The Well-Tempered Ear

Here are the classical music nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in 2021

November 28, 2020
3 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s time again for the annual Grammy Awards (below).

Although determined by the recording industry and often considered promotional marketing, they might be more helpful given the peculiar circumstances of the past year.

After all, the coronavirus pandemic has changed our listening habits.

Perhaps you now listen mostly via computer to virtual online concerts and performances that are streamed.

Perhaps you listen to Compact Discs using home stereo systems.

Perhaps you subscribe to a streaming service such as Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and others.

However you listen to music, you might find the following list useful, especially as it comes at the beginning of the holiday shopping and gift-giving season.

You might also find the nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards informative about individual musicians and musical groups in your area.

They can help you judge how many or how few contemporary composers and new works get performed.

Performers provide other examples. You might find it interesting, for example, that soprano Sarah Brailey (below) has been nominated for her role in the solo vocal work “The Prison” by Ethel Smyth. Brailey is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music and a co-founder and performer of the free monthly Just Bach concerts.

Pianist Shai Wosner (below, in a photo by Marco Borggreve), who played late Schubert sonatas at the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, is included in a list of producer awards for his recording of those sonatas.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Florentine Opera have been nominated for a recording of Carlisle Floyd’s opera “Prince of Players.” 

Conductor Julian Wachner (below top), violinist Augustin Hadelich (below middle) and pianist Jonathan Biss (below bottom) have all performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, some more than once.

Soprano Laquita Mitchell (below) — who has sung with the Madison Opera — has been nominated for her performance in the choral work “Sanctuary Road” by Paul Moravec. 

Cellist Matt Haimovitz (below top) and composer Luna Pearl Woolf (below bottom) have been nominated for the latter’s “Fire and Flood.” Both have appeared with UW-Madison orchestral and choral groups.

If you notice more local connections, please leave word in the Comment section.

The winners will be announced on CBS Television the evening of Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021.


73. Best Engineered Album, Classical
An Engineer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA
Bernd Gottinger, engineer (JoAnn Falletta, James K. Bass, Adam Luebke, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)
 

·      GERSHWIN: PORGY AND BESS 
David Frost and John Kerswell, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (David Robertson, Eric Owens, Angel Blue, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)
 

·      HYNES: FIELDS
Kyle Pyke, engineer; Jesse Lewis and Kyle Pyke, mastering engineers (Devonté Hynes & Third Coast Percussion)
 

·      IVES: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES (below)

Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, engineers; Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineers (Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
 

·      SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONY NO. 13, ‘BABI YAR’
David Frost and Charlie Post, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (Riccardo Muti and Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

·  
  74. Producer Of The Year, Classical
A Producer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

·      BLANTON ALSPAUGH

• Aspects Of America – Pulitzer Edition (Carlos Kalmar and Oregon Symphony)
• Blessed Art Thou Among Women (Peter Jermihov, Katya Lukianov and PaTRAM Institute Singers)
• Dvorak: Symphony No. 9; Copland: Billy The Kid (Gianandrea Noseda and National Symphony Orchestra)
• Glass: The Fall Of The House Of Usher (Joseph Li, Nicholas Nestorak, Madison Leonard, Jonas Hacker, Ben Edquist, Matthew Adam Fleisher and Wolf Trap Opera)
• Kahane: Emergency Shelter Intake Form (Alicia Hall Moran, Gabriel Kahane, Carlos Kalmar and Oregon Symphony)
• Kastalsky: Requiem (Leonard Slatkin, Steven Fox, Benedict Sheehan, Charles Bruffy, Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, The Saint Tikhon Choir, Kansas City Chorale and Orchestra Of St. Luke’s)
• Massenet: Thaïs (Andrew Davis, Joshua Hopkins, Andrew Staples, Erin Wall, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra)
• Smyth: The Prison (Sarah Brailey, Dashon Burton, James Blachly and Experiential Orchestra)
• Woolf, L.P.: Fire And Flood (Julian Wachner, Matt Haimovitz and Choir Of Trinity Wall Street)

