The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Meet Paul Watkins -– the new British cellist in the New York-based Emerson String Quartet who replaces 34-year-veteran and Emerson co-founder David Finckel.

June 9, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The end of this concert season has meant something special for fans of American chamber music.

It means the end of cellist David Finckel (below) playing with the venerated and globally acclaimed Emerson String Quartet, often called the best string quartet in the world. And it has performed frequently in Madison, always at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

David Finckel BIG

Finckel announced at the beginning of last season that he would retire. He has said he wants to devote more time to his solo career; to his duo performances with his pianist wife Wu Han (below); to concerts of piano trios with his wife and Emerson violinist Philip Setzer; and to his job as co-director (with his pianist wife Wu Han) of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

David Finckel and Wu Han

Still, it is a loss. Finckel was an original member of the Emerson Quartet (below) and has played with them for 34 years, winning many Grammy awards and rave reviews in the process. The quartet is so good, one wonders just what it took in the way of money and artistic freedom to lure the quartet away from its longtime recording home of Deutsche Grammophon to its new home Sony Classical.

Emerson

Something The Ear particularly liked about Finckel is that he often played on and recorded with instruments that are made today.

Apparently, the quartet considered disbanding but decided instead to replace Finckel.

The choice was Paul Watkins (below), a distinguished British or, more specifically, Welsh cellist who was born in 1970 and who was a member of the Nash Ensemble, which is also acclaimed for its performances and prolific recordings, before joining the Emerson.

Paul Watkins

He remains someone to be discovered through his performances, but here is a fine interview with Watkins:

http://thethread.dukeperformances.duke.edu/2013/05/interview-incoming-emerson-string-quartet-cellist-paul-watkins/

And here is a review of a performance in Montreal of Haydn. Beethoven and Bartok string quartets that featured the new Emerson Quartet with Paul Watkins. It is promising indeed, as is his performance of Francis Poulenc‘s cello sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.

http://www.bachtrack.com/review-montreal-chamber-music-festival-emerson-quartet-paul-watkins

What do you think of David Finckel? Any good wishes or other things you want to leave in the COMMENTS section?

And what do you know about or think of cellist Paul Watkins?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Could Yuja Wang be a case of early burnout or overexposure? I doubt it. So where in the world is she? What is she playing? What is she doing? What is she recording? And what is she wearing?

March 30, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

For a while there, about a year ago, the young Chinese-born and American-trained pianist Yuja Wang (below) was setting the classical world on fire. She is very exciting, as you can see at the bottom in a YouTube video.

YujaWangphotoblack dress

With four Deutsche Grammophon recordings to her credit, the photogenic and virtuosic young Wang, now 26, also had garnered two Grammy nominations.

Her Carnegie Hall debut (below) got a rave review from Anthony Tommasini, the choosy senior critic for The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/classical-music-qa-and-review-is-yuja-wang-the-new-horowitz-in-her-carnegie-hall-recital-debut-she-seems-the-successor-to-martha-argerich-as-both-her-playing-and-dress-get-raves-from-the-new-y/

And she also gave the Times a great interview:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/classical-music-phenom-pianist-and-fashion-plate-yuja-wang-reveals-her-openness-her-artistic-goals-and-her-personal-lifestyle-to-the-new-york-times/

And Wang’s penchant for sexy concert attire – either the red micro-skirt (below top) at the Hollywood Bowl or the slit-thigh black gown (bottom) at Carnegie Hall – had stirred comments and controversy.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/classical-music-pianist-yuja-wang-isn’t-alone-in-using-her-sexy-good-looks-chic-fashion-and-in-your-face-media-remarks-to-create-controversy-and-controversy-to-advance-her-career/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/classical-music-poll-was-yuja-wang’s-concert-skirt-too-short-what-is-inappropriate-concert-attire-for-a-performer-male-or-female/

yuja wang dress times 3

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Ruby Washington NYTimes

So I recently wondered what Yuja Wang was up to.

I searched for news, and found precious little except for a rave review of her recent solo recital debut last Sunday in Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Hall:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-yuja-wang-review-20130326,0,2575431.story?track=rss

I also checked out her website (www.yujawang.com) — it seems quite out of date — and found nothing later than her going to Mumbai, India to dedicate a new Steinway concert grand. That old news! Two years old!

