The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It’s never too late! Retirement is the BEST time to start playing music -– or writing and painting -– says one expert who followed her own advice.

August 2, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear knows quite a few retired people who say they would like to start learning to play a musical instrument — either for the first time or else to pick up where they left off, usually in childhood.

But they quickly add that they hesitate because they think it is something you really have to do in childhood or at least when you are much younger.

Not so, says psychologist Francine Toder (below), who herself  took up the cello after retiring in her 60s. You can see other examples in the YouTube video at the bottom.

francine toder with cello

In fact, in her book “The Vintage Years,” Toder argues that retirement in the best time to unlock your creative self. That applies not only to learning a musical instrument but also to writing and to painting and other forms of the visual arts.

The Vintage Years book cover

In case you missed it when it was broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio, an interview with Francine Toder comes from the WPR program “To the Best of Our Knowledge.

Here is a link to the page. On it, you have to click on play the story and if you can also leave a comment if you go through the security process of signing in.

And please leave a COMMENT on this blog with a comment about you own experience with learning the arts in retirement.

http://www.ttbook.org/book/benefits-playing-music-you-vintage-years

And here is a link to the home page for Wisconsin Public Radio’s “To the Best of Out Our Knowledge,” which has the appropriate acronym TTBOOK:

http://www.ttbook.org

 


Classical music: What music gives you goosebumps or “skin orgasms”?

August 1, 2015
13 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A fan of the blog writes:

“Here’s a talker of a topic: Erotic reactions to musical moments.

goosebumps

“It’s not such a good video. But you could ask for suggestions.”

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/07/music-gives-some-people-skin-orgasms.html

And that is what I will do: Ask for suggestions of music you find sexy and have a physical response to, with a YouTube link if  possible.

Leave them in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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
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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: The Willy Street Chamber Players end their first summer season with a MUST-HEAR concert of works by Bach and Mendelssohn this Friday night at 6.

July 30, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The new group The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) — certainly the biggest and most successful music news story of this summer — will end its first summer season with a MUST-HEAR concert on Bach and Mendelssohn this Friday night at 6 p.m.

Willy Street Brahms Sextet

The concert is at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, which has both a performance space with fine acoustics hall and plenty of free parking.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Immanuel Lutheran interior

Admission is $12 for adults; $8 for students and seniors.

You could hardly ask for a better program, which features two undisputed masterpieces.

The first is the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). It is scored without violins but for lower strings and it is irresistible for its melodies and harmonies and especially for its driving energy and rhythm.

Bach1

The second work is the astonishing Octet -– really a double string quartet –- by Felix Mendelssohn (below) who composed it when he was only 16. It may well be Mendelsohn’s best work. It too is irresistible is its energy and melodies. It is thrilling and one of the quintessential chamber music works of all time! (You can hear the impetuous opening in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

mendelssohn_300

The Ear is going and so should you.

By all accounts, the inaugural season of the Willy Street Chamber Players -– which included everything from classic Handel, Mozart, Brahms and Dvorak to new music by contemporary composers and a noon concert for families – has been a great success.

The fine playing — members also perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — was justly praised by many, and large audiences turned out.

Here is a link to a review The Ear did of the first concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/classical-music-the-ear-recommends-hearing-the-july-performances-by-the-new-east-side-group-the-willy-street-chamber-players-the-next-concert-is-tomorrow-at-noon/

It’s enough to make one hopeful about a second season for the group and to make one impatient to see the programs.

The Ear bets both are already in the works!


Classical music: Renowned Czech “pianist’s pianist” Ivan Moravec is dead at 84.

July 29, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The renowned Czech pianist Ivan Moravec (below) — known as “a pianist’s pianist” — died Monday at the age of 84. He died in Prague of complications from pneumonia.

ivan moravec playing

Moravec was known especially for his interpretations of Chopin, DebussyBrahms and especially Mozart – his playing of a Mozart piano concerto was heard on the soundtrack of the popular and Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus,” which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom. He also played composers from his native land including Antonin Dvorak, Bedrich Smetana and Leos Janacek.

