The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Are super-high concert fees morally right or wrong? Do they contribute to the wealth gap and lack of young audiences? What can music consumers do?

October 24, 2014
20 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Are artist concert fees — like those charged by tenor Placido Domingo (below top), soprano Renee Fleming (below middle) and violinist Itzhak Perlman (below bottom) —  too high these days and too unaffordable for most American concert-goers?

FRENI

reneefleming

Itzhak Perlman close

What would Janet say?

Maybe that refrain could become the economic equivalent of What Would Jesus Say?

I am speaking of Janet Yellen (below), the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve who last week made headlines when she spoke out publicly against the widening wealth gap as being contrary to America’s historic democratic ideals.

Key Speakers At Seminars At The IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings

But let’s localize the issue.

By all accounts superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, along with pianist Kathryn Stott, turned in a terrific performance — his seventh — at the Wisconsin Union Theater last Saturday night.

The Ear didn’t go, but here is a rave review from the student newspaper The Badger Herald, which agrees with the word-of-mouth reviews I have heard:

http://badgerherald.com/artsetc/2014/10/20/yo-yo-ma-and-kathryn-scott-transcend-classical-music-norms-at-shannon-hall/#.VEfBQYeENUQ

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

And for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy tickets, the Wisconsin Union Theater even webcast the concert live and for free.

Still, with seats that sold for well over $100, The Ear got to wondering: Are really high artist fees morally right or wrong?

We all hear about the widening wealth gap, and especially about the astronomical pay given to CEOs versus their workers as compared to the same ratio several decades ago.

Well, what about well-known and in-demand concert artists?

If The Ear heard correctly, Yo-Yo Ma’s fee for that one-night performance was either $90,000 or $95,000 -– or about $42,500 or $45,000 an hour.

Can Yo-Yo Ma demand and get that extravagant fee in the so-called “free market” society with its corporate welfare and tax loopholes for the wealthy? Of course, he can — and he does. That is why he sold out the Wisconsin Union Theater.

But should he?

It makes one wonder.

Is Yo-Yo Ma really that much better as a cellist and musician -– and not just as a celebrity — than many other cellists, including MacArthur “genius grant” winner Alisa Weilerstein, Alban Gerhardt, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Steven Isserlis, Carter Brey, Joshua Roman and others? (You can hear Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of a movement from a solo cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach in a  YouTube video — with over 11 million hits — at the bottom and decide if it is that much better than other cellists play it.)

Now I don’t mean to pick just on Yo-Yo Ma. I have gone to a half-dozen of his other performances here and I have met him and talked with him. He is without doubt a great musician, a fine human being and an exemplary humanitarian.

The problem that I am talking about transcends any single performer and applies to the whole profession.

Maybe at least part of the problem of attracting young audiences to classical music concerts can be placed right in the laps of the performing artists themselves.

When The Ear was young, he got to hear all sorts of great musical artists—including Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Rubinstein (below), Vladimir Horowitz, Van Cliburn, Itzhak Perlman, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Emanuel Ax and others for quite affordable prices. Not that those artists didn’t live well -– but I doubt that they were paid the equivalent of $45,000 an hour.

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

Maybe it is time for economic populism in the performing arts.

Fees like that exclude a lot of families from participating. Some fans might find it better and cheaper to hear a CD or download than go to a live concert.

Too many performing artists – opera stars come immediately to mind as a class — seem to have taken the same path toward justifying greed as movie stars, sports figures, rock stars and CEO’s who make out like bandits.

In short, can it be that classical musicians are helping to kill off classical music?

Smaller theaters like the Wisconsin Union Theater and even the Overture Center simply cannot book such well-known artists without charging a ridiculous amount of money for a seat – and at a time when many people of all ages just can’t afford it. It just adds to the Wealth Gap and the One Percent problem.

