The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The New Hyperion Jazz Babies perform Sunday to raise funds for The Karlos and Melinda Moser Opera Ticket Fund and to mark 35 years of Opera Props

November 4, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features S. Christian Collins and Alyssa Smith, piano and harpsichord, performing music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Ludwig van Beethoven, Claude Debussy and S. Christian Collins.

By Jacob Stockinger 

A friend writes:

The New Hyperion Orchestra, the New Hyperion Jazz Babies and friends celebrate the 35th anniversary of Opera Props — the supporting group for University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — with a benefit fundraiser to support the Karlos and Melinda Moser Opera Ticket Fund.

The concert, entitled, “What’s Wrong with Me? Love, Phobias and other Ailments,” will take place on this Sunday, Nov. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, and will feature show tunes about maladies that have plagued the human race for centuries. (The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in Music Hall, below, at the foot of Bascom Hill on North Park Street.)

MusicHall2

Karlos Moser (below left), who founded Opera Props and saw five renovations of Music Hall during his 36 years as UW-Madison’s Opera Director, celebrates his 85th birthday this year. But age is no matter to a seasoned performer. Moser will head the concert as lead vocalist, crooning about everything from Spoonerisms to Arachnophobia.

Joining him are his wife, Melinda Moser (below right), on the piano, clarinetist Eric Ellis, violinist Rebecca Mackie, and bassist Ben Ferris. Together, they create the New Hyperion Jazz Babies, an offshoot of the Original Hyperion Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra.

Karlos and Melinda Moser

“Last year, we celebrated the 40th year reunion of the founding of the OHOFTO with some of the original members,” says Moser. “We now want to pass on this rich tradition to a new generation.”

The Original Hyperion, founded in Madison in 1974 by Rick Mackie and Moser, began with a mix of students and professional musicians, who quickly established their standing in this jazz-influenced style.

In the spirit of passing the baton, the Sunday concert will conclude with a number of student musicians, including three opera ticket fund recipients and students from Sun Prairie High School, along with their musical director, Steve Sveum.

Also making special appearances are tenor Fabian Qamar and soprano Nicole Heinen, both Opera Props recipients in the graduate music program, as well as a mystery guest from Fleet, England, who was a ticket fund recipient.

Tickets are $25 for general admission, with students receiving two tickets for the price of one. In honor of Karlos Moser’s 85th birthday, every $85 donation to the Opera Fund will be met with one free ticket.

Please send donations of any amount directly to the UW Foundation online at supportuw.org/giveto/operatickets, or by mail at US Bank Lockbox, Box 78807, Milwaukee, 53278 (memo: “Moser Fund for Opera Tickets”). $85 gifts may be confirmed at kmoser@wisc.edu or 608-274-1150.

General admission tickets are available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at http://www.arts.wisc.edu/ (click “box office”). Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. and the Vilas Hall Box Office, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Beginning one hour before the performance, tickets can be purchased at the door.

All proceeds will go to the Karlos and Melinda Moser Opera Ticket Fund, which buys expensive opera tickets for UW-Madison music students.

 

 

 


Classical music: The Ear hears the impressive young pianist Joyce Yang and thinks Madison needs more piano recitals. Plus, a FREE concert of female vocal duets is at noon on Friday.

October 22, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held 12:15-1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature sopranos Susan Savage Day and Rebekah Demaree with pianist Sharon Jensen in duets by Gabriel Faure, Jacques Aubert, Jules Massenet, Claudio Monteverdi, UW-Madison alumnus Lee Hoiby and more.

By Jacob Stockinger

There he was last Thursday, sitting in the lower balcony in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Ear was in Piano Himmel, listening to a masterful performance.

The occasion was a solo piano recital by Joyce Yang (below), an up-and-coming, prize-winning Korea-born and America-trained pianist, still in her late 20s, who was making her Madison debut.

Joyce Yang

And the same thought haunted The Ear, himself an avid amateur pianist, that also came to him during a fine student piano recital this summer.

That thought was simply this: Madison needs to have many more solo piano recitals.

The piano is perhaps the one most commonly studied musical instrument and is a staple of music education, so the potential audience should be there. The repertoire is vast and wonderful. And the piano just hasn’t been receiving its due compared to the many new choral groups and chamber music ensembles that always seem to be proliferating in the area.

The Wise Teacher recalls years ago when almost a dozen solo piano recitals happened during a single season. This season there are only three -– and two have already taken place.

One was the recital of Mendelssohn, Franck and Chopin by Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino (below top)  on Oct. 4 at Farley’s House of Pianos on its Salon Piano Series. (The Ear couldn’t go because he is was in Chicago that afternoon hearing a piano recital by Maurizio Pollini.) The second was by Joyce Yang. The third one will be the performance by UW-Madison virtuoso professor Christopher Taylor (below bottom) on Friday, Feb 26. (No program has yet been announced.)

