The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Bluegrass mandolinist Chris Thile plays J.S. Bach – and earns raves.

October 27, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The brilliantly eclectic mandolin player Chris Thile (below, in a photo by Branley Gutierrez) ) is hot these days.

I recently heard Thile – who has been a member of the bluegrass bands Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers — live on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and also saw that Wisconsin Public Radio was offering his new recording as a gift during its recently completed — and successfully completed — fall pledge drive.

Chris Thile CR Branley Gutierrez

Thile’s new album for Nonesuch Records features his playing of solo violin sonatas and partitas by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Thile says he was inspired directly by the recording that Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux did of the solo violin sonatas and partitas decades ago for Philips. It is performance that The Ear, along with so many other critics, put right on the top of the list.

Arthur Grumiaux

But Thile also says he was heavily influenced by Canadian pianist and legend Glenn Gould – well, which Bach player wasn’t, one way or the other? Thile especially names Gould’s second version of the famous “Goldberg” Variations as a milestone in his life and career.

Glenn Gould old

To be fair, I still prefer the original violin version to the mandolin version.

But I have to admit that Thile’s playing and interpretations of Bach’s difficult music are miracles unto themselves. And unusual transcriptions are perfectly in keeping with the aesthetic and practice of Baroque era composers as well as Romantics like Franz Liszt and Ferrucio Busoni. Just listen to the YouTube video at the bottom of Chris Thile playing Bach’s complete Sonata No. 1 in G minor on the mandolin.

Here is a wonderful comprehensive and personal profile and background story to Chris Thile’s concert in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, written by Steve Smith, that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/22/arts/music/chris-thile-will-play-sonatas-and-partitas-at-zankel-hall.html?_r=0

Here is an illuminating link to a conversation that Thile had on NPR with host Rachel Martin:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/08/14/210524386/chris-thile-looks-back-to-bach

And here is a link to the New York Times’ review of that concert (below, in a photo by Tina Fineberg) by critic Vivien Schweitzer:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/24/arts/music/chris-thile-on-mandolin-at-zankel-hall.html

Chris Thile at Zankel Hall CR Tina Fineberg for NYT

What do you think of Chris Thile and his mandolin Bach?

Do you have a favorite solo violin partita or sonata by J.S. Bach?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: As the beginning of a new school year approaches, a parent makes the case for letting students study and major in music and then pursue a musical career – no matter how difficult it seems in the bad job market today.

August 11, 2013
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As the beginning of another new school year approaches, a good and loyal friend of this blog wrote in to say that others should read this essay that she found on-line. It defends students who want to study and even major in music and then go on to pursue a professional career in music. (Below is a photo of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chamber Orchestra.)

UW Symphony Orchestra 9-2012

This comes at a welcome moment, especially in the wake of the two stories I recently posted by Paul Solman (below), the longtime and prize-winning economics reporter for PBS’ “The Newshour” and a Distinguished Fellow now teaching journalism at Yale University.

Paul Solman hat

In one story Solman explored how difficult it is to pursue music as a career in such a difficult job market as we have today.

Here is a link to that post and story with sources that included gifted student at the Juilliard School and professional musicians:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/classical-music-beauty-is-big-business-and-a-hard-job-pbs-economics-reporter-paul-solman-insightfully-explores-how-hard-it-is-to-find-good-jobs-for-even-the-most-talented-musicians-and-othe/

And then Solman followed it up with a story, using some of the sources, about how young musicians should develop entrepreneurial skills.

Here is a link to that story:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/classical-music-todays-young-classical-musicians-need-to-develop-skills-as-business-entrepreneurs-according-to-a-very-credible-newshour-report-by-ace-pbs-economics-reporte/

And here is the blog essay by a parent who works in music making the case that young students should indeed be allowed to pursue their dreams of a musical m career and not dissuaded towards a “real” career.

It makes for good reading and perhaps sage advice. So here is a link:

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130728144536-52594-let-the-kid-study-music-already

Along similar lines, here is a story about the famous Berklee College of Music (below) in Boston that is linking up with a business program:

http://www.boston.com/yourcampus/news/berklee/2013/08/berklee_launches_first_all-online_mba_in_music_business.html

Berklee College of Music

How does the blog essay defending musical careers compare with the realities, the fears and the rewards that you, your children and others you know have experienced?

The Ear – -who likes and favors a flexible liberal arts education education and who thinks we often end up making a living and having a career in a field we never expected to enter — wants to hear.


Classical music: It’s Mother’s Day. What piece of music would you perform or play for your Mom today? I choose a Chopin waltz for mine.

May 12, 2013
14 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Mother’s Day in the U.S.

So it is a fitting time to consider what music you would make and what music you would play to give your Mom as a gift.

It comes to mind because a couple of months ago, The Ear lost his Mom (below). She was 91, and had, as a red-headed and ever-resourceful War Bride for World War II, lived a long, good and quietly adventurous life with much spirit, good humor and boundless energy, despite various setbacks.

Gladys Stockinger

She also set me on the path to classical music – to making it and appreciating it – even though she herself was not especially musical except to sing hymns in church and  ballades, show tunes and ditties in piano bars.

Way back when, my sister said she wanted to go take piano lessons and I asked if I could too. Mom said yes. My sister stopped; I kept going.

piano keys

With a few intervals, some big and some small. those lessons that started at age 8 continued with right up until the present and will do so well into the future.

When I would visit Mom in her  later years, we would go to a club house near the retirement community where she lived in Phoenix and I would play some of her favorite pieces. It was always a treat for her. She would just relax and lean back and smile in enjoyment. The pleasure she had given me was returned, and for her, everything had gone round and come home.

Chopin (below) was always her favorite. Probably because he was also mine.

Chopinphoto

So when I wanted to attend the legendary all-Chopin recital in Carnegie Hall by Arthur Rubinstein (below top) in 1961, she got the tickets –- which ended up being ON-STAGE tickets so I could see The Master play Chopin from maybe 20 feet away. (Below bottom is the view of Carnegie Hall FROM the main stage after its great renovation.)

Arthur Rubinstein

carnegiehallstage

Anyway, I miss Mom, more than I let on. But I keep her and my memories of her in my heart –- and I often think of her when I am at the keyboard, especially whenever I am playing Chopin. Which is often, sometimes daily.

I know she had a favorite Chopin piece. Probably because it was a favorite of mine, and I could play it for her pretty well. And without fail, she was proud and pleased.

That’s how Moms are.

And so in memory of all the pleasure she gave me through music, and all the caring she lavished on me in so many ways, I am posting a performance that set the standard for both me and her.

It is one of the greatest pieces by a great composer and played by a great pianist and great musician.

Here in a YouTube video is Chopin’s soulful Waltz in C-sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2, played by Arthur Rubinstein, first in an older recording and then in one, with music to follow, that is closer to the version we heard together.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

I loved you then. I love you still. I will always love you and never forget you.

 


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