·      DAVID FROST (below)

• Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 9 (Jonathan Biss)
• Gershwin: Porgy And Bess (David Robertson, Eric Owens, Angel Blue, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus)
• Gluck: Orphée ed Eurydice (Harry Bicket, Dmitry Korchak, Andriana Chuchman, Lauren Snouffer, Lyric Opera Of Chicago Orchestra and Chorus)
• Holst: The Planets; The Perfect Fool (Michael Stern and Kansas City Symphony)
• Muhly: Marnie (Robert Spano, Isabel Leonard, Christopher Maltman, Denyce Graves, Iestyn Davies, Janis Kelly, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus)
• Schubert: Piano Sonatas, D. 845, D. 894, D. 958, D. 960 (Shai Wosner)
• Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13, ‘Babi Yar’ (Riccardo Muti, Alexey Tikhomirov, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus)

·      JESSE LEWIS

• Gunn: The Ascendant (Roomful Of Teeth)
• Harrison, M.: Just Constellations (Roomful Of Teeth)
• Her Own Wings (Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival)
• Hynes: Fields (Devonté Hynes and Third Coast Percussion)
• Lang, D.: Love Fail (Beth Willer and Lorelei Ensemble)
• Mazzoli: Proving Up (Christopher Rountree, Opera Omaha and International Contemporary Ensemble)
• Sharlat: Spare The Rod! (NOW Ensemble)
• Soul House (Hub New Music)
• Wherein Lies The Good (The Westerlies)

·      DMITRIY LIPAY

• Adams, J.: Must The Devil Have All The Good Tunes? (Yuja Wang, Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• Cipullo: The Parting (Alastair Willis, Laura Strickling, Catherine Cook, Michael Mayes and Music Of Remembrance)
• Ives: Complete Symphonies (Gustavo Dudamel & Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• LA Phil 100 – The Los Angeles Philharmonic Centennial Birthday Gala (Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• Langgaard: Prelude To Antichrist; Strauss: An Alpine Symphony (Thomas Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony Orchestra)
• Nielsen: Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 2, ‘The Four Temperaments’ (Thomas Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony)

·      ELAINE MARTONE

• Bound For The Promised Land (Robert M. Franklin, Steven Darsey, Jessye Norman and Taylor Branch)
• Dawn (Shachar Israel)
• Gandolfi, Prior and Oliverio: Orchestral Works (Robert Spano and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)
• Singing In The Dead Of Night (Eighth Blackbird)
• Whitacre: The Sacred Veil (Eric Whitacre, Grant Gershon and Los Angeles Master Chorale)

75. Best Orchestral Performance
Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra.

·      ASPECTS OF AMERICA – PULITZER EDITION (below)
Carlos Kalmar, conductor (Oregon Symphony)
 

·      CONCURRENCE
Daniel Bjarnason, conductor (Iceland Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      COPLAND: SYMPHONY NO. 3
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
 

·      IVES: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
 

·      LUTOSLAWSKI: SYMPHONIES NOS. 2 and 3
Hannu Lintu, conductor (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra)

76. Best Opera Recording
Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.

·      DELLO JOIO: THE TRIAL AT ROUEN
Gil Rose, conductor; Heather Buck and Stephen Powell; Gil Rose, producer (Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Odyssey Opera Chorus)
 

·      FLOYD, C.: PRINCE OF PLAYERS 
William Boggs, conductor; Keith Phares and Kate Royal; Blanton Alspaugh, producer (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Florentine Opera Chorus)
 

·      GERSHWIN: PORGY AND BESS (below)
David Robertson, conductor; Angel Blue and Eric Owens; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus)
 

·      HANDEL: AGRIPPINA
Maxim Emelyanychev, conductor; Joyce DiDonato; Daniel Zalay, producer (Il Pomo D’Oro)
 

