The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here are classical music winners — and nominees — of the 61st annual Grammy nominations for 2019.

February 17, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This should have come out sooner since the Grammy Awards (below) were given out a week ago. But it has been such a busy week for Iive music in Madison – as will next week be – that this was the first occasion to post them.

In any case, for all their insider shortcomings they are a matter of interest to many, and can be helpful in understanding the contemporary classical scene and new music as you build your own playlists and recording library.

There are some points of interest including the fact that two Grammys were won by Canadian violinist James Ehnes for his performance of the Violin Concerto by the contemporary composer Aaron Jay Kernis.

Ehnes (below) is in town this weekend to play the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (the last performance is this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. The Ear hopes he might return to perform the Kernis concerto with MSO.

Also, Apollo’s Fire, which won in the Best Solo Vocal category, will perform Baroque music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Marco Uccellini at the Wisconsin Union Theater on Saturday, March 30.

Finally and unfortunately, some Madison nominees — including retired UW-Madison flute professor Stephanie Jutt and her co-director of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society pianist Jeffrey Sykes — got edged out in the Producer category, as did retired UW professor James P. Leary for his liner notes to “Alpine Dreaming.”

 In the orchestra category is John Harbison — who is in town marking his 80th birthday with many events, including the world premiere tonight at the W-Madison of his Sonata for Viola and Piano. In the Chamber Music category, Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin will solo in concertos by Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss with the Madison Symphony Orchestra on April 12-14. 

Look at the winners carefully. Clearly, the recording industry is, by and large, skipping over the usual classical masters such as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms to focus instead on living composers and contemporary music or stories relevant to our times, such as the opera by Mason Bates about the late Apple wizard Steve Jobs.

One major exception is the third Grammy in a row for the cycle of symphonies by the famed Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich being done by the Latvian-born conductor Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Here are the nominees and winners – the latter marked with an asterisk, a photo and the word WINNER — for the 61st Grammy Awards. Leave a comment with wa you think of the nominees and winners.

  1. Best Engineered Album, Classical
    An Engineer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS. Mark Donahue & Dirk Sobotka, engineers; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra)

BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3; STRAUSS: HORN CONCERTO NO. 1
Mark Donahue, engineer; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)

JOHN WILLIAMS AT THE MOVIES. Keith O. Johnson & Sean Royce Martin, engineers; Keith O. Johnson, mastering engineer (Jerry Junkin & Dallas Winds).

LIQUID MELANCHOLY – CLARINET MUSIC OF JAMES M. STEPHENSON
Bill Maylone & Mary Mazurek, engineers; Bill Maylone, mastering engineer (John Bruce Yeh)

*WINNER — SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONIES NOS. 4 & 11. Shawn Murphy & Nick Squire, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Andris Nelsons & Boston Symphony Orchestra)

VISIONS AND VARIATIONS. Tom Caulfield, engineer; Jesse Lewis, mastering engineer (A Far Cry)

  1. Producer Of The Year, Classical
    A Producer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

* WINNER — BLANTON ALSPAUGH (below)

  • Arnesen: Infinity – Choral Works (Joel Rinsema & Kantorei)
  • Aspects Of America (Carlos Kalmar & Oregon Symphony)
  • Chesnokov: Teach Me Thy Statutes (Vladimir Gorbik & PaTRAM Institute Male Choir)
  • Gordon, R.: The House Without A Christmas Tree (Bradley Moore, Elisabeth Leone, Maximillian Macias, Megan Mikailovna Samarin, Patricia Schuman, Lauren Snouffer, Heidi Stober, Daniel Belcher, Houston Grand Opera Juvenile Chorus & Houston Grand Opera Orchestra
  • Haydn: The Creation (Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Betsy Cook Weber, Houston Symphony & Houston Symphony Chorus)
  • Heggie: Great Scott (Patrick Summers, Manuel Palazzo, Mark Hancock, Michael Mayes, Rodell Rosel, Kevin Burdette, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nathan Gunn, Frederica von Stade, Ailyn Pérez, Joyce DiDonato, Dallas Opera Chorus & Orchestra)
  • Music Of Fauré, Buide & Zemlinsky (Trio Séléné)
  • Paterson: Three Way – A Trio Of One-Act Operas (Dean Williamson, Daniele Pastin, Courtney Ruckman, Eliza Bonet, Melisa Bonetti, Jordan Rutter, Samuel Levine, Wes Mason, Matthew Treviño & Nashville Opera Orchestra)
  • Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Serenade To Music; Flos Campi (Peter Oundjian & Toronto Symphony Orchestra)

DAVID FROST

  • Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Volume 7 (Jonathan Biss)
    • Mirror In Mirror (Anne Akiko Meyers, Kristjan Järvi & Philharmonia Orchestra)
    • Mozart: Idomeneo (James Levine, Alan Opie, Matthew Polenzani, Alice Coote, Nadine Sierra, Elza van den Heever, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)
    • Presentiment (Orion Weiss)
    • Strauss, R.: Der Rosenkavalier (Sebastian Weigle, Renée Fleming, Elīna Garanča, Erin Morley, Günther Groissböck, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus) 

