The Well-Tempered Ear

The UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra will provide a welcome break on Election Night

November 1, 2020
2 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

If you find yourself needing some relief or a short break from vote counting and the barrage of election news this coming Tuesday night, Nov. 3, the masked and socially distanced UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) fits the bill.

The group’s refreshingly short, one-hour and intermission-free online video premiere begins at 7 p.m. CST on YouTube. There is no fee for watching the event in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the Hamel Music Center, although donations are welcome.

No in-person attendance is allowed.

The program features “Strum” (1981) by Jessie Montgomery (below, in a photo by Jiyang Chen); the famous and familiar Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler (which you can hear with conductor Claudio Abbado in the YouTube video at the bottom); and the youthful Sinfonia No. 7 in D minor by Felix Mendelssohn, who wrote 13 of the string symphonies between the ages of 12 and 14.

 

Here is a direct link to the UW-Madison music school’s YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/TMNCy9qooCM

Just a personal note of appreciation and encouragement from The Ear: If you are a fan of orchestral music and pay attention to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Middleton Community Orchestra, for example, then you owe to it yourself to become acquainted with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra if you don’t already know it.

It is that good, as you can hear for yourself in this virtual concert during the pandemic. You will probably find yourself wanting to hear more.

The programs are outstanding and often feature neglected, modern and contemporary music as well as classic repertoire, and the playing is usually first-rate.

The orchestra sounds exceptionally good, often even professional, under its new conductor Oriol Sans (below), a native of Spain who arrived here last season from a post at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Sans has provided remarkable leadership both in the orchestra’s programs and in accompanying the University Opera productions and the UW Choral Union.

For more information, including the names of the orchestra’s members, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-madison-symphony-orchestra-video-premiere/

If you listen to it, please let us know: What did you think?

Did the performances please or impress you?

Did you like or dislike the scheduling on Election Night?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: University Opera announces a new season that is politically and socially relevant to today. The two shows are a virtual revue of Marc Blitzstein and a live operatic version of “The Crucible.”

August 7, 2020
4 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

David Ronis (below), the director of the University Opera at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music, has posted the following notice about its upcoming season on social media.

The award-winning Ronis is known for being creative both in programming and staging. The new season is yet another example of that. It features one virtual original production about an American composer to see and hear online, and two live performances of a mid-20th century American opera.

Both works seem especially pertinent and cautionary, given the times we currently live in in the U.S.

Here are the details:

FINALLY!!!

Things have fallen into place for the University Opera 2020-21 season and we are happy to announce our productions:

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein — the Man in His Music”

“A biographical pastiche featuring songs and ensembles from Marc Blitzstein’s shows, spoken excerpts from his letters and working notes, and a narration. 

“Oct. 23, 2020

8 p.m. Video Release

____________________________________________________________________________________

“The Crucible” (1961)

Music by Robert Ward

Libretto by Bernard Stambler

Based on the 1953 play by Arthur Miller

March 19 and 21, 2021

Shannon Hall, Wisconsin Union Theater

_____________________________________________________________________________________

We will post more information as we get it. For now, we are very excited about both projects! Stay tuned.”

(Editor’s note: To stay tuned, go to: https://www.facebook.com/UniversityOpera/)

_____________________________________________________________________________________

And what does The Ear think?

The revue of Marc Blitzstein seems a perfect choice for Madison since his papers and manuscripts are located at the Wisconsin Historical Society. For details, go to: http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=wiarchives;view=reslist;subview=standard;didno=uw-whs-us0035an

Focusing on Blitzstein (1905-1964) also seems an especially politically relevant choice since he was a pro-labor union activist whose “The Cradle Will Rock, directed by Orson Welles,” was shut down by the Works Progress Administration of the federal government.

For more about Blitzstein (below in 1938) and his career, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Blitzstein

“The Crucible” also seems an especially timely choice. In its day the original play about the Salem witch trials was seen as a historical parable and parallel of McCarthyism and the Republican witch hunt for Communists.

Read about the Salem witch trials here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials

Now that we are seeing a time when Democrats and others with progressive ideas are accused of being radical leftists, socialists and destructive revolutionaries, its relevance has come round again. Like McCarthy, President Donald Trump relies on winning elections by generating fear and denigrating opponents.

