The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is the Fourth of July. Independence Day is the right time to celebrate American classical composers and patriotic concert music. Here are three ways to do that

July 4, 2018
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Fourth of July – Independence Day.

That makes it exactly the right time to think about American composers and American patriotic music – both of which have been receiving well-deserved airplay all week on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here are three items that seem appropriate because they pertain to American composers and American classical music.

ITEM 1

Tonight at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capital Square in downtown Madison, guest conductor Huw Edwards (below) will lead the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in its Concert on the Square for the Fourth of July.

The “American Salute” program includes: “American Salute” by Morton Gould; the Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein; “Wisconsin Forward Forever” by march king John Philip Sousa; and, of course, “The 1812 Overture” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Blankets can go down on the ground starting at 3 p.m. For more general information about attending the concert including weather updates, rules and etiquette, and food caterers and vendors, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square-2-2/

ITEM 2

Can you name 30 American classical composers? The Ear tried and it’s not easy.

But thanks to Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, California – which will also play and stream (click on the Listen tab) such music today — it isn’t hard.

Here is a link:

http://www.capradio.org/music/classical/2018/07/02/the-30-american-composers-were-featuring-on-the-fourth-of-july/

You can click on the link “Playlist for Independence Day” and see the photo of the composers and the titles of compositions that will be played.

You can also click on the composer’s name in the alphabetized list and see a biography in Wikipedia.

Can you think of American composers who didn’t make the list? Leave the name or names – Henry Cowell and Virgil Thomson (below)  come to mind — in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

ITEM 3

Finally, given the controversial political issues of the day surrounding immigration, The Ear offers this take on perhaps the most virtuosic piano transcription of patriotic music ever played.

It was done by someone who immigrated permanently to the U.S. in 1939 and then became a naturalized citizen in 1944. He also raised millions through war bonds during World War II.

He was the Russian-born pianist Vladimir Horowitz, here playing his own celebrated virtuoso arrangement – done in 1945 for a patriotic rally and war bonds concert in Central Park — of ”The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa.

Here is a link to his biography in Wikipedia:

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

And here is the YouTube audio of his own performance of the Sousa piece, with the score, including all the special technical demands, especially lots of Horowitz’s famous octaves, to follow along with. It’s a performance that has become justifiably legendary:

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Classical music: Who are the best pianists of all time? And which ones do you think were left off the list by Classic FM?

September 16, 2017
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The British radio station and website Classic FM recently published its list of the 25 greatest pianists of all time.

Plus, the website also included samples of the playing where possible.

It is an impressive list, if pretty predictable — and heavily weighted towards modern or contemporary pianists. You might expect that a list of “all-time greats” would have more historical figures — and more women as well as more non-Western Europeans and non-Americans, especially Asians these days.

Here is a link:

http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/instruments/piano/best-pianists-ever/

So The Ear started what turned out to be a long list of others who should at least be considered and maybe even included.

Here, then, is the question for this weekend: What do you think of the list? Which pianists do not belong on the list? And which are your favorite pianists who are not included in the compilation?

Leave your candidate or candidates in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube link of a favorite performance, wherever possible.

Happy listening!


Classical music: What is your favorite Sousa march for the Fourth of July? What other classical music celebrates the holiday?

July 4, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, when we mark the day and the Declaration of Independence when the U.S officially separated from Great Britain to become not a colony but its own country.

Over the past decade The Ear has chosen music from many American composers to mark the event – music by Edward MacDowell, Charles Ives, William Grant Still, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, William Schuman, Joan Tower, John Adams and so many others.

And of course also featured around the nation will be the “1812 Overture” by Peter Tchaikovsky.

You will probably hear a lot of that music today on Wisconsin Public Radio and other stations, including WFMT in Chicago and WQXR in New York City.

Here is a link to nine suggestions with audiovisual performances:

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

But The Ear got to thinking.

It is certainly a major achievement when a composer’s name becomes synonymous with a genre of music. Like Strauss waltzes. Bach cantatas and Bach fugues. Chopin mazurkas and Chopin polonaises.