·      ZEMLINSKY: DER ZWERG
Donald Runnicles, conductor; David Butt Philip and Elena Tsallagova; Peter Ghirardini and Erwin Sturzer, producers (Orchestra of The Deutsche Oper Berlin; Chorus of The Deutsche Oper Berlin)

·    

77. Best Choral Performance
Award to the Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble.

·      CARTHAGE
Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
 

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA (below)
JoAnn Falletta, conductor; James K. Bass and Adam Luebke, chorus masters (James K. Bass, J’Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon, Kenneth Overton, Hila Plitmann and Matthew Worth; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and UCLA Chamber Singers)
 

·      KASTALSKY: REQUIEM
Leonard Slatkin, conductor; Charles Bruffy, Steven Fox and Benedict Sheehan, chorus masters (Joseph Charles Beutel and Anna Dennis; Orchestra Of St. Luke’s; Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, Kansas City Chorale and The Saint Tikhon Choir)
 

·      MORAVEC: SANCTUARY ROAD
Kent Tritle, conductor (Joshua Blue, Raehann Bryce-Davis, Dashon Burton, Malcolm J. Merriweather and Laquita Mitchell; Oratorio Society of New York Orchestra; Oratorio Society of New York Chorus)
 

·      ONCE UPON A TIME
Matthew Guard, conductor (Sarah Walker; Skylark Vocal Ensemble)

·       

78. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
For new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (24 or fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.

·      CONTEMPORARY VOICES
Pacifica Quartet
 

·      HEALING MODES
Brooklyn Rider
 

·      HEARNE, T.: PLACE
Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods and Place Orchestra
 

·      HYNES: FIELDS
Devonté Hynes and Third Coast Percussion
 

·      THE SCHUMANN QUARTETS
Dover Quartet

·      

79. Best Classical Instrumental Solo
Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable.

·      ADÈS: CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA
Kirill Gerstein; Thomas Adès, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      BEETHOVEN: COMPLETE PIANO SONATAS (below)
Igor Levit
 

·      BOHEMIAN TALES
Augustin Hadelich; Jakub Hrusa, conductor (Charles Owen; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks)
 

·      DESTINATION RACHMANINOV – ARRIVAL
Daniil Trifonov; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor (The Philadelphia Orchestra)
 

·      THEOFANIDIS: CONCERTO FOR VIOLA AND CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
Richard O’Neill; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)

·       

80. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album
Award to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors, chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more playing time of new material.

·      AMERICAN COMPOSERS AT PLAY – WILLIAM BOLCOM, RICKY IAN GORDON, LORI LAITMAN, JOHN MUSTO
Stephen Powell (Attacca Quartet, William Bolcom, Ricky Ian Gordon, Lori Laitman, John Musto, Charles Neidich and Jason Vieaux)
 

·      CLAIRIÈRES – SONGS BY LILI and NADIA BOULANGER
Nicholas Phan; Myra Huang, accompanist
 

·      FARINELLI
Cecilia Bartoli; Giovanni Antonini, conductor (Il Giardino Armonico)
 

·      A LAD’S LOVE
Brian Giebler; Steven McGhee, accompanist (Katie Hyun, Michael Katz, Jessica Meyer, Reginald Mobley and Ben Russell)
 

·      SMYTH: THE PRISON
Sarah Brailey and Dashon Burton; James Blachly, conductor (Experiential Chorus; Experiential Orchestra)

·       

81. Best Classical Compendium
Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) and Engineer(s) of over 51% playing time of the album, if other than the artist.

