The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Personal experience, artistic excellence and historical importance drew pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel into planning next year’s centennial season at the Wisconsin Union Theater

March 30, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Now that Spring Break is over and subscription tickets are available for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s special centennial celebration next season – which includes superstar soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Emanuel Ax — here is an email interview that pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel (below, in a photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco), the wife-and-husband consultants and planners of that season, granted to The Ear.

For more about the season and tickets, go to two websites:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/03/04/classical-music-superstar-soprano-renee-fleming-and-pianist-emanuel-ax-headline-the-100th-anniversary-of-the-wisconsin-union-theaters-concert-series-next-season/

https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/seasonevents/concert-series/

Could you briefly introduce yourselves to readers and tell them both your past and current activities?

We have been performing on the world’s many concert stages for almost our entire lives. In addition to our careers as concert performers, we serve as the founding Artistic Directors of Music@Menlo, the premier chamber music festival in Silicon Valley, as well as the Artistic Directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) in New York City.

Our main responsibility as concert performers is to give the best concerts we possibly can, and we are constantly striving to achieve the highest possible level of artistry in our performances.

In our roles as artistic directors, our responsibilities lie in the programming, casting and designing of concert series and chamber music projects for our organizations. At CMS, this includes designing the programming for our seven different satellite series around the country, plus international partnerships in Taiwan, Korea and Europe.

We are also involved in chamber music programming endeavors beyond Music@Menlo and CMS, having just completed a first-ever chamber music residency at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida. Furthermore, Wu Han is serving as Artistic Advisor to Wolf Trap Chamber Music at the Barns, which entails thematically programming eight concerts per season for the 2018–19 and 2019–20 seasons.

As artistic directors, we spend much of our time putting ourselves in the shoes of our listeners, measuring their experience and receptivity to chamber music of all periods and styles, and putting together the best programs and artists who will move our audiences forward into ever-increasing engagement with and love of the art.

David was the cellist of the Emerson String Quartet for 34 seasons, and we have been performing together as a duo for about 35 years, and continue to do so as one of our main performance activities.

What are your personal relationships to the Wisconsin Union Theater, and what do you think of it as a concert venue?

Our engagement with the Wisconsin Union Theater goes back quite a few years, but certainly not even close to the beginning of the Theater’s distinguished history. For any performer setting foot on its stage, there’s a sense of slipping into an ongoing tradition of artistic excellence that makes us feel both privileged and obligated to do our best.

The Wisconsin Union Theater and its story in American cultural life is larger than any of us; only the music we play rises above and beyond it all, and as performers, our lucky moment is to represent that incredible literature in a venue as significant and storied as the Wisconsin Union Theater. (Below is the theater’s main venue, the renovated and restored Shannon Hall.)

Why did you agree to be artistic advisors and artists-in-residence for the centennial season? Did your personal experiences in Madison play a role in that decision?

As seasoned artists, we deeply admire and respect the very special place in the classical music tradition and history that the Wisconsin Union Theater (below) inhabits, and the invitation to participate in the Theater’s 100th anniversary was an honor for us to receive. Our experiences playing on this distinguished stage and forming a relationship with the local audience have made our pursuit of the common goal of artistic excellence in the centennial season incredibly fulfilling.

Of course, having performed there in the past gave us a hint of confidence through our familiarity with the place, but we must say we have learned perhaps double what we knew originally through this planning process. Without interfering, but at the same time sharing our uncompromised commitment to artistic excellence, we hope that our presence during the process has been useful, and we know that we look so much forward to seeing the careful thought and hard work of all involved come to fruition.

Is there a unifying or guiding principle to the season you have put together?

The guiding principle behind our work on this historic season is artistic excellence, which in our opinion is what most inspires audiences and best serves the art form of classical music.

Our area of expertise is chamber music, and, as we wanted to share the best of what we can do with the Theater, our focus has been on ensuring that the chamber music offerings during this historic season, and hopefully beyond, reflect the best of the world of chamber music.

In our suggestions, we looked for variety of instrumentations, of composers and periods—in other words, giving as much of an overview of the art as we could within a season.

