The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What music would celebrate Super Bowl XLIX – that’s 49 in plain English – that takes place this afternoon? Plus, the Con Vivo chamber music concert this afternoon in Stoughton has been POSTPONED until next Sunday night.

February 1, 2015
3 Comments

ALERT: The administration of the Stoughton Opera House has decided to postpone the chamber music concert by Con Vivo (below) scheduled for this afternoon, Feb. 1, due to the anticipated snow storm.

The new concert date and time is: next Sunday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at the Stoughton Opera House. Please help spread the word to anyone you know who might have been planning to come to the concert. Says the group: “We look forward to seeing you next week! Stay safe and warm. Thank you.”

Con Vivo core musicians

By Jacob Stockinger

Today, Super Bowl XLIX — or 49 to most of us — will be played between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots in Glendale, Arizona.

Super Bowl 49 social media logos

Kickoff time is 5:30 p.m., CST.

It will be broadcast on NBC.

The game is billed as the world’s largest single sports event.

Given the number of people it will reach via TV and other social media, and given the advertising price of $4.5 million for a 30-second spot, that description sounds pretty accurate.

Super Bowl XLIX no cactus

Here are some suggestions from past years:

Super Bowl 48 in 2014:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/classical-music-what-classical-music-goes-best-with-the-nfls-super-bowl-48-football-championship-today-plus-university-of-wisconsin-madison-singers-and-instrumentalists-movingly-celebrate-franz-s/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/classical-music-what-classical-music-goes-best-with-the-nfls-super-bowl-48-football-championship-today-plus-university-of-wisconsin-madison-singers-and-instrumentalists-movingly-celebrate-franz-s/

football

Super Bowl 47 in 2013, which drew a lot of reader suggestions and comments:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/classical-music-what-classical-music-goes-best-with-super-bowl-47-today-since-there-are-fewer-live-concerts-to-attend-that-conflict-with-the-football-game/

Let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The venerable early music group Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble celebrates the 300th birthday of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach with fine style and revealing contexts that anticipate Mozart and Beethoven. Plus, many UW-Madison choirs perform two performances of a one-hour seasonal program in FREE “Choral Prism” concert this Sunday afternoon at 2 and again at 4.

December 5, 2014
2 Comments

ALERT: Two one-hour performances of the FREE Choral Prism Concert, featuring all of UW-Madison choral choirs, will take place on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave. Performing short pieces of seasonal music — winter,  Christmas, Hanukkah — under conductor and director Beverly Taylor are the UW Chorale, UW Concert Choir, UW Madrigal Singers, UW Masters Singers and Women’s Chorus Opera and Voice. There is an optional sing-along for the audience. Sorry, The Ear has received no word on specific composers and works.

luther memorial church madison

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 20 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

After almost 25 years, as the first and longest-surviving group bringing early music to Madison on a regular basis, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) is still going strong.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble 2014

And two days after Thanksgiving, on the tail end of a University of Wisconsin-Madison football game, it came up with a remarkably rich and generous program, performed at a familiar venue, the historic Gates of Heaven synagogue (below) in James Madison Park.

Gates of Heaven

Part of the richness was the idea of a partial theme: commemorating the 300th anniversary year of the birth of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below, 1714-1788).

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1733 painted by Gottfriend Friedrich Bach, a relative

Of eight program slots, three were devoted to C.P.E.’s music.  The opening item was a Trio Sonata in D minor, for two flutes and basso continuo, played by flutists Brett Lipshitz and Monica Steger, with cellist Anton TenWolde cellist (below) and harpsichordist Max Yount. (You can hear the Trio Sonata in D minor at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

anton tenwolde

Written during C.P.E.’s service to the flute-obsessed Frederick the Great of Prussia, it is a conservative piece that still looks back to the late Baroque styles of the composer’s famous father, Johann Sebastian Bach. On the other hand, three short practice Sonatinas from the very end of C.P.E.’s life (played by Yount) can be related to the piano sonatas that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was writing exactly at the same time.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

Most fascinating of all, however, was a Sonata for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord obligato, dating from 1759.  An intricate and demanding work, it has its own musical substance, the opening of which Eric Miller (below, in photo by Katrin Talbot) brought off brilliantly, with Yount.  But clearly as a duet for two equal instruments (abandoning the old keyboard continuo function), it gave hints of Ludwig van Beethoven’s cello sonatas, to come a half-century and more later.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble Eric Miller USE THIS by Katrin Talbot

As against the works of the birthday boy, instrumental pieces by three other composers were offered, composers roughly parallel in lifespan to C.P.E., but whose individual differences made nice contrasts to the latter’s style.

