The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Flutist and activist Iva Ugrcic is Musician of the Year for 2018

December 31, 2018
3 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

The classical music scene in Madison is so rich that it is always a challenge to name a Musician of the Year.

There are just so many deserving candidates. One obvious example is conductor John DeMain, who is completing his 25th year of outstanding stewardship in directing the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera.

But part of the intent behind such an honor is not just to recognize well-known figures. It is to encourage a broader awareness of those people who do a lot for local classical music but who often fly under the radar for many people.

That is why The Ear is naming flutist and activist Iva Ugrcic (below) as the Musician of the Year for 2018.

As both a performer and entrepreneur, Ugrcic is always very busy broadening her varied career. Being both a player and an activist, she is making a difference, musically and socially, that deserves to be recognized and supported.

Serbian by birth and educated in Belgrade and Paris, she came to Madison where she completed her doctorate in flute performance and also took business courses at the UW-Madison Business School.

She is a first-rate performer who has won a national prize for performing. While at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, she won both the concerto competition (below) and the Irving Shain competition for wind instruments in duets. (You can hear her amazing technique in the YouTube video at the bottom. In it Ugrcic performs “Voice” for solo flute by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.)

She now plays with the Black Marigold Wind Quintet and Sound Out Loud, both of which are based in Madison and both of which devote themselves to contemporary composers and new music.

This year, Urgcic also soloed with the Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by John W. Barker), performing to critical acclaim a relatively unknown concerto by 19th-century composer Carl Reinecke.

This year, Urgcic also took over as artistic director of the Rural Musicians Forum, which brings classical music, jazz, world music and ethnic music, played by outstanding performers to the Spring Green area, often at the Taliesin compound of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

But perhaps her most long-lasting contribution is her founding and now directing the LunART Festival that, in the same year of the Me Too movement, sought to present an all-women event that featured composers, performers, visual artists and writers.

Such was its inaugural success in 2018 that it won a national prize from the National Flute Association and a second festival will take place from June 9 through June 9, 2019.

2019 will also see the release of her second solo recording devoted to the music of the contemporary Romanian composer Doina Rotaru, even while she is working on a recording of “Beer Music” by contemporary American composer Brian DuFord.

And all that is just the beginning for such a promising talent. We will be hearing much more from her and about her in years to come.

To see her impressive biography, as well as updated activities, video and audio clips, photographs and other information, go to: https://www.ivaugrcic.com/bio

Here is one more thing that speaks to The Ear. It feels important, even necessary, to recognize the positive contributions of an immigrant at a time when the current “America First” administration under President Donald Trump seems so paranoid and negative, so xenophobic and afraid of foreigners.

The U.S government should be less intent on condemning or stigmatizing immigrants, whether legal or undocumented, and should put more emphasis on their contributions and on the long and distinguished history they have in the United States.

Iva Urgcic is yet another example of the talent we Americans stand to lose if we do not accept and encourage the gifts that immigrants bring in so many ways — from the arts, medicine, education and technology to everyday life and work.

Please join The Ear is expressing gratitude and congratulations to Iva Urgcic.


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Classical music: Today is Labor Day. Opera San Jose brings classical music into the workplace – can we try that here? Plus, you can take a WQXR poll about what music is best to mark the holiday

September 4, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day (celebrated below by famed photographer Lewis Hine.).

The holiday probably won’t be celebrated in a big way by the blowhard billionaires and anti-union tycoons who run the government these days.

But workers can be and should be proud of what they do—despite the wealth gap, wage stagnation, unfair taxes, income inequality and a general lack of respect and support.

The Ear, however, has two offerings for the holiday.

The first is a story about how Opera San Jose is bringing classical music into the workplace of high technology companies like Adobe in Silicon Valley.

The opera company has started a program called “Arias in the Office” (below). And it sure sounds like a fine idea that other local groups – especially small chamber music groups – might try doing here in the Madison area.

Talk about taking music to the people if the people aren’t going to the music!

And let’s not forget that composing music, performing music and presenting music are all hard work too. So we should also celebrate the musicians, the administrative and box office staffs, the stagehands, the light and sound engineers,  the sets and costume people, and all the others who toil behind the scenes for our pleasure.

The story was reported by NPR (National Public Radio) and can be found on the radio station’s website and Deceptive Cadence blog:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/08/30/544164183/new-pop-up-series-treats-silicon-valley-workers-to-opera-at-the-office

The second is a listener poll, now three years old, done by the famed classical music radio station WQXR in New York City.