What would you like the public to know about the Wisconsin Union Theater and the upcoming centennial season?

In the Theater’s centennial season, the audience will have the opportunity to savor a variety of different genres of chamber music, from solo piano to vocal music, as well as a sampling of the very best works of the chamber music canon. Between these various genres, the great composers left a wealth of chamber music that could sustain the art form on its own, but that’s still only the tip of the iceberg.

Our chamber music offerings will include the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, which has a long history of performing for the Madison audience. Their December program will include celebrated cornerstones of the piano trio repertoire, including Mendelssohn’s D minor Trio and Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio. (You can hear the opening of the Archduke Trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.) Both pieces have achieved monumental historical significance through their influence in propelling the art form forward from the Classical period to the Romantic period.

The Escher String Quartet performance in January represents the best of the next generation of young string quartets. Their program includes a quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn—the father of the string quartet genre—and the sole quartet of none other than revered violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler, who performed in the Wisconsin Union Theater nearly a century ago. Kreisler set foot on the Theater’s stage numerous times, and his rarely heard string quartet nods to the Theater’s long, distinguished history. David will join the Escher Quartet for the beloved Schubert Cello Quintet, which is the “desert island” must-have piece for many music lovers.

Furthermore, in March, we will bring two of the most fantastic musicians in the world to join us for a program of Antonin Dvorak, Josef Suk and Johannes Brahms. This multigenerational cast of musicians includes the incredible young French violinist Arnaud Sussmann (below top, in a photo by Matt Dine) as well as the most important violist of our generation, Paul Neubauer (below bottom). This program is all about the passing down of the baton and the continuous investment in the next generations of artists: Brahms was the one who discovered Dvorak, and Dvorak in turn discovered Suk.


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Classical music: A new blog about the future of classical music has been launched in Madison by Lydia Sewell. It is called “A View From the Stage” and features interviews with prominent musicians

March 24, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

As the classical music industry continues to shift and adapt to changing cultural patterns, many performers, administrators, educators, journalists, and music enthusiasts are tracking these changes and exploring best practices to keep the institution alive.

In December 2017, Madison native Lydia Sewell (below) – an accomplished  violinist and daughter of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra artistic director Andrew Sewell — launched a blog that seeks to address those issues in a comprehensive, timely fashion.

“A View From the Stage” features the voices of world-renowned classical musicians, educators and arts administrators and their thoughts on the future of classical music and symphony orchestras.

The blog arose out of Sewell’s research on the strike by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 2016.

Says Sewell: “As a graduate student at Duquesne University prepping for auditions, I was trying to answer the question, ‘If orchestras like the PSO are struggling to survive, what does that mean for regional orchestras who don’t have the donor bases that the majors rely on?”

“A View from the Stage” currently features interviews with musicians including Noah Bendix-Balgely, concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic; Scott Pingel, principal bass of the San Francisco Symphony; David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra who performed this fall at the UW-Madison; and Eric Nowlin, principal viola of the Detroit Symphony, as well as administrators including Paul Hogle, Dean of the Cleveland Institute of Music, and critic and composer Gregory Sandow.

With more than 30 interviews to roll out in the coming months, Sewell plans to continue interviewing classical thinkers and document their perspectives in “A View From the Stage,” in hopes to initiate further conversations surrounding 21st-century musicianship, concert reinvention and the sustainability of symphony orchestras.

Here are links to featured interviews, with photos below the link:

Noah Bendix-Balgely: https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/8/4/noah-bendix-balgely

Scott Pingel: https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/8/4/scott-pingel

David Kim (photo by Ryan Donnell): https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/10/26/david-kim

Eric Nowlin:

https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/8/9/eric-nowlin-principal-violist-of-the-detroit-symphony

Paul Hogle:

https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/10/27/paul-hogle

Gregory Sandow: https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/8/21/gregory-sandow

Mike Block:

 https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/8/4/mike-block

Upcoming interviews include:

Steve Hackman (conductor, composer, arranger)

Rachel Barton Pine (violin soloist)

Tracy Silverman (electric violin soloist)

Kate Sheeran (Dean, Provost of San Francisco Conservatory)

Philip Setzer (Emerson String Quartet)

Aaron Dworkin (Founder of Sphinx, Detroit)

Stanford Thompson (Founder Play on Philly!)


