The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: WQXR radio names 19 musicians to watch in ’19. What do you think of the choices? Who would you add?

January 28, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

What will 2019 bring in the way of classical music?

What and who should we be looking at and paying attention to?

WQXR — the famed classical radio station in New York City – recently published its list of 19 to watch in ‘19, with detailed reasons for and explanations of their picks.

It seems like a pretty good choice to The Ear, although there is always something of a parlor game aspect to such projects.

Nonetheless, the list covers a fine variety – instrumentalists and vocalists, young and old, American and international, the well-known and the up-and-coming such as the opera singer Devone Tines (below, in a photo by Nikolai Schukoff).

Some names will be familiar to Madison audiences – such as pianist Inon Barnatan, violinist Nicola Benedettti, the JACK Quartet and cellist Steven Isserlis — especially through their live appearances at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and the Madison Symphony Orchestra plus broadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here is a link to the list: https://www.wqxr.org/story/wqxr-presents-19-19-artists-collaborations-upcoming-year/

The Ear can think of some other musicians that he would add to the list.

An especially deserving one of them is the young American virtuoso pianist George Li (below, in a photo by Simon Fowler).

Born in China and brought as a child to the United States by his parents, Li attended Harvard and just finished his master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. (At the bottom, you can hear Li play virtuosic music by Liszt and Horowitz in the YouTube video of a Tiny Desk Concert at National Public Radio or NPR.)

Li won the silver medal in the 2015 at the 15th Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow and had a lot of people talking about the energy and excitement of his playing. He was praised for both outstanding technical prowess and deep expressiveness.

He then took first prize at a piano competition in Paris.

Ever since, he has been steadily booked. At 23, the amiable Li has already toured China, Japan and Russia and seems to have a very busy schedule ahead of him, judging by his posts on Instagram.

He has also released his first recording on the Warner Classics label, a fine CD that received many positive reviews from critics, including this one.

The program includes Haydn’s Sonata in B minor, Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor “Funeral March,” Rachmaninoff’s “Variations on a Theme of Corelli,” and Consolation No. 3 and the popular Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt.

Given all the concertos he is now performing, it would not surprise one to see his next recording be a concerto, possibly the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto N. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23, which brought him instant acclaim.

Here is a link to his website: http://www.georgelipianist.com

And here is a link to his entry in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Li

Keep your ears and eyes on George Li.

What do you think of the choices made by WQXR?

Who would you add to the list of musicians to watch in 2019, and why?

If possible, maybe you can include a YouTube link to a performance, live or recorded, in your comment.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: Happy Birthday to Lenny at 100! Here are some ways to celebrate today’s Bernstein centennial

August 25, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

One hundred years ago today, the versatile and world-celebrated American musician Leonard Bernstein (below) was born.

For most of his adult life, starting with his meteoric rise after his nationally broadcast debut with the New York Philharmonic, Lenny remained an international star that has continued to shine brightly long after his death at 72 in 1990.

When his father Sam was asked why he wouldn’t pay for young Lenny’s piano lessons and why he resisted the idea of a career in music for his son, he said simply: “I didn’t know he would grow up to be Leonard Bernstein.”

Lenny! The name itself is shorthand for a phenomenon, for musical greatness as a conductor, composer (below, in 1955), pianist, educator, popularizer, advocate, humanitarian and proselytizer, and so much more.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia biography where you can check out the astonishing extent of Lenny’s career and his many firsts, from being the first major American-born and American-trained conductor — he studied at Harvard University and the Curtis Institute of Music — to his revival of Gustav Mahler:

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

You should also view the engaging YouTube video at the bottom.

So eager have the media been to mark the centennial of Leonard Bernstein, one might well ask: “Have you had enough Lenny yet?”

New recordings and compilations of recordings have been issued and reissued.

Numerous books have been published.

Many new photos of the dramatic, expressive and photogenic Lenny (below, by Paul de Hueck) have emerged.

TV stations have discussed him and Turner Classic Movies rebroadcast several of his “Young People’s Concerts.”

For weeks, radio stations have been drowning us with his various performances, especially his performances of his own Overture to “Candide.”

Still, today is the actual Leonard Bernstein centennial and the culmination of the build-up and hype, and if you haven’t paid attention before today, chances are you wind find Encounters with Lenny unavoidable this weekend. 

Yet if you pay attention, you are sure to learn new things about Lenny who seems an inexhaustible supply of insights and interesting information, a man of productive contradictions.

With that in mind, The Ear has just a few suggestions for this weekend, with other tributes coming during the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin’s Mead Witter School of Music and other music groups and individuals.

You can start by listening to the radio.

For most of the daytime today Wisconsin Public Radio with pay homage to Lenny. It will start at 10 a.m. with Classics by Request when listeners will ask to hear favorite pieces and offer personal thoughts and memories. After that a couple of more hours of Bernstein’s music will be broadcast on WPR.

Then on Sunday at 2 p.m., WPR host Norman Gilliland (below top) will interview Madison Symphony Orchestra conductor John DeMain (below bottom, by Prasad) about working with Lenny.

