The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is the Fourth of July. Here is patriotic music to help celebrate, including a portrait of a truly presidential president for the purpose of comparison

July 4, 2019
5 Comments

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Fourth of July – a celebration of Independence Day when the United States officially declared its separation from Great Britain in 1776.

The day will be marked by picnics and barbecues, by local parades and spectacular fireworks – and this year by armored tanks and fighter jets in yet another expensive display of military power by You Know Who: that loudmouth man who overcompensates for dodging the draft by acting more like King George than George Washington.

The “Salute to America” sure looks like it is really going to be a “Salute to Trump.”

But whatever your politics, your preferences in presidents or the festive activities you have planned for today, there is classical music to help you mark and celebrate the occasion. Just go to Google and search for “classical music for the Fourth of July.”

Better yet, tune into Wisconsin Public Radio, which will be featuring American classical music all day long.

In addition, though, here are some oddities and well-known works that The Ear particularly likes and wants to share.

The first is the Russian immigrant composer and virtuoso pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff playing his own version of our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” something he apparently did out of respect for his adopted country before each recital he played in the U.S.:

And the second is by another Russian immigrant and piano virtuoso, Vladimir Horowitz, who was a friend and colleague of Rachmaninoff. Here he is playing his piano arrangement, full of keyboard fireworks that sound much like a third hand playing, of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by American march king John Philip Sousa. Horowitz used the patriotic march to raise money and sell war bonds during World War II, then later used as an encore, which never failed to wow the audience:

For purposes of artistic and political comparisons of presidents, you will also find Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” – with famous actor and movie star Henry Fonda as the narrator of Honest Abe’s own extraordinary oratory and understated writing — in the YouTube video at the bottom.

And in a ironic twist The Ear can’t resist, here are nine pieces — many orchestral and some choral –chosen by the official website of the BBC Music Magazine in the United Kingdom to mark and honor American Independence Day. It has some surprises and is worth checking out:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/nine-best-works-independence-day

If you like or favor other works appropriate to the Fourth of July or have comments, just leave word and a YouTube link if possible, in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Combining a ticket to a live music performance with a book or recording that is tied to the concert’s program makes a great holiday gift

December 20, 2018
1 Comment

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

The holidays seem to arrive earlier each year.

The Ear isn’t sure why that is.

Whatever the reason, a lot of holiday gift shopping can by now seem last-minute and somewhat frantic.

But if you are shopping for a classical music fan, you are in luck if you go local.

The best way to please the recipient and also to support the local arts is to give a ticket to a live concert – always the most powerful and exciting musical experience — perhaps coupled to a related book or recording. (Below is UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor in a photo by Michael R. Anderson).

This blog doesn’t have room to list separately all the many musical groups in the area. But here are some samples that might interest you.

Through Monday, Dec. 24, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) is once again offering a special deal for the remainder of the season. Tickets to both the “Beyond the Score” program and the remaining four season concerts, including Mahler’s mammoth “Symphony of a Thousand,” have been reduced to two price ranges: $10 and $25 for the former; $25 and $50 for the latter.

For more information, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/buy-tickets/offers-discounts/holiday-tickets-sale/

If you want to see what other performers and presenters are offering – say, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), the Oakwood Chamber Players, the Madison Bach Musicians, the Middleton Community Orchestra, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, the Willy Street Chamber Players, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Overture Center and the Madison Opera, to name just a few of the more prominent names – just go to Google and type in their name to search and go to their home page on the web.

Many of them have all sorts of other discounts for students, seniors, subscribers, groups and others.

Don’t forget that Madison features many FREE concerts, especially at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

True, a few of the most attractive and gift-worthy UW concerts are ticketed ($17 for adults, $7 for UW students) – including the annual Schubertiade, the yearly recital by pianist Christopher Taylor and the world premiere of the new Viola Sonata by John Harbison (below). But you could offer to take someone to a free chamber music or orchestral concert and provide companionship, transportation and maybe even dinner.

Here is a link to the very busy lineup and informative previews at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music: https://www.music.wisc.edu

To top it off, you could add one of two outstanding local books The Ear puts at the top of the holiday gift guide.

The first is John Harbison’s “What Do We Make of Bach” (below top) which is short, very readable, thoroughly engaging and wonderfully informative in an autobiographical way that helps us celebrate both the 80th birthday of Harbison and the upcoming 334th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The second book, now in its second printing, is a comprehensive history of the Pro Arte Quartet (below) done by John W. Barker, who often writes for this blog as well as Isthmus.

