The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which great maestro would you be? Take the WFMT quiz and see

June 6, 2016
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Chicago classical music radio station WFMT has come up with a novel idea.

That is the radio station by the way, that brings us “Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin,” which airs every weekday night 8-9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio. The insightful McGlaughlin himself is a former conductor, and The Ear suspects he had something to do with the quiz.

WFMT is the same radio station with The Beethoven Satellite Network that brings us host Peter Van De Graaff who chooses and comments on classical music overnight. A performing baritone singer who has sung George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra several times, the discerning Van De Graaff might also have had something to do with figuring out different and distinctive conducting styles.

Anyway, the WFMT staff devised a quiz and put it on the radio station’s official blog.

You answer questions and then you see which great symphony orchestra conductor you would mostly likely be.

Among the names mentioned are Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Leonard Bernstein (whom The Ear was pegged as!) and the three below (from left): Marin Alsop, Pierre Boulez and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who heads the Philadelphia Orchestra and last week was named the new music director of the Metropolitan Opera.

WFMT conductor quiz

Here is a link to the quiz and to the comments that its results have inspired:

http://blogs.wfmt.com/offmic/2016/04/22/quiz-which-great-conductor-are-you/

Take the quiz and let The Ear and other readers know the results and what you thought of the quiz.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Pianist Jeffrey Siegel leaves Madison, after 26 seasons of his “Keyboard Conversations,” as a victim of his own success.

May 20, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A couple of weeks ago, after 26 consecutive seasons, pianist Jeffrey Siegel (below) gave what is likely to be his last “Keyboard Conversation” in Madison at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. “Music and Mistresses” focused on Romantic music that was inspired by love and composed by Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy. (For an introductory sample of that program, listen to the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Jeffrey Siegel 2014

That is a fine record of enviable longevity for a unique program that started at the old Madison Civic Center, then moved to the Overture Center and finally ended up at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

For more about his concert-conversation format and the cities where he still performs, visit:

http://keyboardconversations.com

As a fond farewell, I want to tell the public and Jeffrey Siegel how welcome and successful he was.

Not that the series didn’t run into trouble. But I expect there were many reasons why the attendance at the concert-discussion series finally fell to the point where no amount of cutting back or finagling could save it or keep it financially viable.

One reason was the perception, true or not, that Siegel’s concerts began to seem repetitive and predictable, even though he played a wide range of repertoire that also included works by  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Sergei Rachmaninoff and many others.

Another reason was the overall arts competition in Madison and specifically that more exciting pianists and contemporary or unusual piano programs — Christopher Taylor comes to mind — came on the local scene and cut into his appeal.

Scheduling was one another reason.

My own life became complicated when I started teaching an evening class in journalism at the University of Wisconsin while I also worked my regular day job as a reporter, writer and editor at The Capital Times. The mid-week days just became too long.

For some listeners, I expect, the tickets also became too expensive, especially if you weren’t a UW-Madison student.

But an even bigger factor probably, I suspect, was the explosive growth of the Madison classical concert scene since Siegel first started here 26 seasons ago. For example,  the Madison Symphony Orchestra now gives three performances of its subscription concerts and the UW School of Music hosts some 300 FREE events, including concerts by the Pro Arte Quartet (below, with Juilliard Quartet violist Samuel Rhodes). People, music fans included, are unbelievably busy.

Pro Arte with Samuel Rhodes

But I also want to propose that another major reason why Jeffrey Siegel ended up losing his series in Madison is that his approach proved so popular that other competing musicians adopted it.

In that way, Jeffrey Siegel was ahead of his time in learning how, as a performer and not just musicologist, to cultivate music appreciation, how to grow new and younger audiences for classical music. He was among the first to link musical performance with music education.

In that sense, Jeffrey Siegel -– who first discusses a piece of music and then plays it in its entirety -– was a pioneer who eventually became a victim of his own success.

After all, when The Ear first started attending the concerts by Siegel -– who always proved a generous and genial interview as well as a fine musician -– few or none of the serious “longhair” performers talked about their program. Pre-concert lectures were the exception, NOT the rule.