Here, thanks to National Public Radio (NPR), is the best short overview that The Ear has heard so far:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2018/08/24/641208843/the-complex-life-of-leonard-bernstein-a-once-in-a-century-talent

Want to know more about Lenny the Man as well as Lenny the Musician?

Try this review from The New Yorker  by David Denby of daughter Jamie Bernstein’s book (below) that has juicy anecdotes and new information about growing up with her famous father.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/06/25/leonard-bernstein-through-his-daughters-eyes

And here, from Time magazine, is the little known story of how Lenny the Humanitarian conducted an orchestra of Holocaust survivors (below):

http://time.com/5376731/leonard-bernstein-holocaust-survivors-concert/

What is your favorite tribute to Bernstein so far? Leave a link in the COMMENT section if you can.

What is you favorite composition by Bernstein?

What is your favorite performance by Bernstein?

What would you like to say or tell others about Leonard Bernstein?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble performs old and new music this Friday night and Sunday afternoon when its new director also makes his debut

August 2, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Since it was founded in 2002, the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) has been critically acclaimed for the concert it puts together each summer in just a couple of weeks or less. (You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This summer, the group will be under the baton of its new artistic director, Michael McGaghie (below), who will be making his performing debut with the group.

McGaghie directs choral activities at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and also conducts the Harvard Glee Club Alumni Chorus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The program this weekend ranges from the 16th century and early Baroque to the contemporary.

It will begin with works from  established masters such as Thomas Tallis, Heinrich Schütz and the Soviet conductor-composer Nikolai Golovanov.

It will then explore works from contemporary composers such as Jocelyn Hagen, Morten Lauridsen and Dale Trumbore in a program called Horizons. (Sorry, The Ear has not received the titles of specific works on the program.)

Admission is $20 for adults, $10 for students. Tickets can be bought at the door or ordered at the links below.

Concert venues are:

This Friday, Aug. 3, at 7:30 p.m. in the Lutheran Church of the Living Christ, 110 North Gammon Road, on Madison’s west side. For tickets, go to:

https://isthmusvocalens.yapsody.com/event/index/282736/ive-2018-friday-concert

This Sunday, Aug. 5, at 3 p.m. in Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street. For tickets, go to:

https://isthmusvocalens.yapsody.com/event/index/282791/ive-2018-sunday-concert

For more about the impressive background of the new director, go to: https://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org/artisticdirector/

For more about the past performances and the organization, including sound samples to listen to and how to join or support the group, go to: https://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org


Classical music: ECM Records finally streams its entire catalogue of award-winning artists and recordings

November 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed and award-winning independent label ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) was founded in Munich, Germany, in 1969 by the Grammy-winning producer Manfred Eicher (below).

Known for its penchant for the contemporary and even avant-garde, Eicher’s label was nonetheless a conservative hold-out when it came to the newer technology of digital streaming.

The old technology has its points besides superior sound quality. When you got an ECM CD, you usually also got one of their terrific black-and-white photographs, often a square-format landscape, as a cover. (ECM even published a book of its photographic covers.)

But as of this past Friday, ECM finally gave into the inevitable and streamed its entire catalogue. Its rationale was that it was more important for its music and musicians to be heard than to remain loyal to certain platforms.

ECM also cited the pressure from unauthorized uploads to YouTube and bootleg versions of its recordings as the reason for the decision.

So as of yesterday, ECM, which has won many awards for individual titles and artists, will be available on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer, Tidal and other streaming services.

ECM is known for its popular and critically acclaimed jazz artists including pianist Keith Jarrett (below, of “The Köln Concert” or The Cologne Concert) and saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble (“Officium”). But it also included classical chamber music groups such as the Keller Quartet, the Trio Medieval, the Danish Quartet and others.

ECM is also known for championing contemporary classical composers (Arvo Pärt, below, who is the most performed contemporary composer, as well as Tigur Mansurian, Lera Auerbach, Gyorgy Kurtag and Valentin Silvestrov among others) and some outstanding crossover classical musicians, including Jarrett, a jazz great who has also recorded Bach, Handel and Shostakovich on both piano and harpsichord.

The Ear especially likes violist Kim Kashkashian and Harvard pianist Robert Levin (a frequent performer at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival) in sonatas of Brahms. He is also fond of Alexei Lubimov in various piano recitals as well as the many recordings of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Janacek and Robert Schumann by the superb pianist Andras Schiff (below). In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Schiff in a live performance of the Gigue from Bach’s Keyboard Partita No. 3.)

And there are many, many more artists and recordings worth your attention. Here is a link to an extensive sampler on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/user/ECMRecordsChannel

Who are your favorite ECM artists?

What are your favorite ECM recordings?

What ECM downloads do you recommend?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Clocks in Motion and Transient Canvas perform new music for winds and percussion this Wednesday night. Plus, the Pro Arte Quartet performs a FREE concert of Mozart, Beethoven and Webern on Saturday night.