Ivan Moravec vertical young

Here are some obituaries:

From Gramophone magazine:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/pianist-ivan-moravec-has-died

From Classical Music magazine:

http://www.classicalmusicmagazine.org/2015/07/ivan-moravec-9-november-1930-8210-27-july-2015/

From Voy Forums with mentions of awards:

http://www.voy.com/221392/165442.html

From critic Norman Lebrecht‘s blog Slipped Disc:

http://slippedisc.com/2015/07/a-great-pianist-has-died/


Classical music: The acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble performs its annual summer concerts this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

July 28, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the critically acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble write:

When conductor Scott MacPherson convened some of Madison’s top singers in 2002, he had no way of knowing that the newly formed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) would begin one of Madison’s most anticipated summer musical traditions.

Known as “Madison’s most temporary choir,” the ensemble – a semi-professional choir of approximately 60 singers – brings new life to over 500 years of choral music within a brief two-week rehearsal period.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

This intense spirit of camaraderie produces a singular remarkable experience, year after year. (You can hear the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble sing the “Abendlied” (Evening Song) by Josef Rheinberger in 2012 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

This summer, Madison-area audiences have two opportunities to hear the 2015 program.

The traditional Friday night concert takes place on at 7:30 p.m. on this Friday, July 31, at Christ Presbyterian Church (below), located at 944 East Gorham Street in downtown Madison.

Christ Presbyterian Church

The program will be repeated at 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 2, at Lutheran Church of the Living Christ (below), located at 110 North Gammon Road, on Madison’s far west side.

Lutheran Church of the Living Christ

General admission tickets are available online at isthmusvocalensemble.org or at the door. Admission is $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors. 

The program, “Unconventional Images” is a tapestry of unexpected beauty, including works spanning from the 1500s up to brand new compositions, featuring a world premiere from composer Corey Rubin (below) entitled “The Snow Man.”

Corey Rubin

Director Scott MacPherson writes: “For these concerts, prepare your ears and mind to be led down an unconventional path, where you will ponder such images as the nativity, snow in the summer, sensual beauty, the desert, glory, mortality and divine renewal.”

Other featured works include “Three Nativity Carols” by the late Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus (below top); “Beati quorum via” and “Coelos ascendit hodie” by Charles Villiers Stanford; “Du bist aller Dinge schön” and “Fahet uns die Füchse” by Melchoir Franck; “Schaffe in mir Gott” by Johannes Brahms; the Gloria by Dominick Argento; and several newly composed pieces, including “Desert Rose” by Frank Wiley, as well as “I Sing to Use the Waiting” and “An Irish Blessing” by University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus, Andrew Rindfleisch (below bottom).

stephen paulus

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is led by Scott MacPherson (below), director of choral activities at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Its members include professional singers, choral directors, professors, lawyers, students and passionate advocates for the arts. The choir has performed by invitation at the North Central Conference of the American Choral Directors Association, commissioned several world premieres and released two professional CDs.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson


Classical music: The Madison Savoyards did a disservice to itself and to Gilbert and Sullivan by using an “anime” or animation aesthetic for its production of “The Mikado.”

July 27, 2015
42 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

For its 53rd annual summer production, Madison Savoyards Ltd. offered its eighth presentation of the brilliant Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado. It was certainly the most problematical of those eight.

Badgered by threats of protest against the “stereotyping” of Japanese culture in this work, the Savoyards decided to slither away from “traditional” presentations, abandoning the creators’ very respectful use of Japanese setting and imagery as a mask for satirizing English life.

The group has this time engaged as stage director Melanie Cain, whose ventures with Fresco Opera Theatre here have shown her commitment to presenting works of the lyric stage in anything but their original character.

Melanie Cain full face

But changes should be made to add something; hers detracted and distracted. The result, visible in a two-week run at Old Music Hall on the UW campus, was pretty anarchic in visual terms.

Working on a set that was a simplified Japanese stereotype in itself, the cast was decked out in a wild disarray of ditsy costumes and crazy wigs to create a new stereotype of pop absurdity — all in the name of supposedly following current Japanese “anime” or animation graphics.

MIkado anime 2 school girls CR Mark Frohda

Only the elaborate costumes for the Mikado himself and for Katisha, his “daughter-in-law-elect,” in their wildness, catch something of their characters, while that for Pooh-Bah, the pompous power-grabber and egomaniac, conversely suggests British spoofing.

The staging had wide ups and downs. The individual movements and the ensemble action displayed good ideas, even if they were not always executed smartly, while the chorus was given sloppy direction with inadequate drilling.

