The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The future of Western classical music is in Asia – specifically China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Why is that?

May 25, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not just about Lang Lang.

The signs are everywhere.

They were present at a recent piano recital by elementary school, middle school and high school students that The Ear attended.

You see it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and at top music schools, including the Curtis Institute of Music, across the U.S. and Western Europe. And you see it in youth groups such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below).

Western classical music recording labels, such as Deutsche Grammophon and Sony Classical, are looking to develop new markets and so are signing more Asian musicians, such as the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai String Quartet, and releasing more Asian performances. (Below is the Taiwanese-Australian, prize-winning violinist Ray Chen, who is also a master at using social media to build his meteoric career.)

All these items point to the same conclusion: The future of Western classical music looks more and more likely to be found in Asian culture and in Asia  – specifically in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. (Next season, prize-winning South Korean pianist Joyce Yang (below) returns to Madison, where she first gave a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Consider some of the following:

There are, The Ear read somewhere, now more piano students in China than in all of Europe, North America and South America combined. And he is reading about more and more concert tours of China and other Asian countries by Western performers — even while in the U.S. the number of pianos in homes are on the decline.

Increasingly the winners of major international competitions — such as the Chopin competition, the Van Cliburn competition, the Tchaikovsky competition, the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium competition and the Leeds competition – come from Asia or are Asian. (Below, in a photo by Simon Fowler, is American pianist George Li, who immigrated from China as a child and attended Harvard and the New England Conservatory before winning a silver medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition. His concert career is now blossoming fast.)

In recent years, China has been building a lot of first-rate concert halls, opera houses and music schools. And the famed Juilliard School in New York City will open its second campus this fall in Tianjin, near Beijing.

China has certainly come a long way from the days of the Cultural Revolution when people could be imprisoned for listening to Beethoven, who is now a cultural icon in China — as you can hear at the bottom in the YouTube video of Li Jing Zhan conducting the orchestra at the Chinese National Opera in Beethoven’s No. 7. (Below is the striking new National Center for the Performing Arts in China.)

https://www.interlude.hk/front/culture-construction-chinas-new-concert-halls/

Nineteen of the 24 final competitors, ages 13-17, in the second Van Cliburn Junior Competition – which starts in Dallas, Texas, on May 31 and ends on June 8 – are Asian, Asian-American and Asian-Canadian, all with astonishingly impressive credentials and experience. It will be streamed live and free. Take a look and listen:

https://www.cliburn.org/2019-cliburn-junior-competitors/

Why this Asian shift is happening remains somewhat of a mystery to The Ear, although he had been thinking about for a long time.

Then he came across a op-ed column confirming the prevalence of Asian classical musicians. It was written by the American concert pianist and teacher Inna Faliks (below), who teaches at UCLA and who wrote convincingly about her recent concert experiences in China in The Washington Post.

Read it and see what you think, and tell us whether you agree:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-future-of-classical-music-is-chinese/2019/03/22/2649e9dc-4cb5-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html?utm_term=.7f149e0f8eb9

Why are Asians so interested in Western classical music and music education? And why do they respect it or even revere it so much?

Does it have to do with the “tiger mom” phenomenon of strong parental pressure to succeed and achieve?

Is it largely a function of population?

Is it because of the collective teamwork required to make a lot of chamber music and orchestral music, or with the intense and instructive teacher-student relationship?

Is it because the cultural depth and seriousness in Western music education – ing contrast to the increasingly pop culture of the West – that prepares students well for the training and intellectual discipline required in other educational fields and careers, including the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)?

Is Asia simply fascinated by Western culture the same way that Western culture was fascinated by the exotic Asian cultures – especially in China and Japan — during the 19th century and earlier? Or is the West increasingly ignoring its own culture. (The Ear can’t recall any classical musicians performing at President Donald Trump’s White House. Can you?)

How do you see the situation and react to it? And what do you think about the causes and effects?

Please leave your reactions and thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its new season at 7:30 p.m. – NOT 8 — this coming Friday night. The program includes symphonies by William Boyce and Franz Schubert along with the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky

October 10, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

One by one, the major groups in town are getting their new concert season under way.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will take its turn this coming Friday night in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

PLEASE NOTE: The traditional starting time for the WCO Masterworks concerts has been changed from 8 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The Ear isn’t sure whether it is for the convenience of audiences or because of the new security measures at the Overture Center. But he likes the earlier starting time since WCO programs are usually very generous.

WCO lobby

True to his programming philosophy, WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell is mixing the very popular with the rarely heard and the almost completely unknown.

andrewsewell

The most popular and well-known work, the Violin Concerto in D major by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky features Russian violinist Ilya Kaler (below) at the soloist in the surefire work.