Classical music: You can hear the fabulous Willy Street Chamber Players perform music by Mozart on WORT radio this Thursday morning and in the coming year

January 3, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that several days ago, The Ear named the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) as Musicians of the Year for 2016.

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

He also mentioned that although there were not yet any YouTube videos of the group, which will have its third season this summer, the alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 has broadcast recordings of live performances.

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/classical-music-the-ear-names-the-willy-street-chamber-players-as-musicians-of-the-year-for-2016/

If you haven’t yet heard the Willy Street Chamber Players live, you can hear them this Thursday morning on WORT FM 89.9.

Here is what Rich Samuels, radio host and friend of the Willys, writes:

“Thursday morning, Jan. 5, at 7:28 a.m. on my WORT “Anything Goes” broadcast, I’ll be airing the Willy Street Chamber Players performing the Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which I recorded last July 29 at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church.

(In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the opening movement of Mozart’s beautiful Clarinet Quintet performed by the Emerson String Quartet with clarinetist David Shifrin of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Players in New York City.)

“Michael Maccaferri is the clarinet soloist (below). He’s a member of the eighth blackbird ensemble of Chicago. He’s participated in four eighth blackbird Grammy-winning releases on the Cedille label, the local nonprofit recording label that is also in Chicago and that recently turned 25.

michael-maccaferri

“Violinist Eleanor Bartsch (below), who presently freelances in Chicago, recruited Maccaferri for this event. In addition to Eleanor, this performance features Willy Street violinist Beth Larson, violist Rachel Hauser and cellist Lindsay Crabb.

Eleanor Bartsch

“It was my privilege to record most of the first two seasons of the Willy Street Chamber Players for broadcast on WORT.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to continue that tradition in 2017.”

Here is a link about upcoming strong quartet concert on Jan. 21 and 22 and about the Willy Street Chamber Players in general:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org


Classical music: Guest pianist Leon Fleisher and the Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE performance of the Piano Quintet by Brahms at noon on Oct. 6.

September 7, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

You heard it here first.

Here is a date to save  and then spread the word:

The Ear hears that famed pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher (below top in a photo by Chris Hartlove) will perform a FREE concert with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below bottom in a photo by Rick Langer) at noon on Thursday, Oct. 6, in Mills Hall.

Intl_Piano_LF1120.pdf

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The program features a dramatic and lyrical masterpiece, the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear Leon Fleisher perform the third movement, the lively Scherzo with a lovely Trio, of the Brahms Piano Quintet with the Emerson String Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

More details are forthcoming.

The Ear has been told that Fleisher, 88 and retired from the Peabody Institute of Music at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and the Pro Arte are doing this as a gesture of thanks to all supporters of the quartet, which several years ago celebrated its centennial and is the longest-lived string quartet in history.

Fleisher was an acclaimed and prize-winning pianist whose career was thwarted by focal dystonia in his right hand, which made him play and perform only with his left hand.

For a decade now, he has recovered and been performing with two hands and often with his pianist wife. They performed several seasons ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Pro Arte Quartet holds a special place in his affection.

About a decade ago, Fleisher performed the same Brahms work with the Pro Arte. Fleisher’s main teacher, the legendary Artur Schnabel, performed and recorded works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Schumann, Antonin Dvorak and others with the Pro Arte Quartet back in the 1930s.


Classical music: Don’t miss the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet in Mendelssohn’s wondrous Octet this Sunday afternoon or in a world premiere on Nov. 22 – the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK.

November 1, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

I am no expert about the music of Felix Mendelssohn (below), but for my money I don’t think he ever wrote a better piece than the early Octet in E-Flat Major, Op. 20, for double string quartets, composed when he was just 16.

