The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why am I turning off Wisconsin Public Radio more often? Too many second-rate composers and works? Too much harp music? Too many ads and promos? What do you think? Plus, UW baritone Paul Rowe sings Baroque cantatas this Sunday afternoon.

September 20, 2013

REMINDER: In a FREE concert this Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison baritone Paul Rowe (below) will perform a promising and appealing concert of cantatas for solo voice and instruments composed between 1600 and 1720. Performers include John Chappell Stowe, harpsichordist and organist; Eric Miller, cellist and viola da gambist; and Alice Bartsch and Madlen Horsch Breckbill, violinists.

The program includes: Small Sacred Concertos by: Ludovico da Viadana (1564-1645) “Salve, Regina” and “Cantemus Domino” from Cento concerti ecclesiastici (1602); Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672), “Ich liege und schlafe,” SWV 310 from “Kleine Geistliche Konzerte,” Op.9 (1639); Secular Cantatas by: Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764): “Thetis” (1718); George Frideric Handel (1685-1759): “Cuopre tal volta il cielo” (circa 1708); and J. S. Bach (1685-1750): “Amore traditore,: BWV 203 (circa 1720).

Paul Rowe

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s a Friday morning as I am writing this.

And I just turned off “Morning Classics” on Wisconsin Public Radio.


WPR Logo

That saddens and disappoints me because I have long loved and listened to WPR, and I almost always write as a close friend rather than a critic. The WPR people I know and have met, from director Mike Crane to many of the show hosts, are all fine, intelligent and sensitive people.

But lately I find myself turning off Wisconsin Public Radio more than I ever have before.

Why is that? I began to wonder.

Some of it has to do with recent schedule changes.

Today is Friday and since a few weeks ago that means the 9-11 a.m. Morning Classics slot will feature the weekly Classics By Request show.


Requests used to be on Saturday morning. That was a great slot in which smaller excerpts of usually well-known works set up the longer, often lesser well-known opera broadcasts. It also allowed children and students to listen to snippets of tried-and-true masterpieces.

True, the morning show’s new host Ruthanne Bessman (below) still seeks out requests from kids. But does anyone want to bet that most of the children are in school when the requests get played on Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.?

Sorry, like some other good and loyal WPR friends I know, I turn it off.

Ruthanne Bessman WPR

Then too I find that WPR is programming too much harp music these days, mostly in the morning but not exclusively. I mean, I like the harp probably as much as anyone — excepting harp players of course. But I the harp in its place, which is usually as an ensemble instrument with an orchestra or smaller chamber group, where it can add a distinctive texture and tone.

But I am hearing too many solo works for harp and too many goofy and thoroughy forgettable harp pieces, especially arrangements. One recent offering was J.S. Bach’s keyboard “Italian Concerto” arranged for Harp Ensemble. That is misusing such a fine member of the family of “brunch instruments.” Kind of like an arrangement I recently heard of Tomaso Albinoni’s famous Adagio for Strings and Organ that used the flute, played by the famous James Galway, to suck all the pathos out of the piece.

It turned the profound into the pleasant.

So once again I turned the radio off.


Maybe audience surveys and focus groups tell WPR executives that the public likes the harp and other members of the “brunch instrument” family that much. But I don’t. Do you?

It all makes me miss the former morning host Anders Yocom (below top), who used to play what he called “The Minimum Daily Requirement” of Bach (below bottom) every morning. And who else but Bach – serious Bach – can meet that daily requirement? Yocom also usually featured big and beefy concertos and symphonies and sublime chamber music .

I mean the kind of music I want to hear mostly is the kind of music you don’t want to live without.

It is the kind of music that led the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to proclaim” “Life without music would be a mistake.”

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill


WPR also seems to be airing more ads and acknowledgements, more teasers and promos, more fundraising appeals and mentions of corporate sponsors, than it used to. I suppose it needs to. But it seems to becoming more like the same mainstream commercial networks that it was originally designed to be an alternative to.

I realize that it is not easy being in public radio these days, when conservatives refuse to recognize their outstanding merits and want to defund PBS and NPR, and when competition for money is so fierce.

But still.

It also doesn’t help that some of the programmers and hosts seem more interested in airing rarities than in disseminating great and inspiring music that gets the pulse going and proves compelling or irresistible. Maybe these programmers know the masterpieces too well, but the rest of us like to hear great and music – not just obscure pieces and neglected composers that interest more than inspire.