Of course, a CD with one of the composers or works on a program also makes a fine complement, whether it is a Mahler symphony, a Bach suite or Schubert’s “Swan Songs” from his final year.

Finally, The Ear wants to know: What are your suggestions for a for holiday gift of classical music?

It could be a live concert or a recording, either something new or an old favorite.

It could be a particularly informative and enjoyable or entertaining book, including biographies of Leonard Bernstein (including one by his daughter Jamie Bernstein, below), whose centennial has been celebrated this season.

Over the next few days, The Ear will post suggestions  and Top 10 lists by professional critics. But in the end, it is the audience, the ordinary public, that many people want to hear from.

So perhaps you will leave your ideas in the COMMENT section.

Thank you! And have Happy Holidays — a Merry Christmas, a joyous Kwanzaa and a Happy New Year.


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Classical music: The new FREE concert brochure for the UW-Madison’s music school is both entertaining and informative — it’s a MUST-GET, MUST-READ and MUST-USE

September 15, 2018
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The new 2018-19 concert season has started. And the Internet makes it very easy to take out your date book and plan out what you want to attend.

If you just use Google to go to home websites, you will find lots of information about the dates and times of performances; cost of tickets; works on the program; biographies of performers; and even notes about the pieces.

That is true for all large and small presenters, including the biggest presenter of all for live classical music events: The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. Just click on the Events Calendar when you go to http://www.music.wisc.edu

You can also subscribe to an email newsletter by sending an email to: join-somnews@lists.wisc.edu

And you can also download the helpful mobile app for your smart phone that gives you what is happening today with searches possible for other months and days.

But there is something more old-fashioned that you should not forego: the printed season brochure (below).

It is 8-1/2 by 11 inches big and has 24 pages, and it features numerous color photographs. Along the right hand edge is an easy-to-use calendar of major events for the month.

It is a fun and informative read that gives you even more respect for the School of Music than you already had because it contains a lot of background  and human interest stories about students, faculty members, guest artists, alumni and supporters. Editor and Concert Manager Katherine Esposito and her staff of writers and photographers have done an outstanding job.

The brochure also has a lot of news, including updates about the new Hamel Music Center that is being built on the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue and will open in 2019, and about the seat-naming, fundraising campaign ($1,500-plus) that is being used for the new performance center.

A particularly useful page (23) gives you information about ordering tickets (many have increased to $17 this year) either in advance or at the door (for the latter you are asked to show up 30 minutes early to avoid long lines); about finding parking, both free and paid; and about making special arrangements for disability access.

In larger and bolder type, the brochure tells you about stand-out special events: the 100th birthday tribute to Leonard Bernstein being held tonight (Saturday, Sept. 15) at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall; the fifth annual Brass Fest on Sept. 28 and 29; the University Opera’s production of Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea” on Nov. 16, 18 and 20; the annual Schubertiade on Jan. 27; the world premiere of a viola sonata by John Harbison on Feb. 17; the Choral Union’s joint performance with the Madison Symphony Orchestra of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand” (Symphony No. 8) on May 3, 4 and 5; and much, much more.

In short, the brochure is an impressive publication that also provides many hours of enjoyable browsing while you educate yourself about the state of music education at the UW-Madison.

The only major shortcoming The Ear perceives is that lack of specific programs by some individuals and groups that must surely know what they are going to perform this season but apparently didn’t report it. Maybe that can be remedied, at least in part, next year.

Still, the brochure is successful and popular, which is why the UW sent out 13,000 copies – up from 8,000 last year. If you want to get one, they will be available at concerts until supplies run out. You can also order one to be mailed to you by emailing music@music.wisc.edu

Do you have the UW music brochure?

What do you think of it?

Do you find it useful? Enjoyable?

What do you suggest to improve the brochure, either by adding something or deleting something or doing it differently?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Today is the start of Fall. Here is autumnal music by Richard Strauss. Plus, UW-Madison soprano Jeanette Thompson makes her FREE debut tonight at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall.

September 22, 2017
1 Comment

ALERT: UW-Madison faculty soprano Jeanette Thompson gives her FREE debut recital tonight at 7 p.m.  in Mills Hall. Guest performers are pianist Thomas Kasdorf and faculty colleague baritone Paul Rowe.