Mendelssohn

This weekend you will have a chance you should not miss. It is a MUST-HEAR concert that features the Pro Arte Quartet  (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) – now 102 years old and still counting as the oldest surviving string quartet in the world ever – with the Hunt Quartet, which is made up of gifted graduate students from the UW School of Music.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The performance will take place on “Sunday Afternoon Life From the Chazen” this Sunday 12:30 to 2 p.m. and air live statewide on Wisconsin Public Radio. By the time you read this, it will probably be too late to reserve free tickets, and the Brittingham Gallery 3 (below) is sure to be full of loyal fans.

But just tune in the radio or stream it live on WPR (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area) or through www.wpr.org

SAL3

The important thing is to hear the performance – and hear it live, if you can.

I have heard the Pro Arte play this Octet (at bottom in a YouTube video performed by the Borodin Quartet and the Fine Arts Quartet of the UW-Milwaukee) – which for me rivals or even surpasses Mendelssohn’s “Italian” and “Reformation” Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the Piano Trio in D Minor and the String Quartet in A minor, and the Overture to “A Midsummer Nights’ Dream” — once with other UW faculty members and once with the acclaimed original Emerson String Quartet (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

And the Pro Arte made the Mendelssohn sizzle. Both times brought a firecracker of a performance that made you bolt upright in your seat. Such energy and such lyricism, such beauty! (Also on the program is the soulfully Romanic String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51, No.1, by Johannes Brahms, which the Pro Arte played exquisitely at their season-opening concert.)

Emerson

Now, speaking of the Pro Arte, you should also know that it will give the world premiere of its fifth centennial commission, the String Quartet No. 3 (2013) by the Belgian composer Benoit Mernier. (Belgium was the home of the Pro Arte Quartet before it was exiled in World War II in June of 1940 and accepted a stint as artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison.)

Benoit Mernier 1

That concert will be FREE at  8 p.m. — NOT 7:30 as previously stated here and in some other materials — in Mills Hall on Friday, Nov. 22.

As you no doubt already know, that Friday night is also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy or, simply, JFK.

WH/HO Portrait

The Pro Arte Quartet concert is not designed or intended to be a memorial to JFK, even though one of his favorite works was the soulful Adagio for Strings by the American composer Samuel Barber (below), which ironically was given its world premiere in Rome in 1936 by the Pro Arte Quartet.

barber 1

But even without the Barber work, there is much to recommend attending the concert. If you will be looking for a great place to bonded with other people in memory of a tragic event – The Ear remembers exactly where he was when he heard the news and bets that many of you do too — you can’t do better.

The concert includes guest violist Samuel Rhodes (below), now retired from the famed Juilliard String Quartet. Besides the Mernier, the program includes the String Quintet (1879) by Anton Bruckner and the String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4 (1772), by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Samuel Rhodes photo by Peter Schaaf (lower res.)

Preceding the concert at 6:45 p.m. in Mills Hall will be an conversation-interview with composer Benoit Mernier.

And preceding that will be a savory and companionable cocktails and dinner event held from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. in the lobby of the new building of the Chazen Museum of Art. Dinner is $35 per head and reservations must be made by SUNDAY, Nov 17. For more information, visit the Pro Arte Quartet website (www.proartequartet.org) or call (608) 217-6786.

SEE YOU THERE!


Classical music: Let us praise musicians who played outdoors this summer and remember the challenges they faced.

September 8, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Apparently the composer Johannes Brahms was very fond of going to outdoors concerts in his native Vienna.

No surprise. There is something liberating and social, something relaxed and informal, for both players and listeners about hearing music outdoors. (Below is the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performing under its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell at the state Capitol.)

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

As summer comes to a close and fall approaches, it is good to recall that we in Madison are lucky to have so many outdoors musical events and so many of high quality.

During this past summer, for example, outdoor concerts were given by: the Madison Symphony Orchestra in its Concert in the Park; the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in its justly popular Concerts on the Square; the Madison Opera for its “Opera in the Park” (below); and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras in its Concert in the Park. And there are many others who could be named.