Daniel del PIno square

Christopher Taylor new profile

Here is an afterthought: Maybe the Madison Symphony Orchestra could start a piano series like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra offers on Sunday afternoons?

Let’s be clear: This is a matter more of pleasure and education than of justice.

Take Yang’s performance, which drew an unfortunately small house of only 300-400.

The first half was remarkable for both the clarity and color she possessed. Ethnic themes, folk songs and folk dances, especially Latin American and Spanish in nature, united the first half of her program.

She opened with two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the three “Estampes” or Prints by Claude Debussy and two pieces from “Iberia” by Isaac Albeniz and three virtuosic “cowboy” dances by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera.

In all those works, Yang proved a complete and mature keyboard artist. Her technique is rock solid, but it is her musicality that most impresses the listener. The Ear was particularly struck by Yang’s command of dynamics, her ability to play softly and still project, and to delineate and balance various voices.

The second half, all works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, proved less satisfying to The Ear, if not to the audience. It featured two transcriptions of vocal works or songs — “Dreams” and  “Vocalise”  — by the late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild (below).

earl wild

Unfortunately, Wild himself possessed a Lisztean (or Horowitzean) command of keyboard technique. And like Franz Liszt (or Vladimir Horowitz), Wild just couldn’t resist adding Liberace-like flourishes, flash and trash to his transcriptions in places where simplicity rather than Big Chords would have more than sufficed.

At certain points in a Wild transcription, the work inevitably sounds louche or decadent and over-the-top, like something you might hear at a piano bar or in a cocktail lounge. In short, they are more piano than music. (You can listen to Earl Wild himself performing his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Then came  the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Rachmaninoff (below) in its revised 1931 edition. To be honest, this is a Big Piece that is full of sound and fury signifying not very much that The Ear can discern. (The Ear much prefers Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, preludes and Etudes Tableaux.)

To be sure, the bombastic sonata requires impressive and powerful piano playing, which must explain the muscular work’s popularity among professional pianists and certain segments of the public. It is a Wower and wow us it does, although many of us would rather be seduced than wowed.

Rachmaninoff

The sonata surely is effective in live performance and brought an immediate standing ovation. That, in turn, was rewarded with another Earl Wild transcription this time of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Too bad the love once again seemed overpowered by difficult but flawlessly executed scales and runs.

But putting those shortcomings aside, the sound of an amazingly played piano recital was such a welcome experience.

The Ear hopes that many more of them are somehow in store.

 


Classical music: The venerable Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble opens its 18th season with fabulous Baroque music fabulously played. Plus, pianist Joyce Yang gives a FREE and PUBLIC master class Wednesday afternoon.

October 13, 2015
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ALERT: Late news comes that pianist Joyce Yang will give a FREE and PUBLIC master class for the UW-Madison School of Music on Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Play Circle of the Wisconsin Union Theater. On Thursday at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater, Yang will perform a solo recital of music by Domenico Scarlatti, Claude Debussy, Isaac Albeniz, Alberto Ginastera and Sergei Rachmaninoff. For more information about Joyce Yang, the concert and tickets, visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/joyce-yang.html

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) opened its new season in Madison with a fine concert at the Gates of Heaven on Saturday night.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble 2014

As always, the program was varied in contents and in performer involvements.

Running as a thread throughout was the artistry of University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music professor and soprano Mimmi Fulmer (below center left, in a photo by John W. Barker) and mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo (below center right), a familiar team.

At intervals, they sang a pair of madrigals by Girolamo Frescobaldi (most familiar as a keyboard composer); an extended setting by Marc-Antoine Charpentier of the Miserere Psalm, with concluding lines added from the Lamentations of Jeremiah; and an Ave Maria by the really obscure Dutch composer Benedictus Buns (c.1642-1716), also known as Benedictus a Sancto Josepho.

WBE Fulmer and Sanuda JWB

The instrumentalists (Nathan Giglierano, Mary Parkinson, violins; Brett Lipshutz and Monica Steger, flutes; Eric Miller, gamba; plus cellist Anton TenWolde and Max Yount, harpsichord, as continuo) joined with them variously as appropriate, to lovely effects.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

At one extreme of texture, violinist Perkinson, supported by continuo, played a richly demanding sonata by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. At the other extreme, all the players joined in for a vivacious finale with excerpts from the Suite in E minor from the first book of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Musique de Table (Tafelmusik) anthologies.

For me, however, and I think for a lot of the good-sized audience, the real high point of the program came just after the intermission, when the two violinists, with continuo, gave an absolutely smashing rendition of the Follia Sonata, the last of the 12 Trio Sonatas, Op. 1, by Antonio Vivaldi. (Below in an ensemble shot by John W. Barker.)