Kaler sounds very promising, since he is the only violinist ever to won gold medals at three prestigious competitions — the Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Paganini competitions. In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear him perform a work by Fritz Kreisler at the Heifetz Festival.

ilya-kaler

The Symphony No. 4 in C minor by Franz Schubert (below) is a youthful work, but it possesses a surprisingly mature power deriving from its mood and mystery — perhaps because he composed it in the favorite key of his mentor and idol Ludwig van Beethoven. Hence its nickname, “Tragic.”

It should also be an outstanding performance because Schubert’s music is one of conductor Sewell’s many strengths.

Franz Schubert big

William Boyce (1711-1779) was a Baroque-era English composer, a contemporary of George Frideric Handel, who was more popular in his own day. But who has been making something of a comeback, thanks to the early music movement.

Boyce (below) wrote six symphonies, and No. 5 in D Major on this program promises some pleasant surprises. The Ear doesn’t recall ever hearing Boyce performed live in Madison, though that is hardly the definitive word. Maybe he just missed it.

william-boyce

Single tickets are $10 to $80. For tickets, a sample of Ilya Kaler’s playing and background information, visit:

http://www.wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-i-2/


Classical music: Cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio talks about the human quality of French music. She performs Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No. 1 on an all-French program with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend.

November 16, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The award-winning cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio (below) makes her solo debut with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in an all-French program this coming weekend.

sara sant'ambrogio 1

Sant’Ambrogio will solo in Camille Saint-Saëns’ stormy Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, a first-time performance of the work by the MSO under its music director and conductor John DeMain.

The opening piece, Maurice Ravel’s sensuous Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, showcases the classical simplicity and ultimate decadence of the waltz, and the colors of all the instruments in the orchestra.

ravel

Finally, the MSO will perform the groundbreaking Symphonie Fantastique by Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below). It is an unorthodox five-movement work that vividly captures an artist’s tortured infatuation and the haunted hallucinations of an opium trip.

berlioz

The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Sara Sant’Ambrogio is an internationally-renowned soloist and founding member of the Eroica Trio (below). She launched her international career when she was a winner at the Eighth International Tchaikovsky Violoncello Competition in Moscow, Russia. She holds degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School, and won a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Arias and Barcarolles.” She last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in 2001 as part of the Eroica Trio.

EroicaTrio4

Written in 1872, Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 was instantly regarded as a masterpiece by the Paris public. Saint-Saëns rejected the standard concerto form in this work by interlinking the piece’s three movements into one continuous musical expanse, held together by the rich lyrical power of the cello.

The composer found the Cello Concerto No.1 difficult to write, so much so that he vowed never to compose for cello again; Saint-Saëns broke this vow 30 years later with his Cello Concerto No. 2.

One hour before each performance, John DeMain, music director and principal conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will lead a FREE 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/santambrogio

Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at     www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25 percent by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20 percent savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20 percent savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts cannot be combined.

Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.

Major funding for the November concerts is provided by Barbara Ryder, DeEtte Beilfuss-Eager and Leonard P. Eager, Jr., in memory of Karen “Lovey” Johnson, and Rosemarie Blancke. Additional funding is provided by Martha and Charles Casey, Sunseed Research, LLC, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sara Sant’Ambrogio (below) recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

sara sant'ambrogio

Could you briefly bring readers up to date on your career since 2001 when you last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra as part of the Eroica Trio and performed the Triple Concerto for piano trio? What are current and future major plans and projects?

Wow, a lot has happened since 2001! I had a son, Sebastian, who just turned 11. I’ve recorded for solo CDs, the complete Bach solo suites, the Chopin collection and “Dreaming,” which has had a number of tracks used in movie soundtracks such as the HBO movie “A Matter of Taste.” I’ve recorded another Eroica Trio CD, “An American Journey,” which was nominated for a Grammy award.

I’ve toured China and all over Asia, and also the Arabian peninsula, which was amazing and mind-blowing. Petra in Jordan was like being in an Indiana Jones movie. It has been a truly amazing 14 years!

There seems to be a revival or rediscovery going on of the works of the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Why do you think that is?

Saint-Saens (below) has been grossly underrated in my view. His music has a wonderful mix of gorgeous melodies that speak to the human condition, sparkling virtuous pyrotechnics and a joie de vivre, which is just infectious! What’s not to love!

camille saint-saens younger

You are performing on an all-French program with Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” and Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales.” What elements or traits do identify as being typically French in classical music, and does Saint-Saëns fit the mold?

I think there is a lushness to French music that Saint-Saens shares. There is also a very human quality to the best of French music.

What would you like to say about the piece you will be performing in Madison, the Cello Concerto No. 1? What is typical or unusual about it?  What in particular would you like the public to listen to and notice?

