The Well-Tempered Ear

Salon Piano Series posts pianist Kangwoo Jin playing the Liszt transcription of Schumann’s song “Dedication”

June 13, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has the following announcement to post from the Salon Piano Series.

As the series has done during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is offering a FREE excerpt from a past concert.

In this case, it is the South Korean pianist Kangwoo Jin (below, in a photo by Andy Manis) playing Franz Liszt’s solo piano transcription of Robert Schumann’s song “Widmung” (Dedication). which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is a sensitive and lyrical performance full of unrushed songfulness.

It is often used as an encore, and was a favorite of Van Cliburn and others.

Here it was part of a larger program that Jin – who last summer received his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin’s Mead Witter School of Music — did virtually and only during the pandemic.

For more information about the complete concert, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2021/04/22/this-sunday-at-4-p-m-the-salon-piano-series-debuts-an-online-recital-by-pianist-kangwoo-jin-he-plays-music-by-scarlatti-beethoven-liszt-and-schumann-it-will-be-available-until-may-9/

Here is the announcement from the Salon Piano Series, which is sponsored by and held at Farley’s House of Pianos on Madison’s far west side near West Towne:

Please take a break from your day to see and hear Kangwoo Jin perform a portion of Franz Liszt’s Transcriptions for Piano.

This video was recorded (below), without an audience, at Luther Memorial Church on April 15, 2021 as part of the Salon Piano Series.

Over the years, many of you have supported the Salon Piano Series with your attendance, individual sponsorships and donations.

We look forward to bringing you world-class musical performances in our unique salon setting again soon.

Please stay tuned for the announcement of our 2021-22 season.

Sincerely,

Salon Piano Series


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Today – Monday, March 29 – is World Piano Day. Here are links to free online recitals. What does the piano mean to you? Did it play a role during the pandemic?

March 29, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – March 29, 2021 – is World Piano Day.

That is because today is the 88th day of 2021.

Gotta have some kind of code or symbolic meaning, after all.

In any case, there are virtual online celebrations all over the world. Here is a link to the official welcoming website that also lists Spotify and SoundCloud playlists from past years and dozens of worldwide events this year, running from March 25-30: https://www.pianoday.org

You can also find more on Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The piano means a lot to The Ear, who listens to it and plays it. He loves, loves, loves the piano.

What has the piano and piano music meant to you in your life?

What role did the piano play for you during the past pandemic year?

Have you listened to or discovered newer, younger talent?

Do you have favorite pianists, either historic or current? What do you like about them?

Or maybe you have favorite piano pieces?

Please tell us all about you and the piano in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

In the meantime you can listen to the World Piano Day “monster recital” by 17 pianists who record for Deutsche Grammophon. The “Yellow Label” – the first commercial record label — has signed a lot of great pianists in its time, and still does.

Here is a link to the YouTube DG recital, which lasts 2 hours and 50 minutes. If you go to the actual YouTube site, click on Show More to see the complete list of performers and pieces. Otherwise performers and programs are displayed on the screen:


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The eighth annual UW Schubertiade is this Sunday afternoon. It features a FREE online retrospective of the past seven years plus a new four-hand piano performance

January 29, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The University of Wisconsin has posted the following announcement:

For the eighth consecutive year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music will present its annual Schubertiade — a special concert celebrating the music of Franz Schubert (below).

Traditionally these concerts have been held around the composer’s birthday. This year’s concert will in fact occur on his birthday — this Sunday, Jan. 31, at 3-4:30 p.m. CST. The pre-recorded premiere is at: https://youtu.be/7sshhKiFPAg

You can also use the link to prepare for the concert before or during the concert. You will find the program with song titles, the original German texts and English translation, and biographies of the performers by simply clicking on “SHOW MORE” on the YouTube website and follow the links to PDFs.

BECAUSE THERE ARE NO COPYRIGHT ISSUES, ACCORDING TO UW OFFICIALS, THE POST SHOULD BE UP AND AVAILABLE INDEFINITELY AFTER ITS PREMIERE.

As in past years, founders and performers Martha Fischer (below left), professor of piano and head of the collaborative piano program at UW-Madison, and her husband Bill Lutes (below right), an independent piano teacher, and UW emeritus artist-in-residence, will host the program.

These concerts have been presented in the sprit of the first Schubertiades (below, in a painting by Julius Schmid) that took place during the composer’s lifetime (1797-1828) in the homes of his friends and fellow artists, poets and fans.