So I would urge programmers and hosts to alternate the great and the obscure, and to keep the non-specialist listeners in mind. Some Bax is fine; but lots more Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, to say say nothing of lots more Handel and Vivaldi and Haydn and Mozart and Schubert and Chopin and Schumann and Dvorak and Tchaikovksy and Debussy and Ravel and Stravinsky and Prokofiev and Shostakovich and on and on — is even better.

But then again maybe all this carping comes back to me — to my own taste or personal preferences. So I want to know:

Does anyone out there share my concerns about Wisconsin Public Radio? Or do you think I am totally off-base?

the ear

While you consider the question, I think I’ll go to my library to pick out a CD to play instead of listening to the Classics By Request show.

Then I will try turning WPR back on again – and hope I don’t end up once again turning it off until the news comes on.

What do you think of Wisconsin Public Radio, and of its new schedules changes and the music it plays?

Leave something in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Here is the impressive lineup of concerts for the 2013-14 season at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. Today is the Semester I; tomorrow is the second semester.

July 22, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

It is only mid-July and Kathy Esposito, the concert manager and director of public relations at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, is on the job.

Kathy has sent The Ear the copy for the UW School of Music’s new brochure with the dates and artists for the impressive lineup of concerts during the upcoming 2013-2014 season. The brochures themselves will be ready in August.

You will notice that a lot of artists and groups have still not submitted programs. But whatever is available right now is here.

So get out your datebooks and start checking for conflicts and penciling in your favorites.

The list is long, so the first semester – the Fall Semester — is featured today; the second semester – the Spring semester — will be featured tomorrow.

Here is Kathy’s introduction:

Hello all,

Attached herewith is our 2013-14 season schedule, which is in the end stages of design and will be printed and mailed this August. I wanted to give you a heads-up, for obvious reasons.

You’ll notice a slew of very interesting concerts. We will feature several highly successful UW alumni, including conductor Ken Woods (below, now working in England); Nate Stampley, Broadway singer; Chris Washburne, a trombonist now based in NYC; and Ilia Radoslavov, a pianist now at Truman State University


Other guests include Todd Reynolds, a violinist from NYC, Taiseer Elias & Menachem Wiesenberg (presenting classical Arabic and Israeli music), duoARtia (the piano duo of Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi & Holly Roadfeldt), and Third Coast Percussion of Chicago.

Our tuba professor and SOM director John Stevens (below top) is retiring this year, and he will conduct Chicago Symphony Oecgestra’s Gene Pokorny in the work that Stevens wrote for CSO, some years ago. Opera director Bill Farlow (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) will also retire, and will present Hector Berlioz’ “Beatrice et Benedict” in his final appearance as director.

john stevens with tuba 1


We also have much in the way of more contemporary music, both new classical and electro-acoustic, plus many masterclasses and talks that are open to the public. There’s a lot of experimentation happening all the time at the UW School of Music (SOM).

Best of all: concerts are free – unless otherwise noted with a $$. 


Annual Karp Family Opening Concert

Mon 2, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

Featuring Isabel & Ariana Karp, narrators; Suzanne Beia, violin; Katrin Talbot, viola; Ariana Karp, cello; Parry Karp, cello; Christopher Karp, piano; Howard & Frances Karp, pianos

Music of Handel, Harbison, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn.

Karp Family in color

Les Thimmig, “The Feldman Trios” Part 1 Faculty Concert

Sun 15, Mills Hall, 1 pm

Prof. Les Thimmig, flutes; Jennifer Hedstrom, keyboards; Sean Kleve, percussion

Three lecture-performances of the late-period work of American composer Morton Feldman; subsequent concerts on Oct 27 and Feb 2.

School of Music Annual Alumni Recital

Sun 15, Morphy Hall, 3:30 pm

Alex Weaver, horn; Michael Mixtacki, percussion; Kristine Rominski, flute; & others

The Center for New Music, University of Iowa Guest Artist

Sat 21, Mills Hall, 8 pm

Performances devoted to late 20th and early 21st-century repertoire.

Paul Rowe, baritone Faculty Concert

Sun 22, Mills Hall, 2 pm

Baroque cantatas for strings, voice, and continuo, featuring works by J.S. Bach, J. Ph. Rameau, Heinrich Schutz, and G.F. Handel.

