The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS: The slow movement from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major.

December 27, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, this isn’t really holiday music.

But I suppose you could consider it a “holiday” from the more tumultuous and dissonant, more acerbic or satirical writing, that Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (below) is identified with.

dmitri shostakovich

It is gentle and lyrical, and quite lovely — even wistful.

It is the slow movement -– marked Lento –- from the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major.

He wrote it for and dedicated it to his son Maxim -– who has since become a famous conductor -– for his 19th birthday.

And, if I recall correctly, Maxim performed it when he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory.

If you are used to the dissonant, brash, loud sarcastic Shostakovich, try this for a change. It is played by Kirill Gerstein in a YouTube video:

 


Classical music: Learn about – and listen to Rafal Blechacz –- the talented Polish pianist who is the 2014 winner of the unusual Irving S. Gilmore Foundation. Plus, Trevor Stephenson will play a house concert of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Bartok this Sunday afternoon.

January 10, 2014
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REMINDER: Madison keyboardist Trevor Stephenson writes: “On this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 12, at 3 p.m., I’ll play a fortepiano house concert at my home at 5729 Forsythia Place on the west side of music ranging from Haydn to Bartok. (I know that Bartok is not usual fare on the fortepiano—but the other day I was reading through his Romanian Folk Dances at the fortepiano and was simply stunned by how energetic they sounded—since the style of these comes largely from cimbalom playing (Romanian hammer dulcimer, and the fortepiano is really a hammer dulcimer in a tuxedo). So this really makes perfect sense. The concert will also feature Mozart’s charming variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata, Op. 13, two Mazurkas by Chopin, and Haydn’s waggish Sonata No. 23 in F major. Sweet and savory treats, drinks, and will be wine served. Admission is $35. Reservations are required: email trevor@trevorstephenson.com or (608) 238-6092.

House music 2 in the round

By Jacob Stockinger

It happens once every four years.

The contestants for the unusual Gilmore competition,which is based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for classical pianists don’t even know that they are in the running. Unlike other major competitions like the Tchaikovsky, the Van Cliburn, the Arthur Rubinstein and the Chopin, in the Gilmore the anonymous judges follow an individual’s career over a period of time and then choose the “winner.”

This year’s winner in the polish pianist Rafal Blechacz (below), who has already won the Chopin competition at 20 – the first Polish pianist to do so in 20 years, he also took all the gold medals in individual categories and was so good that no second prize was awarded. He has recorded half a dozen acclaimed CDs of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Karol Szymanowski and Claude Debussy and of course Chopin for Deutsche Grammophon.

Rafal Blechacz DG

The year’s recipient has been all over the airwaves and the web, so here is everything you may want to know about Rafal Blechacz plus his inaugural concert as the winner that was streamed live Wednesday night by famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City, which then archived it for those of who missed the live event.

Here is the official announcement:

http://www.thegilmore.org

Here is an candid and cordial interview done by Tom Huizenga and NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that was broadcast on “All Things Considered”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/06/260276435/cachet-and-cash-for-rafa-blechacz-named-2014-gilmore-artist

Here is the announcement in a story in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/08/arts/music/rafal-blechacz-is-chosen-for-gilmore-artist-award.html

Archived video of his sold-out concert Wednesday at the Greene Space that can be found at WQXR. No one listed the program even though it was live-streamed – but instead announced the works AFTER they were played.

That is too teasing for my taste, whether it is done on WQXR or on Wisconsin Public Radio. Can we please have the pieces to be played up front before the performance and then again after the performance?

The program included a Chopin waltz (the soulful valse triste in A Minor, Op. 34, No 2) and the two Op. 40 Polonaises the “Military” Polonaise and one in C minor;  the Largo slow movement Beethoven’s Sonata in D, Op. 10, No. 3, and the scherzo from the same composer’s Sonata in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2;  the spirited first movement from Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 311; and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”

All works except the Debussy and the Chopin waltz are available on recordings. (But you can hear a YouTube video of Blechacz playing the three waltzes of Op. 64, including the famous “Minute” Waltz, at the bottom.)

In the broadcast, Dan Gustin, head of the Gilmore Foundation, speaks about the unusual award, as does the last 2010 winner Kirill Gerstein, who uses Skype. Here is the link:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/webcast-2014-gilmore-artist-award-announcement/

Some of the Gilmore winners seem to disappoint and peter out. I keep expecting to hear big things from the very talented Argentinian Ingrid Fliter, for example, but no such luck. Rafal Blechacz, on the other hand, seems more likely to follow the path of  Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who is perhaps the Gilmore winner who has maintained the highest profile and had the biggest career.


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
3 Comments

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


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