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

Then too, I think of so much other kinds of music, usually non-classical and very often roots music such as folk and bluegrass, that gets performed at various outdoors venues from the Wisconsin Memorial Union’s Lakefront Terrace at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, La Fete de Marquette, the inaugural Make Music Madison Festival and the Orton Park Festival to little groups of musicians that play informally at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and various other farmers’ markets in the area.

Farmers Market music

Yet there are serious challenges to performing outdoors that non-musicians may not know about that are easy for the public to overlook. (Check out the YouTube video at the bottom and its advice from London about playing outdoors.)

Corinna da Fonsecca-Wollheim of the New York Times recently wrote about some of those challenges as an outdoors concert at the bandshell in Central Park by the acclaimed Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was gearing up to perform its first-ever outdoor concert, of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Antonin Dvorak, for the Naumburg Orchestra Concerts.

It is a very well done story with sources including the concert veteran and former Emerson String Quartet cellist David Finckel (below) and others. And her reporting gets quite specific about the challenges from keeping instrument in tune and playing the music to taking care of instruments and securing music in the stand.

Here is a link to a story that should remind us of what we can be grateful for this past summer and what we can look forward to next summer:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/21/arts/music/chamber-music-society-gears-up-for-naumburg-bandshell.html

Do you play music outdoors?

What stories or anecdotes and experiences can you share with others about the challenges of playing music outdoors?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Pacifica Quartet’s third volume of “The Soviet Experience” and Dmitri Shostakovich string quartets is yet another MUST-HEAR and MUST-BUY recording from this top-notch Midwestern chamber music group.

August 1, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

There are so many reasons to like the third 2-CD installment of a projected four volumes of “The Soviet Experience,” (below) performed by the Pacifica String Quartet and recorded by the non-profit Cedille Records that is based in Chicago and specializes in regional artists.

Pacifica Quartet Soviet Vol 3

I suppose one has to start with the music and the performances.

Suffice it to say that I have never heard the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich (below) performed with such appeal and subtlety as by this group. These performances grab and hold your attention as much as the music does. (See the YouTube video at bottom with a member of the Pacifica explaining the appeal of Shostakovich.)

dmitri shostakovich

Yes, I much admire and often listen to the Grammy-winning set by the Emerson String Quartet. And I also like the softer readings by the St. Petersburg Quartet. But there is something special about these performances from the Pacifica Quartet (below).

pacifica quartet

For one, I find the Pacifica projects a lot of subtlety, flexibility and nuances, and also emphasizes a certain a traditional Russian sound or musicality that extended right into Soviet music.

That is, the Pacifica Quartet – the members are now artists-in-residence at the famed Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University — has been acclaimed for its compete Mendelssohn quartet cycle and for a terrific turn-of-the century recital (“Declarations,” below) of music by Leos Janacek, Ruth Crawford Seeger and Paul Hindemith.

pacifica quartet %22declarations%22 CD

Most of that music is much less dark than Shostakovich’s. But the members of the Pacifica Quartet can be as modern, spiky and aggressive as Shostakovich’s music demands; yet the quartet also knows when to interject a contrasting lyricism that can be traced back to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

I am especially partial to this latest release. The third volume has my favorite Shostakovich quartet – No. 14 in F-sharp-minor – that is short and with seven uninterrupted movements and a cyclic structure you can easily discern.

Some listeners might prefer the first volume (below) because it has the most famous of the 16 Shostakovich quartets — No. 8 in C minor dedicated to victims of fascism, by which the composer meant both Nazi and Soviet cruelty and terror.

Pacifica Quartet Soviet Experience Vol. 1

Others might prefer volume No. 2 (below) that includes some of the first big and mature quartets.

Pacifica Quartet Soviet Experience 2 CD

I say get all three and also the fourth, which is supposed to be released this October and will complete the Shostakovich cycle with Quartets 13, 14 and 15 plus Alfred Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 3.

But here are other reasons to like this 2-CD recording.

The packaging, art and liner notes by David Fanning are all first-rate. The timings are generally very generous.

The engineering is superb, with a sonic presence that makes it sound like the quartet is playing right in front of you. There is no reverb or resonance allowed for since your own livingroom or car interior IS the playback venue.