Just to have a blast! The Saint-Saens starts with a bang and never lets up till the joyous end! (Note: You can hear it played by the late Russian cellist, conductor and human rights activist Mstislav Rostropovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

What else would you like to say?

I can’t wait to come back and play in Madison again. I had such a fantastic time playing there last time with my trio that the town loomed so large in my imagination, I had no idea until this interview that it had been 14 years since I was last there.

 


Classical music: Here are the winners of the 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition. You can stream the winners’ concerts LIVE tonight and Friday night for FREE with a link that is here.

July 2, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The  major event in the world of classical music for the past several weeks has been the 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition that was held in Moscow and St. Petersburg. (Below is American pianist Van Cliburn, who won the first competition and made history.)

Van Cliburn

The winners – in the categories of piano, violin, cello and voice — were announced yesterday.

Here they are, along with a link to a way for you to stream the winners’ concerts, under competition head and conductor Valery Gergiev (below), live TONIGHT and Friday and for FREE.

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/tchaikovsky-competition-2015-winners-announced?pmtx=recommended&utm_expid=32540977-5.-DEFmKXoQdmXwfDwHzJRUQ.2&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

Gergievin NY

 


Classical music: The 15th International Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow will be streamed LIVE and for FREE starting this Tuesday on medici.tv

June 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear received the following press release – with a lot of important information and excellent background – that he wants to share. He notes that Moscow is 8 hours ahead of Madison in time difference.

The XV International Tchaikovsky Competition and medici.tv Launch Tch15.medici.tv This Week – the Dedicated Website for Free Live Webcasts, Competition News, Interviews and More 

The new relationship between the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition and medici.tv will produce 19 days of nonstop free live webcasts from Russia, June 15 to July 3, 2015. These webcasts will present the performances of 120 candidates from around the globe, available to a worldwide audience live from Moscow (piano and violin) and St. Petersburg (cello and voice). Below is a portrait of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Tchaikovsky 1

The dedicated online platform for these competition webcasts – tch15.medici.tv – went live with scene-setting content this Wednesday, June 10. The eight hosts for the live tch15.medici.tv presentations – in both English and Russian – include Gramophone magazine editor-in-chief and BBC broadcaster James Jolly, longtime Libération critic Eric Dahan, violinist Sascha Maisky, and Radio Orpheus broadcaster Irina Tushintseva, among other European journalists and music personalities.

Five medici.tv Daily Journal video teams will be on hand to create exclusive content from Russia for tch15.medici.tv, which will feature the latest news from the competition and much more – including interviews with the prestigious jurors, many of whom are past winners of the Tchaikovsky Competition, such as Deborah Voigt (below) and Denis Matsuev (with complete jury listing below).

Deborah  Voigt

A brand name/hash tag for this year’s events – #TCH15 – will help galvanize the passionate social-media communities that follow this preeminent international classical music event in this 175th anniversary year of Tchaikovsky’s birth. The XV International Tchaikovsky Competition and medici.tv also have key partners, including TV Kanal Kultura, The Mariinsky Foundation of America, iTunes, WQXR, euronews, and Ross Telecom, among others to be announced.

The appointment of Valery Gergiev (below) as chairman in 2011 and the presence of exceptional jury members have resulted in the rebirth of the International Tchaikovsky Competition. This event’s unique international influence was underscored by the rocketing ascent of pianist Daniil Trifonov, winner of the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition, a feat reminiscent of Van Cliburn’s dazzling success at the inaugural contest in 1958.

Gergievin NY

On June 15 at 7 p.m. Moscow time is the live webcast of the Opening Gala concert from Moscow. The complete competition rounds will be presented from June 16 to June 30, with the climactic Award Ceremony on July 1. Winners will then perform at Gala Concerts on July 2 in Moscow and July 3 in St. Petersburg, where a Grand Prix Winner may be declared.

The 120 candidates for the three rounds of this year’s Tchaikovsky Competition – in piano, violin, cello and voice – will be narrowed from 236 young musicians from 37 countries who made it to the preliminary auditions (after 623 initial applications from 45 countries). The list of competitors selected for the preliminary auditions has been published on the official site of the XV Tchaikovsky Competition: http://tchaikovskycompetition.com/en/contestants.

The XV International Tchaikovsky Competition will remain available for free on all devices on tch15.medici.tv until the next competition.

Held once every four years, the International Tchaikovsky Competition has helped launch the careers of an all-time who’s who of classical music, including such artists as pianists Van Cliburn (below), Vladimir Ashkenazy, Grigory Sokolov, Mikhail Pletnev, Boris Berezovsky, Nikolai Lugansky, Denis Matsuev and Daniil Trifonov; violinists Viktor Tretiakov, Gidon Kremer, Viktoria Mullova and Akiko Suwanai; cellists Natalia Gutman, Mischa Maisky, David Geringas, Boris Pergamenschikov, Antônio Meneses, Ivan Monighetti and Alexander Kniazev; and singers Deborah Voigt, Paata Burchuladze, Evgeny Nikitin, Mikhail Kazakov and Jong Min Park, among others.

