The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society wants to hear from the public about repertoire to mark its 25th anniversary next summer. The Ear has some suggestions. Do you?

July 10, 2015
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It happened on the last night of the successful three-weekend, six program, three-venue summer season –- the 24th such season for the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society -– that just ended.

BDDS poster 2015

The founders, artistic directors and performers were all milling around in the hallway of the Overture Center and were already talking about what a big event next summer will be because it will be the 25th season.

Clearly, planning the next season starts right away.

That night is when The Ear asked them if they wanted to get ideas from the public.

Yes, they said heartily, the more, the better!

So I said I would post about it, including my own suggestions and soliciting suggestions from the public.

Here they are. They include music from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.

As you’ll see, I like the idea of using the number 25 as a symbol of the silver anniversary.

As in No. 25.

As in Opus 25.

If I had more patience and time, I might also do what a close friend suggested: Look for pieces of music that were written when the composer was 25. Maybe some of you know of such works and can suggest them!

Anyway, here are The Ear’s suggestions:

  1. The Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor -– Op. 25 -– by Johannes Brahms. It has a wonderful gypsy Rondo final movement (below) and is the most popular of the three piano quartets. I can already hear Jeffrey Sykes and the great BDDS string players performing it.

Here is a link to a YouTube recording and video:

  1. How about one of those great chamber music reductions of orchestral music that BDDS does so wonderfully.

Specifically, I think of the Piano Concerto in C major, K. 503 – and No. 25 of 27 -– by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. If you heard BDDS perform the reduction of the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491, this summer, you know how beautiful it can be, especially with the transparency of the different parts. And No. 25 is both majestic and sublime.

Find a transcription or make one.

Other orchestral candidates include: Mozart’s great Symphony No. 25 in G Minor (the Little G Minor to distinguish it from the Big G minor, No. 40) and Haydn’s Symphony No. 25 in C Major.

  1. The String Quartet in G Major, Op. 17, No. 5 – or No. 25 by my count, though I defer to specialists and musicologists — by Franz Joseph Haydn
  2. The graceful and tuneful Piano Trio No. 25 in G major (below) by Franz Joseph Haydn.

5. The second set of 12 Etudes – Op. 25 – by Frederic Chopin. I’ll bet pianist Jeffrey Sykes could work up a little bouquet of them from the ones he uses to teach piano in Berkeley and San Francisco.

But I have also heard some wonderful transcriptions of the etudes for other instruments. Op. 25, No. 7 in C-sharp minor, for example, is meant to sound like a cello. (You can hear it below played soulfully by Daniil Trifonov.)

The cello was Chopin’s second favorite instrument. It might be impressive fun to see what BDDS comes up with if they do their own transcriptions of some etudes. The solo piano version is still the best, but a transcription might emphasize color and show the musicality in the pioneering keyboard studies!

6. Antonio Vivaldi, Cello Concerto in A minor, RV 422, No. 25

7. Antonio Vivaldi, Bassoon Concerto in F major, RV 491, No. 25

8. Johann Sebastian Bach, Cantata No. 25, “Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ” BWV 623. One could do the entire original version or perhaps use excerpts, like the Bach arias and duets that BDDS performed this summer.

9. Sergei Prokofiev, Symphony No. 1 “Classical,” Op. 25, in another reduction. It would go especially well with something by Haydn, who was the model for this Neo-Classical work.

10. Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 25, Op. 79. Maybe with Jeffrey Sykes or UW-Madison guest pianist Christopher Taylor who performed all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas several years ago.

You can hear all these works on YouTube.

And The Ear is sure there are a lot more works to name.

So send in your suggestions in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

And so does the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

 


Classical music: To play or not to play Hanon? Should piano students do five-finger exercises as well as scales and arpeggios? Sergei Rachmaninoff thought so and Stephen Hough thinks so. What do today’s piano students and teachers think?

May 28, 2015
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Should piano students play exercises?

Should they play repetitive five-finger etudes by Hanon (below and in a YouTube video at the bottom), Czerny and other pedagogues?