Paul Rowe

Nate Stampley Guest Artist & UW-Madison School of Music Alumnus

Concert: Sun 22, Mills Hall, 5 pm

Masterclass: Mon 23, Music Hall, 1:15-3:15 pm

Broadway singer and 2008 School of Music alumnus Nate Stampley (below) will return to Madison to perform a free concert of show tunes from recent productions. Stampley, who studied with voice professor Mimmi Fulmer, will star this fall as Porgy in a national Broadway tour of “Porgy and Bess.” Stampley has also appeared on Broadway as Mufasa in “The Lion King” and in many other roles in New York, London, Chicago, and other cities.

MJS Nathaniel Stampley.jpg stampley

Black Music Ensemble

Thurs 26, Morphy Hall, 8:30 pm

Richard Davis, director

An eclectic group of musicians exploring repertoire of black composers.

richard davis playing

UW Symphony Orchestra

Sun 29, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

James Smith, conductor

Featuring Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, in celebration of the work’s 100th anniversary.



UW Chamber Orchestra

Tues 1, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

James Smith, conductor

Pro Arte Quartet UW Ensemble in Residence

Thurs 3, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

David Perry & Suzanne Beia, violin; Sally Chisholm, viola; Parry Karp, cello

Music of Mozart, Kreisler, and Brahms.


UW Wind Ensemble

Fri 4, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

Scott Teeple, conductor

Third Coast Percussion Guest Artist

Concert: Wed 9, 7:30, Mills Hall

Owen Clayton Condon, Fractalia

Steve Reich, Mallet Quartet

John Cage, Third Construction

Augusta Read Thomas, Resounding Earth (commissioned work)

Masterclasses on Western percussion music & the commissioning process: TBA

Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion (below) explores and expands the extraordinary sonic possibilities of percussion repertoire through performances, teaching, and the creation of new works. Founded in 2005, Third Coast Percussion has performed hundreds of concerts across the country, teaches musicians of all ages and experience levels, and has commissioned dozens of new works.

Third Coast pPercussion

Noa Kageyama: Performance Psychologist Guest Artist

Workshops: Wed/Thurs 9/10, Morphy Hall, 7-9 pm

Keynote Address: “Performance Skills of Top Performers,” Thurs 10, 12-1 pm, Mills Hall

Dr. Noa Kageyama (below) is on the faculty of The Juilliard School and is the performance psychology coach for the New World Symphony in Miami. He specializes in working with performing artists and teaching them how to utilize sport psychology principles and more consistently demonstrate their full abilities under pressure.

Noa Kageyama


UW Wind Ensemble

Fri 11, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

Scott Teeple, conductor

Presenting “Collage,” an hour of non-stop performances showcasing a variety of musical ensembles and styles from within the UW-Madison arts disciplines.

Scott Teeple

Wisconsin Brass Quintet UW Ensemble in Residence

Sat 12, Mills Hall, 8 pm

John Aley & Jessica Jensen, trumpets; Dan Grabois, horn; Mark Hetzler, trombone; John Stevens, tuba

Music of Peaslee, Sampson, Scheidt, and others.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet Cr Katrin Talbot

UW Concert Band

Sun 13, Mills Hall, 2 pm

Scott Teeple, director

UW University Bands

Sun 13, Mills Hall, 4 pm

Matthew Mireles, conductor

John C. Stowe, harpsichord Faculty Concert

Sun 13, Morphy Hall, 7:30 pm

UW Choral Collage

Sat 19, Mills Hall, 4 pm

Beverly Taylor, director

James Doing, tenor Faculty Concert

Sat 19, Mills Hall, 8 pm

With Martha Fischer, piano


Michael Norsworthy, clarinet Guest Artist

Sun 20, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

With David Gompper, piano (University of Iowa Center for New Music)

Music of Bermel, Beaser, Schwantner, Epstein, Foss and Gompper.

Michael Norsworthy (below), professor of clarinet at the Boston Conservatory, is one of the most celebrated champions of the modern repertoire, having premiered over 125 new works with leading contemporary music groups.