Van Cliburn

“The International Tchaikovsky Competition is 57 years old – it’s a significant age with a remarkable history of introducing so many exceptional talents to the world – but we live in the Internet era,” says Valery Gergiev, artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre and co-chair of the organizing committee of the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition. “Now, both amateurs and professionals of classical music are ready to join us via the Internet, TV broadcasts or any other form of media communication that one might only imagine – this truly international audience wishes to be part of our great musical adventure. We aim to expand this audience, to offer music lovers the world over the chance to become part of the digitally engaged virtual audience of the Tchaikovsky Competition. Our partners from medici.tv share this passion with us.”

Schedule and Jury members of the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition

June 15: Opening Concert of the Competition at the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory

June 16 to June 30: Competition rounds (see details below)

July 1: Awards Ceremony at the Moscow Philharmonic’s Tchaikovsky Concert Hall

July 2: Winners Concert at the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory

July 3: Winners Concert at Mariinsky II in St. Petersburg

Piano Rounds

Round I: June 16-20, Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory

Round II: June 21-25, Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory

Round III (Finals): June 28-30, Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory

Jury members: Dmitri Bashkirov, Michel Béroff, Boris Berezovsky, Peter Donohoe, Sergei Dorensky, Barry Douglas, Vladimir Feltsman, Klaus Hellwig, Denis Matsuev, Vladimir Ovchinnikov, Alexander Toradze; and Martin T. Son Engström.

Farley's House of PIanos MMM 20141

Violin Rounds

Round I: June 17-20, Small Hall of Moscow Conservatory

Round II: June 21-25, Small Hall of Moscow Conservatory

Round III (Finals): June 28-30, Tchaikovsky Concert Hall of Moscow Philharmonic

Jury members: Salvatore Accardo, Yuri Bashmet, James Ehnes, Maxim Fedotov, Liana Isakadze, Ilya Kaler, Leonidas Kavakos, Boris Kuschnir, Vera Tsu Wei Ling, Mihaela Martin, Vadim Repin, Roman Simovic, Viktor Tretyakov, Maxim Vengerov, Nikolaj Znaider, and Michael Haefliger.

House music 2 violin

Cello Rounds

Round I: June 17-20,Small Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic

Round II: June 21-25, Small Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic

Round III (Finals): June 28-30, Great Hall of St. Petersburg Philharmonic

Jury members: Wolfgang Boettcher, Mario Brunello, Myung-wha Chung, David Geringas, Lynn Harrell, Alexander Kniazev, Mischa Maisky, Ivan Monighetti, Sergei Roldugin, Martti Rousi, Jan Vogler, Jian Wang, and Clive Gillinson.

cello choir 2

Voice Rounds

Round I: June 23-25, Mussorgsky Chamber Hall at Mariinsky II, St. Petersburg

Round II: June 27-28,Mussorgsky Chamber Hall at Mariinsky II, St. Petersburg

Round III (Finals): June 30, Mariinsky Concert Hall, St. Petersburg

Jury members: Olga Borodina, Mikhail Kazakov, Dennis O’Neill, Mikhail Petrenko, Thomas Quasthoff, Deborah Voigt, Chen-Ye Yuan, Sarah Billinghurst, John Fisher, Larisa Gergieva, Tobias Richter, and Eva Wagner-Pasquier.

accompanying singer and piano

About the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition

June 15 to July 3, 2015 – Moscow (piano, violin), St. Petersburg (cello, voice)

This year’s competition attracted 623 applications from 45 countries: Russia, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Korea, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. In the qualifying round, the competition jury accepted a total of 236 musicians: 61 pianists, 48 violinists, 48 cellists and 79 vocalists (40 male, 39 female).

In addition, the selection commission may invite applicants directly to Round I who have won First Prize in competitions of the World Federation of Music Competitions, the Alink-Argerich Foundation and the All-Russian Music Competition. For Round I, the XV Competition has accepted two pianists, one violinist, three cellists and two vocalists (one male, one female). After the preliminary auditions, the total number of contestants accepted by the competition will be 30 pianists, 25 violinists, 25 cellists and 40 vocalists (20 male, 20 female).

Of course, the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition welcomes musicians from any country in the world.  The contestants in the piano, violin and cello competitions must be between 16 and 32 years old as of the June 15 opening of the competition. The voice contestants must be between 19 and 32 years old. Prior to the preliminary auditions, for which a schedule will be announced separately, the judges will arrive at a shortlist of applicants based on the video recordings submitted.

The XV International Tchaikovsky Competition will award six prizes for pianists, six for violinists, six for cellists, four for male singers and four for female singers. From among the First Prize winners, one will be singled out to receive the Grand Prix, a prize of $100,000 in addition to the winner’s First Prize. The XV International Tchaikovsky Competition will offer the following prizes in each category: First Prize of $30,000 USD and a Gold Medal, Second Prize of $20,000 and a Silver Medal; Third Prize of $10,000 and a Bronze Medal; Fourth Prize of $5,000 and a Diploma; Fifth Prize of $3,000 and a Diploma; Sixth Prize of $2,000 and a Diploma. There will be additional prizes of $2,000 and a Diploma for the best concerto performance with a chamber orchestra in Round II – one prize each for a pianist, a violinist and a cellist. The two best musicians in each category from Round II that are eliminated from Round III will receive a Diploma and a runner-up prize of $1,000. Depending on the outcomes of the competition and within the limits on the number of prizes, the judges may choose not to award all prizes or to divide them among the contestants (except for the Grand Prix).  In addition, the jury may award Diplomas and a prize of $1,000 to the best accompanists in the Competition (no more than two awards in each category).

Follow the International Tchaikovsky Competition:

http://tch15.medici.tv/en/

www.tchaikovskycompetition.com

www.facebook.com/InternationalTchaikovskyCompetition/timeline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Van Cliburn biopic is in the works with young star Ansel Elgort to play the late, great American pianist. Plus, Madison maestro John DeMain remembers opera maestro Julius Rudel.

July 6, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear sees that something for both the ears and the eyes is coming down the pike.

Hollywood sources have confirmed that a biographical film –- yes, a biopic -– about the American pianist Van Cliburn (below) , who died last year at 78 of bone cancer, is in the works.

Cliburn's hands

That is as it should be, despite what some classical musicians see as shortcomings in Cliburn’s artistry.

Here is a post The Ear did before about the opinions that members of the public and musicians have concerning Cliburn:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/classical-music-how-good-was-pianist-van-cliburn/

van cliburn ill

Cliburn was the first classical artist to make a million-selling record -– he played the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 — on the RCA label (below and at the bottom). It was the same work with which, at age 23, he unexpectedly won the First International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.

His victory during the height of The Cold War was an event that led to a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in New York City (bel0w) and a meteoric career, then to premature burn-out and an early retirement from the concert stage. (You can see an archival historic footage at the bottom in a YouTube video. Complete performances by Van Cliburn of the same concerto are also on YouTube.)

Van Cliburn ticker tape parade in 1958

And, if The Ear recalls correctly, Van Cliburn became a phenom or superstar who sold out houses, and was the first classical artist to get paid a fee of $10,000 for a one-night performance.

Cliburn Tchaikovsky LP

Not many classical musicians have the stuff to become the subject of a biopic.

Some composers, especially Ludwig van Beethoven and Frederic Chopin, have lent themselves to such a treatment, several times in the latter case. (We will overlook the case of the mentally ill performer David Helfgott in “Shine,” which seemed more a pathology than a biography.)

But The Ear can’t think of another individual performer, although he remembers more general subjects like “The Competition.”

The young actor Ansel Elgort (below), who The Ear thinks resembles the young Cliburn (who resembles fellow Texan Lyle Lovett), has been cast in the leading role, which focuses on Cliburn’s early years and his victory in Moscow. Apparently, Elgort himself also plays the piano quite well -– but my guess is that he does not play well enough to play it the way that the Juilliard School-trained Cliburn did.

But Elgort’s star is on the ascent, given his performance in the much praised and popular current release (“The Fault In Our Stars,” about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love.

Ansel Elgort

Anyway here are some links to stories about Van Cliburn, Ansel Elgort and the forthcoming movie:

To CBS News:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ansel-elgort-to-star-in-van-cliburn-biopic/

To the Dallas Morning News, in Cliburn’s hometown:

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-news/20140623-ansel-elgort-tapped-to-play-van-cliburn-in-movie.ece

To TIME magazine with a good video accompanying it:

http://time.com/2917530/ansel-elgort-van-cliburn/

To another video with good comparison photos of Cliburn and Elgort:

http://www.hitfix.com/news/ansel-elgort-playing-van-cliburn-in-new-biopic

To Norman Lebrecht’s tweet-like comment on his popular blog Slipped Disc:

http://slippedisc.com/2014/06/ansel-is-picked-to-play-van-cliburn-in-biopic/

What other classical music performers would you like to see treated on a biopic?

I nominate the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, a closeted gay man who led a dramatic life including encounters and confrontations with Soviet leaders and his American tour plus his eccentric late-life habits that included touring around Europe in a van playing in schools and old churches and using out-of-tune pianos. And perhaps also the legendary operatic  soprano Maria Callas, who was known for being tempestuous and temperamental as well as supremely gifted in both singing and acting. (There was a Broadway play about her, “Master Class” by Terrence McNally, the same writer who did the “Dead Man Walking,” the opera by Jake Heggie.)

richterwithcross1

Medea Maria Callas

Your nominations?

The Ear wants to hear.

JOHN DeMAIN ON JULIUS RUDEL

And speaking of celebrities, John DeMain (below, in photo by Prasad), the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera, sent in his remembrance of the late, great opera conductor Julius Rudel, who led the now-defunct City Opera of New York and who died a week ago at 93:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Here is a link to the Rudel posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/classical-music-conductor-julius-rudel-longtime-director-of-the-defunct-new-york-city-opera-has-died-at-93/

And here is John DeMain’s remembrance:

“It was my great honor to be chosen for the Julius Rudel Award at the New York City Opera in 1971. The purpose of the stipend was to allow an American conductor to work closely with Maestro Rudel to learn how to become an artistic director of an opera company.

Rudel (below) was far and away the best conductor in the house. His performances were vital, theatrical, and intensely musically expressive. His “Marriage of Figaro” was an unforgettable experience for me. I prepared the auditions of singers for the company, and got to sit in on the casting conversations, and learned the criterion for casting a singer in an opera.

Julius Rudel at home in 2010 NY Times

Rudel was extremely demanding musically, and, of course, expanded the repertoire of the company in all directions. He had great flair for American opera and musical theater.

The bottom line for me, however, was he delivered totally engrossing performances night after night. He also was a mentor to me, and provided counsel and advice as new career opportunities presented themselves to me.

I consider Julius Rudel’s time at the City Opera as the “golden age” of that company. It was during that time that Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Norman Treigle, Beverly Sills, and many other greats were singing on that stage.

I’m grateful to have had him in my life.

Julius Rudel middle age conducting NPR

 


Classical music: Here are the three winners – Ukrainian, Italian and American — of the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition that concluded Sunday night in Fort Worth, Texas.

June 11, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

We have a winner!

Actually, we have three of them (below in a photo by Tom Fox) – one Ukrainian (first place, center), one Italian (second place, on left) and one American (third place, on right).

van cliburn 14 3 winners CR Tom Fox Beatrice Rana (silver) of Italy; Vadym Kholodenko (gold) of Urkaine; and Sean Chen (bronze) of the U.S

After two weeks of preliminaries, semi-finals and finals, the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, has come to its conclusion. It ended with concertos and the official announcement Sunday night.

It is the first competition, now in its 52nd year, to be held after the death of its namesake, the world-famous pianist Van Cliburn (at bottom, at the first Tchaikovsky Competition, which he won against all odds, in Moscow in 1958) who died in February at 78 of bone cancer.

Here is a previous posting I did about the competition with many other links:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/classical-music-after-the-recent-death-of-van-cliburn-the-14th-van-cliburn-international-piano-competition-is-being-held-may-24-june-9-in-fort-worth-texas-here-are-links-to-many-kinds-of-informati/

Other changes, including bigger prizes, were also made with this competition, which is held every four years. But apparently, it was a fine success on many counts.

2013 Van Cliburn competition 2013

Here are several links to stories that include a variety of background and details:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/06/10/189511177/ukrainian-wins-top-prize-at-van-cliburn-piano-competition

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/vadym-kholodenko-ukrainian-pianist-and-cliburn-winner_n_3414712.html?utm_hp_ref=arts

http://www.classical-music.com/news/kholodenko-takes-van-cliburn-glory

cliburn 14 standing ovation for sean chen Tom Fox

And here is a link to the photo portfolio from the competition with a lot of thankful tweets from fans who follow the various rounds of the competition:

http://www.cliburn.org/landing.html

Here is the terrifically designed logo for the competition that turns Van Cliburn’s initials sideways into a piano:

van cliburn 14 cup and logo Tom Fox

And here are some observations by Scott Cantrell, the classical music critic for the Dallas Morning News who clearly dislikes percussive piano playing, about the performances of the three winners plus a photo gallery, with detailed IDs, by staff photographer Tom Fox:

http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/columnists/scott-cantrell/20130609-ukrainian-pianist-vadym-kholodenko-claims-cliburn-competition-s-first-prize.ece

Cliburn's hands


Classical music: Pianist Van Cliburn, an icon of American classical music, died today at 78.

February 27, 2013
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

These days, “icon” is an overused word.

But it certainly applies in the case of American pianist Van Cliburn (below). For five decade, he was ever-present in the mind of classical music fans ever since he won, against all odds, the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in 1958, held in Moscow during the height of The Cold War.

Cliburn's hands

I have written before about Cliburn, who died today at 78 after a long battle with bone cancer.

Here is one posting about the controversy that surrounded his playing:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/classical-music-how-good-was-pianist-van-cliburn/

Here is the most important blog posting, and be sure to reader the many intelligent and deeply felt comments by readers:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/classical-music-american-pianist-van-cliburn-is-diagnosed-with-advanced-cancer-the-ear-returns-cliburns-playing-of-the-beautiful-and-touching-liszt-schubert-song-dedication-to-honor-him/

There are many reasons to like him and his playing. Not for nothing was he the first classical musician to ask and get a concert fee of $10,000 for one night;s performance.

But if you asked me to sum it up, I would say: Van Cliburn made every note come from some place and go to another place, and he always developed a logic – melodic, harmonic or rhythmic — to a particular phrase or passage.

van cliburn playing

His Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 (below, the first classical recording to sell 1 million copies) and his Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 remain for me the best, the absolute best, versions ever recorded.

Cliburn Tchaikovsky LP

I didn’t like his Brahms or Schumann so much, but I liked much of his Chopin — hear the Nocturne he plays at the bottom in a YouTube video — and I adored his playing of Edward MacDowell‘s Piano Concerto No. 2, which also remains definitive for me.

His personal and professional story proved fascinating and courageous as well as inspiring to many young musicians, including myself. (Below is the 23-year-old Van Cliburn in the ticker tape parade he received in New York City after his win in Moscow.) 

Van Cliburn ticker tape parade in 1958

Here are links to some important obituaries and stories. You’ll find many memorable quotes and many unforgettable facts as well as some wonderful photos from all stages of his life and career:

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/28/arts/music/van-cliburn-pianist-dies-at-78.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

van cliburn ill

From the Associated Press:

http://entertainment.time.com/2013/02/27/van-cliburn-american-classical-pianist-dies/

From The Dallas Morning News:

http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/arts/headlines/20130227-pianist-van-cliburn-dies-at-age-78.ece

From the Houston Star-Telegram, the first a story and the second, a life in photos:

http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/02/27/4647640/van-cliburn-dies.html

http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/02/27/4647679/van-cliburn-dead-at-78.html

From National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/02/27/173061668/remembering-van-cliburn-a-giant-among-pianists-and-a-cold-war-idol

From The Los Angeles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-van-cliburn-obit-20130227,0,6919189.story

From The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/american-pianist-van-cliburn-whose-1958-triumph-at-a-moscow-competition-impressed-world-dies/2013/02/27/8d8a1dec-8100-11e2-a671-0307392de8de_story.html

From CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/27/showbiz/van-cliburn-obit/?hpt=en_c2

From USA TODAY:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2013/02/27/van-cliburn-american-classical-pianist-dies/1951217/

What would you like to say on Van Cliburn’s passing? Leave a COMMENT.

What is your favorite recording of Cliburn’s?


Classical music: American pianist Van Cliburn has been diagnosed with advanced cancer. The Ear dedicates Cliburn’s playing of the beautiful and touching Liszt-Schubert song “Dedication” to honor the pleasure, joy and inspiration he has given to so many.

August 29, 2012
14 Comments

 

By Jacob Stockinger

Judging from news reports, an icon of American classical music is living out his final days.

American pianist Van Cliburn (below, in a photo taken by Ross Hailey for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram), now 78, has been diagnosed with advanced bone cancer . The very consistent stories, clearly taken form the same press release, do not say whether it is Stage III or Stage IV (there is no Stage V) but the word “advanced” suggests it is one of them and is probably beyond any hope of a cure or even a long survival.

As a young pianist, Cliburn was a superstar sensation with the public, the first classical musician to sell one million LPs (of his live recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1) and the first classical musician to get $10,000 a night. Sviatoslav Richter, one of the giants of 20th century Russian pianism also thought Cliburn so gifted that he handed Cliburn all his votes to seal Cliburn’s win in the first International Tchaikovsky Competition (below).

But Cliburn has also had his detractors, critics who found his performances uneven and lazy, especially as he aged and seemed to grow bored with his art. And some people including The Ear, also wish that he had come out publicly, despite his conservative politics and apparently deep religious beliefs.

For myself, in his prime I found most of his performances very good and several of his performances stupendous, including his Tchaikovsky First and Rachmaninoff Third concertos, but also his MacDowell Second Concerto.

Anyway, in an earlier post I asked: How good was Van Cliburn?

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/classical-music-how-good-was-pianist-van-cliburn/

And here are links to the latest story from The Associated Press about Cliburn and his diagnosis of cancer:

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2012/08/28/arts/ap-us-cliburn-illness.html?_r=1&ref=arts

http://www.spinner.com/2012/08/28/van-cliburn-cancer/

http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/story/2012-08-27/van-cliburn-cancer-diagnosis/57355752/1

I don’t know if Cliburn reads The Well-Tempered Ear, but if he doesn’t now maybe he will if there are enough hits or somebody forwards it to him.