It is a survey of classical music that is appropriate for Labor Day and features three generous examples in YouTube videos — an opera by Giuseppe Verdi, a symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn and a film soundtrack by Virgil Thomson.

But it also has about two dozen other choices– including music by Handel, Schubert, Copland, Joan Tower, Robert Schumann, Gershwin, Shostakovich and others — for the public to select from, and a lot of comments from other respondents that you might want to check out.

Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/story/poll-what-music-best-captures-spirit-labor-day/

Happy Labor Day!

And if you have another piece of music that you think is appropriate, let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestras start their seasons with a strike by the players.

October 2, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The new concert season is just getting under way.

But not all is happy news and gala events.

Two of the country’s best and most respected orchestras — the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestras – have gone on strike. Issues include pay cuts, salary raises and reduced staff.

Performances were cancelled.

The Philadelphians even walked out right on opening night (below, in two photos by Mark Makela for The New York Times). And they played in the streets.

The Fort Worth Symphony in Texas is also out on strike.

philadelphia-orchestra-on-strike-2016-cr-mark-makela-nyt

Here is a fine story, with a lot of background, from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/01/nyregion/philadelphia-orchestra-walks-out-on-opening-night.html?_r=0

And here is a story from The Washington Post with other details:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/philadelphia-orchestra-goes-on-strike-cancels-opening-gala/2016/09/30/b368c44c-8781-11e6-b57d-dd49277af02f_story.html

phiadelphians-play-on-strike-2016-cr-mark-makela-2016

It is enough to deepen your appreciation for the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top), which very successfully opened its season last weekend, and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below bottom), which will open its season in two weeks.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

WCO lobby

Here is a link to several reviews and a reprise of the opening MSO concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-opens-its-new-season-with-superb-playing-hypnotizing-space-photos-by-nasa-and-close-to-full-houses-but-where-was-the-great-music/

Long live labor peace in Madison and its performing arts groups!


Classical music: What piece of classical music best celebrates Labor Day? And which pieces require the most work to play?

September 5, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day, 2106.

We spend so much of our lives working and so little of our art relating to that work. 

But there are exceptions, such as the great historic photo “Working” by Lewis Hines that is below.

Here are suggestions of work-related music and a listing from 2014 by the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR-FM:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/poll-what-music-best-captures-spirit-labor-day/

And here is a pie chart and a 3-part listing from WQXR-FM this year with music that pertains to labor as well as to the work needed to play a piece of music as well. Just place the cursor over the segment of the pie chart to see the title and composer:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/crowdsourcing/classical-music-labor-day/report/

working Lewis hine photo

WQXR usually broadcasts labor-related music on Labor Day.

Here is a link for listening via streaming:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/

The Ear guesses that other radio stations, including Wisconsin Public Radio and Sirius XM Satellite Radio, will do the same.

But feel free to leave suggestions that might have been overlooked in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

For example, The Ear thinks that the “Hammerklavier” Sonata and the “Diabelli” Variations by Ludwig van Beethoven qualifies as does the Symphony No. 8, the so-called “Symphony of a Thousand” by Gustav Mahler, the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. there are many, many others. It often takes hard work to make great beauty.

Anyway, tell us what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Labor Day!

 


Classical music: What is good music to listen to on Labor Day and to honor work? Here is a list to choose from. Can you add more?

September 7, 2015
5 Comments

REMINDER: The 37th annual Labor Day Concert by the Karp Family will take place tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Admission is FREE. The program includes works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Benjamin Britten as well as William Shakespeare.

Here is a link to a recent post with more details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/classical-music-the-37th-annual-karp-family-labor-day-concert-is-this-monday-night-and-includes-works-by-bach-beethoven-and-britten-as-well-as-shakespeare/

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day, 2015. (Below is a famous work photo by American photographer Lewis Hine.)

working Lewis hine photo

How can you celebrate it in music?

Here is a list of classical music that pertains to labor.

http://www.musiclassical.net/labor.html

And here is a poll from famed radio station WQXR FM in New York City:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/poll-what-music-best-captures-spirit-labor-day/

Below is “The Fruits of Labor” by famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

Diego Rivera The Fruits of Labor

Finally, here are links to three previous posts about Labor Day that The Ear did.