These were social as well as musical occasions with Schubert himself presiding at the piano, giving his audience a chance to hear his latest songs, piano duets and chamber music, as well as pieces that had already become favorites.

This year’s Schubertiade will be different in response to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It will be an online look back — or Rückblick — at past concerts, with songs chosen from performances that have been preserved in the audio and video archive.

The featured performers will include faculty members, students and alumni from the Mead Witter School of Music, along with special guests.

In addition, pianists Fischer and Lutes will give a “new” performance recorded for this occasion of the great Fantasie in F minor for piano duet. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear that work, performed by Dutch brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen and recorded live in Seoul, South Korea.)

The songs have been chosen to reflect themes that were not only relevant to Schubert and his circle, but also to all of us in the midst of this challenging time: hope for a brighter future; the need for connection with others; remembrance of happier times; and the consolation to be found in nature.

Schubert left a vast and precious legacy of beauty — an enormous output of music that he composed in his short lifetime.

In a sense, each time his music is performed and heard, it is a journey from the past to our own time, the sounds speaking to us today as vividly and consolingly as they did when they were created 200 years ago.

Performers

Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes, pianists

Alumni:

Jamie-Rose Guarrine, soprano (below, in a photo by Peter Konerko)
Emily Birsan, soprano
Michael Roemer, baritone
Jennifer D’Agostino, soprano
Daniel O’Dea, tenor
Wesley Dunnagan, tenor
Sarah Brailey (alumna and current DMA student)
Sara Guttenberg

Guests:

Marie McManama, soprano
Cheryl Bensman-Rowe, mezzo-soprano

Faculty:

Mimmi Fulmer, soprano
Paul Rowe, baritone (below)
Julia Rottmayer, soprano

Staff

David Alcorn, videographer, editor, etc.
Katrin Talbot, images for audio only tracks

 


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Which classical composer has helped you the most during the Covid-19 pandemic?

January 4, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The holidays are over and as we close in on marking a year of the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, The Ear has a question:

Which composer has helped you the most to weather the pandemic so far?

The Ear wishes he could say Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin or Brahms. And the truth is that they all played a role, some more than others.

But The Ear was surprised by the composer whose works he most listened to and liked — Antonio Vivaldi (below), the Red Priest of Venice who lived from 1678 to 1714 and taught at a Roman Catholic girls school.

Here is more about his biography, which points out that his work was neglected for two centuries and began being rediscovered only in the early 20th-century and still continues being rediscovered to the present day: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Vivaldi

The Ear isn’t talking about popular The Four Seasons although that set of 12 solo violin concertos has its charms and originalities.

The Ear especially appreciated the lesser-known concertos for two violins and the cello concertos, although the concertos for bassoon, flute, recorder, oboe, lute, trumpet and mandolin also proved engaging, as did the concerto grosso.

It was the 20th-century composer Igor Stravinsky (below) – the modern pioneer of neo-Classicism — who complained that Vivaldi rewrote the same concerto 500 times. “Vivaldi,” Stravinsky once said, “is greatly overrated – a dull fellow who could compose the same form many times over.”

But then did anyone turn to Stravinsky – who, The Ear suspects, was secretly envious — when they needed music as medicine or therapy during the pandemic? 

Vivaldi was, in fact, a master. See and hear for yourself.  In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear a performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in G minor, RV 535,  performed by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.

Why Vivaldi? You might ask.

Well, it’s nothing highbrow.

The best explanation is that Vivaldi’s music simply seems like caffeine for the ears and sunshine for the eyes. His music isn’t overly introspective or glum, and it isn’t too long or melodramatic.

The melodies and harmonies are always pleasing and energizing, and the tempi are just right, although bets are that the music is much harder to play than it sounds.

In short, Vivaldi’s extroverted music is infectious and appealing because it just keeps humming along — exactly as those of us in lockdown and isolation at home have had to do.

Happily, there are a lot of fine recordings of Vivaldi by period instrument groups from England, Italy and Germany and elsewhere that use historically informed performance practices. But some the most outstanding recordings are by modern instrument groups, which should not be overlooked.

With a few exceptions – notably Wisconsin Public Radio – you don’t get to hear much Vivaldi around here, especially in live performances, even from early music and Baroque ensembles. If you hear Vivaldi here, chances are it is The Four Seasons or the Gloria. Should there be more Vivaldi? Will we hear more Vivaldi when live concerts resume? That is a topic for another time.

