The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here are recommendations for post-Christmas shopping

December 27, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, it’s time to start using those gifts cards you got for Hanukkah,  Christmas and other holidays.

Or maybe just to treat yourself.

In any case, here are two more lists of top classical recordings of 2017.

Maybe you will find something of interest.

The first list has the Top 10 recordings chosen by National Public Radio (NPR) and its Deceptive Cadence blog. It has photo and sound samples:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/12/19/570182207/npr-musics-top-10-classical-albums-of-2017

And here is a list of the Top 10 from The Classical Review, along with some runners-up or honorable mentions:

http://theclassicalreview.com/2017/12/top-ten-recordings-of-2017/

Earlier in December this blog features other lists.

Here are links to some in case you need a reminder or want to compare lists and look for overlaps and agreement, such as the CD of piano music by Philip Glass in the YouTube video at the bottom:

Here are the nominations for the upcoming Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2018-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

Here is a list from critics for The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/classical-music-here-is-the-new-york-times-holiday-gift-guide-of-classical-music-for-2016/

Here is a link to lists by the Chicago Tribune, Gramophone Magazine and Forbes magazine:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/12/16/classical-music-here-are-lists-of-the-best-classical-recordings-of-2017-as-named-by-the-new-york-times-the-chicago-tribune-forbes-magazine-and-gramophone-magazine/


Classical music: Here are lists of the Best Classical Recordings of 2017 as named by The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes magazine and Gramophone magazine

December 16, 2017
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Just in time for last-minute holiday shopping and streaming – whether by others or yourself – some major publications and critics have published their lists of the top classical recording of 2017.

Personal preferences and taste matter, to be sure. So opinions inevitably differ.

But in some cases, the verdicts seem close to unanimous.

Take the case of some pianists.

You can, for example, find overlapping agreement on the merits of the 24-year-old Italian pianist and Cliburn Competition silver medal laureate Beatrice Rana playing the famed Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Same for the 33-year-old Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olaffson who gives revelatory readings of works by contemporary American Minimalist composer Philip Glass.

And many critics give raves to acclaimed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes playing neglected piano miniatures by Finnish symphonic titan Jean Sibelius. (See Andsnes discussing Sibelius in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The various lists cover all genres from solo piano music to songs, chamber music to symphonies, oratorios to operas.

You can find lots of neglected repertoire — both early and new — unknown artists and small labels.

But there are also major stars, tried-and-true repertoire and large vintage or heritage labels.

In short, both beginners and experienced classical listeners and players can find plenty to please them.

In addition, some of the lists for the past year include links to lists from previous years. And those lists too still have some excellent choices that hold up.

Here is a link to the 2017 list in The New York Times, which was compiled by several critics:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/13/arts/music/best-classical-music-recordings-2017.html

Here is a list by a critic and columnist for Forbes magazine:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenslaurson/2017/12/13/the-10-best-classical-recordings-of-2017/#60b8fd87ebca

Here is the list from John von Rhein for the Chicago Tribune:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/vonrhein/sc-ent-best-classical-recordings-2017-1206-story.html

And here is a list from the British Gramophone magazine, which often favors artists and groups located in the United Kingdom:

https://www.gramophone.co.uk/feature/the-best-new-classical-albums-december-2017

And in case you missed it before, here are lists from other sources that this blog has posted and linked to:

From famed WQXR-FM radio in New York City:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/classical-music-here-are-the-top-20-classical-recordings-of-2017-as-chosen-by-famed-radio-station-wqxr/

And here are the classical nominations for the 2018 Grammy awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2018-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra performs “Scheherazade” in the dramatic Beyond the Score® mixed media format this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

January 9, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an announcement from the Madison Symphony Orchestra about two performances of a special concert this coming weekend:

Join the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below top) and Music Director John DeMain (below bottom, in a photo by Prasad) as they explore one of the most popular orchestral works ever written with Beyond the Score®: Scheherazade this coming weekend in Overture Hall.

The concerts are this Saturday, Jan. 14, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 15, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, 201 State Street.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Beyond the Score®: Scheherazade is an opportunity for concertgoers to discover Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorful and exotic Scheherazade in a whole new way.

The first half experience encompasses video, photos, musical excerpts, and  actors Jim DeVita (below top) and Brenda DeVita (below bottom), of American Players Theatre in Spring Green, telling the story.

In the second half, Scheherazade will be performed from start to finish, by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with John DeMain conducting.