WBE plays JWB

In this tour de force of writing, Vivaldi surpassed his model, Arcangelo Corelli’s Violin Sonata Op. 5, No. 12, whose 19 variations, cascade one virtuosic extravagance after another. (You can hear the Vivaldi’s “La Follia” sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Fabulous Late Baroque music, fabulously played!

The WBE has been giving these concerts for the past 18 years. They continue to be unpretentious but thoroughly satisfying programs of Baroque chamber music in an appropriate chamber setting. Long may they continue!

The group’s next concert in Madison will be on Sunday, Nov. 29, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

For more information visit: http://www.wisconsinbaroque.org


Classical music: Can UW-Madison concert managers please do a better job of being audience-friendly?

February 12, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Charlene Adzima and harpsichordists Christian Collins and Leo Van Asten playing music by George Frideric Handel, Domenico Scarlatti, Johann Pachelbel, Adzima and Collins.

FUS1jake

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is another catch-up posting after an extremely busy week of concerts and previews.

A very large crowd turned out for the Jan. 30 “Schubertiade” (below) – the second annual one at the UW-Madison School of Music. And they were not disappointed with the music, all by Schubert and all wonderful.

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

It proved to be simply one of the best and most enjoyable concerts of the season.

However, there was something to leave one disappointed.

That is the reception that a lot of audience members received when they arrived at Mills Hall.

It was a very cold and snowy night, with some parking problems due to the weather and a hockey game. So understandably, many people left home early because of traffic and arrived at the hall early.

But they were left standing in the hallway, milling around as the doors opened and let in cold air.

“It’s like they’re cattle,” someone remarked.

And indeed it was. Just look at the photo below.

Crowd at 2015 Schubertiade

Now, the school advertises that the doors to the hall will be open one-half hour before concert time.

But that did NOT happen.

This time the excuse we were told was that the performers were still practicing up until maybe 15 minutes or so before the doors opened. Plus, The Ear is told, there were some unexpected problems with setting up the stage and opening the door.

Mistakes and accidents happen. Probably the wait was not intentional.

But this wasn’t the only time The Ear has experienced this kind of inconvenience. You can also see the literal crush of waiting people (below) in the vestibule at the last UW-Madison Choral Prism holiday concert at Luther Memorial Church.

Crowd at 2015 Prism concert Luther Memorial

I have also seen crowds standing in a snaking line at popular events like the UW Choral Union as they wait – and listen to the choral performers warming up.

That is just unacceptable.

Remember that, by and large, the audience for classical music is older. That means they have less strength. They may be taking medications. They often have balance problems. They are more sensitive to the cold. They may have had hip and knee replacements, so that standing in the hallway can be awkward and even painful.

Plus, there are damn few places to sit besides three or four benches.

So here is what The Ear proposes in the way of setting up some ground rules to ease the logistics and increase the audience’s comfort.

1) All performers must vacate the stage in Mills Hall 40 minutes before curtain time. That gives the performers 10 minutes to get out and the staff 10 minutes to get doors open and the hall prepared. No excuses and no procrastination. And maybe, we can hope, no audience frustration.

2) Put more benches or portable chairs in the foyer, especially in winter and during extremely cold or inclement weather.

3) Do what you promise to do and open the doors at least one-half hour before the concert.

4) Maybe open up a waiting classroom or area, away from drafts and with more places to sit while waiting to get into the hall.

5) Have another room available for performers who have to practice close to concert time.

What do you think of the problem?

And what solution would you like to see or have to suggest?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Music for the viola da gamba and harpsichord by J.S. Bach, Telemann, Scarlatti and Handel will be featured Sunday afternoon in a house concert by early music specialists Trevor Stephenson and Anna Steinhoff.

January 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s good friend Trevor Stephenson, the keyboardist and professional early music performer who founded and directs the Madison Bach Musicians, writes about his latest upcoming house concert (below):

House music 2 in the round

“Happy 2015!

“Next Sunday afternoon, January 11, at 3 p.m., virtuoso cellist and viola da gambist Anna Steinhoff (below) will visit Madison to give a notable house concert with a program of works by Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Anna Steinhoff

“I’ll also collaborate–from the harpsichord–on two of the pieces.

Trevor Stephenson marking scores

“The repertoire is listed below.

“Please let us know if you’d like to attend. We have about a dozen seats left. Tickets are $40 per person. Refreshments will be served. Call  (608) 238-6092 or email trevor@trevorstephenson.com

“The concert will be at our home and studio at 5729 Forsythia Place, on Madison’s west side.

“Sincerely,

“Trevor and Rose Stephenson”

PROGRAM:

“Suite No. 1 in G major for unaccompanied cello by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). (The movements Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Minuets and Gigue. The suite can be heard in a popular YouTube video, which has almost 6 million hits, at the bottom. It features Mischa Maisky on the modern cello .)