For more about the operatic version of “The Crucible” (below, in a production at the University of Northern Iowa) — which was commissioned by the New York City Opera and won both a Pulitzer Prize and the New York Music Critics Circle Award in 1962 — go to this Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crucible_(opera)

You can hear the musically accessible opening and John’s aria, from Act II, in the YouTube video at the bottom. For more about composer Robert Ward (1917-2013, below), go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Ward_(composer)

What do you think of the new University Opera season?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Does Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” reveal anything about Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump”?

October 29, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

For generations, the conquests of the legendary Don Juan were treated as seductions.

But were they really rape?

The question is important in considering the masterpiece opera “ Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

don-giovanni-met-2016-simon-keeleyside

One blog writer for slate.com – Bonnie Gordon, who teaches a class on music and gender at the University of Virginia — draws a link between the charismatic historic nobleman and the current charges of “womanizing” and allegations of sexual assault made against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (below).

Donald Trump thumbs up

She doesn’t bring up whether the same discussion applies to former Democratic President Bill Clinton, but it doesn’t seem a stretch.

She raises questions about what is sexual assault, seduction and rape – and how the definitions of a “rape culture” have changed over time and depending on whether it comes from a man’s or a woman’s point of view.

She pegged her essay to LAST weekend’s broadcast performance of the opera by “Live From the Met in HD” with Simon Keenlyside in the title role. In the YouTube video at the bottom, with English subtitles, Don Juan’s servant Leporello sings an aria about his master’s thousands of “conquests.”

But despite the week that has passed since the broadcast of the production, to The Ear the essay still seems relevant as the national election approaches.

Here is a link to that essay:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2016/10/21/what_don_giovanni_an_opera_about_a_charismatic_rapist_can_teach_us_about.html

What do you think about the essay and its main argument or point?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Let us now praise women composers — with the help of a new history and recent political events

June 12, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Politically, this has been a historic week and a week to remember for women.

Democrat Hillary Clinton (below), the former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State,  became the first woman to win the presidential nomination – barring something unexpected or a surprising turn of events – of a major political party in the United States.

hillary clinton thumbs up

That victory was soon followed by an endorsement from President Barack Obama and from another promising woman in American politics: Senator Elizabeth Warren.

So it also seems a good time to take a long look back to the 17th century and discover women composers who were overlooked and who failed to crack the glass ceiling of artistic fame or sexism in the arts in their own lifetimes.

They include the Baroque composer Barbara Strozzi, the Romantic composers Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel and Clara Schumann (below top, in a photo from Getty Images), and the modern composers Lili Boulanger and Elizabeth Maconchy (below bottom).

(You can hear a lovely Romance for solo piano by Clara Schumann, a virtuoso pianist who championed the works of her husband Robert Schumann, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Clara Schumann Getty Images

Elizabeth Maconchy 2

The Ear doubts there is a better guide than Anna Beer (below top, in a photo by Jeff Overs) and her new book “Sounds and Sweet Airs: Forgotten Women of Classical Music” (below bottom):

anna beers CR Jeff Overs

Sounds and Sweet Airs

The historian and writer recently spoke with Rachel Martin of NPR or National Public Radio, about her history. Here is a link to the blog site, which also has links to related stories:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/05/22/478734604/sounds-and-sweet-airs-remembers-the-forgotten-women-of-classical-music


Classical music: Conservative Republican presidential candidate and Evangelical Christian Ted Cruz wants to ban the tritone – or Devil’s chord – from classical music. NOT. Then again, maybe he does

March 21, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the first day when you can vote early via absentee ballot for the presidential primary election in Wisconsin on Tuesday, April 5, when you can also vote to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court.

And tomorrow, Tuesday, brings more presidential primaries for both Republicans and Democrats in the Western states of Arizona and Utah. Plus, there will also be Democratic caucuses in Idaho.

So the following political piece — a pseudo-news report — seems timely and appropriate, especially given the drive by establishment Republicans to rally and choose the ultra-conservative U.S. Senator Ted Cruz from Texas (below) as a way to stop New York City businessman Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Sure, it’s a satire.

But it is a very well done satire — about something that was indeed banned in the Renaissance and Baroque eras by the Roman Catholic  Church.