SO THE EAR WOULD LIKE TO ASK CONCERT ARTISTS: PLEASE ADJUST YOUR CONCERT FEES TO HELP SUSTAIN THE FUTURE OF YOUR ART.

Well, these are just some brain droppings.

The Ear wonders what you think of stratospheric artist fees?

Do they contribute to the wealth gap?

Do they hurt the popularity of the art form, especially younger generations?

Are they contributing to the decline of cultural literacy?

In short, are such high artist fees morally right or wrong?

And if wrong, what can we arts consumers do about it? Boycott certain artists until they become more reasonable in their fees?

Ask artist and management agencies to adjust the fees to make them more affordable?

Go to alternative concerts that are perfectly acceptable without star power and cost less or, like those at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, free?

Tell us what you think in a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Is “The Death of Klinghoffer” anti-Semitic, racist or pro-terrorist? Does it merit protests of and death threats to the Metropolitan Opera? Or is it a painfully realistic and human portrayal of political fanaticism and terrorism? What would Alice say? What do you say?

October 18, 2014
1 Comment

REMINDER: If you can’t or won’t go hear superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott in music by Johannes Brahms, Igor Stravinsky, Astor Piazzolla and others at their SOLD–OUT  recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater TONIGHT, you can stream it LIVE and for FREE by going to this website at 8 p.m.:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about mixing politics and art!

And especially at a time so close to a contemporary conflict — Hamas, Gaza and Israel — that reflects the continuing tensions, frictions and bloodshed depicted in the original art decades ago.

No wonder, then, that the Metropolitan Opera has been protested and has received death threats over the new production of American composer John Adams’ controversial reality-based opera about Israel and Palestinian terrorists called “The Death of Klinghoffer.”

Due to pressure from the pro-Israeli lobby and some Jewish groups, the opera was already canceled as part of this season’s “Live From The Met in HD” telecasts.

Both detractors and defenders of the opera are deeply displeased with the Met.

Klinghoffer protests

But the actual production — which has gone on without incident in other cities at other times — continues in rehearsal as it heads to its opening this Monday night. (At bottom is a YouTube video with the director, conductor and composer of “The Death of Klinghoffer.”) 

Here is a story from The New York Times (Below is a photo from The New York Times by Damon Winter of actor-singers Aubrey Allicock (left) and Paolo Szot):

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/15/arts/music/mets-death-of-klinghoffer-remains-a-lightning-rod-.html?_r=0

MET OPERA Klinghoffer  Damon Winter of NYT Aubrey Allicock (left) and Paolo Szot

And here is another story from The Los Angeles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-death-of-klinghoffer-metropolitan-opera-20141015-story.html

Met Klinghoffer 2

And finally here is a terrific and well-balanced, well-sourced summary story, which includes an interview with librettist Alice Goodman (below) — who converted from Judaism to Christianity and is now an Episcopalian priest in England — about the opera and the protests. It was broadcast Friday on NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/10/17/356889957/twenty-years-later-klinghoffer-still-draws-protests

Alice Goodman

What do you think about the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer”?

Would you be a defender?

Or a detractor and protester?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Vicki Powell talks about why she took to the viola rather than the violin. She returns to Madison to solo next Wednesday night with the Middleton Community Orchestra. Plus, cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s SOLD-OUT recital Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater will be WEBCAST LIVE and FOR FREE.

October 17, 2014
2 Comments

REMINDER: This Saturday night, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below right) will make his seventh appearance at the Wisconsin Union Theater at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall. His recital features works by Igor Stravinsky, Johannes Brahms, Olivier Messiaen, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzolla and others with piano accompanist Kathryn Stott (below left). The event is SOLD OUT to the general public, although some student tickets may remain. For more information, here is a link:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/season14-15/yoyoma-kathynstott.html

BUT: If you didn’t get a ticket to the sold-out Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott concert Saturday night, October 18, in Shannon Hall in the Wisconsin Union Theater, don’t fret. The concert will be webcast if you go to the page above at 8 p.m.

