The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why couldn’t the New York Philharmonic find an American conductor? Meet Dutchman Jaap van Sweden, its next music director. Plus, Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen, is NEXT SUNDAY — NOT TODAY — and tonight’s concert of new music by UW-Madison professor Les Thimmig has been CANCELLED

January 31, 2016
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ALERT 1: The Sunday Afternoon Live performance by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet at the Chazen Museum of Art is NEXT SUNDAY, NOT TODAY. The Ear apologizes for the mistake.

 ALERT 2: Tonight’s concert of new music for woodwinds and piano by UW-Madison professor Les Thimmig and pianist Jessica Johnson has been CANCELLED.

By Jacob Stockinger

This week the New York Philharmonic announced its next music director and conductor who will succeed Alan Gilbert, starting in 2018.

He is Jaap van Sweden (below, in a photo by Todd Heiser for The New York Times , a 55-year-old Dutchman, acclaimed for his technical prowess, who now is the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Jaap van Sweden CR Todd Heisler NYT

There are a lot of stories The Ear could link to.

Here is a short summary from NPR (National Public Radio) with audio clips of his conducting:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/01/27/464563264/jaap-van-zweden-named-new-music-director-of-the-new-york-philharmonic

But he found the coverage by the New York Times quite comprehensive and, on balance, fair.

It featured a main news story with some important feature elements, including the critical acclaim van Sweden received for conducting music by Gustav Mahler and Ludwig van Beethoven. (Below, you can see van Sweden conducting the New York Philharmonic in 2014 in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).

Jaap van Sweden conducting the NY PHIL cr Horiyuki Ito NYT

And it also featured a column or commentary by senior classical music critic Anthony Tommasini, who spoke in Madison on the occasion of the centennial of the Pro Arte Quartet that was held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Overall, Tommasini’s notebook entry is a fine and insightful piece, even if it gets tiring to hear Tommasini climb up on his high horse and whine yet again about the neglect of new music and contemporary composers – which does not seem fully justified based on the record of this particular conductor.

Tommasini – who himself was trained as a composer — clearly would have preferred former Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below) as the new music director and conductor. Hmmm – could they be friends?

Esa Pekka Salonen

For his part, it may sound provincial but The Ear is more concerned that the very same symphony orchestra that made history in American culture for hiring the first American-born and American-trained maestro – Leonard Bernstein (below), who also just happened to put Jaap van Sweden on the path to a conducting career – is once again turning to Europe rather to the many fine conducting talents in this country.

Leonard Bernstein CR Jack Mitchell

Why was no American conductor chosen. One who comes to mind is Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (below top) and the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Brazil who is also a Bernstein protege. And then there is David Robertson of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia(below bottom).

Seems odd that Marin Alsop is good enough for Brazil and David Robertson is good enough for Australia — but not for New York?

The Ear wants to ask the Philharmonic’s board of directors: Do you really find all American conductors to be that inferior to Jaap van Sweden?

Maybe there were practical considerations — salary, contracts, availability, refusals — that made hiring an American conductor impossible. But the stories suggest that the choice of van Sweden was made early on and the fix seemed in. Too bad. It still seems like a great opportunity that was lost.

Marin Alsop big

David Robertson

You can decide for yourself.

Here is the news story by Michael Cooper:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/arts/music/new-york-philharmonic-taps-jaap-van-zweden-as-its-next-maestro.html?_r=0

And here is Tommasini’s column:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/arts/jaap-van-zweden-and-the-future-of-the-new-york-philharmonic.html

Do you know the work of Jaap van Sweden?

Have you heard him in live or recorded performances?

What do you think?

Here is a sample of Jaap van Sweden conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Playing musical chairs in The Big Apple: The New Yorker magazine gives you the dirt on who might succeed James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera and Alan Gilbert at the New York Philharmonic.

October 4, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

They are two of the most high-profile jobs in the world of classical music and they are both in New York City: the music director of the Metropolitan Opera and the music director of the New York Philharmonic.

And right now candidates are being examined as possible successors to their current heads, James Levine and Alan Gilbert respectively.

According to a story in The New Yorker magazine, one major player reportedly is the acclaimed firebrand and openly gay French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for Getty Images), who currently heads the Philadelphia Orchestra. Guess which post he is a candidate for?

yannick20141031-04.jpg

Another major candidate seems to be the conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below). Can you guess for which post?

esa-pekka-salonen-goes-multimedia-philharmonia-Esa_Pekka_Salonen_Philharmonia

The Ear asks: Whatever happened to American candidates?

Are we going backwards from the Leonard Bernstein achievement of putting American maestros on a par with European or other foreign conductors?