Michael Norsworthy clarinet

Javier Calderon, guitar Faculty Concert

Thurs 24, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

University Opera & UW Chamber Orchestra $$

Fri 25, 7:30 pm / Sun 27, 3 pm / Tues 29, 7:30 pm, Music Hall

William Farlow, opera director

James Smith, orchestra director

George Frideric Handel, “Ariodante”

Call (608) 265-ARTS (2787) for ticket info.

Mark Hetzler, trombone (below) & Martha Fischer, piano Faculty Concert

Sat 26, Mills Hall, 6:30 pm

“Meditations and Visions: The Music of Anthony Plog and Anthony Barfield”: Two modern works that feature lyricism and technical virtuosity in a rich romantic language.

Mark Hetzler 2011 BIG COLOR Katrin Talbot

Les Thimmig, “The Feldman Trios” Part II Faculty Concert

Sun 27, Mills Hall, 1 pm

Les Thimmig, flutes; Jennifer Hedstrom, keyboards; Sean Kleve, percussion

Three lecture-performances of the late-period work of American composer Morton Feldman. Next concert Feb 2.

Parry Karp, cello Faculty Concert

Sun 27, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

Thomas Kasdorf, piano; Suzanne Beia, violin; Parry Karp, cello

Piano trio recital.

Parry Karp 

Michelle Stanley, flute, with cellist Yoriko Morita Guest Artists

Concert: Mon 28, Morphy Hall, 7:30 pm

Masterclass on flute performance: Mon 28

Music of Lonnie Hevia and Cherise Leiter.

Michelle Stanley is assistant professor of music at Colorado State University and Yoriko Morita is an active cellist in the Boulder/Denver area.


UW Symphony Orchestra with guest violinist Rachel Barton Pine  $$

Conducted by Kenneth Woods, UW-Madison School of Music alumnus

Concert: Sat 2, Mills Hall, 8:00 pm

Johannes Brahms, Violin Concerto

Part of the Wisconsin Union Theater Concert Series. Tickets $25 general public, $10 students. Call (608) 265-ARTS (2787) for ticket info.

Chicago native Rachel Barton Pine (below) was a child prodigy who had her earliest appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 10 and 15 and won numerous national and international competitions while still in her teens. The youngest person (at age 17) and first American to win a gold medal at the prestigious 1992 J.S. Bach International Competition in Leipzig, Germany, she also has won top prizes in many international competitions. Rachel Barton Pine also performs rock and heavy metal music with her band Earthen Grave and has jammed with the likes of Slash, Guns N’ Roses, and other rock and metal stars.

Author, conductor, and cellist Kenneth Woods has worked with many orchestras including the National Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Budapest Festival Orchestra, and the State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra. In 2013, he takes up a new position as Artistic Director and conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra’s subscription concerts. In 1993, Ken Woods received a master’s degree in music from UW-Madison; he is also an alumnus of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Rachel Barton Pine

UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble

Tues 5, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

Laura Schwendinger, director

CCE continues its mission to present the music of living composers. This year’s featured composers include Kathryn Alexander, Suzanne Sorkin, and David Gompper.

UW Chamber Winds

Wed 6, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

Scott Teeple, conductor

Jeff Hirshfield, percussionist Guest Artist

Concert with Johannes Wallmann Quartet: Wed 6, Morphy Hall, 7:30 pm

Concert with UW Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble, Contemporary Jazz Ensemble, and Jazz Composers’ Septet: Thurs 7, Morphy Hall, 7:30 pm

Masterclasses on percussion: Wed/Thurs 6/7

Among the most versatile and in-demand sidemen in jazz, New York City-based Jeff Hirshfield has appeared on over 300 albums. His performance and recording credits include Woody Herman, Jim Hall, Kenny Wheeler, John Abercrombie, Dr. John, Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, John Zorn, Bob Brookmeyer, and many others. The Toronto Star called Hirshfield “a drummer with endless capacity for innovation.”

Combined Concert: UW Concert Choir & UW Chorale

Fri 8, Mills Hall, 8 pm

Beverly Taylor, director

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot 

Parry Karp, cello Faculty Concert

Sat 9, Mills Hall, 8 pm

With Howard & Frances Karp, piano

Music of Schumann, Tournemire, Brahms, Kirchner, and Beethoven.

Guitar Ensemble

Wed 13, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

Javier Calderon, director

Javier Calderon Talbot

UW Black Music Ensemble

Thurs 14, Morphy Hall, 8:30 pm

Richard Davis, director

An eclectic group of musicians exploring repertoire of black composers.