The Ear thinks that John Philip Sousa is to marches what Johann Strauss is to waltzes. Others have done them, but none as well.

So on Independence Day, he asks: Which of Sousa’s many marches is your favorite to mark the occasion?

The “Stars and Stripes Forever” — no officially our national march — seems the most appropriate one, judging by titles. “The Washington Post” March is not far behind.

But lately The Ear has taken to “The Liberty Bell” March.

Here it is a YouTube video with the same Marine Band that Sousa, The March King, once led and composed for:

And if you want music fireworks in the concert hall to match the real thing, you can’t beat the bravura pyrotechnical display concocted and executed by pianist Vladimir Horowitz, a Russian who became an American citizen and contributed mightily to the war effort during World War II.

Horowitz wowed the crowds – including fellow virtuoso pianists – with his transcription of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in which it sounds like three or four hands are playing. Judge for yourself. Here it is:

Of course, you can also leave the names of other American composers and works to celebrate the Fourth. Just leave a word and a link in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear!


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: The Ear hears the impressive young pianist Joyce Yang and thinks Madison needs more piano recitals. Plus, a FREE concert of female vocal duets is at noon on Friday.

October 22, 2015
9 Comments

ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held 12:15-1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature sopranos Susan Savage Day and Rebekah Demaree with pianist Sharon Jensen in duets by Gabriel Faure, Jacques Aubert, Jules Massenet, Claudio Monteverdi, UW-Madison alumnus Lee Hoiby and more.

By Jacob Stockinger

There he was last Thursday, sitting in the lower balcony in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Ear was in Piano Himmel, listening to a masterful performance.

The occasion was a solo piano recital by Joyce Yang (below), an up-and-coming, prize-winning Korea-born and America-trained pianist, still in her late 20s, who was making her Madison debut.

Joyce Yang

And the same thought haunted The Ear, himself an avid amateur pianist, that also came to him during a fine student piano recital this summer.

That thought was simply this: Madison needs to have many more solo piano recitals.

The piano is perhaps the one most commonly studied musical instrument and is a staple of music education, so the potential audience should be there. The repertoire is vast and wonderful. And the piano just hasn’t been receiving its due compared to the many new choral groups and chamber music ensembles that always seem to be proliferating in the area.

The Wise Teacher recalls years ago when almost a dozen solo piano recitals happened during a single season. This season there are only three -– and two have already taken place.

One was the recital of Mendelssohn, Franck and Chopin by Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino (below top)  on Oct. 4 at Farley’s House of Pianos on its Salon Piano Series. (The Ear couldn’t go because he is was in Chicago that afternoon hearing a piano recital by Maurizio Pollini.) The second was by Joyce Yang. The third one will be the performance by UW-Madison virtuoso professor Christopher Taylor (below bottom) on Friday, Feb 26. (No program has yet been announced.)

Daniel del PIno square

Christopher Taylor new profile

Here is an afterthought: Maybe the Madison Symphony Orchestra could start a piano series like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra offers on Sunday afternoons?

Let’s be clear: This is a matter more of pleasure and education than of justice.

Take Yang’s performance, which drew an unfortunately small house of only 300-400.

The first half was remarkable for both the clarity and color she possessed. Ethnic themes, folk songs and folk dances, especially Latin American and Spanish in nature, united the first half of her program.

She opened with two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the three “Estampes” or Prints by Claude Debussy and two pieces from “Iberia” by Isaac Albeniz and three virtuosic “cowboy” dances by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera.

In all those works, Yang proved a complete and mature keyboard artist. Her technique is rock solid, but it is her musicality that most impresses the listener. The Ear was particularly struck by Yang’s command of dynamics, her ability to play softly and still project, and to delineate and balance various voices.

The second half, all works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, proved less satisfying to The Ear, if not to the audience. It featured two transcriptions of vocal works or songs — “Dreams” and  “Vocalise”  — by the late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild (below).

earl wild

Unfortunately, Wild himself possessed a Lisztean (or Horowitzean) command of keyboard technique. And like Franz Liszt (or Vladimir Horowitz), Wild just couldn’t resist adding Liberace-like flourishes, flash and trash to his transcriptions in places where simplicity rather than Big Chords would have more than sufficed.

At certain points in a Wild transcription, the work inevitably sounds louche or decadent and over-the-top, like something you might hear at a piano bar or in a cocktail lounge. In short, they are more piano than music. (You can listen to Earl Wild himself performing his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Then came  the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Rachmaninoff (below) in its revised 1931 edition. To be honest, this is a Big Piece that is full of sound and fury signifying not very much that The Ear can discern. (The Ear much prefers Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, preludes and Etudes Tableaux.)

To be sure, the bombastic sonata requires impressive and powerful piano playing, which must explain the muscular work’s popularity among professional pianists and certain segments of the public. It is a Wower and wow us it does, although many of us would rather be seduced than wowed.

Rachmaninoff

The sonata surely is effective in live performance and brought an immediate standing ovation. That, in turn, was rewarded with another Earl Wild transcription this time of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Too bad the love once again seemed overpowered by difficult but flawlessly executed scales and runs.

But putting those shortcomings aside, the sound of an amazingly played piano recital was such a welcome experience.

The Ear hopes that many more of them are somehow in store.

 


Classical music: The great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter was born 100 years ago yesterday. Here is a short but comprehensive memoir and appreciation with a lot of biographical information and a good critical appraisal of his playing.

March 21, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday — Friday, March 20, 2015 – brought us the first day of spring.

It also marked the centennial of the birth of the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (below).

Sviatoslav Richter

Richter was such a complex and towering figure that it would take a book to really do justice to him and to his career.

But the following essay by Steve Wigler for the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio) does an excellent job for a short-form piece of criticism.

With one exception that gets no mention.

We now know beyond question that Richter (below) was a gay man who was forced by the Soviet government into a marriage of convenience and camouflage.

Somehow that information seems particularly pertinent to The Ear, given the growing acceptance of LGBT people and of marriage equality.

richterwithcross1

Still, Wigler’s essay is an excellent read and includes a YouTube video – there are many, many YouTube videos of Richter, who had an immense repertoire, playing. This video is of a live performance by Richter in which he plays the last movement of the first piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

You can hear the power and energy, the subtleties and excitement, to say nothing of the originality of interpretation, that Richter brought to music.

Richterconcerto

Enjoy it -– and tell us if you ever heard Richter live and what is your favorite performance by Sviatoslav Richter with a link to a YouTube video is possible.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/03/19/393778706/sviatoslav-richter-the-pianist-who-made-the-earth-move

 


Classical music: How much is an autograph by pianist Vladimir Horowitz worth?

August 27, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

I was going through some old papers and found something I thought that I had somehow lost or that had been stolen: An autographed card from Ukrainian-born superstar pianist Vladimir Horowitz from a concert he gave in Washington, D.C., in 1973.

Here it is:

Horowitz autograph copy

But I have no idea of the price it would bring on today’s market. Maybe a look on  Ebay could tell me.

Not that I want to sell it. Its sentimental value is priceless. A family member gave it to me. He collected it especially for me, and then sent it out of affection for me and for my love of playing the piano.

Still, I wonder: How much is it worth? True, it is not signed on a program or recording. But it does have a date and is an official autograph card with a printed version of his name on it. (Below is Vladimir Horowitz bowing to a packed house in Carnegie Hall.)

Vladimir Horowitz in Caregie Hall Don Hunstein,jpg

I have had it framed. and will keep it in a secure place, and I hope it will inspire me to play better.

I am also sorry I never collected an autograph from Artur Rubinstein (below) during the several times I heard him perform.

Arthur Rubinstein

In the meantime, I would welcome any educated guess or documented estimate of the value of this Horowitz autograph.

Finding it again, 41 years after it was signed and almost 25 years after the death of Horowitz (below, in his later years and towards the end of his career), is pretty lucky for me, don’t you think?

Vladimir Horowitz

And here is a popular YouTube video, with more than 4.4 million views, of one of my favorite Horowitz performances: Chopin‘s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23, during a live TV performance.

Do you have a favorite?

The Ear wants to hear.


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