The Well-Tempered Ear

New York Times music critics pick 10 MUST-HEAR online virtual classical concerts to stream for October

October 3, 2020
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ALERT: Tonight’s concert by the choral group Roomful of Teeth for the Wisconsin Union Theater at the UW-Madison’s Hamel Music Center has been canceled and postponed indefinitely.

By Jacob Stockinger

Increasingly the coronavirus pandemic seems surging out of control. So it comes as no surprise that also more and more concerts of classical music are taking place virtually and online.

Coronavirus image CDC

There are many ways to choose among local, regional, national and international concerts.

But one good guide was published this last week and featured the choice of must-hear classical concerts by critics for The New York Times.

It is an interesting and varied selection, and includes times, links and brief descriptions.

It features concerts that emphasize Black composers such as Florence Price (below top) and women composers. It covers many genres from a solo piano recital by Jeremy Denk (below bottom) – who is supposed to perform here on Dec. 11 at the Wisconsin Union Theater – to chamber music, vocal music, orchestral concerts and operas.

Florence Price head shot University of Arkansas Libraries

Jeremy Denk playing CR Hiroyuki Ito NYTImes

Curiously, there is quite bit of new music but little early music, either Renaissance or Baroque. Perhaps more will appear around the holiday times, when that music is part of the traditional holiday celebrations.

You will find contemporary composers but also lots of certified, tried-and-true classics and masterworks.

Some are one-day only events but many run from a week through a month.

Here is a link to the story. PLEASE NOTE THAT TIMES ARE ALL EASTERN: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/29/arts/music/classical-music-stream.html

Please let The Ear know if you like this kind of listing and find it useful.

And please feel free to leave in the comment section other guides or events that the public should know about.


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Classical music: The Library of Congress has commissioned new music about the coronavirus pandemic. You can listen to the world premieres from this Monday, June 15, through June 26

June 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The U.S. Library of Congress (LOC, exterior is below top and interior is below bottom) has started a new artistic project relevant to a public health crisis in both a historical era and the current times.

The LOC has commissioned 10 different short works, experienced in 10 different performance videos recorded at their homes — that pertain to the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 from American composers and performers.

It is called The Boccaccio Project after the Renaissance poet Giovanni Boccaccio (below), a 14th-century Italian writer who wrote “The Decameron,” a series of stories told by 10 people who fled from Florence, Italy, to find refuge in the countryside during the Black Plague.

The musical works will start being premiered on weekdays this coming Monday, June 15, at the Library of Congress website. The works will also be broadcast on social media including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The website, which now has a complete list of performers and works, will soon have a complete schedule of world premieres, running on weekdays from Monday, June 15, to Friday, June 26. Then the manuscripts will be transferred to the LOC archives.

Here is a link: https://loc.gov/item/prn-20-038/

Many of the names will be unfamiliar to the general public. But an excellent story about the background and genesis of the project, including music samples, can be found on National Public Radio (NPR), which aired the story Friday morning.

Here is a link to that 7-minute story (if you listen to it rather than read it, you will hear samples of the music): https://www.npr.org/2020/06/12/875325958/a-new-library-of-congress-project-commissions-music-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic

And here are some of the participants, who are noteworthy for their ethnic and geographic diversity:

Flutronix (below) includes flutist Allison Loggins-Hull, left, and composer Nathalie Joachim.

The work by composer Luciano Chessa (below top) will be performed by violist Charlton Lee (below bottom), of the Del Sol Quartet:

And the work by Damien Sneed (below top) work will be performed by Jeremy Jordan (below bottom):

The new project strikes The Ear as a terrific and timely undertaking — the musical equivalent of the photographic project, funded and staffed by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during The Great Depression of the 1930s. That project yielded enduring masterpieces by such eminent photographers as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.

But several questions arise.

How much did the project cost?

Will the general public be able to get copies of and rights to these works to perform? One assumes yes, since it is a public project funded with public money.

And will this project give rise to similar projects in other countries that are also battling the pandemic? New art – literature, films, painting, dance and so on — arising from new circumstances seems like something that is indeed worth the undertaking.

Listen to them.

What works stand out for you?

What do you think of the project?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Madison Early Music Festival turns 15 with a perfect opening concert by the Toronto Consort that explored the Italian Renaissance and the musical legacy of Leonardo da Vinci.

July 15, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Early Music Festival started as an idea.