Marc Vallon, bassoon Faculty Concert

Fri 15, Morphy Hall, 8 pm

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

UW Madrigal Singers

Sat 16, Mills Hall, 8 pm

Bruce Gladstone, director

Chris Washburne, trombonist & UW-Madison School of Music alumnus, with UW Jazz Orchestra Guest Artist

Concert: Sat 16, 8 pm, Music Hall

Masterclasses on music entrepreneurship, improvisation, and artistry: Fri/Sat 15/16

Presenting Latin jazz mixed with funk, hip-hop, gospel, and house.

Now a leading New York freelancer, Chris Washburne (below) received his bachelor’s degree in music from UW in 1986, studying with Richard Davis, Les Thimmig,  and Bill Richardson. He is now Associate Professor of Music and Director of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance program at Columbia University. His book Sounding Salsa was published in 2008 by Temple University Press.

Chris Washburne

UW Women’s Chorus & University Chorus

Sun 17, Mills Hall, 4 pm

Beverly Taylor, director

duoARtia Guest Artists

Mon 18, Morphy Hall, 7:30 pm

duoARtia is the piano duo of Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi (below top) and Holly Roadfeldt (below bottom)

Works of Bela Bartok, Witold Lutoslawski, UW-Madison composer Joseph Koykkar, James Leatherbarrow, Ed Martin, Kirk O’Riordan, Rob Paterson, Jamie Wilding, and Yehuda Yannay.

Astolfi is currently a member of the music faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and Roadfeldt is currently teaching at Lafayette College, has a private studio in New York City and serves as piano faculty with distinction at The Music School of Delaware.

Jeri-Mae Astolfi of duoARtia

holly Roadfedlt of duo ARtia

UW Concert Band

Mon 18, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

Scott Teeple, director

2$ Broom: The UW-Madison Electro-Acoustic Ensemble

Tues 19, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm
Daniel Grabois & Mark Hetzler, directors

Student performers, composers, improvisers, and engineers will present new music in both acoustic and electronic settings.

Wingra Woodwind Quartet UW Ensemble in Residence

Thurs 21, Morphy Hall, 7:30 pm

Stephanie Jutt, flute; Kostas Tiliakos, oboe (replacing Marc Fink on far right); Linda Bartley, clarinet; Marc Vallon, bassoon; Linda Kimball, horn


Pro Arte Quartet UW Ensemble in Residence

David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violin; Sally Chisholm, viola; Parry Karp, cello

With guest artist Samuel Rhodes, violist, Juilliard Quartet

Fri 22, Mills Hall, 8 pm

Presenting the Bruckner Viola Quintet and the world premiere of the Benoit Mernier Quartet.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

UW Choral Union & UW Symphony Orchestra  $$

Sat 23, 8 pm / Sun 24, 2 pm, Mills Hall

Beverly Taylor, conductor

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Dona Nobis Pacem

Felix Mendelssohn, Die erste Walpurgisnacht

Call (608) 265-ARTS (2787) for ticket info.

Choral Union Kyr James Doing

Winds of Wisconsin

Sun 24, Mills Hall, 6 pm

Scott Teeple, director

A premier high school wind ensemble on the UW-Madison campus.

UW Trombone Choir

Mon 25, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

Mark Hetzler, director

Opera Workshop

Tues 26, Music Hall, 7:30 pm

William Farlow & Mimmi Fulmer, directors

UW Western Percussion Ensemble

Tues 26, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

Anthony Di Sanza & Tom Ross, directors


UW Early Music Ensemble

Tues 3, Morphy Hall, 8:30 pm

UW Jazz Orchestra & The Sun Prairie High School Big Band

Wed 4, Music Hall, 7:30 pm

Johannes Wallmann & Steve Sveum, directors

Blue Note Ensemble, Jazz Composers’ Septet, & Contemporary Jazz Ensemble

Thurs 5, Morphy Hall, 7:30 pm

Johannes Wallmann & Les Thimmig, directors

UW Wind Ensemble

Fri 6, Mills Hall, 8 pm

Featuring Joel Puckett, composer in residence.

