The Well-Tempered Ear

The New York Times names the top 25 classical recordings of 2020 and includes sample tracks

December 27, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

What did the holidays bring you?

Did Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa bring you a gift card?

A subscription to a streaming service?

Maybe some cash?

Or maybe you just want to hear some new music or new musicians or new interpretations of old classics?

Every year, the music critics of The New York Times list their top 25 recordings of the past year. Plus at the end of the story, the newspaper offers a sample track from each recording to give you even more guidance.

This year is no exception (below).

In fact, the listing might be even more welcome this year, given the  coronavirus pandemic with the lack of live concerts and the isolation and self-quarantine that have ensued.

The Ear hasn’t heard all of the picks or even the majority of them. But the ones he has heard are indeed outstanding. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear a sample of the outstanding Rameau-Debussy recital by the acclaimed Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafssen, who scored major successes with recent albums of Philip Glass and Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Here is a link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/arts/music/best-classical-music.html

Of course not all critics agree.

The Ear has already listed the nominations for the Grammy Awards (a link is below), and more critics’ picks will be featured in coming days.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/11/28/for-holiday-shopping-and-gift-giving-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-63rd-grammy-awards-in-2021/

You should also notice that a recording of Ethel Smyth’s “The Prison” — featuring soprano Sarah Brailey (below), a graduate student at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and a co-founder of Just Bach — is on the Times’ list as well as on the list of Grammy nominations.

What new recordings – or even old recordings — would you recommend?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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

November 28, 2020
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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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Classical music: Why does Pavarotti – the man and now the movie – fascinate us?

June 8, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend a lot of people nationwide will go see the movie “Pavarotti,” the documentary by Ron Howard about the legendary Italian tenor who died 12 years ago.

Luciano Pavarotti (below) was and remains a superstar, a major cultural phenomenon, which is why Decca Records is cashing in by releasing not only the soundtrack to the documentary film but also a new 3-CD compilation of Pavarotti’s best singing.

It’s all so curious, especially if you compare Pavarotti’s artistic accomplishments against those of, say, Placido Domingo.

Pavarotti couldn’t read music.

He couldn’t act very convincingly.

The roles he learned were relatively limited in number.

He made major personal and professional missteps.

Yet we remain deeply drawn to Pavarotti.

Why?

It certainly has to do with his extraordinary voice, the tone and power of which could make your neck hairs stand on end, give you goosebumps, bring tears to your eyes and make you sob out loud.

Just listen to his singing of Puccini’s “Nessun dorma,” the crowd-pleasing signature aria from “Turandot” that Pavarotti performed over and over again in concerts, operas and at the famous “Three Tenors” stadium concerts. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But there is more to Pavarotti as a cultural phenomenon, much more, that tells us about ourselves and about the appeal of opera in general.

Without question, the best cultural analysis of Luciano Pavarotti that The Ear has ever seen or heard came recently from the critic Zachary Woolfe in The New York Times.

As Woolfe deconstructs “this hulking, sweaty man with stringy hair, a patchy beard and an unforgettable sound,” you learn much about the popular appeal – both high and low — of opera as well as the commercial and artistic appeal of Pavarotti.

Here is a link to Woolfe’s “Critic’s Notebook” analysis, which is well worth reading on its own or either before or after you see the new film.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/03/arts/music/pavarotti-ron-howard.html

And here is the official trailer for the film, with comments from many of his colleagues, which gets mixed reviews:

What do you think of Zachary Woolfe’s analysis of Pavarotti?

Why do you think the singer was so popular?

What is your favorite performance of his?

And if you saw the film, what did you think of it? Do you recommend seeing it?

Leave a comment.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Cliburn-winning pianist Kenneth Broberg makes his Madison debut with a FREE master class this evening and a recital Sunday afternoon at Farley’s House of Pianos

November 3, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

A 25-year-old Minneapolis native, pianist Kenneth Broberg (below in a photo by Jeremy Enlow for The Cliburn) won the silver medal at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

His 2017-2018 debut season as a Cliburn medalist included recital engagements in cities across the United States and Europe. His debut solo album was released by Decca Gold in August 2017.

This weekend, Broberg — whose playing The Ear finds impressively beautiful — makes his Madison debut at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on the far west side near West Towne Mall, as part of the Salon Piano Series.

Broberg will be featured in a master class with local young pianists and a solo recital.

For more about Broberg, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Broberg

And to the pianist’s home web site: https://kennybroberg.com

For more about the Salon Piano Series and the other three concerts this season, along with videos and reviews, go to: https://salonpianoseries.org

You can also hear Broberg play a lyrical and well-known Impromptu by Franz Schubert in the YouTube video at the bottom. He also has many other performances on YouTube, including some from the Cliburn competition.