But like so much satire, it is fun that also cuts close to the bone and contains more than a grain of truth about Cruz and about his many “first day on the job” promises if he gets elected president.

Cruz, the son of an evangelical minister, is such a devout and intolerant Christian fundamentalist, it is almost as if he is waging his own jihad, much like the Islamic terrorist state ISIS, on any culture he considers unChristian and heretical to his personal faith and what he considers to be the inerrant and literal truth of the Bible.

Hmm. Does that qualify him as an extremist or radical?

To The Ear, what is really and truly scary is Cruz — not the music.

And it is hard to say who is more threatening as a potential president: Donald Trump or Ted Cruz?

Well, make up your own mind, fellow music-lovers.

Here is the satire from submediant.com. It’s a good read with lots of details, specific composers and food for thought.

http://www.submediant.com/2016/03/15/citing-evangelical-faith-ted-cruz-calls-to-ban-satanic-tritone/

And here is a YouTube lesson in music theory that offers an explanation with examples of the Satanic tritone:


Classical music: What kinds of classical music and classical composers do the presidential candidates like?

February 6, 2016
3 Comments

ALERT: This Sunday night’s concert of new music for woodwinds and piano composed by UW-Madison professor of saxophone Les Thimmig, with UW-Madison pianist Jessica Johnson, has been CANCELLED.

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight is the last debate for the Republicans before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. It takes place at 7 p.m. CST in Manchester, and will be broadcast on ABC-TV.

This past week also saw both a town hall meeting and a debate between the Democrats – their last before the primary election (below, in a photo by Getty Images).

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders CR GettyImages

Here’s a question no one has asked them during the debates: What kind of classical music do you like?

I know, I know. The question has little relevance and little popularity.

But still.

The Ear is happy that the famed New York City radio station WQXR listed such preferences in its blog.

The Ear notes a couple of trends.

No specific pieces were named.

No sonatas or concertos, no symphonies or operas.

All the names of composers were extremely mainstream except for Arcangelo Corelli by Dr. Ben Carson (below), who also named Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi. Others mentioned Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH) - RTR3F2WE

Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS HEALTH)

Bernie Sanders’ preferred composer echoes his own populist and defiantly anti-establishment, even rabble-rousing, sentiments. Can you guess which composer he favors?

Why is The Ear not surprised that Hillary Clinton remains vague about composers and pieces, but says YES of course she likes classical music and even has it on her iPod.

And former businesswoman Carly Fiorina (below, in a  photo by Politifact) surprises one with her youthful plan to be a professional musician, a concert pianist. Does she still play? The Ear wants to ask.

Carly Fiorina CR Politifact

The Ear also wonders:

Does Evangelical Ted Cruz consider classical music frivolous or even sinful?

Does the Cuban background of Marco Rubio feel ethnically distant from European classical music?

And what about Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich and especially Donald Trump?

The Ear bets that country music, rock and pop music draw many more voters and gets many more votes.

But doesn’t anyone else think that the irresistible opening thee of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony would be a great dramatic call to arms for a candidate?

But who knows for sure?

Anyway, here is a link tot he WQXR story:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/classical-music-presidential-campaign-trail/

Now, The Ear doesn’t expect that this survey will change anyone’s vote.

Still, it is interesting as a sidelight to the much bigger and much more important issues confronting the candidates and the electorate.

And perhaps more specifics about their taste in music will emerge during the rest of the primary campaign and the then the general election.

Their individual culture quotients must matter for something.

What are your reactions?

What do you think?

Let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The piano played an important role in the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, whose democracy party just triumphed over the military in the election held this past week in Myanmar, or Burma.

November 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Often we lose a sense of the importance of music to non-musicians and to life outside the concert hall and conservatory or school of music.

Which is a reminder why supporting this weekend’s concerts by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has social and educational as well as artistic meaning. Here is a link to the WYSO schedules and programs;

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/classical-music-education-alumna-violist-vicki-powell-returns-this-weekend-to-perform-with-wisconsin-youth-symphony-orchestras-wyso-and-kick-off-wysos-50th-anniversary-season/

But this past week the world also received a vivid and dramatic reminder of just how important music can be in the life of the non-musical world.