Bach1

“Sonata in D Major for cello and harpsichord By Georg Philipp Telemann. The movements are Lento, Allegro, Largo and Allegro.

There will also be harpsichord solos by George Frideric Handel (below top) and Domenico Scarlatti (below bottom).

handel big 3

Domenico Scarlatti muted

“Sonata in D Major for solo viola da gamba solo by Telemann (below). Movements are Andante, Vivace, Recitativ, Andante Arioso and Vivace.

georg philipp telemann

Sonata in G major for viola da gamba and harpsichord by J.S. Bach. Movements are Adagio, Allegro ma non tanto, Andante and Allegro Moderato.”

 


Classical music education: Classical music can help students study for final exams. Plus, the WYSO Harp Ensemble and Youth Orchestra perform Saturday afternoon.

December 12, 2014
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ALERT: Just a reminder that tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 13, at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, on the UW-Madison campus in the George Mosse Humanities Building at 455 North Park Street.

The Youth Orchestra (below) and the Harp Ensemble of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will perform.

The orchestra’s program includes The Roman Carnival Overture by the French composer Hector Berlioz; three excerpts from Act 3 of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” by the German Opera composer Richard Wagner; and the first, third and fourth movements from the Symphony No. 1 in D Minor by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Harp Ensemble will perform the traditional tune “Be Thou My Vision” as well as “Grandjany, Eleanor and Marcia”; and a medley of music by the Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini.

Call the WYSO office at (608) 263-3320 for up-to-date concert and ticket information. Or visit http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

Tickets are $10 for adult, $5 for young people 18 and under; and they are available at the door 45 minutes prior to each concert.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is officially the last day of classes for the first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The next two weeks are devoted to a study period and to final papers and exams.

That means classes are also ending at a lot of other public and private universities and colleges around the nation, The Ear suspects. And elementary schools, middle schools and high schools will not be far behind.

Final exams 2

So it is a timely time to post the results of research that shows that classical music -– not just any music, but specifically classical music, which lowers rather raises blood pressure –- can help students study and prepare for final exams.

It was published in advance of two radio stations’ scheduling of useful classical music in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California and in San Francisco.

Apparently, the secret is that it has to do with the embedded structure of the music itself.

The researchers, which range from the cancer center at Duke University and the University of San Diego to the University of Toronto, even mention some specific composers and musical genres or forms that exhibit that sense of structure in outstanding ways.

The composers cited include such Old Masters as Johann Sebastian Bach (below top), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below middle) and Johannes Brahms (below bottom). Richard Strauss and George Frideric Handel also were mentioned. Surprisingly, no mention was made of music by Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn or Franz Schubert.

But students should avoid loud and more scattered music, the research suggests. No “1812 Overture,” complete with cannons, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky! Such music is actually disrupting and counterproductive.

Bach1

mozart big

brahms3

Hmmmm.

Maybe that same sense of structure and regularity — especially noticeable in Baroque music as well as the Classical period and early Romantic music — also explains why those composers have appealed to so many people for so long.

It may also explain why student who study music  and go through formal music education often go on to high achievement in other fields.

And the preferred forms include solo music, including the piano and the lute, and string quartets. That makes sense to me since they are more intimate and less overwhelming forms. Solo French piano by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré  and Francis Poulenc come in for special mention. (I would also add the 550 sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.)

The Ear suspects that what works for final exams also works for other studying and homework in general and other intensive intellectual tasks.

studying to music CR Holly Wilder.jpeg

And maybe what is good for college students is also good for high school or even middle school or elementary school students.

final exams 1

I do have some questions: Did the researchers take the conflicting evidence about multi-taking into account? But I assume they probably gave that some thought. Still, you have to wonder.

Here is a link to the story:

http://news.usc.edu/71969/studying-for-finals-let-classical-music-help/

Do you have favorite music to study by? (One of my favorites is the Waltz in C-Sharo minor by Frederic Chopin as played with great discernible structure, repetition and variation — listen to inner voices — as well as incredible color and nuance by Yuja Wang in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Favorite composers, favorite kinds and favorite pieces?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Bummer!!! The recent recital by YouTube sensation Valentina Lisitsa proved tedious and showed that great pianists aren’t always great musicians.

November 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Valentina Lisitsa (below), the Ukraine-born pianist who has become a YouTube sensation, played a recital here last Thursday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. It featured music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Valentina Lisitsa

All four men were accomplished pianists as well as composers.

So you would have thought that nothing could go wrong.

But it did.

Big time.

From the time she took the stage, Valentina Lisitsa seemed ill-at-ease and unsure of what to do musically. What resulted was a very long concert with too much boredom and tedium.

