The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra sells out Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony tomorrow. Critic Greg Hettmansberger weighs in on the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. And NPR provides a terrific comprehensive look at the life and career of the late Italian conductor Claudio Abbado.

January 25, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

FIRST, SOME LOCAL NEWS:

1. The Madison Symphony Orchestra has scored a SOLD-OUT HOUSE with its inaugural “Beyond the Score” performance of the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak (below) this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center. The official word comes from MSO marketing director Teri Venker.

That sellout –- the first in a while for the MSO, I think — bodes well for future success and repeat performances of the “Beyond the Score” format applied to different symphonic works.

Dvorak sepia photo

Here are two other links to posts I did about the concert.

The first post describes what happens during the multi-media “Beyond the Score” format that was pioneered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-will-unveil-its-first-beyond-the-score-multi-media-performance-of-antonin-dvoraks-popular-symphony-no-9-fro/

The second link is to a Q&A with MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) who discusses how the “Beyond the Score” format came about and how likely it is that future such concerts will be programmed by the MSO:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/classical-music-conductor-john-demain-takes-listeners-behind-the-scenes-of-the-madison-symphony-orchestras-inaugural-beyond-the-score-concert-of-dvoraks-popular/

John DeMain full face by Prasad

All in all, The Ear is impressed with what seems a smart marketing move that will benefit the MSO (below), but will also attract new listeners and younger, inexperienced audiences. As for seasoned, symphony loyalists, the multi-media format sounds as if it will deepen anyone’s appreciation of the iconic work — or so DeMain promises.

But WHAT DO YOU THINK? Leave a comment that tells The Ear and the MSO.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

2. A week ago Friday, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top), under the baton of music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, (below bottom) turned in a superb performance as it opened the second half of the current season. I offered a review of my own and linked to a review by John W. Barker of Isthmus.

WCO lobby

andrewsewell

Here are links to those reviews:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/classical-music-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-shows-its-impressive-mastery-of-many-musical-styles-in-a-concert-of-mozart-castelnuovo-tesdeco-and-bruckner-that-marks-again-just-how-superb-its-music/

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41864

But unfortunately, I overlooked another very positive and very perceptive review by Madison Magazine’s experienced classical music blogger Greg Hettmansberger (below top). Here is his review of the WCO with its guest guitar soloist Ana Vidovic (below bottom) and its program of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Anton Bruckner.

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/January-2014/Wisconsin-Chamber-Orchestra-Goes-Big-Small-and-Just-Right/

greg hettmansberger mug

Ana Vidivic

Finally, as you may have already heard, Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below) died this past week at the age of 80.

Earlier, I provided some links to stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Here they are.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/arts/music/claudio-abbado-italian-conductor-dies-at-80.html?_r=1

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/claudio-abbado-age-italian-conductor-who-led-european-orchestras-into-modern-era/2014/01/20/d23c267c-30f7-11e3-8627-c5d7de0a046b_story.html

Claudio Abbado

But the best summary of Claudio Abbado’s career – which also included recommended recordings and even sounds clips from some of those recordings (include a symphony by Gustav Mahler and an opera  by Giacchino Rossini – came later, as it often does, on NPR’s outstanding classical blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

Here is a link that you how Abbado developed from a young man into a world-class star complete with compelling professional and personal information, including testimonials from musicians who loved performing under his direction of this refreshingly and even surprisingly humble and self-effacing master maestro.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/21/264506409/tracing-the-career-of-claudio-abbado-a-consummate-conductor

And here – to mark his passing — is Claudio Abbado’s memorial video on YouTube. He is conducting the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is the lovely, bittersweet and pensive Adagietto movement from Mahler’s Symphony no. 5, the same piece of music that was memorably used as the soundtrack to the film of Thomas Mann’s famous novella “Death in Venice.”

If you have a favorite Abbado performance – operatic or symphonic – leave a comment to direct the rest of us:

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Classical music: Critic John W. Barker says Eliza’s Toyes impressively surveyed early British music while exploring the religious shift from Latin Catholicism to English Anglicanism. Plus, acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado dies at 80.

January 21, 2014
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NEWS: As you have probably heard by now, the acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below) has died at 80. Here are links to some stories about this maestro who had such a varied and prolific career:

The New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/arts/music/claudio-abbado-italian-conductor-dies-at-80.html?_r=0

The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/claudio-abbado-age-italian-conductor-who-led-european-orchestras-into-modern-era/2014/01/20/d23c267c-30f7-11e3-8627-c5d7de0a046b_story.html

Claudio Abbado

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 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

It was a great pity that no more than 25 people turned out at the Gates of Heaven on Sunday afternoon for the latest program offered by Jerry Hui’s early-music group, Eliza’s Toyes (below, inside Gates of Heaven).

His program this time was a post-Christmas survey of English sacred music. The range of material ran from late-Medieval three-voice pieces through composers of the early 17th century, adding up to 13 selections in all.

Toyes in Gates - 2

This is the kind of music most regularly performed by a choir of some or another size, sometimes of mixed voices, sometimes in the British-cathedral style of all-male voices, with boys on the upper parts.

Hui (below) fielded a consort of six singers (three female, three male), so that each item was sung one singer per part — with a couple cases of a little doubling, I believe. While the result favored clarity against sonority, it must be said that, in certain full-textured items, some very lovely sonority was achieved.

Jerry Hui

My principal reservation was that the ordering of the program seemed aimed at a smooth variety of sounds, rather than at a demonstration of the momentous changes in English sacred composition. The key to those changes was the liturgical shift in the Anglican Reformation from motets setting traditional Latin texts to the new anthems with English texts.

The shift could be noted in the dominant composer of the program, the great William Byrd (1540-1623, below), represented by two Latin motets, and then an English anthem. “Sing joyfully”, which served as the dazzling finale (see the YouTube video at the bottom).

William Byrd

Byrd’s teacher, and then partner, Thomas Tallis (below), likewise spanned the reforming shifts, but was heard in one Latin motet, “O scrum convivium”, and a gorgeously harmonized Latin hymn, “O nata lux de lumina”. Earliest in the pre-Reformation lineup was Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), whose five-voice setting of the Magnificat was in the traditional alternatim setting (odd-numbered verses of the canticle sung in chant, the even-numbered ones set polyphonically).

Thomas Tallis

On the other hand, a poignant victim of the Reformation was Peter Philips (1560-1628, below), a staunch Roman Catholic who fled his homeland for a successful career in Catholic music on the Continent. His five-voice “O beatum et sacrosanctum Deum” made a noble closer to the first part of the program.

Peter Philips

As for the Anglican, English-language composers, besides the case of Byrd, and besides the 15th-century para-liturgal songs, we had a rousing anthem by Christopher Tye (1505-1573, below top), “A sound of angels,” and, finally, a six-voice secular piece, “Music divine”, by the last survivor of the great era of Tudor music, Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656, below bottom).

christopher tye bw small

Thomas Tompkins

The six singers who have been making up Eliza’s Toyes have settled into a beautifully balanced and smooth ensemble. They listen to, and sing in sync with, each other. There is nothing else like them, as a continuing performing group for early sacred ensemble music in Madison. Although he is a UW-Madison graduate who now teaches at University of Wisconsin- Stout, Hui has kept up his association with the group, convinced of its need for continuity.

It is one more of those blessings that make Madison’s musical life so wonderfully rich!

 

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Classical music: Could Yuja Wang be a case of early burnout or overexposure? I doubt it. So where in the world is she? What is she playing? What is she doing? What is she recording? And what is she wearing?

March 30, 2013
31 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

For a while there, about a year ago, the young Chinese-born and American-trained pianist Yuja Wang (below) was setting the classical world on fire. She is very exciting, as you can see at the bottom in a YouTube video.

YujaWangphotoblack dress

With four Deutsche Grammophon recordings to her credit, the photogenic and virtuosic young Wang, now 26, also had garnered two Grammy nominations.

Her Carnegie Hall debut (below) got a rave review from Anthony Tommasini, the choosy senior critic for The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/classical-music-qa-and-review-is-yuja-wang-the-new-horowitz-in-her-carnegie-hall-recital-debut-she-seems-the-successor-to-martha-argerich-as-both-her-playing-and-dress-get-raves-from-the-new-y/

And she also gave the Times a great interview:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/classical-music-phenom-pianist-and-fashion-plate-yuja-wang-reveals-her-openness-her-artistic-goals-and-her-personal-lifestyle-to-the-new-york-times/

And Wang’s penchant for sexy concert attire – either the red micro-skirt (below top) at the Hollywood Bowl or the slit-thigh black gown (bottom) at Carnegie Hall – had stirred comments and controversy.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/classical-music-pianist-yuja-wang-isn’t-alone-in-using-her-sexy-good-looks-chic-fashion-and-in-your-face-media-remarks-to-create-controversy-and-controversy-to-advance-her-career/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/classical-music-poll-was-yuja-wang’s-concert-skirt-too-short-what-is-inappropriate-concert-attire-for-a-performer-male-or-female/

yuja wang dress times 3

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Ruby Washington NYTimes

So I recently wondered what Yuja Wang was up to.

I searched for news, and found precious little except for a rave review of her recent solo recital debut last Sunday in Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Hall:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-yuja-wang-review-20130326,0,2575431.story?track=rss

I also checked out her website (www.yujawang.com) — it seems quite out of date — and found nothing later than her going to Mumbai, India to dedicate a new Steinway concert grand. That old news! Two years old!

I also found nothing about her next recording project, although I suspect it will be Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 coupled maybe with Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3. (After a fine recording of two Rachmaninoff Concertos with Claudio Abbado, she put out “Fantasia,”an album of miniatures and encores that I was not so thrilled about. Below is a link to my review.)