I also found nothing about her next recording project, although I suspect it will be Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 coupled maybe with Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3. (After a fine recording of two Rachmaninoff Concertos with Claudio Abbado, she put out “Fantasia,”an album of miniatures and encores that I was not so thrilled about. Below is a link to my review.)

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/classical-music-review-phenom-pianist-yuja-wangs-new-fantasia-cd-is-more-nightmare-than-dream-and-a-waste-of-a-major-keyboard-talent/

YujaWang casual photo

So at my wit’s end, I am putting out a call to all readers:

DO ANY OF YOU HAVE UPDATES ABOUT YUJA WANG?

HAVE YOU HEARD HER PLAY LIVE LATELY?

WHERE IS SHE?

WHAT IS SHE DOING?

WHAT IS PLAYING?

WHAT IS SHE RECORDING?

AND WHAT IS SHE WEARING?

Yuja Wang is far too talented to fall off the radar. So …

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today brings the Winter Solstice – a perfect time to listen to Vivaldi’s original “Four Seasons” and Max Richter’s “Recomposed” version of Vivaldi’s popular violin concertos.

December 21, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the winter solstice in the Western Hemisphere.

We turn the corner and the days start getting longer, and the night shorter.

The solstice arrives today — on Friday, Dec. 21. Specifically, it arrives this morning at 5:12 a.m. CST.

Could there be a better time to celebrate the famed “The Four Seasons,” a series of violin concertos, composed in 1725 by Antonio Vivaldi (below), and a work that is reputed to be the most recorded piece of classical music of all time?

vivaldi

Here is the original “Winter” section by Vivaldi, with its virtuosic rush of notes, slashing chords and chilly tremolos.

But the winter solstice is also a good time to take a listen to Max Richter’s reworking of Vivaldi’s famous, if overplayed, masterpiece.

It is called  “Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons” and is available on the Deutsche Grammophon label (below). And it would also be a make for a good holiday gift, especially if someone already has and likes the original “Four Seasons.” It isn’t often after all, that you can have Baroque music and contemporary music in the same work.

Max Richter Recomposed CD cover

Recently, NPR’s exceptional blog “Deceptive Cadence’ featured a fine review of the album, in which the well-known former Beaux Arts Trio violinist Daniel Hope stars, and an interview with the young German-born British composer Max Richter (below).

Max Richter

I find it a quintessentially postmodern project, but one which I find quite effective – and which I think Vivaldi himself might like and approve of. After all, most of the great Baroque composers — including J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel — transcribed their own works and freely borrowed from and elaborated on or altered the works of their colleagues.

Here is a link to the NPR story and interview:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/11/21/165659291/max-richter-recomposes-the-four-seasons

And here are links to some other reviews:

Blogcritics.org:

http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-max-richter-recomposed-by/

The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/oct/21/max-richter-vivaldi-four-seasons

See what you think and let me know.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The classical music nominations for the 2013 Grammy Awards can provide a helpful holiday gift shopping guide. Part 2 of 2.

December 9, 2012
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

On Wednesday night, the nominations for the 55th annual Grammy Awards, to be awarded in early 2013, were announced and posted. The actual air time on the TV show goes to the more popular genres such as rock, pop, hip-hop, country and the like.

You can tell that by the numbers listed next to the various classical categories, numbers that I left in. They are a good indication of the priority of classical music to The Industry.

But as I have done in past years, I will post this list in two installments over the weekend. The nominations can help guide you to some fine holiday gifts for classical buffs. And shopping, whether in brick-and-mortar stores or on the Internet, will be in high gear this weekend and for the next several weekends, I imagine.

Grammy

I won’t provide a lot of commentary on the Grammy nominations, although I will provide more detail commentary by other critics and bloggers as they appear.

But I will remark on how the Grammys seem to be getting further and further away from standard composers and works.

Similarly, the Grammys seem to be focusing on smaller and less well-known labels. Many of which are the in-house labels of the performing organizations. Of course, that is also a trend in the recording industry, and the Grammys exist to promote the recording industry.

The final awards will be announced live on Feb. 10, 2013 at 8 p.m. EST on the CBS network.

You can also find the complete list of nominations and, later, winners at www.grammy.com

Any comments or advice to others you can provide about the nominees would be appreciated. Just use the COMMENT section.

