days. Are we a consumer society or what?

All the news stories that the Ear hears and sees seem to agree: Online buying is by far the fastest growing segment of the holiday retail market.

In that spirit, here are two links to various gifts guides.

First, BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-music-cds-of-2015-according-to-the-bbc-music-magazine-and-the-telegraph-newspaper/

And The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/classical-music-its-small-business-saturday-here-are-classical-music-gift-suggestions-from-the-critics-for-the-new-york-times/

But just as important are the local music makers and concert promoters. The Ear thinks that tickets to future concerts make a great gift – especially if you agree to accompany someone and provide companion or maybe even transportation is the person is older.

And you don’t have to buy today.

The important thing is to USE YOUR COMPUTER OR SMART PHONE to browse and shop, to assist you in shopping.

Computers

smart phone

Some of the local groups are even offering major and minor holiday discounts. Or the past several years, the Madison Symphony Orchestra has offered has reduced price tickets. (This year, the MSO tickets sale of seats for $20 or $48 takes place Dec. 12-24.) This year, the Wisconsin Union Theater is waiving handing fees (but not discounting tickets) for the month of December and through Jan. 2. And other deals are likely, given the competitive nature of the performing arts in Madison.

And if you don’t buy them today or the sales come later, at least you can do the research right now and find out what you might want to buy later.

In some cases, as with the FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, performers and programs are not listed much in advance. And the terrific new ensemble Willy Street Chamber Players won’t announce its new dates and programs until the spring.

The Ear thinks that combining a ticket to a live performance with a recording of the music or a book about music makes a superb holiday gift. And you will be supporting local businesses and local musicians.

So here are some links. But please forgive The Ear if the list is not exhaustive. There are so many classical music groups now in Madison and the surrounding area, it is hard to keep up.

If you want to ask something, please put the name and a link in the COMMENT section. The Ear will be grateful, and so will other readers.

The Ear hopes you find it useful.

A drumroll, please!

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

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

MAYCO in MIlls June 2015 JWB

Edgewood College:

http://www.edgewood.edu

Edgewood Chamber Orchestra poster Sept 12

Madison Symphony Orchestra:

https://www.madisonsymphony.org

MSO playing

Madison Opera (a scene from “La Boheme” in a photo by James Gill):

http://www.madisonopera.org

Boheme Madison Opera USE Mimi and Rodolfo GILL

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org

WCO lobby

Overture Center for the Arts:

http://www.overturecenter.org

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

Wisconsin Union Theater:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras:

https://www.wysomusic.org

WYSO Youth Orchestra

Oakwood Chamber Players:

http://www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

Madison Bach Musicians:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble:

http://www.wisconsinbaroque.org

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble 2014

Middleton Community Orchestra:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

Con Vivo:

http://www.convivomusicwithlife.org

Con Vivo group

Festival Choir of Madison:

http://festivalchoirmadison.org/seasons/events.html

Festival Choir of Madison at FUS

Madison Choral of Madison:

http://themcp.org/concerts/

Madison Choral Project color

Farley’s House of Pianos:

http://www.farleyspianos.com

Farley Daub plays

Fresco Opera Theatre:

http://www.frescooperatheatre.com

Fresco Opera Theatre cast for Opera SmackDown

Live From the Met in HD:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/

Met Live IlTrovatore poster


Classical music: Here are the best classical music CDs of 2015, according to the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper.

November 27, 2015
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Black Friday –- the much-touted big shopping day after Thanksgiving.

(FYI: It’s Black Friday not because it is bad, but because it is so good that it puts many businesses from the red into the profit-making black for the year.)

And all indications are that this year a record-setting amount of the shopping will be conducted online.

Between now and the holidays, The Ear will direct you to various lists of the Best Classical Recordings of 2015.

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

Today, he offers two such guides and gift suggestions, and future guides will include picks by the forthcoming Grammy nominations and The New York Times critics.

The first of today’s two gift guides is the well-regarded BBC Music Magazine (below) and its list of awards for 2015:

http://www.classical-music.com/awards/winners-2015

It features Record of the Year plus eight other categories that you can click on. The categories include: Orchestral, Concerto, Opera, Choral, Vocal, Chamber, Instrumental and Jury Awards.

Of course, make allowances of course for cultural and geographic bias. So you may find more British or UK artists or labels than you might think.

BBC Music Magazine

The second is the Telegraph newspaper and website in England and the United Kingdom:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/classical-music/best-new-albums/

Don’t forget to leave your own suggestions in the COMMENTS section. Some pretty knowledgeable and sophisticated listeners follow The Ear.

So … The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The top classical recordings of 2013 are finally named by the critics for The New York Times. Does the list come too late to serve as a holiday gift-giving guide?

