The Well-Tempered Ear

As the semester ends, virtual concerts allow UW students to reach many more family members, friends and listeners. Here is how the public can connect to them

April 14, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting tonight and over the next two weeks, as the spring semester at the UW-Madison comes to a close, there will be more than two dozen student recitals to listen to. (Below is the YouTube video for the concert this Thursday night, April 15, at 6:30 p.m. of the Marvin Rabin String Quartet that is comprised of graduate students.)

Often two or more concerts a day are scheduled, often at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. 

That much is typical.

What is not typical during the pandemic is that technology will allow the recitals to be presented live-streamed and virtual.

The downside is that the students will not experience performing before a live audience.

But there is an upside.

Going virtual also means that the recitals will be available longer to family, friends and interested listeners  here as well as around the country and — especially for international students — the world. (Below, in a photo by Bryce Richter for the UW-Madison, is the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the Hamel Music Center.)

It also means you can hear them when it is convenient for you and not at the actual scheduled times.

The Ear has heard his share of student recitals and often finds them to be exceptional events.

If you go to the Mead Witter School of Music’s website, you can see the concerts and the lineups.

You will see that there will be student recitals of vocal music, brass music, wind music, string music and piano music. There are solo recitals, chamber music and even a symphony orchestra concert. (Below, in a photo by Bryce Richter for the UW-Madison, is the Collins Recital Hall in the Hamel Music Center.)

There are too many details for each concert to list them all here individually.

But if you go to the Concerts and Events page on the music school’s outstanding website, you can hover the cursor over the event and then click on the event and get everything from the performers and programs to program notes, a performer biography and a photo with a link to the YouTube performance.

On the YouTube site, if you click on “See More” you will see more details and can even set up an alarm for when the concert starts.

Here is a link: https://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Try it and see for yourself. Below is the YouTube link for pianist Mengwen Zhu, who performs his recital this Saturday, April 17, at 6 p.m.)

Happy listening!

Let us know what you think, especially if it is encouraging for the students.

The Ear wants to hear.


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The New York Times names the top 25 classical recordings of 2020 and includes sample tracks

December 27, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

What did the holidays bring you?

Did Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa bring you a gift card?

A subscription to a streaming service?

Maybe some cash?

Or maybe you just want to hear some new music or new musicians or new interpretations of old classics?

Every year, the music critics of The New York Times list their top 25 recordings of the past year. Plus at the end of the story, the newspaper offers a sample track from each recording to give you even more guidance.

This year is no exception (below).

In fact, the listing might be even more welcome this year, given the  coronavirus pandemic with the lack of live concerts and the isolation and self-quarantine that have ensued.

The Ear hasn’t heard all of the picks or even the majority of them. But the ones he has heard are indeed outstanding. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear a sample of the outstanding Rameau-Debussy recital by the acclaimed Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafssen, who scored major successes with recent albums of Philip Glass and Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Here is a link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/arts/music/best-classical-music.html

Of course not all critics agree.

The Ear has already listed the nominations for the Grammy Awards (a link is below), and more critics’ picks will be featured in coming days.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/11/28/for-holiday-shopping-and-gift-giving-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-63rd-grammy-awards-in-2021/

You should also notice that a recording of Ethel Smyth’s “The Prison” — featuring soprano Sarah Brailey (below), a graduate student at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and a co-founder of Just Bach — is on the Times’ list as well as on the list of Grammy nominations.

What new recordings – or even old recordings — would you recommend?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Here are the classical music nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in 2021

November 28, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s time again for the annual Grammy Awards (below).

Although determined by the recording industry and often considered promotional marketing, they might be more helpful given the peculiar circumstances of the past year.

After all, the coronavirus pandemic has changed our listening habits.

Perhaps you now listen mostly via computer to virtual online concerts and performances that are streamed.

Perhaps you listen to Compact Discs using home stereo systems.

Perhaps you subscribe to a streaming service such as Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and others.

However you listen to music, you might find the following list useful, especially as it comes at the beginning of the holiday shopping and gift-giving season.

You might also find the nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards informative about individual musicians and musical groups in your area.

They can help you judge how many or how few contemporary composers and new works get performed.

Performers provide other examples. You might find it interesting, for example, that soprano Sarah Brailey (below) has been nominated for her role in the solo vocal work “The Prison” by Ethel Smyth. Brailey is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music and a co-founder and performer of the free monthly Just Bach concerts.