Rather conventionally post-Baroque was a sonata for cello and bass by the Dutch composer Pieter Hellendaal (1721-1799).  But pre-Classical virtuosity was the hallmark of a Sonata for traverse flute and continuo by Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783), played with wonderful flair by Lipshutz, with Steger shifting to the harpsichord as partner.

Particularly interesting, though, was a chamber work by a dimly remembered French composer of the day, Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (1705-1770). The scoring of this sonata pitted a seemingly unbalanced trio of two flutes and gamba against the basso continuo: the manipulations of color and texture were full of wit and cleverness, especially in the last of its four movements.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble flutist Brett Lipshutz and Monica Steger BW

There were also two vocal works, for some added contrast.  Soprano Consuelo Sañudo (below) sang a cantata, on a text about tempestuous love by slightly earlier Baroque French master Michel Piglet de Montéclair.  She displayed in this her usual combination of precision and stylistic flair.

Consuelo Sañudo

And then, for the program’s closer, she sang a Spanish “villancico” by Juan Hidalgo de Polanco, whose life span (1614-1685) was almost exactly identical with C.P.E. Bach’s, by one century earlier.  This was, in fact, composed for four vocal parts with basso continuo, but for this the other three vocal parts were rendered instrumentally, thus bringing the full group of six performers together in a grand finale.

This was, in all, an unusually long program, but one filled with surprises, discoveries and delights. It proved another reminder of the WBE’s endless gifts to Madison’s musical life.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble BW 2013

 


Classical music: More World Cup soccer this weekend means more music by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. Here is installment No. 3.

July 5, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It is the second-to-last weekend for the FIFA World Cup of soccer -– or football, as the rest of the world calls the sport –- in Brazil, especially now that Brazil has survived by defeating Colombia and that Germany defeated France.

World Cup 2014 playing

As I have said before, for The Ear the famed athletic competition has become a great excuse to explore a composer who is also world-class but whose music is too often overlooked.

I am talking about the 20th-century composer Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. So here is another morsel to whet your appetite, to tease you into listening to — and maybe even playing more of –- the music of Villa-Lobos (below).

Villa-Lobos BW

Once again you can hear how he incorporates folk music – folk songs, tunes and dance rhythms – into his concert hall music. In this one you can even hear how he tries to bring in Bach to Brazil. It is neo-Classicism at its best.

At the bottom is the gorgeous first movement from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 for solo piano, as played live by Brazilian native Nelson Freire (seen below with Martha Argerich).

nelsonfreire02

It is slowly and deeply moving, Amazonian Bach that I find is haunting and stays with you, making you want to listen to it again and again. It reminds The Ear of a Chorale Prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), especially the ones reworked in piano transcriptions by Ferruccio Busoni; or maybe a Prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier or an organ work, perhaps the prelude to a toccata; or maybe even a slow movement from one of the French or English Suites or the Partitas; or one of the variations from the “Goldberg” Variations.

Bach1

Here are links to the Cello Choir concert of the annual Summer National Cello Institute that is held each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and that gave rise to the Villa-Lobos postings.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/classical-music-the-ear-takes-the-cello-cure-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-and-now-cant-wait-for-another-treatment-next-summer/

And here are the links to the first two installments that feature the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 and No 1, which both deserve repeated hearings:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/classical-music-the-fifa-world-cup-of-soccer-is-a-perfect-time-to-become-acquainted-with-the-astonishing-music-of-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/classical-music-the-united-states-advances-in-the-world-cup-of-soccer-and-the-ear-advances-to-another-great-moment-in-music-by-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

And finally here is the link to the YouTube video with today’s installment of the greatness of Heitor Villa-Lobos music, the neglect of which is yet another sign of how Eurocentric the concert hall programming usually is:

 


Classical music: The United States advances in the World Cup of soccer and The Ear advances to another great moment in music by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

June 28, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

After its one-point loss to Germany, the U.S. soccer team will advance to the knockout round of the  FIFA World Cup, which is being held in Brazil until July 13.

