The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Token Creek Festival splendidly captures the poignancy and intimacy of late Schubert through songs and smaller piano works

September 1, 2017
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival for this year is presenting three concert programs of what the directors consider “Necessary Music” — as MacArthur “genius,” Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and festival co-artistic director John Harbison (below) puts it, “We did not even know we needed it until it appears.”

Of the resulting concerts, the first, on last Saturdays night and Sunday afternoon, featured music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn, plus Harbison, suggesting their interaction.

The third program, to come on this coming Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. explores various works in waltz form, old and new. (For more information about the program and tickets, go to www.tokencreekfestival.org.)

And in between, on this past Wednesday night, came Franz Schubert. That was the concert I caught.

Three performers were involved.

To begin with, the two pianists, Ya-Fei Chuang (below foreground) and Alison D’Amato, played the slow movement from Schubert’s so-called “Grand Duo,” D. 812.

That full-length, four-movement work has been claimed by some commentators to be the surviving bit of Schubert’s supposed “Gastein” Symphony. It is splendid music in its own right, and I rather wished it had been played complete, especially with two such polished performers at hand. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Next, Chuang played the six pieces that constitute the collection known as the Moments Musicaux, D. 780. These pieces, mostly in ABA form, bring Schubert’s inherent lyricism into a range of moods that go far beyond mere entertainment. Chuang played them with deeply probing intensity.

The second half of the program was entirely devoted to Schubert’s final collection of Lieder, his Schwanengesang, or “Swan Song,” as the publisher titled it.

It is not a true cycle, but a gathering of 14 songs on which Schubert had been working in his last years, published after his death. One can, to be sure, find common themes among them of longing, loss, isolation, loneliness and apprehension — themes that preoccupied the composer at the end of his all-too-brief life.

The singer, Charles Blandy (below), joined D’Amato in a deeply involving performance. His lyric tenor voice is flexible, with particularly fine German diction and a capacity for subtle variations in the moods of the individual songs. The pianist was a sensitive partner whose careful support offered a musical dimension of its own. The texts and translations were provided to the audience, allowing full immersion in these songs.

All of this music came from Schubert’s later years, when the composer, knowing that he was soon to die, concentrated his thinking so poignantly.

In bypassing the larger of the final works, too, this program stressed personal intimacy and demonstrated that Schubert’s reflections on the human condition do, indeed, make his music “necessary.”

Advertisements

Classical music: Musicians need silence, says pianist Stephen Hough, who also praises the rise of artists and audiences for Western classical music in Asia

April 15, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Pianist Stephen Hough is rightly described as a polymath, a Renaissance Man who is a world-class performer, composer, painter, novelist and blogger.

Little wonder that Hough was the first musician to win a MacArthur Fellowship or “genius grant.”

The virtuosic Hough (below) wowed local audiences here a couple of months ago when he performed the dazzling Piano Concerto No. 5 “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saens with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Recently, he gave an interview in which he talked about the importance of silence to musicians.

Along the way, he also remarked on and lauded the “thrilling” rise of Western classical music – shown in audiences as well as the huge numbers and high quality of professional performing artists, amateurs and students – in Asia.

Hough also talked about the role of composing for performers, why it is a valuable skill and whether the performer-composer tradition is returning. (You can hear Stephen Hough perform his own Piano Sonata No. 3 “Trinitas” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear found Stephen Hough’s interview engaging and informative, and hopes you do too.

Here is a link:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carlos-gardels/musicians-silence-stephen-hough_b_9626456.html


Classical music: Let us now praise elderly audiences! Plus, the 14th annual FREE Opera in the Park is TONIGHT at 8 p.m.

July 25, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

When you start talking about audiences for classical music, almost inevitably the subject turns to: How can we attract younger audiences to live concerts?

Proposals range from making tickets cheaper and concerts shorter, stressing music education and community outreach, moving to informal concert venues like bars and coffeehouses, and programming more new music.

