The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What composers and what pieces give you shelter and sanctuary during troubled times?

October 1, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

A week ago, The Ear went to the inspired all-Mozart program given by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet with guest cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau (below center) and guest clarinetist Alicia Lee (below right), who was making her debut as a new UW faculty member.

He expected a fine performance and he was not disappointed. Indeed, he shares the same very positive reactions that critic John W. Barker expressed in his review for this blog. Here is a link to that review:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/09/30/classical-music-uws-pro-arte-quartet-and-new-uw-clarinet-professor-alicia-lee-perform-a-sublime-all-mozart-program/

But something else happened too.

The sublime music of Mozart (below) – especially the Larghetto slow second movement of the late Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, but also the other movements and the String Quartet in G Major, K. 387 -– took The Ear into another world, into a parenthesis in time.

(You can hear a live performance in Japan by Yo-Yo Ma and others in the Larghetto movement, plus the rest of the Clarinet Quintet, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For a brief time – perhaps a total of about 80 or 90 minutes – The Ear was totally transported. He temporarily blocked out the political strife in Washington, D.C. and the Trump White House; the government turmoil here in Madison and around the world; and  the terrible, deadly natural disasters of floods, hurricanes and wildfires in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe.

He just let the transcendent music and the performances wash over him, refreshing him with their beauty before he reemerged onto the street and into the painful reality of current events after the concert ended.

So The Ear offers a deeply felt thank you to the performers for planning and playing such a timely and therapeutic program. He needed that more than he knew. And he hopes more such concerts are in store. The times demand such balm, not as escapism but as a reminder of great good things that endure.

So here is The Ear’s question: What other composers and what other pieces or works do you find offer the same kind of sanctuary or shelter?

Leave a COMMENT with a link to a performance on YouTube if possible.

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Classical music: What is the one piece of music you could listen to over and over and over again without getting tired or bored?

September 2, 2017
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Saturday —  time for another reader survey.

A few weeks ago, The Ear asked: Which composer or piece you really cannot stand or consider overrated, for whatever reason.

A lot of readers responded and their responses were very interesting, even unexpected. They included such composers as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Scriabin and Mahler.

It was a question of personal taste and of course was subjective – like music itself.

Here is a link to that blog post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/08/05/classical-music-which-well-known-composers-or-works-do-you-hate-and-consider-overrated/

Today, The Ear wants to know:

What piece could you listen to over and over and over again without getting tired or bored by it?

Of course, it may not have to do with the quality of the piece, but rather with how forcefully it speaks to you.

And the piece you name now may not be the one you would name next week or next month or next year.

Right now, for example, The Ear is on a kick with the Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52, by Chopin (below). He loves the work for its development and counterpoint as well as its titanic emotion, which is both Classically restrained and Romantically effusive. That’s why The Ear sees it as Chopin’s response to Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata.

The Ear has tried to play the Ballade and loves comparing different interpretations. (You can hear it played by Arthur Rubinstein in the YouTube video at the bottom. And there are a lot other versions on YouTube.)

As to your choice:

It could be larger work like a Beethoven symphony or a Rachmaninoff concerto or a Verdi opera. Or it could be smaller work, like a Schubert song or a Bach prelude or a Puccini aria.

Anyway, let us know what piece you are focused on right now. It might even serve as a recommendation to other readers.

And in the Comment section, tell us what you like about it and why, and include a YouTube link to a performance if you can.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Which well-known composers or works can’t you stand and consider overrated?

August 5, 2017
21 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

We all have them: Composers and well-known works we just don’t like and consider highly overrated.

Composers whose musical works are deemed masterpieces by some but just don’t speak to others.

The Ear recently saw a blog post on the Internet in which a musically sophisticated British listener ranted against Johannes Brahms (below) – the epitome for so many of carefully crafted, soulful late Romanticism — and about how unlistenable and overwritten Brahms’ music is.

The Ear also knows several people who think that the music of the Classical pioneer Franz Joseph Haydn (below) is boring beyond bearable, that his music is thoroughly second-rate or forgettable – even though the great contemporary American composer John Harbison calls Haydn the most undervalued and underplayed of the great composers.

The 12-tone, serial and atonal composers – Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alan Berg – also come in for more than their fair share of dismissal.

For The Ear, one of those composers who divide the world in two – into those who love him and those who hate him – is Alexander Scriabin (below), the late Russian Romantic (1872-1915).

Oh, some of the early piano preludes and etudes are OK, largely thanks to the obvious influence of Chopin.