November 3, 2015
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ALERT: The Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison School of Music, will give a FREE concert this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program features: the String Quartet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 1 (1799-1800) by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement) for String Quartet (1905) by Anton Webern; and the String Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 428 (1783) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following word from Clocks in Motion:

Clocks in Motion (below), Madison’s premier new music ensemble, welcomes the renowned bass clarinet and marimba duo Transient Canvas to Madison for a collaborative performance of new sounds, new instruments, and new music.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

Featuring a world premiere by Italian-American modernist composer Filippo Santoro, as well as rarely heard works by Daniel T. Lewis, Matthew Welch, and Franco Donatoni, this concert offers a singular chance to experience the cutting edge of new music.

The performance is this Wednesday night, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. in the DeLuca Forum (below bottom) of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below top), across from the Union South at 330 North Orchard Street.

WID_extr11_1570

SEW Forum room

It will feature Transient Canvas (below), which consists of the “dazzling” (Boston Globe) clarinetist Amy Advocat and the “expert and vivid” (Boston Musical Intelligencer) marimbist Matthew Sharrock performing thrilling repertoire commissioned for their distinctive instrumentation, as well as larger works in partnership with Clocks in Motion.

Transient Canvas close up

Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the show; $5 with a student ID. PURCHASE TICKETS

Advance tickets are available at https://www.artful.ly/store/events/7534

Praised by the Boston Globe as “superb,” Transient Canvas has been blazing its own trail in the world of contemporary music since 2011. In four years, they have premiered over 40 new works, essentially creating an entirely new repertoire for their unique instrumentation. Fearless in their programming and hungry for new collaborations, TC actively seeks out new composers who will stretch their instrumentation to its limits. (You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom)

Learn more about Transient Canvas at http://www.transientcanvas.com/

Transient canvas performing

Hailed as “nothing short of remarkable” (ClevelandClassical.com), Clocks in Motion is a group that performs new music, builds its own instruments, and breaks down the boundaries of the traditional concert program. The group Clocks in Motion consistently performs groundbreaking concerts involving performance art, theater, and computer technology.

Featuring world premieres alongside rarely performed classic works, the ensemble strives to create a new canon of percussion repertoire.

clocks in motion in concert

Clocks in Motion works passionately to educate young audiences through master classes, residencies, presentations, and school assemblies. The ensemble’s unique skill sets and specialties contain an impressive mix of rock, jazz, contemporary classical, orchestral, marching, and world styles.

Clocks in Motion has served as resident performers and educators at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Casper College, the University of Michigan, Baldwin-Wallace University, VIBES Fine and Performing Arts, Traverse City West High School, Traverse City East Middle School, Rhapsody Arts Center, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Formed in 2011, Clocks in Motion began as an extension of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Graduate Percussion Group, and now serves as an affiliate ensemble of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

 


Classical music: Lesson 1 from the 2015 season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society: Chamber music transcriptions, arrangements and reductions of large orchestral works deserve a wider hearing.

July 1, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society finished up its three-week, 24th annual season this past weekend.

The populist chamber music group used local and imported artists to perform six programs over three weekends in three different venues -– all based around the theme of “Guilty as Charged,” which meant emphasizing borrowings and similar transgressionsTalk about a hard-working group of performing artists!

BDDS poster 2015

Over the next week or two, The Ear wants to share some of the lessons that he learned from attending several of the BDS concerts.

Today is Lesson 1: Chamber music transcriptions, arrangements and reductions of large orchestral works deserve a wider hearing so that more people can enjoy those works more often.

I cite two examples from the “Crooked Business” program that BDDS performed at the Stoughton Opera House (below, where I saw and heard it) and at the Hillside Theatre on the Taliesin compound of architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Spring Green.

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

First, there was the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. BDDS co-founder, co-artist director and house pianist Jeffrey Sykes led the group of 11 players from the keyboard and played with his back to the audience.

(Believe it or not, if The Ear recalls music history correctly, that was the standard performance practice, as was playing with the score, until the legendary piano virtuoso Franz Liszt turned the piano to the side to highlight his dramatic profile and also memorized the music to astonish his audiences.)

The Mozart piano concerto is a great work — you can hear the whole work in its full orchestral version with pianist Mitsuko Uchida in a YouTube video at the bottom. And the arrangement or reduction they used made it seem even more remarkable. That is because the smaller size of the forces allowed one to hear more clearly the interplay of various parts.

BDDS 2015 Mozart C minor piano concerto

Then on the second half of the program came a second example: The Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Op 11 (1857) by Johannes Brahms. It was performed with nine players in a reduction by Christopher Nex.

The Ear found the work to be a bit too long and repetitive — the structure of its six movements lacked the tightness of a symphony. But then again, a tuneful serenade is by definition supposed to be lighter and have a looser structure, to spur more relaxed and informal listening and to demand less focused attention.