Here are details about his appearances:

MASTER CLASS

Broberg will give a master class with local piano students THIS EVENING from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos.

The literature being played is: Sonata in B-Flat Major, K. 333, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Des Abends” (Evening) and “Grillen” (Whims) from “Fantasiestuecke (Fantasy Pieces) Op. 12, by Robert Schumann; and “Evocation” and “El Puerto” for the “Iberia” Suite by Isaac Albéniz

The master class is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.  Children must be age 6 and over to attend.

SOLO RECITAL

On Sunday afternoon, Nov. 4, at 4 p.m. Broberg will perform a solo recital at Farley’s House of Pianos in the main showroom.

The program includes: Prelude, Fugue and Variation, Op. 18, by Cesar Franck and Harold Bauer; Sonata in E minor  “Night Wind,” Op. 25, No. 2, by Nikolai Medtner; Toccata on “L’Homme armé” by Marc-André Hamelin; “Children’s Corner” Suite by Claude Debussy (movements are “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum; Jimbo’s Lullaby;  Serenade for the Doll; The Snow Is Dancing; The Little Shepherd; and Golliwog’s Cakewalk); and Three Preludes by George Gershwin.

Advance and online tickets are $45 for adults and $10 for students, and are available at brownpapertickets.com or at Farley’s House of Pianos (608) 271-2626. Tickets at the door are $50. More details are at SalonPianoSeries.org


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Classical music: Two new memoirs and a new recording are revealing but uneven in marking the centennial of Leonard Bernstein

July 28, 2018
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

We are only a month away from the centennial of the birthday of conductor, composer, educator and pianist Leonard Bernstein, which will be celebrated on Saturday, Aug. 25. Larry Wells, who is The Opera Guy for The Ear, recently assessed three of the many works – two new books of memoirs and one new recording — reexamining the life, career and legacy of Leonard Bernstein.

By Larry Wells

During this year commemorating the centenary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell), one need only consult https://leonardbernstein.com to find a day-by-day calendar of performances of his works.

As well as world-wide opportunities to hear his works -– even in Madison — there have been two recent books about Bernstein and a new recording of his final opera, “A Quiet Place,” that might be worth your time.

“A Quiet Place” was premiered in Houston as a sequel to his earlier opera “Trouble in Tahiti.” These first performances were conducted by our own John DeMain, the longtime artistic director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Madison Opera.

This nearly two-hour one-act opera dealing with incest, bisexuality, alcoholism and psychosis did not please the critics either for its libretto or for its music.

Soon thereafter Bernstein refashioned the opera by inserting “Trouble in Tahiti” in the middle and cutting some music. His subsequent recording has always baffled me because the music is so uninteresting and the casting is so haphazard.

The new recording on the Decca label (below) is of yet another version devised by Garth Edwin Sunderland. Reducing the orchestration to a chamber ensemble of 18 players, removing “Trouble in Tahiti,” and restoring some of the cuts, this recording by Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra allows us to hear most of the original version of the opera.

(To read Sunderland’s analysis of his edition, check https://leonardbernstein.com/uploads/pages/files/PFR_2013_FW.pdf.)

The new recording is a valiant attempt by Nagano (below) to breathe some life into this dreary work, but I remain unconvinced that “A Quiet Place” is any more than a failed, final stab by a composer most of whose work I admire very much.

Charlie Harmon was Bernstein’s personal assistant, and his recent memoir ”On the Road and Off the Record with Leonard Bernstein: My Years with the Exasperating Genius” (below) goes a long way in explaining the failure of “A Quiet Place.” (You can hear the Postlude to Act I of “A Quiet Place” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

To hear Harmon tell it, by this time in Bernstein’s life the maestro depended on drugs to go to sleep, drugs to keep himself awake, and alcohol in excess.  He also had a penchant for younger men.

The picture he paints of a troubled genius is rather pathetic, and Bernstein comes across as thoughtless, self-centered and exasperating. When Harmon (below, on the right with Bernstein) writes of his shock at being groped by Bernstein, I had to wonder what else he had expected. Still, it is an entertaining read.

Bernstein’s daughter Jamie Bernstein has recently published  “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein” (below) Here we get a glimpse into Bernstein’s family life. The portrait of his troubled relationship with his long-suffering wife Felicia Montealegre is particularly interesting.

I heard Jamie Bernstein (below) speak recently in Tucson, and she told amazing anecdotes about Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and William Schuman.