But even though Scriabin died young, he developed his own mature style, including the use of a mystical chord and a taste for apocalyptic and visionary frenzy .

To The Ear, those late works seem way too over-the-top and out-of-control, lacking in discernible structure and significance.

Not long ago, Wisconsin Public Radio played Scriabin’s symphonic tone poem “The Poem of Ecstasy.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Is The Ear the only person who finds it more like “The Poem of Agony”?

And then there are the late, virtuosic and pretentious piano sonatas called “White Mass” and “Black Mass” – favorites of the great Russian piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (below) who, as a child played for Scriabin.

When it comes to the Russian school, The Ear far prefers the emotion in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and even Peter Tchaikovsky.

Well, what can you do? Such is taste.

So today, The Ear wants to know: Are there famous composers or famous works that you just can’t stand and consider highly overrated?

Leave the name and the reason you hate it so much in the COMMENT section.

Here’s hoping for some interesting and surprising responses.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today brings the release of an impressive CD of clarinet duos and trios with UW-Madison cellist Uri Vardi and his clarinetist son Amitai Vardi

July 14, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is when another outstanding recording by UW-Madison cellist Uri Vardi gets released by Delos Records.

The recording, which features clarinet trios by Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms and clarinet-cello duos by contemporary composer Jan Radzynski, has all the makings of another winner.

For one, the repertoire is a fine mix of the late Classical style (Beethoven), the  late Romantic style (Brahms) and modernistic nationalism (Radzynski).

It is, of course, a family affair, as  you can read about here in a story about the premiere of the Concerto Duos by Radzynski:

http://news.wisc.edu/music-deepens-connection-for-father-son-performers/

The Ear also finds the playing first-rate and the sound engineering exemplary.

None of that should come as a surprise. You may recall that last year Vardi (below) and his colleague UW-Madison violin professor David Perry, along with pianist Paulina Zamora, released a recording of the three piano trios by Brahms. It was acclaimed by no less than Gramophone magazine. Here is a link to that review:

https://reader.exacteditions.com/issues/49269/page/3

The title of the new CD is Soulmates, and it seems fitting in so many ways that crisscross in many directions.

Here are notes from the educator and performer Uri Vardi:

“The title refers to friendship between composer and performer, as Jenny Kallick highlights in her liner notes.

“For his clarinet trio, Beethoven put to work the manners of a musical style that embraced the outward charm and lively sociability associated with the music of friends, interjecting his soon-to-be famous dramatic flashes only occasionally.

“Jan Radzynski (below) began his association with me in Israel, where the Vardi family from Hungary and Radzynski family from Poland first overlapped.

“Meeting once again during graduate studies at Yale School of Music, our friendship has been enriched by Jan’s project as an esteemed composer with multiple cultural ties to Poland, Israel, the US and Jewish tradition, and by my commitment as celebrated teacher and performer to collaborations across musical boundaries. Jointly, we have found ways to embrace the complexities of their origins and diaspora.

“The duo’s dedication to the entire Vardi family signals this deep connection.

“Nearly a century had passed before Brahms (below top) wrote for this same combination. Had it not been for his newly-blossomed musical friendship with clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld (below bottom, 1856-1907), a star performer in the Hofkapelle Orchestra at Saxe-Meiningen, the composer might have held to his recently announced plans to retire.

“On a more personal level, I admire composer Jan Radzynski’s music. I was moved by his gift to my son Amitai (below) — who teaches clarinet at Kent State University in Ohio — and me, and the rest of our family, of the Concert Duos. He presented the work to us in 2004, and we premiered it that same year.

“Brahms is the composer who influences me on the deepest level. Following the release of my previous CD by Delos, I was eager to record the fourth Brahms trio involving the cello, and was looking for an opportunity to add it to the other three trios.

“It is the greatest joy for me to play chamber music with my son. I was happy that both he, and my colleague and friend, pianist Arnon Erez (below), were ready to embark with me on the journey of performing and recording the three compositions on this CD.

“The UW Arts Institute awarded me the Emily Mead Baldwin Award, which helped me financially in releasing this CD. The recordings were done at the Jerusalem Music Center in Israel (which gave us their wonderful facilities free of charge).

“Sound engineer Victor Fonarov, who recorded this CD and started editing it, passed away before the completion of the work. So we decided to dedicate the album to his memory.

“Here is a promotional video, with a SoundCloud clip of the Beethoven work, for the recording:

https://delosmusic.com/recording/soulmates-cello-clarinet-piano/

“And you can hear an excerpt from Radzynski’s Duos in the YouTube video at the bottom.

