The Well-Tempered Ear

New York Times critics choose 10 online classical music concerts to stream in February, starting this Thursday

February 2, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

As they have done for previous months during the coronavirus pandemic, the classical music critics for The New York Times have named their top 10 choices of online concerts to stream in February, which is also Black History Month, starting this Thursday, Feb. 4.

Also predictably, they focus on new music – including a world premiere — new conductors and new composers, although “new” doesn’t necessarily mean young in this context.

For example, the conductor Fabio Luisi (below) is well known to fans of Richard Wagner and the Metropolitan Opera. But he is new to the degree that just last season he became the new conductor of Dallas Symphony Orchestra and its digital concert series.

Similarly, the Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg (below top, in a photo by Saara Vuorjoki) and the American composer Caroline Shaw (below bottom, in a photo by Kait Moreno), who has won a Pulitzer Prize, have both developed reputations for reliable originality.

But chances are good that you have not yet heard of the young avant-garde cellist Mariel Roberts (below top) or the conductor Jonathon Heyward (below bottom).

Nor, The Ear suspects, have you probably heard the names and music of composers Angélica Negrón (below top), who uses found sounds and Tyshawn Sorey (below bottom). (You can sample Negrón’s unusual music in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Of course, you will also find offerings by well-known figures such as the Berlin Philharmonic and its Kurt Weill festival; conductor Alan Gilbert; pianists Daniil Trifonov and Steven Osborne; violinist Leonidas Kavakos; and the JACK Quartet.

Tried-and-true composers are also featured, including music by Beethoven, Schnittke, Weber, Ravel and Prokofiev. But where are Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann and Handel? No one seems to like Baroque music. 

Here is a link to the events with links and descriptions. All times are Eastern: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/28/arts/music/classical-music-streaming.html

Do you have other virtual and online concerts to suggest? Please leave details in the Comment sections.

 


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The New York Times music critics suggest 10 must-hear online classical concerts during December

November 30, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tomorrow is Dec. 1, 2020.

Lately, at the end of every month the music critics for The New York Times publish a list of 10 virtual and online classical concerts for the following month that they think deserve special attention.

Often – but not always — their choices feature the unusual: new music and world premieres; neglected repertoire; and lesser-known performers that most of us are not likely to hear locally.

The December choices, for example, include an oratorio “Perle Noire” (Black Pearl), by composer Tyshawn Sorey, about the famous African-American, Paris-based expat dancer Josephine Baker – she of the banana skirt (below). But she was more than just  a risqué dancer and entertainer. She fought in the French Resistance movement against the Nazis and was a civil rights champion.

But this list also includes seasonal fare such the holiday tradition by which the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center performs in one night all six Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach (you can hear an excerpt in the YouTube video at the bottom); and other holiday celebrations such as a concert by the early music vocal group Tenet (below, in a photo by Nan Melville.)

But those suggestions do not take away from more local efforts and performances. 

The Ear is certain that those same critics would approve of supporting local musicians and music groups during the coronavirus pandemic. 

And there are many local offerings. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, the Madison Bach Musicians and Just Bach all have virtual online concerts scheduled for December.

You can check out their offerings at their websites and here on this blog as the month unfolds.

But if the Times’ choices interest you – and they should — here is a link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/25/arts/music/classical-music-stream-december.html

Note that the blurbs show Eastern Time but also include how long the performances are posted for and links to the organizations presenting the concerts. 

Happy listening!

And Happy Holidays!

Do you have other online performances – local, regional, national or international — to suggest?

Please leave the necessary information in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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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: New Yorker magazine music critic Alex Ross names his favorite performances, recordings and book of 2017

January 5, 2018
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Many musicologists, musicians and music fans consider Alex Ross (below), of The New Yorker magazine, to be the best music critic in the U.S.

Besides the major awards his two books – “The Rest Is Noise” and “Listen to This” — have won, Ross has a reputation for emphasizing the new, the unknown and the neglected, and for deeply perceptive judgments and original observations.

Now, a lot of other critics, from The New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR) and Gramophone magazine as well as the Grammy nominations have named their Best of 2017.

Here is a link to a posting that contains other links to those different lists:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/12/27/classical-music-here-are-some-recommendations-for-post-christmas-shopping/

Yet it seems particularly important and enlightening to consider what Alex Ross has selected for his recommendations for one book, 10 performances and 20 recordings.

Here is a link to Ross’ list, which has many links to samples and reviews:

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/2017-in-review/notable-performances-and-recordings-of-2017


Classical music: “Creature Quartet” by UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger will be premiered by the JACK Quartet this Friday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

May 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from Laura Elise Schwendinger (below), a prize-winning professor of composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (You can hear a sample of her chamber work “High Wire Act” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“Creature Quartet,” composed by University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Laura Elise Schwendinger (below), will be premiered by The JACK Quartet on this Friday, May 8, at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Laura Schwendinger 2

For more information, including ticket prices and reservations as well as other works on the program and the JACK’s concert to be played in the dark on this Thursday, go to:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season14-15/jack-quartet-creaturequartet.html

Schwendinger, a Guggenheim winner and the first composer recipient of the Berlin Prize, wrote the Creature Quartet, a one-movement work for string quartet, with “portraits in music” of extinct, mythological or endangered creatures.

The quartet will be accompanied by an evocative animation by the gifted French artist, Pauline Gagniarre. The animation depicts the creatures in the quartet, and was commissioned by Memorial Union Concerts for this premiere

Each of the quartet’s movements feature different creatures such as extinct birds, like the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, the Passenger Pigeon (the last surviving Passenger Pigeon died 100 years ago this year), the marvelously funny looking Dodo Bird, as depicted in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as mythological creatures like the Yeti, Chupacabra, and the famous “sea monster” Nessy.

Here are more details from program notes:

The Creature Quartet is a one-movement work for string quartet, played without break, comprised of 12 short movements, each a paean or character portrait in music to an extinct, mythological, or endangered creature. It is my personal response to the current mass extinction that we are facing.

The work starts with a “hymn for lost creatures,” which comes back in various forms between the sections or movements devoted to each animal.

Musical relationships exist as well, between the various movements, for instance, the repeated pattern of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (below) in Movement I, played in pizzicato (plucked string) then col legno (or with wood of the bow) comes back in the movement VII. the Javan Rhinocerous, but in a triple-forte fff (very loud) and much more aggressive, grumpy manner, and then again in movement XI. The Thalycine (or Tasmanian Tiger), but this time a little more active and agile yet still fearsome.

ivory-billed woodpecker

The music heard in movement II. Passenger Pigeon (below), is characterized by tremolando figures (trembling string with shifting bow), which represents the evocative yet mysterious flight of the large flocks of birds that were known to fill the skies. This music is also hinted at, through chromatic transformation, and string tremolando, in movement IV. Yeti, where it is introduced now pianisissmo (very, very soft), but when the Yeti is finally seen, turns and growls ffff (very, very loud). This tremolando music is referenced and developed in the longest of the movements VIII. Mustang, when the tremolando moves with the energy of running horses.

passenger pigeon stuffed

Movement III — the sad and poignant music of the Dodo Bird (below), expressed in the solo viola, with awkward pizzicato accompaniment and reflecting the funny image we have of this charming large, flightless bird — is referenced again in inversion (upside down) in movement X. Lowland Gorilla, this time with the solo cello moving from the instrument’s majestic lower register through a higher singing line, and again with a combination of awkward pizzicatos and more aggressive tremelandos, all leading to a final fff (very loud tremelando) as the Gorilla beats his chest.

Dodo bird

Movement V. Chupacabra, has its own distinctive creepy, yet harried character, captured in trills, the piercing red of the animal’s eyes in the night heightened with harmonic notes that jump out of the frenzied texture. This chilling character is amplified for movement IX. Tasmanian Devil, when the strings play frenzied lines in sul ponticello (over the bridge for a sharp and piercing string sound), and finally just loud growling sounds, made by the bows being played behind the bridge, literally sounding like the voice of the Taz Devil.

The music of Movement VI. Nessy (below), is captured in a rolling string figure that reflects the undulating motion of the waves of the deep and mysterious lake waters of Loch Ness, the melody itself dark and mysterious. This music returns, yet brighter and more open sounding, for movement XII. the Northern Right Whale.

Loch Ness Nessie

These relationships give the work a sense of symmetry and balance. The animals are part of a musical “ecosystem” as it were, and organically lead from one to another, with only the hymn in between to remind us of their sad fate.

The hymn too, starts to reflect the character of the animal that precedes or follows, as the tremelandos of the Thalycine and Mustang and Gorrilla,for instance, sit somewhere in the quartet, not yet freed from its setting and sometimes in the cello, as a grumpy echo of the animal that still lingers.

Nessy is featured in the trailer by Pauline Gagniarre’s for the Creature Quartet. https://vimeo.com/118388679.

Also depicted is the adorable yet irascible Tasmanian Devil (below), famously portrayed in the Looney Tunes cartoons, and the Tasmanian Tiger, a fearsome yet elegant animal, the last of which died in captivity in 1936.

tasmanian devil

Pauline Gagniarre has created fantastic animated video that introduces the audience to each creature as each movement of music starts, in order to help the listener visualize each animal.

The JACK Quartet (below) is arguably one of the finest string quartets performing today, and one of the best interpreters of new music.

Jack Quartet 2015

As winners of numerous awards for adventurous programming, JACK has performed premieres to critical acclaim internationally at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Wigmore Hall in London, The Venice Biennale, the Lucerne Festival, the Bali Arts Festival (Indonesia) and the Cologne Philharmonic.

Jack Quartet

The quartet has commissioned and premiered new works with such composers as John Luther Adams, Chaya Czernowin, Brian Ferneyhough, Beat Furrer, Georg Friedrich Haas, György Kurtág, Helmut Lachenmann, Steve Mackey, Steve Reich, Wolfgang Rihm, Salvatore Sciarrino and John Zorn.

 

 

 


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