Her default position seemed to be to play a lot, and then play some more. It turned out to be more like a marathon or a 19th-century “monster concert” than a typical piano recital. I don’t know what the intent of her program was except perhaps to show off her undeniable stamina.

Valentina LIsitsa playing

True, the “new media” phenom, who has a clear gift for self-promotion and who attracts avid groupie-like fans to her many YouTube videos and concerts, played for the better part of three hours and never seemed to break a sweat, even in the most difficult pieces.

But I have to concur with The Wise Piano Teacher who said: “It was the worst piano recital I’ve heard in my life, and I’ve heard a lot of them. I came home angry.”

The teacher wasn’t alone.

Except for a few of the miniature intermezzi by Brahms and a few of the ingenious etudes by Schumann, the piano playing seemed disjointed and the music too often lacked musicality.

Now, my instinct is to be generous and to make allowances. Maybe it was just an “off” night. Or maybe she felt ill or sick. Or maybe she has been overbooked or underrehearsed in recent weeks.

I do know that I have heard Lisitsa play much better, though she seemed at her best when she accompanied the gifted American violinist Hilary Hahn (below), who perhaps gave her some interpretive direction.

hilary_hahn

The Ear kept thinking of the response by Vladimir Horowitz (below) when somebody asked him why he didn’t take the second repeats in sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti or why he didn’t play late sonatas by Beethoven. “I don’t want to bore the audience,” he said.

Vladimir Horowitz

Lisitsa showed no such concern for the audience. In fact her program, her stage manner and her playing all seemed listener-unfriendly. At times, her recital even seemed condescending and disdainful of the ordinary listener.

Valentina Lisitsa at keyboard 2

As a critic, I have to call it as I hear it. But I take no joy in writing this. There are few enough solo piano recitals in Madison these days, and I had really looked forward to this one. Rarely do I want to walk out of a concert of any sort, especially a piano concert. But this time I did want to walk out -– and I did leave early, during a Franz Liszt encore that was his arrangement of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” I also saw some other serious music fans walk out even earlier.

As for the all-Romantic program itself, here are some snapshots or mini-critiques:

The “Tempest” Sonata by Beethoven (below): This great sonata was frequently reduced from a tempest to directionless wind by dropped or missed notes and choppy interpretation as well as by inattention to dynamics. It just didn’t make sense intellectually or emotionally -– and it is a great masterpiece of emotional depth. And certainly her playing of the same work in a live concert in Paris in a YouTube video at the bottom is better than what I heard live here. 

Beethoven big

The “Symphonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann (below top): Decca has just released an 85-minute recording (below bottom) of Lisitsa playing these pieces plus the complete Chopin etudes. She seems drawn to etudes, perhaps because they often favor fingers over music. And this woman has fingers and technique to spare, even if she lacks musical ideas. imagination and something to say.

Schumann photo1850

Valentina Lisitsa Chopin Schumann etudes CD cover

Selected Intermezzi by Johannes Brahms (below): She didn’t stick to the program, and didn’t announce the changes to the audience. She played 14, but after a while they all ran together and it seemed more like 114. Better she should have played a set of just three or four intermezzi as a quiet interlude –- which was their original intended purpose. But instead she too often rushed through them. We missed the poignant melodies and harmonies, the autumnal soulfulness of late Brahms, to say nothing of the careful construction and counterpoint he used.

brahms3

Sonata No. 1 in D Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below): The Ear thinks Lisitsa knew she has confused and lost her small audience when she went from the long Brahms set directly into the Rachmaninoff sonata. I heard some audience members wonder about what they were hearing – where Brahms had stopped and Rachmaninoff had begun. This sonata is a hard piece to hold together, and it didn’t help that she favored big noise over music, big chords over subtle voices.

rachmaninoffyoung

All in all, and despite a standing ovation — for her strength and brilliance, one suspects — The Ear found it a night to forget. I have heard Valentina Lisitsa (below) in better form and I wish I knew what happened here.

“Was she annoyed that the house wasn’t full?” someone asked. Maybe, although such an attitude would be highly unprofessional and too peevish or diva-like.

But I do know that when she next appears in a solo recital, I will think twice -– more than twice -– about attending.

That is too bad for me and too bad for her, too bad for the audience and too bad for the presenter.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

But everyone’s a critic.

What did others of you who attended Valentina Lisitsa’s recital think?

Did you judge it a success or a failure?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Scarlatti sonatas are hot again -– and not just at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which has its closing concert this afternoon.

August 31, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Trends come and trends go.

Who knows why?

A few years ago, it seemed as if I hadn’t heard the famous and overplayed “Appassionata” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in decades. Everyone focused on the last three piano sonatas. And then suddenly there were four or five live performances of the “Appassionata” within a year or two. Can the “Waldstein” Sonata be far behind?