To be fair, though, some report that Bernstein protégée Marin Alsop, currently music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, could be a contender for the New York Philharmonic post.

Anyway, the recent New Yorker magazine had a very good take on the game of musical chairs being played around the two major vacancies.

The story shows careful research and excellent deep sourcing. But it also reads a bit like an engagingly conversational gossip column.

Maybe that is because it is written not by music critic Alex Ross but by Russell Platt, who is the classical music editor for the Goings On About Town column that starts the magazine.

Here is a link to an excellent read and what seems to be a pretty good crystal ball about the future leaders of the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.

It’s great reading for a Sunday afternoon. Enjoy!

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/musical-chairs-conductors


Classical music: What qualities are needed to be a world-class conductor? New York Times critics weigh in. What do you think?

April 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that Alan Gilbert (below), the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, surprised the music world when he recently announced he would step down at the end of the 2017 season after only eight seasons on the job.

New York Philharmonic

Speculation about a successor — with Marin Alsop (below top) of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Finnish native Esa-Pekka Salonen (below bottom)  former director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, topping the lists — began immediately.

Right now, The Ear leans toward Marin Alsop. It would be great to see a woman in such a high-profile post. It would also be fitting for a protege of Leonard Bernstein to ascend to the podium where American-born and American-trained conductors first made their name. Buy American!

Marin Alsop big

esa-pekka-salonen-goes-multimedia-philharmonia-Esa_Pekka_Salonen_Philharmonia

The sensational Venezuelan-born and Venezuelan-trained superstar Gustavo Dudamel (below) seems to have taken himself out of the competition by agreeing to stay longer in LA. But every performer has his or her price, so his story may not yet be over in terms of going to New York.

dudamel-wild49754818

But Gilbert’s move also raises the issue: What qualities should one look for in a world-class music director and conductor?

These days, it involves a whole lot more than holding the baton and leading the players.

Anyway recently music critics for The New York Times weighed in with their preferences and points of view.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/15/arts/music/the-new-york-philharmonic-and-the-search-for-a-new-music-director.html?_r=0

Read and see what you agree and disagree with.

And also let us know who you think would be a good choice to be the next music director and conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What classial music do you like to hear to commemorate 9/11? This Sunday promises a lot of UW-Madison opera and chamber music by both alumni as well as current students and faculty. Plus, Edgewood College singer Kathleen Otterson’s recital is SUNDAY at 2:30 p.m., NOT Saturday as was mistakenly stated yesterday.

September 11, 2013
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TODAY IS 9/11: WHAT PIECE OF CLASSICAL MUSIC DO YOU LIKE TO HEAR TO MEMORIALIZE THAT TRAGIC DAY IN 2001? LET THE EAR KNOW IN A COMMENT WITH A LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO, IF POSSIBLE.

AN IMPORTANT CORRECTION: Yesterday The Ear mistakenly said that Edgewood College mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson will give a recital on this Saturday – which was WRONG. The concert is SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT 2:30 P.M. Otherwise the story and the details are correct. I apologize for the error.

Here is a link to the corrected story:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/classical-music-edgewood-college-mezzo-soprano-kathleen-otterson-will-perform-a-recital-of-songs-by-gustav-and-alma-mahler-berlioz-rossini-and-andre-previn-this-coming-saturday-afternoon/

Kathleen Otterson 2

By Jacob Stockinger

True, the new concert season at the University of Wisconsin School of Music officially opened up over a week ago with the 36th annual Labor Day Concert by the Karp Family.

But this is a reminder that this Sunday – really the first busy weekend of the academic year the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music – promises to have a lot of music.

Here are the various concerts, as described in press releases:

— Sunday, Sep. 15, 2013 at 1 p.m. in Mills Hall.

UW Professor Les Thimmig will give the first Faculty Concert

Thimmig (below) will present “The Feldman Trios,” Part One. Three lecture-performances of the late-period work of American composer Morton Feldman (below).  The other sessions are on October 27 and February 2, 2014.

Les Thimmig color

The First concert is: “Why Patterns?” It features Prof. Les Thimmig on flutes; Jennifer Hedstrom on keyboards; and Sean Kleve on percussion. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

American composer Morton Feldman (1926-1987, below in a New York Times photo from 1985) was first noted for his inclusion in the “Cage School,” a group of four composers, the others being Earle Brown and Christian Wolff, associated with the composer John Cage. The three trios for flute, piano, and percussion included in this series were written for the members of this group during the last nine years of Feldman’s life. During this period, his works radically increased in length, lasting from 30 minutes to multiple hours of single-movement, very slowly unfolding development. At issue were the distinction of “form” and “scale.”