The next game for the U.S. is against Belgium on Tuesday.

Loyal fans of The Ear may recall that a week or so ago he decided the global soccer event being held in Brazil was a good opportunity to explore the music of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (below), whose music is beautiful and much too under-programmed and under-played here and elsewhere.

Villa-Lobos BW

Here is a link to the original post that also featured the gorgeous Cantilena movement for soprano from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 that has been recorded by folk singer Joan Baez as well as opera divas Kiri Te Kanawa, Barbara Hendricks, Victoria de los Angeles and Kathleen Battle.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/classical-music-the-fifa-world-cup-of-soccer-is-a-perfect-time-to-become-acquainted-with-the-astonishing-music-of-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

Here is another great moment in Villa-Lobos that I heard at the Cello Choir concert by the National Summer Cello Institute that was held this month at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

This moment comes from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 in a YouTube video below. It is the third movement, the finale, that happens in fugal form and again shows how Heitor Villa-Lobos tried to adapt the compositional techniques of Johann Sebastian Bach to the folk music and native dance rhythms of Brazil. That was an ambitious project, to be sure, and one in which The Ear thinks the composer was surprisingly successful.

Enjoy as you prepare to root for Team U.S.A.


Classical music: Opera diva Renee Fleming will sing the National Anthem to open the NFL Super Bowl XVIII (48) next Sunday. But WHY and HOW did that happen and WHAT does it mean for professional music and professional sports?

January 26, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

What is THIS all about?

Next Sunday -– a week from today – is Superbowl XVLIII (that’s 48 in plain English numerals — does the NFL think Latin adds class to football?)) between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. It will be held in bad cold weather in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. That’s the football game where the best seats are going for more than $25,000. (Where are you now, Tony Soprano?) Not that a wealth gap exists between professional sports like football (below) and the rest of America. Oh, no — never that.

football

And guess who will sing the national anthem, the tricky “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to open the show – and it is a show. None other than superstar soprano Renee Fleming (below).

reneefleming

Yep, the lovely and gifted opera diva herself.

Now, I am not about to complain about a classical music star getting a chance for such exposure. But it does makes you wonder how it happened.

Did her agent approach the NFL?

Or did the billionaire-packed NFL decide on its own — somewhere in its posh 280 Fifth Avenue headquarters (below top is the exterior, below bottom is the interview its tacky half-Football Desk) that are tax-exempt – that it would buy some highbrow class and at the same time help the cause of classical music and maybe build a new audience?

NFL headquarters 280 Park Ave

Inside NFL headquarters

The Ear can’t imagine it was done by popular choice, under pressure from the fans.

And WHY was it done?

Did a lot of classical music presenters, who already realize that it is commercial suicide to hold a concert on Super Bowl Day, think to put some class into the Super Bowl and not risk bad attendance?

Was it just out of a taste for variety?

Fleming, who has a deep background in jazz and popular music, will probably nail it of course.

But will Renee Fleming create the same kind of rowdy, over-the-top atmosphere that is appropriate to the occasion as some bluesy-gospel, pop-rock or hip-hop star rendition would? Sure, Fleming sells a lot of records and tickets — but nowhere near as much as the superstars in those others genres of music do.

I guess we will see.

If she goes over well, maybe they can book her for the half-time act in a couple of years. But someone like superstar pianist Lang Lang (below), who will perform with metal rockers Metallica at this year’s Grammy Awards to be broadcast live tonight, seems a more likely candidate. Why book Rubinstein when you can get Liberace?