Thompson has put together a concert of some of her favorite love songs, though not always typical of love songs:  some of them are about a love that is lost, some of them are about a love desired, and some of them are about a love for God.

These songs include excerpts from Gustav Mahler’s Rückert Lieder and Johannes Brahms’ Volksbuchlieder. In addition to Rückert, they include some of her favorite poets like Charles Baudelaire and Eduard Möricke. She will perform songs by Cole Porter and George Gershwin, and will be joined by baritone Paul Rowe to sing two of the most beautiful “Porgy and Bess” love duets ever written.

Thompson (below) will conclude the concert with some of her favorite spirituals, including her mother’s favorite song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.“

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the autumnal equinox, which arrives at 3:02 p.m. CDT. It marks when the day has an equal amount of daylight and night.

It also means that today is the first official day of Fall.

And despite the hot weather right now, Fall is often a great time to start returning to indoor activities.

That makes it a good time for listening to classical music.

There are the usual candidates such as Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and its modern counterpart “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by tango master Astor Piazzolla.

If you want to hear other season-appropriate music, YouTube, Spotify, Classical-music.com and other websites have generous compilations. Just Google “classical music for autumn.”

But today The Ear want to feature just one selection to celebrate the season. It is soprano Jessye Norman singing “September” from “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss.

What is you favorite music to greet autumn with?

Use the COMMENT section to let us know, along with a link to a video performance if possible.


Classical music: Listen to live “eclipse music” during today’s solar eclipse

August 21, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the day a lot of people have been waiting for for a long time.

The United States will experience a solar eclipse (below).

By now you’ve heard enough about not looking directly at the sun because of the severe damage you risk doing to your eyes.

But indirectly you can watch and also hear it unfold from about 11:15 a.m. CDT for three hours. And you can see it and hear about through any number of media, including television, radio and the Internet. Just Google it and take your choice.

What you may not know is that the entire eclipse in the U.S, will be accompanied by the famed and always adventurous Kronos Quartet (below top) playing an ingenious score – which uses the energy from the sun during the eclipse to create notes  — written especially for this occasion by the contemporary San Francisco composer Wayne Grim (below bottom) especially for this occasion.

You can hear a sample of Grim’s music for another scientific project at the Exploratorium in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Here are links to the stories on National Public Radio (NPR) and the web, which feature a link to the live-streamed performance from the Exploratorium in San Francisco:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/08/18/544417454/kronos-quartet-plays-a-duet-with-t-the-sun-the-moon-and-a-string-quartet-kronos

https://www.space.com/37845-kronos-quartet-serenades-total-solar-eclipse.html

And for good measure, here is a link to a story about the first photograph ever taken of a solar eclipse – the one that appears above. The daguerreotype dates from July 28, 1851 and was taken by Johann Julius Friedrich Berkowski.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kionasmith/2017/08/20/behold-the-first-photograph-of-a-solar-eclipse/


Classical music: Meet Korean pianist Ji-Yong and see the back story to the great TV piano ad for Google Android apps.

February 29, 2016
3 Comments

ALERTS: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall is a FREE recital by the UW-Madison percussion studio. Sorry, no details about the program. Also please note that the joint faculty recital on this coming Saturday night by flutist Stephanie Jutt, oboist Kostas Tiliakos and pianist Christopher Taylor has been CANCELLED. 

By Jacob Stockinger

Maybe you’ve seen one of The Ear’s favorite TV ads these days.

He finds it to be both very eye-catching and very ear-catching. It is called “Monotune.”

It is about the Google Android apps and it features the well-known young Korean pianist Ji-Yong (Kim) playing a section of the emotionally ferocious and technically difficult last movement of the famous “Moonlight” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven on a regular Steinway piano and then an on a specially build “monotune” piano where all the notes are the same – specifically, Middle C.

The ad emphasizes difference and complementarity of difference – and provides a good metaphor for social diversity too. So The Ear bets that it wins some awards in the advertising profession.

Here is the YouTube video of the ad:

Making of the Android App ad included building a special piano that could be tuned so all notes play a middle C. Here is the fascinating back story:

From the playing The Ear thought: This is a serious and accomplished pianist – not some second-rate hack brought in for an ad. He is expressive but not self-indulgent or flamboyant like, say, the Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang.

He was right.

Ji-Yong is a serious pianist and former impressive prodigy, so maybe the Android ad will further his career with many new bookings. He deserves it. The Ear sure would like to hear him live.

Here are other samples of his playing:

Here he is playing the complete Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825, by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Ear likes his lively but convincing interpretation of Baroque music on a modern piano:

And here he plays the opening movement of the virtuosic “Waldstein” Sonata, Op. 53, by Beethoven:

Along more miniature and less heroic lines, here he plays two favorites from Robert Schumann’s “Scenes From Childhood” – first “Of Foreign Lands and People” and then “Träumerei” or “Dreams,” which was a favorite encore of Vladimir Horowitz:

Finally, here is a pretty amazing YouTube video of him as a young prodigy playing at the Miami International Piano Festival in 2008. He is performing a difficult work, the Andante and Grande Polonaise, Op. 22, by Frederic Chopin:

What do you think of the Android ad?

And what do you think of pianist Ji-Yong?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Let Us Now Praise – and rediscover — pianist and teacher extraordinaire Seymour Bernstein. The Ear wants his books about amateur music-making reprinted affordably and made into e-books. Plus, this morning at 11 a.m. you can hear and see, live and for FREE, UW-Madison alumna Brenda Rae Klinkert sing in a Richard Strauss opera in Munich.

October 5, 2014
4 Comments

ALERT: Some local-related news came in too late to include yesterday.

This morning, UW-Madison School of Music alumna and Appleton native Brenda Rae Klinkert (BA, 2004 and seen below in costume) is singing with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in Richard Strauss’ opera “Die Schweigsame Frau” (The Silent Woman, 1935) and the performance is being broadcast LIVE on the Internet. You can watch the free audio-visual transmission at 11 a.m. via http://www.staatsoper.de/en/staatsopertv.html (Staatsoper.TV).

Please pass the word to any students and professors, friends and fans who might be interested in this opera and this performer. Adds local opera fan Dan Shea: “Brenda Rae currently is continuing a series of major breakthroughs in her operatic career, an amazing arc of success in Europe and the U.S. with  major roles in major operas. Just take a look at her schedule at brendarae.com

“Personally, I’ve seen a lot of “Traviatas” all over the world, but hers at Santa Fe in the summer of 2013 was especially wonderful, and in a class by itself — as the reviews attested.”

Brenda Rae Klinkert in costume

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday I wrote about violinist Joshua Bell — a superstar who is both a renowned performer and a devoted teacher, all at the same time.

Today I want to write about someone who established a big performing career when he was young – but then walked away from it all at the same age Joshua Bell is right now, about 50, in order to devote himself to teaching, writing books and composing.

Chances are you haven’t heard about pianist Seymour Bernstein (below), or heard only a little bit if anything. 

Seymour bernstein 1

But it turns out that might all change, thanks to the movie star Ethan Hawke (below left with Bernstein on the right), who met Bernstein at a dinner party and ended up directing a documentary about Seymour Bernstein, who is now 87 years old and still active.

It happened especially after Bernstein help the screen-veteran Hawke to overcome his stage fright, which itself is a fascinating story.

It was also fascinating to read that Bernstein doesn’t think the concert world is the way for classical music to go today. He wants instead to recapture the joy of amateur music-making.

I read a great story about the movie and how it came about in The New York Times. Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/27/arts/ethan-hawke-films-seymour-an-introduction.html?_r=0

Ethan Hawke and Seymour Bernstein

I got so intrigued that I tried to order some of his books by going to Amazon.com.

It turns out they are all out of print and some go for hundreds of dollars as rarities.

PLEASE NOTE A MISTAKE AND A CORRECTION: The Ear just got a post-posting correction to this error, for which he apologizes. If you go to a Reader Comment by Pru Palachek, you will find out that Seymour Bernstein’s books are indeed available — for a higher price — from a small music publisher, Manduca, in Portland, Maine. You can also visit Bernstein’s own website for more information. Just Google “Seymour Bernstein.”

Well, there is always the library. But being an avid amateur pianist, I would like my own copies to mark up and keep near the keyboard.

So I am hoping somebody can persuade Amazon to reissue them as both regular books and especially e-books. Maybe the success of the movie will help. Maybe Hawke’s fame will help.

And what I read isn’t hype.

