The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The critics are unanimous — iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and others streaming services do a grave injustice to classical music. CDs and vinyl are far better.

July 31, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The critics’ judgments are in and they seem unanimous: iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and other similar streaming services do a grave injustice to classical music. In the end, CDs and vinyl LPs are far better than streaming for a quality listening experience.

itunes logo complete

spotify logo

 

pandora logo

The difficulties apparently have to do with engineering and the limits of technology, specifically of the digital compression of sound.

Here are three good and convincing critiques to read:

From The Atlantic magazine:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/07/the-tragedy-of-itunes-and-classical-music/399788/

From the acclaimed prize-winning music critic Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-anxious-ease-of-apple-music

Alex Ross 2

Here is an analysis from the prolific and always interesting reporter Anastasia Tsioulcas (below), who writes for National Public Radio (NPR) and its outstanding classical music blog Deceptive Cadence. She tackles other streaming services including Pandora and Spotify. She focuses on the organization and the difficulty of finding the music you want to listen to:

http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/04/411963624/why-cant-streaming-services-get-classical-music-right

anastasia tsioulcas


Classical music: Streaming gains even more momentum. Korean carmaker Hyundai will abandon in-dash CD players and titan CD seller Naxos will launch a high-definition streaming service.

January 24, 2015
3 Comments

No doubt about it.

Streaming seems the sound wave of the future.

That’s what the news about sales and trends points to, anyway.

Streaming through such services at Spotify or various app stores and retailers like Amazon.com looks to be the inevitable next step from CDs, just as CDs followed tapes and tapes followed LPs and vinyl (78, 45 and 33-1/3 RPM)-– even though vinyl is making something of a comeback among audiophiles because of its superior, less harsh sound quality.

But consider some new developments coming out of Asia, which seems to be setting the trend for the dissemination of Western classical music more than Western culture or Western industry is doing in Europe and the United States.

Korean carmaker Hyundai will get rid of CD payers in its next year’s models. Instead the music connections will run through Bluetooth electronics that link up solely to MP3 players and iPods. (Below is a photo of the new dashboard taken at a recent industry show.)

Hyundai new car audio system

Here is a link to a story that has more technical details plus a defense of KEEPING in-dash CD players – below is Japanese carmaker Honda’s more traditional in-dash CD player and changer — and the virtue of listening to one entire CD:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/posts/la-et-ms-who-still-listens-to-cds-in-the-car-20150114-story.html

Honda in-dash CD player and changer

Then consider the fact that Naxos – the Hong Kong-based budget CD label that now dominates the CD industry – is about to launch a high-definition streaming service.

http://www.classicalmusicmagazine.org/2015/01/naxos-launches-hd-streaming-service/

Naxos Records logo

Penderecki Wit Naxos

Here is some background about the company, based in Singapore, that will service Naxos’ streaming site:

http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/2422084

The Ear has very mixed feelings about this news. He listens to all sorts of formats in the car — radio, CDs and iPods.

What about you?

Would you buy a new car without an in-dash CD player, a car that relies only on wireless and streaming technology?

And how dissatisfied are you with the sound quality of CDs versus streaming or other formats?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Was Beethoven so great that he hurt music?

November 1, 2014
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Recently an essay by Alex Ross appeared in The New Yorker magazine.

The subject was Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and how he changed forever the course of classical music -– not only the composing of it but also the programming and performing of it, even the recording of it on LPs and CDs.

Beethoven big

It was so thoroughly researched and had such a well defined point of view with such unexpected insights, that it formed yet another proof to The Ear of why Alex Ross, who in 2007 won a National Book Critics Circle Award for “The Rest of Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century” has to be considered this nation’s premier music critic.

The gist of the argument by Ross (below) is that Beethoven exerted such a profound influence on Western classical music that he single-handedly changed the course of music history – and not always  for the better especially if you care about living composers and contemporary music. (You might recall that this season both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will perform all-Beethoven or mostly-Beethoven concerts, featuring symphonies and piano concertos, toward the end of the current season. They have also done so before, and the result is usually a sell-out. Beethoven’s popularity, it seems, never wanes.)