So, maestro, a drum roll, please! Here is part 2 of 2:

 72. BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

Adams: Harmonielehre & Short Ride In A Fast Machine: Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony); [SFS Media]

Mahler: Symphony No. 1: Iván Fischer, conductor (Budapest Festival Orchestra); [Channel Classics]

Music For A Time Of War: Carlos Kalmar, conductor (Oregon Symphony); [PentaTone Classics] (below)

Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances: Valery Gergiev, conductor (London Symphony Orchestra); [LSO Live]

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 5: Osmo Vänskä, conductor (Minnesota Orchestra); [BIS]

Music in a Time of War

73. BEST OPERA RECORDING

Berg: Lulu: Michael Boder, conductor; Paul Groves, Ashley Holland, Julia Juon & Patricia; Petibon; Johannes Müller, producer (Symphony Orchestra Of The Gran Teatre Del Liceu); [Deutsche Grammophon]

Handel: Agrippina; René Jacobs, conductor; Marcos Fink, Sunhae Im, Bejun Mehta, Alexandrina; Pendatchanska & Jennifer Rivera (Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin); [Harmonia Mundi]

Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress; Vladimir Jurowski, conductor; Topi Lehtipuu, Miah Persson & Matthew Rose; Johannes Müller, producer (London Philharmonic Orchestra; Glyndebourne Chorus); [Opus Arte]

Vivaldi: Teuzzone: Jordi Savall, conductor; Delphine Galou, Paolo Lopez, Roberta Mameli, Raffaella; Milanesi & Furio Zanasi (Le Concert Des Nations); [Naïve Classique]

Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen: James Levine & Fabio Luisi, conductors; Hans-Peter König, Jay Hunter Morris, Bryn Terfel & Deborah Voigt; Jay David Saks, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus); [Deutsche Grammophon] (below)

Wagner Ring DG Levine Luisi

74. BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

Handel: Israel In Egypt: Julian Wachner, conductor (Trinity Baroque Orchestra; Trinity Choir Wall Street); [Musica Omnia]

Life & Breath – Choral Works By René Clausen; Charles Bruffy, conductor (Matthew Gladden, Lindsey Lang, Rebecca Lloyd, Sarah Tannehill & Pamela Williamson; Kansas City Chorale); [Chandos]

Ligeti: Requiem; Apparitions; San Francisco Polyphony. Peter Eötvös, conductor (Barbara Hannigan & Susan Parry; WDR Sinfonieorchester; Köln; SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart & WDR Rundfunkchor Köln); [BMC] (below)

The Nightingale. Stephen Layton, conductor (Michala Petri; Danish National Vocal Ensemble); [OUR Recordings]

Striggio: Mass For 40 & 60 Voices. Hervé Niquet, conductor (Le Concert Spirituel); [Glossa]

Ligeti San Francisco

75. BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

Americana. Modern Mandolin Quartet; [Sono Luminus]

Meanwhile. Eighth Blackbird. [Cedille Records] (below)

Mind Meld. ZOFO Duet; [Sono Luminus]

Profanes Et Sacrées. Boston Symphony Chamber Players; BSO Classics]

Rupa-Khandha. Los Angeles Percussion Quartet; [Sono Luminus].

Meanwhile eighth blackbird

76. BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Clavier. András Schiff; [ECM New Series] (below)

The Complete Harpsichord Works Of Rameau. Jory Vinikour; [Sono Luminus]

Gál & Elgar: Cello Concertos. Claudio Cruz, conductor; Antonio Meneses (Northern Sinfonia); [AVIE Records]

Holst: The Planets. Hansjörg Albrecht; [Oehms Classics]

Kurtág & Ligeti: Music For Viola. Kim Kashkashian; [ECM New Series]

Schiff Bach WTC ECM

77. BEST VOCAL SOLO

Debussy: Clair De Lune. Natalie Dessay (Henri Chalet; Philippe Cassard, Karine Deshayes & Catherine Michel; Le Jeune Coeur De Paris); [Virgin Classics]

Homecoming – Kansas City Symphony Presents Joyce DiDonato. Joyce DiDonato (Michael Stern; Kansas City Symphony); [Kansas City Symphony]

Paris Days, Berlin Nights. Ute Lemper (Stefan Malzew & Vogler Quartet); [Steinway & Sons]

Poèmes. Renée Fleming (Alan Gilbert & Seiji Ozawa; Orchestre National De France & Orchestre Philharmonique De Radio France); [Decca Records] (below)

Sogno Barocco. Anne Sofie Von Otter (Leonardo García Alarcón; Sandrine Piau & Susanna Sundberg; Ensemble Cappella Mediterranea); [Naïve Classique]

renee fleming poemes

78. BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM 

Partch: Bitter Music. Partch Ensemble; John Schneider, producer. [Bridge Records, Inc.]