Lang Lang goofy

Well, at least folks at the Super Bowl can feel as classy as the Metropolitan Opera folks for a couple of minutes –- until the concussions start.

I don’t know if we will ever get the back story about the why and the how. But here is a link to the story that NPR’s excellent Deceptive Cadence blog had about Renee Fleming and the Super Bowl.

It is good, short and to the point, even if it doesn’t move beyond the headlines.

See what you think.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/21/264553311/guess-whos-singing-the-national-anthem-at-the-super-bowl

And for True Fans, here is a link to the official NFL Super Bowl 48 site, loaded with information and complete with a clock counting down to the coin toss and kickoff:

http://www.nfl.com/superbowl/48

What would be a good, an appropriate opera aria to mark the Super Bowl? How about Puccini’s “Nessum dorma” (“No one sleeps”) from “Turandot,” below in a popular YouTube video with almost 9 million hits. It features tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who made it his signature aria, and it shows the last time he sang it in 2006 at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Look at the sets. Listen to the crowd going wild. It seems in keeping with the Super Bowl, no?

But if you can suggest another choice, The Ear wants to hear it.

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Classical music: Let us now praise University of Wisconsin conductor James Smith and the marvels he achieves with student orchestras. Plus, the UW Chamber Orchestra performs a FREE concert tonight of music by Schumann, Haydn and Wagner.

October 1, 2013
3 Comments

REMINDER: At 7:30 p.m. tonight in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra (below) under conductor James Smith performs a FREE concert. The program features the “Overture, Scherzo, and Finale” by Robert Schumann; the Symphony No. 88 by Franz Joseph Haydn and the “Siegfried Idyll” by Richard Wagner.  

UW Chamber Orchestra low res

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Last weekend witnessed the acclaim justly given to John DeMain for what he has built the Madison Symphony Orchestra into during his 20 years with it.  But on Sunday evening, there was a demonstration of the debt we owe to another conductor and his orchestra.

James Smith (below) has built his orchestral programs for the UW School of Music into something quire remarkable in their own terms.  Evidence of this was on display at Sunday night’s concert in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  A considerable, if hardly capacity audience, but an enthusiastic one, heard the 2013 season opening event for the UW Symphony Orchestra, in a really meaty program, to say the least.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

To begin, Smith yielded the podium to Kyle Knox (below), a graduate student and conducting assistant, for Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture.  His was a young man’s projection of the familiar piece, not without nuances, but basically a propulsive and dramatic reading.  The orchestra sounded confident and secure under his baton.

Kyle Knox 2

Smith then took over for a work of special appeal for me: the Third Symphony of Jean Sibelius.

For most of the public, it is the First, Second, and Fifth of Sibelius’s seven Symphonies that are likely to be familiar.  Beyond those, some may know the austere Fourth, the enigmatic Sixth and the hyper-concise Seventh.  But the Third has been overlooked consistently, which is a great pity.

The symphonies by Sibelius (below) are each highly individual and different from each other–with the exception of the Third and the Fifth.  They are really two peas from the same pod, and, to be blunt, the Third is the fresher (and less hackneyed) of the two.

Its three-movement structure is for the most part a blueprint Sibelius then used for the Fifth.  But, following the blowsy Second, I find that the Third has the spontaneity of a new and revitalized start in the composer’s self-definition.  Quite frankly, it is my personal favorite among the Seven.

Smith seemed to find exactly that freshness in the work.  His body language showed that he put himself wholly into projecting this inventive and colorful score.  If only other conductors had his courage and gave this work more exposure!

sibelius

The “biggie” of the concert was, of course, what followed the intermission.  We have been rediscovering this year just how provocative and shocking Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, or “The Rite of Spring,, can still be. When new, the work Stravnsky (below) was regarded by many musicians as unplayable.  Now, any orchestra worth its salt can take it on — even a “student” orchestra.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

But the UW Orchestra (below in a photo by John W. Barker) is no mere ”student” ensemble. James Smith has worked it up to a level of professionalism matching the standards and capabilities of ever so many big-city orchestras today.  Oh, sure, a few very trifling and inconsequential fluffs at odd instants here and there, what any orchestra might risk. But this group has become an instrument on which Smith could play miracles.  The players were totally with him, while his clear heat and precise cues gave them safe guidance.

UW Symhony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

Smith seemed to aim at an emphasis on rhythmic power, though he found passages to remind us of the work’s underlying Russian-ness amid all the “primitivism.”  In his careful preparation of the many climaxes, he had his orchestra pour out torrents of sound that were extraordinarily compelling.

There were many individual players one might single out.  For me, though, I found most fascinating the first of the two timpanists, a young woman who threw herself into her work with athletic abandon.

To sum up, this was a simply thrilling performance, within a totally wonderful concert.

It is a crying shame that the tightly limited attention paid by our journalistic establishment to Madison’s musical riches is so particularly restrictive in its recognition of the music-making available on campus. In any other place and circumstance, to have an orchestra and conductor such as the UW School of Music has blessed us with would be celebrated with due pride and attention.

But Madison’s audiences really should pay heed to what is being done on the UW campus.

Above all, it should give proper recognition to the wonderful work of the versatile James Smith (below in a photo by Jack Burns) with his various orchestra ensembles, which include the UW Symphony Orchestra, the UW Chamber Orchestra (which performs a FREE concert of Schumann, Haydn and Wagner tonight at 7:30 in Mills Hall) and the University Opera. (Smith is also the music director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.)

James Smith cond Jack Burns

I recall an incident when a local politician sneered: “Why should a university have a symphony orchestra?”  To which the logical rejoinder might be: “Why should a university have a football team?”


Classical music: Here is a “Fantasy Football and Fugue” to accompany prep, college and especially NFL football this weekend.

September 21, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

You don’t usually identity football – American football (below), not soccer — with classical music and especially playing the piano.

football

But now an American musician and instrumentalist from the West Coast has put together a new work called the “Fullback Fugue” that you might find a good accompaniment to football.

And the weekend is the heavy time for prep, college and professional NFL football.

It was posted on the famed classical music radio station WQXR in New York City. But you can also see it on YouTube, where it has garnered almost 25,000 hits since it was posted on Sept. 4.

A musician from Portland, Ore., named Ansel Wallenfang has created “Fantasy Football & Fugue,” a video featuring a fugue built of NFL themes from the four networks that broadcast pro football games (FOX, NBC, CBS, ESPN).

Ansel Wallenfang

He even performs it in full costume — or  should I say, “uniform” — with cleats and jersey, helmet and knuckle tape.

Now, given the football themes, just because the piece uses polyphony in the form of a fugue doesn’t automatically qualify it as classical music – though it does make it a classic curiosity for sure.

The Ear think it sounds rather like bad Rachmaninoff, or maybe a pedantically dry Bach toccata as transcribed by Busoni or some other bass-heavy Romantic piano virtuoso and transcriber.

But I’ll let you decide for yourselves whether the four-minute work is just a gimmick or a genuine, if admittedly derivative, work of classical music and tell me in the COMMENTS section what you think of it and what it sound like.

So go ahead: tackle it -– so to speak.

Here it is, including the composer’s comments about his intent, which he says:

“If football and classical piano were any more similar they would be the same thing.

“Both are fiercely competitive.
Both require violence, elegance, and nerves of steel.
Both demand a lifetime of intense training and discipline.
Both promise fame and glory but usually lead to working with kids.
Both will leave you with some sort of brain trauma.
But both will totally get you laid.

“The Fantasy Football and Fugue isn’t just a bad music pun, it’s a classical mashup of network NFL anthems (CBS, ESPN, FOX, and NBC) that would make Bach and Butkus proud.

Through the lens of classical music and short film, I hope to open these seemingly dissimilar fields to new audiences, sign a multi-million dollar development deal with a major Hollywood studio, become friends with Aaron Rodgers, and not get sued by 4 networks simultaneously.”

Now, it’s kickoff time — so on to the music:

Spread the word — and of course the music — to other football fans.

Remember to tell me how it scores in your playbook.

The Ear wants to hear.


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