The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Should the Madison Symphony Orchestra return to a traditional Opening Gala concert with a guest soloist and big pieces, and move the all-orchestra concert to a later date?

October 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

You can’t blame longtime music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) for wanting to put the spotlight on the players of the Madison Symphony Orchestra that he has built up over nearly 25 years.

After all, the orchestra members play well and respond superbly to DeMain’s direction, no matter what you might think of his programming and interpretations. He is proud of them with good reason.

So The Ear can easily understand why for the past few years DeMain has chosen to use an all-orchestra concert, with its principals taking the place of guest soloists, to open the season.

Yet DeMain also likes to emphasize the challenges he faces in selling tickets, filling seats and keeping the MSO a commercially successful orchestra.

The Ear noticed that this year, the all-orchestra opening concert of works by Bach-Stokowski, Mendelssohn and Berlioz, with principal violist Christopher Dozoryst as soloist, seemed to draw a smaller and less enthusiastic audience than the second concert did last weekend.

That second concert included the “Mother Goose” Suite by Ravel, the surefire “New World” Symphony by Dvorak and the Piano Concerto by Samuel Barber with guest pianist Olga Kern (below). The audience wildly cheered her and her flashy, virtuosic playing until it received an encore (the Prokofiev etude heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So the question came to The Ear:

Should the MSO return to a traditional Gala Opening, with a surefire program and a high-profile guest soloist, and leave the all-orchestra concert until the second concert of the season?

The Ear checked out what other orchestras do.

This year, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra opened with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. The Los Angeles Philharmonic opened with a gala program that featured pianists Yuja Wang and Jean-Yves Thibaudet teaming up in an all-Mozart program. The San Francisco Orchestra featured superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

The Philadelphia Orchestra programmed pianist Emanuel Ax and the music of Beethoven, Brahms and Leonard Bernstein, whose centennial is being celebrated this season. The Boston Symphony Orchestra opened with Frederica von Stade, plus other singers, in an all-Bernstein program.

True, the Sheboygan Symphony also used the all-orchestra opener, and The Ear is sure there are many other orchestras, including some prominent ones, that do the same.

But it got The Ear to wondering. So he asked some other loyal MSO fans what they thought about returning to a traditional Gala Opening – one that announces to potential subscribers that great soloists will be featured during the season – and then moving the all-orchestra concert to a different date.

All the people he spoke to agreed that such a move would probably draw bigger audiences and capture the public’s attention better. One loyal patron even said that by going to the all-orchestra opening, the MSO (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) was “just being cheap.”

Plans are probably already being made for next season, so it is likely too late to make any changes that soon.

But what about the 2018-19 season?

What do you think?

Should the Madison Symphony Orchestra return to a traditional Gala Opening that features big-name soloists and well-known pieces?

Should it move the all-orchestra concert with principal soloists to, say, the second concert of the season?

Or should things stay the way they are?

Which way do you think would be more commercially successful and sell more seats for that concert and for the rest of the season?

And which way would be more artistically satisfying?

The Ear wants to hear.


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

September 16, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

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

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

Here is a link:

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

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

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

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

Happy listening!


Classical music: Pianist Aldo Ciccolini, who popularized the music of Erik Satie, is dead at 89.

February 7, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Did I come to know the pianist Aldo Ciccolini through the music of Erik Satie?

Or did I come to know the music of Erik Satie through the playing of pianist Aldo Ciccolini (below in his later years)?

Aldo Ciccolini old

It says something to me – something very Sixties and very dear – that the two were, and remain, inextricable for me. (Once discovered, the more soulful music of Erik Satie (below) even found its way into popular culture and rock music through groups like ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears.”)

And the public’s taste for Satie continues. Satie, as played by Pascal Roge, was recently featured on the soundtrack to the documentary film “Man on Wire,” about Philippe Petit and his historic tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in New York City.)

Erik Satie

And maybe it was that way for you too.

Last Saturday night, Aldo Ciccolini, a prize-winning concert pianist, a prolific recording artist and a renowned teacher whose students included Jacques-Yves Thibaudet, died in his sleep at the age of 89.

There is not much for The Ear to say except that Ciccolini did for me what the greatest artists do: Use beauty to hijack me from the ordinary world and elevate me in an unforgettable way.

I am pretty sure that I and many others did not know the beautiful, graceful and contemplative “Trois Gymnopedies” until the young and handsome Ciccolini’s perfectly paced recordings of those pieces, and of Satie’s complete works, received worldwide circulation and acclaim.

Perhaps the same goes for the music of Camille Saint-Saens, another of Ciccolini’s specialties.

aldo ciccolini young

Ciccolini was Italian, but he had an uncanny flair for French music, which remains under-appreciated even today — including the music of Francois Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Gabriel Faure — even if the works of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy have fared much better.

I think Ciccolini understood that special French hybrid of clarity and mystery, of rationality and passion, of Descartes and Baudelaire. (You can hear Ciccolini’s incomparable playing of Satie in a popular YouTube video at the bottom which has a lot of reader comments.)

