The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What piece of classical music best celebrates Labor Day? And which pieces require the most work to play?

September 5, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day, 2106.

We spend so much of our lives working and so little of our art relating to that work. 

But there are exceptions, such as the great historic photo “Working” by Lewis Hines that is below.

Here are suggestions of work-related music and a listing from 2014 by the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR-FM:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/poll-what-music-best-captures-spirit-labor-day/

And here is a pie chart and a 3-part listing from WQXR-FM this year with music that pertains to labor as well as to the work needed to play a piece of music as well. Just place the cursor over the segment of the pie chart to see the title and composer:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/crowdsourcing/classical-music-labor-day/report/

working Lewis hine photo

WQXR usually broadcasts labor-related music on Labor Day.

Here is a link for listening via streaming:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/

The Ear guesses that other radio stations, including Wisconsin Public Radio and Sirius XM Satellite Radio, will do the same.

But feel free to leave suggestions that might have been overlooked in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

For example, The Ear thinks that the “Hammerklavier” Sonata and the “Diabelli” Variations by Ludwig van Beethoven qualifies as does the Symphony No. 8, the so-called “Symphony of a Thousand” by Gustav Mahler, the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. there are many, many others. It often takes hard work to make great beauty.

Anyway, tell us what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Labor Day!

 


Classical music: The St. Lawrence String Quartet will perform works by Haydn and the Midwest premiere of the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams this Friday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Plus, this Tuesday night UW-Madison alumnus and violist Elias Goldstein will perform a FREE concert of the famous Caprices by Paganini

February 1, 2016
1 Comment

ALERT: University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music 2011 alumnus and violist Elias Goldstein is on his way to Carnegie Hall in New York City to perform all the virtuosic 24 Caprices originally for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini. But first he will perform them here in a FREE concert that also includes other works with pianist Thomas Kasdorf, another UW-Madison alumnus, on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. (Sorry, no word on the rest of the program.) Goldstein will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Wednesday at 2:25 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

For more information, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/goldstein_paganini/

By Jacob Stockinger

How does a contemporary American composer channel classic composers from more than 200 years ago?

You can find out by going to hear the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ, below). The critically acclaimed string quartet will perform this Friday night at 8 pm, in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

St.Lawrence String Quartet 2016 2 BIG USE

Tickets are $27.50 to $42.50.

For more information, including reviews and video samplings, visit:

http://uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/st-lawrence-string-quartet.html

The program features two quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, including the popular and famed “Emperor” Quartet and the earlier “Joke” Quartet as well as the Midwest premiere of John Adams; String Quartet No. 2.

NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured an interview with Adams discussing Beethoven:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/11/10/450560466/john-adams-mines-beethovens-mind

But Christopher Costanza, the cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, recently gave an enlightening Q&A from the quartet’s point of view to The Ear:

christopher costanza playing cello

Can you briefly bring the public up to date since your last appearance in Madison, when you performed “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” by Osvaldo Golijov? Major residencies and tours? Major commissions? Major performing and recording projects?

The St. Lawrence String Quartet has been busy with a wide range of projects in the years since our last appearance in Madison.

We’ve had a personnel change – our newest quartet member is Owen Dalby, our second violinist, who joined us in the spring of last year.

We happily continue as Artists-in Residence at Stanford University, where we are involved in a great number of activities, including teaching, performing, and collaborations with a wide range of schools and departments on campus.

And our international touring schedule remains very active, with concerts throughout North America and Europe; our most recent European tour, in late summer of 2015, included concerts in Scotland, Germany, Romania, Hungary and Switzerland, and we will tour Europe twice in 2016.

We’ve performed several pieces commissioned for us, including works by such composers as Osvaldo Golijov, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Samuel Adams, Jonathan Berger, James Matheson and George Tsontakis.

Of particular significance, John Adams has composed three works for us, two string quartets and a quartet concerto, “Absolute Jest,” which was written for the SLSQ, the San Francisco Symphony and the SF Symphony’s music director Michael Tilson Thomas.

We’ve performed “Absolute Jest” on several national and international tours with the San Francisco Symphony, as well as with the London Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, and the New World Symphony. Our recording of the work with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas was released this past summer.