This past couple of years, it also seems almost impossible to escape “La Valse” by Maurice Ravel -– in its two-piano version or its original solo version, or in modified solo version, or in its orchestral arrangements. Maybe the popularity of the work says something about the decadence of our times and our society. Or maybe it has to do with the centennial this year of World War I, which destroyed and demolished the old monarchical “waltz” societies, much as Ravel does in his postmodern deconstruction of the waltz.

In any case, you might recall that only last Wednesday night, the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival featured Smith College pianist Judith Gordon (below) in four Scarlatti sonatas along with 12 preludes by Frederic Chopin. (The festival closes with a SOLD-OUT performance of music by Franz Schubert, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy this afternoon at 4 p.m.)

Here is a link to the festival’s website with information about the artists, the program and tickets:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

Judith Gordon plays 2014

The Ear loved that program about the originality of short forms and keyboard music for both its insight and its beauty. Here is a link to my review:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/classical-music-token-creek-festivals-exploration-of-chopin-and-scarlatti-proves-beautifully-compelling-and-teases-ones-desire-to-attend-one-of-the-two-remaining-concerts-on-saturda/

I hadn’t heard live Scarlatti performances in a while.

But that will change soon, I expect.

Because voila!

It turns out that another trend is in the making. Scarlatti is hot again. There are several new recordings of sonatas by Scarlatti (below) that just came out. And they are featured on the exceptional Deceptive Cadence blog done by NPR, or National Public Radio.

The blog posting – “A Surge of Scarlatti Sonatas” – was written by blog chief Tom Huizenga and even features some sound samples from the various records.

Domenico Scarlatti

I’ll be anxious to see how they measure up to The Ear’s favorite recordings, which include, in approximate order, recordings by: Vladimir Horowitz; Alexandre Tharaud; Andras Schiff; and Mikhail Pletnev.

Here is a link to the NPR story and review. I hope you enjoy it.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/28/343705852/a-surge-of-scarlatti-sonatas

And let us know which one of the 555 sonatas by Scarlatti is your favorite. Slow or fast? Major or minor? Extroverted and dance-like or introspective and meditative?

At the bottom is a popular YouTube video of one of my all-time favorite Scarlatti sonatas, in B minor — Longo 33 or Kirkpatrick 87 — and performed to perfection by Vladimir Horowitz, who brings both clarity and soul to its almost prayer-like intensity.

I would also like to dedicate the performance and the sonata to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, for whom a free and public memorial celebration will be held today at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Include a link to a YouTube recording, if you can.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival’s exploration of keyboard miniatures by Chopin and Scarlatti proves beautifully compelling and teases one’s desire to attend one of the two remaining concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Plus, read two reviews of the festival’s opening concert.

August 29, 2014
3 Comments

ALERTS: The Ear wasn’t able to attend the opening concert last weekend of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival in the refurbished barn (below). But here are reviews by two local critics who did.

Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43447&sid=9664bddf418a3137f76a449de690c285

Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for the Classically Speaking blog of Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/August-2014/The-25th-Token-Creek-Chamber-Music-Festival-Happy-Anniversary-From-Start-To-Finish/

TokenCreekbarn interior

By Jacob Stockinger

As usually happens at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, the concert of the second program on Wednesday night was a collaborative effort in exploration.

In this case, three key players participated: returning guest pianist Judith Gordon, who is now a professor at Smith College; Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur Foundation “genius” award-winning composer, MIT teacher and co-artistic director John Harbison, who never fails to illuminate the music with his insightful brief commentaries; and co-artistic director and violinist Rose Mary Harbison, who programmed part of the concert as well as performed.

Rose Mary Harbison (below) also played the famous “Spring” Sonata for violin and piano, which John Harbison said pointed to how Ludwig van Beethoven — who aimed for the epic rather than the miniature — checked out the achievements of contemporaries and then figured out his own way to enter the mainstream.

Rose Mary Harbison also partnered with Gordon in a theme-and-variations piece by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a piece The Ear found a little bit charming and a lot underwhelming.

Rose Mary Harbison plays Spring 2014

Then, on both halves of the program, came music by Frederic Chopin and Domenico Scarlatti.

In the very capable hands of Judith Gordon (below), those two composers proved to be the axis of the program and a fascinating coupling.

Judith Gordon plays 2014

The two composers, one Baroque and the other Romantic, were chosen because they both focused on smaller-scale works. Exiled from his native Italy and isolated in courts in Portugal and Spain, Scarlatti (below) wrote 550 keyboard sonatas of astonishing variety, color and virtuosity.

