The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here are the best classical music CDs of 2015, according to the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper.

November 27, 2015
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Black Friday –- the much-touted big shopping day after Thanksgiving.

(FYI: It’s Black Friday not because it is bad, but because it is so good that it puts many businesses from the red into the profit-making black for the year.)

And all indications are that this year a record-setting amount of the shopping will be conducted online.

Between now and the holidays, The Ear will direct you to various lists of the Best Classical Recordings of 2015.

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

Today, he offers two such guides and gift suggestions, and future guides will include picks by the forthcoming Grammy nominations and The New York Times critics.

The first of today’s two gift guides is the well-regarded BBC Music Magazine (below) and its list of awards for 2015:

http://www.classical-music.com/awards/winners-2015

It features Record of the Year plus eight other categories that you can click on. The categories include: Orchestral, Concerto, Opera, Choral, Vocal, Chamber, Instrumental and Jury Awards.

Of course, make allowances of course for cultural and geographic bias. So you may find more British or UK artists or labels than you might think.

BBC Music Magazine

The second is the Telegraph newspaper and website in England and the United Kingdom:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/classical-music/best-new-albums/

Don’t forget to leave your own suggestions in the COMMENTS section. Some pretty knowledgeable and sophisticated listeners follow The Ear.

So … The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: During flu season, should concert halls pass out surgery masks?

January 16, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It is happening more and more frequently these days, it seems to The Ear.

You see them offered as a helpful courtesy in hospitals and clinics, in the offices of doctors and dentists.

I am talking about those disposable surgical masks that hook around the ears and cover the nose and mouth, and are intended to help cut down on the risks of spreading contagious and infectious diseases.

disposable surgical masks

This time of the year, they are especially meant to reduce illnesses like the flu, which is now starting to spike around the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was broadcast on Fox News.

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/01/11/flu-season-worsens-as-illness-spreads-to-at-least-35-states-cdc-says/

So as the weekend approaches and the 2013-2014 concert season picks up again after the holidays and the usual winter intermission, The Ear find himself asking: Should those masks be offered at concerts – perhaps even for a small fee if they are expensive? After all, some venues already offer free cough drops.

woman with surgical mask

You can could use the mask protect yourself if you are well, or else to protect others if you are sick. Big audiences, after all, can be like one big hospital ward or Petri dish. And as one bog suggested, they might even have a logo printed on them as a promotion or marketing tool if you use them away form the concert hall.

And the audiences for classical music are generally older — which also means they have weaker immune systems and generally a greater susceptibility to serious effects of the flu and other illnesses. Next time you are in one in January and February, just listen for the hacking and sneezing and blowing of noses. Those can be more than annoyances.

Audience attentive

Offering masks would be good for public health, and it might also help reduce the annoyance of coughing, a topic I posted about yesterday in the following link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/classical-music-how-do-the-flu-and-classical-music-mix-what-can-be-done-now-that-the-flu-season-is-peaking-here-and-in-the-concert-hall-how-should-musicians-and-presenters-deal-with-a-sick-and-coug/

You see those masks used everywhere in Asian culture. But our own culture seems to see them as ugly and stigmatizing rather than as a sign of respect for other people’s health and a contribution to protecting the general public’s health. (Also look at the YouTube video at the bottom about wearing surgical masks in Japan.)

surgical masks

It turns out that The Ear is not the only one with this on his mind.

The incredible British pianist Stephen Hough – who has performed several times in Madison — also posted something recently on his blog for the Telegraph newspaper about using surgical masks – perhaps to protect his own health as he tours around the world playing recitals, concertos and chamber music.

Here is a link to his thoughtful essay. Be sure to read the readers’ comments and reactions.

And be sure to leave your own reactions to the idea in the COMMENT section of this blog.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100072340/never-mind-the-burka-we-should-all-be-wearing-masks/

Hough_Stephen_color16

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Classical music: The iconic Sydney Opera House turns 40 this week. A concert will celebrate the event.

October 26, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The upright, stacked and leaning white partial shells, located on a jetty and surrounded by water, have become iconic around the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The opera house is to Sydney, Australia, what the Empire State Building is to New York, the Eiffel Tower to Paris, the Coliseum to Rome.

The building is now synonymous with the place it was built.

True, right now the news focus Down Under Is on the devastating wildfires in New South Wales that surround Sydney and have left the city with colorful huge ash clouds (below in a photo from The  Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom).

But is good to take time out to remember the anniversary of the Sydney Opera House.

sydney fires ash cloud The Telegraph

But here are some links to help you explore the opera house and its history.

Here and at the bottom in a YouTube video are background stories about the architect, the design and the construction of the place where, I believe, the famous YouTube Symphony, recruited via the internet from around the world, meets and performs.

http://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/news/sydney-opera-house-turns-40

And here is a link to the concert that will take place this Sunday, Oct. 27. Can you guess what the main work on the program is?

http://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/whatson/40th_anniversary_concert.aspx

Here is a link so you can see the variety of programming and performers that use the famous venue:

http://40.sydneyoperahouse.com

And here is a comprehensive story about the past, present and future:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/performance-anxiety-as-the-sydney-opera-house-turns-40/story-fn9n8gph-1226735636045


Classical music: How do concert pianists practice? Stephen Hough offers tips.

October 19, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

So much of playing the piano – or any instrument or indeed any performing art -– boils down to practicing. Specifically, that means how to practice correctly, how to practice productively.

practice room and piano

Recently, I blogged about a wonderfully useful story that appeared on NPR’s terrific classical music blogDeceptive Cadence” about 10 tips for successful practicing. (It also some  interesting reader suggestions and tips that you should read.)

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/classical-music-here-are-10-tips-from-npr-on-how-to-improve-your-practicing/

cello practice

From a slightly different perspective, British pianist Stephen Hough (below) more recently blogged about how professional concerts pianists practice. He included some great tips from his own teachers.

Hough_Stephen_color16

Now, Hough is not only a concert pianist but also an exceptional one. In addition, he is an excellent teacher, as I witnessed firsthand several years ago when he gave a master class at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. (At the bottom is a YouTube video of a master class Hough gave on Liszt at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.)

And not for nothing was he the first instrumentalist to receive a MacArthur “genius award.” This multi-talented man – who is openly gay and who converted to Roman Catholicism at 19 — composes music, created a special app for Franz Liszt‘s Sonata in B Minor and writes extremely insightful and intelligent blogs for the Daily Telegraph newspaper and website in the United Kingdom on many different subjects. And he still finds time to be a globe-trotting, award-winning, much-in-demand concert pianist with dozens of recordings to his credit.

hough

So here is a recent entry that of Hough’s talking about the DO’s and DON’Ts of how professional concert pianists – with limited time for practicing – go about the tricky but absolutely vital business of practicing.

It is an article that Hough wrote for the November/December issue of International Piano magazine. And it adds to the many other blog posts he has done about learning how to play the piano. (You can use a search engine o his site to check out other ones.)

The Ear hopes you find it as helpful and engaging as he did:

Here is a link:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100070997/the-practice-of-practising/

Do you have any practicing suggestions?

The Ear want to hear.


Classical music: Award-winning pianist Stephen Hough is an accomplished polymath or Renaissance man who also blogs and paints. His personal history is fascinating. So are the sharp stylistic differences he demonstrates in different art forms.

August 4, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Longtime readers of this blog know my admiration for the British pianist Stephen Hough (below).

Hough_Stephen_color16

Hough, who won the prestigious Naumberg Competition while at the Juilliard School, plays the piano superbly well and has a large shelf full of international awards for his recordings on the Hyperion label. He especially likes to explore less well-known repertoire.

He is a terrific teacher and coach, as I have witnessed firsthand in a masterful master class (below) in Madison.

But in addition to his career as a concert pianist, the supremely talented Hough — who is an astonishingly accomplished polymath or Renaissance man — also writes a regular and highly informative and entertaining blog for the Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom. He touches on everything from, of course, the piano (especially historic pianists and performances) to theology (an openly gay man he converted to Roman Catholicism at 19) and fashion (especially his fondness for hats). One of his best entries for me was about the role of hitting wrong notes:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/classical-music-how-do-you-cope-with-wrong-notes-you-hit-or-hear-pianist-stephen-hough-has-a-healthy-and-helpful-point-of-view/

Here is a link to his website:

http://stephenhough.com/index.php

Here is a link to his marvelous blog:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/author/stephenhough/

What most people – and I include myself – – most admire about Hough’s playing is its clarity, its sense of measure and proportion.

As he himself says, he is not much given to “hairy-chested” interpretations of big, intense Russian music like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. His recent award-winning recording of the complete Chopin waltzes shows his ability to find new and convincing things to say about familiar works and he says them clearly as well as gracefully and elegantly. (Just listen to the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Stephen Hough Chopin waltzes CD cover

He discusses his approach in a fine interview and profile that appeared in The New York Times just before a Carnegie Hall recital this past spring in which is also played his latest big work, his own Sonata “Notturno luminoso.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/arts/music/stephen-hough-brings-his-eclectic-style-to-carnegie-hall.html?pagewanted=all

And here is a review in the Times of that recital:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/arts/music/stephen-hough-at-carnegie-hall.html?_r=0

hough

But the real surprise for me came when I about and saw his style of painting. He paints in oils, and he exhibits and sells his art.

But unlike his music-making, his painting of this MacArthur “genius award” winner seems almost violently Abstract Expressionist.

Here are a couple of examples:

Stephen Hough painting Impromptu

Stephen Hough painting Bunte Blatter IIBut of course ultimately it is piano playing that keeps Hough – who resides in the UK, New York and Australia – in the public eye. Listen to this Chopin waltz and you can understand why.


Classical music: How do you cope with wrong notes you hit or hear? Pianist Stephen Hough has a healthy and helpful point of view.

June 23, 2013
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

None of us likes hitting wrong notes.

And most of us detest hearing wrong notes almost as much as making them.

But does that mean that we are being too perfectionist with ourselves and others?

It could be that wrong notes may lie at the heart of the musical experience as a LIVE event.

The outstanding, award-winning British pianist and prolific blogger Stephen Hough (below), who has played several times in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, recently posted a blog entry that dealt with that issue.

Hough_Stephen_color16

Hough makes some interesting and convincing points that might just help us in our own playing and performances.

And he backs up what he says with some personal and historic examples of wrong notes hit by some very famous musicians, including famed piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (below top). (I forget who it was but somebody remarked that arch rival pianist Arthur Rubinstein (below bottom), renowned for his rich tone, often hit wrong notes. And the response was: “But what wrong notes!“

Vladimir Horowitz

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

Anyway, here is a link to the blog post:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100069499/aiming-for-perfection-whilst-embracing-mistakes/

Take a read and be sure to listen to the examples and read some of the comments left by others.

See what you think.

Then let the rest of know your reaction to Hough – and to how you cope with hitting or hearing wrong notes.

The Ear wants to hear.


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