Pianist Shai Wosner (below, in a photo by Marco Borggreve), who played late Schubert sonatas at the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, is included in a list of producer awards for his recording of those sonatas.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Florentine Opera have been nominated for a recording of Carlisle Floyd’s opera “Prince of Players.” 

Conductor Julian Wachner (below top), violinist Augustin Hadelich (below middle) and pianist Jonathan Biss (below bottom) have all performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, some more than once.

Soprano Laquita Mitchell (below) — who has sung with the Madison Opera — has been nominated for her performance in the choral work “Sanctuary Road” by Paul Moravec. 

Cellist Matt Haimovitz (below top) and composer Luna Pearl Woolf (below bottom) have been nominated for the latter’s “Fire and Flood.” Both have appeared with UW-Madison orchestral and choral groups.

If you notice more local connections, please leave word in the Comment section.

The winners will be announced on CBS Television the evening of Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021.


73. Best Engineered Album, Classical
An Engineer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA
Bernd Gottinger, engineer (JoAnn Falletta, James K. Bass, Adam Luebke, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)
 

·      GERSHWIN: PORGY AND BESS 
David Frost and John Kerswell, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (David Robertson, Eric Owens, Angel Blue, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)
 

·      HYNES: FIELDS
Kyle Pyke, engineer; Jesse Lewis and Kyle Pyke, mastering engineers (Devonté Hynes & Third Coast Percussion)
 

·      IVES: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES (below)

Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, engineers; Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineers (Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
 

·      SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONY NO. 13, ‘BABI YAR’
David Frost and Charlie Post, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (Riccardo Muti and Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

·  
  74. Producer Of The Year, Classical
A Producer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

·      BLANTON ALSPAUGH

• Aspects Of America – Pulitzer Edition (Carlos Kalmar and Oregon Symphony)
• Blessed Art Thou Among Women (Peter Jermihov, Katya Lukianov and PaTRAM Institute Singers)
• Dvorak: Symphony No. 9; Copland: Billy The Kid (Gianandrea Noseda and National Symphony Orchestra)
• Glass: The Fall Of The House Of Usher (Joseph Li, Nicholas Nestorak, Madison Leonard, Jonas Hacker, Ben Edquist, Matthew Adam Fleisher and Wolf Trap Opera)
• Kahane: Emergency Shelter Intake Form (Alicia Hall Moran, Gabriel Kahane, Carlos Kalmar and Oregon Symphony)
• Kastalsky: Requiem (Leonard Slatkin, Steven Fox, Benedict Sheehan, Charles Bruffy, Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, The Saint Tikhon Choir, Kansas City Chorale and Orchestra Of St. Luke’s)
• Massenet: Thaïs (Andrew Davis, Joshua Hopkins, Andrew Staples, Erin Wall, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra)
• Smyth: The Prison (Sarah Brailey, Dashon Burton, James Blachly and Experiential Orchestra)
• Woolf, L.P.: Fire And Flood (Julian Wachner, Matt Haimovitz and Choir Of Trinity Wall Street)

·      DAVID FROST (below)

• Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 9 (Jonathan Biss)
• Gershwin: Porgy And Bess (David Robertson, Eric Owens, Angel Blue, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus)
• Gluck: Orphée ed Eurydice (Harry Bicket, Dmitry Korchak, Andriana Chuchman, Lauren Snouffer, Lyric Opera Of Chicago Orchestra and Chorus)
• Holst: The Planets; The Perfect Fool (Michael Stern and Kansas City Symphony)
• Muhly: Marnie (Robert Spano, Isabel Leonard, Christopher Maltman, Denyce Graves, Iestyn Davies, Janis Kelly, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus)
• Schubert: Piano Sonatas, D. 845, D. 894, D. 958, D. 960 (Shai Wosner)
• Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13, ‘Babi Yar’ (Riccardo Muti, Alexey Tikhomirov, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus)

·      JESSE LEWIS

• Gunn: The Ascendant (Roomful Of Teeth)
• Harrison, M.: Just Constellations (Roomful Of Teeth)
• Her Own Wings (Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival)
• Hynes: Fields (Devonté Hynes and Third Coast Percussion)
• Lang, D.: Love Fail (Beth Willer and Lorelei Ensemble)
• Mazzoli: Proving Up (Christopher Rountree, Opera Omaha and International Contemporary Ensemble)
• Sharlat: Spare The Rod! (NOW Ensemble)
• Soul House (Hub New Music)
• Wherein Lies The Good (The Westerlies)