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/classical-music-review-phenom-pianist-yuja-wangs-new-fantasia-cd-is-more-nightmare-than-dream-and-a-waste-of-a-major-keyboard-talent/

YujaWang casual photo

So at my wit’s end, I am putting out a call to all readers:

DO ANY OF YOU HAVE UPDATES ABOUT YUJA WANG?

HAVE YOU HEARD HER PLAY LIVE LATELY?

WHERE IS SHE?

WHAT IS SHE DOING?

WHAT IS PLAYING?

WHAT IS SHE RECORDING?

AND WHAT IS SHE WEARING?

Yuja Wang is far too talented to fall off the radar. So …

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Gramophone Magazine announces its 2012 awards for best classical recordings, artists and labels. Do you see evidence of a Brit bias?

October 6, 2012
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Gramophone Magazine (below), the Britain-based periodical that remains the most respected magazine of classical music in the world, this week announced the winners of its 2012 prizes for recordings.

Some of the names are probably familiar, such as conductor Claudio Abbado (below top) and pianist Murray Perahia (below middle), who won in a new category, and pianist  Leif Ove Andsnes (below bottom) in chamber music. Pianist Maurizio Pollini won in the historical category for his very early set of the complete Chopin etudes. You night also recognize the name of singer Danielle de Niese, who has performed in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater, as has Perahia.

But some other names are new or unfamiliar to many such as the Maltese tenor Joseph Callejo (below), the young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, violinist Isabelle Faust, composer Eric Whitacre and the record label Naïve.

The Ear thinks he detects something of an English bias in the choice of winners — artists, labels, repertoire — but that is an old observation or, to some, an accusation. Besides, the Grammy Awards (below) certainly often seems to favor US artists and labels.

Not for nothing is it called the Recording Industry on both sides of the Atlantic.

Anyway, reading about these awards is one of the good ways to spend just a little time catching up on the global classical music scene and what is new and noteworthy in it. And holiday gift-gifting is just around the corner.

Here is link to an introductory story:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/gramophone-awards-2012-announced

And here is a link to the list of winners — with lots of links and audio samples —  by categories and to FREE sample downloads available through iTunes:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/awards/2012

You can also find a lot of the artists’ remarks about the Gramophone awards by going to YouTube and typing the artist’s name into search engine.

And here is a link to a story about the awards on NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog. It offers background and names of the winners upfront, along with some audio samples from the winning recordings:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/27/161736077/the-2012-gramophone-awards-some-surprises-lots-of-repeated-familiar-names


Classical music: Sexy superstar pianist Yuja Wang is this issue’s cover girl for BBC Music Magazine. But is the headline proclaiming “world domination” sexist or racist?

March 10, 2012
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

For sometime now, the young Chinese-born piano virtuoso Yuja Wang (below) has been gathering more and more press as well as more and more critical accolades.

For a second time, her Grammy nomination – this last one for two Rachmaninov concertos with conductor Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra for the Deutsche Grammophon label – failed to win. But it was a great recording.

No matter. Wang just she keeps on building her public profile and her professional success.

First, it was her astonishing abilities as a child prodigy. You can see many of those performances posted on YouTube, where you can also find her octave miracles in the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” performance she posted as an adult. (Also her video “The House of Flying Fingers,” made when Wang was younger.)

Then it was her last-minute substitutions for established artists and her ability to play white-hot music with steely cool nerves.

More recently, the young and attractive, leggy and sexy Wang was featured in headlines for wearing a sexy orange micro-skirt (below) during an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl where played Rachmaninov’s finger-breaking Third Concerto with ease, fluidity and strength.

Then she made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall in a more subdued black gown that featured a thigh-high slit (below, in a photo by Ruby Washington of The New York Times). But none other than New York Times senior critic Anthony Tommasini praised her musicality and virtuosity.

Her fees and the number of her bookings are both no doubt skyrocketing.

Yuja Wang is going, as they say, viral.

We will see what happens when her next recording, “Fantasia” (below) is released on April 10. It is sure to be a bestseller, I would bet.

In the meantime, the prestigious and culturally serious publication, the BBC Music Magazine has made Wang its cover story. That much is perfectly understandable, and to Wang and the magazine’s credit.

What is less understandable or justifiable to me is the headline, which asks is she is on the verge of achieving “world domination.”

Does that heavy-handed term strike anyone as not only excessive or sensationalistic but perhaps even sexist and racist, with its Cold War overtones of conflict and the “Yellow Peril.” Certainly, all things Chinese have lately been seen as the major challenge or threat confronting the Western world and Western civilization these days. Are they talking about piano playing and music and art? Or about global geo-political rivalries?

Anyway, here is a link to the story in PDF format (so it takes a few seconds to load). It has a lot of fascinating information, including Wang’s injuries and her recovery from them. She comes off as very likable as well as immensely talented.

http://rebeccadavispr.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Yuja_BBC-copy.pdf

Enjoy it.

Then let The Ear know what you think about the story, about Yuja Wang and her playing, and about the striking headline.

The Ear wants to hear.


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