In the meantime, The Ear wants to know:

Which composer did you most listen to or find most helpful throughout the pandemic?

Leave your choice in the comment section with, if possible, a YouTube link to a favorite work and an explanation about why you liked that composer and work.

The Ear wants to hear.

Thank you and Happy New Year!

 


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Today is the Winter Solstice. Here is a piece to make you look forward to longer days, warmth and the Summer Solstice next year

December 21, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Monday, Dec. 21 — is the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It arrives at 4:02 a.m. CST.

The Ear expects that Wisconsin Public Radio, among other media outlets, will be marking the event with traditional, often austere, winter music. That includes “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”; maybe some songs from Schubert’s “Winterreise” (Winter Journey); Peter Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” and “The Nutcracker”; and, of course, plenty of winter holiday music, including carols and the Baroque oratorios, cantatas and concertos by Bach, Handel, Telemann, Corelli and others.

But many people – strained by the coronavirus pandemic –are already eagerly looking forward to the days growing longer, which will culminate in the Summer Solstice at 10:31 p.m. CST on Sunday, June 21, 2021.

Who needs to celebrate the season’s cold and darkness? So The Ear thought that we could all use a little sonic sunlight, tonal warmth and musical hope, especially at the end of this Plague Year.

There are standards and favorites such as Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” and Vivaldi’s “Summer.” 

But to The Ear that work that really lifts one’s spirits, and captures the kind of joyful abandon and youthful energy of the mid-summer event, complete with animal noises and romance, is the “Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream” by a 17-year-old Felix Mendelssohn (below).

You can hear it below in a YouTube performance by the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig conducted by the late, great German conductor Kurt Masur, whose son, Ken-David Masur, is the new music director and conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

The Ear hopes you enjoy it.

What music would you like to hear or play to mark the Winter Solstice?

Leave a suggestion with your reason and, if possible, YouTube link in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus plus guest artists premiere a virtual online Christmas concert this Wednesday night. It runs through Dec. 31. Plus, PBS Wisconsin will rebroadcast the 2018 holiday concert on Sunday, Dec. 20.

December 15, 2020
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ALERT: Tomorrow — Wednesday, Dec. 16 — Wisconsin Public Radio will mark the 250th birth of Ludwig van Beethoven. The day’s programming is sure to feature many of the composer’s most popular works as well as some neglected ones. Which Beethoven work most moves you? Leave word in the Comment section.

By Jacob Stockinger

This Wednesday night, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m., the Madison Symphony Orchestra will premiere its FREE virtual and online holiday concert of “A Madison Symphony Christmas.”

This special new one-hour concert production will feature vocalists Kyle Ketelsen and Emily Secor; the Madison Symphony Chorus; the Madison Youth Choirs; and the Mt. Zion Gospel Ensemble (below), with performances and accompaniment by John DeMain and Greg Zelek on piano and the Overture Concert Organ, respectively.

This concert is offered for FREE upon registration and will be available for viewing through Dec. 31, 2020.



Featured music includes Joy to the World, Peace Carol, O Holy Night, Sleigh Ride, The Christmas Song, Winter Wonderland, Christmas Hope and more — plus the traditional sing-along where you can join the MSO singing to a medley of favorites from your home.

To register and find out more information about the individual and group performers (below), go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-virtual-madison-symphony-christmas-2020/

In addition, you can relive the 2018 Madison Symphony Christmas concert on Sunday, Dec. 20, at 4 p.m. on your local PBS Wisconsin station.

For more information about the one-hour program and performers, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-madison-symphony-christmas-2018-re-broadcast/


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November’s “Just Bach” FREE online concert is this Wednesday morning at 8 instead of noon. It features two favorites: “Air on the G String” and the Concerto for Two Violins

November 17, 2020
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This Wednesday, Just Bach again shares the timeless beauty of the music by Johann Sebastian Bach (below) from their home in the nave of Luther Memorial Church (LCM), 1021 University Avenue.

The group participates in LMC’s weekly ‘Music at Midday’ concert series at https://www.luthermem.org/music-at-midday. (Please note: Now that the concerts are online instead of in person, the videos will be posted early Wednesday mornings at 8 a.m., instead of at noon. They will remain online indefinitely so viewers can see them at their convenience.).