Penderecki: Fonogrammi; Horn Concerto; Partita; The Awakening Of Jacob; Anaklasis. Antoni Wit, conductor; Aleksandra Nagórko & Andrzej Sasin, producers; [Naxos]

Une Fête Baroque. Emmanuelle Haïm, conductor; Daniel Zalay, producer; [Virgin Classics] (below)

Fete Baroque

79. BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

Hartke, Stephen: Meanwhile – Incidental Music To Imaginary Puppet Plays. Stephen Hartke, composer (Eighth Blackbird); Track from: Meanwhile; [Cedille Records]

León, Tania: Inura For Voices, Strings & Percussion. Tania León, composer (Tania León, Son Sonora Voices, DanceBrazil Percussion & Son Sonora Ensemble); Track from: In Motion; [Albany Records].

Praulins, Ugis: The Nightingale. Ugis Praulins, composer (Stephen Layton, Michala Petri & Danish National Vocal Ensemble); Track from: The Nightingale; [OUR Recordings]

Rautavaara, Einojuhani: Cello Concerto No. 2 ‘Towards The Horizon’. Einojuhani Rautavaara, composer (Truls Mørk, John Storgårds & Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra); Track from: Rautavaara: Modificata; Percussion Concerto ‘Incantations’; Cello Concerto No. 2 ‘Towards The Horizon’; [Ondine]

Stucky, Steven: August 4, 1964. Steven Stucky, composer; Gene Scheer, librettist (Jaap Van Zweden, Dallas; Symphony Chorus & Orchestra); [DSO Live] (below)

Steve Stucky Aug. 4, 1964


Classical music: Looking for a great holiday music gift? Look to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in a new book and recording that show how revolutionary and radical the work is.

November 24, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, it started with Gray Thursday and yesterday proceeded to Black Friday. Today is Small Business/Shop Local Saturday and then we move on to Cyber-Monday.

Yes, the holiday gift-giving season– and especially gift-BUYING season — is upon us. And how!!!

The Ear has long proposed combining a book, a CD and a ticket to a live performance.

And this year offers a perfect chance.

Take no doubt the most famous four notes –- made up of just two tones, a minor third – in all of classical music.

They are: DUH-DUH-DUH-DAHHHH.

Say it out loud and you will recognize at once the “fate knocking on the door” motif opening of the Symphony No. 5 in C Minor by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), a work of unparalleled forcefulness for its time – of any time really. It was the “Rite of Spring” of its day.

Half a century ago, Leonard Bernstein (below) discussed Beethoven’s Fifth in a wonderfully lucid talk. He particularly emphasized the inevitability of all the repetitions at the end. I can still see Lenny on TV standing on a floor that was covered with the score that he was discussing.
Well, lo these many years later come two other Great Explainers. 

The first is Boston Globe writer and critic come Matthew Guerrieri (below top) in his book “The First Four Notes: Beethoven’s Fifth and the Human Imagination” (below bottom), which is available as both a regular book and an e-book/Kindle.

The second is the award-winning Sir John Eliot Gardiner (below), who conducts and records with the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, (the ORR, or Revolutionary and Romantic Orchestra) and who gives his take on the opening of the famous symphony, which he has just released a new recording from live performances of the Fifth and the Seventh Symphonies at Carnegie Hall.

Gardiner and Guerrieri also talked to NPR host Robert Siegel on “All Things Considered” about how period-instrument playing has evolved from historical accuracy to more expressive and visceral playing and the role the Romanticism, the French Revolution and the role that the newly invented metronome played in helping Beethoven decide how fast the symphony should be played.

You can find the story on NPR’s always outstanding classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

Here is a link. Take a listen and tell me it isn’t like hearing this iconic work with new ears – and makes you want to share the news and beauty by giving them as a gift.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/11/19/165495617/beethovens-famous-4-notes-truly-revolutionary-music

Do you have a favorite recording of Beethoven’s Fifth that you recommend? (I personally like Carlos Kleiber and the Vienna Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon).

Leave a COMMENT with your pick.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Which composer, or piece of music, or performer, do you most give thanks for?

November 22, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.

I give thanks for all kinds of music and don’t know how I would live without music. I think of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (below) and his observation in “The Twilight of the Gods”: “Life without music would be a mistake.”

But is there a special reason for or object of my gratitude?

It can and does change from year to year, from age to age, from mood to mood, and from event to event.

But at any given moment there is usually a piece of music for which I give special thanks, music that seems to embody and enhance and grace my existence. Bach and Mozart have done it. So have Chopin and Schumann. Beethoven does it, but to a lesser degree generally.

These days the composer that I, as a devoted amateur pianist, most give thanks for is Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and the pieces by Schubert I most give thanks for are two.

First comes the big last Piano Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960, which I can’t play, but the poignant and haunting beginning of which – to say nothing of the rest of the sonata  — is especially moving and memorable as performed by Alfred Brendel in his “Farewell Concert” for Decca recording and by Murray Perahia in a Sony Classical set of the last three piano sonatas.

Second comes the miniature “Allegretto” in C Minor, D. 915, also a very late and intimately bittersweet work, which I can play, and which I enjoy as performed by Paul Lewis (on Harmonium Mundi, below) and Maurizio Pollini (on Deutsche Grammophon).

I find Schubert’s warmth and sense of empathy so very touching. His sublime melodies, his sudden major-minor harmony shifts, his sense of accessible counterpoint, his blending of joy and tragedy -– they all are irresistible. Schubert’s music contains worlds, and reassuring worlds at a time when I need to be reassured, and at a time when I also think the world needs to be reassured.

And there is so much music to choose from: the hundreds of fabulous songs and song cycles; the late string quartets, the otherworldly String Quintet, the Octet and the “Trout” Quintet; the Sonatas, Impromptus and Moments Musicaux for solo piano.

 

In a similar way, famed New York Times senior music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) touched on this same theme in a “Musical Moments” column that he published last week and in which he talked about longtime favorite passages or moments in music by Chopin, Wagner, Puccini and Stravinsky. He even coupled his thoughts to short audio-visual clips he made especially to accompany the column.

You should read and listen to the column, plus pay attention to the more than 600 reader comments:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/18/arts/music/anthony-tommasinis-musical-moments.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

And here are links to the short videos that he did to go with his column:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/16/musical-moments-what-moves-us/

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/19/musical-moments-part-ii-a-new-video-on-mahler/

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/musical-moments-part-iii-two-operas/

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/21/musical-moments-part-iv-stravinskys-symphony-of-psalms/

And just as Anthony Tommasini asked you for your favorite moments, I am also asking you to leave something in the COMMENT section with the name of the composer or piece of music for which you are most giving thanks this Thanksgiving.

Let me know what they are.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!


Classical music: Deutsche Grammophon will release the Met’s new and controversial production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle on 8 DVDs plus a 2-DVD collection of highlights and a 1-DVD documentary in mid-September to mark the composer’s bicentennial in 2013.

August 26, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Attention Wagner fans: Get ready for Valhalla in your home!

The Ear has received word that Deutsche Grammophon will release an 8-DVD recording of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle next month. It will include a 1-DVD documentary plus a 2-DVD set of highlights – a very smart marketing move, says The Ear — as well as the complete set of four operas.

Say what you will about the Metropolitan Opera’s latest production of Wagner’s mammoth four-opera “Ring” cycle – that’s the production by Robert Lepage that was featured in the “Met Live in HD” broadcasts  — it generated a great deal of interest and controversy and divided partisans sharply.

And that kind of publicity is priceless.

So the acclaimed and venerable label Decca has announced it will release DVDs of all the operas plus a documentary and a highlights compilation next month – just in time for the Oct. 13 start of the latest season of “The Met Live in HD,” which can be seen at:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx

Here is the official press release from Universal and Deutsche Grammophon:

“For Immediate Release

New York, NY — Wagner’s “Ring” presents the ultimate challenge for any opera company, and the New York Metropolitan Opera’s new production of “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” unveiled between 2010 and 2012 and starring some of the greatest Wagnerian singers of today, is among the most ambitious “Ring” stagings ever mounted.

“The Met’s production, directed by legendary theatre visionary Robert Lepage, uses a 90,000 lb. “tectonic” set (below) -– an infinitely mobile, writhing, rotating raft of 24 individually pivoting aluminium planks that came to be nicknamed “The Machine” – in a dazzlingly cinematic staging that harnesses the latest interactive and 3D video technology to realize many previously “unstageable” aspects of Wagner’s epic drama.