Morton Feldman NYT 1985

— Also on Sunday, Sept. 15, at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall is the Second Annual “School of Music Alumni Association Showcase.” For more information, go to http://uwsomaa.org/and click “alumni recital.”

The program features:

Hornist Alex Weaver playing: Concert Etude for Solo Horn by Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958) and Suite for Horn and Piano by Alec Wilder (1907-1980).

Alex Weaver

Flutist Kristine Rominski (below) playing: “Tenderness of Cranes” by Shirish Korde

Kristine Rominski

Percussionist Michael Mixtacki (below) playing: “Uma Mulher” by Seu Jorge, arr. Mixtacki and “Obbatalá,” Traditional Afro-Cuban, arr. Mixtacki.

Michael Mixtacki

Kristine Rominski and Michael Mixtacki playing duets: “Piedra en la Piedra” by Ricardo Lorenz and “Kembang Suling” by Gareth Farr

Singer Sam Handley (below, in a performance of Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago) performing:  “L’air de Sancho” from “Don Quichotte” by Jules Massenet  (1842-1912); “Bin ich nun frei?” from  “Das Rheingold” by Richard Wagner  (1813-1883); “Her Face” from “Carnival!” by Bob Merrill (1921-1998); and “La Calunnia” from “The Barber of Seville” by Gioachino Rossini  (1792-1868).

Sam Handley in Britten A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

— The third concert, the Opera Props Showcase, on this Sunday will held at 3 p.m. NOT on the UW campus but instead at the historic landmark and Frank Lloyd Wright Unitarian Meeting House (below), 900 University Bay Drive. For information, visit:

http://cpanel101.mulehill.com/~uwoperap/

FUS exterior  madison

Opera Props annual fall Showcase Concert will introduce University Opera’s extraordinary singers in a program of celebrated arias. This benefit event includes several new singers who will be featured in the upcoming season’s productions. 

University Opera Director William Farlow has selected eight young singers and a program of favorite arias for Opera Props’ fall Showcase Concert this year.

It includes several new singers who will be featured in the upcoming season’s productions. Opera Props is a booster group for the UW School of Music’s opera program, and acts as liaison between the program and the local community. So a valued part of this annual event is the reception, which follows the concert:  Singers and their teachers enjoy sharing discussion with the audience, along with lavish chocolate and other treats.

Tickets are $25 per person ($10 for students) and may be purchased at the door.  Proceeds will help recruit and fund young artists for the University Opera program.

Here is more information: The student singers (below is a photo of Opera Propos singers in 2011) will sing arias by George Frideric Handel, Jules Massenet, Giocchino Rossini, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, accompanied by pianist Thomas Kasdorf.

Opera Props 2011

One of the singers is mezzo-soprano Lindsay Metzger (below), who will sing the aria “Parto, ma tu ben mio” from Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito.”

Metzger hails from Chicago, where she studied with Jane Bunnell at DePaul University. Last year she was an Apprentice Artist with the Des Moines Metro Opera, and this past summer she sang the role of Cherubino in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” with Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy.

Mezzo Lindsay Metzger

Metzger is now completing the second year of a Master’s degree at the UW-Madison where she holds a Paul Collins Fellowship. She already is rehearsing the title role of “Ariodante” for this semester’s production on campus of George Frideric Handel’s opera.  Next semester she is scheduled to sing Béatrice in Hector Berlioz’s opera “Béatrice et Bénédict.” 

For more information about Opera Props and University Opera productions and events, visit:

http://cpanel101.mulehill.com/~uwoperap/


Classical music: French composer Henri Dutilleux is dead at 97. He was an accessible modernist who embodied many traditional values of French culture. And here are some of the best remembrances and obituaries.

May 25, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The French composer Henri Dutilleux (seen below in 2005 in a photo by Jean Pierre Muller for Getty Images) died Wednesday in Paris. He was 97.

Henri Dutilleux i 2005 Jean-Pierre Muller Getty Images

Henri Dutilleux was clearly a modernist, but not a militant or revolutionary modernist, who was known for his use of color and harmony. Like much of traditional French culture in general, he had a deep appreciation for formal beauty -– for melody, for structure, for clarity.

Here is his 1976 string quartet “Ainsi la nuit” (Thus the Night) in a YouTube video:

But even though he found critical acclaim, he never found widespread favor or popularity with the general public in the U.S. and around the world.

That is too bad.

The Ear very much likes Dutilleux’s work – his symphonies, his chamber music and his solo piano music (such as the Piano Sonata performed in a YouTube video at the bottom by his wife Genevieve Joy, who died at 90 in 2009). In fact I much prefer it to the much more famous and more frequently performed music by the 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen, who was too Catholic, too mystical and religious, too self-consciously spiritual and aggressively dissonant and percussive for my taste.

