The Well-Tempered Ear

New York Times critics name their Top 10 online concerts in April. They start today with a Good Friday performance of Bach’s “St. John Passion.”

April 2, 2021
1 Comment

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By Jacob Stockinger

More people are getting COVID vaccines, but concerts will remain virtual and online for quite a while yet, especially if a fourth wave or another spike hits the U.S. and the world.

So here, once again, are the Top 10 online choices for April listening picked by the classical music critics for The New York Times.

This being the weekend of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it couldn’t be more timely.

The first choice, which starts steaming today, is perfect for both occasions. It is a production of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion.” It is conducted by THE Bach performers – the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque soloists, all conducted by Bach expert John Eliot Gardiner.

Gardiner has recorded and toured the world with Bach’s cantatas and oratorios. He also wrote the well criticially acclaimed book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.”

If you like Bach, you are in for some good listening this month. Pianist Jeremy Denk (below) will also perform the complete first book of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier” at the end of the month. (You can hear the famous first prelude, popular with students and amateurs  but also used in a sacred setting by Schubert and Gounod, in the Youtube video at the bottom.)

You may recall that Denk performed Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” several years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater, which also hosted an online concert by Denk this season in a program of Brahms and the two Schumann’s – Robert and Clara. 

You can also hear chamber music, including a concert of contemporary composers by the Attacca Quartet.

And there is a period performance of “Pelleas and Melisande” by Debussy (below). It will attempt to recreate how the opera score sounded when it was first performed in 1902.

The ever-inventive music educator Leon Botstein will conduct a concert of music by Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein and Tania Leon. 

German baritone Benjamin Appl will perform the famous song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin” (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter) by Franz Schubert. It streams from the faned Wigmore Hall in London.

One of the most intriguing choices is the score to Philip Glass’ “pocket opera” based on the short story “In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka.

The well-known conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below), who is also the new music director of the San Francisco Symphony after Michael Tilson Thomas retired last year. Much of the program is Salonen’s own music, along with Minimalist music by Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

There are also “Monumental Trios, featuring piano trios by Brahms and Beethoven, performed by members of the Chamber Music of Society.

And of course there will be a world premiere of the Symphony No. 2 by Huw Watkins  (below is his Wikipedia bio with a photo in case you haven’t heard of the composer).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huw_Watkins

For more details, here is a link to the Times story. Click on the headline. It includes some commentary by the critic who chose each piece. You will also find links to the artist and organization plus the debut date and how long the post will remain available. Please note that all times are Eastern Daylight Time.

Do you have other concerts you recommend for streaming – local, regional, national or international?

Please leave your selection in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy listening.


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Classical music: Japanese writer Haruki Murakami and composer Franz Liszt work well together. Both are haunting creators. Here is a chance to hear how as you read.

September 7, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As longtime readers of this blog know, The Ear is a loyal fan of the Japanese writer and novelist Haruki Murakami (below).

haruki murakami

I have had a longstanding bet with friends that the prolific Murakami will win the Nobel Prize “this” year. But so far, a decade or more later, I am still waiting — as, I suspect, he is since he has won other major prizes.

So The Ear says: Let’s get on it, members of the Nobel Prize committee in Oslo. What are you waiting for?

Longtime fans also know that I am NOT a big fan of Franz Liszt (below). He wrote some great music that I like a lot. But he also wrote a lot of second-rate music that I don’t like a lot. What is good, I find, is very good; and the rest too often strikes me as melodramatic pieces full of self-exhibitionistic pyrotechnical keyboard tricks and gimmicks.

Liszt photo portrait by Pierre Petit 1870

But recently the contemporary Japanese novelist got me to appreciate one piece by the 19th-century Romantic Hungarian composer and piano virtuoso.

The work is called “Le mal du pays,” or, roughly translated, “Homesickness,” and comes from the first of three books, and the first year of three, of Liszt’s generally subdued “Years of Pilgrimage: Book I — Switzerland.”

Not surprisingly it is featured, referred to and analyzed repeatedly in Murakami’s new novel the “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (below, published by Knopf), in which the meanings of home and belonging are explored in many different ways. The piano music is a kind of thematic summary of the plot, the setting and the characters.

Murakami Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki book cover

The Liszt work, which runs about six or so minutes, is a curious piece, less showy than many and full of the kind of strangeness, disjointedness and mysteriousness that Murakami treasures and so effectively conveys in his writings.

The piano piece perfectly matches the novel, its plot and characters and tones, in the music’s eerie chromaticism, in its insistent repetition, in its austerity and lack of sensuality, even in its identification with what is empty or missing and its plain old weirdness.

The haunting music embodies the book and may have been inspired it in part. Not for nothing is Murakami known as The Japanese Kafka, and the Liszt music is worthy of that equivalency.

The two works of art deserve each other, as I am increasingly finding out, and work well together.

I am now about fourth-fifths of the way through the novel, which has been No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list for hardback fiction for several weeks. It certainly has me enchanted and under its spell.

Murakami often refers to Western culture, classical and pop, and especially to classical music and jazz. (He once ran a jazz bar in Tokyo.)

In other works such as “Kafka on the Shore,” Murakami even seems something of a connoisseur of Western classical music who has compared works and various recordings of them, by Franz Schubert, Johann Sebastian Bach and others. In fact, Murakami himself could be said to have spent his own years of pilgrimage journeying through Western culture as well as fiction writing.

This time Murakami, who has excellent taste and deep knowledge or familiarity, favors a performance by the late Russian pianist Lazar Berman (below).

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 4.0

Other fans of both Murakami and Liszt have set up a website where you can listen to a YouTube recording of Berman’s playing ‘Le mal du pays.” (You can also find quite a few other recordings of it, including one by Alfred Brendel (below), on YouTube, which is also featured in a secondary role in Murakami’s new novel.)

Brendel playing BIG

And I have also found a Hyperion recording by British pianist and MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant-winner Stephen Hough that I like a lot:

Hough_Stephen_color16

Here is a link to the Lazar Berman version, a second one that was set up by a Murakami fan:

Have fun listening and happy reading.

And please let us know what you think of the Liszt piece, Murakami’s newest novel and your favorite Murakami novel.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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