“It is at once a state-of-the-art production for the 21st century and a deeply traditional Ring. In Lepage’s words, “it’s the movie that Wagner wanted to make before movies existed.” For the Boston Globe, it’s “a high-tech Ring with a traditional heart”. In the London Telegraph’s view, it’s “a triumph, at once subtle and spectacular, intimate and epic.”

“Already seen by over a million people in the theater and at cinemas around the globe, the Met Ring was filmed live in high-definition and is now being released on both DVD and Blu-ray to launch Deutsche Grammophon’s celebration of the composer’s bicentenary year in 2013.

With Bryn Terfel, widely acknowledged as one of the finest bass-baritones of our age, performing his first complete cycles as the embattled god Wotan and American soprano Deborah Voigt (below) making her role debut as his disobedient warrior-daughter Brünnhilde.

Other international stars include Jonas Kaufmann (below top) and Eva-Maria Westbroek as the incestuous Siegmund and Sieglinde, and last-minute stand-in Jay Hunter Morris (below bottom) – a thrilling new tenor from Paris, Texas – saving the day as the fearless but ill-fated hero Siegfried. The New York Times declared the cast “as strong a lineup of vocal artists for a Wagner opera as I have heard in years.”

Acclaim was equally enthusiastic for the cycle’s two conductors: James Levine, the Met’s longstanding Music Director, who has conducted 21 complete Ring cycles at the Met; and Fabio Luisi (below), the Met’s Italian-born Principal Conductor, who took over conducting the second half of the cycle after illness caused Levine to withdraw.

“Levine drew exciting, wondrously natural playing from the great Met orchestra”, wrote the New York Times, while “Luisi brings out the score’s three-dimensional detail and animal heat,” wrote New York Magazine.

Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Met since 2006, says: “Nothing defines an opera house more than its new productions, and there’s no new production that is more significant than a new “Ring” cycle. That is why I invited Robert Lepage, one of theatre’s great visionaries, to create our new cycle.”

Mark Wilkinson, President of Deutsche Grammophon, says: “We are thrilled to be partnering with the Met to help take Wagner’s spectacular, breathtaking music, boldly realized here by Robert Lepage, to as wide an audience as possible. Both collectors and newcomers to Wagner’s extraordinary world will find it at once spectacular, visually spell-binding and deeply thought-provoking.”

To complement the complete Ring cycle on both DVD and Blu-ray, Deutsche Grammophon is releasing two related titles: “Twilight of the Gods,” a 2-CD compilation of audio highlights from the Met’s “Ring” – featuring all the major stars of the production and such famous extracts as “The Ride of the Valkyries,” “Wotan’s Farewell,” the “Magic Fire Music,” “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” and the concluding “Immolation Scene”; and “Wagner’s Dream,” a frank and revealing documentary about the five-year making of the Met’s new Ring that has already been acclaimed as “simply the best documentary about the Met ever made” (Film Journal), “a must-see for any creative soul” (Cinespect) and “destined to be one of the classic documentaries about opera” (Philadelphia Inquirer).

Here are details:

“Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen”

Das Rheingold · Die Walküre · Siegfried · Götterdämmerung
& Wagner’s Dream  The making of the Ring

Starring in alphabetical order: Patricia Bardon, Stephanie Blythe, Richard Croft, Mojca Erdmann, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jonas Kaufmann, Hans-Peter König, Waltraud Meier, Jay Hunter Morris, Eric Owens, Iain Peterson, Franz-Josef Selig,· Gerhard Siegel, Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek plus The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, all under conductors
James Levine and Fabio Luisi and directed by Robert Lepage

8 DVDs 00440 073 4770
5 BD 00440 073 4771

U.S.  Release September 11, 2012

“Twilight of the Gods”

Wagner: Highlights from “Der Ring des Nibelungen”

Stephanie Blythe, Jonas Kaufmann, Jay Hunter Morris, Eric Owens, Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek and The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
under James Levine and Fabio Luisi.

2 CD 00289 479 0638

U.S. September 11, 2012

“Wagner’s Dream”

The making of the “Ring”

Documentary

Featuring Robert Lepage, Deborah Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Peter Gelb, James Levine, Fabio Luisi and the Metropolitan Opera

Directed by Susan Froemke

DVD 00440 073 4840

U.S.  Release September 12, 2012


Classical music news: Chinese pianist Yundi Li leaves EMI and returns to Deutsche Grammophon as his home recording label, according to the Wall Street Journal.

