The Well-Tempered Ear

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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