Scott Teeple, director

UW World Percussion Ensemble

Sat 7, Morphy Hall, 12 pm

Todd Hammes & Tom Ross, directors

UW All-University String Orchestra

Sat 7, Mills Hall, 4 pm

Janet Jensen, director

UW Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble

Sat 7, Mills Hall, 8 pm

John Stevens, director

UW University Bands

Sun 8, Mills Hall, 2 pm

Matthew Mireles, conductor

UW “Prism” Concert

Sun 8, Luther Memorial Church, 2 & 4 pm

Concert Choir, Chorale, Women’s Chorus, Madrigal Singers, & University Chorus

Beverly Taylor and Bruce Gladstone, conductors

luther memorial church madison

UW Chamber Orchestra

Sun 8, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

James Smith, conductor

UW Chamber Orchestra low res 

UW Master Singers

Mon 9, Mills Hall, 7:30 pm

Classical music: On Oscar weekend, The Ear asks: How realistic are the “quartet” films – “A Late Quartet” and “Quartet” – in dealing with classical music and the lives of classical musicians? Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times offers his level-headed assessment. Plus Steven Bryant’s Concerto for Wind Ensemble gets its Wisconsin premiere tonight at 8.

February 23, 2013

ALERT: Just a reminder that a Wisconsin premiere takes place tonight — for FREE and with   composer Steven Bryant ( below) present — at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below) and the UW Wind Ensemble. Here are some links: and

Steven Bryant 2

By Jacob Stockinger

It is Oscar weekend.

On this Sunday night at 6 p.m. CST on the ABC TV network, the Beautiful People, in their Beautiful Gowns and Beautiful Jewelry, will line up to collect the gold-plated statuettes knows as The Oscars.

It is the Academy Awards, and after a record-breaking box office year at the cinemas, it should be interesting to see who takes home an Oscar.

Here is a link to all the nominees in the many categories:

YL Oscar foods statue

Curiously, this has been a terrific year for classical music in the movies. That comes as something of a pleasant surprise, given how much negative coverage is written about the declining state of classical music today.

The film “A Late Quartet” stars (below and from left) Mark Ivanir, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener. It examines the individual lives and collective life of a string quartet. I really liked it, despite some awkward moments. And it centers on the late Op. 131 String Quartet in C-sharp minor by Beethoven. That is the same sublime work of chamber music that a dying Franz Schubert asked to hear played.

A Late Quartet frontal

Then legendary actor Dustin Hoffman (below) made his directing debut in “Quartet,” about retired opera singers and instrumentalists living in a retirement home for musicians in England. This romantic comedy starred Maggie Smith, she of “Downton Abbey” fame right now, and was a lot of fun to watch and listen to. (“Quartet” is still playing the Point Cinemas on Madison’s far west side.)

dustin hoffman directing

“Quartet” stars (below and from the left, in a photo by Kerry Brown for the Weinstein Company) Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins. It features opera music and chamber music by Haydn, Rossini, Puccini and others,  but the film centers on a quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” plays an especially pivotal role.


And the shattering, much nominated film “Amour,” by Michael Haneke, featured the story of the decline and death of a piano teacher. (Haneke also directed the unsettling film “The Piano Teacher” several years ago, and seems to have something with pianos and pianists.)

“Amour” (with screen vetefans Jean-Louis Trintignant (below top) and Emmanuelle Riva (below bottom) is playing in Madison at the Sundance Cinemas at Hilldale.

Amour Jean-Louis Trintignant

amour emmanuelle riva

It also uses piano music of Bach-Busoni, Beethoven and Schubert (below bottom), played by the young and wonderful French pianist Alexandre Tharaud (below bottom), who is best known for his playing of Baroque music (Francois Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti ) on the modern piano although he has also recorded Chopin, Ravel, Satie and others. His playing is a model of clarity and fluidity.

Alexandre Tharaud  Marco Borggreve Virgin Classics

Anyway, I have heard somewhat mixed reactions to the various films, although the shattering “Amour,” comes the closest to being unanimous in the acclaim it has received and it is up for several Oscars, including Best Picture.

As for the two “Quartet” films: a very perceptive and understanding appreciation was published several weeks ago by Anthony Tommasini (below), the senior music critic for the New York Times.


Here is a link:

What do you think about the resurgence of classical music in the films, as both plot and soundtracks?

And what do you think of the films and of Tommasini’s take on them?

The Ear wants to hear.

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