BDDS 2015 Brahms Serenade 1

Such reductions originated in the desire of amateurs to make house music at a time when professional orchestras and chamber music groups and commercial concerts did not exist in a widespread way.

It is an approach that can and should be revived. To be fair, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has also done a few of these transcriptions or arrangements, often with the Harvard University Mozart scholar and pianist Robert Levin.

But nonetheless it is largely thanks to the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that listeners can make their way through the 27 piano concertos by Mozart and the 104 symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn -– to say nothing of the many Baroque, Classical, Romantic and modern works that must already exist in similar arrangements or could be rearranged on demand.

To which The Ear simply says: Bravo! Do more of them!

What do you say?

The Ear -– along with BDDS organizers and performers – wants to hear.


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival starts Saturday. It celebrates 25 years with observing the 300th anniversary of C.P.E. Bach and by offering a wide range of works and composers that includes a world premiere by Jeffrey Stanek and a Midwest premiere by John Harbison.

August 18, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Every year, it marks the end of the summer classical musical season in Madison.

But this year brings something special.

This year, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The festival opens this coming Saturday night, Aug. 23, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31. It features the usual lineup of outstanding imported artists, all assembled by the co-artistic directors, who are the award-winning composer John Harbison (Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”) and his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (both below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). This year, there is NO jazz cabaret.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

The five performances of three programs -– with two Sunday matinee concerts –- will all take place in the lovely renovated barn (below) in nearby Token Creek. The space is ideal for the intimacy of chamber music, which is important since the festival is more of a niche event for serious music fans than a popular or populist event.

TokenCreekbarn interior

In addition to the playing, John Harbison will provide his always pithy and insightful commentaries on the composers and the works.

The festival will focus not on itself and its own anniversary so much as on the 300th anniversary of the birth of composer Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (below), one of the composer sons of Johann Sebastian Bach.

carl philipp emanuel bach

The acclaimed musicologist and keyboard artist Robert Levin (below top) will return from Harvard University -– John Harbison teaches at nearby MIT –- and will perform with his pianist wife Ya-Fei Chuang (below bottom).

Levin with piano

Ya-Fei Chuang 2014

Boston-area pianist Judith Gordon (below) will also return to play works by Scarlatti and Chopin.

judith gordon

But once again, as is customary, fine local talent will also perform, including Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra principal cellist Karl Lavine (below top, in a photo by Brynn Brujinn), Madison Symphony Orchestra violinist Laura Burns (below middle, by Brynn Brujinn) and flutist Dawn Lawler (below bottom).

IV Karl Lavine, CR Brynn Bruijn

- Laura Burns CR Brynn Bruijn

Dawn Lawler

Rose Mary Harbison will perform Bach and Debussy among other works.

And new music will not be forgotten. There will be a world premiere of a specially commissioned piece by local composer Jeff Stanek (below) and the Midwest premiere of John Harbison’s own “Songs America Loves to Sing.”

jeffrey Stanek

Today, The Ear offers an overview of the festival with the artists, programs and concert information. Tomorrow, The Ear will offer two appetite-whetting essays: the first, by Rose Mary Harbison, talks about the festival anniversary; the second, by John Harbison, talks about the achievement and music of C.P.E. Bach.

For more information, including programs, performer biographies and archives, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org

For tickets ($30 with a limited number of $10 student tickets):

Call (608) 241-2524 or visit http://tokencreekfestival.org/2014-season/tickets/

Token Creek 2011 Mozart Trio, Levin, Harbison, Ryder

PROGRAM I: AMERICAN SPRING

Saturday, Aug. 23, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 24, at 4 p.m. (The Sunday performance is SOLD-OUT.)

Works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, John Harbison and Jeffrey Stanek will be featured.

Says John Harbison: “It would be inarticulate to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of C.P.E. Bach without the music of J.S. Bach and Joseph Haydn, both his origins and in some sense his destiny. Let’s not kid ourselves, these anchors have more weight than the ship we are launching.

“But CPE’s virtues are made clearest by juxtaposing his cheeky, mischievous and iconoclastic imagination against the stabilizing, normative and, finally, more clear-minded music of his father precursor and his successor ‘heir.’

“It could be said that CPE’s task was to dismantle some of his father’s synthesis, and Haydn’s was to reassemble, balance and clarify the brilliant musical vistas glimpsed by CPE.”

“Songs America Sings proposes to adapt J.S. Bach’s chorale prelude principle, his inclusion of familiar melodies as tugboats through unfamiliar musical waters, into a modern setting, the tune supposedly widely and currently familiar, the compositional terrain complicated by canons, re-harmonizations and diversions.”