Anyway, here are three obituaries with lots of great background information.

From NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/02/02/383253499/aldo-ciccolini-an-italian-pianist-with-a-french-soul

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/arts/music/aldo-ciccolini-dies-at-89-pianist-interpreted-satie.html?_r=0

From the BBC:

http://www.classical-music.com/news/aldo-ciccolini-1925-2015

 

 


Classical music Q&A: American pianist Bryan Wallick talks about his synesthesia and about his season-opening concert this Friday with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell.

October 8, 2013
3 Comments

REMINDER: Do you suffer from stage fright or at least get nervous before a performance? Meet Noa Kageyama (below), a performance psychologist who teaches at the Juilliard School of Music. He will be in Madison at the University of Wisconsin on this Wednesday and Thursday to give free public talks and workshops. Here is his schedule and an illuminating Q&A with him by Kathy Esposito on the UW School of Music’s new blog “Fanfare”:
http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/kageyama/

Noa Kageyama

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday evening at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will open its new season with the piano soloist Bryan Wallick making his local debut.

WCO lobby

The program includes “Young Apollo” by Benjamin Britten, to celebrate the centennial of the birth of the most famous 20th-century English composer (below).

Benjamin Britten

Also on the program are two famous Fifths: the Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”) by Camille Saint-Saens and the ever-powerful Symphony No. 5 in C minor by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Single tickets are $15 to $67, and season subscriptions are still available.

For more information, visit: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/68/event-info/

Pianist Bryan Wallick – who is known for his synesthesia – recent gave an email interview to the Ear in which he discussed his special gift of synesthesia as well as his career and the music of Saint-Saens:

Bryan Wallick mug

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

I grew up in Hamilton, Ohio, a small town outside of Cincinnati.  I began playing at the age of 4 and got quite serious about playing when I was about 13. I changed teachers to a couple of professors and duo-pianists at the University of Cincinnati (Eugene and Elizabeth Pridonoff, below) and they prepared me to go to The Juilliard School when I finished high school. The biggest competition I won was the Vladimir Horowitz International Piano Competition in Kiev, Ukraine.

Elizabeth and Eugene Pridonoff

I understand you have synesthesia, or the mixing or blending of the senses. Can you tell us specifically what that means for you and your playing, and for the listener?

In my experience, I see a color with each different notes (12 different notes and 12 different colors).  For example, E is green, C is white, G is red, etc.

synesthesia numbers, letters, colors

It’s a peripheral experience in my mind’s eye as I play, and it probably helps a little with memory retention as I have some another association (color) with the notes.

It doesn’t really have any impact on the audience, except in the case where I was given a grant by the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in Arizona to create a program that displayed some pictures depicting an approximate version of what I see in my mind when I play.

Bryan Wallick at piano

What do think about the role of Camille Saint-Saens (below) in music history? Is he too overlooked, neglected or underestimated? What do you think about the Piano Concerto No. 5 (performed by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in a popular YouTube video at the bottom) and how it compares to his other piano concertos as well as those of the standard repertoire?

Saint-Saens’ role in music history is enigmatic.  He was recognized as a genius prodigy from a very early age like Mozart and Mendelssohn, and he was also a virtuoso pianist who supposedly had fantastic fingers (which features prominently in most his piano works).

He lived a long life and his career and reputation changed perception a few times.  Early in his 30s he was criticized for championing the then “new” music of Liszt and Berlioz, but toward the end of his life in the early 20th century, he was fighting against the music of Debussy and most of the trends that took hold in modern music.

He knew his own music could lean toward the “sentimental” side, and even the famous “Carnival of the Animals” was only published after his death as he knew this kind of music could hurt his reputation in more “serious” circles.

I love his music, even the sentimental pieces, and this particular piano concerto has the best of Saint-Saens musical elements contained within it. The “Egyptian” element is felt mostly in the second movement where he uses oriental scales and some unusual harmonies to depict his “Egyptian” characteristics. It’s a very exciting and virtuosic work.

Camille Saint-Saens

What do you know of Madison and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its music director/conductor Andrew Sewell (below). Will this be your Madison or Wisconsin?

I met Andrew in Oregon a few years ago when we were both performing out there.  We got on really well, and I was lucky enough for him to engage me to come and open this season with the orchestra. This will be my first time to play in Madison.

andrewsewell

Was there an Aha! Moment — a work or composer, a performance or performer– that made you want to be a professional concert pianist?

Perhaps, when I was about 12, I played in a master class of the teachers who then soon after I began to study with. The way they were able to bring music to life in a completely new and exciting way inspired me to want to practice and be able to create music and beauty the way they could.

What advice do you have for young music students, especially pianists?

I would say that one should not go into music unless that is really all they could see themselves doing one day. It is a very difficult career, with lots of bumps and bruises to the ego, but once the hard work is accomplished and one can turn a phrase 15 different ways, its such a joy to create, experiment, and play this instrument.

Many students miss the fun and joy of performing as they are so worried about playing “correctly” and I also had to deal with this in my own way. But the more I take chances with ideas and with sound, the more fun and inspiring the music becomes.

BATC2 Chuang student 2

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

I can’t wait to perform in Madison next week!


Classical music reviews: Critics call New Year’s Eve concerts successes. PBS’ all-American program of Gershwin and Bernstein by the New York Philharmonic gets a rave, and so does the Metropolitan Opera’s “new” Baroque work “The Enchanted Island.”

January 3, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, if you weren’t out dining and dancing, or making merry at some party somewhere, the chances are pretty good that you spent New Year’s Eve at home.

And if you did that the chances are pretty good, especially if you are a classical music fan, that earlier in the evening you watched the New Year’s Eve festive all-American concert of music by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein given by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet under the baton of the orchestra’s music director Alan Gilbert (below).

The Ear saw and heard much of the concert that sold-out Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center and also reached millions of viewers via PBS’ award-winning “Live From Lincoln Center” series that is produced by UW-Madison alumnus John Goberman.

I could write up what I most liked about it. (Thibaudet’s sloppy dress and disheveled tuxedo, below, for the “Rhapsody in Blue” finale was really the only thing I didn’t like.) But New York Times critic Alan Kozinn did a pretty good job of that.

So I direct you to his review and his analysis of how the Alan Gilbert Era seems to be putting its own American stamp of New Year’s Eve festivities in the Big Apple. I like the idea of ringing in the New Year by celebrating American music.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/arts/music/new-york-philharmonic-at-avery-fisher-hall-review.html?ref=allankozinn

That same night, the Metropolitan Opera also celebrated the coming of the new year with the world premiere of its scissors-and-paste baroque opera “The Enchanted Island” with an impressive cast that included superstar tenor Placido Domingo as Neptune (below) as well Danielle de Niese (at bottom), Joyce Di Donato and countertenor David Daniels.

But you will have to wait until the “Met Live in HD” broadcast on Saturday, Jan. 21, at 11:55 CDT at the Eastgate ad Point cinemas in Madison, to enjoy that production.

As we draw closer to that HD broadcast, I will post something with more details about the specially commissioned pastiche Baroque opera that uses music by Handel, Vivaldi, Purcell and Rameau among others and combines characters and plots taken from two Shakespeare plays (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest”).

But in the meantime here is Anthony Tommasini’s informative and entertaining rave review in the New York Times about the world premiere. It sounds like a MUST-HEAR to the Ear, though I doubt it will become a new year’s institution the way the other concerts or events less difficult to produce might.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/arts/music/the-enchanted-island-at-the-metropolitan-opera-review.html?ref=anthonytommasini

And here is another positive review:

http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city/reviews/01-2012/the-enchanted-island_47300.html

And here is a third, one that uses the word “triumph”:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/howard-kissel/the-enchanted-island_b_1179007.html

We call all judge how just it is and whether we agree with it when we finally get to see and hear this engaging novelty production nearer the end of the month.


Classical music news: They were silenced too soon. Here are prominent deaths in the classical music world in 2011. Plus PBS offers a live broadcast tonight of a New Year’s Eve concert of music by Gershwin and Bernstein.

December 31, 2011
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AN ALERT: Just a reminder than the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, all under the baton of Alan Gilbert, will perform an all-American concert of music by George Gershwin (below) and Leonard Bernstein TONIGHT — New Year’s Eve —  from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television. The live broadcast is part of PBS’ award-winning “Live From Lincoln Center” series that is produced by UW-Madison alumnus John Goberman. The program features the Piano Concerto in F and “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin plus Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide” and the Symphonic Dances From “West Side Story.” For more information, visit: http://www.pbs.org/programs/live-from-lincoln-center/

By Jacob Stockinger

The end of the year is always a time of mixed emotions.

We toast Cheers to a Happy New Year. Yet all the whole we are looking over our shoulder and behind us at what losses the past year brought us.

This past year did not strike me as a sad one for the number of deaths of prominent figures in the world of classical music so much as for the unexpectedness of so many of the deaths, which came to people who, by today’s standards, were too young to leave us and their profession or art.

The much heralded tenor Salvatore Licitra (below), who was frequently hailed as the successor to superstar Luciano Pavarotti but who died in a motorbike accident, is a prime example.

One senses that so many of these figures had much more to say and to add to their legacies, whether as performers or composers.

Here is a West Coast site with a photo gallery:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-et-art-notable-deaths-classical-music-dance-jazz-2011-pictures,0,4127772.photogallery

And here is another slide show from the East Coast. Be sure to read the Comments:

http://www.wqxr.org/#/blogs/wqxr-blog/2011/dec/26/memoriam-musicians-lost-2011/

And here is a list of mixed genres from NPR:

http://www.npr.org/2011/12/22/143974208/in-memoriam-musicians-we-lost-in-2011


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