The Well-Tempered Ear

Here is a collaborative obituary for music critic, radio host, performer and gay pioneer Jess Anderson, who died in January at 85

March 7, 2021
3 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

In late January of this year, Jess Anderson (below) — a longtime friend, devoted musician and respected music critic – died at 85.

The Ear promised then that when more was known or written, it would be posted on this blog.

That time has come.

Jess was a polymath, a Renaissance Man, as the comments below attest to time and again.

For the past several years, he suffered from advancing dementia and moved from his home of 56 years to an assisted living facility. He had contracted COVID-19, but died from a severe fall from which he never regained consciousness.

Jess did not write his own obituary and he had no family member to do it. So a close friend – Ed Wegert (below) – invited several of the people who knew Jess and worked with him, to co-author a collaborative obituary. We are all grateful to Ed for the effort the obituary took and for his caring for Jess in his final years.

In addition, the obituary has some wonderful, not-to-be-overlooked photos of Jess young and old, at home, with friends, sitting at the piano and at his custom-built harpsichord.

It appears in the March issue of Our Lives, a free statewide LGBTQ magazine that is distributed through grocery stores and other retail outlets as well as free subscriptions. Here is a link to the magazine’s home webpage for details about it: https://ourliveswisconsin.com.

That Jess was an exceptional and multi-talented person is obvious even from the distinguished names of the accomplished people who contributed to the obituary:

They include:

Chester Biscardi (below), who is an acclaimed prize-winning composer, UW-Madison graduate, composer and teacher of composition at Sarah Lawrence College.

John Harbison (below), the MacArthur “genius grant” recipient and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who teaches at MIT and co-directs the nearby Token Creek Chamber Music Festival in the summer.

Rose Mary Harbison (below), who attended the UW-Madison with Jess and became a professional performing and teaching violinist who co-directs the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

Steve Miller (below), a close friend who became a bookmaker and is now a professor at the University of Alabama.

The Ear, who knew Jess over many decades, was also invited to contribute.

Here is a link to the joint obituary in Our Lives magazine, a free LGBTQ periodical that you can find in local grocery store and other retail outlets: https://ourliveswisconsin.com/article/remembering-jess-anderson/?fbclid=IwAR027dzv2YqRUNlYF1cF6JyXnEcQxAwcprPYbtBQCs3rYt0Nu847W_xbjpk

Feel free to leave your own thoughts about and memories of Jess in the comment section.

It also seems a fitting tribute to play the final chorus from The St. John Passion of Johann Sebastian Bach. You can hear it in the YouTube video below. It is, if memory serves me well, the same piece of sublime music that Jess played when he signed off from hosting his Sunday morning early music show for many years on WORT-FM 89.9.

 


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Classical music: UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor wins a rave review from the New York Times for his performances of works by J.S. Bach and Frederic Rzewski. But Taylor also invents pianos as well as plays them.

May 20, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

You really could not wish to have better review than the one that New York Times music critic Zachary Woolfe last week gave University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor for his performances of music by J.S. Bach and Frederic Rzewski’s massive theme-and-variations on “The People United Can Never Be Defeated.” 

How often do you get words like “dazzlingly virtuosic” or “lively yet magisterial” or “passionate precision” or “masterly” or “pianistic fireworks” applied to your performance?

And how often do you get praised for programming that is different from the way some pretty famous pianists including Ursula Oppens, have programmed the same pieces? (Below is a concert photo by Richard Termine of The New York Times.)

Here is a link to the Times’ review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/arts/music/christopher-taylor-piano-concert-at-miller-theater.html?_r=2&

And here is a link to the entry on the UW-Madison School of Music’s new website blog Fanfare — a great idea since so much great music (and so much FREE music) is going on at the UW-Madison — with more about the concert:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/pianist-kit-taylor-dazzles-new-york-city/

Christopher Taylor at Miller Theater in NYC CR Richard Termine of the NYT

But Christopher Taylor does not just PLAY the piano with world-class mastery and artistry.

He is also inventing a piano, a two-keyboard Steinway much like a harpsichord and the rare piano he inherited from the deceased Danish native and UW-Madison Artist-in-Residence Gunnar Johansen (below) and has performed on many times in many works, including J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.

VT-Compress (tm) Xing Technology Corp.

First, Taylor informally wrote to The Ear about his project:

“After some delays I’ve finally finished getting made a little documentary about the latest progress with the new double-manual piano I’m in the process of developing — quite the mammoth project.   I think the film covers the basics OK.  I thought you might be curious to see what I’ve been up to.

“There’s still a long road ahead, but I’m encouraged to think that a complete instrument may yet emerge one day.  I’ve also been learning a lot of unexpected skills and having fun in the process …”

And then, on my request the ever-busy but generous Taylor (below), who is always teaching and performing as well as inventing, wrote a more formal introduction:

“About four years ago now, while working with the existing double-manual Steinway that the UW owns, I began to develop my first ideas about a possible successor instrument, one that would use modern technology to overcome some of older piano’s practical limitations.

“As it has turned out, developing this invention has provided an excellent opportunity for me to synthesize many of my preexisting interests, not only in music, but in mathematics and computer science as well.

Taylor_Chris_piano01

“Since submitting a patent application in November 2011 (with the aid of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF)), I have worked extensively to turn the diagrams on my hard drive into a reality, with assistance from many people, particularly the engineers and machinists at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and my piano technician Robert Hohf.

“In the process I’ve had to learn about many fields that were new to me, including some basic electrical engineering, printed circuit board design, computer-assisted 3D modeling, and CNC machining.

Christopher Taylor playing two-keyboard

“It’s hard to predict when a completed instrument may emerge — having built my proof-of-principle models, I’m hoping I may eventually get some assistance from a piano manufacturer.

“Whatever happens, I am fairly determined to get it built one day, and when I do, I intend to promote it in the way I have promoted the existing instrument, traveling the country with it (taking advantage of what I expect will be its greater portability), performing works like J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, making new arrangements of existing solo or chamber literature, and commissioning brand new compositions from adventurous composers.”

So after all that build-up, here is that YouTube video with UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor explaining the new piano and how he will use it:


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