The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: On Saturday “The MET Live in HD” will feature Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” Also, UW trombonist Mark Hetzler’s concert is TONIGHT (NOT Saturday) as is a concert of Mozart’s music for piano-four hands

October 13, 2017
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CORRECTION: The Stravinsky concert by UW trombone professor Mark Hetzler and friends is TONIGHT at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall – NOT Saturday night as incorrectly listed in the posting yesterday. For more information about the performers and the program, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/classical-music-uw-trombonist-mark-hetzler-explores-stravinsky-with-alumni-musicians-in-a-free-concert-on-saturday-night-plus-you-can-hear-free-brahms-at-noon-this-friday/

ALERT: The Ear received the following word from early music specialist Trevor Stephenson: “Tonight, my distinguished colleague from France, Marcia Hadjimarkos, will join me for a program of Mozart’s thrilling music for piano four-hands.

“The concert will be held at the Madison Christian Community church, 7118 Old Sauk Road. The acoustics there for the fortepiano are really wonderful. Tickets are available at the door. They cost $20 for the general public and $10 for students.”

By Jacob Stockinger

The broadcasts of “The Met Live in HD” don’t usually fall in consecutive weeks.

But this weekend is an exception.

Last Saturday and then again on Wednesday, the current season premiered with a critically acclaimed  production of Bellini’s “Norma.”

This Saturday, a new production of the ever-popular “The Magic Flute” by Mozart will be featured.

The three-hour show starts at 11:55 a.m. on Saturday at the Marcus Point Cinema on the far west side of Madison and the Marcus Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie.

Encore performances at both movie theaters are this coming Wednesday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The full-length opera will be sung in German with English surtitles.

Tickets are $22 for the public, and $18 for seniors.

The production promises to be special for two reasons: the elaborate, colorful staging and innovative costumes by director Julie Taymor, famous for her oversized puppet-like costumes in “The Lion King”; and vibrant conducting by longtime Metropolitan Opera artistic director and now emeritus conductor James Levine. (You can hear the upbeat Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Below are some other photos to give you a taste of the production:

Here is a link for notes about the production, including several videos:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/2017-18-Season/zauberflote-mozart-tickets/

And here is a link to a synopsis and notes about the cast:

http://www.metopera.org/metoperafiles/season/2017-18/operas/zauberflote/hd_syn_Zauberflote_global_and_usa_dates.pdf

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Classical music: The Token Creek Festival splendidly captures the poignancy and intimacy of late Schubert through songs and smaller piano works

September 1, 2017
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival for this year is presenting three concert programs of what the directors consider “Necessary Music” — as MacArthur “genius,” Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and festival co-artistic director John Harbison (below) puts it, “We did not even know we needed it until it appears.”

Of the resulting concerts, the first, on last Saturdays night and Sunday afternoon, featured music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn, plus Harbison, suggesting their interaction.

The third program, to come on this coming Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. explores various works in waltz form, old and new. (For more information about the program and tickets, go to www.tokencreekfestival.org.)

And in between, on this past Wednesday night, came Franz Schubert. That was the concert I caught.

Three performers were involved.

To begin with, the two pianists, Ya-Fei Chuang (below foreground) and Alison D’Amato, played the slow movement from Schubert’s so-called “Grand Duo,” D. 812.

That full-length, four-movement work has been claimed by some commentators to be the surviving bit of Schubert’s supposed “Gastein” Symphony. It is splendid music in its own right, and I rather wished it had been played complete, especially with two such polished performers at hand. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Next, Chuang played the six pieces that constitute the collection known as the Moments Musicaux, D. 780. These pieces, mostly in ABA form, bring Schubert’s inherent lyricism into a range of moods that go far beyond mere entertainment. Chuang played them with deeply probing intensity.

The second half of the program was entirely devoted to Schubert’s final collection of Lieder, his Schwanengesang, or “Swan Song,” as the publisher titled it.

It is not a true cycle, but a gathering of 14 songs on which Schubert had been working in his last years, published after his death. One can, to be sure, find common themes among them of longing, loss, isolation, loneliness and apprehension — themes that preoccupied the composer at the end of his all-too-brief life.

The singer, Charles Blandy (below), joined D’Amato in a deeply involving performance. His lyric tenor voice is flexible, with particularly fine German diction and a capacity for subtle variations in the moods of the individual songs. The pianist was a sensitive partner whose careful support offered a musical dimension of its own. The texts and translations were provided to the audience, allowing full immersion in these songs.

All of this music came from Schubert’s later years, when the composer, knowing that he was soon to die, concentrated his thinking so poignantly.

In bypassing the larger of the final works, too, this program stressed personal intimacy and demonstrated that Schubert’s reflections on the human condition do, indeed, make his music “necessary.”


Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving Day 2016. Classical music fans should give thanks for Wisconsin Public Radio, which has lots of holiday fare to listen to throughout the day. Plus, famed New York City radio station WQXR offers its Top 5 musical expressions of giving thanks.

November 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving Day, 2016.

Music is such a integral part of Thanksgiving Day, from hymns and songs, solo music and chamber music, symphonies and oratorios.