Should they learn and play scales and arpeggios?

hanon 1

Should they learn them separately? Or within the context of a musical composition?

These remain controversial questions.

But the British classical pianist Stephen Hough (below top) recently blogged about how he and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below bottom) – often considered the greatest pianist of the 20th century as well as a major post-Romantic composer –- defend the practice.

Hough_Stephen_color16

Rachmaninoff

Here is a link to the recent blog post by Stephen Hough for The Guardian newspaper in the UK:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100076542/remembering-what-nourished-our-roots/

The Ear wants to know what you think, especially if you are a pianist, a piano student or a piano teacher.


Classical music: Learn about the odd history of Frederic Chopin’s heart and its long, eerie journey from France back to Poland.

January 4, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849, below in a photo from 1849) remains one of the greatest and most popular of all classical composers, both for amateurs or students and for professional performers.

As they say, he was “the poet of the piano,” and he composed almost exclusively for that instrument, even revolutionizing and modernizing piano technique through his two books of etudes.

Chopinphoto

Chopin, who was one of the greatest melody writers in the history of Western music, is also known for his fusing of the clarity and counterpoint of the Baroque and Classical-era styles with the emotion or passion of the Romantic style. Chopin loved the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, he did NOT like, admire or play most of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

But Chopin was also a famed dandy who wore a new pair of lavender kid leather gloves every day and who was known for his love affairs. That is probably why some images of Chopin (like the one below from Getty Images) tend to glorify him or idealize him, and to make his as handsome, as beautiful, as his music.

Chopin drawing Getty Images

But most people probably do not know much about his quirkier side.

And nothing in Chopin’s life seems more quirky than his death and The Tale of Chopin’s Heart.

It all stems, as I recall, from his terrifying fear of being buried alive. But then the story gets complicated and involves France and Poland, World War I, the Roman Catholic Church and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany during World War II.

Here are two links to fill you in.

The first comes from NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/11/17/364756853/uncovering-the-heart-of-chopin-literally

The second comes from The Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/17/chopin-heart_n_6170820.html

There is also research that questions whether Chopin actually died from tuberculosis or from some other malady.

But that is another story from another time.

And here is a YouTube video of the last piece that Chopin composed: His Mazurka in F Minor Op, 68, No. 4, as played by Chopin master Arthur Rubinstein. The mood of the piece seems to fit the sad story.

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa’s solo recital of music by Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Rachmaninoff is a MUST-HEAR for piano fans. It is this Thursday night at 8 in the Wisconsin Union Theater.

November 18, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Compared to the start of many seasons, surprisingly this fall hasn’t seen a lot of piano music— either solo recitals or concertos.

The Ear says “surprisingly” because box office statistics seem to suggest that piano concerts general draw good audiences. Pianists are favorites as soloists with orchestra fans -– as you could see in October when Russian pianist Olga Kern performed a concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain to a big, enthusiastic house.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that so many people take piano lessons when they are young. Or maybe it is because the repertoire is so big, so varied and so appealing.

And, true to form, next semester promises a whole lot more piano concerts of all kinds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Salon Series at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Anyway, one piano standout of the fall is about to happen this week.

The Ukrainian-born and Ukraine-trained pianist Valentina Lisitsa (below) will perform on this Thursday night at 8 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Valentina Lisitsa

The program is an outstanding one. It features the dramatic “Tempest” Sonata in D minor, Op 31, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the “Symphonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann; a medley of the late piano intermezzi and other miniatures, Op. 116 through Op. 119, by Johannes Brahms, works we hear too infrequently, possibly because they are more for the home than the concert hall; and the rarely played Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Tickets are $40, $42 and $45; $10 for UW-Madison students.

For more information, plus a video and some reviews, visit this link:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/season14-15/valentina-lisitsa.html

And here is a link to a story about her unusual career that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/arts/music/valentina-lisitsa-jump-starts-her-career-online.html?_r=1&

This is Valentina Lisitsa’s third appearance at the Wisconsin Union Theater. She has performed there twice when she accompanied American violinist Hillary Hahn in what The Ear found to be memorable programs that offered a wonderful balance of dynamics in a chamber music partnership.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

Lisitsa has established a special reputation for building her live concert and recording career not through the traditional ways or by winning competitions, but through using new media. In particular, she has amassed a huge following with something like 62 million individual views of and 98,000 subscribers to  her many YouTube videos.

