The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It’s Mother’s Day 2018. The Ear remembers his mom with a Rachmaninoff prelude

May 13, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Mother’s Day 2018.

To celebrate The Ear’s late mom, here is a piece of music with a story to tell with it.

The Ear remembers it well.

He was 13, maybe 14, and living on Long Island, New York.

It was in the afternoon, after school.

His mom was talking to a stranger long-distance on the phone. The conversation, something about preparing wild rice, was with a person in Minnesota.

The Ear was at the piano practicing and playing the famous Prelude in C-sharp minor by the young Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) – the “Bells of Moscow” – which you can hear Evgeny Kissin play in the YouTube video at the bottom.

It was music that The Ear first heard live when a babysitter played it for him. And he immediately fell in love with it.

It was hard to play, a Romantic piece with big loud chords (below is part of the score) and fast passage work. Perfect for a teenager.

Rachmaninoff's Prelude Op. 3 No. 2, The Recapi...

Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op. 3 No. 2, The Recapitulation of the theme, in four staves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was The Ear’s first big piece, the right vehicle for an ambitious young piano student who was anxious to use the piano to make an impression.

Anyway, the person on the other end of the phone heard the piano playing and asked if they could listen a while longer.

Mom said, Sure!

Then she placed the phone near the piano — and beamed with pride at me while gesturing for me to continue playing.

Mom didn’t know a lot of classical music. But she knew her son loved it and she did everything she could to encourage that love.

She also liked this particular Rachmaninoff prelude because it was accessible and dramatic, easy to understand and to appreciate, and most of all because her son liked it and played it.

That’s how moms are.

The other person on the line listened until the end of the prelude, then offered praise and thanks, said good-bye, and hung up.

Mom told that story over many years and always with great pride.

For a long time after, it seemed that particular prelude fell out of fashion – probably because it was too popular and too melodramatic. Even Rachmaninoff grew to despise it and referred to the work disdainfully as “It,” which he often had to play as an encore.

But lately, as often happens to overexposed pieces that fall into neglect, it finally seems to be making something of a comeback.

Several years ago, Garrick Ohlsson played it as an encore after a concerto he performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. These days, The Ear has heard the young up-and-coming, prize-winning young Georgian-British pianist Luka Okros play it on YouTube and Instagram.

Anyway, here it is, offered with fond memories of a proud mom.

Is there a piece of classical music you identify with your mom? Maybe Antonin Dvorak’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” which you can hear on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s “Sunday Brunch” program at about 12:30p.m. today?

Maybe an opera aria or song?

Leave a comment, with a link to a YouTube performance if possible, and let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Mother’s Day, all!


Classical music: The UW Concert Choir, Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra will perform world premieres, local premieres and new music in three concerts this weekend

April 26, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following messages from UW composer Laura Schwendinger and from Beverly Taylor, the director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who is also the assistant conductor and chorus director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

Writes conductor Beverly Taylor: This is a busy and musically fascinating weekend for me coming up.

On Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, there is a special concert by the Concert Choir (below) on the subject of Art Born of Tragedy, with the acclaimed guest cellist Matt Haimovitz.

Tickets are $15, $5 for students. For more information about tickets as well as the performers and the program, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-concert-choir-4-matt-haimovitz/

Then in Mills Hall at 8 p.m. on Saturday night and at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night, there are two performances of When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed by the 20th-century composer Paul Hindemith by the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra (below). It is a work that to my knowledge has never been performed in Madison.

Tickets are $15, $8 for students. For more information about obtaining tickets and about the concert, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-union-uw-symphony-orchestra/

Here is more information about the events:

CONCERT CHOIR

The Concert Choir performance explores in music of several centuries the theme of “Art Born of Tragedy” — how outside events can be the spark that causes the creation of works of substance that range from the gentle and comforting to rage and despair.

We will sing music from the Renaissance: part of the Thomas Tallis’ “Lamentations of Jeremiah (on the ancient destruction of Jerusalem),” and a John Wilbye madrigal “Draw on Sweet Night for a Broken Heart.”

We will present three works from modern composers: one is a world premiere by the prize-winning composer Laura Schwendinger (below top), my colleague at the UW-Madison, for viola — played by Sally Chisholm (below bottom) of the UW Pro Arte Quartet — and wordless chorus. It is called “For Paris” in memory of those killed in the Paris terrorist bombings of 2015.