Today, Wisconsin Public Radio — on both the Ideas Network and the News and Classical Music Network — will feature a lot of music and informative shows, all with the theme of Thanksgiving and giving thanks.

Here is the announcement from WPR, which keeps many of us in classical music year-round:

“Wisconsin Public Radio has prepared a variety of food, music and entertainment programs to keep you and your guests engaged this Thanksgiving.

“Turkey is the star of the show on America’s Test Kitchen Radio Thanksgiving Special, 10 a.m. on WPR’s Ideas Network stations. Host Bridget Lancaster is promising a tender, juicy, perfect turkey with all the trimmings, dessert and a dash of fun that will make you a Thanksgiving rock star.

At 11 a.m., Lancaster changes her apron and joins Lynne Rossetto Kasper for more tips on the Ideas Network with the Splendid Table’s Turkey Confidential. This live two-hour Thanksgiving Day tradition returns to take listener calls for culinary help.

In the kitchen this year you’ll also find Mario Batali, Francis Lam, Melissa Clark and Chris Thile, the new host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” sharing fun and helpful advice for the novice, and the experienced, Thanksgiving home cook.

thanksgiving dinner

After the feast, you may be in the mood for a good story. How about ten of them? Starting at 1 p.m. the Ideas Network presents Best of the Best: Third Coast Audio Festival Winners. With more than 500 entries from around the world, you’ll hear the ten best that will intrigue, inform and inspire you.

While the Ideas Network serves up helpful advice and engaging stories, WPR’s NPR News & Classical Music Network delivers a generous helping of music for you to enjoy throughout the day.

At 10 a.m., tune in for this year’s Wisconsin School Music Association Honors Concerts (below). The two-hour music special highlights top performances of students from across the state. Middle school and high school choirs and orchestra will be featured.

“It’s one of the highlights of the year with some of our state’s most talented young performers,” said WPR’s News & Classical Music Network Director Peter Bryant.

wpt state honors concert 2014

Then, at 1 p.m. join host John Birge and his special guest, legendary Chef Jacques Pepin as they share conversation and music on Giving Thanks: A Celebration of Fall, Food and Gratitude.

Here is a link to the WPR website with program guides and playlists:

http://www.wpr.org/hear-special-programs-thanksgiving-day

WPR new logo

But you might also be interested to stream some other music. WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City, has put together the Top 5 musical expressions — including the famous Sacred Song of Thanksgiving from a late string quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven — of giving thanks. The website has audio and visual performances of the works that you can stream.

Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/top-five-expressions-thanks-classical-music/

And if you have other ideas about music that is appropriate for Thanksgiving this year – perhaps a composer or work you give special thanks for — please leave them in the COMMENT section, preferably with a YouTube link if possible.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Classical music: Edgewood Chamber Orchestra opens its new season this coming Sunday afternoon with music by Handel, Haydn and Beethoven.

September 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will present its first concert of the new season on this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission is free for persons with an Edgewood College ID, and $5 for others. Tickets will be available at the door.

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Blake Walter (below), will perform the Overture to the oratorio “Samson” by George Frideric Handel, a rarely played masterpiece.

blake walter john maniaci

Also featured is the Symphony No. 82 in C major, “The Bear,” by Franz Joseph Haydn. In its last movement, Haydn imitates the music used in the 18th-century Austria to accompany dancing bears — a popular form of street entertainment. (You can hear the last movement of the symphony in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The central part of the program is the last movement Finale of the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, by Ludwig van Beethoven. It marks the orchestral debut of pianist Johanna Novice-Leonard (below), winner of the Edgewood College Concerto Competition, and a student of Dr. Beatriz Aguilar.

Johanna Novich Leonard

Founded in 1993 via a generous endowment established by benefactors William O. Hart and Vernon Sell, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra fulfills a unique role in the Madison community, providing high-quality performances and unique educational opportunities. The ensemble is the permanent, in-house chamber orchestra of the college.


Classical music: The superb final concert of the Madison Early Music Festival took the audience through an Elizabethan day with inventive fun

July 20, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

You have to hand it to early music advocate, scholar, conductor and performer Grant Herreid (below), who once again was a major player in the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival, which wrapped up this past Saturday night.

MEMF 2016 all-festival Grant Herreid

What could have been a scissors-and-paste job to wrap up the celebration of music in Shakespeare and Elizabethan England was turned by the creative Herreid into an event that was thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly inventive.

What the final All-Festival Concert did was to bring together what seemed a very large number of students, faculty and guest performers.

MEMF 2016 all-festival all forces

Then what the combined forces did was offer a sampler of a typical Elizabethan day. That day included the usual routines from waking up, exercising and going to bed, but also included prayers, romance and entertainment.

It used snippets from plays by William Shakespeare (below) and snippets by many composers of the period including Thomas Tomkins, Anthony Holborne, Thomas Morley, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Weelkes, John Bennet, John Coperario, Thomas Ravenscroft, John Dowland and Thomas Tallis as well an anonymous composers and reconstructions.

shakespeare BW

The formula must have appealed because it drew a large and enthusiastic audience.

