The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman turns 70. Plus the Willy Street Chamber Players perform Beethoven on WORT this morning.

September 3, 2015
1 Comment

ALERT: The Ear’s friend Rich Samuels of WORT 89.9 FM writes: At 7:21 a.m. today, Thursday, Sept. 3, I’ll be broadcasting the Willy Street Chamber Players’ performance of the Beethoven String Quartet No. 11 in F Minor. It was recorded live on July 11 at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church. Featured are Eleanor Bartsch and Paran Amirinazari (violins), Micah Behr (viola) and Mark Bridges (cello).

By Jacob Stockinger

This past Monday, superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman (below, in a photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco) turned 70.

Itzhak Perlman by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Perlman, who possesses a sharp sense of humor,  likes to call himself a fiddler.

But he is so much more.

Perlman – who once made the cover of Time magazine and who used to fly in his private jet — has played a lot in Madison since the beginning of his concert career, at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Madison Civic Center and the Overture Center.

The Ear thinks that his most memorable appearance in Madison was before his stratospheric concert fees made him either unaffordable or affordable only to the very well-heeled.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman photographed in 1984.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman photographed in 1984.

That was way back when WUT director Ralph Sandler booked the young Perlman to perform the complete solo violin sonatas and partitas by Johann Sebastian Bach. Perlman performed them over two back-to-back nights at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The event proved to be one of the highlights of all the music that The Ear has ever heard in Madison. It was pretty incredible, watching Perlman sit there by himself on stage as he poured forth these fabulous works.

Itzhak Perlman playing closeup

The Ear likes Perlman’s playing a lot, especially from the early days when he won his share of Grammy Awards.

A great example are his recordings of the sonatas for violin and piano by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that he did with Daniel Barenboim and the sonatas for violin and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms that he did with Vladimir Ashkenazy. His recordings of the Beethoven and Brahms concertos with conductor Carlo Maria Giulini are also outstanding classics.

But to be honest, the later Perlman often disappointed me.

The Ear heard one performance in Madison where Perlman seemed bored by the music, as if he were phoning it in or going through the motions without much emotional engagement. (Below is Perlman in the 1960s.)

itzhak perlman ca 1960s BW

Then there was the time when he relied too much on his post-intermission shtick of pretending to choose and call out impromptu virtuosic encore-like pieces for the second half of his program while he also related to the audience the baseball scores from the World Series with his beloved home town team, the New York Yankees.

Then there was the time when many people went to hear him play the deeply emotional theme from “Schindler’s List” by John Willliams as an encore. He didn’t. (Listen to the YouTube video of it, with over 6 million hits, at the bottom.)

Nonetheless, Perlman remains a charismatic major talent who sure knows how to fill seats and please high-end audiences.

By some accounts, Perlman’s playing has declined in recent years. The Ear wonders if post-polio syndrome has anything to do with it, but can’t recall reading anything about that.

But whatever you think of his own playing, Perlman continues to devote himself to teaching young students with the program established by him and his wife Toby (below left) and to conduct as well as to perform solo recitals and concertos.

Toby and Itzhak Perlman Music Program Mission

This past week NPR or National Public Radio featured a look back at the many facets of Perlman’s long career. It included some great photos as well as some terrific audio samples.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/08/31/435224636/itzhak-perlman-charting-a-charismatic-career

What do you think of Itzhak Perlman and the various phases of his career?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: NPR weighs in with its recommendations for box sets of classical CDs for holiday gift-giving.

December 12, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This holiday season seems like it is shaping up as a time to consider bigger and more expensive gifts such as complete box sets of recordings of certain performers, composers and institutions.

Could it be because their volume makes them less downloadable? Or does their appeal have to do with the novelty of having the complete collection of something — you know, the desire for total possession of beauty as well as convenience?

True, the box sets, which often run into dozens of CDs, have their own scale of economy that brings the per disc price down to as low as $5 or less.

But more importantly, the sets also feature reissues of historical recordings by major artists that have not generally been available singly — or at all! You can hear the complete Van Cliburn; the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz playing live at Carnegie Hall between 1943 and 1973 in recently discovered recordings (a sneak peek sampler is in a YouTube video at the bottom)  the world’s great singers doing Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner at the Metropolitan Opera; conductor Fritz Reiner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; conductor Carlo Maria Giulini and several orchestras; and former superstar pianists Gary Graffman and Leon Fleisher whose early careers later got sidetracked by injuries.

NPR boxed CD sets

Here is what the critics for The New York Times recommended a few weeks back:

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/

And here is what “Deceptive Cadence,” the terrific classical blog on NPR, recommends in the way of boxed sets.

In addition, NPR also provides audio samples from many of the sets to whet your appetite and help you decide, so if you can listen to it – don’t just read it.

They also provide links to other stories and blog postings that NPR has done about the major artists.

Here is a link to the story by Tom Huizenga and Anastasia Tsioulcas:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/04/248792687/a-bumper-crop-of-classical-boxed-sets

It seems to me, comparing the two stories, that both The New York Times and NPR agree on a lot of the boxed sets – a good sign, don’t you think?

Do any of you have personal experiences and opinions about the various boxed sets? Let us know in the COMMENTS section.

Happy shopping.

Happy giving.

Happy receiving.


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