(Adds composer Laura Schwendinger: “The viola starts this short work by referencing only for a moment the merest idea of a ‘musette song,’ one that might be heard on an evening in a Paris cafe. The choir enters with a simple refrain that repeats again and again, each time with a little more material, as an unanswered question of sorts. Each time the viola reenters the texture, the music becomes more pressing in a poignant manner, until it arrives in its highest register, only to resolve with the choir as it quietly acquiesces in the knowledge that the answer may not be known.”)

We will present a short “O vos omnes” (O you who pass by) written by Pennsylvania composer Joseph Gregorio (below), composed in memory of a Chinese girl hit by a car and left to die.

The third piece is a reprise of “Après moi, le deluge” by Luna Pearl Woolf (below top), which we premiered and recorded 11 years ago. We are lucky to have back the wonderful internationally known cellist Matt Haimovitz (below bottom), who premiered this work with it. The text, written by poet Eleanor Wilner, mixes the Noah story with the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

The term “Après moi, le deluge” is a term attributed to Louis XV or his mistress Madame Pompadour, and means “after me the flood” — referring either to the chaos after his reign, or that what happens afterword bears no importance for him.

The work has four different moods like a symphony — with strong themes at the start and cries for help, followed by the slow movement despair, a scherzo-like depiction of havoc, and a final movement that is like a New Orleans funeral, upbeat and Dixieland.

Throughout the program we also present spirituals that depict loneliness or salvation from trouble.

UW CHORAL UNION

In certain ways, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed resembles the Concert Choir concert in that it contains a number of moods and styles as well, under a dark title. The subtitle of the work is “a Requiem for Those We Love.”

It was commissioned by the great choral and orchestral conductor Robert Shaw as a tribute to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on his death and the train ride that carried him from Warm Springs, Georgia, to Washington, D.C.

The text that Paul Hindemith (below top) chose is by Walt Whitman (below bottom), who wrote his poem on the death of Abraham Lincoln, and the funeral train from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois.

Whitman’s grief is combined with pride and joy in the countryside that the train traverses, and his feelings find an outlet in the thrush that sings out its song. His sense of a sustaining universe is a contrast to his depiction of the despair and ravages of the Civil War.

Hindemith’s calling the work a “Requiem for Those We Love,” puts it, like the Brahms’ “German” Requiem, into a class of non-liturgical requiems — that is, the texts are not those that are part of the Catholic Mass for the Dead, but are other selected texts of joy or remembrance.

Hindemith’s style can loosely be described as tonal that veers away into dissonance and returns again to the home key. The Prelude and opening movement are dark; the solo songs of baritone (James Held, below top) and mezzo-soprano (Jennifer D’Agostino, below bottom) are marvelous; the fugue on the glories of America is glorious and other sections are soft and tender. (NOTE: You can hear the orchestral prelude of the work, with composer Paul Hindemith conducting the New York Philharmonic, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The work is hard for both chorus and orchestra, but well worth the effort. The piece is about 80 minutes long and will be performed without interruption. It’s a work I’ve always wanted to do, having heard it performed at Tanglewood many years ago. I’m delighted to have the chance now.


Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras performs “Sounds of the Season” with area high school choirs on TV once again on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Plus, WYSO names Randal Swiggum as its new interim music director

December 23, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has two pieces of news to report:

As in past years, WYSO will perform its popular one-hour, commercial-free “Sounds of the Season” concerts on TV on NBC 15 this weekend. 

Three WYSO groups will be featured: the Youth Orchestra (below top), the Youth Brass Choir (below middle) and the Percussion Ensemble (below bottom).

WYSO Youth Orchestra James Smith conducting 2015

WYSO Brass Choir

WYSO Percussion Ensemble 2012

There will be one performance on Christmas Eve at 10 p.m., and then two performances on Christmas Day at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

The orchestra and ensembles will also be joined by choirs from area high schools. Sorry, but The Ear can’t find word of which ones.