ELIZABETH OSTROW

  • Bates: The (R)evolution Of Steve Jobs (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra)
    • The Road Home (Joshua Habermann & Santa Fe Desert Chorale)

JUDITH SHERMAN

  • Beethoven Unbound (Llŷr Williams)
    • Black Manhattan Volume 3 (Rick Benjamin & Paragon Ragtime Orchestra)
    • Bolcom: Piano Music (Various Artists)
    • Del Tredici: March To Tonality (Mark Peskanov & Various Artists)
    • Love Comes In At The Eye (Timothy Jones, Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, Jeffrey Sykes, Anthony Ross, Carol Cook, Beth Rapier & Stephanie Jutt)
    • Meltzer: Variations On A Summer Day & Piano Quartet (Abigail Fischer, Jayce Ogren & Sequitur)
    • Mendelssohn: Complete Works For Cello And Piano (Marcy Rosen & Lydia Artymiw)
    • New Music For Violin And Piano (Julie Rosenfeld & Peter Miyamoto)
    • Reich: Pulse/Quartet (Colin Currie Group & International Contemporary Ensemble)

DIRK SOBOTKA

  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1 (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
    • Lippencott: Frontier Symphony (Jeff Lippencott & Ligonier Festival Orchestra)
    • Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (Thierry Fischer, Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Utah Symphony)
    • Music Of The Americas (Andrés Orozco-Estrada & Houston Symphony)
  1. Best Orchestral Performance Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra
  • BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3; STRAUSS: HORN CONCERTO NO. 1. Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) 
  • NIELSEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3 & SYMPHONY NO. 4. Thomas Dausgaard, conductor (Seattle Symphony) 
  • RUGGLES, STUCKY & HARBISON: ORCHESTRAL WORKS. David Alan Miller, conductor (National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic)
  • SCHUMANN: SYMPHONIES NOS. 1-4. Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony) 
  • * WINNER — SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONIES NOS. 4 & 11 Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)

 76.  Best Opera Recording Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.

  • ADAMS: DOCTOR ATOMIC. John Adams, conductor; Aubrey Allicock, Julia Bullock, Gerald Finley & Brindley Sherratt; Friedemann Engelbrecht, producer (BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Singers) 
  • * WINNER –BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS. Michael Christie, conductor; Sasha Cooke, Jessica E. Jones, Edwards Parks, Garrett Sorenson & Wei Wu; Elizabeth Ostrow, producer (The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra) 
  • LULLY: ALCESTE. Christophe Rousset, conductor; Edwin Crossley-Mercer, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro & Judith Van Wanroij; Maximilien Ciup, producer (Les Talens Lyriques; Choeur De Chambre De Namur) 
  • STRAUSS, R.: DER ROSENKAVALIER. Sebastian Weigle, conductor; Renée Fleming, Elīna Garanča, Günther Groissböck & Erin Morley; David Frost, producer (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Metropolitan Opera Chorus) 
  • VERDI: RIGOLETTO. Constantine Orbelian, conductor; Francesco Demuro, Dmitri Hvorostovsky & Nadine Sierra; Vilius Keras & Aleksandra Keriene, producers (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra; Men Of The Kaunas State Choir) 
  1. Best Choral Performance. Award to the Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble. 
  • CHESNOKOV: TEACH ME THY STATUTES. Vladimir Gorbik, conductor (Mikhail Davydov & Vladimir Krasov; PaTRAM Institute Male Choir) 
  • KASTALSKY: MEMORY ETERNAL. Steven Fox, conductor (The Clarion Choir) 
  • * WINNER — MCLOSKEY: ZEALOT CANTICLES. Donald Nally, conductor (Doris Hall-Gulati, Rebecca Harris, Arlen Hlusko, Lorenzo Raval & Mandy Wolman; The Crossing) 
  • RACHMANINOV: THE BELLS. Mariss Jansons, conductor; Peter Dijkstra, chorus master (Oleg Dolgov, Alexey Markov & Tatiana Pavlovskaya; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Chor Des Bayerischen Rundfunks) 
  • SEVEN WORDS FROM THE CROSS. Matthew Guard, conductor (Skylark)
  1. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. For new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (24 or fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.
  • * WINNER — ANDERSON, LAURIE: LANDFALL. Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet 
  • BEETHOVEN, SHOSTAKOVICH & BACH. The Danish String Quartet
  • BLUEPRINTING. Aizuri Quartet 
  • STRAVINSKY: THE RITE OF SPRING CONCERTO FOR TWO PIANOS. Leif Ove Andsnes & Marc-André Hamelin
  • VISIONS AND VARIATIONS. A Far Cry 

  1. Best Classical Instrumental Solo. Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable. 
  • BARTÓK: PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2. Yuja Wang; Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker) 
  • BIBER: THE MYSTERY SONATAS. Christina Day Martinson; Martin Pearlman, conductor (Boston Baroque) 
  • BRUCH: SCOTTISH FANTASY, OP. 46; VIOLIN CONCERTO NO. 1 IN G MINOR, OP. 26. Joshua Bell (The Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields) 
  • GLASS: THREE PIECES IN THE SHAPE OF A SQUARE. Craig Morris 
  • * WINNER — KERNIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO. James Ehnes; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony)
  1. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. Award to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors, chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more playing time of new material.
  • ARC. Anthony Roth Costanzo; Jonathan Cohen, conductor (Les Violons Du Roy) 
  • THE HANDEL ALBUM. Philippe Jaroussky; Artaserse, ensemble 
  • MIRAGES. Sabine Devieilhe; François-Xavier Roth, conductor (Alexandre Tharaud; Marianne Crebassa & Jodie Devos; Les Siècles) 
  • SCHUBERT: WINTERREISE. Randall Scarlata; Gilbert Kalish, accompanist 
  • * WINNER — SONGS OF ORPHEUS – MONTEVERDI, CACCINI, D’INDIA & LANDI. Karim Sulayman; Jeannette Sorrell, conductor; Apollo’s Fire, ensembles
  •  
  1. Best Classical Compendium. Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) and Engineer(s) of over 51% playing time of the album, if other than the artist. 
  • * WINNER — FUCHS: PIANO CONCERTO ‘SPIRITUALIST’; POEMS OF LIFE; GLACIER; RUSH. JoAnn Falletta, conductor; Tim Handley, producer 
  • GOLD. The King’s Singers; Nigel Short, producer 
  • THE JOHN ADAMS EDITION. Simon Rattle, conductor; Christoph Franke, producer
  • JOHN WILLIAMS AT THE MOVIES. Jerry Junkin, conductor; Donald J. McKinney, producer 
  • VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: PIANO CONCERTO; OBOE CONCERTO; SERENADE TO MUSIC; FLOS CAMPI. Peter Oundjian, conductor; Blanton Alspaugh, producer 
  1. Best Contemporary Classical Composition. A Composer’s Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.
  • BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS. Mason Bates, composer; Mark Campbell, librettist (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra) 
  • DU YUN: AIR GLOW. Du Yun, composer (International Contemporary Ensemble) 
  • HEGGIE: GREAT SCOTT. Jake Heggie, composer; Terrence McNally, librettist (Patrick Summers, Manuel Palazzo, Mark Hancock, Michael Mayes, Rodell Rosel, Kevin Burdette, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nathan Gunn, Frederica von Stade, Ailyn Pérez, Joyce DiDonato, Dallas Opera Chorus & Orchestra) 
  • * WINNER — KERNIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO. Aaron Jay Kernis (below top), composer (James Ehnes, Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). You can hear the first movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.
  • MAZZOLI: VESPERS FOR VIOLIN. Missy Mazzoli, composer (Olivia De Prato)


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Classical music: Sequels come to classical music – centuries after the originals

September 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Sequels are not just for books, movies and Broadway shows any more.

Classical music is also starting to generate them — centuries after the originals.

It may be hard to imagine writing sequels to masterpiece sonatas, chamber music, symphonies and concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Igor Stravinsky and others.

But in a kind of musical postmodernism, that’s what is being done with more and more frequency.

The composer Timo Andres (below top, in a photo by Tawny Bannister for The New York Times) wrote a piano concerto based on Beethoven for the great young American pianist Jonathan Biss (below bottom), who has performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Biss, along with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, has commissioned five piano concertos in the spirit of Beethoven’s five piano concertos.

Timo Andres CR Tawni Bannister NYT

JonathanBiss

And the great young American violinist Jennifer Koh (below top, in a  photo by Loren Wohl for The New York Times) and her equally terrific recording partner, pianist Shai Wosner (below bottom) – who has performed several times in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — have commissioned three sonatas based on the work of older composers from three modern composers.

Jennifer Koh CR Loren Wohl NYT

Shai Wosner

But musicians and especially modern composers, including the important composer John Adams (below), have mixed feelings about such derivative projects.

john adams with pencil

Here is a fine story about the phenomenon of sequels that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/21/arts/music/got-a-classic-piece-here-comes-the-sequel-composers-write-responses-to-old-masters-works.html?_r=0


Classical music: Can young performers do justice to great and mature masterpieces of music?

January 8, 2015
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There are so many gifted young professional musicians on the concert stage today.

And yet many of them have doubts about performing mature and late masterpieces by such great and profound composers as Ludwig van Beethoven (below top) and Franz Schubert (below bottom and at the bottom in a YouTube video of Alfred Brendel playing his last piano sonata).

Beethoven big

Franz Schubert big

Do young performers really have to wait longer or suffer more in order to enhance their understanding of profound music that derives from maturity and the composer’s own suffering?

That was the topic of a recent story by critic Vivien Schweitzer in The New York Times. The story had a great headline: “Wait, you have to suffer some more.”

It was an interesting question that was put to some of the great young performers today, including pianists Jeremy Denk (below top, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times), Leif-Ove Andsnes (below middle, in a photo by Tina Feinberg for The New York Times) and Yuja Wang (below bottom, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).

Jeremy Denk playing CR Hiroyuki Ito NYTImes

Leif Ove Andsnes at Carnegie CR Tina Feinberg for NYT

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Hall CR Hiroyuki Ito NYT

But it also covered string players, including the legendary cellist Pablo Casals (below) and Beethoven’s late string quartets as well his late piano sonatas and the “Diabelli” Variations as well as the bigger instrumental works, like the “Goldberg” Variations and solo cello suites of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Casals

And one performer, pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, made the case that Frederic Chopin (below) was the most difficult composer to play well, even harder than Beethoven. Curiously, no mention was made of the often knotty late piano music by Johannes Brahms. And conductors were not mentioned.

Chopinphoto

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/arts/music/musicians-grapple-with-beethoven.html?_r=0

The Ear thinks it all depends on the performer. Some young performers are deeply capable of profundity. And yet there is no denying that age, maturity and experience often bring new points of view or perspective on great art.

But some older performers also remain pretty superficial.

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Superstar fashionista pianist Yuja Wang is in the news again with her new recording of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev concertos. In an interview she talks about everything including her piano playing, her small hands and her controversial concert clothes.

December 28, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

There are a lot of talented young pianists on the scene today including Daniil Trifonov, Lang Lang, Jan LisieckiKirill Gerstein, Yundi Lee, Benjamin Grosvenor, Jonathan Biss, Igor Levit and Inon Barnaton, to name just a few.

But few make the waves that 26-year-old pianist Yuja Wang (below) always does. She is nothing short of electrifying to see and hear, according to the reviews I have read – even the reviews that don’t especially like her interpretations. (The Ear would like to hear Wang perform some serious Classical and Baroque works, not just later Romantic or modern music.)

YujaWang casual photo

Yang’s latest venture is an exciting recording for Deutsche Grammophon (below) of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s gargantuan Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor and Sergei Prokofiev’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor.

Yang – featured on the cover in almost a parody of the Madame Butterfly look with fake eyelashes — performs them live with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela under its superstar alumnus Gustavo Dudamel, who is now the music director and conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. (You can hear Dudamel’s take on Wang in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Yuja Wang Rach 3 CD coverGD

I have listened to the recording, and these are high-octane performances that remind one, for better and worse, of Vladimir Horowitz and Martha Argerich — not bad artists to be compared to. 

But Yuja Wang has added to their appeal with an interview she recently did with the Los Angles Times on the occasion of four performances in LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall that was designed by Frank Gehry. It even builds on the one she did with NPR in which she compared Rachmaninoff to jazz great Art Tatum in this mastery of improvisation:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/02/243942819/yuja-wang-rooted-in-diligence-inspired-by-improvisation

In a surprisingly candid and matter-of-fact manner, she covered a lot of topics.

They included he background, her training, her taste in non-classical music, her piano playing and acclaimed technique, even her controversial concert attire such as the scarlet micro-skirt (below top) she wore at the Hollywood Bowl and the thigh-high slit black gown and stiletto heels she wore for her Carnegie Hall debut (below bottom).

yuja wang dress times 3

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Ruby Washington NYTimes

Here is a link to the interview, which I hope you enjoy as much as The Ear did:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-conversation-yuja-wang,0,3852129.story#axzz2oDubILHw


Classical music: Here are the two young pianists and new winners of the Gilmore Young Artists Piano Competition for 2014. Andrew Hsu and Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner joins the ranks of Christopher Taylor, Jonathan Biss, Yuja Wang and Leif Ove Andsnes.

September 1, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a day to catch up of some classical music news.

So here is a story about the two new winners of the Gilmore Competition for young pianists, which takes place every two years. (Every four years, an older Gilmore Artist is named and given a $300,000 prize. That will take place again in 2014.)

Each Gilmore Young Artist receives a $15,000 stipend to further their musical career and educational development, as well as $10,000 to commission a new piano composition for which the artist will have exclusive performance rights for one year. The award is strictly monetary and advisory, and does not involve managerial assistance from the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival.

gilmore logo

This year’s winners, nominated by professional musicians, are Andrew Hsu, (below top, in a photo by Pete Checchi), who is  a 19-year-old graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at in a YouTube video at the bottom performing American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes‘ “Roman Sketches.”; and Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner, who is a 16-year-old student currently attending the Juilliard School in New York City and who plays the fourth movement, a fugue, from Samuel Barber’s piano sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Andrew Hsu Gilmore cr Pete Checchi

Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner

The Gilmore Young Artist awards are important to me on several counts.

One is that one of the 30 previous winners is Christopher Taylor, the acclaimed pianist-professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is much is demand as a recitalist and concerto soloist.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

The Ear also likes the competition because it is conducted in such an unusual manner.

Professional judges follow and track various nominees, and then decide. Candidates are unaware they are under consideration. There in NO face-to-face competition, as usually happens with the prestigious Arthur Rubinstein, Chopin, Van Cliburn and Tchaikovsky international competitions among many others.

A third reason is that I think the track record of the Gilmore is good and the names have remained solid in the music world. Perhaps the best example is the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, but also Jonathan Biss and Yuja Wang. Anyone care to argue with those results?

Andsnes

jonathan biss at piano jillian edelstein

Yuja Wang Ian Douglas NYT May 2013

Anyway, here are links to several stories about the Gilmore Foundation and the Gilmore Young Artist competition (age 22 and under), which is held every two years, and the two new recipients of the prize, which was established in Kalamazoo, Michigan, by the late philanthropist Irving S. Gilmore.

Here is a link to the Gilmore Foundation home website:

http://www.thegilmore.org

And here are links to the specific competition for young pianists:

http://www.thegilmore.org/gilmore-young-artist-award/

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/2014-gilmore-young-artist-award-winners-announced

 


Classical music education: Can apps and MOOCs help save classical music? Pianist Jonathan Biss will teach Beethoven’s piano sonatas to 30,000 “students” and pianist Stephen Hough has created a fascinating Liszt app.

August 31, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

After Labor Day, the school year, for both K-12 and high education, will officially start.

Imagine walking into a classroom or lecture hall with more than 30,000 students.

That is what the acclaimed young pianist Jonathan Biss (below) who teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia – the most selective higher educational institution in the country, according to one report – faces when he tackles his first course on the 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven. (Several seasons ago, Jonathan Biss turned in a superb performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Major, K. 467, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

That Biss will reach so many clasiscal music fans is thanks to a MOOC – a “Massive Open Online Course.”

jonathan biss at piano jillian edelstein

Using the firm Coursera, Biss’ course on the Beethoven sonatas will start this Tuesday, Sept. 3. There is still time to register as you can see below.

(Biss is recording all 32 of the Beethoven piano sonatas for Onyx Classics, which will release volume 3 this fall. The Ear finds his performances extraordinary and convincing. You can hear Biss in an interview on the PBS “Newshour” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Then there is another great pianist, Stephen Hough, the MacArthur “genius grant” winner from the United Kingdom, who has done a special app on Franz Liszt’s legendary Sonata in B minor. That too will allow him to reach many thousands of listeners and new audiences who can follow his playing with the score and his own annotations as well as view his finger playing the virtuosic work. (Hough has performed in Madison in both solo recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater and in concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and gave a terrific masterclass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.) 

Hough_Stephen_color16

liszt sonata stephen hough app

So The Ear wonders: Will MOOCs and APPs come to the rescue of classical music, which seems increasingly to be losing relevance and popularity?

It could happen.

The possibilities have certainly been treated in the media lately.

Here, for example, is a great story, with a lot of specifics and details, about Jonathan Biss’ Beethoven course and the Stephen Hough’ Liszt app, that was published by The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/arts/music/hey-ludwig-theres-an-app-for-you.html?pagewanted=all

jonathan biss mooc 2

And here is a similar story that appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323585604579009041451441648.html

Over 30,000 people have enrolled in the Beethoven course to date: seven times the total number of students who have attended Curtis since the school opened its doors in October 1924.

The five-week course starts this coming Tuesday, September 3, 2013–the first day of Curtis classes–and is aptly named “Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.” Biss has posted recommended reading and listening materials here.

In the course description, Biss writes, “It is not necessary to have studied an instrument or to have any knowledge of music theory to take the course. Rather, it is designed for students of all backgrounds who have a desire to learn more about Beethoven and his world.”

Coursera offers classes that are free of charge and are designed to help the student master the material. A key factor in the design of the Coursera system is the extensive use of interactive exercises. Within videos, there are multiple opportunities for interactions: the video frequently stops, and students are asked to answer a simple question to test whether they are tracking the material.

jonathan biss mooc 2

There will also be stand-alone homework that is not part of video lectures. Students can watch Biss’s lectures at their leisure, but the classes are structured with regular deadlines. Each student who completes the course will receive a statement of accomplishment at the end of the series.

Curtis will a launch a second Coursera class in October titled “From the Repertoire: Western Music History through Performance.” Taught by Jonathan Coopersmith, chair of Musical Studies, and David Ludwig (’01), the Gie and Lisa Liem Artistic Chair of Performance Studies and a member of the composition faculty, the course illuminates Western music history through explorations of seminal works over the past six centuries.

As for the Beethoven course by Biss, here is a preview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y134F2WvAGo

And here is a way to sign up for it:

https://www.coursera.org/course/beethovensonatas

You can find Stephen Hough’s Liszt app in the app store of Apple and Google’s Play.


Classical music: Here are three notable new solo piano releases from Madison-connected pianists — Emanuel Ax, Alessio Bax and Jonathan Biss.

March 28, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A New York Times critic recently asked about veteran pianist Emanuel Ax (below): Does this guy ever have an off night? And the answer was no.

Emanuel Ax playing LA Times

Ax, a longtime favorite to Madison audiences ever since he first played here in 1975, is indeed one of the most reliable, consistent and reputable pianists on the circuit these days.

He has technique to spare but he is not known for, or given to, pyrotechnics. No one raves about his octave technique, his huge sound, his fast scales.

But he is known for a certain distinctive and appealing tone and a light touch. More importantly, he is known for always doing justice to the music, not himself, and for favoring naturalness over edginess.

You can hear all this and more – Ax at his best — in his new release for Sony Classical. It is based on the program of theme-and-variations he is now touring with. The CD features Haydn’s “Variations in F Minor,” Beethoven’s “Eroica” Variations and Robert Schumann’s “Symphonic Etudes,” in that order. If you get the digital download from iTunes, you can also get Aaron Copland’s Variations that just didn’t fit on the CD but are part of the original program.

All the performance are noteworthy and convincing. But I am especially fond of the Haydn work, which was written, legend has it, at the death of a student who was also the composer’s lover. Ax brings both Classical-era poise and clarity touched with a proto-Romantic sensibility of anguish to this work that is not heard or performed often enough.

The Beethoven variations go back to his early career and he does full justice to it with added subtlety the decades have brought. And the Schumann, which includes some of the posthumous etude variations, are also thoroughly enjoyable.

I have listened to this recording several times and always find new things to appreciate. Here’s hoping he returns soon to Madison, a city The Ear knows that Ax really likes (he has performed several times with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and given several recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater) and a city that helped give him his start.

Emanuel Ax Variations CD

Jonathan Biss (below) is more than a generation younger than Ax, but he is developing a reputation much like Ax’s. Biss, who performed Mozart concerto sublimely with the Madison Symphony Orchestra several season ago, likes to offer distinctive programs (lately he is combining Schuman and Janacek by interspersing them) and is known more for musicianship than showmanship. But he often shows more edginess, especially with faster tempi. Not for nothing does Biss so identify with the music of Schumann, one of his specialties.

Biss

His second volume of the complete Beethoven Sonatas for Onyx – to be completed over 10 years – often some surprises as well as some predictable qualities.

Yes, it contains the overplayed “Moonlight” Sonata, which, as the recently deceased pianist-musicologist Charles Rosen once remarked, is probably the best-known piece of art music ever written. But Biss turns in a fine, outstanding performance, and then some — although I personally miss the mesmerizing slowness of Vladimir Horowitz’ opening movement, even if Beethoven indicated he wanted it played faster.

But the real interest on this new CD is elsewhere. Start with the early but very big Op. 7 Sonata – another piece that is not played often enough, but which boasts many wonderful moments throughout but especially in the slow movement. Biss is superb in it and makes we want to play it as well as listen to it more. That is high praise, perhaps the highest praise.

Then add in such rarities as the later and relatively short Op. 78 sonata, one Beethoven was said to favor over the “Moonlight” plus the rarely heard G Minor Fantasy, which Biss recorded before for EMI and which is a quirky piece that some think belongs with the Op. 78 sonata.

I like that Biss follows his habit of mixing up the sonatas by drawing from different periods, and it continues to work well. And if you are going to listen to the “Moonlight,” you can’t do better than his version within this context. All that, plus Onyx’s sound is a clear and close-up without being harsh – just superb as ever as a model for other labels.

I just hope Biss returns soon to Madison for a solo recital or a chamber music program, or even, yes, another concerto.

Jonathan BIss Beethoven CD vol. 2

The young and camera-friendly Alessio Bax (below) won the prestigious Leeds Competition and several others. He has played both a solo recital and a duo program with his pianist wife Lucille Chung in Madison at Farley’s House of Pianos. He has developed quite the reputation with high praise heaped particularly on his technique as well as some unusual repertoire, including his recording of Bach transcriptions.

Alessio Bax 1

When you hear his new CD of Brahms for Signum Classics, you will understand why. For beautiful music, there are the Op. 10 Ballades and the eight Op. 76 pieces and intermezzi. But for sheer breath-taking virtuosity it is hard to beat the “Paganini” Variations, which he performs to perfection, bringing the music rather than his technical prowess to the fore. An added piece of razzle-dazzle is Gyorgy Cziffra’s arrangement of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 (see and hear it performed live by Bax in a YouTube video at the bottom).

But Bax also possess great tone, and a wonderful sense of line and lyrical pacing that allow the thickly scored Brahms miniatures to breathe and make sense. He should definitely return soon to Mad City.

I myself like more mixed recital programs like Ax’s, ones built around a central theme or a connection that puts pieces and composers into dialogue with and among each other. And I think that labels are turning more and more to such programs as many buyers and listeners already own compete cycles of certain works by certain composers.

All in all, these new releases bodes well for a new generation of pianists who impress us with their musicianship as well as their technique, but who are still not well enough known to the public. And The Ear says it again: May Emanuel Ax, Jonathan Biss and Alessio Bax all return soon to Madison for recitals, concertos or even chamber music.

Alessio Bax Brahms CD


Music education: Today is Mozart’s 257th birthday – a good time to plan on attending next Sunday’s two benefits and performances for local student music groups: Music con Brio from Madison and the Middleton High School Choral Boosters Country breakfast.

January 27, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  (below) who lived 1756-1791. I will celebrate it by listening to my favorite Mozart piece, the Piano Concerto No. 22 (out of 27) in E-flat Major, K. 482 (on an EMI CD with pianist Jonathan Biss and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (an excerpt from  the CD that also features the popular Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major “Elvira Madigan,” K. 467, is at bottom on a YouTube video). Of course Mozart wrote so much sublime music., my favorite changes from year to year, or even sooner. What piece by Mozart do you like best and would celebrate his birthday with? Undecided? You might get an idea from the all-Mozart birthday programming on Wisconsin Public Radio today from 10 a.m. to noon during the new “Sunday Brunch” program with the excellent and discerning host Anders Yocom.

mozart big

Not all the music that students make is classical. But without any music education there would be precious little classical music heard form young students.

So get out your datebooks and check books.

Today’s post – appropriate for the birthday of classical music most amazing child prodigy — is devoted to suggesting that serious supporters should consider supporting the two following groups. I will let them speak for themselves, since they asked for space on the blog. Both groups  sound extremely worthy of support because of their contributions to local music education and to the community at a time when many public schools are cutting back on the arts::

MUSIC CON BRIO

My name is Carol Carlson, and I am co-founder and co-director of Music con Brio, Inc.

We are a local nonprofit organization housed at Emerson Elementary School, where we provide low-cost music lessons and equipment to Madison students.

Musc con Brio

For 2012-13, Music con Brio received funding from Dane Arts and the Madison Community Foundation to present our first Community Concert Series, a set of three concerts at three different Madison locations featuring our students performing in collaboration with three different groups of Madison musicians.

The second concert in the series will take place on Sunday, Feb. 3 at 1 p.m. in the Lobby of the Madison Museum of contemporary Art (below) in the Overture Center, and will feature our students performing with funk band The Big Payback. 

The concert is FREE and open to the public.

We would greatly appreciate any publicity that you might be able to give the concert.

Also check out our website (http://www.musicconbrio.org) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MusicConBrio)

MMOCA icon 3

MIDDLETON CHORAL BOOSTERS’ COUNTRY BREAKFAST

The 19th Annual Country Breakfast will be held Sunday, February 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Middleton High School Student Center at 2100 Bristol Street in Middleton.

The highlight of the breakfast will be individual and group performances from students participating in the Middleton High School Concert Choir (below), Cantus, Cardinal Choir, Chamber Singers, Broadway Bound and the Middletones throughout the entire day.  Check out the schedule at http://tinyurl.com/mrmielke to find out when your favorite Middleton High School singer is performing. 

Middleton HS Mixed Concert Choir

Come enjoy the broad variety of music along with all you can eat pancakes plus ham, eggs, oranges and beverages.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children (10 and under), and will be available at the door on the day of the event.

Don’t miss the silent auction featuring sports memorabilia, handcrafted items, jewelry, restaurant packages, event tickets and much, much more.

This is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Middleton High School choral program.  The funds generated are used to provide guest conductors and clinicians, solo and ensemble accompanists, music and supplies, field trips and scholarship assistance to students throughout the year.  

Sponsors who have signed up so far this year include:  Pohlkamp & Associates and Tom & Mary Beth Haunty (Print Sponsors);  Sofra/Villa Dolce, Huntington Learning Center, Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pub, Willy Street Co-op, Modern TV & Electronics Service, Inga & Woody Hagge, State Bank of Cross Plains, Baird Foundation and James Lord, DDS (Event Sponsors);  and the Ashley, Boyle, Couser/Middleton, Murphy and Pohlkamp families (Family sponsors).

Questions can be directed to Event Coordinator Amy Sandy at (608) 831-0116

Your support is most appreciated!


Classical music: During “Schumann Week” at NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog, American pianist Jonathan Biss excelled in exploring and explaining the music and life of the prototypical Romantic composer.

October 21, 2012
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not as if the music of Robert Schumann (1810-1856) hasn’t found a secure place in the repertoire. His piano music, chamber music, songs and orchestral music are all pretty standard fare and are performed and heard often.

And yet Robert Schumann (below, in a photo from 1850), who started out as a music critic and would-be concert pianist before turning to composing, still remains an enigmatic figure whose personal life and musical compositions offer many mysteries to explore. This is especially true of the role of his mental illness and the quality of his late-life compositions.

Two weeks ago, NPR and its terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” offered a mini-seminar on Schumann. It used many audio samples, including playing and insightful commentary by the contributor Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Jillian Edelstein) and others, including Maurizio Pollini, Sviatoslav Richter, Andras Schiff and Radu Lupu.

The young American pianist has recorded several outstanding CDs for EMI of major solo piano works of Schumann. His latest release is a terrific new recording of Schumann’s upbeat and extroverted Piano Quintet, coupled with Dvorak’s Piano Quintet, with the Elias String Quartet for the Onyx label).

Biss has also just published an outstandingly informative and personally revealing e-book on Schumann called “A Pianist Under the Influence” (below, $1.99 at amazon.com). Biss has also launched a season-long major project and international 30-concert tour — called “Schumann: Under the Influence” — of performing Schumann’s works with other instrumentalists and singers.

Biss also played the piano for NPR, which offers samples on its website.

HERE ARE THE SELECTIONS OR TOPICS OF THE WEEK-LONG EXPLORATION, IN ORDER FROM TOP TO BOTTOM EQUALING FIRST TO LAST. THE EAR LEARNED A LOT ABOUT SCHUMANN AND HOPES YOU DO TOO.

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Schumann, with some audio samples to highlight the discussion:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/20/161482421/5-things-you-never-knew-about-schumann

Pianist and Schumann enthusiast Jonathan Biss Shoots Down Schumann Detractors:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/26/161810687/jonathan-biss-shooting-down-the-schumann-detractors

How the Schumann’s  (below) – Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck — used an unusual joint written Journal more than conversation to communicate:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/26/161842022/jonathan-biss-meet-the-schumanns-and-their-cryptic-communications

How Schumann created and furthered a Culture of Musical Nostalgia:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/26/161847811/jonathan-biss-schumanns-culture-of-musical-nostalgia

I love Schumann’s sense of bittersweet melody and harmony, his sense of longing and search for belonging, and have many favorite pieces.

But perhaps my most favorite work is the second section of “Kreisleriana,” which is about his longing for Clara before they were married and which was dedicated to Chopin. (Chopin dedicated his Ballade No. 2 to Schumann, and Chopin’s career was launched early by published praise from Schumann, who was writing as a critic.)

Perhaps because I heard it early on, I find the performance by Martha Argerich particularly moving. Here is that movement performed by Argerich. (Biss’ outstanding and beautiful recording of the complete “Kreisleriana,” which runs to more than 33 minutes, is also available on YouTube.):


Classical music education: Practicing is the key to performing. NPR’s “Delayed Cadence” blog and British pianist Stephen Hough offer you inside looks and tips.

July 22, 2012
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

For those of us who go to concerts, the performance seems the important thing, the ultimate thing.

But that performance is really just the end-product of a long process that centers on practicing, practicing and more practicing.

Two of my favorite websites offer some glimpses into and tips about practicing.

British pianist Stephen Hough long ago started a series of tips about how to practice the piano. It is filled with a lot of insightful “master classes” from a master pianist. They include where to sit on the bench and well as tips about fingering and warning about playing overly expressively, no matter what the score’s instruction is.

Here is a link to the page,, on which you can use the search engine and typo in “Hough Practice Tips” to look at all 19 “lessons”:

Here is a specific example from the 19 practicing tips that Hough — a wonderful pianist and, as I saw in a master class he gave at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an outstanding teacher — has offered so far:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100060396/left-or-right-practice-tip-no-18/

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100054525/theres-no-such-thing-as-a-difficult-piece-practice-tip-no-16/

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100008061/be-boring-practice-tip-no-5/

And NPR’s “Delayed Cadence” blog recently started a series of videos called “In Practice” that takes you inside the studios of important young artists.

The subjects include pianist Jeremy Denk (below) rehearing etudes of Ligeti (Denk also gave a great master class, below bottom, for young student at the Wisconsin Union Theater); the four-man singing group New York Polyphony; and pianist Jonathan Biss rehearsing an early Beethoven sonata for the first CD in his complete cycle of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas:

The NPR glimpses don’t really offer specific advice or tips, except to the degree they reinforce the importance of practicing for even the most talented and seasoned performers.

Check them out at:

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

http://www.npr.org/event/music/155236812/in-practice-new-york-polyphony?autoplay=true

http://www.npr.org/event/music/155236772/in-practice-jonathan-biss?autoplay=true

The Ear bets there are many other websites with good tips about practicing all kinds of instruments and singing.

Maybe readers and listeners will post them with links in the COMMENTS section.

We amateurs could sure use all the help we can get from professionals!


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