·      ADÈS CONDUCTS ADÈS
Mark Stone and Christianne Stotijn; Thomas Adès, conductor; Nick Squire, producer
 

·      SAARIAHO: GRAAL THEATER; CIRCLE MAP; NEIGES; VERS TOI QUI ES SI LOIN
Clément Mao-Takacs, conductor; Hans Kipfer, producer
 

·      SEREBRIER: SYMPHONIC BACH VARIATIONS; LAMENTS AND HALLELUJAHS; FLUTE CONCERTO
José Serebrier, conductor; Jens Braun, producer
 

·      THOMAS, M.T.: FROM THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and MEDITATIONS ON RILKE
Isabel Leonard; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Jack Vad, producer
 

·      WOOLF, L.P.: FIRE AND FLOOD
Matt Haimovitz; Julian Wachner, conductor; Blanton Alspaugh, producer

·      

82. Best Contemporary Classical Composition
A Composer’s Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.

·      ADÈS: CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA
Thomas Adès, composer (Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès and Boston Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA
Richard Danielpour, composer (JoAnn Falletta, James K. Bass, Adam Luebke, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)
 

·      FLOYD, C.: PRINCE OF PLAYERS (below)
Carlisle Floyd, composer (William Boggs, Kate Royal, Keith Phares, Florentine Opera Chorus and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      HEARNE, T.: PLACE
Ted Hearne, composer (Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods and Place Orchestra)
 

·      ROUSE: SYMPHONY NO. 5
Christopher Rouse, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)

If you want to see many more nominations, including those for pop, rock, folk, hip hop, jazz and videos, go to: https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2021-grammys-complete-nominees-list


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Today is Veterans Day. Here is some appropriate music by Beethoven to mark it. Can you guess which piece? What composer or music would you choose?

November 11, 2020
1 Comment

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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 – is Veterans Day.

It started out as Armistice Day in 1918 when the end of World War I was declared to take place on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

It is a day to mark the service of all veterans – not just those who died in the line of duty, as is celebrated on Memorial Day.

You can find a lot of choice of classical music to play for Veterans Day. Here is one link to a compilation that features patriotic songs and marches: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJepYzH1VUY

But The Ear settled on Beethoven (below, in an 1815 portrait by Joseph Willebrord Maehler).

Can you guess which piece?

It is not the memorable funeral marches on the Piano Sonata in A-Flat, Op. 26, or the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”

It is also not the “Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving” in the String Quartet, Op. 132.

And it is not “Wellington’s Victory” or the “Egmont” Overture or the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” with its triumphant fast movements.

Instead it is the second movement of the Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92. (You can hear it see it represented graphically in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

That is the very well known Allegretto movement with its repetitious and almost hypnotizing, soaring theme. It seems like a funeral march, full of introspection, poignancy and sadness, that is a bit brisker and more lyrical than usual.

It is so popular, in fact, that it has been used as a soundtrack in many movies, including “The King’s Speech” and has inspired works based on it including the “Fantasia on an Ostinato” by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano.

If it seems an unexpected choice, you just need to know more about its history.

It was composed 1811-1812, and Beethoven correctly considered it one of his finest works. So did Richard Wagner who famously described as the “apotheosis of the dance” for the infectious rhythms throughout the symphony.

At its premiere in Vienna, in his introductory remarks Beethoven said: “We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.”

Beethoven (below, in 1815 as depicted in a paining the Joseph Willibrord Maehler) premiered the symphony at a charity concert in 1813 to help raise money for the Austrian and Bavarian soldiers who had been wounded at the Battle of Hanau while fighting against France during the Napoleonic Wars.

It was so popular with the first performance that the audience demanded and received an immediate encore performance of the second movement.

Here is a Wikipedia link to the history of the symphony: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._7_(Beethoven)

To this day, the Seventh Symphony, so charged with energy, remains for many people, conductors and orchestral players their favorite Beethoven symphony.

It is ironic that Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Paul de Hueck) performed the Seventh Symphony at the last concert he ever conducted – at the Tanglewood Festival in August 1990. He took the second movement at a slower-than-usual tempo and many have criticized Bernstein, who was in terrible health, and have suggested that he was using it as a funeral march or homage for himself. 

They may be right. But in retrospect the choice of Bernstein – who died two months later — finds a certain justification in the original motive for the entire symphony and especially the second movement.

Listen for yourself.

Then tell us what you think.

Does this movement justify it being played on Veterans Day?

