The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Pianist Stephen Hough offers good advice about dealing with stage fright. Plus, “The Met Live in HD” screenings start today with Verdi’s “Macbeth and the UW-Madison brass festival features its spotlight concert TONIGHT.”

October 11, 2014
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Live from the MET in HD” kicks off today at 11:55 a.m. with soprano Anna Netrebko in a critically acclaimed production of Giuseppe Verdi‘s opera “Macbeth,” based on the famous  tragedy by William Shakespeare. The show is at Point Cinemas on the city’s far west side and Eastgate Cinemas on the city’s far east side. Here is a link to more information:

MET LIve in HD poster 2014-15

ALSO: Just a reminder that the spotlight concert of the University of Wisconsin-Madison brass festival is TONIGHT AT 8 P.M. IN MILLS HALL. Admission is $25 for the public, but all students get in for FREE. Here is a link to details about this concert and the whole festival, which winds up Monday.

brass photo UW Celebrate Brass festival 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Do you suffer from stage fright -– better known as performance anxiety?

The Ear sure does.

stage fright

But the British pianist Stephen Hough (below) is a breathtaking virtuoso who at least seems never to suffer from stage fright or performance anxiety –- at least not judging by the performances of recitals and concertos that I have heard him give in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he offered master classes.


But what about the rest of us?

It is surprising how many professional musicians, as well as amateur musicians, suffer from performance anxiety and state fright. The same goes for actors and public speakers of all kinds.

But Hough, who writes a wonderful blog that is both very readable and very informative for The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, recently dealt with the topic in a way that The Ear really admired and found helpful.


Maybe you will feel the same way.

Here is a link:

Do you suffer form stage fright and performance anxiety?

What have you found helpful to overcome it?

Dr. Noa Kageyama (below), a performance psychologist who is a Juilliard School graduate and who writes a respected blog, also has some good advice in a YouTube video at the bottom:

Noa Kageyama


Classical music: What did French composer Camille Saint-Saens think about his own “Organ” Symphony? The Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform three times this weekend.

September 18, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Local business owners Dean and Carol “Orange” Schroeder (below) have a long history of supporting local arts organizations, especially local music groups.

Carol %22Orange%22 and Dean Schroeder

If you recall, two years ago they started the annual Handel Aria Competition that is now held each July in conjunction with the Madison Early Music Festival.

MEMF 2014 Handel Daniel Moody

Now the owners of Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street have offered The Ear something that might come in handy to thousands of people — and concert-goers — this weekend.

It is a story about what the French composer Camille Saint-Saens thought about his own Symphony No. 3 or “Organ” Symphony, that will be performed in Overture Hall this Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top) under music director and conductor John DeMain (below bottom).

For more about the MSO concert — with information about the tickets, the program, artist biographies and program notes — here is a link to an earlier post this week:

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

John DeMain full face by Prasad

It is always interesting to see what a composer thinks or says about a specific work. Creating a work of art remains something of a mystery to those of us who do not or cannot do so. (You can hear the stirring finale of the work by Saint-Saens for organ and orchestra in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear finds it particularly interesting in the case of Saint-Saens (below, at the piano, in a Corbis photo from around 1900). He was one of history’s greatest child prodigies (on par with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn) and remains one of the most underrated and underperformed of all composers, along with Franz Joseph Haydn and Gabriel Faure.

Camille Saint-Saens at the piano

Anyway, here is what Saint-Saens had to say about the “Organ” Symphony he had composed – he considered it a major labor and achievement — coupled with a fine analysis by music writer Tom Service. The story comes from a series, which you might want to explore further via a link on this one, from The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.

Thank you, Dean and Orange Schroeder!

And I welcome suggestions or contributions from others.


Classical music education: What do the Olympics and classical music have in common – and what sets them far apart?

August 5, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Sunday.

That means more weekend ahead of us – and, for millions or even billions of people around, more watching the London Olympic Games ahead of us.

Some past posts have recently explored parallels between athleticism at the Olympics and athleticism in classical music.

Yesterday I also posted a “Deceptive Cadence” quiz by NPR that allowed people to match Olympic sports to classical music and characters in it.

But another fascinating blog about the London Olympics is by one of the most intelligent and original or creative bloggers about classical music: the virtuoso and prize-winning British pianist Stephen Hough.

Hough writes about every thing, from tips about playing ht epiano and his current concert tours to religion and politics.

But he recently wrote an extremely interesting post in which he discussed surface parallels to the Olympic Games, but also deeper differences — especially when it comes to competitiveness and notions of “winning.”

Below is a link to his blog in The Guardian about the Olympic Games. Enjoy what he says—and be sure to read the many informative comments form his readers:

And let The Ear and Hough know what you think of what he says by leaving a remarl in the COMMENT section.

Classical music news: Famed German baritone Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau is dead at 86. Listen, be moved and leave a message.

May 19, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

The classical music world is in mourning today.

Yesterday, on Friday, May 18, 2012, the famed German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (below, at 80 in his Berlin home) died at 86, just a few weeks short of his 87th birthday.

I don’t find much to say.

One thing is that I regret I never got to hear him in person. What a treat that would have been, since his ability to communicate the feeling and meaning of a song without cheap or melodramatic theatrics to an audience was unsurpassed.

I also want to say we are lucky to have had him with us as long as we did. He was notoriously heavy cigarette smoker, and an unrepentant one at that. He has been quoted as saying that his smoking added something intangible to his superb tonal quality. Well, may or maybe not. Who am I to argue with him?