So leave a message in the COMMENTS column.

And tell us about your favorite Van Cliburn moments or performance.

One of mine is his playing of Franz Liszt’s transcription of Robert Schumann‘s song  “Widmung” (Dedication) — which was a favorite encore of Cliburn in his heyday and which is meant to honor the joy, the beauty and the inspiration he provided to so many young listeners and players, including me.. (Many more such moments, including Chopin, Brahms  and Debussy can be found for free on YouTube. Tear yourself and listen to a few).

 


Classical music: You can lose a music competition and still be a winner.

June 8, 2012
5 Comments

ALERTS: Saturday brings two noteworthy events. First is a FREE Farmers Market concert from noon to 1 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church on the Capitol Square by Opera Unplugged, an outreach project of Fresco Opera Theatre. The program includes vocal and instrumental music by Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, Wagner and others. Also, Marika Fischer Hoyt (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), the violist with the Ancora String Quartet who also plays in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and with the Madison Bach Musicians, is starting a new career as a host for Wisconsin Public Radio. You can tune in to her debut Saturday afternoon from 1 to 4 p.m. on WERN FM 88.7. She is an amiable and knowledgeable musician, and has chosen some great music to air.

By Jacob Stockinger

Earlier this week, I posted two stories that mattered to me personally more than I let on at the time.

One was story about the two young Madison teenagers – pianist Ariela Bohrod and Garrick Olsen – who are competing this weekend in the biennial International Piano Arts Competition in Milwaukee.

I think they are still picking straws to see who performs when today in the solo recital competition. Then come the chamber music performance and then finally the concerto competition.

I wish them well, and I am rooting for them of course. As I find out news, I will pass it along.

The other story was about a recent UW graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below) who played the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, with the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Here are links to the two stories:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/classical-music-news-two-madison-teenagers-are-competing-this-week-and-next-in-the-international-piano-arts-competition-in-milwaukee/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

But competitions leave me feeling nostalgic with some unusual thoughts.

That is because once upon a time I was one of those gifted young teenagers. At 15 I was studying privately with a superb piano teacher at Yale University — his name is Donald Currier (below) — and when he died I wrote about him.  

Here is a link to the past:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/02/05/classical-music-obituary-yale-pianist-donald-currier-dies-at-91/

Now, I was 16 back then. And against my teacher’s wishes, I entered the young person’s concerto competition with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.

He thought I wash;t ready and was correct. But I craved validation that I could go into music in a big way.

So I prepared Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1 in C Major, Op. 15 – which is really the second one composed though the first one published.

It is a great piece, as you can hear at the bottom from pianist Murray Perahia and conductor Sir Georg Solti with the London Symphony Orchestra.

I listened to favorite recordings. I studied and played the score. I found another pianist to play the reduced orchestra part and I practiced it. Even my reluctant teacher allowed me a run-through with him testing me on piano entrances and memorizing.

And then on a Saturday morning I went to Yale University’s Sprague Hall (below) and played for the jury that included conductor Frank Brieff – and lost to a young woman a couple of years younger who played the Mozart concerto I mentioned above.

When I tell people that I lost a concerto competition when I was 16, I invariably get a very sympathetic reaction of “I’m so sorry.”

I was sorry and saddened at the time too.

But in retrospect, I see that I really didn’t lose – though at thar time every aspiring young classical pianist dreamed or conquering a competition in the same glorious way that young Van Cliburn (below) conquered Moscow, America and the world won the first Tchaikovsky Competition and became a national hero and international sensation.

But in fact by losing I found out two important things about myself

First, I found out that although I had talent, I didn’t have THAT kind of great and overwhelming talent that all but assures success is a very competitive career. (Someone recently told me that your chances of making it as a concert pianist these days are less than being a U.S. senator – and there are only two of them from any one state at any one time.

Second, I found out – through the very unpleasant experience of debilitating stage fright – that I did not have the temperament for public performance.

They were tough lessons to learn. But it was better I learned them at 16 rather than at, say, 21, after I had gotten my degree at a conservatory. (And I had been admitted to one of the country’s better conservatories.)

So I went on to a different career in teaching, in French and literature, and in journalism. And I keep my piano playing as an avocation, rather than a vocation, as a hobby that brings me and some others sim,ense satisfaction.

So here is my lesson that young competition entrants may not want to hear:

First, you will learn important lessons about your non-musical self. Losing can, in the long run, make you a winner.

And finally, it is a great lesson – especially for pianist who so often play solo — that music should be cooperative rather than competitive.

I would say I took a great deal out of the piano competition so long ago.

True, I lost. But I too ended up a winner.


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