In fact, I am particularly fond of the engineering because the freelancer producer and engineer is Judith Sherman. She is a legend in the business for winning several Grammy awards.

Plus, Sherman (below) is the engineer for the four commissions by the University of Wiscosin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet for its centennial two seasons. They includes quartets by Walter Mays and John Harbison, and piano quintets by Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

The Pro Arte Quartet’s 2-CD centennial commission set will be released on Albany Records this fall. And Sherman has told The Ear that the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a recording session for Sherman,  who si adjusting microphones in Mills Hall) at the UW-Madison is the equal of any she has recorded and could well be nominated for a Grammy since the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences favors new contemporary works, small labels and unknown performers – all of which apply to the Pro Arte commissions.

Judith Sherman with Pro Arte

But back to the Pacifica’s Soviet CD.

It is worth recalling that Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets served roughly the same purpose at Beethoven’s cycle of 16: a workshop or laboratory to work out ideas and confide private thoughts and techniques that might be too revolutionary or unsuitable for other genres and bigger public consumption.

But I like that more than being a survey of just the Shostakovich quartets, each volume includes a quartet by as contemporary composer of Shostakovich –- Sergei Prokofiev, Nikolai Myaskovsky and Mieczslaw Weinberg. That program format helps to put a frame around the picture and show what makes Shostakovich so distinctive and original in his time and also gives a sense of that terrible time so that you can also hear what similarities he shares with his contemporaries. 

To be fair, The Ear is not alone in his praise for this recording.

The BBC Music Magazine singled out the CD for a Recording of the Month award.

Here is a link:

http://www.classical-music.com/monthly-choice/shostakovich-string-quartets

And the Telegraph newspaper of London also raved about it. Here is a link to that review, reproduced in a newsletter from Indiana University:

http://blogs.music.indiana.edu/strings/2013/06/13/pacifica-quartet-receives-rave-review-in-londons-telegraph-for-the-soviet-experience-vol-3-cd/

When that many discerning a critics agree, you can be pretty sure that this is a recording that is a must-have and must-hear.


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

June 9, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

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

David Finckel BIG

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

David Finckel and Wu Han

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

Emerson

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

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

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

Paul Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Madison-based Ancora String Quartet ends its 12th season with a recital this Saturday night of chamber music by Dvorak, Haydn and Shostakovich.

May 2, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed Ancora String Quartet will close its 12th season this coming Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, where the group performs as artists-in-residence.

Members (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) of the Ancora Quartet are: violinists Leanne Kelso League and Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Ancora CR Barry Lewis

The Ear has heard and seen the quartet and knows that it performs with conviction and vivacity, often in unusual and intriguing programs.

This time the quartet will perform a program of 18th, 19th and 20th century music in the handsomely woody, crisp and sonically bright Atrium Hall (below in a photo by Zane Williams) rather than the old Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed church.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Tickets are sold at the door: $15 for general admission; $12 seniors and students; and $6 for children under 12

Here are some remarks by the quartet’s violist spokesperson  Marika Fischer Hoyt, who is also a weekend radio host for Wisconsin Public Radio: “We are closing our 12th season.  We’re pretty serious fans of the Bard in this quartet, and we decided to go with a Shakespearean theme: “Twelfth Season:  “If music be the food of love, play on!”  For the sports fans out there, we’re simply calling this season the Big 12.

“Dodecahedral elements (permutations of 12)  permeate our May recital program, which features selections (Nos. 1, 3, 8, 9, 11, 12) from the 12 “Cypresses” by Antonin Dvorak (below, and at the bottom in a YouTube video, where the Emerson Quartet plays No 3).

Plus, she notes, “Like our Fall 2012 program, this May 2013 program includes exactly 12 movements of music.”

Adds Fischer Hoyt: About the Dvorak, she adds: “We’re very pleased with this program, and feel that it offers variety and balance.  The six Dvorák “Cypresses” are intimate expressions of a young man’s unrequited love, and cover the gamut from tender, wistful longing, to jaunty descriptions of nature, to jealous frustration.  Dvorak played the viola himself, and wrote so well for that instrument. The viola gets the opening melodies in the first two Cypresses that we’re playing, so don’t be late or you’ll miss them!”

dvorak

“The Quartet in C Major, OP. 20, N. 2, by Franz Josef Haydn (below) will also be performed.