Domenico Scarlatti muted

Chopin (below), on the other hand, turned inward in the bustling artistic scene and intellectual ferment of Paris, and focused on smaller forms -– none smaller than the Preludes played at Token Creek. They seem a kind of Rosetta Stone for deconstructing and understanding the structure of the rest of Chopin’s output; or perhaps they are like a Table of Contents, abbreviated guides to, or outlines or preparatory sketches of, so many other works.

Chopinphoto

But in both cases, as John Harbison explained clearly, the two composers narrowed down their ambitions to achieve the kind of unique and idiosyncratic achievements or originality that many other composers can only dream of achieving. They were like poets who find freedom in the formal confines of the sonnet form.

John Harbison picked two pairs of Scarlatti sonatas for Gordon to perform: one early pair in E major (one is the famous calling card of Vladimir Horowitz in a YouTube video at the bottom) to show Scarlatti at his compositional planning phase with pretty regular development; and two late ones in F-Sharp minor to show how later in life Scarlatti increasingly sounded as if he made things up as he went along.

For her part, Rose Mary Harbison selected two sets of six preludes each by Chopin -– he wrote 24 as a set, then added a posthumously published one –- to demonstrate much the same effect: the contrary moods and Chopin’s extraordinary gift for compression and brevity, for his ability to make a 30-second piece sound complete or whole, as if it has a beginning, middle and end. (At the bottom is a YouTube performance of one of the loveliest preludes on the program, the mini-Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, in a live performance by Maurizio Pollini.)

The compare-and-contrast strategy worked very well, as was demonstrated not only in performance but also in a Q&A-type interview (below) that Judith Gordon did with John Harbison.

Judith Gordon and John Harbison 2014

The Ear will long remember the unusual coupling, which is often the way Token Creek goes about programming unexpected matches, for the insight they shed on both composers, whose works, as it happens, I myself like to play on the piano.

It also tells us what to look for and to value at Token Creek: Unusual and unexpected approaches that yield unforgettable results.

Two more performances remain in this summer’s season, on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., and they will feature the pianist husband-and-wife team of Harvard Professor Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang performing music by Franz Schubert, C.P.E. Bach and Maurice Ravel as well as Rose Mary Harbison in the knockout Violin Sonata by Claude Debussy, his last work and one of his best.

Here is a link for more information and tickets:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

This year the festival is celebrating both its own 25th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below).

carl philipp emanuel bach

To history, the C.P.E. Bach anniversary no doubt matters more.

To my ears, however, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival anniversary matters more.

And despite C.P.E. Bach, whose music will by and large remain on my record shelf and not in my CD player, the night belonged to Domenico Scarlatti and Frederic Chopin.

It is not easy to shed new light on old masterpieces, but that is exactly what the Harbisons and Judith Gordon managed to do.

What can one say but: Thank You!

 


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival starts Saturday. It celebrates 25 years with observing the 300th anniversary of C.P.E. Bach and by offering a wide range of works and composers that includes a world premiere by Jeffrey Stanek and a Midwest premiere by John Harbison.

August 18, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Every year, it marks the end of the summer classical musical season in Madison.

But this year brings something special.

This year, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The festival opens this coming Saturday night, Aug. 23, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31. It features the usual lineup of outstanding imported artists, all assembled by the co-artistic directors, who are the award-winning composer John Harbison (Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”) and his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (both below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). This year, there is NO jazz cabaret.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

The five performances of three programs -– with two Sunday matinee concerts –- will all take place in the lovely renovated barn (below) in nearby Token Creek. The space is ideal for the intimacy of chamber music, which is important since the festival is more of a niche event for serious music fans than a popular or populist event.

TokenCreekbarn interior

In addition to the playing, John Harbison will provide his always pithy and insightful commentaries on the composers and the works.

The festival will focus not on itself and its own anniversary so much as on the 300th anniversary of the birth of composer Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (below), one of the composer sons of Johann Sebastian Bach.

carl philipp emanuel bach

The acclaimed musicologist and keyboard artist Robert Levin (below top) will return from Harvard University -– John Harbison teaches at nearby MIT –- and will perform with his pianist wife Ya-Fei Chuang (below bottom).

Levin with piano

Ya-Fei Chuang 2014

Boston-area pianist Judith Gordon (below) will also return to play works by Scarlatti and Chopin.

judith gordon

But once again, as is customary, fine local talent will also perform, including Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra principal cellist Karl Lavine (below top, in a photo by Brynn Brujinn), Madison Symphony Orchestra violinist Laura Burns (below middle, by Brynn Brujinn) and flutist Dawn Lawler (below bottom).

IV Karl Lavine, CR Brynn Bruijn

- Laura Burns CR Brynn Bruijn

Dawn Lawler

Rose Mary Harbison will perform Bach and Debussy among other works.