December 22, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, The Ear thinks it was a little late in coming –- especially since there are few local traditional brick-and-mortar record stories still in business and since buying on-line requires time for delivery.

But at the end of last week, the critics of The New York Times finally published their collective picks of the best classical recordings of the past year. (A sample of 20 is below in a photo by Tony Cenicola for the Times.)

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

It is a list I particularly trust since the critics of The New York Times -– Anthony Tommasini, James Oestreich, Vivien Schweitzer, Zachary Woolfe and Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim –- are among the best, the most discerning, experienced and reliable critics in the business. (At the bottom is a promotional video from Decca and posted on YouTube for one of the choices I especially agree with: violinist Leonidas Kavakos playing the complete violin sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven.)

Now, a cynic might think that an earlier publication about bigger and more expensive box sets (below), with dozens of CDs, came first because those sets are quite expensive and were probably provided free of cost or at a steep discount to reviewers. So perhaps the reviewers felt a duty to get that story into print over the pick of cheaper single and maybe double CDs -– kind of like the way legislators respond to lobbyists.

But maybe not. Maybe it is all just coincidence.

NPR boxed CD sets

Anyway, here is a link to my blog posting about the box sets story, to which a link is also provided and which appeared the day after Thanksgiving:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/classical-music-as-we-head-into-black-friday-small-business-saturday-and-cyber-monday-how-appealing-as-holiday-gifts-are-complete-cd-boxed-sets/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/arts/music/classical-music-boxed-sets-multiply.html?_r=1&

And one can be disappointed a bit that there isn’t more in the way of suggestions about DVDs and books that related to classical music.

But be all that as it may, the list has been at last been published. And I find that agree whole-heartedly with many of the choices. And if it proves to late to be a good guide for giving, perhaps it is a good guide for how to spend those gifts cards you might get as gifts.

Here is a link to the Best Recordings of 2013 story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/arts/music/times-critics-favorite-classical-recordings-of-2013.html?ref=classicalmusic&_r=0


Classical music: As we head into Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber-Monday, how appealing as holiday gifts are complete CD boxed sets?

November 29, 2013
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Black Friday, known for deep price cuts, huge sales and outrageous store hours that draw massive crowds — and for putting retails business in the profitable black at the end of the year.

Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, which is supposed to encourage us to patronize local businesses.

And Monday is Cyber-Monday for on-line Internet shopping.

Never mind that they are all starting to get mixed up and to become one big, long shopping frenzy.

Black Friday Shopping

As I do every year, I will hunt out and post on this blog the “Best of 2013” lists, which should feature lots of recordings, some great DVDs and also some noteworthy books about classical music. Here are some links to last year’s from NPR, The New York Times and The New Yorker and Gramophone magazines among others. After all,  the music and the performances are just as good as it was a year ago:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/classical-music-critics-have-had-their-say-but-about-the-public-what-were-the-most-popular-if-not-the-best-classical-records-of-2012-radio-station-wqxr-knows/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/classical-music-gramophone-magazine-announces-its-2012-awards-for-best-classical-recordings-artists-and-labels-do-you-see-evidence-of-a-brit-bias/

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/11/ten-notable-classical-music-recordings-of-2012.html

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/classical-music-here-is-part-4-of-the-ears-holiday-gift-giving-guides-to-classical-music-compliments-of-the-new-york-times/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/classical-music-here-is-part-2-of-the-ears-holiday-gift-giving-guide-featuring-nprs-top-10-classical-recordings-of-2012/

But recently The New York Times chief music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) wrote about the phenomenon of these multi-CD boxed sets, containing dozens of CDs and costing hundreds of dollars (unless of course you are a reviewer) that often use original LP covers and that give you the encore output” – or “oeuvre,” if you like – of a particular performer (like pianist Arthur Rubinstein, below) or composer. But they also probably offer lots of duplicates to serious collectors who already have a substantial number of recordings.

tommasini-190

Tommasini remarks on the seeming contradictions of these as music becomes more and more about digital downloads rather than physical Compact Discs.

Arthur Rubinstein CD box set

He makes some intriguing points worth considering if you are hunting for a special classical music gift.

So in honor of the days-long holiday shopping frenzy that is facing us, here is a link to Tommasini’s story that covers several major pianists including Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall (below top, bowing, in a  photo by Don Hunstein, and below middle in the scale model “Carnegie Hall” box container), Murray Perahia (below bottom) and Van Cliburn as well as Byron Janis, Leon Fleisher and Gary Graffman plus the composer Benjamin Britten, whose birth centennial was on Nov. 22.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/arts/music/classical-music-boxed-sets-multiply.html?_r=0

Benjamin Britten Complete CD set

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE RECORDING TO RECOMMEND AS A GIFT?

The Ear wants to hear.

Vladimir Horowitz in Caregie Hall Don Hunstein,jpg

Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall CB whole box

Murray Perahia box


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