We’ve recently embarked on a recording project of the Opus 20 quartets of Haydn, and other recording projects are in development.

john adams absolute jest

Why did you choose to perform two Haydn string quartets to open and close the program, instead of a work by Beethoven, given the Beethoven influences in the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams?

We often perform programs that begin and end with a Haydn quartet, with a contemporary work (or works) in between. This showcases the great variety and brilliance of Haydn’s gigantic contribution to the quartet repertoire.

It also provides an interesting contrast between the earliest works for quartet and current compositional offerings, stressing the fact that Haydn (below) essentially invented the string quartet and paving the way for other composers to explore creativity in their compositions for quartet.

In truth, we do often program Beethoven (below) with the Second String Quartet by Adams. For this program, I think the Adams/Haydn juxtaposition will be a meaningful comment on the evolution of quartet writing, from the early years to works of the present.

Beethoven big

As an exercise in compare and contrast programming, what would you like the public to know about the “Joke” and “Emperor” Quartets by Haydn? About Haydn’s music in general?

Haydn’s “Joke” Quartet, from his Op. 33 set, is, as you might guess, filled with humor and wit. The quartet is actually quite straightforward structurally, filled with robust and positive energy and simple, appealing melodies. It’s a compact work, inviting and charming.

The “Emperor” Quartet, from the Op. 76 set, comes from a later period of Haydn’s compositions, and it is a work of considerable length and weight. This quartet shows a natural link to Beethoven in its duration, dynamic contrast, emotional range, and overall musical substance. (You can hear Haydn’s “Emperor” Quartet performed, analyzed and discussed by the St. Lawrence Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Of significant note, the “Emperor” is named thusly for the second movement, a theme and variations based on the tune Haydn (below) originally wrote for the Emperor Francis of Austria as a sort of national anthem.

Haydn

What should readers know about the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams (below)? How is it similar to or different from his other works that the public knows such as “Nixon in China,” “The Death of Klinghoffer,” “Doctor Atomic” “Harmonielehre” and “On the Transmigration of Souls”? Will this performance be the Midwest premiere? Will you record the quartet?

John Adams’s Second String Quartet is very strongly based on two motivic ideas from Beethoven’s Op. 110 piano sonata, as well as a variation from Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations.

The Beethoven elements are clearly presented in clever and skilled ways, and I think many of them will be evident to the astute listener. Most importantly, John is brilliant in his transformation of the Beethoven quotes, and the piece is very clearly an Adams piece, characterized by driving rhythms, great energy, and a true sense of musical intent and balance.

To get a sense of the piece prior to hearing it, I suggest listening to “Absolute Jest” (our recent recording) – another of John’s pieces inspired by Beethoven and filled with late Beethoven quotes – and the Op. 110 Piano Sonata by Beethoven.

We’ve performed the Second Quartet on several occasions since we premiered it at Stanford University about a year ago, but I do think our Madison performance will be a Midwest premiere. We are currently considering the possibility of recording the work, but specific plans have not yet been made.

john adams with pencil

What else would you like to say?

We’re thrilled to be returning to Madison after a gap of several years. It’s very exciting to be bringing a program of music by two of our favorite composers, Joseph Haydn and John Adams, and we think contrasting the two will be interesting and enlightening to all.


Classical music: Pianist Adam Neiman laments the neglect of piano concertos by Shostakovich and Poulenc, which he will perform this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

January 19, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This week, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will open the second half of its indoor season with a program that plays to its strong suits.

WCO lobby

The concert takes place this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, 211 State St,

The program feature works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

There will be the Overture to the opera “Cosi Fan Tutte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Symphony No. 6 in C Major by Franz Schubert.

In between will come two rarely heard piano concertos that feature the return of soloist Adam Nieman (pronounced KNEE-man), who several years ago made a fine recording of early Mozart piano concertos with the WCO and its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who possesses a mastery of the Classical-era style and has a special fondness for French music.

Adam Neiman 2 2016

Neiman will perform the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the Piano Concerto in C-sharp Minor by French composer Francis Poulenc.