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear loves the sound of the viola, with its mellow mediating between the higher violin and the lower cello.

And he will have the chance to hear it in some unusual repertoire this coming Wednesday night, Oct. 22, when  the Madison-born violist Vicki Powell (below top) returns to solo with the Middleton Community Orchestra (below bottom, in a photo by William Ballhorn) under conductor Steve Kurr.

Vicki Powell, Viola

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

The MCO opens its fifth season at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Middleton Performing Arts Center, 2100 Bristol Street, that is attached to Middleton High School. Tickets are $10 general admission; students get in for FREE. Advance tickets can be bought at the Willy Street Coop West.

Middleton PAC1

The program includes the Overture to “William Tell” (which contains the brass fanfare theme to TV show “The Lone Ranger”) by Gioachino Rossini; the Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra by Johann Nepomuk Hummel; the Romance for Viola and Orchestra by Max Bruch; and the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak.

For more information about the amateur but very accomplished ensemble, including how to join it and support it and find out what the coming season will bring, call (608) 212-8690 or visit: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Violist Vicki Powell (below) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:

Vicki Powell 2

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers and tell us a bit about yourself, including when you started music lessons, your early preparation and your life in Madison as well as your personal interests (hobbies, etc.) and professional career plans?

Greetings from New York City, the city that never sleeps and that is certainly never lacking in cultural events. I am a native Wisconsinite, raised in Madison, but for the past eight years I have been living on the East Coast.

After earning my Bachelor’s of Music at the Curtis Institute, where I studied with Roberto Diaz and Misha Amory, I moved to New York City to pursue my Master’s at the Juilliard School, and have lived in the city ever since.

My life consists of a potpourri of musical activities, from performing with the Jupiter Chamber Players, to playing with the New York Philharmonic, to collaborating with ballet companies alongside my new music group Ensemble39. I’ve traveled across the globe and collaborated with many incredible musicians, but my most fond memories are from my time back home, the formative years of my musical being.

I began taking violin lessons with Maria Rosa Germain at the age of four after hearing my brother, Derek, play the violin. I have such a vivid memory of the moment when I decided that I wanted to play the violin: It was dusk, and I was curled up on the green shag carpet of our basement floor, the last bits of daylight leaking in through the windows above. Derek was practicing the Waltz by Johannes Brahms from Suzuki, Book Two a few feet away.

I was exhausted after an afternoon of monkeying around on the jungle gym, and the waltz was the most soothing lullaby to my ears, transporting me to that surreal state of half sleep where time seems to stand still. I felt so peaceful, so warm, so content, the effects combining to make the moment so magical that the only logical thing to me upon waking was that I would some day be able to recapture that sensation and make music as beautiful.

My main violin studies were with Eugene Purdue (below, in a photo by Thomas C. Stringfellow), of the famed “Buddy” Conservatory of Music, with whom I studied for nine years. Mr. Purdue also introduced me to the wonderful world of chamber music, taking on the role of devoted coach to my string quartet, the Élève Arte (wannabes of the Pro Arte String Quartet).

Eugene Purdue 2 by Thomas C. Stringfellow

The challenge to my string quartet was that there were three of us violinists, and no violist to speak of, so we took it upon ourselves to switch around our roles in order for us each to have a turn at playing the viola. As the years rolled on, it became clear to us that in order to compete at competitions, it was not practical for us to be lugging so many instruments onstage (there exists some comical video footage of this phenomenon).

At this point, I decided that my role in life was not that of diva (ahem, First Violin). Although I find the role of Second Violin extremely vital to the ensemble, challenging, thrilling and full of guts, I was drawn to the uniquely dark tone of the Viola.

To me the viola (below) represented the real meat and soul of the string quartet, and the tone of the viola was the perfect vehicle for expressing all of the rage, pain and suffering that I felt (Bela Bartok’s works were the perfect outlet for those emotions).

viola

Most violists also play the violin. What attracted you to the viola? What would you like the public to know about the viola, which seems less well-known and more mysterious than, say, the violin or the cello?