Alex Ross 2

To accept Ross’ arguments does NOT mean you have to reject or belittle Beethoven. Beethoven remains THE iconic composer of classical music.

But Ross’ essay is certainly eye-opening about the results of the iconic status we have granted to Beethoven since the famous composer’s own lifetime.

And his look back at the effects of Beethoven’s massive and revolutionary Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” – a YouTube video of the “Eroica” Symphony, performed by conductor Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic, is at bottom — and his Fifth Symphony, as well as the late string quartets, yields new appreciation of these works.

But don’t take my word for it.

Read Alex Ross’ essay for yourself and give me your reactions.

Here is a link:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/20/deus-ex-musica


Classical music: The Madison Choral Project celebrates receiving tax-exempt status with a fundraiser on Nov. 2 and announces its new season, which features the renowned choral conductor Dale Warland.

October 10, 2014
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will run 12:15 to 1 p.m. and feature classical guitarist Steve Waugh (below) playing music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Jorma Kaukonen, Francisco Tarrega, Rodgers and Hart, and more. This concert is in the Landmark Auditorium.

Steve Waugh

By Jacob Stockinger

Albert Pinsonneault (below), who founded and directs the Madison Choral Project, writes:

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Dear Friends,

I am so proud to share with you some amazing news:

The Madison Choral Project is the newest official 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit in the state of Wisconsin!

We couldn’t have done it without you!  All future donations to us are tax-exempt — as are past donations, retroactive to August of 2013.

Help us celebrate!

We are hosting our second annual Gala Event and Fundraiser on Sunday, November 2, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Hotel RED on the corner of Monroe and Regent streets near the UW-Madison Badger’s Camp Randall Stadium.

There will be live music from MCP musicians from 3 to 4 p.m.; a silent auction with many unique items from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.; light appetizers served and a cash bar; and many amazing people to meet!

CLICK HERE to learn more about our event and to purchase tickets!

If you have an item that you would like to donate to our silent auction, contact us by replying to this message!

With all our thanks,

The Madison Choral Project

Madison Choral Project color

THE NEW SEASON

And here is the coming three-concert season of the MCP:

The Madison Choral Project (MCP) has announced its third season, which features internationally renowned choral conductor Dale Warland (below), and notable local artists Martha Fischer, Bruce Bengtson, Noah Ovshinsky and the Madison Youth Choirs.

Dale Warland

CONCERT 1: “O Day Full of Grace,” MCP’s second annual holiday concert, opens the season on Saturday, December 20, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational Church of Christ in Madison, 1609 University Ave.  It will feature an evening of traditional holiday music, secular music, narrated texts and audience singing all surrounding the theme of a transformative time, place or experience.

MCP is again partnering with Noah Ovshinsky (below), Assistant News Editor at Wisconsin Public Radio, who will narrate readings interposed amongst the musical selections.

Noah Ovshinsky

CONCERT 2: The stunning and sublime Requiem by French composer Gabriel Faure (below top) will headline the choir’s second concert, which will also feature the striking “Te Deum” of contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan (below bottom) on Saturday, February 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church. (You can hear the opening of James Macmillan’s “Te Deum” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

faure-1

James MacMilllan

MCP is partnering with organist Bruce Bengtson, Director of Music at Luther Memorial Church in Madison, on both the Faure and MacMillan.

February is also the culmination of a period of educational exchange between MCP and the Madison Youth Choirs, and this concert will include a performance by the Ragazzi (below, in a photo by Dan Sinclair) and Cantabile ensembles of the Madison Youth Choirs, both alone and in a combined work with the MCP singers.

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi by Dan Sinclair

CONCERT 3: The season will close on Friday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Christ under the direction of renowned guest conductor Dale Warland, and collaborating pianist Martha Fischer (below left, with her husband pianist Bill Lutes), Professor of Piano and head of the graduate collaborative piano program at the University of Wisconsin.

martha fischer and bill lutes

This concert marks Warland’s first return to conduct in Madison in 20 years.