It turns out The Ear knows someone who herself took some piano lessons from Seymour Bernstein and played for him. This pianist says Bernstein is all he is cracked up to be -– a cordial and kind man, an excellent teacher and an outstanding performer.

Seymour Bernstein playing piano

I did find some YouTube videos based on his books “With Your Own Two Hands.” At the bottom is the second of several that are all good and all whet your appetite for more:

In the meantime let us hope for two things:

1. That the movie, which might win some awards and garner a big audience, gets wide circulation.

2. That Amazon, or some other publisher, agrees to reprint the books in regular and e-book formats.

What do you know about Seymour Bernstein?

Did you ever heard him live or in recording?

Did you ever read his books or use his methods?

What did you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Well-Tempered Ear surpasses one million hits. What’s next? And what piece of music should be played to celebrate?

June 12, 2014
29 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Sometime on Tuesday night, around 10:45 p.m. CDT, The Well-Tempered Ear blog surpassed one million hits. It happened just three months short of its five-year anniversary.

Writing the daily blog has been a long and sometimes difficult haul for The Ear, and I want to thank all the readers and subscribers who supported it, as well as the many individual and group musicians who have provided me with so much material.

the ear

So I offer a heart-felt THANK YOU, to all of you, and especially to Ralph Russo (below), the cultural arts director at the Wisconsin Union Theater who originally encouraged me to undertake the blog. Its success has surprised us all.

ralph russo seated

One million hits mark a milestone.

Here are some related statistics:

Since Aug. 21, 2009, there have been 1,791 posts –- usually one a day, occasionally more than one if a big news flash happened.

There have been 5,543 comments, most of them from readers.

The filters at the hosting site WordPress.com have protected the blog from 239,834 spam emails and spam-like links.

But the biggest things to note are that Madison’s musical scene has grown and that I have other things waiting for me to do, things that I want to do.

I’m not sure what comes next. But I do feel a need to change some things.

To be honest, it seems that non-local stories often draw more traffic than local events, event though the local events take more work.

Yet as a former Madison journalist, I still feel a loyalty to local musical events and to the community. But as the local scene gets busier and busier, I find it taxing to keep up. Everyone thinks they merit coverage—and the local media often do not oblige, even in a city that is so rich with culture and especially classical music. (Below is the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet playing in Mills Hall.)

Pro Arte with Brian Hsu

But perhaps the biggest difference is that I also feel a need to move on to other different activities, including different kinds of writing.

What form the blog will take in the future I am still not sure of.

I expect I will do more aggregating as Google, Yahoo and Bing and other big search engines do –- that is, referring or linking readers to stories on other websites and blogs. (Below is the Madison Symphony Orchestra conducted by John DeMain.)

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

I also expect that I will try to write shorter pieces -– to head in the direction of Tweeting, if you will, in which I take away from a concert just one or two important thoughts or impressions.

There may be more guest bloggers who write stories, both previews and reviews.

I expect photos may also play a bigger role.

And finally, the frequency of postings may be cut back — no longer daily but several times a week.

Who knows? I may even venture into other areas –- maybe poems or short stories about music as well as profiles, Q&As and brief reviews of live and recorded music and CDs. (Below is the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and conductor Andrew Sewell.)

WCO lobby

BUT:

Most of all, I would like to know what you, my readers and sources, would like to see in the way of changes for the blog. What do you find most valuable? How would you like to see The Well-Tempered Ear evolve?

And what piece of music do you think should be played or listened to in order to mark one million hits? Leave a reply or comment with a YouTube link.

The Ear wants to hear.

 

 


Classical music: Is classical music in America dead or dying? Or is it alive and thriving? The debate rages on. Hear both sides in these essays and videos.

March 8, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

For a couple of months now, a discussion or even a debate has been quietly but vociferously  raging, with lots of adamant back-and-forth, in the blogosphere.

The subject is the state of health –- of lack of health –-of classical music in America. It is a timely and endless topic of debate given the financial difficulties of many symphony orchestras (below, members of the beleaguered Minnesota Orchestra) and opera companies, of record companies, and even of piano sellers.

general_orchestra_helgeson

You can search or Google other sources.