·      DMITRIY LIPAY

• Adams, J.: Must The Devil Have All The Good Tunes? (Yuja Wang, Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• Cipullo: The Parting (Alastair Willis, Laura Strickling, Catherine Cook, Michael Mayes and Music Of Remembrance)
• Ives: Complete Symphonies (Gustavo Dudamel & Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• LA Phil 100 – The Los Angeles Philharmonic Centennial Birthday Gala (Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• Langgaard: Prelude To Antichrist; Strauss: An Alpine Symphony (Thomas Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony Orchestra)
• Nielsen: Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 2, ‘The Four Temperaments’ (Thomas Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony)

·      ELAINE MARTONE

• Bound For The Promised Land (Robert M. Franklin, Steven Darsey, Jessye Norman and Taylor Branch)
• Dawn (Shachar Israel)
• Gandolfi, Prior and Oliverio: Orchestral Works (Robert Spano and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)
• Singing In The Dead Of Night (Eighth Blackbird)
• Whitacre: The Sacred Veil (Eric Whitacre, Grant Gershon and Los Angeles Master Chorale)

75. Best Orchestral Performance
Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra.

·      ASPECTS OF AMERICA – PULITZER EDITION (below)
Carlos Kalmar, conductor (Oregon Symphony)
 

·      CONCURRENCE
Daniel Bjarnason, conductor (Iceland Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      COPLAND: SYMPHONY NO. 3
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
 

·      IVES: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
 

·      LUTOSLAWSKI: SYMPHONIES NOS. 2 and 3
Hannu Lintu, conductor (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra)

76. Best Opera Recording
Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.

·      DELLO JOIO: THE TRIAL AT ROUEN
Gil Rose, conductor; Heather Buck and Stephen Powell; Gil Rose, producer (Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Odyssey Opera Chorus)
 

·      FLOYD, C.: PRINCE OF PLAYERS 
William Boggs, conductor; Keith Phares and Kate Royal; Blanton Alspaugh, producer (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Florentine Opera Chorus)
 

·      GERSHWIN: PORGY AND BESS (below)
David Robertson, conductor; Angel Blue and Eric Owens; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus)
 

·      HANDEL: AGRIPPINA
Maxim Emelyanychev, conductor; Joyce DiDonato; Daniel Zalay, producer (Il Pomo D’Oro)
 

·      ZEMLINSKY: DER ZWERG
Donald Runnicles, conductor; David Butt Philip and Elena Tsallagova; Peter Ghirardini and Erwin Sturzer, producers (Orchestra of The Deutsche Oper Berlin; Chorus of The Deutsche Oper Berlin)

·    

77. Best Choral Performance
Award to the Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble.

·      CARTHAGE
Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
 

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA (below)
JoAnn Falletta, conductor; James K. Bass and Adam Luebke, chorus masters (James K. Bass, J’Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon, Kenneth Overton, Hila Plitmann and Matthew Worth; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and UCLA Chamber Singers)
 

·      KASTALSKY: REQUIEM
Leonard Slatkin, conductor; Charles Bruffy, Steven Fox and Benedict Sheehan, chorus masters (Joseph Charles Beutel and Anna Dennis; Orchestra Of St. Luke’s; Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, Kansas City Chorale and The Saint Tikhon Choir)
 

·      MORAVEC: SANCTUARY ROAD
Kent Tritle, conductor (Joshua Blue, Raehann Bryce-Davis, Dashon Burton, Malcolm J. Merriweather and Laquita Mitchell; Oratorio Society of New York Orchestra; Oratorio Society of New York Chorus)
 

·      ONCE UPON A TIME
Matthew Guard, conductor (Sarah Walker; Skylark Vocal Ensemble)

·       

78. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
For new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (24 or fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.