“Interested readers can also purchase the album directly from Uri Vardi at: uvardi@wisc.edu”


Classical music: Con Vivo concludes its 15th season with an outstanding concert of music by Spohr, Martinu and Dvorak with guest conductor John DeMain

May 28, 2017
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

For the conclusion of its 15th season, the Con Vivo chamber music ensemble (below, in a photo by Don Sylvester) called out an unusual plethora of players.

And, as it did back in 2013, it brought back conductor John DeMain (below), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, to whip them into shape.

The program consisted of three very ample works.

The first was the Nonet, Op. 31, composed in 1813 by Louis Spohr (below, 1784-1859) — the first of its kind for this combination of strings and winds.

It’s in that no-longer-Classical-but-not-quite-Romantic idiom in which Beethoven was the big troublemaker. It is music of charm and imagination, altogether enjoyable as one appreciates the composer’s experimentation.

Following this was a contrasting work in the same form, the Nonet No. 2 (1959) by Bohuslav Martinu (below, 1890-1959). It dates from the last months of the composer’s life — note that, by coincidence, he died exactly a century after Spohr.

Using Spohr’s same combination of the nine instruments (below), it is a perky affair, in which Czech song and dance meet Igor Stravinsky, as it were. The second of its three movements is a particularly beautiful piece of coloristic writing. It can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The pièce-de-resistance was the final work, the Serenade, Op. 44 (1878), by Antonin Dvorak (below, 1841-1904).

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite works by one of my favorite composers. Composed for 11 players, it is really the composer’s tribute to Mozart, via a Romantic rethinking of the kind of wind serenades that Mozart wrote so wonderfully.

Thus, it is really a wind octet, with the addition of a third horn plus two string players (cello and double bass). Adding those two stringed instruments was a wonderful idea, allowing a significant enrichment of textures in the bass role.

The pool of 14 players involved in the program drew upon a lot of superlative talent active in the Madison area. Highly accomplished players individually, they join in full-bodied ensembles, given the added spirit brought by DeMain’s leadership.

While it would be unfair to single out individuals too much, I must say that I was greatly impressed by Olga Pomolova’s command of the fiendishly difficult violin parts in the two nonets, while I was also struck by the strong leadership of Laura Medisky, who played oboe in the nonets and first oboe in the serenade. (Valree Casey played second oboe in the serenade.)

The audience at First Congregational Church responded justly with an enthusiastic ovation at the end. Truly an outstanding concert!


Classical music: Band and choral music is on tap this Sunday at the UW-Madison and Edgewood College

October 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a busy weekend for music, and tomorrow, Sunday, Oct. 16, it continues.

For fans of band and choral music, a lot of choices are on tap at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and Edgewood College.

Here is the lineup:

At 1 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University Bands (below top) at the UW-Madison will perform under conductors Darin Olson (below bottom), Nathan Froebe, Justin Lindgre. Sorry, no word on the program.

UW concert band

Darin Olson

At 2:30 p.m. St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood College Concert Band presents its Fall concert.

Admission is FREE with a free will offering to benefit the Luke House Community Meal Program.

The program, under the direction of Walter Rich (below, in a photo by Edgewood College) will perform music by John Williams, Leonard Bernstein and Richard Strauss.

The program combines those three legendary names with a selection of new music by three young composers: Brian Balmages, Sean O’Loughlin and the emerging American star Daniel Elder.

The Edgewood College Concert Band provides students and Madison-area community musicians with the opportunity to perform outstanding wind literature. The band has performed a variety of works, ranging from classic British band literature of the early 20th century to transcriptions, marches, and modern compositions.

The group charges no admission for concerts, but often collects a freewill offering for Luke House, a local community meal program. The group rehearses on Wednesday evenings from 7-9 p.m.

Walter Rich

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will host the FREE Choral Collage Concert (its logo is below).

choral-collage-logo

The concert features many groups: the Concert Choir (below top), Chorale, Madrigal Singers, Women’s Choir (below bottom), University Chorus and Master Singers.

Concert Choir

uw women's choir

The program, drawn from the Baroque, Classical and Modern eras, includes music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (the beautiful “Ave Verum Corpus,” which you can hear with Leonard Bernstein conducting, in the YouTube video at the bottom), Benjamin Britten, Johann Schein, Arvo Part (below), Orlando di Lasso and others.

Arvo Part

For more information and a link to the complete program, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-collage/


Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet opens its new season this Saturday night with a new first violinist and works by Beethoven, Turina and Tchaikovsky

September 13, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed, Madison-based Ancora String Quartet welcomes its new first violinist Wes Luke – who replaces Leanne Kelso League — for the  launch of the string quartet’s 16th season.

The concert is this coming Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program includes the String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; “The Bullfighter’s Prayer” by the Spanish composer Joaquin Turina; and the String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11, by Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky.

Tickets at the door are $15 for general admission; $12 for seniors and students; and $6 for children under 12.

ancora-2016-group-1

Members of the Ancora (above from left) are: first violinist Wes Luke — who filled in for the past two seasons — plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the LaCrosse Symphony Orchestra, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra and the Mosaic Chamber Players; second violinist Robin Ryan, who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (she performs on both modern and early instruments) who plays with the Madison Bach Musicians, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble; and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and frequently performs chamber music.

According to program notes: “Beethoven’s charming and lyrical early quartet shows him bridging the divide between the Classical and Romantic eras; Turina’s dramatic tone poem fuses French Impressionism with musical elements from his native Seville; and Tchaikovsky’s first quartet includes the poignant Andante Cantabile, which moved writer Leo Tolstoy to tears. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

A champagne reception will close the evening.


Classical music: Don’t miss tango weekend at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society

June 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

If there was ever a genre of music created specifically for the talented, eclectic and fun-loving musicians of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, it is surely the tango.

It is hard to imagine a more perfect kind of music because it seems so suited to the temperament of the BDDS and its participants. The tango and BDDS simply seem made for each other.

BDDS 25th poster

The sexy and sensual tango has become both a popular and populist form of South American dance music. It started in brothels and then went mainstream. Then it crossed over into the classical repertoire, thanks to composers Astor Piazzolla, Carlos Guastavino and others.

If you have heard the BDDS perform tangos before, you know how captivating the performances are.

This weekend, the BDDS Silver Jubilee season will feature two programs with tangos, arranged by Pablo Zinger (below), a Uruguayan native who now calls New York City home.

Pablo Zinger at piano

Last time they performed, Zinger and his BDDS colleagues were absolutely terrific. The Ear will never forget the BDDS version of Piazzolla’s “Oblivion,” a fantastic, soulful and heart-breaking piece of music. (You can hear another version of “Oblivion” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here are links to the program with tango this weekend to be performed at the Playhouse in the Overture Center and in the Hillside Theatre (below) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org/schedule.php

taliesin_hillside2

Besides tangos, there will also be music by Maurice Ravel (Piano Trio); Arnold Schoenberg (Chamber Symphony); Franz Schubert (Piano Trio No. 1); Joseph Haydn (Piano Trio No. 25, “Gypsy Rondo”); and movie music by Nino Rota, Henry Mancini and Luis Bacalov.

But featured prominently are tangos by Uruguayan composer Miguel del Aguila (below top) and by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla (below bottom), who turned to the tango of his native land at the advice of Nadia Boulanger, the famous French teacher of Aaron Copland, Philip Glass and others.

Miguel del Aguila

astor piazzolla

If you are looking for a preview sample, you can of course go on YouTube. But you could also listen to the new CD of South American tangos by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Not long ago, Jutt (below) spent a sabbatical year in Argentina, if The Ear recalls correctly. She clearly fell in love with tango music and is anxious to share her enthusiasm with others. That enthusiasm and her flair for the dance form show in the terrific performances on the CD.

Stephanie Jutt with flute

The new CD (below), on the Albany label, features pianists Elena Abend and the versatile arranger-pianist Pablo Zinger, whom you can hear live this weekend. It features 20 modern Latin American and Spanish works by Piazzolla and Guastavino as well as by Angel Lasada, the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and the Basque composer Jesus Guridi. (It is on sale at BDDS concerts for $15.)

Stephanie Jutt tango CD

Dance has always inspired classical music. Historically, the tango seems a natural modern progression from the Baroque minuets and allemandes of Johann Sebastian Bach, the Classical landler of Haydn, the Romantic waltzes of Franz Schubert and Frederic Chopin, the Hungarian Dances of Johannes Brahms and the Slavonic Dances of Antonin Dvorak.

But don’t take The Ear’s word for it.

Go listen for yourself. And be captivated, be transported. You won’t be disappointed.


Classical music: Red Priest aims to revive the excitement of Baroque classics. It performs music by Handel, Bach and Telemann this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

February 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The group is called Red Priest – the nickname given to the red-haired violinist and popular Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, who taught music at a girls’ school in Venice.

But during its Madison debut appearance, the group will not be playing music by Vivaldi. The focus will shift to Handel, with some Bach and Telemann thrown in.

Red Priest (below) performs this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater. Tickets are $27.50 to $42.50.

0288-Joan Solo Tour Press Image FINAL

Compared to various rock groups such as the Rolling Stones and the Cirque de Soleil  for its flamboyant presentation of centuries-old classics, the group’s program is called “Handel in the Wind” – recalling the famous song “Candle in the Wind” by chart-topping rocker Elton John.

But that seemingly unorthodox approach, according to Red Priest, fits right in with the true underlying aesthetic of Baroque music, which is too often treated as rigid and codified, predictable and boring.

For more information and background, including the full program, critics’ reviews and how to get tickets, visit:

http://uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/red-priest.html

Red Priest member and recorder player Piers Adams (below) — whom you can also hear talking about  “Handel in the Wind” in a YouTube video at the bottom — recently took time from his very busy schedule to give a Q&A to The Ear:

Piers Adams

What makes your approach to Baroque music unique and different from standard playing or from the early music approach that features the period instruments and historically informed performance practices?

Actually we do use period instruments and historically informed performance practices, albeit mixed in with some more modern aesthetics. The instruments are a mixture of originals (the cello dates from 1725, in original baroque set-up), close copies (violin and harpsichord) and modern instruments (most of my recorders, which are heavily “souped up” versions of baroque originals).

We differ from the mainstream baroque groups by doing everything we can to bring the music to life — not just in a “Here’s how they used to do it” sense, but rather by “This is how we’re going to do it!”

As musicians who like to live (or at least, to play) on the edge, that means we’re naturally drawn to some of the more extreme and colorful characters and performance practices from the Baroque era, mixed in with our own ideas drawn from interest in other musical genres, such as folk, world and rock music.

red priest on stage

How and why did you come up with that approach? Why do you focus on Baroque music? Is there something special to say about Baroque music?

After years of bowing down to the authority of the early music movement — which has a habit of policing anyone who disagrees with its creed or who wants to show a bit of individuality — it was a wonderful realization that in fact it’s OK to do one’s own thing!

As soon as we made that break, we found ourselves on the edges of that rather safe (but dull) world of historically accurate re-creation and in a genre of our own, where anything goes as long as it’s musically satisfying to us and to the audience.

In fact, much of the most satisfying playing does come from “following the rules,” where the rules tell us to perform with wild abandon and heartfelt expression in every note!

Baroque music is a wonderful place for experimentation and co-creation -– perhaps more so than any other area of classical music, because so much is already left to the performer to decide, and because arrangement and transcription were such important aspects too.

Baroque music also has a harmonic and rhythmic structure that many people can relate to, perhaps closer to modern-day pop and rock than the more harmonically complex music of the later Classical and Romantic periods.

red priest jumping

Why are you emphasizing George Frideric Handel in your Madison program? In your view, is his music underrated or underperformed? How important or great is Handel?

We have toured the US close to 40 times, and try to bring something new with us where possible. The latest creation is a transcription of music from Handel’s “Messiah,” which we’ve converted into a colorful instrumental journey, bringing out the drama in a very different way from the normal choral performance.

Handel is regarded as one of the greatest Baroque composers, but this is the first time we have created a project around his music. I don’t know why we waited so long, as he wrote some amazing tunes!

handel big 3

How would you compare Handel to Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann, whose music you will also be performing?

Handel’s music is in some ways simpler than Bach’s, which tends to be very dense and complex, but both can produce moments of high drama and great beauty.

Telemann was above all a great craftsman, and in his day was considered the greatest composer of all, but now is held in rather lower esteem than Bach and Handel – maybe partly because of his frequent reliance upon gypsy folk melodies in his works.

The pieces we have chosen bring out the characters of these three great Baroque masters.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

We’re greatly looking forward to this, our first visit to Madison!


Classical music: Pianist Adam Neiman laments the neglect of piano concertos by Shostakovich and Poulenc, which he will perform this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

January 19, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This week, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will open the second half of its indoor season with a program that plays to its strong suits.

WCO lobby

The concert takes place this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, 211 State St,

The program feature works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

There will be the Overture to the opera “Cosi Fan Tutte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Symphony No. 6 in C Major by Franz Schubert.