True, Leonard Bernstein (below) had done the Young People’s Concerts, which might have been a model for Siegel. But there were precious few followers.

Leonard Bernstein conducting

But these days I hear prefatory remarks from performers done regularly by conductor John DeMain at the Madison Symphony Orchestra; by conductor Andrew Sewell at the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; by general director Kathryn Smith of the Madison Opera; by cellist Parry Karp of the Pro Arte Quartet; and by virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

I have heard it done at the Madison Early Music Festival by Paul Rowe and Cheryl Bensman Rowe. Every MEMF concert has a pre-concert lecture.

And I have learned that the upcoming Piano Arts Competition in Milwaukee will even require participants to talk about the music they will play, and judge them on how they do.

On the air, the late Karl Haas and now Bill McGlaughlin (below) of the nightly “Exploring Music” series on Wisconsin Public Radio, take a similar approach.

Bill McGlaughlin at  microphone

In short, concert etiquette these days seems to prefer the Siegel approach of providing a frame for the painting, of giving listeners a historical and aesthetic context and not just assuming that the music can speak for himself.

In Jeffrey Siegel, classical music found a powerful ally and inventive advocate.

In that way, the end of Keyboard Conversations should be seen as vindication of Siegel’s approach and as a success, not as a validation that it was somehow wrong-headed or outdated and so proved a failure.

So The Ear doesn’t know what else to say except: Thank you, Jeffrey. I — and no doubt many others — wish you success in other places and with other ventures.

Imitation, the old saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. And so the classical music in Madison will continue to pay homage to you -– even without your presence.

That may not be just or fair. But that seems to be the way it is.

Classical music here and elsewhere owes a debt to you. You can and should be proud of that legacy. You were not a failure, but a success. It’s just that success can exact as severe a price as failure does.

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Classical music: This week is Schubert Week with FREE concerts by Madison violinist Kangwon Kim plus Bill McGlaughlin’s “Exploring Music” show every evening this week on Wisconsin Public Radio.

May 7, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

If you love the music of Franz Schubert  – and who doesn’t? – this promises to be a memorable week for you.

When it comes to Schubert (below) these days I find him more to my taste even than his mentor, Beethoven. Others can decide who was greater or more influential. What I do know is that I find Schubert somehow more human, more empathetic, more compassionate than Beethoven.

What an incredible composer Schubert (1797-1829) was – having done so much writing, and so much great compositing, before he died at 31 – almost five years younger than Mozart.

Franz Schubert big

So why is the week Schubert Week?

For one, Bill McGlaughlin (below) is spending all this week exploring the music of Schubert. His program “Exploring Music” airs at 8-9 p.m. (NOT 7-8 p.m., as it used to)  every weekday night on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM in the Madison area)

According to the playlist I saw, McGlaughlin, himself a composer and former conductor who is a Great Explainer of classical music, will look at many different kinds of masterpieces: symphonies, chamber music, songs and solo piano works.

Here is a general link to his show form WFMT in Chicago:

http://www.wfmt.com/main.taf?p=31,2

Here is a link to his listings of his show:

http://exploringmusic.wfmt.com/listen-to-the-show/116/schubertiade-part-ii

Bill McGlaughlin at  microphone

Add to that a concert with TWO FREE performances that includes three beautiful but under-performed chamber music works by Schubert: the D major sonata and the great C major “Fantasy” for violin and piano (in a YouTube video at the bottom) as well as String Trio in Bb major.

The performers are Madison violinist Kangwon Lee Kim (below left) who will be joined by pianist Li-Shan Hung (below right), violist Matthew Michelic and cellist Mark Bridges.

EPSON MFP image

Here are the details:

The first performance is this Saturday, May 11, at 3 p.m. in the Grand Hall (below) of the Capital Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, in downtown Madison, off the Capitol Square.

Capitol Lakes Hall

Then the program is repeated on Sunday, May 12 at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the Chazen Museum at 800 University Avenue on the UW-Madison campus. The concert is the season finale of the program “Sunday Afternoon Live from Chazen.” It is FREE concert and will be broadcast LIVE by Wisconsin Public Radio from 12:30 to 2 p.m.

SAL3


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