Tickets are $15-$80 with $10 student rush tickets on the day of the concert. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information about the concert, including a lengthy biography of Adam Neiman, visit:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-ii-1/?utm_source=FY16+MW2+-+Adam+Neiman&utm_campaign=FY14+MW2+1.8.14&utm_medium=email

Adam Neiman recently did an email Q&A with The Ear:

adam neiman 3 2016

Can you briefly bring the public up to date with highlights about you and your career since you last performed here in 2008 with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded the early Mozart concertos?

I have been very actively performing over the last several years, since my last appearance with the WCO in 2008. My touring schedule has encompassed roughly 100 concerts a year, and I have had the pleasure of presenting some epic solo recital tours throughout the United States.

Specifically I have been engaged in three monumental projects: the Complete Liszt Transcendental Études in 2011-2012; Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and Diabelli Variations in 2013-2014; and the complete Rachmaninoff Preludes and Études-tableaux in 2014-2015.

I have issued eight recordings since the Mozart piano concertos recording with the WCO, and three more solo records are on the way in 2017. In addition, I have founded a record label, Aeolian Classics, formed in 2014.

I have simultaneously kept an active teaching profile, and in 2015 I was awarded the position of Assistant Professor of Piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. As a full-time member of the faculty, I have since relocated to Chicago, so now I am a fellow Midwesterner!

Composition has always played a major part in my musical life, and since 2008 I have written a number of works for premieres, including my Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, which can be viewed on my YouTube channel at:

You have chosen an unusual program. What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich? What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc? Why do you think both concertos are not programmed more often? Why do you perform them and what do you like about each one?

The Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) is one of my favorite works of all time, and when Andrew approached me about the possibility of performing it in conjunction with another concerto, I immediately suggested the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc.

dmitri shostakovich

Both works share certain core qualities, namely irony, humor, radiant beauty and spirited fun. These are works that do not disparage the concept of beauty, though they were both written during a post-war generation.

As such, rare moments of absolute Romanticism are intertwined with musical jokes, sardonic twists of phrase, and ridicule, rendering the messages of each piece complex and ironic. (You can hear Neiman perform the opening of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

At one point, during the last movement of the Poulenc, he spontaneously quotes George Gershwin’s “Swanee” in a moment of jazz ease, in between sparkly, jaunty sections of impish humor. In a sense, you could describe both pieces as tonal expressions of longing for a bygone era from the perspective of a bleak machine age.

From a compositional perspective, both works are solidly grounded in classical form, and both are ingeniously orchestrated, making use of each instrument’s range and dynamic qualities to draw out a maximum of character possibilities.

The piano writing is virtuosic, powerful, and expressive, and the combination will take the audience by storm – I think the WCO audiences will walk away from this performance humming passages of the works, and they will be delighted by the wit and charm that wins out in the end.

As to why the Poulenc is rarely performed, I can offer no other possible explanation than the innate closed-mindedness of many people in the music world.

Poulenc (below) is a composer who deserves a place at the very center of the main repertory. Yet due to the prejudices of the ignorant critics of his day who preferred to elevate the splendors of Germanic music to an Olympian height above the “avant-garde” of Russia and France, he, among others, garnered an undeservedly poor following.

Francis Poulenc

What would you like to say about performing in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Andrew Sewell, with whom you seem to share a deep musical affinity? Do you have plans to record something else with them?

Each performance I have played with the WCO stands out as a musical highlight for me. The orchestra is as fine as they come, and I am inspired by the love of music that seems to be the keystone of the ensemble.

Andrew Sewell (below) is not only a very fine conductor and exemplary musician, but I am lucky to count him as a close friend. We have a musical rapport that is powerful, with a long history, and it would be a privilege to keep performing and recording with him and the orchestra in the future.

There are no current plans in place to record together, but the experience of making the Mozart concertos CD in 2008 was so sweet, that I would be happy to do it again! Maybe a Shostakovich/Poulenc disc, hmmm?

andrewsewell

What else would you like to say?

I feel truly honored to be a part of the 2016 performance season of WCO, and I cannot wait to say hello to all my Madison friends!

For more information about me, please visit my website at www.adamneiman.com


Classical music: Master pianist and teacher Frank Glazer dies just shy of 100. He performed several times in Madison at Farley’s House of Pianos.