As part of this series, Just Bach concerts take place on the third Wednesday of each month. Remaining concerts are: Nov. 18, Dec. 16, Jan. 20, Feb. 17, March 17, April 21 and May 19. The programs last approximately 30 minutes. 

It is still too risky to have in-person audiences. So in addition to the Luther Memorial website, they will be posted on:

The Just Bach home website at: https://justbach.org/concerts/

The Just Bach Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/JustBachSeries

And the Just Bach YouTube Channel, where previous concerts are still posted, at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcyVFEVsJwklHAx9riqSkXQ

Viewing the concerts is FREE, but the group asks those who are able, to help pay the musicians with tax-deductible donations at: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=7A4R7CA8VDRMG&source=url

PLEASE NOTE: New this month will be a half-hour live ZOOM post-concert reception on this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. CST. Those who would like to join us and chat with the performers can follow this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87144868956?pwd=aHUrR3BNZFF5Y1hlVG1EWkNvMklkQT09

The November concert opens with Just Bach co-founder, UW graduate student and nationally concertizing soprano Sarah Brailey (below), who will provide welcoming remarks and an overview of the program.

Our guest artists this month (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) are a quartet of string players from the Madison Symphony Orchestra: violinists Leanne League and Xavier Pleindoux; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt; and cellist Lindsey Crabb. Also performing is harpsichordist John Chappell Stowe, a professor in the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. Dave Parminter is the videographer.

League and Pleindoux (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) will play the solo parts in the familiar and beautiful Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins (the ‘Bach Double’), BWV 1043.

Madison Symphony Orchestra audiences will remember their gorgeous performance of this piece at a Christmas Spectacular concert a couple of years back. (You can hear the beautiful and poignant slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The ensemble will continue with a movement from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, the serenely transcendent “Air on a G String.”

Sarah Brailey returns to lead the final chorale from Cantata 139, composed for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, which happens to be this coming Sunday. The stirring title, Dahero Trotz der Höllen Heer! translates as “Therefore Defiance to the Host of Hell.”

We encourage viewers to sing along by following the chorale sheet music, which will be displayed on the screen, as Stowe accompanies on the organ. 

 


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Did Beethoven and his Fifth Symphony foster racism, exclusion and elitism in the concert hall? The Ear thinks that is PC nonsense. What do you think?

September 19, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Controversy has struck big among classical music critics and fans — just in time for the Beethoven Year that will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth this December. Plans call for celebrations by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, and others. 

At question is what seems yet another fallout and dust-up from the Black Lives Matter movement and the current struggle to foster social justice and racial equality.

In some ways, it all seems inevitable.

Now the history-denying advocates of cancel culture are suggesting that Beethoven (below) and his music – especially the popular Fifth Symphony (you can hear the famous opening in the YouTube schematic video at the bottom)  –  fostered white privilege and the rise of racism, sexism and homophobia in the concert hall.

That seems like quite an accusation for a single composer and a single piece of music that was premiered in 1808.

The assertion is food for thought. But not much.

In the end The Ear finds it a stretch and a totally bogus argument. He thinks that Beethoven attracted far more performers and audiences than he repelled. Others, including famed critic Norman Lebrecht in his blog Slipped Disc and a critic for the right-wing newspaper The New York Post, agree:

https://slippedisc.com/2020/09/beethovens-5th-is-a-symbol-of-exclusion-and-elitism/

https://nypost.com/2020/09/17/canceling-beethoven-is-the-latest-woke-madness-for-the-classical-music-world/

The Ear also thinks it is political correctness run amok, even for someone who, like himself, advocates strongly for diversity of composers, performers and audiences – but always with quality in mind — in the concert hall.

Just because Beethoven was such a great creative artist is hardly cause to blame him for the inability of other artists to succeed and for non-white audiences taking to classical music. Other forces — social, economic and political — explain that much better.

Yes, Beethoven is a towering and intimidating figure. And yes, his works often dominate programming. But both musicians and audiences return to him again and again because of the originality, power and first-rate quality of his many works.

Beethoven himself was deaf. That would certainly seem to qualify him as inclusive and a member of an important category of diversity.

No matter. The writers are happy to blame Ludwig and his work for exclusion and elitism. They argue that people of color, women and LGBTQ people have all felt alienated from classical music because of Beethoven’s legacy.

Of course, there is elitism in the arts. People may be equal, but creative talent is not.

And clearly, Beethoven was a towering and intimidating figure – more for the quality of his music than for the simple fact that it exists. Such exclusion and elitism have to do with other factors than the composition of the Fifth Symphony.