The program includes:

J.S. Bach: Solo Violin Partita in E Major (selections)

Haydn: Trio in D major for violin, cello, and piano, Hob XV:24

Jeffrey Stanek: A WORLD PREMIERE (commissioned for the festival’s 25th anniversary) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

C.P.E. Bach: Sonata V in E minor for piano, violin, and cello, Wq 89, no. 5

John Harbison: “Songs America Loves to Sing” (Midwest Premiere) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

Dawn Lawler, flute; 
Joe Morris, clarinet; 
Rose Mary Harbison, violin; 
Karl Lavine, cello; 
John Harbison, piano
; Jeffrey Stanek, commissioned composer

TokenCreekentrance

Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 8 p.m.
 Works of C.P.E. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Frederic Chopin and Ludwig van Beethoven

“What can we say about a composer who winds up composing entirely, or at the least primarily, for one medium? Chopin (below) and Scarlatti both found that restriction to the keyboard, rather than limiting their resources, freed their imaginations. By immersing themselves in the sound and attach of a single instrument they each became more peculiar, un-imitatable, and irresistible. In small forms, they found snowflake variety.

“Anchoring the program, Beethoven, a universal large-scale composer whose Sonata in F somehow acquired the title “Spring.” If spring, it is the changeable, difficult weather, more showers than flowers.”

The program includes:

Scarlatti: Selected keyboard sonatas

Chopin: Selected Preludes for piano

C.P.E. Bach: Arioso with Variations in A, for keyboard and violin, Wq 79

Beethoven: Violin Sonata in F major, Op. 24 (“Spring”)

Judith Gordon, piano; 
Rose Mary Harbison violin

Chopinphoto

PROGRAM III: THE PERENNIAL AVANT-GARDE

Saturday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 31, at 4 p.m.

Works of C.P.E. Bach, Franz Schubert, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy

“Occasionally, but not always, composers decide to take it further, to write a piece with absurd levels of discontinuity (C.P.E. Bach’s Fantasy), radical conciseness and semaphoric, sketchy formal outline (Debussy’s Sonata), over-the-top nostalgia and apocalyptic prediction (Ravel’s La Valse), and form and scope too big for its medium (Schubert’s Grand Duo, for one piano, two players). A program of extremes: in the service of liberty — no vice.”

The program includes:

C.P.E. Bach: Fantasia in F-sharp minor for Keyboard, Wq 67; 
 Sonata in C Minor for Keyboard and Violin, Wq 78

Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano (heard in a performance by James Ehnes in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Ravel: La Valse (arranged for piano by Ya-Fei Chuang)

Schubert: Grand Duo, for one piano-four hands

Robert Levin, piano; 
Ya-Fei Chuang, piano; 
Rose Mary Harbison, violin

Tomorrow: Violinist and co-director of Token Creek Festival Rose Mary Harbison writes about 25 years of presenting the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Composer John Harbison writes about his changed appreciation of C.P.E. Bach.

 

 


Classical music: This Thursday is a good day to hear local musicians Trevor Stephenson, Token Creek Festival participant Robert Levin and members of the Karp Family perform music and do interviews on the radio. Plus, Trevor Stephenson will offer a course this fall at his home studio about the keyboard music of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti.

August 28, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has heard from two loyal readers and friends – period keyboardist Trevor Stephenson and the WORT FM radio host Rich Samuels about events that will take place on the airwaves this Thursday morning and noon.

WORT-FM 89.9

Rich Samuels (below), who hosts the weekly classical radio program “Anything Goes” from 5 to 8 a.m. on WORT FM 89.9 and who records and emphasizes local music and local musicians, writes:

Rich Samuels WORT use this

“This Thursday morning, Aug. 29, starting at 30 seconds past 7:07 to about 7:45 a.m., I’ll be airing (on WORT 89.9) a recut of an interview I recorded last August with Howard, Frances, Parry, Ariana and Isabel Karp in anticipation of the 36th FREE annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert on Monday, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. (As you recall, that same concert last year was cancelled on account of Illness).

karps 2008 - 13

“Recorded music for this segment includes recordings of Howard and Parry performing the final movement of John Ireland’s Sonata in G minor for Piano and Violin (adapted for violin and cello); Howard and Frances Karp playing Antonin Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance in E minor Op. 72, No. 2, for piano, four hands version; and Joel Hoffman’s “Karptet” (featuring Frances Karp, Howard Karp, Christopher Karp, Parry Karp and Katrin Talbot).”

The program this year includes Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia plus the above Karp family members. The program includes: the Sonata in G minor, Op. 2 No. 8 for Two Cellos and Piano (ca. 1719) by George Frideric Handel (below in a YouTube video); “
November 19, 1828” for Piano and String Trio (1988) by John Harbison
; Sonata in D major for Piano and Cello, Op. 102, No. 2 (1815) by Ludwig van Beethoven
; and music and dramatic excerpts from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Op. 61, with incidental music by Felix Mendelssohn. Notes about the concert will be featured on this blog on Friday. (Below are daughter Ariana Karp and father Parry Karp at the Labor Day family concert in 2011.)

Ariana and Parry Karp 2011

Adds Samuels: The Karp segment runs 37 minutes and 43 second. The show concludes with a recording John Harbison gave me from last year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival: the first movement of Mozart’s Concerto in D Major for Piano and Orchestra K. 537 in a chamber arrangement featuring some pretty amazing improvising by Harvard University pianist Robert Levin (below) who will perform some of his Mozart completions this coming weekend at the Token Creek Festival. Other instrumentalists are Heidi Braun-Hill and Rose Mary Harbison (violins), John Harbison (viola) and Rhonda Rider (cello).