It is a good question to revisit today, when the 14th annual family-friendly Opera in the Park, put on by the Madison Opera at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on the far west side, takes place and will draw up to 15,000. Here is a link to a posting about the event with more details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/classical-music-on-the-eve-of-opera-in-the-park-madison-operas-general-director-kathryn-smith-recaps-the-last-season-and-previews-the-next/

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

But such a discussion about audiences usually runs the risk of almost always underestimating and even insulting the contribution of older audiences. (The Sunday afternoon crowd at the Madison Symphony Orchestra comes immediately to mind.)

Not that we should ever stop looking for ways to attract young people. But isn’t it maybe a little like asking: How can we attract more blue hairs to young punk band or rap concerts? Maybe we just need different music at different stages of our life.

In any case, let us not forget to praise the immense contribution of older people or to be grateful for them.

That is the welcome and long overdue message of British pianist-composer-painter and polymath MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” winner Stephen Hough (below), who has performed in Madison several times, in his blog for The Guardian.

Hough_Stephen_color16

Here is a link to his posting. Read it and see if you agree and leave a message in the COMMENT section:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100076555/our-wonderful-elderly-audiences/

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The New Yorker magazine opens up its on-line archives. You can read for FREE fascinating profiles of pianists Lang-Lang, Helene Grimaud and Jeremy Denk; of mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato; and of violinist Christian Tetzlaff. Follow these links on NPR.

August 16, 2014
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Two of the best sources for reading about classical music are NPR (National Public Radio) with its Deceptive Cadence blog; and The New Yorker magazine, which features Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Alex Ross (below) on its staff.

AlexRoss1

These days a lot of publications are figuring out how to “monetize” their websites and on-line stories since they are losing readers of printed editions.

Perhaps David Remnick, the reporter-turned-editor of the The New Yorker who has more than doubled the magazine’s circulation and inaugurated a series of best-selling books of story and cartoon collections, may have a new and unorthodox approach. He seems to be thinking “outside the box” and in reverse: Use the web to increase the profile, and profitability of the print edition.

That approach may mean opening up to FREE ACCESS some of the stories that will give people a taste of what they are missing if they do not subscribe to or regularly read the source.

Whatever the reasoning, The New Yorker has opened up its archives to classical music fans with five not-to-miss profiles and stories about high-profile musicians.

They include the Chinese phenomenon and superstar pianist Lang-Lang (below), who is often dismissed by critics as “Bang-Bang” for his Liberace-like flamboyance and unmusicality, but who remains the most sought-after classical pianist in the world. (At bottom, you can see and hear the opening of a BBC documentary about Lang Lang on YouTube.)

Lang Lang Liszt cover

Others include the American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is highly articulate about the world of singing and opera; the French woman and highly individualistic pianist Helene Grimaud, who aims for unusual interpretations; the German violinist Christian Tetzlaff, who is renowned for eschewing the customary path of virtuosity; and the famous essay on taking piano lessons “Every Good Boy Does Fine” by American pianist Jeremy Denk (below), who recently won a MacArthur  “genius grant”; who has performed recitals twice in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater; and who will be releasing a book-length volume of his essays and postings on his acclaimed blog “Think Denk” this fall.

Jeremy Denk, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

The weekend is a good chance to catch up on such reading. You will learn a lot if you read these stories.

And maybe you, like The Ear, will also become a loyal New Yorker reader. When it calls itself “the best magazine in the world,” it is not kidding.

That goes for politics, social trends, art and culture, and even poetry.

Here is a link, which also features some audio samples:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/12/339560307/read-these-while-theyre-still-free

 


Classical music: Pianist Jeremy Denk is named a MacArthur “genius.” Here is a sampler of his immense talent as displayed in concerts at the Wisconsin Union Theater, at NPR, in his blog “Think Denk” and on his latest Nonesuch recordings of Bach, Beethoven and Ligeti.

September 28, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As you may have already heard, classical pianist Jeremy Denk (below) received a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” this week. The stipend is $625,000 to be paid over five years and to be used for whatever the recipient wants, no string attached.

Here is a link to the MacArthur Foundation announcement (curiously, yet another year has gone by without any recipients from the UW-Madison):

http://www.macfound.org

Jeremy Denk 1

Several observations and interpretations come to mind.