It has to do with the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar, formerly called Burma. That is the party led by the democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi (below) – or The Lady, as her compatriots and supporters simply refer to her.

aung san suu kyi

During her 20 years of house arrest by the military, the piano helped her keep her sanity and her resolve.

And hearing her play the piano also reassured her neighbors outside her home in Yangon (Rangoon) about her emotional and mental health.

Exercise, study and playing the piano (below) all proved key during the 20 years of house arrest imposed  by the military on the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

It is also worth noting that to honor her, on its 50th anniversary, the famous Leeds international Piano Competition in Great Britain in the United Kingdom renamed its top Gold Medal in her honor. 

Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan even wrote and performed a special song, “Unplayed Piano,” for Suu Kyi in honor of her 60th birthday in 2005. You can hear it in there Youtube video at the bottom.

Aung San Suu Kyi playing piano

Here is an overview:

http://theappendix.net/issues/2013/7/solitude-and-sandaya-the-strange-history-of-pianos-in-burma

And here is another story with more specific details, including her favorite composers – Bach, Telemann, Mozart, Clementi, Pachelbel and Bartok — and how piano tuners, when finally allowed by the military to repair her piano, dealt with the forcefulness with which she sometimes played as well as with the effects of the hot and humid climate:

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/nov/15/world/la-fg-myanmar-piano-tuner-20121116

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/rangoons-piano-tuners-recall-the-vital-part-they-played-in-suu-kyis-struggle-7601138.html

 

 


Here is some classical music for voting in a presidential and Congressional election and waiting for the results.

November 6, 2012
1 Comment

ALERT: This Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW cellist Parry Karp (below), who also plays in the Pro Arte String Quartet, will perform a FREE concert. He will perform with pianists brother Christopher Karp and father Howard Karp. The program features “Angélus! Prière aux anges gardiens” from Third Year of “Years of Pilgrimage” by Franz Liszt; the WORLD PREMIERE of MADISON-BORN AND UW-MADISON-EDUCATED COMPOSER Nils Bultmann’s Suite for Solo Cello, an homage to J.S. Bach‘s Solo Cello Suite No. 1; “Lasst mich allein,” Op. 82, No. 1, by Dvorak; Sonata in D major for Piano and Cello, Op. 102, No. 2, by Beethoven; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 “Héroïde-Élégiaque” by Liszt; and the Sonata in F minor for Piano and Clarinet, Op. 120, No. 1, by Johannes Brahms and transcribed by Parry Karp.

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, it’s too bad, isn’t it, that we don’t have the American equivalent of British ceremonial music for coronations and other major public events.

After all, today happens only once every four years.

It is Presidential Election Day in the U.S. with the entire world watching whether incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama (below top) wins reelection or whether Republican Party challenger Mitt Romney (below bottom) successfully unseats him – to say nothing of how the US Senate and House end up going.

Such an event would seem to invite music.

But although Baroque composer George Frideric Handel (below) wrote such occasional or ceremonial works as the “Water Musick” and the “Royal Fireworks Musick,” he apparently never got around to penning “Election Musick.”

Of course, democratic elections were not very common when he was composing music back around the 18th century in Germany, Italy and England.

But recently NPR’s outstanding classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” feature a couple of entries that are pertinent to the special day and event.

One post featured music and the reader quiz about the relevant issue of POLITICS, even with kings and royalty portrayed in opera:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/10/23/163497857/the-politicians-in-opera-puzzler

The other posting, using a lot of opera, focused on THE WHITE HOUSE and its parallels in art and opera:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/10/30/163953503/how-is-the-white-house-like-the-opera-house

As for me, I don’t really know what music to choose.

But it should be something American, don’t you think?

The pundits and polls say the presidential race is tight, as are many others, and we will all be awaiting word, uplifting or depressing, about the winners. So The Ear thinks that the oh-so-Yankee mysterious and haunting piece “The Unanswered Question” by Charles Ives (below) is a fine choice (see at bottom).

But if you can think of other appropriate classical music – NOT Sousa marches, patriotic songs, doggerel jingles or campaign songs, please –– than please leave a message and a link n the COMMENT section.

Have a good Election Day and don’t forget to get out and vote.

Then listen for word of the winners — and to the beauty of Ives.

 


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