The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The future of Western classical music is in Asia – specifically China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Why is that?

May 25, 2019
2 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not just about Lang Lang.

The signs are everywhere.

They were present at a recent piano recital by elementary school, middle school and high school students that The Ear attended.

You see it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and at top music schools, including the Curtis Institute of Music, across the U.S. and Western Europe. And you see it in youth groups such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below).

Western classical music recording labels, such as Deutsche Grammophon and Sony Classical, are looking to develop new markets and so are signing more Asian musicians, such as the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai String Quartet, and releasing more Asian performances. (Below is the Taiwanese-Australian, prize-winning violinist Ray Chen, who is also a master at using social media to build his meteoric career.)

All these items point to the same conclusion: The future of Western classical music looks more and more likely to be found in Asian culture and in Asia  – specifically in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. (Next season, prize-winning South Korean pianist Joyce Yang (below) returns to Madison, where she first gave a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Consider some of the following:

There are, The Ear read somewhere, now more piano students in China than in all of Europe, North America and South America combined. And he is reading about more and more concert tours of China and other Asian countries by Western performers — even while in the U.S. the number of pianos in homes are on the decline.

Increasingly the winners of major international competitions — such as the Chopin competition, the Van Cliburn competition, the Tchaikovsky competition, the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium competition and the Leeds competition – come from Asia or are Asian. (Below, in a photo by Simon Fowler, is American pianist George Li, who immigrated from China as a child and attended Harvard and the New England Conservatory before winning a silver medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition. His concert career is now blossoming fast.)

In recent years, China has been building a lot of first-rate concert halls, opera houses and music schools. And the famed Juilliard School in New York City will open its second campus this fall in Tianjin, near Beijing.

China has certainly come a long way from the days of the Cultural Revolution when people could be imprisoned for listening to Beethoven, who is now a cultural icon in China — as you can hear at the bottom in the YouTube video of Li Jing Zhan conducting the orchestra at the Chinese National Opera in Beethoven’s No. 7. (Below is the striking new National Center for the Performing Arts in China.)

https://www.interlude.hk/front/culture-construction-chinas-new-concert-halls/

Nineteen of the 24 final competitors, ages 13-17, in the second Van Cliburn Junior Competition – which starts in Dallas, Texas, on May 31 and ends on June 8 – are Asian, Asian-American and Asian-Canadian, all with astonishingly impressive credentials and experience. It will be streamed live and free. Take a look and listen:

https://www.cliburn.org/2019-cliburn-junior-competitors/

Why this Asian shift is happening remains somewhat of a mystery to The Ear, although he had been thinking about for a long time.

Then he came across a op-ed column confirming the prevalence of Asian classical musicians. It was written by the American concert pianist and teacher Inna Faliks (below), who teaches at UCLA and who wrote convincingly about her recent concert experiences in China in The Washington Post.

Read it and see what you think, and tell us whether you agree:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-future-of-classical-music-is-chinese/2019/03/22/2649e9dc-4cb5-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html?utm_term=.7f149e0f8eb9

Why are Asians so interested in Western classical music and music education? And why do they respect it or even revere it so much?

Does it have to do with the “tiger mom” phenomenon of strong parental pressure to succeed and achieve?

Is it largely a function of population?

Is it because of the collective teamwork required to make a lot of chamber music and orchestral music, or with the intense and instructive teacher-student relationship?

Is it because the cultural depth and seriousness in Western music education – ing contrast to the increasingly pop culture of the West – that prepares students well for the training and intellectual discipline required in other educational fields and careers, including the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)?

Is Asia simply fascinated by Western culture the same way that Western culture was fascinated by the exotic Asian cultures – especially in China and Japan — during the 19th century and earlier? Or is the West increasingly ignoring its own culture. (The Ear can’t recall any classical musicians performing at President Donald Trump’s White House. Can you?)

How do you see the situation and react to it? And what do you think about the causes and effects?

Please leave your reactions and thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: After almost three decades, Anonymous Four will break up and retire after the 2015-16 season. The Ear is sure glad he heard them sing LIVE at the Madison Early Music Festival in 2012.

May 18, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

I remember some purists complaining when, in 2012, the 13th annual Madison Early Music Festival had booked the a cappella singing group  Anonymous Four (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta) to open the festival in July, which focused that year on early North American and colonial American music.

Anonymous Four CR Dario Acosta

The complaints ran that the guest “star” singers didn’t really stick to the Colonial and Early American and Canadian repertoire set out by the festival’s theme that year — the complement to the previous year’s festival theme of South and Latin American music — that many of the songs they performed dated from later than the “early music” title defined.

But the concert certainly drew a full, perhaps even sold-out house (below), I think probably the largest opening concert of any Madison Early Music Festival I have ever attended.

MEMF 2012 Anon 4 audience

And The Ear thought they were wonderful performers that allowed the audience to thoroughly enjoy themselves and the repertoire that did indeed run into the 19th century, that they performed. The cheers were deservedly loud and long.

Even the group’s name honors the countless nameless women composers and performers who have sat outside mainstream music history and musicology for so long. Plus, it also emphasizes getting along and the seamlessly tight ensemble work that the group was deservedly celebrated for. It celebrates the more greater musical value of collectivity rather than individuality.

Editor’s Note: This year, the 15th annual Madison Early Music Festival features century Italian music  1300-1600, with an emphasis on the 14th century and ties to the other Papacy in Avignon, France, and will run this summer July 12-19. It will features the usual workshops for participants plus seven public concerts including the second annual Handel Aria Competition, which last proved a really delightful sing-off smack-down. Here is a link to the MEMF website, which will be featured on this blog a bit later:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

And here is a link to that review The Ear wrote when the Anonymous Four sang at the Madison Early Music Festival in 2012 (below) taking turns as soloists, duets, trios and full quartets:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/classical-music-the-madison-early-music-festival-opens-with-anonymous-4-and-wows-a-record-crowd/

MEMF 2012 Anon 4 duet

RETIREMENT IS PENDING

But like many other groups –- including the Tokyo String Quartet and the Guarneri String Quartet –- the members of the Anonymous Four have reached they age where they are tired of endless touring, recording some 20 albums and now want to settle down and into other things.

So the group will disband at the end of the 2015-16 season. They said they would do so once before, about a decade ago, but this time they are apparently serious about it.

Who can blame them? Three decades is a long time to spend touring on the road, selecting and rehearsing  repertoire, and recording songs in a studio. At bottom is one of the group’s many YouTube videos, the done with the most hits (over 100,000) that features Medieval English chant and  polyphony. It really spotlights the purity and clarity of their a cappella  singing and how there is absolutely no weak link in their chain of music. But many others are also noteworthy and deserve listening, including recordings of Hildegard von Bingen and “Shall We Gather at The River” are among  the group’s popular audio-visual samples..

Here is a link to the group’s own website:

http://www.anonymous4.com

Here are stories about the Anonymous Four, the breakup, retirement and the group’s history, with a good sampling of their range from Medieval and Renaissance music to colonial American music (below) and contemporary compositions and commissions. Much of what they sang in Madison came from the best-seedling CD “American Angels.”

MEMF Anonymous 4 American Angels CD

Here is a link to the outstanding story on NPR and its first-rate blog Deceptive Cadence” that also features an exclusive preview of their last CD recording:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/13/311087203/anonymous-4-breaking-up-is-hard-to-do-but-theyre-doing-it

LESSONS?

Increasing, I think there is a lesson to be learned here.

At a time when so many local performing groups and arts presenters, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, keep offering many of the same soloists –- both because they are reliable and dependably excellent performers and because they are affordable -– it is a refreshing reminder than presenting new soloists and new performers is laudable in itself.

We need to experience new performers. We never know when a single performer or even an ensemble will die or retire or become too expensive or whatever. But if we have heard them, then at least we can say: I am glad I had a chance to hear them live before it was too late.

And, boy, I am glad I had a chance to hear the Anonymous Four not only through recordings, but also in person.

And as many readers pointed out during the current discord and controversy about Wisconsin Public Radio canceling the live statewide broadcast of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” after 36 years, there is a huge difference between studio and recorded music versus live performances.

Here is a link to the post about the WPR decision. Be sure to read the post – it brought in more than four times the usual amount of “traffic” or “hits” and readers — but also to read the comments by readers, which set a record for the number and length.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/classical-music-news-wisconsin-public-radio-has-cancelled-the-sunday-afternoon-live-from-the-chazen-free-chamber-music-series-after-36-years-of-success-other-classical-music-from-a/

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Classical music education: The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras showcase both soloists and ensembles on this Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Plus, a FREE collaborative concert-arts event takes place tonight at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

May 13, 2014
2 Comments

ALERT: University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music viola student Sharon Tenhundfeld (below) is the director of the Artist Collective Concert Series. She writes: “You are invited to the FREE DEBUT concert tonight, Tuesday, May 13, at 8 p.m. in DeLuca Forum at  the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, located at 330 North Orchard Street. This concert series is an opportunity for UW-Madison musicians, dancers, visual artists, and actors to freely explore collaboration across art disciplines and present their collaborative works of art to the public. The concert includes three performance pieces as well as an audience art piece. The three works involve a total of 15 collaborating artists. The concert is free of charge and should be a ton of fun! The program includes: Distance – video art and musicians; Tomato Magic – actress, comics, and musicians; and Mobile – dancers and a string quartet. We look forward to seeing you.”

Sharon Tenhundfeld

By Jacob Stockinger

On this Saturday, May 17, and Sunday, May 18, 2014, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will present the annual Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts, the last major event of the current regular concert season. (There are summer events.)

The Bolz Family Spring Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, in Madison.

There is not much The Ear can add except that he is almost sure you will be impressed by the skills of these many young people – hundreds of middle school and high school student from dozens of communities around south-central Wisconsin –- especially if you have never heard them before. Just listen to them tackle the massive and iconic Fifth Symphony by modern Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich in the YouTube video at the bottom.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

I suspect you, like me, will also be impressed with the size, young age and enthusiasm of the audiences, who cheer when the musicians first come on the stage and never stop. It is as if you are at some kind of sporting event – an atmosphere that the performing arts and various academic events could use a lot more of.

WYSO young audience

I say: Try it, you’ll like it! And you will be supporting a great cause. Music skills last a lifetime and translate into other careers and endless appreciation and ageless enjoyment.

Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for children under 18 years of age. The family-friendly concerts, informal in atmosphere, generally last about 90 minutes.

Here are programs and performers:

On Saturday, May 17 at 1:30 p.m., WYSO will kick off the concerts with Sinfonietta (below) performing “Oblivion” by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla; a traditional Chinese tune entitled “The Brilliant Red Shandadan Flowers: and American composer Aaron Copland’s “Grovers Corners.”

Sinfonietta strings

The Concert Orchestra (below) will perform “Song of Jupiter” by Baroque master George Frideric Handel; the “Triumphant March from Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique” by Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; “Vignettes”by Kirk; “Song without Words” by Gustav Holst; and Gavotte in D minor by the Baroque French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully.

wyso concert orchestra brass

At 4 p.m., WYSO’s Philharmonia Orchestra will feature its two concerto competition winners. Davis Wu will play Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor by the American composer Edward MacDowell; and violinist Isabelle Krier will perform Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), Op. 20, for solo violin and orchestra by the Spanish composer Pablo de Sarasate. The Philharmonia Orchestra will then play the fourth movement of the Symphony No. 6, Op. 74, B Minor and the Danse Bacchanale by French composer Camille Saint Saens, and the Caucasian Sketches No. 2, fourth movement by the Russian composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov.

Davis Wu

Isabelle Krier

On Sunday, May 18, at 1:30 p.m., WYSO will display three of their smaller ensembles: Percussion Ensemble (below top) under the direction of Vicki Jenks; the Brass Choirs under the direction of Dan Brice; and the Harp Ensemble (below bottom) under the direction of Karen Beth Atz.

WYSO percussion Ensemble 2013

WYSO Harp Ensemble 2011

At 4 p.m., WYSO will welcome its Youth Orchestra, which will feature the four winners of the concerto competition. Violinist Savannah Albrecht (below top) will perform Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Camille Saint-Saens; marimbist Ephraim Sutherland will perform Concerto for Marimba and Strings by Sejourne.

Savannah Albrecht

Ephraim Sutherland mallets

Pianist Isabella Wu will perform the Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 1, by Sergei Rachmaninoff; and pianist Charlie Collar will perform the Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16, by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.

Isabella Wu2

Charlie Collar

The Youth Orchestra will also perform two additional works it will play on its concert tour to Argentina this summer: Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein and the Danza final (Malombo) from “Estancia” by the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera.

For more information about those concerts and about WYSO, including its history, how to support it and how to audition to join it, visit:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

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