If The Ear recalls correctly, when he died Beethoven was given the largest state funeral up to that time for a non-royal, non-politician or non-military person.

And how do you explain that Beethoven’s music, so representative of Western culture, appeals deeply to and attracts so many Asians and Asian-Americans, and became both banned and symbolically central to those opposed to Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China?

But these days being provocative can become its own reward.

You can read the analysis and decide about its merits for yourself, then let us know what you think in the Comment section.

Here is a link to the opinion piece in Vox Magazine, a free online journal: https://www.vox.com/switched-on-pop/21437085/beethoven-5th-symphony-elitist-classism-switched-on-pop

What do you think about the idea that Beethoven played a large and seminal role in fostering an elitist and exclusive culture in classical music?

Did you ever feel alienated from classical music because of Beethoven or know others who have?

What is your favorite Beethoven composition?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The Madison Opera launches its Digital Fall this Sunday afternoon and Sept. 27 with more to come through December. The cost is $50 per household

September 18, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the Madison Opera about its Digital fall season, which will open with an artists’ panel discussion this Sunday afternoon, Sept. 20, and then an original world-premiere production on Sept. 27, a week from this Sunday.

“Although the coronavirus pandemic has closed the Overture Center for the Arts this fall, Madison Opera is not going silent.

“We are creating a fall season that lasts from September through December. It includes both digital content and live performances at the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, our home in downtown Madison.

“All content will be available to subscribers for at least one month from the “live” date, so you can watch at your leisure, and as often as you wish.”

A Digital Fall subscription is $50 per household. It can be purchased on its own, or as part of a new subscription package. It can be purchased through the link at the bottom.

Here is how it will work: About 48 hours before each event, subscribers will receive an email with the private link to that event.  (You may need to check your spam folder).  If you have not received an email the day before an event, email info@madisonopera.org and we’ll send you the link directly.

The link remains active for one month, so if you cannot watch an event live – or want to re-watch it – you won’t miss out.

Do you miss operatic conversation? Join us online! Opera Up Close is a favorite event for Madison Opera subscribers, usually featuring a discussion of the upcoming opera from a historical context and with cast members.

For our Digital Fall, this conversation is reimagined via technology to discuss broader opera topics, featuring favorite Madison Opera company members, interviewed by Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill).

Opera Up Close Cocktail Hour Discussions take place on Sunday afternoons, 4– 5:30 p.m. Subscribers will have the opportunity to ask questions both in advance and during the talk.

UP CLOSE COCKTAIL HOUR DISCUSSION

This Sunday, Sept. 20, 4-5:30 p.m.

Many singers have debuted at Madison Opera (MO) early in their careers, before going on to sing around the world.

Featured in this discussion are: Kyle Ketelsen of Sun Prairie (below top in a photo by Lawrence Brownlee, MO debut 2000); Emily Fons (below middle, MO debut 2012); and Will Liverman (below bottom, MO debut 2015). Join us for a wide-ranging discussion about their careers, training paths, and much more.

WORLD PREMIERE OF  A SONG CYCLE

Jeni Houser and David Blalock, singers

Saturday, Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.

Featuring the world premiere of “Keep Moving” by Madison composer and UW-Madison graduate Scott Gendel

Married singers Jeni Houser and David Blalock (below) have a long history with Madison Opera. Jeni was one of our first Studio Artists in 2012, and has returned many times, most recently as Anne in Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”

David debuted in Beethoven’s “Fidelio” (2014), and both artists sang at Opera in the Park 2019 (below). This past season, Jeni and David made (separate) Metropolitan Opera debuts, and were slated to sing the leads in Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld ” in Madison last spring, which was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wisconsin residents will launch our Live from the Opera Center series in a joint recital, accompanied by principal pianist Scott Gendel (below).

Gendel is also an acclaimed composer, and the recital will feature the world premiere of his song cycle “Keep Moving,” set to poetry by Maggie Smith, which he is writing specifically for Jeni and David. (below, in a photo by David Scott, are all three are rehearsing in the Madison Opera’s Winston Center.)

Here is a link to the initial schedule of events, including a cooperative production of Jean Cocteau’s monologue opera “The Human Voice” with the Austin Opera in Texas, and biographies of various singers and participants.

More events will be added and announced in the coming months.