Here is the essay, written from the perspective of a pessimist, that first appeared on Slate.com and seemed to kick off the controversy:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/01/classical_music_sales_decline_is_classical_on_death_s_door.html

And for optimists, here are some responses –- from such usually reputable sources as The New Yorker and The Washington Post — and rejoinders that take issue with the initial premise:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2014/01/stop-trying-to-kill-classical-music.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/style/wp/2014/01/30/classical-music-dead-or-alive/

http://www.pressherald.com/life/audience/Classical_Beat__Rumors_of_classical_music_s_death_greatly_exaggerated_.html

And at the bottom are two YouTube videos that take up the question. Be sure to check out viewer comments.

What points — either experiential or theoretical — would you make in defense of one side or the other?

Please leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section.

Have you read other essays supporting either side?

You could also leave some links in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music education: Can apps and MOOCs help save classical music? Pianist Jonathan Biss will teach Beethoven’s piano sonatas to 30,000 “students” and pianist Stephen Hough has created a fascinating Liszt app.

August 31, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

After Labor Day, the school year, for both K-12 and high education, will officially start.

Imagine walking into a classroom or lecture hall with more than 30,000 students.

That is what the acclaimed young pianist Jonathan Biss (below) who teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia – the most selective higher educational institution in the country, according to one report – faces when he tackles his first course on the 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven. (Several seasons ago, Jonathan Biss turned in a superb performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Major, K. 467, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

That Biss will reach so many clasiscal music fans is thanks to a MOOC – a “Massive Open Online Course.”

jonathan biss at piano jillian edelstein

Using the firm Coursera, Biss’ course on the Beethoven sonatas will start this Tuesday, Sept. 3. There is still time to register as you can see below.

(Biss is recording all 32 of the Beethoven piano sonatas for Onyx Classics, which will release volume 3 this fall. The Ear finds his performances extraordinary and convincing. You can hear Biss in an interview on the PBS “Newshour” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Then there is another great pianist, Stephen Hough, the MacArthur “genius grant” winner from the United Kingdom, who has done a special app on Franz Liszt’s legendary Sonata in B minor. That too will allow him to reach many thousands of listeners and new audiences who can follow his playing with the score and his own annotations as well as view his finger playing the virtuosic work. (Hough has performed in Madison in both solo recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater and in concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and gave a terrific masterclass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.) 

Hough_Stephen_color16

liszt sonata stephen hough app

So The Ear wonders: Will MOOCs and APPs come to the rescue of classical music, which seems increasingly to be losing relevance and popularity?

It could happen.

The possibilities have certainly been treated in the media lately.

Here, for example, is a great story, with a lot of specifics and details, about Jonathan Biss’ Beethoven course and the Stephen Hough’ Liszt app, that was published by The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/arts/music/hey-ludwig-theres-an-app-for-you.html?pagewanted=all

jonathan biss mooc 2

And here is a similar story that appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323585604579009041451441648.html

Over 30,000 people have enrolled in the Beethoven course to date: seven times the total number of students who have attended Curtis since the school opened its doors in October 1924.

The five-week course starts this coming Tuesday, September 3, 2013–the first day of Curtis classes–and is aptly named “Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.” Biss has posted recommended reading and listening materials here.

In the course description, Biss writes, “It is not necessary to have studied an instrument or to have any knowledge of music theory to take the course. Rather, it is designed for students of all backgrounds who have a desire to learn more about Beethoven and his world.”

Coursera offers classes that are free of charge and are designed to help the student master the material. A key factor in the design of the Coursera system is the extensive use of interactive exercises. Within videos, there are multiple opportunities for interactions: the video frequently stops, and students are asked to answer a simple question to test whether they are tracking the material.

jonathan biss mooc 2

There will also be stand-alone homework that is not part of video lectures. Students can watch Biss’s lectures at their leisure, but the classes are structured with regular deadlines. Each student who completes the course will receive a statement of accomplishment at the end of the series.

Curtis will a launch a second Coursera class in October titled “From the Repertoire: Western Music History through Performance.” Taught by Jonathan Coopersmith, chair of Musical Studies, and David Ludwig (’01), the Gie and Lisa Liem Artistic Chair of Performance Studies and a member of the composition faculty, the course illuminates Western music history through explorations of seminal works over the past six centuries.

As for the Beethoven course by Biss, here is a preview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y134F2WvAGo

And here is a way to sign up for it:

https://www.coursera.org/course/beethovensonatas

You can find Stephen Hough’s Liszt app in the app store of Apple and Google’s Play.


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