January 17, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Sad news comes to The Ear via his good friends Renee and Tim Farley, who own and operate Farley’s House of Pianos, on Madison’s far west side.

It concerns the death this past week of the Wisconsin-born and Maine-based American concert pianist and piano teacher Frank Glazer (below), who taught as an artist-in-residence for decades at Bates College. He continued performing in public right up until the end.

frank glazer 2

You may recall that the Farley store not only sells pianos but also features a distinguished piano recital series, which has featured Glazer.

Here are links to three stories and reviews that appeared on this blog about the legendary Frank Glazer playing in Madison:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/classical-music-critic-john-w-barker-tells-his-sideswiped-tale-of-two-concerts-as-he-reviews-the-isthmus-vocal-ensemble-and-pianist-frank-glazer/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/classical-music-pianist-frank-glazer-98-will-perform-haydn-beethoven-liszt-and-barber-when-he-returns-to-farleys-house-of-pianos-this-sunday-afternoon/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/classical-music-at-96-pianist-frank-glazer-returns-to-farley’s-this-friday-night-to-perform-an-impressive-program-of-bach-mozart-beethoven-chopin-and-liszt/

Frank Glazer

The new season of piano recital at Farley’s — the Salon Piano Series — kicks off next weekend at 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon with Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev (below), who is also in town to solo in two piano concertos – in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and in G Minor by Felix Mendelssohn – with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra next Friday night at 8.

ilya yakushev 3

For more information about Yakushev’s recital of music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann and Sergei Prokofiev at Farley’s, visit:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

But more about that recital that in another posting.

Here is what the Farleys (below is Tim Farley in his store’s workshop) write about a loss:

Villa Louis Tim Farley working on piano action 4

“We have sad news to report to you.  Pianist Frank Glazer died on Tuesday, Jan. 13, after a brief illness.

“He was scheduled to play at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Feb. 19, 2015 for his 100th birthday.

“He also had concerts planned around this time in Maine, Boston, Paynesville, Winston-Salem and one in Janesville that was co-sponsored by Farley’s House of Pianos.

“Frank told Tim that he understood that there were other pianists playing concerts at around age 100 but none of them played the difficult literature – like Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata and “Diabelli” Variations — that he played. (See the impressive list of a recent concert tour below.)

2012-2013 Season

A retrospective of piano repertoire in eight concerts performed by Frank Glazer during the course of his 32 years as Artist-in-Residence at Bates College (1980 – 2012).

Friday, September 14, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.

  1. Handel, Chaconne in G major

Mozart, Adagio in B minor, K. 540

Beethoven, Sonata in C minor, Op. 13

Debussy, Suite Bergamasque

Chopin Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op. 61

Chopin, Ballade in G minor, Op. 23

Encore: Chopin, Mazurka, Op. 17, No. 4

Friday, October 12, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.

  1. Schoenberg, Six Short Pieces, Op. 19

Schubert, Sonata in A Major, D. 959

Brahms, Fantaisies, Op. 116

Chopin, Berceuse, Op. 57

Chopin, Impromptu in G-Flat major, Op. 51

Chopin, Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49

Encore: Chopin, Nocturne, Op. 27 No. 2

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 7:30 PM

III.      Bach, Toccata in D major, BWV 912

Mozart, Rondo in A minor, K. 511

Beethoven, Sonata in C minor, Op. 111

Ravel, Valses nobles et sentimentales

Chopin, Nocturne in B major, Op. 9 No. 3

Chopin, Etude in A-flat major, Op. 10, No. 10

Chopin, Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante in E major, Op. 22

Encore: Ravel, Pavane

Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 3 p.m.

  1. Franck, Prélude, Chorale and Fugue

Weber, Sonata in A-flat major, Op. 39

Gershwin, Preludes for piano

Barber, Excursions for the piano

Copland, Piano Variations (1930)

Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 35, Book II

Encore: Weber Rondo brillant (La Gaitié), Op. 62

Sunday, January 13, 2012 at 3:00 PM

  1. Mendelssohn, Songs Without Words:

Book V, Op. 62, No. 1

Book VI, Op. 67, No. 2

Mendelssohn, Rondo capriccioso, Op. 14

Schumann, Sonata in G minor, Op. 22

Liszt, Consolation No. III in D-flat major

Liszt, Concert Etude in D-flat major

Chopin, Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58

Encore: Mendelssohn, Song Without Words: “Spring Song”

Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 3 p.m.