One is that Jeremy Denk, a trained chemist as well as pianist, has already performed in Madison – TWICE – at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Both programs were mammoth undertakings. I met and worked with Denk both times, especially the first, and he is a remarkably deserving artist who is honest, droll, articulate and original. I also very much like his philosophy that radical music should stay sounding radical, no matter how many years later.

The first recital featured J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations on the first half with Charles Ives’ Sonata No. 1 on the second half. Whew!

While here for that concert, Denk, a master blogger as you can find in “Think Denk,” he gave a public master class for young pianists (below), a fascinating talk on pedaling in Chopin at the UW School of Music, and a panel on blogging. As you can tell, Denk is a terrifically gifted musician with many different achievements to his credit.

Jeremy Denk teaching 1

Then last season, Denk appeared again in recital, in Mills Hall, to a regrettably small audience, and he played Franz  Liszt and Bela Bartok, followed by J.S. Bach and Beethoven. It was nothing short of phenomenal and utterly convincing.

Both concerts were outstanding events.

And both events point to the wisdom of the Wisconsin Union Theater in finding and booking up-and-coming talent.

Not that Jeremy Denk is young.

At 43, Denk is a seasoned concert veteran and he has taken the time to make the music he plays his own. He is not fresh out of some competition win at 23 or 24, and still stretching to find his maturity and a personal point of view. He is writing a book for Alfred A. Knopf based, to be published this year, based on some articles (on making his first recording and on being a piano student under various teachers) that he wrote for The New Yorker magazine and on his blog “Think Denk.”

Denk is also a devout Francophile who loves Proust and Balzac as well as great food and drink. The Ear thinks that helps to explain the sheer beauty and sensuality as well as logic of his playing.

Jeremy Denk street 1 

If you have any qualms about the Wisconsin Union Theater concert series this year –which features violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below top) with the UW Symphony Orchestra under UW alumnus conductor Kenneth Woods on Saturday, Nov. 2, the Miro String Quartet (below middle, in a photo by Jim Leisy) on Friday, Feb. 21; the Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal tuba player Gene Pokorny with the UW Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, March 8; and pianist Inon Barnatan (below bottom) on Friday, April 18. The MacArthur’s high-profile recognition of Jeremy Denk is a good reminder to trust the WUD series, however unexpected its choices may seem.

Here is a link to the Wisconsin Union Theater series:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/season2013-14.html

Rachel Barton Pine

Miro Quartet Jim Leisy

Inon Barnatan

Here is a link to Jeremy Denk’s blog:

http://jeremydenk.net/blog/

And here are links to NPR, where Denk was an artist-in-residence  for a week and where you can hear both interviews and excerpts from his first Nonesuch recording of etudes by Gyorgy Ligeti and Beethoven’s final Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111; and excerpts from his CD and DVD of J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations (the famous opening Aria is at the bottom in a YouTube video) that will be released this coming week. (He also recorded a fabulous album of Turn-of-the-20th-Century French violin sonatas with Joshua Bell for Sony Classical.)

http://www.npr.org/event/music/155236091/in-practice-jeremy-denk

jeremy denk ligeti-beethoven CD

http://www.npr.org/2013/09/21/224429650/first-listen-jeremy-denk-j-s-bach-goldberg-variations

jeremy denk bach golbergs cd

Personally, The Ear hopes Jeremy Denk records a lot more repertoire, and soon, especially now that he is a house artist of the prestigious Nonesuch Records label, which gives the notoriously difficult-to-record piano  outstanding sonic engineering. Several requests come to mind: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 15, for which he is well-known; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503, which he is touring with right now; the six Piano Pieces, Op. 118, by Johannes Brahms; some shorter J.S. Bach preludes and fugues as well as various suites; some sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti; and some works by Frederic Chopin, preferably the thorny and often underplayed mazurkas and the ballades that are so rich for fresh interpretation.

Did you hear Jeremy Denk perform in Madison?

Have you listened to his recordings?

What do you think of Denk’s playing and writings?

The Ear wants to hear.


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,105 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,748,254 hits
%d bloggers like this: