The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The future of Western classical music is in Asia – specifically China, South Korean, Japan and Taiwan. Why is that?

May 25, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not just about Lang Lang.

The signs are everywhere.

They were present at a recent piano recital by elementary school, middle school and high school students that The Ear attended.

You see it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and at top music schools, including the Curtis Institute of Music, across the U.S. and Western Europe. And you see it in youth groups such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below).

Western classical music recording labels, such as Deutsche Gramophone and Sony Classical, are looking to develop new markets and so are signing more Asian musicians, such as the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai String Quartet, and releasing more Asian performances. (Below is the Taiwanese-Australian, prize-winning violinist Ray Chen, who is also a master at using social media to build his meteoric career.)

All these items point to the same conclusion: The future of Western classical music looks more and more likely to be found in Asian culture and in Asia  – specifically in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. (Next season, prize-winning South Korean pianist Joyce Yang (below) returns to Madison, where she first gave a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Consider some of the following:

There are, The Ear read somewhere, now more piano students in China than in all of Europe, North America and South America combined. And he is reading about more and more concert tours of China and other Asian countries by Western performers — even while in the U.S. the number of pianos in homes are on the decline.

Increasingly the winners of major international competitions — such as the Chopin competition, the Van Cliburn competition, the Tchaikovsky competition, the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium competition and the Leeds competition – come from Asia or are Asian. (Below, in a photo by Simon Fowler, is American pianist George Li, who immigrated from China as a child and attended Harvard and the New England Conservatory before winning a silver medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition. His concert career is now blossoming fast.)

In recent years, China has been building a lot of first-rate concert halls, opera houses and music schools. And next year, the famed Juilliard School in New York City will open its second campus this fall in Tianjin, near Beijing.

China has certainly come a long way from the days of the Cultural Revolution when the people could be imprisoned for listening to Beethoven, who is now a cultural icon in China — as you can hear at the bottom in the YouTube video of Li Jing Zhan conducting the orchestra at the Chinese National Opera in Beethoven’s No. 7. (Below is the strking new National Center for the Performing Arts in China.)

https://www.interlude.hk/front/culture-construction-chinas-new-concert-halls/

Nineteen of the 24 final competitors, ages 13-17, in the second Van Cliburn Junior Competition – which starts in Dallas, Texas, on May 31 and ends on June 8 – are Asian, Asian-American and Asian-Canadian, all with astonishingly impressive credentials and experience. It will be streamed live and free. Take a look and listen:

https://www.cliburn.org/2019-cliburn-junior-competitors/

Why this Asian shift is happening remains somewhat of a mystery to The Ear, although he had been thinking about for a long time.

Then he came across a op-ed column confirming the prevalence of Asian classical musicians. It was written by the American concert pianist and teacher Inna Faliks (below), who teaches at UCLA and who wrote convincingly about her recent concert experiences in China in The Washington Post.

Read it and see what you think, and tell us whether you agree:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-future-of-classical-music-is-chinese/2019/03/22/2649e9dc-4cb5-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html?utm_term=.7f149e0f8eb9

Why are Asians so interested in Western classical music and music education? And why do they respect it or even revere it so much?

Does it have to do with the “tiger mom” phenomenon of strong parental pressure to succeed and achieve?

Is it largely a function of population?

Is it because of the collective teamwork required to make a lot chamber music and orchestral music, or with the intense and instructive teacher-student relationship?

Is it because the cultural depth and seriousness in Western music education – ing contrast to the increasingly pop culture of the West – that prepares students well for the training and intellectual discipline required in other educational fields and careers, including the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)?

Is Asia simply fascinated by Western culture the same way that Western culture was fascinated by the exotic Asian cultures – especially in China and Japan — during the 19th century and earlier? Or is the West increasingly ignoring its own culture. (The Ear can’t recall any classical musicians performing at President Donald Trump’s White House. Can you?)

How do you see the situation and react to it? And what do you think about the causes and effects?

Please leave your reactions and thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Here is how Chopin’s famous “Fantaisie-Impromptu” sounds – and looks

March 29, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most popular pieces in the piano repertoire is the “Fantaisie-Impromptu” in C-sharp minor, Op. 66, by Frederic Chopin (below).

Chances are good that you already know how it sounds.

But it case you don’t, here is one popular interpretation – with almost 9 million views – thanks to a YouTube video by the Chinese pianist Yundi Li (now known simply as Yundi). In 2000, at the age of 18, he became the youngest person ever to win the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition.

And here is how it looks in an arresting, artistic and ingenious graphic display that might help you to understand the work structurally, rhythmically, melodically and harmonically:

Do you have any reactions to the playing and the seeing?

Do you want to see more of such graphic interpretations? Of what specific pieces?

Leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Grammy winners Takacs Quartet and pianist Garrick Ohlsson perform a MUST-HEAR concert of Mozart, Brahms and Shostakovich this Sunday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Plus, you can hear a FREE performance of string music by Johan Halvorsen and Philip Glass this Friday at noon

November 30, 2017
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features the Passcaglia Duo of Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen and String Quartet No. 5 by American contemporary composer Philip Glass.

Performers are violinists Kaleigh Acord, Elspeth Stalter and Ela Mowinski; violist Shannon Farley; and cellist Morgan Walsh. The concert, which runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m., will be streamed live on the Facebook page of Noon Musicales.

By Jacob Stockinger

Separately and together, The Ear loves piano and strings.

So you can imagine the appeal of a concert that will take place this Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

That’s when the veteran and venerable Takacs Quartet (below) and acclaimed pianist Garrick Ohlsson will join forces in a terrific all-masterpiece program.

The concert has all the makings of a MUST-HEAR event for chamber music fans.

The award-winning Takacs Quartet, founded 42 years ago in Hungary and widely recorded and honored, will play two string quartets.

The late String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K. 575, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below), is the first of the composer’s three so-called “Prussian” quartets.

Known for a more relaxed style than the earlier “Haydn” quartets by Mozart, the Prussian quartets were composed for the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II (below), who was a talented amateur cellist.

The Takacs will also perform the seven-movement String Quartet No. 11 in F minor by Dmitri Shostakovich (below). It is one of The Ear’s very favorite of the 16 quartets written by the Russian composer who endured the torments and treacheries of the Stalinist terror in the Soviet Union.

Then Garrick Ohlsson (below) will join in for the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms. It is one of the four or five crowning quintets for piano and string quartet.

The Ear loves the playing of both artists and the program should be deeply interesting and moving. The Takacs possesses a mastery of many styles and has recorded numerous quartets by Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Smetana, Janacek and, more recently, by Dvorak as well as a terrific complete cycle of the 16 Beethoven quartets.

But the Takacs has recorded little Mozart (two string quintets) and little Shostakovich (one quartet and a piano quintet), so The Ear looks forward to hearing the quartet’s take on those composers.

The Takacs has recorded the Brahms Piano Quintet, but with British pianist Stephen Hough and Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff, but that work too should be a memorable performance with Ohlsson, the only American ever to win the International Chopin Piano Competition. (You can hear the energetic and lyrical opening movement from the Takacs-Hough recording in the YouTube video at the bottom, which has an intriguing and colorful bar graph to emphasize the structure.)

Tickets are $10-$47. For more information about purchasing tickets plus a video and more background about the artists, go to:

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/takacs-quartet-with-garrick-ohlsson/


Classical music: The last of this summer’s FREE Farmers’ Market organ concerts takes place this Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall

August 9, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The last of the three monthly FREE organ concerts that the Madison Symphony Orchestra puts on during the summer for the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Saturdays will take place this Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.

Overture Organ close up CRE ZaneWilliams

The hour-long program will feature local musician Mark Brampton Smith (below).

Mark Brampton Smith

Brampton Smith holds degrees in organ performance from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan. Past teachers have included William Watkins, Russell Saunders, and Robert Glasgow (organ); Vincent Lenti (piano); and Edward Parmentier (harpsichord).

Currently the organist at Grace Episcopal Church (below), he has served on the music staff of churches in seven states. He has won prizes in the Fort Wayne, Ann Arbor and American Guild of Organists National Competitions.

grace episcopal church ext

As a collaborative pianist, he has worked with numerous singers, instrumentalists and ensembles, including the Ann Arbor Cantata Singers, University of Michigan choirs, Colgate University Chorus, and the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

His program includes music by Felix Mendelssohn, Jean Roger-Ducasse, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and others. Sorry, but specific titles of the works to be performed were not sent to The Ear. But you can hear a sample of Jean-Roger Ducasse in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For more information about this and other Farmers’ Market organ concerts, go to:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/farmers


Classical music: Pianist Garrick Ohlsson will solo in the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Johannes Brahms with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend. Music by Richard Strauss and Steven Stucky complete the program.

March 29, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

World-renowned pianist Garrick Ohlsson returns to the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) this Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The program, conducted by longtime MSO music director John DeMain, features dramatic music by Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss. The concert will also feature a first-ever performance by the MSO of a symphony by the recently deceased Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Steven Stucky.

Garrick Ohlsson (below, in a photo by Paul Body) will perform one of the best-loved pieces in the Romantic piano concerto repertoire, Johannes Brahms’ powerful Piano Concerto No. 1. Ohlsson impressed Madison audiences in 2008 and 2012 with his thrilling performances of concertos by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky.

Garrick Ohlsson 2 CR Paul Body

Steven Stucky’s intricate and intriguing Symphony No. 1 kicks off the concert program, followed by Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan, a work recounting the life and death of the eponymous fictional character through brazenly virtuosic flair matched by tender romantic melodies.

The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For ticket details, see below.

Garrick Ohlsson (below) has been a commanding presence in the piano world since winning the Chopin International Piano Competition in 1970. A proponent of chamber music, Ohlsson has collaborated with the Cleveland, Emerson, Takács and Tokyo string quartets. Known for his masterly interpretations of Chopin, Ohlsson has over 80 concertos in his repertoire, including several commissioned for him.

Garrick Ohlsson

Steven Stucky (below) composed his Symphony No. 1 as part of a joint commission by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic, and it premiered in 2012. Described by the composer as “a single expanse of music that travels through a series of emotional landscapes”, this concise work consists of four movements played without a break. Stucky just died on Feb. 14, 2016.

Steven Stucky with piano

The tone poem Don Juan by Richard Strauss (below) opens in breathtaking fashion with a flurry of strings and brass, as the hero leaps to the stage. Technically challenging and theatrical, the work vividly recounts Don Juan’s exploits, as well as his downfall.

Richard Strauss old CR H. Hoffmann Ulstein Biulderdienst

The first major orchestral work, Piano Concerto No. 1, by Johannes Brahms (below) casts the piano and orchestra as equal partners working together to develop musical ideas. Written in D minor, this piece captures the composer’s grief over the breakdown and eventual death in a mental asylum of his friend Robert Schumann. You can hear pianist Emil Gilels play the last movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.

brahmsBW

One hour before each performance, Susan Cook (below), the director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and Professor of Musicology, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

Susan C. Cook UW SOM BW CR Michael Forster Rothbart

More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes, written by MSO bass trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ohlsson

Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available via www.madisonsymphony.org/ohlsson , 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, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture 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: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

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.

Major funding for the April concerts was provided by NBC15, Diane Ballweg, BMO Private Bank, and Fred and Mary Mohs. Additional funding was provided by Boardman & Clark LLP; Dan and Natalie Erdman; J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.; Nick and Judith Topitzes; WPS Health Solutions; and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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