Mikado anime 4 Nanki-Poo and gentlemen CR Mark Frohda

The cast, likewise, was uneven, with only one or two soloists sub-par. Michael Ward’s Pish-Tush proved inept in both singing and movement, while Dennis Gotkowski as the romantic hero, Nanki-Poo (below left), was vocally weak and visually ridiculous — looking like a pirate.

As his beloved Yum-Yum, Angela Sheppard (below right) was visually disappointing but vocally strong. To her sidekick Pitti-Sing, Angela Z. Sheppard brought some good comic potential but her diction was uneven. Matt Marsland was too straightforward to be a successfully comic Ko-Ko.

Mikado anime 3 Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum CR Mark Frohda

Best were Anthony Ashley, who was excellent in both singing and acting as Pooh-Bah; Bill Rosholt as a majestic Mikado; and, despite some moments of blurred diction, Meghan Hilker as the dragon-lady Katisha (below center).

Mikado anime 1 Meghan Hilker as Katisha CR Mark Frohd 1

The chorus of eight or 10 women and only six men was pretty scrawny. The pit orchestra, on the other hand, was excellent under music director Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci) of Edgewood College.

Alas, the needless use of projections during the overture (heard at bottom in a YouTube video) quite distracted the audience from listening to their fine playing of it.

blake walter john maniaci

Given the wackiness and color, the audience seemed generally entertained. But that is hardly the only proof of the pudding, when responsible fidelity to the character of the work is sacrificed for cheap effects.

As someone with my own long years of devoted involvement with Madison Savoyards, I find it painful to have to write so negatively. But let’s be frank: This was not one of the productions that, as so often otherwise, adds renewed honor to this proud company.

Will its production of The Gondoliers next summer be perverted by protests from Italian-Americans about stereotyping Venetians?

 


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS: “Interlude” by Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar.

July 26, 2015
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It happened again.

There I was, writing in the early morning.

I was also listening to Wisconsin Public Radio, which often serves as background music while I write.

But this particular morning host Stephanie Elkins played a piece that I had never heard. It stopped me in my tracks.

It is so beautiful and poignant, and it moves so slowly and movingly that The Ear thought you should also hear it.

It is the Interlude by the Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar from his cantata “The Song.” If his other music is as good, Stenhammar (below) might well deserve a rediscovery. He was a prolific composer with several symphonies and piano concertos to his credit.

Wilhelm Stenhammar

This performance of the Interlude, featured in a YouTube video, was done in 2014 by renowned conductor Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

The Ear hopes you enjoy this rarely performed work as much as he did.

Perhaps my memory is faulty. But I don’t recall hearing it performance live in Madison.

Yet it might make a nice curtain raiser or encore for the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.


Classical music: Let us now praise elderly audiences! Plus, the 14th annual FREE Opera in the Park is TONIGHT at 8 p.m.

July 25, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

When you start talking about audiences for classical music, almost inevitably the subject turns to: How can we attract younger audiences to live concerts?

Proposals range from making tickets cheaper and concerts shorter, stressing music education and community outreach, moving to informal concert venues like bars and coffeehouses, and programming more new music.

It is a good question to revisit today, when the 14th annual family-friendly Opera in the Park, put on by the Madison Opera at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on the far west side, takes place and will draw up to 15,000. Here is a link to a posting about the event with more details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/classical-music-on-the-eve-of-opera-in-the-park-madison-operas-general-director-kathryn-smith-recaps-the-last-season-and-previews-the-next/

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

But such a discussion about audiences usually runs the risk of almost always underestimating and even insulting the contribution of older audiences. (The Sunday afternoon crowd at the Madison Symphony Orchestra comes immediately to mind.)

Not that we should ever stop looking for ways to attract young people. But isn’t it maybe a little like asking: How can we attract more blue hairs to young punk band or rap concerts? Maybe we just need different music at different stages of our life.

In any case, let us not forget to praise the immense contribution of older people or to be grateful for them.

That is the welcome and long overdue message of British pianist-composer-painter and polymath MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” winner Stephen Hough (below), who has performed in Madison several times, in his blog for The Guardian.