In between will come two rarely heard piano concertos that feature the return of soloist Adam Nieman (pronounced KNEE-man), who several years ago made a fine recording of early Mozart piano concertos with the WCO and its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who possesses a mastery of the Classical-era style and has a special fondness for French music.

Adam Neiman 2 2016

Neiman will perform the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the Piano Concerto in C-sharp Minor by French composer Francis Poulenc.

Tickets are $15-$80 with $10 student rush tickets on the day of the concert. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information about the concert, including a lengthy biography of Adam Neiman, visit:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-ii-1/?utm_source=FY16+MW2+-+Adam+Neiman&utm_campaign=FY14+MW2+1.8.14&utm_medium=email

Adam Neiman recently did an email Q&A with The Ear:

adam neiman 3 2016

Can you briefly bring the public up to date with highlights about you and your career since you last performed here in 2008 with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded the early Mozart concertos?

I have been very actively performing over the last several years, since my last appearance with the WCO in 2008. My touring schedule has encompassed roughly 100 concerts a year, and I have had the pleasure of presenting some epic solo recital tours throughout the United States.

Specifically I have been engaged in three monumental projects: the Complete Liszt Transcendental Études in 2011-2012; Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and Diabelli Variations in 2013-2014; and the complete Rachmaninoff Preludes and Études-tableaux in 2014-2015.

I have issued eight recordings since the Mozart piano concertos recording with the WCO, and three more solo records are on the way in 2017. In addition, I have founded a record label, Aeolian Classics, formed in 2014.

I have simultaneously kept an active teaching profile, and in 2015 I was awarded the position of Assistant Professor of Piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. As a full-time member of the faculty, I have since relocated to Chicago, so now I am a fellow Midwesterner!

Composition has always played a major part in my musical life, and since 2008 I have written a number of works for premieres, including my Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, which can be viewed on my YouTube channel at:

You have chosen an unusual program. What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich? What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc? Why do you think both concertos are not programmed more often? Why do you perform them and what do you like about each one?

The Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) is one of my favorite works of all time, and when Andrew approached me about the possibility of performing it in conjunction with another concerto, I immediately suggested the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc.

dmitri shostakovich

Both works share certain core qualities, namely irony, humor, radiant beauty and spirited fun. These are works that do not disparage the concept of beauty, though they were both written during a post-war generation.

As such, rare moments of absolute Romanticism are intertwined with musical jokes, sardonic twists of phrase, and ridicule, rendering the messages of each piece complex and ironic. (You can hear Neiman perform the opening of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

At one point, during the last movement of the Poulenc, he spontaneously quotes George Gershwin’s “Swanee” in a moment of jazz ease, in between sparkly, jaunty sections of impish humor. In a sense, you could describe both pieces as tonal expressions of longing for a bygone era from the perspective of a bleak machine age.

From a compositional perspective, both works are solidly grounded in classical form, and both are ingeniously orchestrated, making use of each instrument’s range and dynamic qualities to draw out a maximum of character possibilities.

The piano writing is virtuosic, powerful, and expressive, and the combination will take the audience by storm – I think the WCO audiences will walk away from this performance humming passages of the works, and they will be delighted by the wit and charm that wins out in the end.

As to why the Poulenc is rarely performed, I can offer no other possible explanation than the innate closed-mindedness of many people in the music world.

Poulenc (below) is a composer who deserves a place at the very center of the main repertory. Yet due to the prejudices of the ignorant critics of his day who preferred to elevate the splendors of Germanic music to an Olympian height above the “avant-garde” of Russia and France, he, among others, garnered an undeservedly poor following.

Francis Poulenc

What would you like to say about performing in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Andrew Sewell, with whom you seem to share a deep musical affinity? Do you have plans to record something else with them?

Each performance I have played with the WCO stands out as a musical highlight for me. The orchestra is as fine as they come, and I am inspired by the love of music that seems to be the keystone of the ensemble.

Andrew Sewell (below) is not only a very fine conductor and exemplary musician, but I am lucky to count him as a close friend. We have a musical rapport that is powerful, with a long history, and it would be a privilege to keep performing and recording with him and the orchestra in the future.

There are no current plans in place to record together, but the experience of making the Mozart concertos CD in 2008 was so sweet, that I would be happy to do it again! Maybe a Shostakovich/Poulenc disc, hmmm?

andrewsewell

What else would you like to say?

I feel truly honored to be a part of the 2016 performance season of WCO, and I cannot wait to say hello to all my Madison friends!

For more information about me, please visit my website at www.adamneiman.com


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