Token Creek 2011 Robert Levin

WERN 88.7 FM

Another fan and friend, Trevor Stephenson (below) writes:

On Thursday, August 29, l will be playing fortepiano live on Wisconsin Public Radio’s (88.7 FM) “Midday” program, hosted by Norman Gilliland.

I’ll play selections by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, and Norman will interview me about the all things fortepiano: How and why it came about in the 18th century? How its construction (thinner wire, leather hammers, all wooden frame, etc.) facilitates playing of Classical-era repertoire?

Trevor Stephenson marking scores

I’ll talk about why the fortepiano is particularly theatrical, affectively polarized really — from its giddy, fizzy, articulate highs, to its moody, menacing, growling lows. Wisconsin Public Television will also be filming the broadcast and that will air on WPT later in the year.

HousemusicStephensonfortepianoaction

Also, this Fall — on Monday evenings from October 14 through November 18 — I’m offering a course on the keyboard music of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. I’ll discuss the stylistic similarities and divergences of these three masters — all born in 1685 — and will also examine how each composer integrated elements of various national styles (French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Hungarian . . .) to form their own personal compositional voice.

I’ll talk about each composer’s life and personality as well as the social circles within which they moved. I’ll also discuss and demonstrate—at both the harpsichord and piano — approaches to performing their music and we will look into elements of performance such as fingering, tempo, rubato, articulation, voicing, instruments, and the ever-elusive yet oh-so-important Affect, or interpretation, or feeling for the moment at hand!

Here is some of the specific repertoire we’ll look at: 
Johann Sebastian Bach – English Suite in G minor, “Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother,” “Art of Fugue” Contrapunctus XIX (ending with the B-A-C-H fugue), the C major Prelude and Fugue from Book I and Book II of “The Well-Tempered Clavier to compare them; George Frideric Handel – Suite in E major (which concludes with the “Harmonious Blacksmith” variations), Gavotte in G major, Suite in D minor (which includes the famous Sarabande), Impertinence, Allegro in G major; Domenico 
Scarlatti – Sonatas: K. 238 and 239 both in F minor, K. 159 in C major, K. 9 in D minor “Pastorale,” and K. 380 in E major.

The course is geared for those people with a reading knowledge of music. The classes will be given at my home studio from 7-8:30 p.m. on the following Monday evenings: October 14, 21, Nov. 4, 11, 18. My home studio (below during a “house concert”) is at 5729 Forsythia Place, Madison, WI 53705. Enrollment for the course is $180. Please let me know by September 15 if you’d like to attend. Contact me at www.trevorstephenson.com or by calling (608) 238-6092.

Schubert house concert

The Madison Bach Musicians 2013-14 season is now posted and tickets are available! This is our 10th season! Opening concert is October 5.
 See www.madisonbachmusicians.org Sign up and more details will com by email in a couple of days.


Classical music: Would you believe that seeing a musician perform WITHOUT SOUND is a better predictor of competition success than hearing the performance? That’s what a new study tells us.

August 24, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It turns out that composer Igor Stravinsky (below) was on to something when he urged people to listen to live performances of music with their eyes open.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

But The Ear is betting that even he did not realize just what he was on to since maybe all you need is eyes.

So let me put the question to you:

How could you best predict the winner of a music competition? By using: A) audio only; B) visuals only; or C) audio and visuals.

I would have answered probably A followed by C.

And I suspect so would many of you.

But a new study says we would be wrong.

The correct the answer is definitely B.

That’s right. The music doesn’t matter after all. Don’t even listen. Forget the music.  Just look! Or if you are a contestant, just send in a silent video.

It turns out that even very experienced professional musicians – yes, including the judges of competitions — did better using silent visuals than other sources including the combination of audio and visual.

Not surprisingly, a number of classical music websites have been buzzing with news of the study.

But the best summary I know of so far was done by NPR’s “Morning Edition”’s social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam (below) who also blogs on the website www.hidden brain.org. Here is a link you can use to listen to his story (don’t just look at his picture):

http://www.npr.org/2013/08/20/213551358/how-to-win-that-music-competition-send-a-video

Shankar Vedantam NPR

And here is another good version from the Harvard Gazette of Harvard University where pianist and human behavioral psychologist specializing in organizational behavior Chia Jung-Tsay (below in a photo by Kris Snibbe) was a co-researcher of the surprising study:

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/08/the-look-of-music/

022411_Tsay_872.JPG

And to think I always enjoyed and emulated the non-emotive and regally quiet bearing of pianists Arthur Rubinstein (below) and Vladimir Horowitz, of violinists Jascha Heifetz and Itzhak Perlman.

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

I do wonder if an earlier generation, less used to social media and YouTube, would have yielded different results. But we won’t ever know, will we?