Valentina LIsitsa playing

So impressive was her record with YouTube, in fact, that the venerable record label Decca offered her a contract. Her first release was a live recording of a recital of music by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin that she gave in the Royal Albert Hall in London — a recital for which she let her fans determine the program through voting on-line.

Then she recorded the complete knuckle-busting Rachmaninoff concertos, an all-Liszt album and a bestselling CD of “Chasing Pianos” by the contemporary British composer Michael Nyman, who wrote the well-known score for the popular gothic romance film “The Piano.”

valentina lisitsa and michael nyman

Here is a link to an interview Valentina Lisitsa did with NPR (National Public Radio):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/classical-music-youtube-sensation-pianist-valentina-lisitsa-talks-with-npr-about-her-unusual-career-and-her-new-recording-of-music-by-michael-nyman-she-performs-next-season-again-at-the-wisconsin-un/

Now she has a new and nuanced recording out of the complete Etudes, Opp. 10 and 24, by Frederic Chopin plus the “Symphonic Etudes” By Robert Schumann that she will perform here. (You can hear Chopin excerpts from the new CD in a YouTube video at the bottom.) The Ear is betting that, if an encore is in the offing this Thursday night, it will be a Chopin etude or two from the new recording — perhaps a slow and poetic one, perhaps a virtuosic one, or perhaps one of both kinds.

Valentina Lisitsa Chopin Schumann etudes CD cover

Her Madison appearance features a big and difficult program. But Lisitsa has the technique and power, the chops, to bring it off. She also demonstrated how she combines that substantial power with sensitive musicality in memorable solo recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos. And she claims to have developed a keyboard method that allows her to play difficult music for long periods of time without strain or injury. To one admiring reader comment about the new YouTube etude video, she says simply: “Playing piano is easy!”

Valentina Lisitsa's hands

Well, good for her! But I say go and judge for yourself — and don’t forget to enjoy the music as much as the musician.


Classical music ALERT: Chinese pianist Lang-Lang closes out the Carnegie Hall season with a ruminative recital of Bach, Schubert and Chopin that you can stream LIVE TONIGHT (Tuesday, May 29, 2012) at 8 p.m. EDT.

May 29, 2012
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Whatever you may think of the Chinese pianist Lang-Lang (below, in a photo y Marco Borggreve), there is no denying he is probably the most popular classical pianist in the world – and just maybe the most popular classical musician of any kind in the world.

And he may even be toning down his act, now that he is approaching 30. Imagine — Lang-Lang without Liszt!

The Chinese Liberace – nicknamed Bang Bang by some of his harsh critics because of his flamboyant showmanship and attire – is performing a LIVE performance at Carnegie Hall tonight at 8 p.m. EDT. The concert will close out the season at Carnegie Hall, and The Ear is betting it will be sold out.

The program – which starts at 8 p.m. EDT or 7 p.m. CDT — is BIG and much less flashy than what he usually performs. It features J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-Flat Major, BWV 825; Schubert’s soulful last Sonata in B-Fat Major, D. 960; and all 12 of Chopin’s Etudes, Op. 25. The Ear suspects you can expect a lot of encores.

Here is a link to the live streaming site, which is a welcome and wonderful cooperative effort between Carnegie Hall and the famed New York City classical radio station WQXR.

If you miss it tonight live, it will also be archived and available at the same website.

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/programs/carnegie/2012/may/29/?utm_source=local&utm_media=treatment&utm_campaign=carousel&utm_content=item0

And here is a link to brief story on NPR about the concert along with a listing of the many other Carnegie Hall concerts – vocal, orchestral, piano and chamber – that you can stream. What a treasure trove now and in years to come!

http://www.npr.org/event/music/153715008/carnegie-hall-live-lang-lang-plays-bach-schubert-and-chopin

Happy Listening!


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