What music would you choose to mark the day?

What do you think of the Symphony No. 7 in general and the second movement in particular?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Will using first names with Beethoven and Mozart help fight racism and sexism in the concert hall?

October 28, 2020
5 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Why do concert programs read simply Beethoven for Beethoven (below top), but Florence Price for Florence Price (below bottom)?

According to a recent controversial essay by Chris White (below), a professor of music theory at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, it reflects and reinforces sexism and racism.

White is calling for universal “fullnaming” to put women composers and composers of color on an equal footing with the traditional canon of dead white male composers. All people may be equal, but all composers and their music are not.

You can certainly make a case for his interesting argument against using “mononyns,” as he calls them. But it still seems less than convincing to many, including The Ear. It many ways it seems downright silly and arbitrary. Isn’t it obvious that not all composers are equal in quality of their work?

It is the latest dustup in the classical music world, coming right on the heels of, and logically linked to, the idea that Beethoven is responsible for sexism and racism in the concert hall and the so-called “cancel culture” that is allied with the social and political protest movements of the past year, including Black Lives Matter.

That was treated here in a previous post: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/09/19/did-beethoven-and-his-music-especially-the-iconic-fifth-symphony-foster-racism-exclusion-and-elitism-in-the-concert-hall-the-ear-thinks-that-is-pc-nonsense-what-do-you-think/

Here is a link to the complete article by White about the inclusion and absence of first names as it appeared on Slate: https://slate.com/culture/2020/10/fullname-famous-composers-racism-sexism.html

Funny, The Ear thinks of using only last names as little more than a function of: quality, importance and time; of fame and familiarity; and sometimes of promoting clarity and preventing confusion — not of race or gender.

It is why we say Bach (below) when we mean Johann Sebastian, and why we say Wilhelm Friedemann or Carl Philipp Emmanuel or Johann Christian when we mean one of his sons.

It is why we say Richard Strauss to distinguish him from Johann Strauss.

But it also why Haydn means Franz Joseph (below), not his less important brother Michael Haydn.

And why the American composer Henry Cowell is listed with his full name and not just Cowell.

Perhaps one day – if we hear enough of the music by the recently rediscovered Black female composer Florence Price often enough and like it enough – she will be known simply as Price. After all, the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu is not usually listed as simply Takemitsu. 

Actually, the Ear prefers using full names for all composers — famous or not, male or female, white or black — especially when it is for the general public. But it seems more a matter of politeness, respect and education than of sociopolitical change and social justice.

That is not to say that those of us in classical music don’t see a need to correct the racism and sexism of the past, to foster diversity and inclusiveness. White has a point. Still, the whole idea of using both names in all cases seems more than a bit naïve, superficial and simplistic as a solution to racism and sexism.

It sounds a lot like the kind of theoretical speculation and contrarian thinking you might expect from an assistant professor trying to get noticed and make his mark on big contemporary issues so that he can get tenure and become an associate professor. A high public profile certainly helps that.

But whatever you think of White’s motives or purpose, his essay is causing a “meltdown” on Twitter: https://mybroadband.co.za/forum/threads/‘fullnaming’-mozart-and-beethoven-to-fight-sexism-and-racism-twitter-squabbles-over-slate-article.1108776/

Should you want to know more about Professor White or to leave a message of either support or disagreement, here is a link to his home website: http://www.chriswmwhite.com

What do you think about the idea of using first names for all composers as a way to combat racism and sexism in classical music?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Today is Sept. 11, 2020. Here is music to mark the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks during the coronavirus pandemic. What would you choose?

September 11, 2020
2 Comments

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CORRECTION: The Virtual Gala fundraiser for the Handel Aria Competition started last night, and will end on Thursday, Oct. 1 – NOT on Oct. 11, as mistakenly stated in yesterday’s blog headline. Here is a link with more information: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/09/10/classical-music-the-worldwide-virtual-and-online-gala-fundraiser-for-the-handel-aria-competition-starts-today-and-runs-through-oct-10-donations-will-be-matched-up-to-2000/

By Jacob Stockinger

Today marks 19 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

For the basic information, here is a Wikipedia summary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks

There are many ways to remember and honor the dead and the injured in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and Shanksvillle, Pennsylvania. And in past years, The Ear has offered many different ones.