·      CONTEMPORARY VOICES
Pacifica Quartet
 

·      HEALING MODES
Brooklyn Rider
 

·      HEARNE, T.: PLACE
Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods and Place Orchestra
 

·      HYNES: FIELDS
Devonté Hynes and Third Coast Percussion
 

·      THE SCHUMANN QUARTETS
Dover Quartet

·      

79. Best Classical Instrumental Solo
Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable.

·      ADÈS: CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA
Kirill Gerstein; Thomas Adès, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      BEETHOVEN: COMPLETE PIANO SONATAS (below)
Igor Levit
 

·      BOHEMIAN TALES
Augustin Hadelich; Jakub Hrusa, conductor (Charles Owen; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks)
 

·      DESTINATION RACHMANINOV – ARRIVAL
Daniil Trifonov; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor (The Philadelphia Orchestra)
 

·      THEOFANIDIS: CONCERTO FOR VIOLA AND CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
Richard O’Neill; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)

·       

80. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album
Award to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors, chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more playing time of new material.

·      AMERICAN COMPOSERS AT PLAY – WILLIAM BOLCOM, RICKY IAN GORDON, LORI LAITMAN, JOHN MUSTO
Stephen Powell (Attacca Quartet, William Bolcom, Ricky Ian Gordon, Lori Laitman, John Musto, Charles Neidich and Jason Vieaux)
 

·      CLAIRIÈRES – SONGS BY LILI and NADIA BOULANGER
Nicholas Phan; Myra Huang, accompanist
 

·      FARINELLI
Cecilia Bartoli; Giovanni Antonini, conductor (Il Giardino Armonico)
 

·      A LAD’S LOVE
Brian Giebler; Steven McGhee, accompanist (Katie Hyun, Michael Katz, Jessica Meyer, Reginald Mobley and Ben Russell)
 

·      SMYTH: THE PRISON
Sarah Brailey and Dashon Burton; James Blachly, conductor (Experiential Chorus; Experiential Orchestra)

·       

81. Best Classical Compendium
Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) and Engineer(s) of over 51% playing time of the album, if other than the artist.

·      ADÈS CONDUCTS ADÈS
Mark Stone and Christianne Stotijn; Thomas Adès, conductor; Nick Squire, producer
 

·      SAARIAHO: GRAAL THEATER; CIRCLE MAP; NEIGES; VERS TOI QUI ES SI LOIN
Clément Mao-Takacs, conductor; Hans Kipfer, producer
 

·      SEREBRIER: SYMPHONIC BACH VARIATIONS; LAMENTS AND HALLELUJAHS; FLUTE CONCERTO
José Serebrier, conductor; Jens Braun, producer
 

·      THOMAS, M.T.: FROM THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and MEDITATIONS ON RILKE
Isabel Leonard; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Jack Vad, producer
 

·      WOOLF, L.P.: FIRE AND FLOOD
Matt Haimovitz; Julian Wachner, conductor; Blanton Alspaugh, producer

·      

82. Best Contemporary Classical Composition
A Composer’s Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.

·      ADÈS: CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA
Thomas Adès, composer (Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès and Boston Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA
Richard Danielpour, composer (JoAnn Falletta, James K. Bass, Adam Luebke, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)
 

·      FLOYD, C.: PRINCE OF PLAYERS (below)
Carlisle Floyd, composer (William Boggs, Kate Royal, Keith Phares, Florentine Opera Chorus and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      HEARNE, T.: PLACE
Ted Hearne, composer (Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods and Place Orchestra)
 

·      ROUSE: SYMPHONY NO. 5
Christopher Rouse, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)

If you want to see many more nominations, including those for pop, rock, folk, hip hop, jazz and videos, go to: https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2021-grammys-complete-nominees-list


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The New York Times music critics pick 10 online concerts and operas to watch through the month of November

October 30, 2020
1 Comment

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By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music critics for The New York Times have again listed their picks of virtual and online concerts that will be streamed during the month of November, starting this Sunday, Nov. 1, and running right through Nov. 30. In September, they did the same for the month of October.

The list of 10 highlights includes chamber music, orchestral music and operas as well as lots of new music, world premieres of commissions and even the Cliburn International Piano Competition, now known simply as The Cliburn.

Most of the events are posted and available for quite a while.

Note that all times are Eastern and that on this Sunday, Nov. 1, daylight saving ends.

As the critics point out, the list may be especially helpful and enjoyable now that the weather is turning colder, people are isolating at home during the nationwide spikes in coronavirus cases, and concert halls remain closed to the public.

Well-known institutions such as The Metropolitan Opera (below) and the Los Angeles Opera are featured. (You can sample an earlier Met production of Philip Glass’ “Satyagraha” – about the early life of Gandhi — in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So are symphony orchestras from Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco and Cincinnati. 

And pianist Igor Levit (below top), who this past year released the highly praised, award-winning complete cycle of 32 piano sonatas by Beethoven and who was named Artist of the Year by Gramophone magazine, is also featured, as is the outstanding Chicago-based violinist Jennifer Koh (below bottom, in a photo by the Los Angeles Times). 

Here is a link to the story: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/28/arts/music/classical-music-stream.html

What do you think of the choices?

Do you have other concerts or classical music events to add to the list?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Can American film director Ron Howard make a sensitive and accurate biopic of Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang? Or is it a cultural appropriation that deserves to be condemned?

September 27, 2020
6 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The self-appointed PC diversity police have struck again.

This is getting silly and tiresome, insulting and embarrassing.

Some advocates of cultural diversity are crying foul over the latest project of the American and Academy Award-winning Hollywood film director Ron Howard: making a biopic of the superstar Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang (below).

The script will be drawn from the pianist’s bestselling memoir “Journey of a Thousand Miles” — which has also been recast as an inspirational children’s book — and the director and scriptwriters will consult with Lang Lang.

It seems to The Ear a natural collaboration, as well as a surefire box office hit, between two high-achieving entertainers. Check out their bios:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lang_Lang

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Howard

But some people are criticizing the project in the belief that because Ron Howard  (below) is white and Western, he cannot do justice to someone who is Chinese or to Asian culture.

Here is an essay, found on the website of Classic FM, by one objector. She is Chinese film director Lulu Wang (below), who says she has no interest in doing the project herself: https://www.classicfm.com/artists/lang-lang/pianist-biopic-ron-howard-faces-criticism-lulu-wang/

Talk about misplaced alarm over “cultural appropriation.”

Don’t you think that Lang Lang will have a lot to say about how he is depicted?

Do you wonder if Wang thinks cultural appropriation works in reverse?

Should we dismiss Lang Lang’s interpretations of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Bartok simply because he is non-Western and Chinese rather than German, French or Russian?

Of course not. They should be taken on their own merits, just as the interpretations of any other Asian classical musician, and artists in general including Ai Weiwei, should be.

But however unfairly, cultural appropriation just doesn’t seem to work in reverse.

Mind you, The Ear thinks that cultural appropriation is a valid concept and can indeed sometimes be useful in discussing cross-cultural influences.

But it sure seems that the concept is being applied in an overly broad and even misdirected or ridiculous way, kind of the way that the idea of “micro-aggressions” can be so generously applied that it loses its ability to be truthful and useful.

Take the example of the heterosexual Taiwanese movie director Ang Lee. He certainly proved himself able to depict American culture in “The Ice Storm” and the gay world in “Brokeback Mountain.”

Let’s be clear. The Ear is a piano fan.

But if he objects to the project, it is because he doesn’t like Lang Lang’s flamboyant playing, his Liberace-like performance manners and showmanship, and his exaggerated facial expressions.

Yet there is no denying the human appeal of his story. He rose from a young and suicidal piano student (below) who was emotionally abused by his ambitious father – shades of the lives of young Mozart and Beethoven and probably many other prodigies – to become the best known, most frequently booked and highest paid classical pianist in the world. 

Yet not for nothing did some critics baptize him with the nickname Bang Bang.

Still, the Curtis Institute graduate does all he can to foster music education, especially among the young and the poor.

And there is simply no denying his virtuosity. (See Lang Lang playing Liszt’s Paganini etude “La Campanella” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So there is plenty to object to about Lang Lang the Piano Star besides the ethnicity of Ron Howard, who also did a biopic of opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti, in telling his story.

What do you think?

Is it culturally all right for Ron Howard to direct a film about Lang Lang?

Do you look forward to the movie and seeing it?

What do you think of Lang Lang as a pianist and a celebrity?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: Meet Conor Nelson, the new flute professor at the UW-Madison

August 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music has a new flute professor who follows Timothy Hagen in taking the place of retired longtime predecessor Stephanie Jutt, who continues to perform locally with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society..

He is Conor Nelson (below) and he starts later this month at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Here is the biography — impressive for both his performing and his teaching –that the university released: 

“Praised for his “long-breathed phrases and luscious tone” by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Canadian flutist Conor Nelson is established as a leading flutist and pedagogue of his generation.

“Since his New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, he has frequently appeared as soloist and recitalist throughout the United States and abroad.

“Solo engagements include concertos with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Flint Symphony, and numerous other orchestras.

“In addition to being the only wind player to win the Grand Prize at the WAMSO (Minnesota Orchestra) Young Artist Competition, he won first prize at the William C. Byrd Young Artist Competition. He also received top prizes at the New York Flute Club Young Artist Competition, the Haynes International Flute Competition as well as the Fischoff, Coleman and Yellow Springs chamber music competitions. (Editor’s note: In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Conor Nelson perform the second and third movements of the Flute Sonata by French composer Francis Poulenc.)

“With percussionist Ayano Kataoka (below left, with Nelson), he performed at Merkin Concert Hall, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Hall and Izumi Hall. A recital at the Tokyo Opera City Hall received numerous broadcasts on NHK Television. Their CD entitled, “Breaking Training” was released on New Focus Recordings (NYC). His second CD, “Nataraja,” with pianist Thomas Rosenkranz, is also available on New Focus.

“He has collaborated with pianist Claude Frank on the Schneider concert series in New York City and appeared at numerous chamber music festivals across the country including the OK Mozart, Bennington, Skaneateles, Yellow Barn, Cooperstown, Salt Bay, Look and Listen (NYC), Norfolk (Yale), Green Mountain, Chesapeake, and the Chamber Music Quad Cities series.

“He is the Principal Flutist of the New Orchestra of Washington in Washington, D.C., and has performed with the Detroit, Toledo and Tulsa Symphony Orchestras. He also performed as guest principal with A Far Cry, Orquesta Filarmónica de Jalisco, and the Conceirtos de la Villa de Santo Domingo.

“A respected pedagogue, Dr. Nelson has given master classes at over 100 colleges, universities and conservatories.

“Prior to his appointment at UW-Madison, he served as the flute professor at Bowling Green State University for nine years and as the Assistant Professor of Flute at Oklahoma State University from 2007-2011.

“His recent residencies include Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea; the Sichuan Conservatory in Chengdu, China; the Conservatorio de Musica de Puerto Rico; and the Associacao Brasileira de Flautistas in Sao Paulo.

“He is also a regular guest of the Texas Summer Flute Symposium and has been the featured guest artist for 11 flute associations across the country. His former students can be found performing in orchestras, as well as teaching at colleges, universities and public schools nationwide. They have also amassed over 60 prizes in young artist competitions, concerto competitions and flute association competitions.

“Nelson received degrees from the Manhattan School of Music, Yale University and Stony Brook University where he was the winner of the school-wide concerto competitions at all three institutions. He is also a recipient of the Thomas Nyfenger Prize, the Samuel Baron Prize and the Presser Award.

“His principal teachers include Carol Wincenc, Ransom Wilson, Linda Chesis, Susan Hoeppner and Amy Hamilton. Nelson is a Powell Flutes artist and is the Assistant Professor of Flute at UW-Madison where he performs with the Wingra Wind Quintet.”

 


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Classical music: It’s clear to The Ear: It will be at least another full year before audiences in the U.S. can safely attend live concerts. What do you think?

August 11, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

All the signs point to the same conclusion: It will be at least the fall of 2021 before we can safely attend concerts again – if we are lucky.

These past two weeks, The Ear answered questionnaires sent out by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top), which has already canceled the season through January, and the Wisconsin Union Theater (below bottom is Shannon Hall).

If you read between the lines, both questionnaires seemed to suggest the same two things: that the entire 2020-21 concert season will be canceled or postponed; or else that it will feature virtual online performances — for ticket prices (perhaps called a “donation”) that have not yet been announced and may not be acceptable to a lot of any group’s core audience.

Perhaps you disagree. If so, The Ear would like to hear in the comment section what you think and why you think it.

Here is what The Ear, who has talked with other season subscribers and various musicians, has seen and heard.

The United States has now surpassed 5 million coronavirus infections and 163,000 Covid-19 deaths with no sign of slowing down and many signs of accelerating. One widely cited model now predicts 300,000 deaths by this Dec. 1.

Plus, too many Americans refuse to wear masks or to maintain social distancing or to shelter at home to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Add in that we will be fortunate if enough vaccines are found to be safe, efficient and approved for use by Jan 1.

Then – despite federal government’s “Warp Speed” development or fast-tracking of the search for vaccines — there is the time needed to manufacture enough of them.

Then it will take considerable time to distribute them equitably, which other countries and public health agencies around the world demand.