So, what better way to mark its 15th anniversary than by exploring perhaps history’s greatest Man of Ideas -– Leonardo da Vinci?

Leonardo da Vinci

And that is exactly what happened during the opening concert last Saturday  night by MEMF, which this year is exploring Italian music from 1300 to 1600.

memf banner 2014

The festival — complete with workshops, lectures and concerts -– is held each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

It started as a way to help fill the summertime void of classical music. But now summer is its own season when it comes to classical music in Madison, and much of that success is due to MEMF’s success.

Co-founders and co-artistic directors UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below) had every reason to be proud and moved -– and they were, visibly and audibly.

Paul Rowe, Cheryl Bensman Rowe MEMF 2014

This summer, because Mills Hall is under construction, MEMF has had to turn to other venues, chiefly the nearby Luther Memorial Church at 1021 University Avenue and Music Hall on Bascom Hill.

The opening concert “The Da Vinci Codex” was held at Luther Memorial, and the church seemed close to full, meaning almost 400 listeners attended. This alternative venue actually seemed an improvement in that it offered a warm and acoustically superior environment with sets and a building that complemented the religious beliefs and art of that era’s music and culture.

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial audience

The program was set up by a fine and well-attended lecture and slide show given by UW-Madison art professor Gail Geiger (below). She examined the heretofore underestimated role of music in Leonardo’s life and career as a painter, drawing master, poet, engineer, inventor and all-round genius.

MEMF 2014 Gail Geiger

MEMF Gail Geiger slide show Leonardo

What the audience then heard was a two-hour concert in which no false note was sounded, no false step was taken.

The performer was the Toronto Consort, making its Madison debut. It proved an outstanding and thoroughly professional group of eight persons (below) who are multi-talented in their ability to sing, to play instruments and to recite narration dramatically, expressively and convincingly. They were not afraid to entertain and as well as to inform. (You can hear a sample of similar music performed by the Toronto Consort in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Toronto Consort MEMF 2014

The Ear was especially impressed by the tightness of the scissors-and-paste presentation and the uncanny way the Toronto Consort spoke to and engaged with the audience, who laughed and applauded thunderously.

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial audience Toronto Consort

The program’s effectiveness came from the terrifically seamless and smooth narrative thread, the story that centered on the life and works of Leonardo da Vinci. It was unifying and used primary sources (Leonardo’s notebooks and letters) and secondary sources like the proto-art historian Giorgio Vasari’s “Lives” and other historians or critics. (Below is David Fallis, the artistic director, tenor and narrator.)

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial Toronto Consort David Fallis, artistic director, tenor, narrator

The performers moved easily from historical accounts of Leonardo in Florence, Milan and France to contextual music that illustrated Leonardo –- the ultimate Renaissance Man — from birth to death. And it proved thoroughly enjoyable and often deeply moving. You did not have to be a fan of early music to be taken in by the contagious melodies and harmonies, the catchy inflections and rhythms, the facts of an amazing life and career.

Just watching these complete professionals perform took us into their world because they are full-body performers who used hands, feet and facial expressions to convey the emotional meaning of the music and get the audience to connect with the music and with them. It felt like Renaissance jazz, so free and yet also so disciplined and practiced was the performance. It is what The Ear likes to call “the well-rehearsed surprise” and is a hallmark of all great performances that are virtuosic and make what is hard seem easy or effortless. (Below is Katherine Hall, viola da gamba player and soprano, singing.)

MEMF 2014 Toronto Consort Katherine Hill soprano and viola da gamba

There is much more left of the 15th Madison Early Music Festival to hear, including “Songs of Love” by the instrumentalists and vocal ensemble Ex Umbris in Music Hall tonight at 7:30 p.m. tonight; plus other concerts including the second annual Handel Aria Competition in Music Hall on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOT 7 p.m., as the MEMF home website mistakenly said at first, and the always impressive All-Festival Concert, which focuses this year on the Trionfi of the poet Petrarch, on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church. FREE pre-concert lectures by experts in art, music and history take place at 6:30 p.m.

Here is a link to a schedule and descriptions of events, with times, places and participants:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

Unlike many of Leonardo’s ideas, which were adventurous and even prophetic if uncompleted, MEMF has moved from idea to reality.

The Ear has no doubt, and every hope, that it is here to stay, and that it will continue to evolve and grow.


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