You will also a find a button to click on to subscribe to the Digital Fall: https://www.madisonopera.org/Fall2020


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Classical music: Leon Fleisher, the inspirational pianist and teacher who died a week ago, had ties to Madison

August 9, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Famed American pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher (below, in a photo by Chris Hartlove), who also conducted, died of cancer at 92 last Sunday, Aug. 2.

Wisconsin Public Radio, like many other media outlets including National Public Radio (NPR) and most major newspapers and television stations, devoted a lot of time to tributes to and remembrances of Fleisher.

That is as it should be. If any musician deserved it, Fleisher did.

Fleisher (1928-2020) was a titan who became, over many years and despite major personal setbacks — stemming from an almost paralyzed right hand — a lot more than a keyboard virtuoso.

But despite lots of air time, less well covered has been his relationship to Madison audiences, who had the pleasure of seeing and hearing him several times in person.

In 2003 and then again in 2016 (below top) — at age 88 — Fleisher performed with the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below bottom).

Both times he played the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, a masterpiece of chamber music. He and his wife, Katherine Jacobson, also performed a joint recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater in 2009.

Fleisher felt at home in Baroque, Classical, Romantic and even modern music. He was renowned as an interpreter of Brahms. Indeed, his early and widely acclaimed recordings of both Brahms piano concertos as well as of the Waltzes and Handel Variations remain landmarks.

Once he was again playing with both hands, Fleisher also recorded the piano quintet for Deutsche Grammophon with the Emerson String Quartet, another frequent and favorite performer in Madison. (You can hear the finale in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a this blog’s review of his last Madison appearance: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Leon+Fleisher

Fleisher liked performing with the Pro Arte, and therein lies another historical tale.

His most influential teacher — the famed pianist Artur Schnabel, with whom the San Francisco-born Fleisher went to study in Europe when he was just 9 — also played often with the earlier members of Pro Arte Quartet. Together they recorded Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet by Franz Schubert, and that recording is still in the catalogue and available on Amazon.

Fleisher discusses studying with Schnabel in his entertaining and informative 2010 autobiography “My Nine Lives” (below).

Fleisher was a child prodigy who made his name while still young. Famed French conductor Pierre Monteux – who conducted the world premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in Paris — called Fleisher the “musical find of the century.” Fleisher made his concerto debut at 16 with the New York Philharmonic under Monteux.

Fleisher was just 36 and preparing for a tour with the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell – a perfect pairing and a conductor with whom he recorded all the Beethoven and Brahms concertos among may others – when he found he could not uncurl the last three fingers of his right hand.

Various diagnoses and causes were offered, and many cures were tried. In the end, it seems like that it was a case of focal dystonia that was caused by over-practicing, especially octaves. “I pounded ivory six or seven hours a day,” Fleisher later said.

After a period of depression and soul-searching, Fleisher then focused on performing music for the left hand; on conducting; and especially on teaching for more than 60 years at the Peabody Institute, located in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University.

There he helped shaped the career of many other famous pianists, including André Watts, Yefim Bronfman and Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Julian Edelstein), who played when Fleisher received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007. (All three have performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Here is an inspiring overview of Fleisher’s life and career from the Peabody Institute: https://peabody.jhu.edu/faculty/leon-fleisher/

And here is another short biography from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Fleisher

Here are three especially noteworthy obituaries:

NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/08/02/702978476/leon-fleisher-the-pianist-who-reinvented-himself-dies-at-92

The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/02/arts/music/leon-fleisher-dead.html

The Washington Post, written by critic Anne Midgette who worked with Fleisher on his memoir: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/leon-fleisher-sublime-pianist-with-one-hand-or-two-dies-at-92/2020/08/02/c7c98f90-527d-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_story.html

The Ear has always found Fleisher’s playing remarkable for its technical fluency combined with the utmost clarity and exacting but flexible sense of rhythm. He always managed to make a piece of music sound just right, as it was intended to sound. His musicality always seemed innate and perfectly natural.

Sample it for yourself. The Ear thinks the performance of all five Beethoven concertos with George Szell still sets a high standard with its exciting, upbeat tempi, its exemplary balance between piano and orchestra, and its exceptional engineering.

The affable Fleisher will long remain an inspiration not only for his playing and teaching, but also for his determination to overcome personal obstacles and go on to serve music — not just the piano.

Did you ever hear Leon Fleisher play live or in recordings? What did you think?

Do you have a comment to leave about the legacy of Fleisher?


Posted in Classical music
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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