And new music will not be forgotten. There will be a world premiere of a specially commissioned piece by local composer Jeff Stanek (below) and the Midwest premiere of John Harbison’s own “Songs America Loves to Sing.”

jeffrey Stanek

Today, The Ear offers an overview of the festival with the artists, programs and concert information. Tomorrow, The Ear will offer two appetite-whetting essays: the first, by Rose Mary Harbison, talks about the festival anniversary; the second, by John Harbison, talks about the achievement and music of C.P.E. Bach.

For more information, including programs, performer biographies and archives, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org

For tickets ($30 with a limited number of $10 student tickets):

Call (608) 241-2524 or visit http://tokencreekfestival.org/2014-season/tickets/

Token Creek 2011 Mozart Trio, Levin, Harbison, Ryder

PROGRAM I: AMERICAN SPRING

Saturday, Aug. 23, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 24, at 4 p.m. (The Sunday performance is SOLD-OUT.)

Works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, John Harbison and Jeffrey Stanek will be featured.

Says John Harbison: “It would be inarticulate to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of C.P.E. Bach without the music of J.S. Bach and Joseph Haydn, both his origins and in some sense his destiny. Let’s not kid ourselves, these anchors have more weight than the ship we are launching.

“But CPE’s virtues are made clearest by juxtaposing his cheeky, mischievous and iconoclastic imagination against the stabilizing, normative and, finally, more clear-minded music of his father precursor and his successor ‘heir.’

“It could be said that CPE’s task was to dismantle some of his father’s synthesis, and Haydn’s was to reassemble, balance and clarify the brilliant musical vistas glimpsed by CPE.”

“Songs America Sings proposes to adapt J.S. Bach’s chorale prelude principle, his inclusion of familiar melodies as tugboats through unfamiliar musical waters, into a modern setting, the tune supposedly widely and currently familiar, the compositional terrain complicated by canons, re-harmonizations and diversions.”

The program includes:

J.S. Bach: Solo Violin Partita in E Major (selections)

Haydn: Trio in D major for violin, cello, and piano, Hob XV:24

Jeffrey Stanek: A WORLD PREMIERE (commissioned for the festival’s 25th anniversary) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

C.P.E. Bach: Sonata V in E minor for piano, violin, and cello, Wq 89, no. 5

John Harbison: “Songs America Loves to Sing” (Midwest Premiere) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

Dawn Lawler, flute; 
Joe Morris, clarinet; 
Rose Mary Harbison, violin; 
Karl Lavine, cello; 
John Harbison, piano
; Jeffrey Stanek, commissioned composer

TokenCreekentrance

Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 8 p.m.
 Works of C.P.E. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Frederic Chopin and Ludwig van Beethoven

“What can we say about a composer who winds up composing entirely, or at the least primarily, for one medium? Chopin (below) and Scarlatti both found that restriction to the keyboard, rather than limiting their resources, freed their imaginations. By immersing themselves in the sound and attach of a single instrument they each became more peculiar, un-imitatable, and irresistible. In small forms, they found snowflake variety.

“Anchoring the program, Beethoven, a universal large-scale composer whose Sonata in F somehow acquired the title “Spring.” If spring, it is the changeable, difficult weather, more showers than flowers.”

The program includes:

Scarlatti: Selected keyboard sonatas

Chopin: Selected Preludes for piano

C.P.E. Bach: Arioso with Variations in A, for keyboard and violin, Wq 79

Beethoven: Violin Sonata in F major, Op. 24 (“Spring”)

Judith Gordon, piano; 
Rose Mary Harbison violin

Chopinphoto

PROGRAM III: THE PERENNIAL AVANT-GARDE

Saturday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 31, at 4 p.m.

Works of C.P.E. Bach, Franz Schubert, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy

“Occasionally, but not always, composers decide to take it further, to write a piece with absurd levels of discontinuity (C.P.E. Bach’s Fantasy), radical conciseness and semaphoric, sketchy formal outline (Debussy’s Sonata), over-the-top nostalgia and apocalyptic prediction (Ravel’s La Valse), and form and scope too big for its medium (Schubert’s Grand Duo, for one piano, two players). A program of extremes: in the service of liberty — no vice.”

The program includes:

C.P.E. Bach: Fantasia in F-sharp minor for Keyboard, Wq 67; 
 Sonata in C Minor for Keyboard and Violin, Wq 78

Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano (heard in a performance by James Ehnes in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Ravel: La Valse (arranged for piano by Ya-Fei Chuang)

Schubert: Grand Duo, for one piano-four hands

Robert Levin, piano; 
Ya-Fei Chuang, piano; 
Rose Mary Harbison, violin

Tomorrow: Violinist and co-director of Token Creek Festival Rose Mary Harbison writes about 25 years of presenting the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Composer John Harbison writes about his changed appreciation of C.P.E. Bach.

 

 


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