Adds Fischer Hoyt: The Haydn quartet Op. 20 No. 2 is one of the celebrated ‘Sun’ quartets, with a glorious cello melody in the first movement.  The last movement is a quadruple fugue, but it’s not at all daunting; in fact, quite the reverse.  It twinkles along merrily, and Haydn provides it with a whimsical inscription in Latin:  “Laus. Omnip. Deo. Sic fugit amicus amicum,” or “Praise the Lord. Thus one friend flees another friend.”  Haydn had such a great sense of humor!

Haydn

“And the Quartet No. 12 (which also uses 12-tone techniques) by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) will round out the program.

Adds Fischer Hoyt: “In the last piece on our program, Shostakovich nods to serialism by featuring a 12-tone row (an intentionally atonal collection of 12 pitches), but then thumbs his nose at serialism by setting the row in the tonal key of D-flat major.  This is not conventionally pretty music, but it has a nuanced complexity, an inner integrity, and a through-line of development that rivets the attention from the beginning to the end.  I think when you play or listen to Shostakovich, you need to allow yourself to be transformed, or at least to go on a journey with him, and with us.”

dmitri shostakovich

A champagne reception will conclude the evening.

For more information visit: http://ancoraquartet.com


Classical music news: Chamber music doesn’t come more exciting than Mendelssohn’s String Octet. Hear it this Saturday and Sunday performed by the Ancora String Quartet and the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie Quartet.

May 16, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear thinks one of the most exciting and enjoyable pieces of chamber EVER written is the Octet for two string quartets written by Felix Mendelssohn (below) in 1825.

I still hold very fond memories of two performances by the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet, one of which was performed with the acclaimed Emerson String Quartet at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

There is an inherent element of competition as well as teamwork  that only adds to the excitement of a performance.

This weekend on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon you can hear the Ancora String Quartet (below) team up with guest artists from the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie String Quartet to perform the Octet by Mendelssohn plus Prokofiev’s String  Quartet No. 1. A champagne reception follows the performance Saturday evening.

Tickets for general seating will be available at the door for $15; $12 for seniors, students and FUS members; and $6 for children under 12.

In addition, the quartet’s co-founder and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt has also started a blog to go with the group’s website.

Here is a link to the Ancora’s website, which has more information and biographies:

http://ancoraquartet.com/

And here is a link to the new and welcome blog:

http://ancoraquartet.com/blog/

Finally here is the press release about this weekend’s upcoming concerts.

“Please join the critically acclaimed Ancora String Quartet for the final concert of our 11th season.  In this season, entitled The Musician and His Muse, we are exploring the fascinating working relationships between four master composers and the violinists who inspired, critiqued, and ultimately premiered their now-famous string quartets.

Our May 19 and 20 recital program includes works by Prokofiev (below), the String Quartet in B minor, Op. 50, composed in 1930-31; and by Mendelssohn, the Octet; there will be an examination of their working relationships with Antonio Brosa and Eduard Rietz, respectively.

‘The program features the famous Mendelssohn Octet in E-Flat Major, Op. 20, (composed in 1825 for Rietz’ 23rd birthday), for which we will be joined onstage by The Rhapsodie String Quartet (below), of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s HeartStrings Community Engagement Program.  We are delighted to play with our respected colleagues, and have added an extra performance to accommodate the anticipated increased demand for tickets.

The pair of recitals will take place on Saturday, May 19, 2012, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 2:30 p.m., in the Landmark Auditorium, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. That is also where the Ancora Quartet remains artists-in-residence.

Tne Ancora Quartet (below, at the FUS) consists of violinist Leanne Kelso League and Robin Ryant; violist Marika Fisher Hoyt; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb. The Rhapsodie Quartet  consists of violinist Suzann Beia and Laura Burns; violist  Christopher Dozryst; and cellist Karl Lavine.


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