There are the well-known requiems by Mozart, Brahms, Verdi and Faure; passions by Bach; and other works.

There are also the pieces especially composed for the commemoration, including “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning work by John Adams that incorporates police tapes and phone calls, and Steve Reich’s “WTC 9/11.”

But this year there is the coronavirus to deal with and complicate the commemorations.

Here is a story from NBC News about how the official commemorations, both real and virtual, will be affected by the pandemic.

And somehow in such circumstances, it feels like back to basic is a good approach.

So here, in the YouTube video at the bottom, is the most universal piece of mourning that The Ear knows: American composer Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” as played by Leonard Slatkin conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

It serves to mark 9/11 but perhaps also the more than 190,000 American deaths so far from the Covid-19 pandemic.

You can find other versions and other pieces on YouTube:

What piece would you want to hear to mark this sad and solemn occasion?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: It’s clear to The Ear: It will be at least another full year before audiences in the U.S. can safely attend live concerts. What do you think?

August 11, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

All the signs point to the same conclusion: It will be at least the fall of 2021 before we can safely attend concerts again – if we are lucky.

These past two weeks, The Ear answered questionnaires sent out by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top), which has already canceled the season through January, and the Wisconsin Union Theater (below bottom is Shannon Hall).

If you read between the lines, both questionnaires seemed to suggest the same two things: that the entire 2020-21 concert season will be canceled or postponed; or else that it will feature virtual online performances — for ticket prices (perhaps called a “donation”) that have not yet been announced and may not be acceptable to a lot of any group’s core audience.

Perhaps you disagree. If so, The Ear would like to hear in the comment section what you think and why you think it.

Here is what The Ear, who has talked with other season subscribers and various musicians, has seen and heard.

The United States has now surpassed 5 million coronavirus infections and 163,000 Covid-19 deaths with no sign of slowing down and many signs of accelerating. One widely cited model now predicts 300,000 deaths by this Dec. 1.

Plus, too many Americans refuse to wear masks or to maintain social distancing or to shelter at home to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Add in that we will be fortunate if enough vaccines are found to be safe, efficient and approved for use by Jan 1.

Then – despite federal government’s “Warp Speed” development or fast-tracking of the search for vaccines — there is the time needed to manufacture enough of them.

Then it will take considerable time to distribute them equitably, which other countries and public health agencies around the world demand.

Then, if we hope to reach herd immunity, it will take time to convince enough people to get the vaccine, especially with the growing number of anti-vaxxers.

Then those who do get vaccinated will have to wait a month for the second shot that will be required.

Then we wait a few weeks to see if and how much the vaccine really works – if it is safe and prevents infection or at least lessens the damage of the disease if you do get infected.

Plus, it sees unreasonable to think all of these steps will go without a hitch. So maybe a few more weeks or even months should be added.

Add up the math, and the conclusion seems clear: Performing arts events, like sports and other large in-person gatherings, seem increasingly likely to be canceled or reconfigured for a full year.

Concerts are already taking place in China, and other countries in Asia and Europe seem likely to catch up soon. But music lovers in the U.S. will be lucky if they get to attend a live concert with 100 or 500 or 1,000 or 2,500 other people before the fall of 2021 – at least a full year away. Maybe more.

The Ear could well be wrong. Maybe you see a different conclusion, which we would all love to hear. Perhaps international readers will share estimates about when concerts will begin in their country.

One way or another, we will learn a lot more about how the new music season is being planned and changed in the next three weeks.


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Classical music: Leon Fleisher, the inspirational pianist and teacher who died a week ago, had ties to Madison

August 9, 2020
2 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Famed American pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher (below, in a photo by Chris Hartlove), who also conducted, died of cancer at 92 last Sunday, Aug. 2.

Wisconsin Public Radio, like many other media outlets including National Public Radio (NPR) and most major newspapers and television stations, devoted a lot of time to tributes to and remembrances of Fleisher.

That is as it should be. If any musician deserved it, Fleisher did.

Fleisher (1928-2020) was a titan who became, over many years and despite major personal setbacks — stemming from an almost paralyzed right hand — a lot more than a keyboard virtuoso.

But despite lots of air time, less well covered has been his relationship to Madison audiences, who had the pleasure of seeing and hearing him several times in person.

In 2003 and then again in 2016 (below top) — at age 88 — Fleisher performed with the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below bottom).

Both times he played the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, a masterpiece of chamber music. He and his wife, Katherine Jacobson, also performed a joint recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater in 2009.

Fleisher felt at home in Baroque, Classical, Romantic and even modern music. He was renowned as an interpreter of Brahms. Indeed, his early and widely acclaimed recordings of both Brahms piano concertos as well as of the Waltzes and Handel Variations remain landmarks.

Once he was again playing with both hands, Fleisher also recorded the piano quintet for Deutsche Grammophon with the Emerson String Quartet, another frequent and favorite performer in Madison. (You can hear the finale in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a this blog’s review of his last Madison appearance: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Leon+Fleisher

Fleisher liked performing with the Pro Arte, and therein lies another historical tale.

His most influential teacher — the famed pianist Artur Schnabel, with whom the San Francisco-born Fleisher went to study in Europe when he was just 9 — also played often with the earlier members of Pro Arte Quartet. Together they recorded Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet by Franz Schubert, and that recording is still in the catalogue and available on Amazon.

Fleisher discusses studying with Schnabel in his entertaining and informative 2010 autobiography “My Nine Lives” (below).

Fleisher was a child prodigy who made his name while still young. Famed French conductor Pierre Monteux – who conducted the world premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in Paris — called Fleisher the “musical find of the century.” Fleisher made his concerto debut at 16 with the New York Philharmonic under Monteux.

Fleisher was just 36 and preparing for a tour with the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell – a perfect pairing and a conductor with whom he recorded all the Beethoven and Brahms concertos among may others – when he found he could not uncurl the last three fingers of his right hand.

Various diagnoses and causes were offered, and many cures were tried. In the end, it seems like that it was a case of focal dystonia that was caused by over-practicing, especially octaves. “I pounded ivory six or seven hours a day,” Fleisher later said.

After a period of depression and soul-searching, Fleisher then focused on performing music for the left hand; on conducting; and especially on teaching for more than 60 years at the Peabody Institute, located in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University.

There he helped shaped the career of many other famous pianists, including André Watts, Yefim Bronfman and Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Julian Edelstein), who played when Fleisher received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007. (All three have performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Here is an inspiring overview of Fleisher’s life and career from the Peabody Institute: https://peabody.jhu.edu/faculty/leon-fleisher/

And here is another short biography from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Fleisher

Here are three especially noteworthy obituaries:

NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/08/02/702978476/leon-fleisher-the-pianist-who-reinvented-himself-dies-at-92

The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/02/arts/music/leon-fleisher-dead.html

The Washington Post, written by critic Anne Midgette who worked with Fleisher on his memoir: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/leon-fleisher-sublime-pianist-with-one-hand-or-two-dies-at-92/2020/08/02/c7c98f90-527d-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_story.html

The Ear has always found Fleisher’s playing remarkable for its technical fluency combined with the utmost clarity and exacting but flexible sense of rhythm. He always managed to make a piece of music sound just right, as it was intended to sound. His musicality always seemed innate and perfectly natural.

Sample it for yourself. The Ear thinks the performance of all five Beethoven concertos with George Szell still sets a high standard with its exciting, upbeat tempi, its exemplary balance between piano and orchestra, and its exceptional engineering.