Even as I am writing this, Wisconsin Public Radio is airing Dutilleux’s early Symphony No. 1.

It strikes me that Dutilleux (below, seen earlier in his career in 1959, in a photo by Ed Fitzgerald), who chided himself for not being prolific, worked in the great tradition of French refinement and craft, composing in the shadow of Maurice Ravel (who studied with Gabriel Faure, a family friend of Dutilleux’s father), that famous “watchmaker” musician.

Henri Dutilleux in 1959 CR Ed Fitzgerald

So here are some of the best remembrances and obituaries to appear so far, though curiously I have not found a great piece from the French press (if you find one, please leave a link or reference).

Here is a great overview from NPR’s wonderful classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/22/186052590/henri-dutilleux-leading-french-composer-dies-at-97

As always, The New York Times provides a terrifically detailed and comprehensive overview of the composer’s life and career:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/arts/music/henri-dutilleux-modernist-composer-dies-at-97.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

And here is along and detailed piece from the British newspaper The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/may/22/henri-dutilleux

And a shorter obit from the Los Angeles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-henri-dutilleux-20130523,0,6606521.story

And here is an obit from the New York City radio station WQXR FM that features conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below) discussing Dutilleux’s music along with an audio sample of his orchestral music:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/blogs/wqxr-blog/2013/may/22/henri-dutilleux-french-composer-dies-age-97/

Esa Pekka Salonen

If you don’t know Henri Dutilleux’s music, I particularly recommend an all-Dutilleux record of solo piano music (the cover is below) by the Harvard University professor, pianist and musicologist Robert Levin, who often appears at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, on the ECM Records label.

Henri Dutilleux CD Robert Levin ECM 2010

What are your favorite works by Henri Dutilleux, and what remembrances of anecdotes do you have to tell and leave in the COMMENTS section?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What is the best classical music app? A Slate magazine writer thinks he knows. Do you?

January 4, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

What is the best classical music app ever invented that you can buy?

Reporter Seth Colter Walls (below), who reported on the Mideast and culture for Newsweek and is now with Slate magazine, thinks he knows – and he makes a pretty convincing case.

seth colter  walls 2

The name of the app is The Orchestra and it sells for $13.95. Ad it certainly seems — and SOUNDS — impressive. (Check out the video at the bottom.)

Moreover, the inventor of the app is none other than the Finnish-born composer – recently celebrated for the release of his new prize-winning Violin Concerto – and former music director and conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Esa-Pekka Salonen (below).

esa-pekka-salonen-goes-multimedia-philharmonia-Esa_Pekka_Salonen_Philharmonia

Take a read, listen and make up your own mind. Then let the rest of us know what you think – either from the story by Slate or from your own actual experience with the app.

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2012/12/the_orchestra_the_best_classical_music_ipad_app_from_esa_pekka_salonen.html

And there is no need to take Slate’s or Salonen’s word for it.

What do you find the best, most useful or most enjoyable classical music app? Let us know your recommendation in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The City of Tomorrow wind quintet will perform contemporary music during its Madison debut concert this Thursday night at the Brink Lounge.

October 23, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

The City of Tomorrow wind quintet (below top) is coming to Madison for is local debut concert this Thursday night at 8 p.m. at the Brink Lounge (below bottom), 701 East Washington Avenue.

The concert is sponsored by the Madison chapter of Classical Revolution, the growing national and international movement to present classical music in non-traditional venues.

The City of Tomorrow — which specializes in  contemporary music, especially contemporary classical music,  and offers many world premieres (at bottom) — is the only wind quintet to have won the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition in the last 10 years. The Madison concert will include yet-unrecorded works by David Lang and Esa-Pekka Salonen (below), former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The program features “Memoria” by Esa-Pekka Salonen; the 1948 wind quintet by Elliott Carter; “Breathless” by David Lang; and the Wind Quintet No. 3 by David Maslanka.

Admission is $11 for adults; $6 for students with ID; and $5 for members of Classical Revolution. For information, call (608) 661-8599.

The City of Tomorrow wind quintet (below) is a long-distance ensemble. Members live in four different cities (New York, Chicago, Portland, Oregon and San Antonio) and have intensive rehearsal residencies throughout the year. The quintet will perform in 17 cities in nine states this season as well as make its Canadian debut with New Music Edmonton and record its first CD while at the Banff Centre.

Madison has had rich season of wind quintets, as the Imani Winds were just in town for the Wisconsin Union Theater, and the University of Wisconsin’s Wingra Woodwind Quintet performs regularly. So this will be a memorable season for wind fans and students.

A complete calendar and bio of the quintet can be found at www.thecityoftomorrow.org.


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