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was really one of the vocalists who seemed to sing as naturally and effortlessly as the rest of us breathe and talk. You never heard audible breathing, his line is so seamless. Just listen to his flowing and uninterrupted phrasing. Below, he is singing Schubert’s “In Spring” with pianist Sviatoslav Richter in 1978.

And his diction was unsurpassed. Whether his diction came from his total devotion to the text, or the his devotion to the text arose from his unsurpassed diction, I can’t tell. It’s sort of a chicken-or-egg issue. But does it matter, really? Whatever he did and however he did it, it worked – for many, many decades. (Below is the young Fischer-Dieskau performing in the 1950s.)

Longevity was another part of his miracle. Fischer-Dieskau recorded the great repertoire standards of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Mahler  many times – entire cycles three or four times with different pianists and at different ages. His prolific career spanned 50 years and he produced hundreds of recordings in his lifetime.

It is a measure of his greatness how quickly condolences, tributes and testimonial sites sprouted up on the web and especially at YouTube.

So here are links to two of the sites with the news and factual accounts of his death:

Here is a link to a wonderfully candid interview the singer gave to The Guardian when he turned 80:

And here are links to YouTube videos that were put on the day Dietrich Fischer died and where you can leave comments — as well as herein the COMMENTS section of this blog. Tell us your favorite song he sang and what you liked most about his singing and what it was like to hear him live.

And here is Schubert’s entire song cycle “Winterreise” with Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Alfred Brendel. 

Classical music: This past Thursday, January 5th, was a big day for modern piano giants and birthday boys Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Alfred Brendel and Maurizio Pollini. Have fun and hear them at their best.

January 7, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

This past Thursday, January 5th, was a big day for classical pianists, with three of the most famous ones of the 20th and 21st centuries celebrating important birthdays.

Can you guess which three pianos virtuosos we are talking about?

They are: Maurizio Pollini, who turned 70 (below):

Alfred Brendel, who turned 81 (below):

And the late Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (below) who would have turned  92:

Here is a link to a site at NPR with the answers and three sample videos of the three keyboard titans playing.

And here is a link to something I really like — a story about and appreciation of Pollini that includes the special set of recordings that  Deutsche Grammophon has reissued to mark Pollini’s birthday:

And here is the DG press release about the boxed sets, which are go on sale Jan. 10:

2012 is a momentous year for famed Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini: not only will he celebrate his 70th birthday (January 5) but the year also marks the 60th anniversary of his first public performance. (Early in his career, Pollini also studied with Michelangeli.)

“His career has spanned two generations of pianists and audiences and he continues today performing throughout North America, Europe and Asia.  Deutsche Grammophon’s relationship with the pianist extends back to his Yellow Label debut in 1971 and continues today.

“To celebrate these milestones Deutsche Grammophon has prepared a number of retrospective releases and looks forward to new recordings.

“The Art of Maurizio Pollini” (below, available January 10) is a 3-CD, deluxe package set which chronicles the breadth of Pollini’s performance and recording career. The limited-edition hardcover set includes repertoire chosen personally by Pollini and consists of complete works (not extracts) ranging from Stravinsky’s “Petrushka” and Chopin’s Op. 25 Études to complete concertos by Beethoven and Mozart.  As an added bonus, DG has included the 1960 performance of Chopin’s First Piano Concerto from the International Chopin Competition – a performance that ensured Pollini’s victory at the young age of only 18.  Click here for the complete tracklisting.

Though Pollini has not wanted to be termed a “specialist” of any one type of music, he has remained fascinated over the past 50 years notably with the music of Chopin and works written in the 20th-century.  Although the two seem rather different they speak to Pollini’s curiosity and his artistically rich childhood.

“I grew up in a house with art and artists,” Pollini told The Guardian’s Nicholas Wroe. “Old works and modern works co-existed together as part of life. It went without saying.” Here is a link to the complete story by Nicholas Wroe:

To honor these passions Deutsche Grammophon has already released two box sets: Chopin and 20th Century.  The Chopin box (below, 9 CDs) includes complete recordings of Études, Préludes, Polonaises, Sonatas Nos. 2 and 3, Nocturnes and much more.  Click here for complete information on the Chopin box.

The 20th Century box (below, 6 CDs) includes Pollini’s debut for the Yellow Label and works from composers such as Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Webern, Boulez, Nono, Manzoni, Schoenberg, Bartók and Debussy.  Click here for complete information on the 20th Century box.

Late last year, Deutsche Grammophon released Pollini’s third recording of the Brahms Piano Concerto no. 1 in D minor, op. 15 (below).  For this live recording Pollini was joined, for the first time on DG, by Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden.  This unique collaboration brought together two musical giants for one very special event.  This concerto is the same work that Pollini performed for his Staatskapelle debut in 1976 and 35 years later his interpretation has inevitably grown and changed.  Since that debut he has performed the work with a number of great maestros including Karl Böhm and Claudio Abbado, both of whom Pollini has previously recorded the work with on the Yellow Label.

Together Deutsche Grammophon and Pollini look forward to a new recording of works by Chopin for release later this year.  Chopin has always figured prominently in the pianist’s career and he constantly strives to find new and different meanings within the works.  At a recent recital The Guardian wrote: “… he still plays Chopin with the ease that floored even Rubinstein more than 50 years ago…”

Deutsche Grammophon is proud of its lengthy and continuing relationship with Maurizio Pollini and celebrates his tremendous artistry on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

Check out the link on both stories.


Which of the three pianists do you like the most?

Do you have favorite performances by each of them?

Let us know which pieces and which recordings?

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