The Well-Tempered Ear

YOU MUST HEAR THIS: No piece captures the mixed emotions of Memorial Day better than Charles Ives’ “Decoration Day”

May 30, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2022.

It is the annual holiday to remember those who died in military service to the country. (Below are flags placed each year at the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.)

If you want to honor survivors and current service members, that would be Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

All weekend long the radio has been playing music and the television has been showing war movies.

A lot of the music is familiar and repeated every year: Sousa marches and Morton Gould suites, elegies by Gustav Mahler, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; requiems by Mozart and Fauré; a hymn by John Williams and other movie scores. This year has also seen the playlist include rediscovered works of homage by African-American composers such as William Grant Still.

But only this year did The Ear finally hear — thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio — the one piece that, to his mind, best captures Memorial Day with its blending of consonance and dissonance, its mix of major and major keys, of familiar or “found” music and original music.

It is called, simply, “Decoration Day” and it was composed in 1912 — but not published until 1989 — by the 20th-century iconoclastic and early modernist American composer Charles Ives (below, 1874-1954). It ended up as part of a work the composer called “A Symphony: New England Hollidays.”

See if you agree with The Ear.

Listen to the 8-minute performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Listen to the deep anguish and and sense of loss conveyed in the opening, when a solemn remembrance procession goes to a cemetery to plant flags and lay flowers and wreaths to “decorate” the graves of the fallen.

Listen carefully and you will hear a faint version of “Taps” and ringing church bells in the atmospheric music.

Then as so often happens in reality, life suddenly intrudes in the form of a celebration by a loud marching brass band as it leaves the cemetery for the celebratory marches, picnics and fireworks.

But at the end, the darkness briefly returns. The sense of loss lingers long after the actual death and long after the holiday has been celebrated.

There is no closure.

Just resignation.

Just living with loss.

Here is the background from Wikipedia about how the holiday started as Decoration Day after the Civil War and when it evolved into Memorial Day in 1970: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

And here is biographical background, with the actual sources and depictions of “Decoration Day”  — just go  down the page to compositions and click — about Charles Ives: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ives

Did you know and like Charles Ives’ music?

Does “Decoration Day” impress or move you?

What music most embodies Memorial Day for you?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Edgewood College will live-stream its FREE Spring Celebration concert this Friday night

April 28, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

At 8 p.m. CDT this Friday night, April 30, the music department at Edgewood College will live-stream its FREE online Spring Celebration concert.

Here is the link: music.edgewood.edu

Here is the program:

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra (below) will perform music by the Austrian composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, who studied with Mozart and knew Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert (see the Wikipedia bio at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Nepomuk_Hummel;  Krzysztof Penderecki, a Polish composer who died a year ago March; and the Argentinean “new tango” composer Astor Piazzolla, whose birth centennial was last month. Soloists include Gwyneth Ferguson on trumpet, and Malia Huntsman on oboe.

The Chamber Singers (below) will offer selections from Broadway musicals and contemporary choral arrangements, including Lord of the Rings by Enya, works from Josh Groban, and the Polish composer Henrik Gorecki.

The Guitar Ensemble will perform Haru no Umi (The Sea in Spring) by the Japanese composer Michio Miyagi (below), and a medley from the 1970s rock group Chicago: 25 or 6 to 4/Saturday in the Park, by Mark Lamm.

The Chamber Winds will perform selections from Crooner’s Serenade; Josef Rheinberger’s Evening Song (Abendlied, in the YouTube video at the bottom); and an arrangement of John Williams’ movie score for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.


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Classical music: As superstar Itzhak Perlman turns 75, a critic assesses his virtues and shortcomings in playing both the violin and his audiences

September 6, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Monday, Aug. 31, superstar violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman (below, in a photo by Yael Malka of The New York Times) turned 75.

To celebrate, Sony Classical released a boxed set of 18 CDs (below) with many performances by Perlman – solo, chamber music and concertos – recorded over many years.

On the occasion of Perlman’s birthday, critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim of The New York Times wrote a retrospective review of Perlman’s long career. (You can hear his most popular performance ever — with more than 6 million hits — in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear finds the opinion piece both brave and truthful, pointing out Perlman’s mastery of the Romantic repertory but also criticizing his stodgy treatment of Vivaldi and other Baroque music that has benefitted from the period-instrument movement and historically informed performance practices

Yet the essay, which also touches on ups and down of Perlman’s career, always remains respectful and appreciative even when discussing Perlman’s shortcomings.