Then, if we hope to reach herd immunity, it will take time to convince enough people to get the vaccine, especially with the growing number of anti-vaxxers.

Then those who do get vaccinated will have to wait a month for the second shot that will be required.

Then we wait a few weeks to see if and how much the vaccine really works – if it is safe and prevents infection or at least lessens the damage of the disease if you do get infected.

Plus, it sees unreasonable to think all of these steps will go without a hitch. So maybe a few more weeks or even months should be added.

Add up the math, and the conclusion seems clear: Performing arts events, like sports and other large in-person gatherings, seem increasingly likely to be canceled or reconfigured for a full year.

Concerts are already taking place in China, and other countries in Asia and Europe seem likely to catch up soon. But music lovers in the U.S. will be lucky if they get to attend a live concert with 100 or 500 or 1,000 or 2,500 other people before the fall of 2021 – at least a full year away. Maybe more.

The Ear could well be wrong. Maybe you see a different conclusion, which we would all love to hear. Perhaps international readers will share estimates about when concerts will begin in their country.

One way or another, we will learn a lot more about how the new music season is being planned and changed in the next three weeks.


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Classical music: This summer’s Token Creek Festival is CANCELED. Plus, a teenager’s piano “practice journal” on Instagram is instructive, entertaining and encouraging

July 17, 2020
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NEWS ALERT: This summer’s Token Creek Festival (TCF) — with the chamber music theme of Legacy to run from Aug. 21-Sept. 6 –has been CANCELED. Organizers say they hope to launch a virtual online season of archived performances at the end of the summer.  Also, once modestly sized gatherings are safe again, the TCF hopes to hold an off-season event. For more information and an official statement from TCF, go to: https://tokencreekfestival.org 

By Jacob Stockinger

Somewhere in New York City is a young Chinese piano prodigy who can help you get through what is often the most challenging and discouraging part of piano lessons: practicing.

His name is Auston (below) – no last name is given – and you can find him, in T-shirts and shorts, on Instagram at Auston.piano.

Auston is quite the prodigy. A 13, he plays difficult and dramatic repertoire: the Nocturne in C minor, the Scherzo No. 1 in B minor and the Ballade No. 1 in G minor, all by Chopin.

You can also hear him play the Prelude and Fugue No. 3 in C-sharp minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, by Johann Sebastian Bach; the fiendish Toccata by Sergei Prokofiev; and the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

One day, The Ear expects, Auston might well be among the impressive amateurs and, later, professionals who compete in international competitions.

But more than listening to him playing, his frequent social media entries – sometimes he posts two or three times a day — allow us to hear him practice. We even hear him practicing scales – so-called Russian scales that combine scales in parallel and contrary motion.

This week, he hit 100 video posts. Just yesterday Auston started sight-reading the “Winter Wind” Etude of Chopin, Op. 25, No. 11, which many consider to be the most technically difficult of all Chopin’s etudes. (You can hear the etude – played by Maurizio Pollini – and see the note-filled score in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Starting out, he often plays hands separately (below) and sight-reads the score very, very slowly, making mistakes and working out fingering. He also uses a metronome at a very slow tempo. He gets frustrated but he never gives up. He just starts over again and provides an excellent role model for aspiring piano students.

But this young man is also fun to read. In his one-minute or less entries of his “practice journal” – which he also calls his “practice journey” — he is witty and self-deprecating in his commentaries about the music and especially about himself when he makes mistakes. As seriously as he takes the piano and practicing, he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

All in all he can even encourage others – including The Ear –to persevere and go through the same frustrations of practicing and learning a new piece.

In this case, it is the piano, but the postings could easily apply to practicing any other instrument or even to singing.

Check it out.

You will be impressed.

You will admire him.

You will laugh along with him.

And you just might practice more.

If this practice journal is a pandemic project, it succeeds way beyond what you — and probably Auston himself — might expect.

Happy listening!

And patient, productive practicing!

 


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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Opera, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Overture Center cancel their fall seasons. Plus, on Saturday cellist Cole Randolph performs a virtual concert for Grace Presents

June 26, 2020
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ALERT: The Saturday at noon, Grace Presents will offer the first in its series of HD Virtual Concerts online. Future performers include organist Mark Brampton Smith and the Willy Street Chamber Players.

The performer this time is the cellist and recent UW-Madison graduate Cole Randolph (below). The program is: the Sonata for Solo Cello by the American composer George Crumb; two of the “Seven Songs Heard in China” by Chinese composer Bright Sheng; and the Suite for Solo Cello No. 3 by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Here is where you can hear the 40-minute concert inside the church on the Capitol Square: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vaOCH53osk

You can also connect with Cole Randolph after the show by joining in a Zoom meet-and-greet immediately following the performance at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88001773181

The meeting ID is: 880 0177 3181

You can hear Randolph (below, in a photo by Michael Anderson) playing in the YouTube video at the bottom.

By Jacob Stockinger

With all the talk of a second wave of coronavirus coming in the fall — complicated by the seasonal flu – concert cancellations don’t come as a surprise, unfortunately.

In fact, The Ear suspects many more cancellations are to come, including those from the UW-Madison, the Wisconsin Union Theater and the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Here is the latest round: the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Overture Center have all canceled their fall seasons, with some qualifications.

The announcements came on Thursday morning in the wake of the Overture Center canceling all performances this summer and fall through Nov. 30.

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has provided a short statement and a more complete and detailed press release.

Here is the statement:

“The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 2020-21 “Beethoven and Beyond” season concerts and Overture Concert Organ performances are now canceled from September 2020 through January 2021.

“The move is due to the Overture Center’s decision to suspend events through Nov. 30, 2020, and the requirements of Dane County’s “Forward Dane” Reopening Plan.

“The 2020-21 season performances in February, March, April and May 2021 are scheduled to take place as planned.

“All subscribers will be sent a refund for the value of their tickets for the September 2020 through January 2021 concerts.”

Here is a list on the five MSO concerts – including the Beyond the Score performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” on Jan. 25 — that will be canceled and the four that remain scheduled: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/2020-2021-symphony-season-concerts/

Here is a link to the full press release about the cancellations by the MSO (below, in a  photo by Peter Rodgers): https://madisonsymphony.org/press-release-june-2020-concert-events-update/

MADISON OPERA

The Madison Opera is canceling the two in-person performances of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” (The Troubadour) but is planning on offering some kind of large digital event and smaller live events at its center.

Here is statement from the Madison Opera:

“Although the Overture Center for the Arts is closed until the end of November, we will not be going silent.

“We are creating a fall season that lasts from September through December, and includes both digital content and live performances at the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, our home in downtown Madison.

“Some of our signature engagement activities — such as Opera Novice and Opera Up Close — will have monthly editions that include artists from around the country.

“The Opera Center itself will be the site of “Live from the Opera Center,” a variety of streamed performances with a small live audience.

“Other performances will be created digitally and made available exclusively to subscribers.

“Artists involved include members of the original “Il Trovatore” cast: soprano Karen Slack, baritone Weston Hurt, bass Kenneth Kellogg, and stage director Fenlon Lamb. Other soloists include Wisconsin-based artists Jeni Houser (below), David Blalock, Emily Fons, Emily Secor and Kirsten Larson.

“We are working with our artists to create programming that is chosen from their passions: music they want to share, ideas they want to explore, and conversations they want to start. The challenges facing us will create new art, and new ways to make sure it is accessible to everyone.”

Marketing director Andrew Rogers told The Ear that the opera company is still deciding whether digital performances will be ticketed or free with suggested donations.

The full schedule will be announced in early August, after the digital online Opera in the Park takes place Saturday, July 25. For details, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/2020/05/06/opera-in-the-park-is-going-digital/

To stay current about the regular opera season, you can sign up for the Madison Opera’s news updates via email by going to this website: https://www.madisonopera.org/fall2020/

WISCONSIN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

The Nov. 20 opening concert with pianist John O’Conor of the Masterworks Series has been POSTPONED with no new date set yet.

Music director Andrew Sewell says the Family Concert on is still on for Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Goodman Community Center but the WCO is looking for an alternative venue.

The concert on Nov. 7 at the Verona Area Performing Arts Center has been CANCELED.

Both performances of Handel’s “Messiah” — on Dec. 9 and Dec. 12 at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton and the UW’s Hamel Music Center on Dec. 12 – have also been CANCELED.

And this season the WCO will not play Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” from Dec. 17-27 because the Madison Ballet has canceled those performances.

For more information about the WCO (below, in photo by Mike Gorski), go to: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/calendar

What do you think?

Do you think the cancellations are warranted?

Do you want to leave a message or comment encouraging and supporting the various groups and their many musicians?

The Ear wants to hear.


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