The affable Fleisher will long remain an inspiration not only for his playing and teaching, but also for his determination to overcome personal obstacles and go on to serve music — not just the piano.

Did you ever hear Leon Fleisher play live or in recordings? What did you think?

Do you have a comment to leave about the legacy of Fleisher?


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Classical music: On this Memorial Day, The Ear honors not only soldiers but also civilians, COVID-19 victims and all those responders and workers who serve the public

May 25, 2020
4 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day 2020.

It is of course a largely military holiday. Most of the planned public events will be to honor those who died in service to their country. That usually means fallen soldiers and deceased veterans.

It also means that military cemeteries – like Arlington National Cemetery, below — will be decorated with American flags.

But The Ear doesn’t think we should forget that there are many ways to serve your country and protect the public, many kinds war and self-sacrifice.

Let’s not forget civilians, especially since worldwide more than twice the numbers of civilians died in World War II than did members of the armed forces. Lives are taken as well as given.

A larger definition of “national service” also seems especially timely since this weekend the U.S. is likely to surpass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic. They include many first responders and frontline workers (below) as well as grocery store workers and delivery drivers. Even “small” occupations have big heroes. There is no reason not to be more inclusive.

There are traditional kinds of music to honor the dead. They include requiems and elegies, military marches and funeral marches. And in the comment section you should feel free to suggest whatever music you think would be appropriate.

But The Ear found a piece he thinks is both unusual and ideal.

It is called “Old and Lost Rivers” by the contemporary American composer Tobias Picker (below). It is a beautiful, moving and contemplative piece, based on an actual place in Texas, that you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But you should know this about the work’s title.

With rivers, “lost” doesn’t mean forgotten or misplaced.

One dictionary defines it as “a surface stream that flows into an underground passageway” – and eventually often becomes part of a larger body of water such as a lake or the ocean.

It can also mean rivers that appear during heavy rain and then disappear when they evaporate during a drought.

Somehow, those images serve as fitting metaphors for our losses and that music seems a very appropriate way to honor those who sacrifice themselves and disappear in service to others.

The Ear hopes you agree.


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Classical music: Legendary American cellist Lynn Harrell, who performed in Madison, is dead at 76

April 29, 2020
1 Comment

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By Jacob Stockinger

Legendary American cellist Lynn Harrell (below) died Monday at 76.

If his name sounds familiar, it could be because Harrell performed in Madison at least three times – twice with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (2007 and 2011), in concertos by Lalo and Victor Herbert, and a recital with pianist Yefim Bronfman at the Wisconsin Union Theater (1994).

No cause of death has yet been given, but various sources say it was unrelated to COVID-19 or the coronavirus pandemic.

To know more about his remarkable life and impressive career, go to his biography on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Harrell 

Colleagues were quick to praise Harrell not only as a master musician – gifted with beautiful tone and sensitive, expressive interpretations — but also as a great teacher and a congenial man who made friends easily. He also cut promotional ads for National Public Radio (NPR) urging members to donate, as he himself did.

Here is an interview he did in 2011 with host Norman Gilliland for Wisconsin Public Radio:

https://www.wpr.org/shows/lynn-harrell

Here is a link to an obituary from The Violin Channel that features quotes from many musicians who admired Harrell:

https://theviolinchannel.com/cellist-lynn-harrell-has-passed-away-died-obituary-rip/

And here are tributes from many of his colleagues for British critic Norman Lebrecht’s blog “Slipped Disc”:

https://slippedisc.com/2020/04/lynn-harrell-tributes-pour-in/

A prodigy who made his Carnegie Hall debut at 17, Harrell, who studied at Juilliard and the Curtis Institute, was renowned internationally. He later taught at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

In 1994 he played a Papal Concert at the Vatican to mark the first commemoration and remembrance of the Holocaust. His performance there of Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidrei”  for cello and orchestra can be seen and heard at the bottom in the most popular of Harrell’s many YouTube videos.

 


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