Jim DeVita

Brenda DeVita

The captivating music of Scheherazade evokes images and passions with a solo violin representing the intoxicating storyteller, Scheherazade. Based on an ancient Persian legend, Scheherazade staves off her death at the hands of her cruel Sultan husband, by regaling him with stories for 1001 nights until he falls in love with her.

Rimsky-Korsakov evokes the moods of her various tales with memorable and haunting melodies. (You can hear “Scheherazade,” conducted by the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Designed for classical music aficionados and newcomers looking to delve deeper into the world of classical music, Beyond the Score explores Scheherazade’s context in history, how it relates to the work of other composers, and the events of Rimsky-Korsakov’s life that influenced its creation. The Chicago Tribune said of the Beyond the Score series, “Seldom has enlightenment proved so entertaining.”

As a young man, Rimsky-Korsakov (below) spent almost three years at sea with the Russian Navy and was exposed to other cultures. With 19th-century readers fascinated by exotic settings and fairy tales, he first conceived of creating an orchestral work based on the tales known as The Thousand and One Nights in 1887, when he was the leading teacher at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

Rimsky-Korsakov

Single Tickets are $15 to $60 each, available at madisonsymphony.org/beyondthescore, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit madisonsymphony.org/groups.

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students receive 20% savings on advance ticket purchases for seats in select areas of the hall.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may NOT be combined.

Beyond the Score® is a production of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Gerard McBurney, Creative Director for Beyond the Score®.


Classical Music: Today is the last day in Madison to see the film “A Late Quartet.” It gets mixed reviews but brings classical music to the Big Screen and The Ear liked it a lot. What do you think?

December 18, 2012
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This is the second week that “A Late Quartet” (below is the film’s poster) is playing at the Point Cinemas on Madison’s west side. But its run will be curtailed and end today, unfortunately, to make room for all the new holiday film releases.

a late quartet poster

A friend reported that one showing had only two people in the audience. So it is not surprising that this art film about chamber music (the masterful late quartet, Op. 131, of Beethoven) and about a string quartet turning 25 won’t stay in Madison after today, as far as I know.

The Ear has heard both good things and bad things about the film. Then he went to see and hear it for himself.

For the most part, the cast is terrific and the acting by quartet members (below, from left) first violinist Mark Ivanir, second violinist Philip Seymour Hoffman, cellist Christopher Walken and violist Catherine Keener is very good and convincing.

A Late Quartet frontal

But the acting weakens, my musician friends tell me, during the scenes where they actually play music. Perhaps that is not surprising since even though, the stars were given lessons on their instruments professional musicians can be especially and deservedly picky about how the act of playing or making music is portrayed. It is kind of like watching TV shows about the law with a lawyer, or about medicine with a doctor, or about police work with an officer. “That’s not the way it really is” they invariably say. And they are correct, for the most part. That’s what makes it entertainment.

A Late Quartet rehearsing all 4

On the other hand, the script for the 1 hour and 45 minute-movie (the trailer or preview is at bottom) generally receives good reviews. Myself, I am all in favor of almost anything that brings serious attention and a relatively mass audience to classical music these days, even though certain scenes and plot points seem to me too melodramatic and predictable or banal, more worthy of opera than of chamber music. But that verdict is not unanimous, and reviewers don’t always agree on which scenes are the weakest. Still, I enjoyed it and recommend it.

Anyway, if you can manage to see it today, visit the website for Point Cinemas for showtimes and ticket prices (today’s are 1:25 p.m.; 4:05; 9:25 p.m.).  And for more info, visit:

http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie/a-late-quartet/

In the meanwhile, here are several reviews to consider:

Here is one from The Washington Post (below is Philip Seymour Hoffman):

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/notes-on-film-classical-music-on-the-big-screen/2012/12/13/2bd9d2c2-4456-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_story.html

a late quartet-philip seymour hoffman

And here is a review from the New York Times:

http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/movies/a-late-quartet-directed-by-yaron-zilberman.html

Here is how the Chicago Tribune weighed in (below is Christopher Walken):

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-11-01/entertainment/sc-mov-1031-late-quartet-20121101_1_jules-beethoven-cellist

A Late Quartet Christopher Walken

And the rock magazine Rolling Stone reviewer took this view:

http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/a-late-quartet-20121101

A New Orleans reviewer saw the film somewhat differently:

http://www.nola.com/movies/index.ssf/2012/12/a_late_quartet_movie_review.html

A Late Quartet toasting

Here is how the Huffington Post reviewer saw the film:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-kim/rethink-review-a-late-qua_b_2063862.html

And Roger Ebert, the dean of American film critics, had this to say:

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20121031/REVIEWS/121039992


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