You can hear part of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” as performed by WYSO on “Sounds of the Season” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For more information, photos and audiovisual clips from a last year’s “Sounds of the Season,” go to:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/misc/NBC15-Sounds-Of-The-Season-2016-406076915.html

wyso-sounds-of-the-season-logo

In addition WYSO has named an interim replacement for outgoing music director James Smith (below), who is retiring from WYSO as well as from the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the end of this season.

james smith Jack Burns

Here are details from WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser:

“WYSO is very pleased to announce that Randal Swiggum (below) has been appointed WYSO Interim Artistic Director and Youth Orchestra Conductor for the 2017-2018 season.

“Randy is well-known to many WYSO students already, whether through Summer Music Clinic, the recent Wisconsin Middle Level Honors orchestra, or Suzuki Strings of Madison. He prepared the WYSO Youth Orchestra for its 2012 Overture Center performance of “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” and has subbed in with Philharmonia Orchestra and chamber music rehearsals.

Randall Swiggum

“Randy is in his 19th season as Artistic Director of the award-winning Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, a large program similar to WYSO, which draws students from 70 different communities in suburban Chicago.

“Under his direction, the EYSO has collaborated with renowned artists like Midori, Yo-Yo Ma and Rachel Barton Pine, as well as Grammy-winning chamber ensemble eighth blackbird. The EYSO has appeared on NPR’s “From the Top” and at the Ravinia Festival, where they will return to perform again in 2018.

“The Illinois Council of Orchestras has twice named him Conductor of the Year and awarded its prestigious Programming of the Year Award to the EYSO.

“A frequent guest conductor of orchestral and choral festivals, Randy recently conducted the Scottish National Youth Symphony in Glasgow, All-State Orchestras in Georgia and Illinois, the American Mennonite Schools Orchestra Festival, Northern Arizona Honors Orchestra, the APAC Orchestra Festival in Seoul, and both the Wisconsin Middle Level Honors Choir and Orchestra, among many others.

“Randy also works with a number of professional orchestras, designing and conducting concerts for young people. Last year, he led the Madison Symphony in his original “Symphony Safari: What Nature Teaches Us About the Orchestra,” attended by several thousand middle school students in Overture Hall.

“Next February, he returns for a fourth season with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in its acclaimed “Teen Partner” series, conducting the Gloria by Francis Poulenc.

“He also appears next spring with the Chippewa Valley Symphony, conducting his “Beethoven Superhero” concert, which has been popular with teachers, students and parents alike, with the Elgin Symphony and The Florida Orchestra (Tampa).

“As an author and lecturer, Randy works with teachers around the country and internationally, most recently with international school teachers in Hong Kong and at Carnegie Hall, where last summer he returned for a fourth season teaching its Music Educator Workshops, and leading members of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA.

“Randy is a proud UW-Madison graduate and lives in Madison, where you can find him on Monday nights working with the Madison Boychoir (in the Madison Youth Choirs) alongside colleague Margaret Jenks.

“WYSO is truly fortunate to have such a dedicated and tireless educator guiding its artistic vision next season.”


Classical music: Michael Keller and Martha Thomas will perform a FREE recital of music for piano-four hands this Sunday afternoon.

September 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Sunday, Sept. 27, at 3 p.m. pianists Michael Keller and Martha Thomas (below) will be presenting a FREE piano, four-hand program at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street, in downtown Madison.

Martha Thomas is faculty member of the University of Georgia Hodgson School of Music.

Michael Keller is a retired professor of piano at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point who is now based in Madison.

Michael Keller and Martha Thomas

The program includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach (“Sheep May Safely Graze”); Muzio Clementi (Sonata No. 1); Franz Schubert (Rondo in A Major); Johannes Brahms (Waltzes, Op. 39) and the “Gazebo Dances” by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano. (You can hear the Overture to the “Gazebo Dances” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The program is FREE and open to the public.

Both pianists were students of the late Howard Karp at the UW-Madison School of Music. When they reunited at his memorial last fall, they planned this program.


Classical music: Can you sing? Famed diva Jessye Norman thinks you can -– and should try. She says it is good for your physical health and mental health.

December 26, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

We have just come through Christmas and the holiday season where the instrument of choice – quite appropriately – is the human voice, both solo and in choruses.

Do you sing?

Can you sing?