Offering many historical details and photos as well as sample videos, the critical assessment of Perlman seems perfectly timed.

The Ear hopes you enjoy it as much as he did. Here is a link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/26/arts/music/itzhak-perlman-violin.html

If you have heard Itzhak Perlman either on recordings or live – at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the old Civic Center or Overture Hall — let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Today is the Fourth of July. Here are two extended playlists of American masterpieces

July 4, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Independence Day – the Fourth of July holiday.

It is a good occasion to listen to classical music by American composers (below), which you can hear much of the day on Wisconsin Public Radio.

But here are two other extended playlists of American classical music:

Here, thanks to a California radio station, is a list with complete performances of some of the best American masterpieces, including the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak, the “Afro-American” Symphony by William Grant Still (below), “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin and “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” by Leonard Bernstein:

https://www.capradio.org/music/classical/2019/07/04/playlist-american-classical-music-for-your-fourth-of-july/

And thanks to Minnesota Public Radio, here are four hours of patriotic music for the holiday: https://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2018/06/29/celebrate-the-fourth-of-july-with-our-4hour-patriotic-classical-playlist

Finally, in the YouTube at the bottom is the “American” String Quartet by Antonin Dvorak (below), who summered in Spillville, Iowa. He loved hearing and tried to capture sounds of nature, including bird songs, traditional Black spirituals and music by Native Americans.

The Ear especially likes it because it is proof that just as Americans have been influenced by European composers, European composers, European composers have been influenced by American composers.

Do you have a special or favorite piece of classical music to help celebrate the Fourth of July?

What do you like about it?

Leave a comment with a YouTube link if possible?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: COVID-19 pandemic forces more major changes for Concerts on the Square and a cancellation by the Mosaic Chamber Players

June 11, 2020
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ALERT: The Ear has received the following note from Jess Salek — the founder, director and pianist of the Mosaic Chamber Players: “Just a note to mention that the concert scheduled for this Saturday, June 13, is cancelled due to COVID-19. We are doing our best to stay positive during this difficult time for local arts groups, and we will resume our music-making as soon as is safe. Please be well!”

By Jacob Stockinger

Major changes are in store for the annual Concerts on the Square, which were already postponed with a change of dates, day and time, according to television WKOW-TV Channel 27 (you can hear the TV news report in the YouTube video at the bottom):

Here are details:

MADISON (WKOW) – The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) has unveiled a new plan for its 2020 Concerts on the Square series (below), which involves replacing the four postponed concerts with two drive-in performances.

Additionally, they’re planning for two live concerts at Breese Stevens Field if playing outdoors is deemed safe in late summer.

The revised approach was necessary to keep attendees safe, while adhering to state and county requirements that don’t allow for large gatherings, according to a WCO news release.

The WCO will follow Forward Dane Health Guidelines to determine if the live concerts can occur. A decision will be made in late July.

“We were optimistic in April that if we only delayed the start of Concerts on the Square to late July that we could still hold live performances downtown,” said Joe Loehnis (below), the WCO’s CEO. “But as the pandemic continues to affect us all in ways we never could have foreseen, we’ve decided to take creative steps now that will allow us to still share music with our community.”

The new plan for Concerts on the Square looks like this:

  • The first four shows (July 28 – Aug 18) have been postponed until the summer of 2021.
  • The WCO, in partnership with the Madison Mallards, will host two “drive-in” concerts on June 24 and July 22 (more information below). Each concert also will be live-streamed on https://wcoconcerts.org and https://pbswisconsin.org for free.
  • The final two Concerts on the Square will be live concerts at Breese Stevens Field on Aug. 25 and Sept. 1.
  • The WCO’s annual “runout” concert to Portage this summer has been canceled.

Drive-in Concerts on the Square

The two drive-in concerts will feature rebroadcasts of the most popular Concerts on the Square performances, thanks to a partnership with PBS Wisconsin.

The WCO expects to be able to have 115 vehicles at each concert. The goal is to make it accessible to as many people as possible without risking health and safety.