Dale Warland is considered one of the most influential American choral musicians of all time, and is one of only two choral conductors to be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.

He founded the pioneering choral ensemble, the Dale Warland Singers, in 1972.  The group was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance in 2003, and their 29 commercial CDs remain standard issue for choral conductors and educators around the country.

Tickets for the 2014-2015 season are available online at www.themcp.org, and at the door before each concert.  Discounted student tickets are available with a valid student ID.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music Q&A: Native son and UW-Madison alumnus conductor Kenneth Woods talks about returning to Madison to open the Wisconsin Union Theater season this coming Saturday night.

October 28, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison-born and Madison-bred, Kenneth Woods is almost a one-man band of classical music. This coming year he will have out new six CDs, including performances both as an orchestra conductor, chamber music cellist, and also as a composer and a rock guitarist . And he still finds time to write a fascinating, critically acclaimed and popular blog with an insider’s view of making music called “A View From the Podium.”

Here are links to his main website and to his blog:

http://kennethwoods.net

http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/a-view-from-the-podium/

And check out his impressive biography:

http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/bio/

You should also read the excellent interview he gave UW School of Music concert manager and public relations director Kathy Esposito on the music school’s terrific new blog “Fanfare,” Here is a link; 

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/woods-pine/

Woods attended West High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was also a member of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). He did undergraduate work at the University of Illinois Champaign–Urbana, and graduate work at the UW-Madison and the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

That makes him a perfect candidate to conduct the UW Symphony Orchestra this coming Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The concert, which features acclaimed Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine in the famous Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, also includes the famously powerful Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich, will open the Wisconsin Union Theater season.

For more details about the concert, including ticket prices ($10 for UW students up to $25 for the general public) and links to other sites and samples, visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Rachel-Barton-Pine.html

Based in Wales, Woods — who can heard at the bottom in a YouTube video conducting Ralph Vaughan Williams’ haunting “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” performed by the Orchestra of the  Swan with a beautifully divided string section —  recently gave The Ear an email interview:

Kenneth Woods

You are a very busy man these days. Can you bring us up to date and fill us in briefly on your accomplishments over the past year or two?

Well, it’s been a very busy time, I must say. The most important step this year has been the beginning of my new partnership as artistic director and principal conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra.

When I last conducted here in Madison, I had just finished a long association with the Oregon East Symphony. Since then, I’ve basically been a freelance conductor without an orchestra to call my home. “It’s been an incredibly exciting time, but I’ve been wanting a chance to build something together with a group of colleagues I really respect.”

Otherwise, it’s been one of those years where you often feel like you are just holding on for dear life. At the Scotia Festival this summer, they told me I set some kind of record for most performances by a guest artist in the history of the festival. It has been that kind of year.

It’s all been very exciting but often quite draining. I’m hoping the next chapter, focusing more narrowly on building an orchestra, will be just as exciting but slightly less manic.

kenneth woods conducting english symphony orchestra

What does it mean to you to be returning to your alma mater to conduct the UW Symphony?

My father has been a professor in the Chemistry Department since just before I was born, so I pretty much grew up on and around the UW campus.

When I was growing up, the Madison Symphony Orchestra was not as well-established as it is now, and UW Symphony concerts were the big classical events in town, and I have so many memories of sitting in Mills Hall, where I first heard Bruckner, Mahler, Stravinsky, Brahms and any number of other composers.

The design of the Humanities Building — I’ve heard it described as a model for a dystopian prison — doesn’t tend to inspire much affection among people who work in it, but I’m very sentimental about the place.

Coming back to the UW for my Master’s was a great chapter for me. It was one of those miraculous moments in life when you have the good fortune to find exactly the mentors and teachers you need. Those years studying cello and chamber music with Parry Karp (below) were incredibly important to everything I’ve done since then, and I was also really lucky to work closely with David Becker, who gave me a good foundation as a conductor, and the late violinist Vartan Manoogian, who became a good friend and supported me a lot.