So perhaps the Liberace-like flamboyant gestures and physical antics or performing style of the superstar Lang Lang (below) have their place in communicating musical beauty after all.

Lang Lang performing

 

 


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival opens this Wednesday and runs through Sept. 1. It will feature members of Boston’s Open End Ensemble as artists-in-residence; the music of Andrew Waggoner and John Harbison; music about and readings of Shakespeare; and the world premiere of completed versions of unfinished works by Mozart. Plus, retired UW-Madison singer and teacher Ilona Kombrink has died.

August 19, 2013
1 Comment

ALERT: Singer and Edgewood College voice teacher Kathleen Otterson writes: “It is with sadness that I announce the death of Emeritus Professor Ilona Kombrink (below) on Friday, August 9, in Stoughton, Wisconsin.  She passed away after being in poor health for the last several years. There has been no obituary posted yet, and no plans for a service that I am aware of. She was my teacher and one of my primary vocal and musical influences. Ilona was a longtime member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison voice faculty, and counted among her students hundreds of singers and teachers – many of us in Wisconsin — working all over the world today.  A native of St. Louis, Missouri, her natural vocal gifts were evident at an early age, and she entered the Curtis Institute at age 17, where among her classmates were Samuel Barber and Giancarlo Menotti. She loved to retell stories of her arrival in the big city of Phildelphia – “just a country girl from ‘St. Louie‘” – and the establishment there of friendships which would last through her life.  She came to the UW in the late 1960s, seeking a more stable life than that of a touring singer for herself and daughter, Nancy, retiring in 2003. She performed frequently with the Madison Opera, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and UW ensembles as well as in recital alone or with her UW faculty colleagues. As an artist, she was uncompromising in her search for vocal artistry and honesty. In her teaching, she never stopped encouraging her students to seek and find the same.

Ilona Kombrink

By Jacob Stockinger

The rustic yet sophisticated Token Creek Chamber Festival, which is now about 25 years old, has become the traditional closing of the local summer concert season that offers the last major events before the new fall season gets underway after Labor Day.

The festival -– which is co-directed by the husband-and-wife team of composer-violist John Harbison and violinist Rose Mary Harbison (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) -– features talented local artists and imported guest artists, and the programs are more unusual than the typical concert fare.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

This year is no exception.

Here is a list of events. More information can be found by calling (608) 241-2525 or visiting www.tokencreekfestival.org

Program I: Jazz – Music of Harry Warren (below) with the Vocal Jazz Ensemble on Wednesday August 21, at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; Thursday, August 22, at 5 p.m. (sold out) and 8:30 p.m.

This summer the Festival’s jazz program surveys composer Harry Warren, an especially appropriate choice for a 10th anniversary celebration.  The program includes some of his best-known hits (“I Only Have Eyes for You,” “At Last,” “Lulu’s Back In Town”), while also – as always – offering some choice little-known treasures like “I Want to be a Dancing Man,” “You’re Gettin’ to be a Habit” and “This Heart of Mine.”

harry warren

The Vocal Jazz Ensemble (below) was formed at MIT in the spring of 2011, and has been coached since its inception by Institute Professor John Harbison. The 10 singers, each of whom passes a rigorous audition process by peers, have quickly risen to notoriety not only on campus but throughout Boston.

Recent performances include an appearance in May with the Boston Pops at Boston’s Symphony Hall, and a professional recording with the Festival Jazz Ensemble. Five members of the VJE will perform at Token Creek with the house band, made up of John Harbison (piano), John Schaffer (bass), Todd Steward (drums), Tom Artin (trombone), and Rose Mary Harbison (violin).

MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble

Performances take place at the Festival Barn (below), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek, with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended. For the jazz program the barn is transformed into an authentic jazz club, complete with small tables, candles, dim lighting, and refreshments served during sets.

TokenCreekbarn interior

The jazz concert is offered on Wednesday, August 21 at 8:30 p.m. (a waiting list is being compiled for a possible added performance that day at 5 p.m.), and on Thursday August 22 at 5 p.m. (sold-out) and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $40 for café seating, and $35 for balcony seats. A limited number of student tickets are available for $10.

More information about the Token Creek Festival and this event can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org.  Tickets can be reserved by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 55142, Madison WI, 53705.  

TokenCreekentrance

Program II: Open End Ensemble – New Works & Improvisations on Sunday, August 25, at 4 p.m.

“Improvisations on a Theme” is the watchword that shapes the 2013 Token Creek Festival:  in the opening jazz program; in incidental music to accompany Shakespeare scenes; and in the completions of unfinished works of Mozart.

But perhaps nowhere is it more baldly and boldy evident than in the concert presented by guest ensemble from New York, Open End (below and in a YouTube video at the bottom), three of whose members will be in residence for a week at this summer’s Token Creek Festival.

