The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Pianist Shai Wosner explains why we don’t hear more Haydn and like his music more. This Friday night at 8, Wosner performs two piano concertos by Haydn with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

February 19, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater on the Overture Center, pianist Shai Wosner returns for a third time to perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under its longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell.

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

The program is largely from the Classical era. Wosner will perform two piano concertos by Haydn – No. 4 in G Major and No. 11 in D major – and the orchestra will perform the Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major by Franz Schubert. In addition, a 1955 Prelude and Fugue by the accessible, 20th-century neo-Romantic composer Vittorio Giannini (below) will be performed.

Vittorio Giannini

Tickets are $15-$75. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

The critically acclaimed Wosner, an Israeli native who studied at the Juilliard School with Emanuel Ax and who is now based in New York City, has previously performed Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven with the WCO.

Wosner recently agreed to a Q&A about this new program.

Shai Wosner color

The prize-winning American composer John Harbison has said that Haydn is the most underappreciated and most under-performed of the great composers. If you agree with that, why do you think that is and how do you feel about Haydn?

It is probably true. I can only guess what the reasons might be. Perhaps, over the centuries, his name has been eclipsed by that of Mozart (below), as the two are often lumped together in spite of the profound differences in their biographies and their music.

Where Mozart has irresistible melodies all over to disarm you at first hearing, with Haydn sometimes you have to get into the “groove” of the music first — perhaps a remnant from earlier music — and then once you do, you can find both great melodies as well as all kinds of twists and turns that can be just as gripping.

Mozart c 1780 detail of portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce

Humor, of course, is central to Haydn’s world and one can sometimes mistake that for lightheartedness. But the fact is that it is often just one layer of meaning and by all means not the only one.

If you open up to it, you quickly realize the depth and sincerity with which Haydn (below) speaks — just like spending time with a really great person who likes to tell jokes a lot, but whose immense life experience and understanding of the world soon comes through as well.

Haydn

What are your plans for performances and recordings? Do your plans include performing or recording more Haydn, maybe concertos, sonatas and chamber music works?

Yes, I hope to record concertos along with a few other pieces as well in the near future.

What would you like the public to know about the two piano concertos by Haydn — who always composed at the keyboard — that you will perform here and their individual character? How do they compare to each other?

The G Major concerto is somehow the more “earthy” one — perhaps it’s the association of the key itself, which tends to relate to all things “rustic.” (For example, Mozart’s peasants and servants tend to sing in G Major). It seems to have a rough edge to it, a certain naughtiness.

The popular D Major concerto, on the other hand, is more patrician — even with the Hungarian finale. It shimmers with golden light like the interior of some idyllic palazzo in midday. (In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the D Major concerto performed by famed pianist Paul Badura-Skoda, who was an artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music in the 1960s, and conductor Frans Bruggen.)

Haydn_3

How does Schubert go with Haydn? On your program, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will also perform Schubert’s early Symphony No. 2 and you have recorded two CDs for the Onyx label that feature the music of Schubert. Clearly you feel a strong affinity with Schubert and have a point of view about him.

Schubert and Haydn are an interesting combination because early Schubert was very much influenced by Viennese Classicism, before Beethoven’s influence became much more dominant in his music.

At the same time, while Schubert (below) was using the same forms as Mozart and Haydn, they tend to come out very different under his hands, as if he couldn’t help it.

Most noticeable, I think, is the difference in energy.

In Haydn, to go back to the “groove,” there is a lot of raw rhythmic energy in fast movements and it helps to give shape to those movements as well.

In Schubert, on the other hand, even in fast movements, the overall shape tends to be much more contemplative, no matter quickly the notes go by.

Franz Schubert writing

This is your third appearance with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, with whom you have performed concerts by Mozart and Beethoven. What would you like to say about Madison audiences and the WCO?

I have been fortunate to meet very interesting people in Madison, and clearly the audiences are very dedicated and comprised of real music-lovers.

It is a wonderful thing that the city supports not only a symphony orchestra but also a chamber orchestra (below is a photo of the WCO) as well, which is, of course, a very different animal and unfortunately not a very common one any more.

WCO lobby

Is there anything else you would like to say?

I look forward to visiting Madison, of course!


Classical music: Christopher Hogwood is dead at 73. But the early music pioneer was no purist.

September 27, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Christopher Hogwood (below, in a photo by the Associated Press), who, along with Trevor Pinnock, Gustav Leonhardt, John Eliot Gardiner  and Frans Bruggen, became synonymous for many us with the movement to promote early music with authentic instruments and historically informed performance practices, has died.

He died Wednesday and was 73, and he had been ill for a brief time. He died at his home in Cambridge, England.

Chrisotpher Hogwood conducting AP

There are many things that The Ear loved about Hogwood, but nothing more than his recordings of string concertos by Antonio Vivaldi for their verve and of symphonies and concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for their sweetness and transparency, energy and clarity. (You can hear Hogwood conducting the Academy of Ancient Music in  2009 in Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan. They are playing the spectacular and virtuosically contrapuntal last movement of Mozart’s last symphony — Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”– at the bottom in a YouTube video. Just listen to the cheers!)

Hogwood’s version of the popular oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel is still my preferred one. Hogwood always seemed to serve the music first and foremost, and not fall into the kind of goofy or quirky readings that, say, Nikolaus Harnoncourt often did. Everything he did seemed balanced and just plain right, but nonetheless ear-opening in its originality. He made you say: THAT’S the way it should sound. 

But curiously, Hogwood (below, in a photo by Marcus Borggreve) seems to have understood other people and performers who prefer early music played in more modern approaches or idiosyncratic or individualistic manners. The Ear likes that kind of non-purist and tolerant approach to early music, to all music really. He is what Hogwood said in one interview:

‘THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH PLAYING THINGS HISTORICALLY COMPLETELY INCORRECTLY: MUSIC IS NOT A MORAL BUSINESS, SO YOU CAN PLAY ABSOLUTELY IN A STYLE THAT SUITS YOU AND PLEASES YOUR PUBLIC. IT MAY BE COMPLETELY UNRECOGNISABLE TO THE COMPOSER BUT SO WHAT, HE’S DEAD.’

christopher christopher hogwood CR Marcuys Borggreve

Here are some links for you to learn more about the achievements of Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, which he founded and is now directed by Richard Egarr.

Here is a fine story from NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/24/351193303/remembering-christopher-hogwood-an-evangelist-for-early-music

Here is a comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/26/arts/christopher-hogwood-early-music-devotee-dies-at-73.html

Here is a story from The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/christopher-hogwood-conductor-who-gave-new-drive-to-classical-warhorses-dies-at-73/2014/09/25/a148ff2a-44cb-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html

And here is a small story that appeared in Hogwood’s native Great Britain, even though Hogwood also directed American groups in Boston, St. Paul and elsewhere:

http://www.classicalmusicmagazine.org/2014/09/christopher-hogwood-10-september-1941-24-september-2014/

Here is a link to a 70-minute podcast that the magazine Gramophone did to mark Hogwood’s 70th birthday:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/remembering-christopher-hogwood

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Early music and period-instrument pioneer Frans Bruggen dies at 79. And American media don’t care.

August 17, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

He wasn’t a maestro in the usual sense.

But he surely was a master.

He was a master, even though he never seemed temperamental and never received the kind of acclaim and press that typical orchestral conductors or maestros receive -– from Arturo Toscanini through Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan to Gustavo Dudamel.

He was Frans Bruggen (below). He was Dutch and a fantastic player of the flute and the recorder. He died this past Wednesday at 79 after a long illness.

Frans Bruggen 1

But he became a pioneer conductor of early music and period instrument authenticity, adopting historically informed performance practices even from the Baroque period, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric HandelJean-Philippe Rameau, Georg Philipp Telemann and Antonio Vivaldi into the Classical and early Romantic periods.

As a flutist and recorder player, Bruggen was a prodigy who often performed with Dutch colleagues in the early music movement, including harpsichord master Gustav Leonhardt and cellist Anner Bylsma.

He founded the Orchestra of the 18th Century, but also went on to conduct major mainstream orchestras and to teach at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley,

I loved his performances of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn, of Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert.

Even as I write this, I am playing Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony from Bruggen’s set of Haydn’s minor-key, proto-Romantic “Storm-and-Stress” symphonies.

What I especially liked was the expressiveness he often brought to an early music movement that sometimes seemed mechanical or robotic in its early days. Bruggen brought subtlety and emotional connection.

In Brugen’s hands, early music sounded natural, never forced into iconoclastic phrasing or rushed tempi, as it can with Reinhold Goebel and Concerto Koln or Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Bruggen’s performances never sounded deliberately goofy or self-serving. (Below is Frans Bruggen conducting.)

PX*6559535

Bruggen must have made his case persuasively. Nowadays, most early music groups also sound more expressive and subjective, not so doctrinaire, dogmatic or orthodox in their approaches.

Bruggen seemed a low-key and modest man and musician, qualities that The Ear identifies with the Dutch, including Bruggen’s own more famous conducting colleague Bernard Haitink.

The Ear hopes that Bruggen’s death brings about many reissues of his prolific discography with more high-profile publicity. His Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven symphonies are, unfortunately, largely now out of print.

Here are some links to obituaries that tell his story:

Here is a link to The Guardian, which also lists Bruggen’s five greatest contributions to early music:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/aug/14/frans-bruggen-dutch-conductor-orchestra-of-the-18th-century

http://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2014/aug/14/frans-bruggen-five-greatest-greatest-recordings

Here is a story from the BBC Music Magazine:

http://www.classical-music.com/news/frans-brüggen-1934-2014

Here is a great piece from The Telegraph, also in the United Kingdom:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11034321/Frans-Bruggen-obituary.html

Curiously, it probably says something about Bruggen that I could find many obituaries from Europe and the UK, but none from the U.S., not even at The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or NPR (National Public Radio).

Here is a YouTube video of Frans Bruggen, who served both composers and audiences so well, in action, playing a solo fantasy for recorder by Georg Philipp Telemann. In every way it seems a fitting tribute or homage on the occasion of his death:

 

 


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