Hough_Stephen_color16

Here is a link to his posting. Read it and see if you agree and leave a message in the COMMENT section:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100076555/our-wonderful-elderly-audiences/

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Brass ensemble from UW-Platteville performs a FREE concert Monday night at Taliesin in Spring Green. Plus, the Willy Street Chamber Players perform living composers tonight at 6.

July 24, 2015
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ALERT: A reminder that tonight at 6 p.m. in the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, the newly formed group the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) — whose members also play in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and other groups — will present a concert of works for strings and piano by living composers, including Paul Schoenfield (you can hear the first movement of his “Cafe Music,” which is on the program, in a YouTube video at the bottom) and UW-Madison School of Music students. Admission is $12, $8 for students and seniors. For more information, here is a link to the group’s website:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

Willy Street Brahms Sextet

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Rural Musicians Forum write:

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s faculty brass ensemble, Ensemble Nouveau, takes the stage at Hillside Theater in Spring Green, at famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s compound Taliesin, as part of the Rural Musicians Forum summer concert series, on this coming Monday night, July 27 at 7:30 p.m.

The Hillside Theater (below) is located at 6604 Highway 23 in Spring Green.

The concert is not ticketed and is open to the public.  A free-will offering will be taken to support the concert series.  For additional information and driving directions see www.ruralmusiciansforum.org.

taliesin_hillside2

The ensemble’s performance will be held in the fashion of the quickly growing trend called “Classical Revolution,” where audiences hear classical music in a setting that is different and more accessible than typical concert venues and settings. Since the ensemble formed in 2009, it has performed at community centers, schools and radio stations in northern Illinois, Chicago, northeast Iowa and all across Wisconsin.

“The novelty of the group is that each member plays at least four different instruments when we perform,” said David Cooper, associate professor of trumpet and chair of the Department of Performing and Visual Arts. “Another unique feature of the group is that we arrange all of our own music because no musical arrangements exist with parts written for our unique combination of instruments.”

The group began as a quartet of four UW-Platteville faculty members and held its first concert in 2009. The group soon attracted the attention of Wisconsin Public Radio because of the quality of the members’ musicianship.

Today, the group has grown to a sextet: Cooper, who plays B-flat, C, E-flat, flugel horn and piccolo trumpet; Matthew Gregg, associate director of bands, who plays French horn, mellophone, flugel and trumpet; Allen Cordingley, lecturer of saxophone and jazz studies, who plays soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone; percussion instructor Keith Lienert, who plays an assortment of instruments including the drum set, marimba and steel pan; Corey Mackey, lecturer of clarinet, guitar, chamber music and music appreciation, who plays all members of the clarinet family; and David Earll, lecturer of music technology, chamber music and music appreciation, who plays different tubas and euphonium.

In the photo below, members of the Ensemble Nouveau are, from left to right, David Earll, Matthew Gregg, Keith Lienert, Corey Mackey, David Cooper, Allen Cordingley.

Ensemble Nouveau

Ensemble Nouveau now represents almost every musical member of a typical high school band program, and its program is widely varied.

“I’ve never played with a group like this before – where the literature varies so much, from Johann Sebastian Bach to Stevie Wonder to Astor Piazzola,” said Gregg. “We can play a multitude of styles: jazz, classical, funk, Latin – you name it, we play it.”

“I enjoy the challenge that comes from the uniqueness of the group,” said Cordingley. “This group is a small version of a concert band, involving all types of instruments and all types of music. During Renaissance times, consorts of musicians played in diverse locations. It almost feels like we’re old-time consorts playing contemporary music in our own diverse locations.”

In an important way, Ensemble Nouveau is also an attractive representation of what the UW-Platteville Department of Visual and Performing Arts has to offer.

As Cooper says: “We are part of this ensemble because we want to be. This group has a sincere camaraderie that reflects our passion for music and our appreciation for the opportunities we have at UW-Platteville.

“We want students at area high schools to know that they will have access to world-class players, musicians and singers at UW-Platteville. It’s important to keep music alive. Ensemble Nouveau is going to do everything in its power to do that.”

Ensemble Nouveau promises an evening of exuberant all-brass music. It will not be “all crashing cymbals and honking tubas,” Gregg insists.

For openers, two talented student flutists from the Wisconsin River Valley, Brenna Ledesma and Carly Stanek, will be featured. Each will play a solo selection followed by a duet.

 


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