Open End Ensemble BW

Essential to the Open End mission is the reclaiming of improvisation as the birthright of all musicians. Audiences at Open End concerts come to think of spontaneous creation as being part of a natural, ongoing dialogue between performers creating in the moment and a written body of work that continues to expand, to transform. At home in venues from galleries and living rooms to concert halls, Open End seeks nothing less than to engage audiences in an experience that is wonderful, intimate, challenging and beautiful.

On Sunday August 25 at 4 p.m. Open End members Andrew Waggoner (violin), Caroline Stinson, (cello) and Molly Morkoski (piano) will present a program of recent works and improvisations in a program including music of Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Anna Weesner, Andrew Waggoner, and Johann Sebastian Bach, concluding with the premiere of a new work by Waggoner (below).

Waggoner has been characterized by The New Yorker  as “the gifted practitioner of a complex but dramatic and vividly colored style” His new piano quintet, inspired by the acclaimed Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, was written this summer for the 2013 Token Creek Festival and is  dedicated to Artistic Directors John and Rose Mary Harbison.

Andrew Waggoner

Program III: Shakespeare – The Bard in Songs and Scenes will be presented on Tuesday, August 27, at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, August 28, at 8 p.m.

Open End members (see Program 2) participate in one of the Festival’s most unusual programs ever offered: William Shakespeare (below) in scenes and songs. The program opens with the premiere of John Harbison’s “Invention on a Theme of Shakespeare” (solo cello and small ensemble), followed by scenes from Shakespeare plays accompanied by new incidental music, and songs and arias on texts from the same plays set by to music by composers from the Renaissance to the present day. The plays include “As You Like It,” “Hamlet,” “Cymbeline,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “The Tempest.”

shakespeare BW

The two principal performers for the evening both were born and raised in Madison and return for this Token Creek Event: Guthrie Theatre-trained actor, Allison Schaffer (below) will dramatize the play excerpts, and New York soprano Mary Mackenzie (below), together with pianists Molly Morkoski, will offer songs by composers including Morley, Arne, and Purcell; Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf; and Poulenc, Bridge, Tippett and Harbison.

Allison Schaffer

Mackenzie

All performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the village of Token Creek, with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended.

Concert tickets ($30, and $10 for students) can be reserved by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or  by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 55142, Madison WI, 53705.

More information about the Token Creek Festival can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org.

Program IV: Finale – “The Old and Unfamiliar” will be performed on Saturday, August 31, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, September 1, at 4 p.m.

It’s not a contradiction. In a program titled “The Old and Unfamiliar,” the Token Creek Festival will offer world premieres, both of a new work and of completions of old works never heard before.

What composer is more beloved and performed than Mozart (below)? Yet he was in the habit of leaving pieces unfinished, to be taken up later. He was above all practical and pragmatic — if he was working on a violin sonata when a commission for a wind piece came in, he’d suspend work on the sonata, planning to return to it later.

mozart big

There is now conclusive evidence that some of his pieces lay unfinished for 10 years.  His early death prevented the completion of many of them.  Can they be recovered, “new” Mozart works that add to our sense of his prolific variety?  The Token Creek musicians think so.

Three Mozart completions anchor the last concerts of the Festival:

• The violin sonata in C, K. 403 (1784-85), in which Mozart composed the first two movements and the first 20 measures of the last; the final movement was completed by John Harbison (below) in 1968.

• The Allegro in A major (K. Anh. 48), the opening 35 measures of this violin sonata first movement written by Mozart, the remainder completed in 2012 by Harvard University scholar and classical period keyboard expert and improviser Robert Levin (below), who is a frequent guest at Token Creek.

• The Allegro in G Major (K. Anh. 47), another sonata first movement begun by Mozart (the first 31 measures), also completed by Levin last year.

“Revisiting these pieces I think is interesting,” says Levin. “The idea of course is not to suggest to people whom you’re going to write something which is as audacious, as inspired, as pleasurable to listen to as what Mozart would surely have done had he lived to complete these pieces but it gives you an idea. It’s like an artist’s conception of an idea before the building is actually constructed.”

“And of course there is this combustible attitude of improvisation in which one realizes that no text that Mozart wrote was really sacrosanct,” Levin adds. “He did not write pieces down so that people would play exactly what he wrote and nothing else. This was not the way music was done in the 18th century, and in the early 19th century it wasn’t done that way either. That is, just the way every performance invited improvisation so, in a sense, the score was a blueprint.”

Levin with piano

In addition to the completion premieres, the program also includes the premiere of John Harbison’s Violin Sonata No. 2 (2013), some rare old things — Purcell sonatas for two violins – and Mozart’s infrequently heard and bizarrely scored Horn Quintet (for two violas, one violin, and cello.

All performances take place at the  Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the town of Token Creek, with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended. Arrive early and tour the beautiful setting and farm fields (below in a photo by Jess Anderson).

Token Creek Land 1 Jess Anderson

More information about the  Token Creek Festival can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org.

Concert tickets are $30, and a limited number of student tickets are available for $10. Tickets can be reserved by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 55142, Madison WI, 53705.

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608-241-2525.


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