Since it was such an ensemble effort, it is difficult to single out individuals for praise or criticism.

Instead, The Ear simply wants to mention a few of his favorite things with photos to illustrate them.

Here is what The Ear liked:

He liked that the entire 90-minute program of sacred and secular music was done without an intermission. Once you were in the zone, you didn’t have to leave it and then have to get back into it. Plus, the unity of the day was preserved.

He liked the diverse and always highly accomplished singing.

He liked seeing the unusual period string and wind instruments that are beautiful as well as useful.

MEMF 2016 all-festival strings left

He liked how the entire hall, not just the main stage, was used, including the balconies from which a fanfare opened the concert:

MEMF 2016 all-festival balcony

He liked the many “actors” who stepped to the edge of the Mills Hall stage and did an exceptional job reading the excerpts of Shakespeare that were kept short and to the point:

MEMF 2016 all-festival Shakespeare reader

He liked the period and very energetic dancing with handkerchiefs and leg bells:

MEMF 2016 all-festival dancing

There was more. But you get the idea.

Once again, if you can’t make it to other concerts in the Madison Early Music Festival’s annual week-long schedule, try to make it to the impressive All-Festival Concert at the end.

In 17 years, it has never disappointed.

That is a record to be envied and praised.


Classical music: Here is what superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman has to say about turning 70, about dealing with his disability and about receiving the National Medal of Freedom.

November 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This past week, superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman (below) and 16 other major figures from the arts, entertainment, sports and politics received the National Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

Izthak Perlman gets the Medal of Freedom

This year, Perlman also turned 70.

To mark the two events, National Public Radio (NPR) featured an interview with Perlman that shows his always self-deprecating humor and his insights into living and performing.

And in a second NPR interview Perlman, who had polio as a child and walks with braces or crutches and uses a scooter,  talked about his championing by example the cause of people with disabilities.

http://www.npr.org/2015/11/27/457419476/itzhak-perlman-im-not-on-the-stage-to-walk-im-on-it-to-play

The piece also has some interesting personal background about Perlman (below, in a photo from Getty Images) that you may not know. And it has some wise advice about getting older and appreciating one’s own accomplishments.

It is hard to name a major composer whose works, sonatas and concertos alike, he has not performed and recorded: Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Niccolo Paganini,Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, Edward Elgar, Richard Strauss, Alban Berg and so many more — some 77 CDs in all, done for several labels.

Itzhak Perlman Getty Images

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/11/23/456781573/my-goal-is-to-not-be-bored-by-what-i-do-itzhak-perlman-at-70

The Ear hopes you enjoy it and learn from it, as he did on both scores.

And here, in a YouTube video, is an excerpt from his latest recording — of two sonatas by Richard Strauss and Gabriel Faure with pianist and his longtime friend pianist Emanuel Ax.

 


Classical music: What single CD best exemplifies the digital Compact Disc revolution for you?

April 2, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

One day I was sitting at home, looking at my CD collection.

Actually, I was staring in disbelief.

I confess: I have too many CDs.

Even after having given away or donated many, many copies, personal copies I bought and reviewer copies I received free, to local libraries, I have way too many to listen to.

The more CDs I collect, the more it seems my listening focuses more narrowly on certain composer, certain works and certain performers.

But after all, I started collecting them when the first CD player (SONY’s pioneering CDP-101) first came out in 1982 — available in the US in early 19893, I recall — and there were only maybe a dozen digitally recorded titles available.

Anyway, as I looked I kept thinking: Which single CD best exemplifies the qualities I like and look for in a Compact Disc?

I could go with a great symphony – maybe Mahler or Beethoven or Brahms — because of the sonic range and realism it reproduces and the length of the timings, which means not changing discs.

I could go with chamber music, my deepest love, because of the way it almost makes it sound like the chamber musicians are playing right in your own home in front of you.

But instead I settled on Artur Rubinstein’s 1960s recordings of the Chopin Ballades and Scherzi (below).

I picked the Rubinstein CD – at least this particular CD because it has been through many CD formats and  remasterings — for several reasons.

I love it and never find out outdated. I consider it not necessarily the definitive version of all eight great pieces — can there be such a thing as “definitive” art? But I certainly find it the indispensable version against which all other interpretations before and after must be compared. So I love it for the piano playing on it, for the first-rate performance.

I also love it because it combines two 33-1/3 LPs that I knew and loved as a teenager. That makes the state-of-the-art CD actually cheaper all these many years later than the original vinyl versions were.

And most of all I love the sound, no matter whatever the LP-and-turntable audiophiles say.

I love that the listening is guilt-free and anxiety-free.

I listen to those pieces and that recording a lot. In the old days I would have scratched up the recording terribly or gone through several. With the CD, it is always there — just the way I anticipate it from the last time – without anxiety about ruining it with a slip of the hand and the gouging of a needle.

What single CD would you choose as your favorite to represent the best achievements of the Compact Disc revolution?

The Ear wants to hear.


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