Little of that appears in the book. She assumes that the reader is interested in her own love life and her failed pop music career. I would have preferred to read more about the many fascinating people who surrounded Bernstein and less about her privileged and entitled life.

I have always been a big fan of Bernstein. I admired him as a conductor, teacher and composer. Anyone who has even a nominal interest in the man will find both of the recent memoirs at least diverting. The recording of “A Quiet Place,” however, is only for the true devotees.


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Classical music: Here is an NPR interview with British cellist sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason and an encore presentation of his performance at the Royal Wedding last weekend

May 27, 2018
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

So far, at least in the United States, the 19-year-old British sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason (below) has been more talked about than talked to.

But on Saturday afternoon, NPR interviewed him for “All Things Considered.”

Some interesting facts about him and his blossoming career and his inaugural recording for Decca Records (below) came out of the six–minute discussion and questions by host Michel Martin.

Especially impressive was how all the children in his family are accomplished classical musicians. Here is a video of them playing music by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev together:

And in case you missed it the first around, also included is an encore presentation of the three pieces he played last Saturday at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Here is a link to the interview and the encore performance:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2018/05/21/613025939/cello-bae-sheku-kanneh-mason-wins-worldwide-fans-after-royal-wedding

And here is a YouTube video of Sheku Kanneh-Mason playing his own cello transcription of a the song “No Woman No Cry” by reggae legend Bob Marley, who was a mentor and inspiration to the young musician:


Classical music: Is Royal Wedding cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason the next Yo-Yo Ma?

May 22, 2018
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

If you watched the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle – who are now known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – you were probably impressed by many things.

Not the least of them was the performance by the young Afro-British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who performed three pieces: “After a Dream” by Gabriel Faure; “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert; and “Sicilienne” (an ancient dance step) by Maria Theresia von Paradis.

The young player acquitted himself just fine, despite the pressure of the event, with its avid public interest in the United Kingdom and a worldwide TV viewership of 2 billion.

But that is to be expected. He is no ordinary teenage cellist. Now 19, he was named BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2016 — the first black musician of African background to be awarded the honor since it started in 1938. A native of Nottingham, even as he pursues a busy concert and recording schedule, he continues his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

So it was with great anticipation that The Ear listened to “Inspiration,” Kanneh-Mason’s new recording from Decca Records, which is already a bestseller on Amazon.com and elsewhere, and has topped the U.S. pop charts. (There are also many performances by him on YouTube.)

Unfortunately, The Ear was disappointed by the mixed results.

The cellist’s playing is certainly impressive for its technique and tone. But in every piece, he is joined by the City of Birmingham Orchestra or its cello section. The collaboration works exceptionally well with the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich. 

However, so many of the other works seem too orchestrated and overly arranged. So much of the music becomes thick and muddy, just too stringy. The Ear wanted to hear more of the young cellist and less of the backup band.

One also has to wonder if the recording benefits from being a mixed album with a program so full of crossovers, perhaps for commercial reasons and perhaps to reach a young audience. There is a klezmer piece, “Evening of the Roses” as well as a reggae piece, “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley and the famous song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.

In addition, there are the familiar “The Swan” from “The Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens and two pieces by the inspiring cellist referred to in the title of the recording, Pablo (or Pau in Catalan) Casals (below).

A great humanist and champion of democracy who spent most of his career in exile from dictator Franco’s Spain, Casals used the solo “The Birds” as a signature encore. Played solo, it is a poignant piece — just as Yo-Yo Ma played it as an encore at the BBC Proms, which is also on YouTube). But here it simply loses its simplicity and seems overwhelmed.

Clearly, Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a musician of great accomplishment and even greater promise who couldn’t have wished for better publicity to launch a big career than he received from the royal wedding. He handles celebrity well and seems a star in the making, possibly even the next Yo-Yo Ma, who has also done his share of film scores and pop transcriptions

But when it comes to the recording studio, a smaller scale would be better. Sometimes less is more, and this is one of those times. (Listen to his beautiful solo playing and his comments in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

To take the full measure of his musicianship, The Ear is anxious to hear Kanneh-Mason in solo suites by Johann Sebastian Bach and concertos by Antonio Vivaldi; in sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms; in concertos by Antonin Dvorak and Edward Elgar; and in much more standard repertory that allows comparison and is less gimmicky.

Did you hear Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s live performance at the royal wedding? What did you think?

And if you have heard his latest recording, what do you think of that?

Do you think Sheku Kanne-Mason is the next Yo-Yo Ma?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music
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