The famous Grammy Award-winning soprano diva Jessye Norman (below) thinks you can -– and should, or at least try to.

In an interview with the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR (National Public Radio), Norman explains why all  people can sing.

She also explains why you should: Singing, she says, is healthy for your body and mind.

Jessye Norman

She may be 69, but Norman, who was born in Georgia but now lives in France, is not retiring from singing, even if she is cutting down on professional appearances. She is following her own advice and so continues to sing, as she recently did on The David Letterman Show in New York City.

The interview traces her career from her earliest years in Augusta, Georgia, through training at the famed Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It has samples of her fabulous voice, and also her remembrances of great voices she has admired in others, such as the great history-making African American contralto Marian Anderson (below, during her historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial).

anderson

She also names some favorite orchestral music and instrumental music, including a prelude from the opera “Lohengrin” by Richard Wagner, as conducted by James Levine (below top) of the Metropolitan Opera; a cello sonata by Johann Sebastian Bach performed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below middle); and a Beethoven piano concertos performed by pianist Alfred Brendel (below bottom) and the conductor Simon Rattle along with the Berlin Philharmonic.

James Levine conducting

yo-yo ma

Brendel playing BIG

Norman also singles out American jazz composer Duke Ellington (below) for praise.

Duke Ellington at piano

And the NPR interview includes some fine music audio samples.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/11/25/364758676/guest-dj-jessye-norman-from-augusta-to-valhalla

And here is one of my favorite and landmark or legendary performances by Jessye Norman: “Im Abendrot.” It is one of the “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss that was recently used in the movie “The Trip to Italy” to such great and repeated effect:


Classical music: Is it payback time for Russian musicians at the Winter Olympics in Sochi? Conductor Valery Gergiev is the official maestro of Vladimir Putin’s big show that opens tonight with grand ceremony.

February 7, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

If you have been waiting for the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics (below is the official logo), tonight is the night it all begins for real –- at least officially because some preliminary rounds of sporting events like figure skating and snowboarding have already been held — even amid the terrorist threats, corruption, unfinished construction, dog roundups, authoritarianism and homophobia.

winter olympics 2014 logo

Many of us here in the U.S. will be tuning in at 8 p.m. EST to NBC-TV and streaming the games on-line. Here is a link to a schedule, to background stories and to other links.

http://www.nbcolympics.com

For a complete schedule of events, check out:

http://www.sochi2014.com

And tonight is the opening ceremonies, the March of Nations, where all the athletes will march into the main stadium.

Could it also be payback time for Russian superstar musicians?

The maestro of music for the Olympics is the ever busy, often unshaven and always critically acclaimed conductor Valery Gergiev (below), who guest conducts around the world and holds his own podium at the Mariinsky Theatre in St.Petersburg.

Gergievin NY

But ironically, the maestro is a very close friend and political supporter – as is superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below), who may or may not show up at Sochi — of the heavy-handed and thuggish Russian President, and former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin. (Below is a photo of Vladimir Putin pinning a state decoration on Valery Gergiev.)

vladimir putin decorates valery gergiev

The combination of the two V-Men — Vladimir and Valery — creates certain ironies and some wariness or even dissatisfaction.

Here is a link to a fine story about Gergiev, Putin and the Olympics that aired in NPR. It also has links to some music.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/02/03/271168650/valery-gergiev-the-powerful-and-polarizing-maestro

And The New York Times has also published a story about Gergiev that focuses on his role as an ambassador and defender of Russian culture’s rebirth under Putin, whom Gergiev endorsed in the last presidential election (both are below), despite the foreign political fallout.

Valery Gergiev and Putin

So, will Anna Netrebko (seen below in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin”), who also endorsed Putin, show up to sing?

Met Eugene Onegin Anna Netrebko face

Will some of the famous ballet dancers from the famed but beleaguered Bolshoi company in Moscow also perform?

Tune in and see.

But while we wait for the Winter Olympics to reveal themselves and for their many cultural contradictions to surface — and to help warm you up in this cold, cold Midwest winter -– here is some of the best music ever composed for the Olympics or sports events: A YouTube video of Milwaukee-born composer Michel Torke’s “Javelin” written for the 1996 Summer Olympics Games in Atlanta, Georgia:

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