Having now overcome my teenage angst, I still adore the viola and its role in music -– to be entrusted with the core of harmony, the real color within every texture, gives me such a sense of quiet power with which I can subtly control the direction of a phrase and the shape of an entire work.

Mr. Purdue once shared a piece of wisdom relating to his wife, Sally Chisholm (below), who teaches at the UW-Madison School of Music and performs with the Pro Arte Quartet. She was my first formal viola teacher and the person responsible for expanding my creative horizon beyond the physical realm of music-making.

Those words of wisdom were: “People feel at ease when playing with Sally, and they easily credit themselves for sounding so magnificent. However, it is Sally who, through her playing, acts as such a strong guiding force that the flow of musical intention is undeniable.” That is a powerful statement that has stayed with me to this day, and which I strive to achieve every single day.

Sally Chisholm

Was there an Aha! Moment – an individual piece or composer or performance or recording, when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career and be a violist?

I can’t imagine pursuing a life in anything unrelated to music and the arts, but it was not always that way.

As a teenager, I refused even to dream of becoming a musician –- I’m a very realistic person, and the idea of fighting my way through a world that is so competitive and which is not quite so financially lucrative was not one that appealed to my sensibilities. During my early high school years, I focused my attentions on math and the sciences, preparing myself for a life as a dentist or pathologist.

Then my “Aha!” moment came with my 16th birthday when I gave my debut as a solo violist on the nationally syndicated radio show From the Top on NPR (National Public Radio). It was the first time I had ever played for an audience to which I had no connection — the show was taped in Dallas, Texas — and I suppose the whirlwind story behind my debut as a violist sans string quartet helped to convince me that a life in music would never be boring.

I had such a blast meeting new people, and the thrill that came with being onstage was unforgettable that from that point forward I was hooked.

Benjamin Solomonow playing cello on NPR's %22From the Top%22

How do you think classical music can attract more young people?

We so often hear that classical music is dying, a sentiment with which I strongly disagree. Times have changed, and the world has turned to an era of short attention spans and an addiction to social media. I myself am victim to a few of these [shortcomings], but because of them, I am also aware of the enormous amount of interest in the classical world.

I believe that in order to attract more young (and old) fans of classical music, we must be conscious of providing inviting points of entry.

I am very fortunate to be privy to several hip events around New York City that target young people looking to be cultured and have a great time doing so. A few examples are: Groupmuse, Wine by the Glass, NYC House Concerts, the Le Poisson Rouge (below) nightclub. They all introduce music in a social setting where it’s cool to explore, and where you don’t feel constrained by rules of concert-watching etiquette.

Le Poisson Rouge

What can you tell us about Hummel’s Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra?

Hummel (below) was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, both of whom played the role of mentor for their younger counterpart. Hummel is most well-known for his fantasies, which are said to be “the peak and keystone of virtuosic performance.” The Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra takes on different operatic themes, three of which appear in the version that I will be performing with the Middleton Community Orchestra. (You can hear the Hummel Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Hummelcolor

What can you tell us about the Bruch Romance for Viola and Orchestra

The Romance by Max Bruch (below top) holds a very special place in my heart. It was the very last work I performed — with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) — before departing Madison to begin my studies at the Curtis Institute of Music eight years ago! The lush, tonal soundscape will draw in any sucker for Romantic music.

max bruch

WCO lobby

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

I’m very much looking forward to performing at home again, with people that are like family to me. Mindy Taranto, cofounder of the Middleton Community Orchestra, has been such a great friend and supporter to me throughout the years, and I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to collaborate with her and the orchestra.


Classical music: The Carnegie Hall of Madison — the renovated Wisconsin Union Theater on the University of Wisconsin campus — will reopen next fall with a gala concert by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and other classical stars.

March 30, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear likes to call the Wisconsin Union Theater (below) “The Carnegie Hall of Madison.”

The reason is simple. Ever since the historic WUT opened, that is where the really great classical music talents of the 20th century performed, especially long before there was a Madison Civic Center or an Overture Center.

WUT from stage 1

Two seasons ago, the Wisconsin Union Theater closed for repairs and started holding concerts in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

But the renovations are almost completed. For more information about the two-year renovation, visit:

http://unionreinvestment.wisc.edu

So the Wisconsin Union Theater has announced a gala and celebratory 2014-2015 Concert Series in the renovated theater.

The press release reads: “The Wisconsin Union Theater is proud to announce its 2014-2015 Concert Series. Reopening for its 75th anniversary (and the Concert Series’ 95th anniversary) after a two-year renovation, the theater offers a magnificent series, which includes:

Yo-Yo Ma, cello, with pianist Kathryn Stott, piano on Saturday, October 18, 2014. (At the bottom, you can hear the duo perform the “Meditation” from the opera “Thais” by Jules Massenet in a YouTube video that has more than 1 million hits.)

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

Valentina Lisitsa, piano, who has been an Internet sensation and procured a contract with Decca Records from her millions of followers on YouTube, on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

Chanticleer singers on Saturday, February 21, 2015.

Chanticleer_Formal2

Takacs String Quartet on Saturday, February 28, 2015, for the Fan Taylor Memorial Concert.

takacs quartet

Sharon Isbin, guitar, and Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano, on Saturday, March 21, 2015. Presented with the Madison Opera.

Sharon Isbin

Isabel Leonard mezzo

“As was promised when the theater closed for renovations, past and current subscribers are given first priority to place an order for the series and request their preferred seating area. Others can subscribe later and single tickets will be available in August.

“This is just the beginning, says WUT officials. Details of the theater’s complete season will be released at a later date and will include many additional superb artists and performances.

“The season is presented by Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee.

Single ticket prices range from $25 t0 $125 for the Yo-Yo Ma concert. The others generally run from $12 to $45 or $50.

Brochures will be mailed in mid-June.

For more information visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu

Enhanced by Zemanta

Classical Music: Meditate on this — NPR asks if French opera composer Jules Massenet be rediscovered, revived and performed for more than his famous “Meditation”?

September 16, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

These days, about the only piece by the 19th century French composer Jules Massenet (below, in a photo from Getty Images) you hear often is the lovely “Meditation” from the opera ‘Thais,” usually scored for violin and orchestra or violin and piano but also available in transcriptions.

But recently the director of NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” classical music blog Tom Huizenga (below) made the case for rediscovering and reviving Jules Massenet. The occasion was the centennial of Massenet’s birth and the issuing of a 23-CD box set by Decca, from which he took  samples. He also cited some interesting statistics about the popularity of performances of Massenet’s usually sentimental works.

True, Massenet was an unabashed sentimentalist, but he certainly had an undeniable great gift for melody and harmony. He knew how to write a line that sings and music that pleases.

Huizenga’s essay is even filled with several audio snippets to help make his case and to help you decide or reach a verdict.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/08/14/158750921/making-a-case-for-massenet-the-misunderstood-sentimentalist

Maybe it is just more proof that the great rediscoveries made in the 17th and 18th centuries, in the Baroque and Classical periods, that took place over the past several decades with early music and period instrument groups are now reaching into the 19th and early 20th centuries.

We will see.

Let’s think about it. Let’s meditate on it.

And while we do, here is the popular, famous and beautiful – though some would even say banal or trite – “Meditation” from “Thais,” first from superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman with an orchestra, then from superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma with pianist Kathryn Stott. You can decide which version you like more,  and then let us know in the COMMENT section along with what you think of Massenet:


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

    Join 1,197 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,069,199 hits
%d bloggers like this: