The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Can you name the 20 famous classical musicians who died in 2014? NPR remembers them and The Ear celebrates them with the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms.

January 11, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last year, classical music lost of a lot of important people -– performers and composers.

For The Ear, three of the most important people were the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below top), who was a master of the mainstream operatic and orchestral repertoire; the English conductor Christopher Hogwood (below middle), who also pioneered the performance and recording of early music, Baroque musicClassical era composers and even early Romantic composers — including Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert — on period instruments and with historically informed performance practices; and the Dutch flutist and conductor Frans Bruggen (below bottom), whose career followed a similar trajectory as Hogwood’s.

Claudio Abbado

Christopher Hogwood

Frans Bruggen 1

Those men made us hear music in new, unexpected and exciting ways — the highest achievement that any performer or interpreter can aspire to.

But we also lost highly accomplished and important singers and instrumentalists, including pianists and violinists.

The always outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio) recently ran a list of 20 figures who died in 2014, though I am sure there are more.

Below is a link to the NPR story.

When you click on each entry you will get photo and full obituaries, readers’ comments and fine sound samples. So don’t be afraid to leave the NPR page and follow the various links.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/01/09/375630332/swan-songs-classical-musicians-we-lost-in-2014

And here is a fitting tribute, the final movement of the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms in which the chorus sings “Blessed are the dead for their works shall live on after them.”

And be sure to use the Comments section of this blog for any additions and tributes you wish to add, perhaps by naming your favorite composer or work they performed or recorded.

 


Classical music: Van Cliburn biopic is in the works with young star Ansel Elgort to play the late, great American pianist. Plus, Madison maestro John DeMain remembers opera maestro Julius Rudel.

July 6, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear sees that something for both the ears and the eyes is coming down the pike.

Hollywood sources have confirmed that a biographical film –- yes, a biopic -– about the American pianist Van Cliburn (below) , who died last year at 78 of bone cancer, is in the works.

Cliburn's hands

That is as it should be, despite what some classical musicians see as shortcomings in Cliburn’s artistry.

Here is a post The Ear did before about the opinions that members of the public and musicians have concerning Cliburn:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/classical-music-how-good-was-pianist-van-cliburn/

van cliburn ill

Cliburn was the first classical artist to make a million-selling record -– he played the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 — on the RCA label (below and at the bottom). It was the same work with which, at age 23, he unexpectedly won the First International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.

His victory during the height of The Cold War was an event that led to a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in New York City (bel0w) and a meteoric career, then to premature burn-out and an early retirement from the concert stage. (You can see an archival historic footage at the bottom in a YouTube video. Complete performances by Van Cliburn of the same concerto are also on YouTube.)

Van Cliburn ticker tape parade in 1958

And, if The Ear recalls correctly, Van Cliburn became a phenom or superstar who sold out houses, and was the first classical artist to get paid a fee of $10,000 for a one-night performance.

Cliburn Tchaikovsky LP

Not many classical musicians have the stuff to become the subject of a biopic.

Some composers, especially Ludwig van Beethoven and Frederic Chopin, have lent themselves to such a treatment, several times in the latter case. (We will overlook the case of the mentally ill performer David Helfgott in “Shine,” which seemed more a pathology than a biography.)

But The Ear can’t think of another individual performer, although he remembers more general subjects like “The Competition.”

The young actor Ansel Elgort (below), who The Ear thinks resembles the young Cliburn (who resembles fellow Texan Lyle Lovett), has been cast in the leading role, which focuses on Cliburn’s early years and his victory in Moscow. Apparently, Elgort himself also plays the piano quite well -– but my guess is that he does not play well enough to play it the way that the Juilliard School-trained Cliburn did.

But Elgort’s star is on the ascent, given his performance in the much praised and popular current release (“The Fault In Our Stars,” about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love.

Ansel Elgort

Anyway here are some links to stories about Van Cliburn, Ansel Elgort and the forthcoming movie:

To CBS News:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ansel-elgort-to-star-in-van-cliburn-biopic/

To the Dallas Morning News, in Cliburn’s hometown:

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-news/20140623-ansel-elgort-tapped-to-play-van-cliburn-in-movie.ece

To TIME magazine with a good video accompanying it:

http://time.com/2917530/ansel-elgort-van-cliburn/

To another video with good comparison photos of Cliburn and Elgort:

http://www.hitfix.com/news/ansel-elgort-playing-van-cliburn-in-new-biopic

To Norman Lebrecht’s tweet-like comment on his popular blog Slipped Disc:

http://slippedisc.com/2014/06/ansel-is-picked-to-play-van-cliburn-in-biopic/

What other classical music performers would you like to see treated on a biopic?

I nominate the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, a closeted gay man who led a dramatic life including encounters and confrontations with Soviet leaders and his American tour plus his eccentric late-life habits that included touring around Europe in a van playing in schools and old churches and using out-of-tune pianos. And perhaps also the legendary operatic  soprano Maria Callas, who was known for being tempestuous and temperamental as well as supremely gifted in both singing and acting. (There was a Broadway play about her, “Master Class” by Terrence McNally, the same writer who did the “Dead Man Walking,” the opera by Jake Heggie.)

richterwithcross1

Medea Maria Callas

Your nominations?

The Ear wants to hear.

JOHN DeMAIN ON JULIUS RUDEL

And speaking of celebrities, John DeMain (below, in photo by Prasad), the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera, sent in his remembrance of the late, great opera conductor Julius Rudel, who led the now-defunct City Opera of New York and who died a week ago at 93:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Here is a link to the Rudel posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/classical-music-conductor-julius-rudel-longtime-director-of-the-defunct-new-york-city-opera-has-died-at-93/

And here is John DeMain’s remembrance:

“It was my great honor to be chosen for the Julius Rudel Award at the New York City Opera in 1971. The purpose of the stipend was to allow an American conductor to work closely with Maestro Rudel to learn how to become an artistic director of an opera company.

Rudel (below) was far and away the best conductor in the house. His performances were vital, theatrical, and intensely musically expressive. His “Marriage of Figaro” was an unforgettable experience for me. I prepared the auditions of singers for the company, and got to sit in on the casting conversations, and learned the criterion for casting a singer in an opera.

Julius Rudel at home in 2010 NY Times

Rudel was extremely demanding musically, and, of course, expanded the repertoire of the company in all directions. He had great flair for American opera and musical theater.

The bottom line for me, however, was he delivered totally engrossing performances night after night. He also was a mentor to me, and provided counsel and advice as new career opportunities presented themselves to me.

I consider Julius Rudel’s time at the City Opera as the “golden age” of that company. It was during that time that Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Norman Treigle, Beverly Sills, and many other greats were singing on that stage.

I’m grateful to have had him in my life.

Julius Rudel middle age conducting NPR

 


Classical music: Conductor Julius Rudel, longtime director of the defunct New York City Opera, has died at 93.

June 29, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Julius Rudel (below, in a 2010 photo from The New York Times), the longtime artistic director of the now defunct New York City Opera, has died at 93.

Julius Rudel at home in 2010 NY Times

By all accounts, Rudel was a knowledgeable, impeccable and insightful musician, and a generous man and instructive role model. And that is how he comes across in an interview for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) you can listen to at the bottom in a YouTube video.

An unassuming man and a populist for the arts, Rudel, who was a native Austrian and a refugee from Adolf Hilter’s Nazi Germany at 17 in 1938, had the misfortune to outlive the opera company that he so nourished but which went bankrupt and defunct eight months ago.

He had a local tie in that, early on, he recognized and encouraged the talent of a young piano and conducting graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City who was also a student at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s famed Tanglewood Festival.

Julius Rudel middle age conducting NPR

That man was John DeMain (below), who is the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera. Before coming to Madison, DeMain led the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Huston Grand Opera.

Here is a link to the story where John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) talked briefly about his link and debt to Rudel.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/classical-music-madison-symphony-orchestra-and-madison-opera-conductor-john-demain-talks-about-the-role-of-the-piano-in-his-career-and-his-upcoming-performances-this-weekend-of-robert-and-clara-schum/

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Rudel lived a long and productive life, filled with nurturing many famous opera singers, including Beverly Sills who is seen below, at left, in 1976 talking to Rudel) and Placido Domingo, and with guest stints around the world conducting all kinds of music.

new york city opera in 1976 soprano Beverly Sills, stage director Sarah Caldwell and then-director Julius Rudel

Here is a great story from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/06/26/325809149/julius-rudel-longtime-director-of-new-york-city-opera-dies-at-93

And here is an impressively comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/arts/music/julius-rudel-longtime-city-opera-impresario-dies-at-93.html?_r=0

And here is the NEA interview on YouTube:

 


Classical music: The final curtain falls tonight on the “People’s Opera – the City Opera of New York while across town the Metropolitan Opera launches the new season of the globally successful “Live in HD” satellite broadcasts.

October 5, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This will be a memorable and historic day, especially in New York City, for opera.

It is memorable on two counts.

It is ironic that this afternoon marks the opening of the new season, the eighth since it started in 2006, of “The Met Live in HD,” a spectacularly successful program, that will open this season of 10 Metropolitan Opera productions with soprano superstar Anna Netrebko and globe-trotting conductor Valery Gergiev in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.”

Met Live Eugene Onegin poster

The very profitable “Live in HD” series helps to explain the financial success of the world-famous Metropolitan Opera. The series, show in thousands of cinemas around the world, has changed the opera scene world-wide.

Here is a story from this blog with links to other stories:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/classical-music-will-anyone-boo-or-protest-singer-anna-netrebko-and-conductor-valery-gergiev-when-they-open-the-new-live-from-the-met-in-hd-season-this-saturday-with-a-satellite-bro/

(In Madison, the live satellite broadcast starts at 11:55 a.m. at Point Cinemas and Eastgate Cinemas. Admission is $24 for adults, $18 for children.)

Rheingold audience point

But by far the more memorable and historic event will no doubt be the final curtain falling on the historic 70-year-old City Opera of New York. That will come tonight at the Brooklyn Academy of Music — lately the City Opera has left its home venue in Lincoln Center and traveled around the city to  perform in a vain attempt to save money and fundraise from new audiences  — where the company will give a performance of the new opera “Anna Nicole” (below) by Marc-Anthony Turnage, which some critics see as a fast-food, high calorie and low nutrition, work of art that helped cause the fall of City Opera. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

City Opera closes with Anna Nicole by Mark-Anthony Turnage at BAM

By all accounts, the City Opera has been plagued with financial problems for a few years. But the immediate cause of the failure was the company’s inability to raise $7 million by last Monday.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s longtime music director and conductor, maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo buy Prasad) has had a long history with the City Opera, ever since he was a student at the Juilliard School, as he discussed in an interview last summer with The Ear:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/classical-music-madison-symphony-orchestra-and-madison-opera-conductor-john-demain-talks-about-the-role-of-the-piano-in-his-career-and-his-upcoming-performances-this-weekend-of-robert-and-clara-schum/

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Here are three pieces I think that will giver you a good ideas of the City Opera and the fallout from its failure.

Here is a link to the story by Jeff Lunden that aired on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/10/02/228171680/chronicle-of-a-death-foretold-new-york-city-opera-shuts-its-doors

Here is a background story from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/04/arts/music/new-york-city-opera-files-for-bankruptcy.html?_r=0

And here is another New York Times story with recollections of the opera company by staff and performers reported by senior music critic Anthony Tommasini (below is a 1976 photo with star soprano Beverly Sills on the left, stage director Sarah Caldwell in the center and City Opera then-director Julius Rudel:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/remembering-city-opera-we-will-miss-it-more-than-we-realize/?ref=music&ref=music

new york city opera in 1976 soprano Beverly Sills, stage director Sarah Caldwell and then-director Julius Rudel

There are a lot of devoted opera fans in the Madison area an around the world and especially in New York City.

What do they think of the demise of City Opera?

I hope they will leave an observation in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera conductor John DeMain talks about the role of the piano in his career and his upcoming performances this weekend with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society of Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck Schumann songs and romances, and of Johannes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann” for piano, four-hands.

June 19, 2013
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison and the rest of the world know John DeMain (below, in a  photo by Prasad) primarily as a symphony and opera conductor who is also the longtime music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

But this acclaimed conductor, who won a Grammy Award for his recording of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” and who conducted the world premiere of John Adams’ opera “Nixon in China” at the Houston Grand Opera, started his career as a promising pianist, as did many other conductors including Leonard Bernstein (with whom DeMain studied conducting), Sir Georg Solti, James Levine, Daniel Barenboim and Christoph Eschenbach. Aside from the pipe organ, the piano is generally considered to be the most orchestral of instruments — so it really comes as no surprise that so many conductors started out as pianists. (To be fair, still other well-known conductors began as string or wind players.)

DeMain will return to the piano this weekend when he splits accompanying duties with pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below), the co-founder and co-director of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. DeMain and Jeffrey Sykes will perform jointly in Johannes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann,” Op. 23, and will take turns accompanying other performers in songs and romances for flute. (BDDS is also performing  a second program of  songs and chamber music by Ferdinand Ries, Ned Rorem, Frank Martin and Gabriel Faure.) 

Performances are on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Playhouse (below top) and on Sunday evening, at 6:30 p.m. in the Hillside Theater (below bottom) at the landmark and historic Frank Lloyd Wright compound Taliesin in Spring Green.

BDDS Playhouse audience

taliesin_hillside2

The rest of the “love triangle” program of music by Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck Schumann (both below) and Johannes Brahms includes many songs by Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck Schumann and Brahms; Robert Schumann’s Three Romances for flute and piano, Op. 94; Clara Wieck Schumann’s Three Romances for flute and piano Op. 22. For more information about the program, performers and tickets, visit http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

Schumann_Robert_and_Wieck_Clara

DeMain (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) graciously answered an email Q&A for The Ear:

DeMainOpera

Most of us know you as a conductor, even though you have played continuo and conducted smaller operas from the keyboard for the Madison Opera. You started out as a pianist. Can you tell about your time as a pianist from starting lessons through competitions and Juilliard and the decision to go into conducting?

I started studying piano at the age of six. I was a pretty good sight-reader and loved to accompany myself singing. When I was a senior in high school, I won the Youngstown Symphony Society’s piano competition, competing with college-level students.

After making my debut playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the symphony, I decided to audition for Juilliard. I was accepted and studied for six years with Adele Marcus (below, as a demanding young teacher and performer). I played chamber music with the concertmaster of the Juilliard orchestra, and I won a competition in New York for young artists.

Adele Marcus

Why did you want to change from being a pianist to being a conductor, especially an opera conductor? (What are the comparative pleasures and pains of each, the piano and conducting?)

Conducting sort of coexisted side by side with playing the piano. I was conducting the grade school band in fourth-grade when the teacher didn’t show up. It came to me naturally.

While at Juilliard I took some elective conducting courses with Jorge Mester (below). I earned my tuition for Juilliard by conducting musicals for big summer stock theaters in the summer.

063040_PasadeSym_LKH_

After graduating from Juilliard, I continued to play chamber music in New York and played a few recitals. I always had a big love for the theater, opera and singing as well as the symphony orchestra.

Certain opportunities were presented to me in the field of conducting, starting with the Norwalk Connecticut Symphony, followed by a lengthy stint with opera for public television.

That, in turn, led to a summer studying conducting at Tanglewood, and to beginning my professional career at the New York City Opera as the second winner of the Julius Rudel award. (Below is a photo of Julius Rudel, the Austrian native who led the New York City Opera for many years and also guest conducted at the Met and elsewhere .) My duties included 35 hours a week of coaching and playing rehearsals. So the piano was always part of my professional life.

julius rudel

My next position was with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (below) as associate conductor. In addition to conducting the orchestra on tour and having my own subscription concerts, I was playing chamber music with members of the orchestra on our chamber music series.

St Paul Chamber Orchestra

How did the piano affect your conducting and what did you bring to conducting from the piano? And inversely, what does conducting now bring to your playing the piano?

Playing the piano is a great aid in learning orchestral scores. One can study both the melodic content of a work, but even more importantly the harmonic structure of the music.

Conducting makes me aware of pulse when I’m playing the piano. And, of course, there is the imagining the piano part as though it would be orchestrated, much the same way we imagine the human voice singing an orchestral melody.

I think the life of a pianist can be more isolated, considering the many hours of practicing that is required. While studying orchestral and operatic scores is also isolated and private, there are so many rehearsals with the cast or the orchestra that makes for a more social experience. That seems to suit me better.

John DeMain conducting 2

I suppose the trite answer is we do something because we can. I love the big playground of opera and symphony, and wouldn’t trade it for the world. But making music at the piano with fellow musicians is such an important part of a complete musical life.

In the orchestra world, we like to say that all music is chamber music. Listening to each other and responding accordingly is a great part of great orchestral playing. One develops this playing chamber music. Playing one-on one with your fellow musicians where everyone is equal. I feel blessed that I can participate in all of this from time to time.

Do have any comment about Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann” for piano, four-hands, and other works you will be performing this weekend with Jeffrey Sykes for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society?

I certainly don’t play the piano publicly that frequently anymore, and I haven’t for years. But I thought this would be a rewarding experience, which is turning out to be just that. I have big respect for what Stephanie Jutt (who is principal flute with the Madison Symphony Orchestra) and Jeffrey Sykes (below) have created. And I love Jeffrey’s pianism.

jeffrey sykes

The Brahms theme-and-variations (played by the Kontarsky brothers in a YouTube video at bottom) are rather extraordinary, and we are enjoying ourselves immense putting them together. They are harmonically quite daring at times, and of course deal in the finality of life as well. It should be an interesting concert.


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