The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here are playlists of the best classical music for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. What music would you choose?

December 24, 2018
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REMINDER: A well-edited one-hour excerpt of the recent Christmas concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra will air on Wisconsin Public Television at 9:30 p.m. this Tuesday, on Christmas Night. The Ear saw the first airing of the broadcast and highly recommends it. Both the programming and the performing are top-notch. It is a perfect way to wrap up your holiday.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Eve and tomorrow is Christmas Day.

Some people celebrate tonight and some people celebrate tomorrow.

But no matter when you mark the holiday with gifts, gathering and special food, great music has an integral place in the celebration.

Indeed, music seems nothing less than a great gift to the entire world. As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

To help you celebrate, here are playlists of the best classical music, from Medieval times through Baroque music up to living composers, for marking Christmas.

Here are two playlists, with a total of two hours of music, already compiled and available on YouTube. Be sure to hit SHOW MORE at the top to see the complete title, composer’s name and timing of the selections:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrFCdi7apV8&list=PLcGkkXtask_cCaCLkrmuDUfukHct9eut-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voIrzsxeE6w

And perhaps best of all, here are several lists in the same place from famed classical radio station WQXR in New York City. They not only have generous sound samples, but also allow you to choose what genre of music you prefer — say, choral music or brass music or piano music to string quartet chamber music:

https://www.wqxr.org/story/essential-christmas-recordings/

What music would you choose as favorite Christmas fare?

The Ear wants to hear.

Enjoy! And Merry Christmas to all!


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Classical music: Today is Christmas Day 2017. The Ear’s gift is a concert of 16th-century British holiday music from Stile Antico and NPR

December 25, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2017.

As always, the holiday season has seen an outstanding time for choral music.

We all have our favorites, including the “Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach and the oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel. Add in traditional music and carols, hymns and then Baroque instrumental music by Vivaldi and Corelli among others. The choices are vast.

But this year The Ear wandered across something new and relatively unknown.

It is almost a one-hour-long concert of 16th-century British holiday music from the Tudor era.

The performers are the award-winning, 13-member a cappella early music group Stile Antico (below, in a  photo by Marco Borggreve).

The featured composers in this concert that has been posted on the Deceptive Cadence” blog by NPR (National Public Radio) include Thomas Tallis and William Byrd.

Here it is:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2012/12/03/166416569/a-choral-christmas-with-stile-antico

Enjoy!

And Merry Christmas to all!


Classical music education: Retiring UW-Madison and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras maestro James Smith gets the monthly ‘Making a Difference’ award from NBC TV Channel 15

December 29, 2016
1 Comment

ALERT: In yesterday’s post about the upcoming house concert of keyboard music by Trevor Stephenson, The Ear listed the wrong date in the headline. It was corrected, but The Ear apologizes and feels a correction is still needed for those who missed it: The concert is on Friday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m. For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/classical-music-trevor-stephenson-will-use-a-variety-of-period-keyboard-instruments-to-perform-a-house-concert-of-music-by-baroque-classical-romantic-and-impressionistic-composers-on-jan-7/

By Jacob Stockinger

It comes as welcome and heart-warming news at a time when so much news is negative, accusatory and depressing.

Maestro James Smith (below, in a photo by Michael Anderson) — who has been conducting the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra and the University Opera as well as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras for 32 years — has received a fine piece of community recognition.

UW Chamber Orchestra, James Smith, conductor

Smith has just received the monthly “Making a Difference” award from NBC TV Channel 15, which also broadcast once again three times WYSO’s traditional concert “Sounds of the Season” on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

james smith Jack Burns

Here is the 3-1/2 minute video, which includes an interview with Smith as well as testimony from a former student who has gone on to have a professional career in music, about the NBC award:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/news/Maestro-making-a-difference–408450735.html

Such recognition is nothing new for Smith, who has won many honors as well as the esteem of his colleagues, his students and his audiences.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Six years ago, The Ear named Smith as ‘Musician of the Year’ for 2010:

Here is that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/classical-music-uw-and-wyso-conductor-james-smith-is-“musician-of-the-year”-for-2010/

WYSO 50th James Smith conducting

More recently, The Ear talked about Smith’s upcoming retirement and his post-retirement plans in a post about four major people who will retire this spring from the UW-Madison School of Music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/classical-music-four-major-retirements-this-spring-will-put-the-uw-madison-school-of-music-in-a-staffing-bind-and-could-further-hurt-the-standing-of-the-uw-madison/

The Ear loves Smith’s reply when he was asked by anchor John Stofflet of NBC for advice to his successor:

“Learn from the students,” said Smith, a trained professional and concertizing clarinetist who turned to conducting.

The Ear, who was a longtime teacher himself, knows the truth of that answer.

Thank you and bravo, Maestro Smith.

Bravissimo!!


Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras performs “Sounds of the Season” with area high school choirs on TV once again on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Plus, WYSO names Randal Swiggum as its new interim music director

December 23, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has two pieces of news to report:

As in past years, WYSO will perform its popular one-hour, commercial-free “Sounds of the Season” concerts on TV on NBC 15 this weekend. 

Three WYSO groups will be featured: the Youth Orchestra (below top), the Youth Brass Choir (below middle) and the Percussion Ensemble (below bottom).

WYSO Youth Orchestra James Smith conducting 2015

WYSO Brass Choir

WYSO Percussion Ensemble 2012

There will be one performance on Christmas Eve at 10 p.m., and then two performances on Christmas Day at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

The orchestra and ensembles will also be joined by choirs from area high schools. Sorry, but The Ear can’t find word of which ones.

You can hear part of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” as performed by WYSO on “Sounds of the Season” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For more information, photos and audiovisual clips from a last year’s “Sounds of the Season,” go to:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/misc/NBC15-Sounds-Of-The-Season-2016-406076915.html

wyso-sounds-of-the-season-logo

In addition WYSO has named an interim replacement for outgoing music director James Smith (below), who is retiring from WYSO as well as from the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the end of this season.

james smith Jack Burns

Here are details from WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser:

“WYSO is very pleased to announce that Randal Swiggum (below) has been appointed WYSO Interim Artistic Director and Youth Orchestra Conductor for the 2017-2018 season.

“Randy is well-known to many WYSO students already, whether through Summer Music Clinic, the recent Wisconsin Middle Level Honors orchestra, or Suzuki Strings of Madison. He prepared the WYSO Youth Orchestra for its 2012 Overture Center performance of “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” and has subbed in with Philharmonia Orchestra and chamber music rehearsals.

Randall Swiggum

“Randy is in his 19th season as Artistic Director of the award-winning Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, a large program similar to WYSO, which draws students from 70 different communities in suburban Chicago.

“Under his direction, the EYSO has collaborated with renowned artists like Midori, Yo-Yo Ma and Rachel Barton Pine, as well as Grammy-winning chamber ensemble eighth blackbird. The EYSO has appeared on NPR’s “From the Top” and at the Ravinia Festival, where they will return to perform again in 2018.

“The Illinois Council of Orchestras has twice named him Conductor of the Year and awarded its prestigious Programming of the Year Award to the EYSO.

“A frequent guest conductor of orchestral and choral festivals, Randy recently conducted the Scottish National Youth Symphony in Glasgow, All-State Orchestras in Georgia and Illinois, the American Mennonite Schools Orchestra Festival, Northern Arizona Honors Orchestra, the APAC Orchestra Festival in Seoul, and both the Wisconsin Middle Level Honors Choir and Orchestra, among many others.

“Randy also works with a number of professional orchestras, designing and conducting concerts for young people. Last year, he led the Madison Symphony in his original “Symphony Safari: What Nature Teaches Us About the Orchestra,” attended by several thousand middle school students in Overture Hall.

“Next February, he returns for a fourth season with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in its acclaimed “Teen Partner” series, conducting the Gloria by Francis Poulenc.

“He also appears next spring with the Chippewa Valley Symphony, conducting his “Beethoven Superhero” concert, which has been popular with teachers, students and parents alike, with the Elgin Symphony and The Florida Orchestra (Tampa).

“As an author and lecturer, Randy works with teachers around the country and internationally, most recently with international school teachers in Hong Kong and at Carnegie Hall, where last summer he returned for a fourth season teaching its Music Educator Workshops, and leading members of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA.

“Randy is a proud UW-Madison graduate and lives in Madison, where you can find him on Monday nights working with the Madison Boychoir (in the Madison Youth Choirs) alongside colleague Margaret Jenks.

“WYSO is truly fortunate to have such a dedicated and tireless educator guiding its artistic vision next season.”


Classical music: On Christmas Day, YOU MUST HEAR THIS – “The Shepherd’s Farewell” chorus from the oratorio “L’Enfance du Christ” by Hector Berlioz.

December 25, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2014.

As this year’s gift, The Ear wants to share something special.

It is a work that usually gets drowned out at Christmas time by more familiar works — from “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, the “Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach, “The Nutcracker” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian Carlo Menotti and the “Christmas Concerto” by Arcangelo Corelli.

The work I am talking about is the “Shepherd’s Farewell” to the infant Jesus whose family — Virgin Mary and father Joseph — must flee its homeland in face of the death threats posed by King Herod.

It comes from “L’Enfance du Christ” (The Childhood of Jesus) by the early French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below). The story goes that he was bored at a dinner party and sketched it out on a linen napkin.

berlioz

True story or not, the music is gloriously beautiful, calm and reassuring — in an appropriately pastoral way. This neglected chorus -– in fact, the whole neglected oratorio — deserves to be a much more integral part of Christmas celebrations.

Maybe in future years, Hector Berlioz’ “L’Enfance du Christ” could be performed, in part or in its entirety, by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union and UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. It would make a wonderful holiday addition, or even tradition.

Anyway, you listen and you decide.

Then tell us what you think in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.

So here is the music, in a YouTube video at the bottom, running just under 5 minutes.

Enjoy.

And MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Classical music: Get to know The Ear. For Christmas this year, The Ear gives readers an interview with him done by critic, radio host and blogger Paul Baker.

December 24, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Eve.

Lots of people exchange gifts today, rather than on Christmas Day.

So, does this post qualify as a Christmas gift?

I say: Why not?

But I’ll let readers decide and have the final word.

Recently, Paul Baker (below) visited The Ear and did an interview with him.

The topics ranged from personal background to taste about the music I like and dislike, and my adamant support for music education.

It may satisfy some people who want to know more about The Ear.

Paul Baker

Baker, as you may know, works in communications at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, which just marked its 50th anniversary at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Baker specializes in jazz and was a freelance reviewer for The Ear when The Ear worked as the arts editor at The Capital Times.

For years, Baker hosted “Caravan,” a show of Middle Eastern and Arabic music.

He has hosted for WORT FM 89.9 in past years.

“I have volunteered as a radio music host sporadically since undergraduate days at the University of Kentucky-Lexington,” says Baker.

Paul Baker at WSUM

Now he has a weekly show –- “Strings Only” -– that airs on Wednesdays from 1 to 2 p.m. on the UW-Madison student radio station WSUM 91.7 FM, which is quite distinguished by the awards it has won and quite varied in its offerings and scheduled programs, as you can see from the website below:

http://wsum.org

Here is a link to the 2005 background story by the UW-Madison News Service about Paul Baker:

http://www.news.wisc.edu/11801

Here is a link to Paul Baker’s music blog, which, among other things, features record reviews as well as feature stories and profiles – especially notable is the one about the prominent Madison luthier, or violin maker, Ralph Rabin (below, in a photo by Paul Baker), who also is the son of the late Marvin Rabin, the internationally famed music educator and founder-conductor of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO):

https://onlystringswsum.wordpress.com

Ralph Rabin in shop 1 Paul Baker

Finally, here is a link to his blog and the interview with me, The Ear. It is entitled “The Well-Tempered Writer”:

https://onlystringswsum.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/the-well-tempered-writer/

Merry Christmas!!

 


Classical music: Find out what eight famous composers were doing on Christmas Day. Plus, UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor performs Messiaen on WORT FM early on Christmas morning.

December 23, 2014
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ALERT: Blog fan and WORT 89.9 FM radio host Rich Samuels, who also documents the local music scene, writes:

Jake:

My Christmas Day 5-8 a.m. show on WORT will include a complete performance of Olivier Messiaen‘s “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus” by University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, as well as an interview that I recorded with Taylor about the piece and its composer.

The performance was recorded December 11, 2012 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Taylor performs this two-hour work from memory.)

Here’s a link to the New York Times review of the performance:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/arts/music/messiaens-vingt-regards-sur-lenfant-jesus-at-met-museum.html

All the best in 2015.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an unexpected Christmas gift I stumbled across.

It consists of Christmas Day excerpts from letters and diaries by and about eight Romantic and modern composers. They include Felix Mendelssohn, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner (see the YouTube video at the bottom), Claude Debussy, Edward Elgar, Benjamin Britten and Sergei Prokofiev.

I like that the various writings demystify the lives of composers, and artists in general, and shows their ordinary human side through what they thought, felt and did on a special day, even on a holiday.

Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

http://www.classical-music.com/article/8-composers-at-christmas-through-letters


Classical music: Can religious music make you a believer? If so, one example would surely would be the moving Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols that airs on Wisconsin Public Radio today at 9 a.m. CST and on Christmas Day at noon.

December 24, 2013
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

I suppose you can argue that it is not really classical music.

But no one can say that it isn’t classic music.

I am talking about the yearly broadcast of The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College in the United Kingdom.

Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College

Music is so central to the service. And there are old standards as well as new commissions.

The Ear finds the whole production so moving that it would give make non-believers the desire to believe. After all, what is evoked and summoned are the ideals of compassion and redemption. And who can’t benefit from those values?

I also feel that same way about many of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s cantatas and passions and abut the requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Gabriel Faure. (Tell us what pieces make you feel that way in a COMMENT.)

Anyway, the festival service will be broadcast LIVE this morning at 9 a.m. CST on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM in the Madison area) with an encore production on Christmas Day at noon CST. (You could stream it also by going to wpr.org.)

But in case you miss it or can’t listen to it, here in a YouTube video is the always inspirational opening hymn — “Once in Royal David’s City” that features a solo boy d soprano singing out to the entire world — and procession from another year’s production, from 2010. The opening is just so poignant, so beautifully developed and expanded, and the service continue to live up to the high standards that have been established over many decades of the ceremony.

So for 2013, from The Ear to you, Merry Christmas Eve and Merry Christmas!


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