  1. Berg Sonata, Op. 1

Beethoven, Eroica Variations, Op. 35

Brahms, Andante & Variations, Op. 18 (String Sextet)

Brahms, Scherzo in E-flat minor, Op. 4

Liszt, Sonetto 104 del Petrarca

Liszt, Franziscus-Legende No. 1 (St. Francis Preaching to the Birds)

Verdi-Liszt, Rigoletto: Paraphrase

Encore: Schubert-Liszt, Soirées de Vienne, No. 6

Friday, March 8, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.

VII.     Haydn, Variations in F minor, Hob. XVII:6  (Sonata – Un Piccolo Divertimento)

Schubert, Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960

Brahms, Three Intermezzi, Op. 117

Schumann, Fantasy in C major, Op. 17

Encore: Schumann “Träumerei”

Friday, April 5, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.

VIII.   Beethoven, 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120

Beethoven, Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106

Frank Glazer at the piano

“Tim called Frank late one evening and asked if he had called too late. Frank told Tim that he was usually up every night until midnight playing the piano.

“Tim asked him how much playing he did every day.  He said that he usually played six hours, but on the days he went to his yoga class, he only played four hours.  He said this was how he was able to keep a concert schedule like the 2012-2013 season, which featured big and technically difficult works.

Frank Glazer at piano

“Frank was so enthused about preparing the concerts for his 100th birthday that he already projecting what he might play for his 101st birthday!

“We feel so fortunate to have been able to get to know this remarkable person and to hear him play.

“There will be a memorial gathering announced at a later date.

“Best regards,

“Renee and Tim Farley”

Editor’s Note: Below is a YouTube video of Glazer playing the “Trois Gymnopedies” of the eccentric French composer Erik Satie. They possess the right contemplative and slightly sorrowful mood for memorial thoughts about  the end of a great life and great career. And if you click on Show More on the YouTube site, you can read the impressive biography of Glazer, who was born in Wisconsin and who studied with Artur Schnabel and Arnold Schoenberg in Berlin, Germany.

 


Classical music: Can young performers do justice to great and mature masterpieces of music?

January 8, 2015
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There are so many gifted young professional musicians on the concert stage today.

And yet many of them have doubts about performing mature and late masterpieces by such great and profound composers as Ludwig van Beethoven (below top) and Franz Schubert (below bottom and at the bottom in a YouTube video of Alfred Brendel playing his last piano sonata).

Beethoven big

Franz Schubert big

Do young performers really have to wait longer or suffer more in order to enhance their understanding of profound music that derives from maturity and the composer’s own suffering?

That was the topic of a recent story by critic Vivien Schweitzer in The New York Times. The story had a great headline: “Wait, you have to suffer some more.”

It was an interesting question that was put to some of the great young performers today, including pianists Jeremy Denk (below top, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times), Leif-Ove Andsnes (below middle, in a photo by Tina Feinberg for The New York Times) and Yuja Wang (below bottom, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).

Jeremy Denk playing CR Hiroyuki Ito NYTImes

Leif Ove Andsnes at Carnegie CR Tina Feinberg for NYT

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Hall CR Hiroyuki Ito NYT

But it also covered string players, including the legendary cellist Pablo Casals (below) and Beethoven’s late string quartets as well his late piano sonatas and the “Diabelli” Variations as well as the bigger instrumental works, like the “Goldberg” Variations and solo cello suites of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Casals

And one performer, pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, made the case that Frederic Chopin (below) was the most difficult composer to play well, even harder than Beethoven. Curiously, no mention was made of the often knotty late piano music by Johannes Brahms. And conductors were not mentioned.

Chopinphoto

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/arts/music/musicians-grapple-with-beethoven.html?_r=0

The Ear thinks it all depends on the performer. Some young performers are deeply capable of profundity. And yet there is no denying that age, maturity and experience often bring new points of view or perspective on great art.

But some older performers also remain pretty superficial.

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


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