Parry Karp

David Becker full mug

What do you think about working with and conducting student orchestras?

Philosophically, I try to treat every orchestra the same. You go to the first rehearsal really well prepared, give an upbeat, and then see what happens.

What I admire most in any orchestra is preparation combined with flexibility, which, not coincidently, is what I always looked for in conductors when I was playing in orchestras.

Being truly flexible isn’t about, for instance, trying every possible version of a bowing- it’s something that happens more at the quantum level of playing. It’s listening to each other with such focus that you can all make the millions of tiny anticipations and adjustments needed to take the performance somewhere really special.

The playing level of student orchestras these days is always very high, so often my job is to help them develop the kind of ten-dimensional listening that lets them play as an ensemble. (Below is the UW Symphony Orchestra performing with the UW Choral Union under choral director Beverly Taylor.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

What would you like to say about the two staple works you will conduct, the Brahms Violin Concerto (have you ever worked with Rachel Barton Pine?) and the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony?

Well, the symphony by Shostakovich (below) is a very special piece, and one I have a very personal relationship with. It was, in fact, the first piece of orchestral music I ever heard played live. When I was three or four, my pre-school teacher, Barbara Goy, founder of the Preschool for the Arts, took us to a rehearsal of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) conducted by its founder Marvin Rabin – and they were working on it.

That morning in the Humanities Building changed my life. I’ve conducted it many times, given lectures on it, taught it and written at length about it, but doing it in the same building where I first heard it is going to be very, very special.

dmitri shostakovich

Brahms and Shostakovich make for an interesting pairing because they’re so completely different in some ways, and yet they have certain important qualities in common.

Shostakovich wrote so much, and could write in so many styles and so many genres- his versatility is almost unmatched in music history. Brahms (below) only left us a smaller body of work- so much of his music ended up in his fireplace- but it’s all so clearly the same voice, and so closely interconnected.

The large-scale orchestral music has this lovely symmetry- four symphonies, four concertos. That’s it! I just did the Violin Concerto back in June with Alexander Sitkovetsky, a favorite soloist with whom I’ve worked many times. I hadn’t done the piece in years and it was so humbling to come back to the score again after a break.

brahms3

Rachel Barton Pine (below) and I have never met, but I’ve certainly admired her work. Part of the joy of conducting concertos is in seeing how different each collaboration is going to be. My view of the Shostakovich symphony has developed over 30 years and doesn’t tend to change radically from one concert to another, but I might need to completely re-think the Brahms in order to suit Rachel’s take on it.

Rachel Barton Pine

And what do you want to say about the other composer Philip Sawyers (below) and the Overture to the “Gale of Life” piece by way of introducing them to readers?

Philip is one of the great composers of our time- someone whose music will, I’m sure, be discussed and performed and admired for generations to come. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to count him as a dear friend.

I first met Philip when I was conducting my first concert with Kent County Youth Orchestra in England, where he has coached the violins since the 1970s. Philip is a former member of the orchestra of Royal Opera Covent Garden.

Getting to know his music was a revelation.

I’ve just completed a recording of his Second Symphony, Cello Concerto and Concertante for Violin, Piano and Strings with the Orchestra of the Swan for Nimbus Records.

It’s a project I’m enormously proud of. I think the Concerto is probably the greatest British cello concerto since the one by William Walton, and the Second Symphony is a staggering masterpiece. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I believe it.

When I took up my new gig with the English Symphony Orchestra (below), one of my first decisions was to commission a Third Symphony from Philip, which we’ll premiere in 2015 and record for Nimbus.

“Gale of Life” is a proper concert opener – it’s not one of his more ambitious works, but it’s immensely satisfying to play and a great introduction to his language. All the great composers used to write overtures and other concert openers, but that has really died off in the last 40 years.

I always like to try to bring something with me when I guest conduct that I have a personal connection to, which will be new to either the musicians or the audience, or maybe both. Hopefully, a good number of folks will come away from the concert anxious to hear his other works.

Philip Sawyers


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