May 8, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There is good news to report on the recording front.

As of last Friday afternoon, the Hong Kong-based Chinese pianist Yundi Li (below) – at 18 the first Chinese pianist and the youngest person ever to win the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw (he did it back in 2000) – has left EMI and returned to Deutsche Grammophon.

Here is a link to a story in the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122790914204065299.html

And here is another link to an Asian site:

http://www.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Showbiz/Story/A1Story20120507-344346.html

This is good news because he was let go by Deutsche Grammophon when his superstar Chinese compatriot and competitor Lang Lang (below) was the big seller and demanded that Li be let go because Lang-Lang felt there just wasn’t room for two Chinese pianists at DG.

Then of course the best-selling and flamboyant Lang-Lang – nicknamed Bang Bang by some critics — sold out to Sony Classical that had gone shopping for him with a black check. He reportedly settled for a payment of $3 million – during a time when record companies were general cutting back on new releases and in-house artists.

So Li when to EMI, the British label that has had major financial problems recently.

For EMI, he changed his name simply to Yundi and recorded the complete Chopin nocturnes as the first installment of complete Chopin project that never materialized. He then recorded a live recital, with lots of Chopin and some Liszt, in Beijing; then he came up with an all-Chinese recital. All of the seemed like let-downs to The Ear.

Clearly, he seemed headed – steered, should I say — on the path to being the Lang Lang of EMI.

The charismatic and deeply musical Li deserved better than that. And now he has it.

I have yet to see an official announcement from DG or its parent company Universal, so I don’t know whether he will retain how new single name Yundi – which seems too precious and gimmicky — or return to Yundi Li, as I would like to see. (Similar to the way the punky British violinist Nigel Kennedy, below, went by the moniker Kennedy for a while and then came to his senses and returned to Nigel Kennedy.)

According to industry watchers and insiders like British journalist and critic Norman Lebrecht, for DG Li will record first popular Beethoven sonatas (the “Moonlight,” “Appassionata” and the “Pathetique”) and then Beethoven concertos for DG. 

That is a significant expansion of his repertoire and reputation, though his CD for DG of a recital in Vienna suggests those choices will be just fine. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see the results and should mark a major course change for the better in his career. I hope his programs and recordings become more exploratory.

Anyway, The Ear sends out Congratulations to Yundi Li, to Deutsche Grammophon and to all piano fans.


Classical music review: Phenom pianist Yuja Wang plays as sexy as she looks, but her new “Fantasia” CD is more nightmare than dream, and a waste of a major keyboard talent.

April 20, 2012
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As regular readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of pianist Yuja Wang (below). I like her and I like the way she plays – not just the alluring or controversial way she dresses.

No wonder, I say, that at 25  she is in constant demand on the concert circuit and has already been nominated for two Grammys out of the first three CDs she did for Deutsche Grammophon. She is the Real Deal. Just use this blog’s search engine to check out interviews and other posts about her.

Now comes her fourth CD, “Fantasia,” which was released last week.

Just looking at the promising title of this concept album gave me fantasies.

Well, I thought, now we will get to hear Wang is some really great repertoire: maybe a fantasy by Mozart; maybe Schumann’s great Fantasy in C Major or his fabulous “Fantasy Pieces”; maybe one of Beethoven’s two Fantasy Sonatas, Op. 27, including the ‘Moonlight”; maybe Schubert’s “Wanderer” Fantasy; maybe Chopin’s Fantasy in F Minor or Polonaise-Fantasy; maybe Brahms’ set of Op. 116 Fantasies.

But no.

This really is about Fantasia, not fantasy. There is little great music on this CD, which is why I am so disappointed. It is made up of largely encore-like pieces.

True, a very few are terrific works, like Chopin’s Waltz in C-sharp minor, Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s song “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel” and the Sgambati transcription of Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits.”

But, really, who needs a piano transcription of the Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? It only makes this CD’s title more reminiscent of the Walt Disney cartoon movie “Fantasia” than of the mystical and expansive genre that evolved out of the more formally structured sonata.

Wang plays as sexy as she looks. Her wondrous keyboard skills are evident in abundance. In her four Rachmaninoff pieces (three Etudes Tableaux and an Elegie), she goes go from calm and quiet to thunderously loud in practically no time.

Her single Scarlatti Sonata in G Major, K. 455, shows a wonderful sense of articulation, line and clarity, despite its fast tempo.

And the five early Chopin-like Scriabin preludes and poem, which she used to open her Carnegie Hall debut, show a masterly fluidness and lyricism as well as a refreshing transparency.

Every aspect of her astounding virtuoso technique is in evidence, as is her musicianship.

But why do we get the Bizet-Horowitz “Carmen” Variations, Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre” a la Horowitz and a transcription of Strauss’ “Tritsch-Tratsch” Polka? But do we really need another Horowitz (bel0w)?

Junk food and empty calories may be fun. But they are a terrible thing on which to waste such a major new talent. And this kind of repertoire just plays into the perception of Wang as a beautiful and well-dressed light-weight,more glitz and glamor than substance — which is NOT the case.

This is definitely NOT a CD The Ear will want to put on and listen through, though I occasionally might want to hear a piece or two at a time.

So I am still waiting for the concept album that her consummate skills – and her fans – deserve. I say Let Yuja be Yuja.

In short, The Ear gives this CD an A-plus for pianism and a D-minus for music.

Let’s hope the DG guys in Artists and Repertoire department let Wang do something more substantial in her next outing, though my bets are on the Prokofiev Third Concerto – coupled to a Prokofiev Sonata – which she recently performed and which is perfectly suited to her, as recent reviews proved again:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/14/arts/music/philharmonic-with-jaap-van-zweden-conducting-yuja-wang.html?_r=1

We’ll see what lies in the future.

In the meantime, stick to her first three CDs – etudes and themes and variations by Ligeti and Brahms plus big sonatas by Chopin and Liszt and concertos by Rachmaninoff — and you won’t go wrong.

What do you think of Yuja Wang and her other recordings?

What do you think of this latest recording?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Sexy superstar pianist Yuja Wang is this issue’s cover girl for BBC Music Magazine. But is the headline proclaiming “world domination” sexist or racist?

March 10, 2012
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

For sometime now, the young Chinese-born piano virtuoso Yuja Wang (below) has been gathering more and more press as well as more and more critical accolades.

For a second time, her Grammy nomination – this last one for two Rachmaninov concertos with conductor Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra for the Deutsche Grammophon label – failed to win. But it was a great recording.

No matter. Wang just she keeps on building her public profile and her professional success.

First, it was her astonishing abilities as a child prodigy. You can see many of those performances posted on YouTube, where you can also find her octave miracles in the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” performance she posted as an adult. (Also her video “The House of Flying Fingers,” made when Wang was younger.)

Then it was her last-minute substitutions for established artists and her ability to play white-hot music with steely cool nerves.

More recently, the young and attractive, leggy and sexy Wang was featured in headlines for wearing a sexy orange micro-skirt (below) during an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl where played Rachmaninov’s finger-breaking Third Concerto with ease, fluidity and strength.

Then she made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall in a more subdued black gown that featured a thigh-high slit (below, in a photo by Ruby Washington of The New York Times). But none other than New York Times senior critic Anthony Tommasini praised her musicality and virtuosity.

Her fees and the number of her bookings are both no doubt skyrocketing.

Yuja Wang is going, as they say, viral.

We will see what happens when her next recording, “Fantasia” (below) is released on April 10. It is sure to be a bestseller, I would bet.

In the meantime, the prestigious and culturally serious publication, the BBC Music Magazine has made Wang its cover story. That much is perfectly understandable, and to Wang and the magazine’s credit.

What is less understandable or justifiable to me is the headline, which asks is she is on the verge of achieving “world domination.”

Does that heavy-handed term strike anyone as not only excessive or sensationalistic but perhaps even sexist and racist, with its Cold War overtones of conflict and the “Yellow Peril.” Certainly, all things Chinese have lately been seen as the major challenge or threat confronting the Western world and Western civilization these days. Are they talking about piano playing and music and art? Or about global geo-political rivalries?

Anyway, here is a link to the story in PDF format (so it takes a few seconds to load). It has a lot of fascinating information, including Wang’s injuries and her recovery from them. She comes off as very likable as well as immensely talented.

http://rebeccadavispr.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Yuja_BBC-copy.pdf

Enjoy it.

Then let The Ear know what you think about the story, about Yuja Wang and her playing, and about the striking headline.

The Ear wants to hear.


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