The basics for each program are:

Location: Warner Park, 2930 N. Sherman Ave., Madison
Cost: $25 per car 
Time: 7-8 p.m.; 8:45-9:45 p.m. (two showings each night to allow more people to attend)
Additional information: To purchase tickets, visit: 

 

 

June 24 – “S Wonderful” with Amanda Huddleston, soprano, and Andrew Clark, tenor. Songs include: “The Sound of Music” Medley, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Armed Forces Salute” and “1812 Overture.” (2015 Performance)

July 22 – “Film Night,” featuring concertmaster Suzanne Beia. Songs include: “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Pink Panther,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Schindler’s List” and “E.T.” (2019 Performance)

“With two showings each night, we’re trying to make the concerts as accessible as possible,” Loehnis said. “Community partnerships are so important right now, and because of PBS Wisconsin and the Mallards, we’re able to bring this idea to life. We are grateful for these partnerships.”

Breese Stevens concerts are planned for late summer. If Dane County has entered Phase III of its Forward Dane plan by late August, 250 people will be allowed to gather for outdoor events.

For that reason, the WCO is planning to host two live Concerts on the Square at Breese Stevens.

The WCO will provide an update later in July on progress for this opportunity. Those shows currently are scheduled for Aug. 25 and Sept. 1.

The WCO also is considering how it could broadcast the live performances to other venues such as the Alliant Energy Center, Warner Park or Madison parks, where others could view the concerts safely.

“We’re still working through the logistics, and we’re realists – understanding that the situation changes almost daily,” Loehnis said. “But we also want to be forward-thinking and we’re going to keep pushing ahead unless we don’t believe a live show can be held safely.”

To keep up-to-date with performance schedules, community members can sign up for email updates on the WCO website or follow the orchestra on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=wisconsin%20chamber%20orchestra&epa=SEARCH_BOX) and Instagram.

 


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Classical music: During the COVID-19 pandemic, hosts at Wisconsin Public Radio suggest music that expresses gratitude and hope

May 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The various hosts of Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) — an indispensable companion during self-isolation at home — listen to a lot of music and think a lot about it, especially about its meaning and appeal to the public.

So it comes as no surprise that they have once again suggested music to listen to during the coronavirus pandemic and the mounting toll of COVID-19.

Almost two months ago, the same radio hosts suggested music that they find calming and inspiring. They did so on the WPR home page in an ongoing blog where they also included YouTube audiovisual performances.

Here is a link to that earlier posting, which is well worth reading and following: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Wisconsin+Public+Radio

This time, the various hosts – mostly of classical shows but also of folk music and world music – suggest music that inspires or expresses hope and gratitude. (Below is Ruthanne Bessman, the host of “Classics by Request,” which airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays.)

Here is the genesis of the list and public service project:

“At a recent WPR music staff meeting, we talked about the many ways music can unite us and about how music can express the gratitude we feel for people and things that are important to us, often much better than words.

“That discussion led to this collection of music, which we wanted to share with you. It’s eclectic and interesting, just like our music staff.”

The composers cited include some familiar names such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Benjamin Britten and John Williams.

But some new music, based on historical events and written by contemporary or modern composers, is also named. It includes works by the American composer Daniel Gawthrop (b. 1949, below top) and the Israeli composer David Zehavi (1910-1977, below bottom). Here are links to their biographies.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_E._Gawthrop

https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/zehavi-david

Sound-wise, it is quite an eclectic list that runs from solo harpsichord music to orchestral and choral music as well as chamber music.

Many of the performers have played in Madison at the Overture Center, with Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, at the Wisconsin Union Theater, at the UW-Madison and on the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos.

They include: the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; cellist Amit Peled and pianist Eli Kalman, who received his doctorate from the UW-Madison and now teaches at the UW-Oshkosh; conductor-composer John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers;  and superstars violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma along with Venezuelan pianist-improviser Gabriela Montero  in a quartet that played at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Here is a link to the new WPR suggestions: https://www.wpr.org/wpr-hosts-share-music-gratitude-and-hope

Happy listening!

If you read the blog or listen to the music, let us know what you think in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Here is the music that Wisconsin Public Radio hosts find calming and inspiring during the pandemic. What music would you list?

April 27, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the major sources of music during the COVID-19 public health crisis and the coronavirus pandemic is Wisconsin Public Radio.

The Ear finds WPR a reliable source of beauty and companionship during this difficult time of self-isolation and self-quarantining required by the state’s stay-at-home and self-distancing orders.

Each host plans and broadcasts hours of classical music each day. So they hear a lot of classical music.

They also contribute to a blog that offers insights to: new and old recordings; background information about the composers, music and performers; and personal observations about classical music.

Recently, the radio hosts – including Stephanie Elkins (below), Norman Gilliland, Lori Skelton, Ruthanne Bessman, Anders Yocom (at bottom, in a  photo by James Gill) and Peter Bryant — listed the music that they find particularly calming and inspiring during a difficult and anxiety-ridden time.

The names of composers include Bach, Scarlatti, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Ysaye, Vaughan-Williams and film score master John Williams.

The list includes audio-visual performances of the pieces.

Take a look and listen.

Then tell us what you think of the various suggestions and which ones you prefer?

Also leave the composers, pieces and performers that you would add to such a list, with a YouTube link if possible.

Here is a link:

https://www.wpr.org/wpr-music-hosts-share-music-calms-and-inspires


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Classical music: Famed radio station WQXR names the best 100 recordings of 2019. Listen to samples of them here

December 28, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Did you get a gift card for the holidays?

Are you looking how to spend it by either purchasing CDs or subscribing to a streaming service?

Help and guidance are available.

Few names in the airing of classical music carry more prestige than the famed radio station WQXR in New York City.

To check out the radio station’s choice of the best recordings of 2019 is also to see where the worlds of recording and concertizing are heading.

Such trends include rediscovering neglected composers and championing new music as well as women composers, such as Clara Schumann, and composers of color, such as the American composer Florence Price (below), who has often been featured on Wisconsin Public Radio this past year.

But you will also find noteworthy recordings of such classics as Johann Sebastian Bach – and two of his rarely heard cousins instead of his sons – and well as outstanding recordings of symphonies and piano sonatas (below, the set by Igor Levit) for the upcoming Beethoven Year to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the composer.

And you will also find names of outstanding performers you may not have heard of — such as the exceptional Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang (below), a Van Cliburn Competition gold medalist whom The Ear would like to see perform here.

Here is a link to 25 picks with commentaries– plus another 75 titles and samples, without commentary, to round out a Top 100.

Happy listening!

https://www.wqxr.org/story/best-classical-recordings-2019/


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Classical music: The 10th anniversary concert of the Middleton Community Orchestra hit all the right notes – including a surprise of high beauty

October 13, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, the mostly amateur but critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by Brian Ruppert) celebrated its 10th anniversary.

The MCO hit all the right notes. And there were many of them, both big and small.

But perhaps the biggest one was also the quietest one.

It came during the repetition section near the end of the heart-rending slow movement of the Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, by Mozart.

The Ear knows the piece and considers it one of the most perfect compositions ever written. But suddenly he heard the familiar work in a fresh way and with a new appreciation, thanks to the talented guest soloist J.J. Koh, who is principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. (You can hear the slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The movement was going beautifully when suddenly, Koh (below) brought the dynamics down to almost a whisper. It felt prayer-like, so quiet was the sound. Yet it was completely audible. The tone was rich and the notes on pitch, even though Koh sounded as if he were barely breathing. It was a heart-stopping, breathtaking moment of high beauty.

It takes a virtuoso to play that softly and that solidly at the same time. And Koh was backed up with the same subtlety by the fine accompaniment provided by the scaled-down orchestra under conductor Steve Kurr.

The sublime result was nothing short of haunting, a musical moment that The Ear will remember and cherish as long as he lives.

And he wasn’t alone. A complete silence fell over the appreciative audience as Koh and the MCO were playing, and at intermission it was what everybody was talking about and wondering at. You just had to be there. It was the kind of musical experience that makes a live performance so engaging and unforgettable.

That moment of communion between soloist and ensemble by itself was enough to tell you how very much the MCO, which improves with each performance, has accomplished in its first decade.

There were other noteworthy moments too.

Of course tributes had to be paid.

So the evening started off with some brief background and introductory words from the co-founders and co-artistic directors Larry Bevic and Mindy Taranto (below).

Then Middleton Mayor Gurdip Brar (below) came on stage to read his official 10th anniversary proclamation and to urge people to applaud. He proved a jovial, good-natured cheerleader for the large audience of “good neighbors” that included many children.

When the music finally arrived, conductor Kurr (below) raised the curtain with his own original 14-minute episodic composition celebrating the “Good Neighbor City” of Middleton. It proved a fitting work for the occasion that evoked both the Midwestern harmonies of Aaron Copland and the brassy film scores of John Williams.

After intermission, the full 90-member MCO under Kurr returned and turned in a performance of Antonin Dvorak’s popular “New World” Symphony that did them all proud.

The tempo was energetic with a strong, constant pulse that didn’t falter. As usual, the string and wind sections proved outstanding – and still seem to get better each time.

But the real star this time was the brass, whose prominent part in the Dvorak symphony is hard to play. Playing consistently on pitch and expressively – they were clearly well-rehearsed — the brass boosted the whole performance and raised it to a new level. Which is exactly what the anniversary concert demanded and received.

The Ear wasn’t alone in being impressed.

A professional musician visiting from San Francisco said simply:  ”They are much better than our community orchestra.”

Is there better homage to pay to a 10th anniversary concert and to make listeners look forward to hearing more? If you aren’t going to MCO’s affordable and appealing concerts, you are only cheating yourself.

For more information about the complete season, including programs, performers, guest soloists and how to join or support the MCO, go to: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

If you went, what did you think of the opening anniversary concert?

Leave your opinions and good wishes in the comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Concerts on the Square begin this Wednesday night – and half of the six concerts feature classical music

June 25, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The 36th annual FREE summer series of six Concerts on the Square, performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) and guest soloists, will begin this Wednesday night, June 26, at 7 p.m. on the King Street Corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

Each concert draws an average of 30,000 people.

But if you think it is largely a pops concert event, think again.

One of the many outstanding achievements that WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) has brought to the event – billed as “the Biggest Picnic of Summer” — over the past 20 years is an increased emphasis on classical music, perhaps to help build new audiences for the WCO’s winter Masterworks concerts.

The opening concert, for example, has become a tradition, a chance to introduce to the public the latest winner of the WCO’s young people’s concerto competition – and this year is no different.

Three of the six concerts will be also all-classical – and that’s not counting Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” that will be featured on the Fourth of July program on July 3.

There will also be pops music of course, including a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ iconic album “Abbey Road”; patriotic fare for Independence Day; and an evening of movie scores, most composed by John Williams, with concertmaster Suzanne Beia as violin soloist in the theme from “Schindler’s List.”

All concerts are on six consecutive Wednesday nights from June 28 through July 31. Performances begin at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square. They usually last about two hours.

To find out more, including the programs and biographies of performers for each program, go to: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performance-listing/category/concerts-on-the-square

Once there, if you click on a specific date, on the right hand side you will also find information about concert etiquette, seating on the Capitol lawn, weather cancellations, catering menus, food vendor sales and other information, including details about volunteering and donating. Here is a link to general guidelines:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/attending-the-concert/ 

Here are the three classical concerts:

JUNE 26

“East Meets West” features the WCO’s concerto competition winner pianist Sakurako Eriksen (below) – a Madison native now living in Milwaukee — in the popular and virtuosic Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Prokofiev.

Also on the program are “Francesca da Rimini” by Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; “Noble and Sentimental Waltzes” by French composer by Maurice Ravel; and an unnamed work by Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz.

JULY 10

“Finlandia” features the Russian-born and Moscow Conservatory-trained accordion virtuoso Sergei Belkin (below).

On the program are unnamed works by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and Alexander Glazunov; “Oblivion” by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla; the “Sabre Dance” by Russian composer Aram Khachaturian; and “Finlandia” by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

JULY 31

“Rockin’ Rachmaninov” features Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev (below), a frequent WCO guest artist who teaches at the Mannes College of Music in New York City.

The program includes the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, by Sergei Rachmaninov; the Overture to the opera “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the 1944 “Cornish Rhapsody” piano concerto score, composed by English composer Hubert Bath for the World War II film “Love Story”; and a Suite from “The Firebird” by Igor Stravinsky.


Posted in Classical music
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