The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: As superstar Itzhak Perlman turns 75, a critic assesses his virtues and shortcomings in playing both the violin and his audiences

September 6, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Monday, Aug. 31, superstar violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman (below, in a photo by Yael Malka of The New York Times) turned 75.

To celebrate, Sony Classical released a boxed set of 18 CDs (below) with many performances by Perlman – solo, chamber music and concertos – recorded over many years.

On the occasion of Perlman’s birthday, critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim of The New York Times wrote a retrospective review of Perlman’s long career. (You can hear his most popular performance ever — with more than 6 million hits — in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear finds the opinion piece both brave and truthful, pointing out Perlman’s mastery of the Romantic repertory but also criticizing his stodgy treatment of Vivaldi and other Baroque music that has benefitted from the period-instrument movement and historically informed performance practices

Yet the essay, which also touches on ups and down of Perlman’s career, always remains respectful and appreciative even when discussing Perlman’s shortcomings.

Offering many historical details and photos as well as sample videos, the critical assessment of Perlman seems perfectly timed.

The Ear hopes you enjoy it as much as he did. Here is a link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/26/arts/music/itzhak-perlman-violin.html

If you have heard Itzhak Perlman either on recordings or live – at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the old Civic Center or Overture Hall — let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The top classical recordings of 2013 are finally named by the critics for The New York Times. Does the list come too late to serve as a holiday gift-giving guide?

December 22, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, The Ear thinks it was a little late in coming –- especially since there are few local traditional brick-and-mortar record stories still in business and since buying on-line requires time for delivery.

But at the end of last week, the critics of The New York Times finally published their collective picks of the best classical recordings of the past year. (A sample of 20 is below in a photo by Tony Cenicola for the Times.)

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

It is a list I particularly trust since the critics of The New York Times -– Anthony Tommasini, James Oestreich, Vivien Schweitzer, Zachary Woolfe and Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim –- are among the best, the most discerning, experienced and reliable critics in the business. (At the bottom is a promotional video from Decca and posted on YouTube for one of the choices I especially agree with: violinist Leonidas Kavakos playing the complete violin sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven.)

Now, a cynic might think that an earlier publication about bigger and more expensive box sets (below), with dozens of CDs, came first because those sets are quite expensive and were probably provided free of cost or at a steep discount to reviewers. So perhaps the reviewers felt a duty to get that story into print over the pick of cheaper single and maybe double CDs -– kind of like the way legislators respond to lobbyists.

But maybe not. Maybe it is all just coincidence.

NPR boxed CD sets

Anyway, here is a link to my blog posting about the box sets story, to which a link is also provided and which appeared the day after Thanksgiving:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/classical-music-as-we-head-into-black-friday-small-business-saturday-and-cyber-monday-how-appealing-as-holiday-gifts-are-complete-cd-boxed-sets/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/arts/music/classical-music-boxed-sets-multiply.html?_r=1&

And one can be disappointed a bit that there isn’t more in the way of suggestions about DVDs and books that related to classical music.

But be all that as it may, the list has been at last been published. And I find that agree whole-heartedly with many of the choices. And if it proves to late to be a good guide for giving, perhaps it is a good guide for how to spend those gifts cards you might get as gifts.

Here is a link to the Best Recordings of 2013 story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/arts/music/times-critics-favorite-classical-recordings-of-2013.html?ref=classicalmusic&_r=0


Classical music: Let us praise musicians who played outdoors this summer and remember the challenges they faced.

September 8, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Apparently the composer Johannes Brahms was very fond of going to outdoors concerts in his native Vienna.

No surprise. There is something liberating and social, something relaxed and informal, for both players and listeners about hearing music outdoors. (Below is the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performing under its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell at the state Capitol.)

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

As summer comes to a close and fall approaches, it is good to recall that we in Madison are lucky to have so many outdoors musical events and so many of high quality.

During this past summer, for example, outdoor concerts were given by: the Madison Symphony Orchestra in its Concert in the Park; the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in its justly popular Concerts on the Square; the Madison Opera for its “Opera in the Park” (below); and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras in its Concert in the Park. And there are many others who could be named.

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

Then too, I think of so much other kinds of music, usually non-classical and very often roots music such as folk and bluegrass, that gets performed at various outdoors venues from the Wisconsin Memorial Union’s Lakefront Terrace at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, La Fete de Marquette, the inaugural Make Music Madison Festival and the Orton Park Festival to little groups of musicians that play informally at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and various other farmers’ markets in the area.

Farmers Market music

Yet there are serious challenges to performing outdoors that non-musicians may not know about that are easy for the public to overlook. (Check out the YouTube video at the bottom and its advice from London about playing outdoors.)

Corinna da Fonsecca-Wollheim of the New York Times recently wrote about some of those challenges as an outdoors concert at the bandshell in Central Park by the acclaimed Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was gearing up to perform its first-ever outdoor concert, of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Antonin Dvorak, for the Naumburg Orchestra Concerts.

It is a very well done story with sources including the concert veteran and former Emerson String Quartet cellist David Finckel (below) and others. And her reporting gets quite specific about the challenges from keeping instrument in tune and playing the music to taking care of instruments and securing music in the stand.

Here is a link to a story that should remind us of what we can be grateful for this past summer and what we can look forward to next summer:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/21/arts/music/chamber-music-society-gears-up-for-naumburg-bandshell.html

Do you play music outdoors?

What stories or anecdotes and experiences can you share with others about the challenges of playing music outdoors?

The Ear wants to hear.


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