The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It is commencement weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at many other schools. Here are two pieces by Brahms and Elgar to celebrate the event

May 13, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

School is out!

This weekend is Commencement Weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Wisconsin System and many other colleges and universities across the nation.

Undergraduates will graduate in Camp Randall Stadium (below) today starting at noon.

And continuing students can at last put the hard work of classes and final papers and semester-end papers behind them.

So some celebration seems in order.

The Ear knows of two pieces that are surefire in the way they capture the spirit of the event.

For overall mood, The Ear thinks it is hard to top the upbeat energy of the “Academic Festival” Overture — heard below conducted by Leonard Bernstein in a YouTube video — which Johannes Brahms wrote on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree. It even includes an old Latin student drinking song.

The other piece is the “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1 (of 5) by Sir Edward Elgar — heard below in a YouTube video with a chorus singing “Land of Hope and Glory.”

Sure, it is overplayed for everything from elementary school to graduate school. But that is only because it fits the occasion so perfectly and captures the stately poignancy of the moment when you leave one life behind and turn to face another.

Are the two pieces “warhorses”?

Probably.

Make that certainly.

But The Ear thinks some old standards remain standards because they are just that good, not just that old.

Yet if you have other favorite works or you know of other worthy pieces – say, Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Oxford” Symphony that he wrote when he received an honorary degree –please leave word and a YouTube link in the COMMENT section.

Cheers and congratulations to all!

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Classical music: The Ear salutes all graduates today and offers THE PROCESSIONAL OF ALL PROCESSIONALS – Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1. Can you think of a better one? Congratulations, grads!

June 13, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The UW-Madison held its commencement ceremonies in May.

But today is when many high schools around the area will hold commencement ceremonies for graduating seniors. The Ear has been invited to parties celebrating two of them.

graduation caps

What music should I offer to post as my congratulations?

I thought of several choices.

But in the end, I come back to the old royal coronation stand-by: “Pomp and Circumstance” No. 1 by the English composer Sir Edward Elgar (below). By the way, he composed five such marches and some of the others are also pretty good. (Hear them on YouTube.) But No. 1 is The Best.

Edward Elgar

I know! I know!

You’ve all heard it too often.

But its magic – its energy combined with its stateliness and dignity — never fails to stir me.

The Brits just seem to have a special talent for processional marches, much like their gift for pastoral music and musical landscapes.

So here it is, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom from the BBC Proms in 2012. It includes choral singing by the huge crowd that adds to the version. After all, what is the future for graduates if not “The Land of Hope and Glory“?

Is The Ear the only one who gets goosebumps listening to it?

And if you can think of another suitable processional – or even a better one – please leave a note and, if possible, a YouTube link in the COMMENTS section.

Happy Graduation to the Class of 2015!


Classical music: Is there better graduation music than the old stand-by, “Pomp and Circumstance” No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar? The Ear doubts it.

May 17, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This is graduation weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This year, the biggest ceremonies will be held outdoors in Camp Randall Stadium, as in the photo below.

It started last night, Friday night, with doctoral students, MFA‘s and professional degree students including doctors, lawyers, business people and veterinarians who had their ceremony indoors at the Kohl Center.

Today, Saturday, May 17, 2014, is devoted to the largest number of graduates -– the undergraduates as well as master’s students.

UWcommencement

The Ear wants to honor all UW students who are graduating, but especially the students — both undergraduate and graduate — at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who have brought him so many hours of pleasure and memorable listening.

But what to choose to play?

Believe me, I have thought long and hard about it.

And for the life of me, I still do not think there exists anything better than the old stand-by: The “Pomp and Circumstance’ March No. 1, originally written by Sir Edward Elgar (below) for the coronation of a King of England. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Edward Elgar

Of course, there are other fine marches by Elgar in the same set.

But none surpasses the really famous one, the omnipresent one at this time of year, THE Pomp and Circumstance March that captures the vitality and rush, yet also the dignity and hope of the event — and yes, all the bittersweet sadness of leaving behind close friends and mentors.

If you know of a better musical offering for graduation or commence, please leave a reply or comment with a YouTube link is possible and certainly the composer’s name and work’s title.

In the meantime, here it is again. You have no doubt heard it before probably many times. But no matter that it is a cliché or that is banal. It never fails to give me both goosebumps and tears, and it always makes me wish that I too were among those students processing through commencement.

Are you ready?

Graduates: Please line up, adjust your robe and mortar board, and smile.

Maestro, a downbeat please!

Best wishes and congratulations to all.

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Classical music: The University of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra gets a reprieve, thanks to compromise and repertoire adjustments — or so it seems right now. That makes The Ear happy, and should do the same for you. Plus, you can hear BOTH of Mozart’s piano quartets for FREE on Monday night at Oakwood Village West.

May 16, 2014
5 Comments

ALERT: Baroque and modern Madison violinist Kangwon Kim (below), who is a friend of this blog, writes: “I was hoping you could announce my FREE upcoming concert at Oakwood West.  I will be playing both of the glorious Mozart Piano Quartets (in G minor, K. 478, and in E-Flat Major, K. 493) in the “Music on Mondays @7” Series with my colleagues, Matthew Michelic, viola; Stefan Kartman, cello; and Jeannie Yu, piano.

The concert will be held on Monday, May 19, at 7 p.m. in the ARTS auditorium at Oakwood West University Woods, 6205 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side. Both of these quartets are very beautiful and we are very excited to perform them in the same program.” And The Ear adds: The two Mozart piano quartets are very different, and very complementary in mood -– not repetitious and wonderfully listenable. This performance is a great way to hear the differences between major-key and minor-key Mozart in one sitting.

Kangwon Kim

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about the perfect graduation gift for students at the graduation ceremonies this weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison!

It now seems that it will NOT be either au revoir or adieu for the UW Chamber Orchestra (below), as it first appeared. Conductor James Smith has made some compromises and adjustments that make it sound likely that the UW Chamber Orchestra will continue next season and next academic year without the hiatus of even one semester that seemed to be its certain fate earlier in this semester.

uw chamber orchestra USE

Here is how it all developed, the backstory, according to a previous posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/classical-music-the-uw-chamber-orchestra-will-play-this-sunday-night-but-then-will-be-axed-and-fall-silent-next-season-is-this-au-revoir-or-adieu/

And now comes a reassuring year-end letter to students, faculty and staff from Jim Smith (below), who heads the instrumental conducting program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Here is the text:

“To the members of the Symphony and Chamber Orchestras:

“I am writing to thank you for the artistry and professionalism you brought to every rehearsal and performance. We made some beautiful and exciting music together, and I am indeed lucky to be your conductor.

“Many members of the orchestra will graduate in a few days, and to each of you I send my very best wishes for a creative and interesting life.

“Next year, there will a bit of a change in the orchestra program. There has been much speculation regarding the potential elimination of the Chamber Orchestra. I am happy to tell you that this is indeed NOT the case.

“There is, however, some uncertainty regarding the number of winds available to fill the positions required for a proper chamber orchestra. So I have elected to program works for strings with the potential of adding keyboards, percussion, faculty soloists, and the solo winds as needed for various works.

“Here are a few of the works under consideration:

“Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste” by Bela Bartok (below top)

“Metamorphosen” by Richard Strauss

Apollon Musagete” by Igor Stravinsky (below middle)

 “Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” string quartet as arranged by Gustav Mahler below bottom)

Adagio from the Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler

bartok

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

Gustav Mahler big

“I am quite excited about this repertoire, and know we will have wonderful concerts together.

“You can register for Chamber Orchestra if it has been reintroduced into the schedule of classes.  Hopefully, that will be the case. It may be listed Opera Orchestra, a title designed to act as a holding space for whatever substitute for the Chamber Orchestra was necessary to cover the opera production in the first semester.

“Whatever the title of the course, it serves as your organization credit. Difficulties can be sorted out later. The orchestra will meet as usual on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“Again, thank you for everything and have a wonderful summer.

“Sincerely yours,

“James Smith”

If you doubt how welcome this development is, take a listen to the video below. It comes from the outstanding last concert by the UW Chamber Orchestra, which, despite performing for free, deserve a full house every time they play. Some higher profile performing times might help achieve that.

First, they performed a delightful homage to Mozart by French composer Jacques Ibert (below top) and then an homage-like Dance Suite to Baroque French composer Francois Couperin by the late Romantic composer Richard Strauss (below bottom).

Jacques Ibert

richard strauss

Then came a highlight, a genuine masterpiece: the Symphony No. 39 in E-Flat Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below). The ensemble delivered with grace and taste, it also with muscularity.

Mozart old 1782

This was no music box Mozart, but a performance that shows you why Mozart has been so revered by other composers and listeners alike, and demonstrates what a big development Mozart proved in the history of Western classical music. It sure showed how Mozart wrote a lot more than pleasant, easy-listening wallpaper music to accompany brunch or to allow listeners to multi-task.

Here is a You Tube video of the opening of the first movement from that recent performance by the UW Chamber Orchestra:

 

 

 

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