The first one is from 2014, when the day seemed a good occasion to remember all the other unnamed people besides performers — from the box office and administration to the stage — who make the musical performances we enjoy possible:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/classical-music-labor-day-is-a-great-time-to-remember-all-the-anonymous-people-behind-the-scenes-who-make-concerts-happen-and-who-bring-us-the-music-we-love/

The second post is from in 2013 and talks about the hard work of creating art and performing it  — such as required from a huge symphony orchestra (below) or a small ensemble or an individual. It also features other lists and something fitting from the “Farewell Symphony” by Franz Joseph Haydn:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/classical-music-on-labor-day-let-us-remember-and-celebrate-the-hard-work-and-solidarity-or-cooperation-of-making-and-delivering-art-by-listening-to-the-finale-of-haydns-farewell/

general_orchestra_helgeson

The final posting is from 2010 and features lots of reader suggestions as well as Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/classical-music-poll-what-is-good-music-for-celebrating-labor-dayc/

What music would you suggest listening to on Labor Day? Tell us in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Giuseppe Verdi’s hammer-pounding “The Anvil Chorus” from the opera “Il Trovatore” usually ranks high on all the lists and suggestions.

So for this year’s Labor Day, here it is in a YouTube video at the bottom, in a lively and visually engaging and muscular performance from “Live From the Met in HD”:

 

 


Classical music: Violinist Rose Mary Harbison talks about the 25th anniversary of the upcoming Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, while composer John Harbison discusses C.P.E. Bach, whose 300th anniversary will be observed during the festival.

August 21, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

On Monday, The Ear offered an overview of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival that opens this coming Saturday night and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31.

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/classical-music-the-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-starts-saturday-it-celebrates-25-years-with-observing-the-300th-anniversary-of-c-p-e-bach-and-by-offering-a-wide-rage-of-works-and-composers-t/

TokenCreekbarn interior

For more information, including programs, performer biographies and archives, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org

For tickets ($30 with a limited number of $10 student tickets): Call (608) 241-2524 or visit http://tokencreekfestival.org/2014-season/tickets/

TokenCreekentrance

Today, as promised but postponed by stories about the Metropolitan Opera labor negotiations and about two local concerts this Friday, the blog features two important essays by the two co-artistic directors of the festival.

The first essay is a discussion by violinist Rose Mary Harbison about the 25th anniversary of the festival.

The second is a personal essay by composer John Harbison about the composer C.P.E. Bach, whose 300th anniversary will play an important role in the festival.

NEW BEGINNINGS AT TOKEN CREEK

By Rose Mary Harbison (below)

RosemaryHarbison

When the Token Creek Festival began, 25 years ago, we had many ideas and many ideals, but none of our plans involved growth. The reason for that was at first practical. We wanted to perform in a converted barn, the very space where we already practiced and played.

The space, and its surroundings, is welcoming, but able to seat, optimally, no more than 80 people. We had no stage, no lights and no parking plan. We were our own maintenance and grounds-keeping staff.

We also had ideas about the music we would like to present. We had participated in various summer festivals, and were not too interested in the concept of “summer” music. Along with our founding colleagues, Jorja Fleezanis and Michael Steinberg, we came up with some initial programs — Ludwig van Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Arnold Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon, recent pieces by Helps and John Harbison, thinking of music we wouldn’t likely be asked to prepare at other festivals, in late August.

In the official re-opening season (1994) there were three concerts: all Bach, all Mozart, all Schoenberg. Single composer concerts have since been rare at Token Creek, but we have instead done series: many Haydn trios, the complete Mozart concertos for which he made chamber music arrangements; the “esoteric” final period of Bach (below), including generous selections from The Art of Fugue, and The Musical Offering in two different orderings and instrumentations.

Bach1

Our guests have been friends whom we have cone to know in our various travels. We were once told by a possible patron that he would fund the festival for two seasons if we would bring X, a conductor with whom we were in close partnership. But this is not the way we have chosen to construct our seasons — independence in programming and staffing has remained our most precious freedom.

We have presented what interests us, and the varying audience sizes, from sold-out to modest, reflects that determination. Thirty excited, involved listeners provide a sufficient presence, in our small barn, for an unforgettable occasion, like Leonard Stein’s lecture-demonstration on the Hammerklavier sonata (played in live performance by Daniel Barenboim in a YouTube video at bottom) by Ludwig van Beethoven (below).

Beethoven big

Ten years ago, we expanded into jazz, eventually composer-focused, with an idea that some of the players would play in both, and we would encourage an audience to embrace the whole series. In the early years we stressed themes and issues shared by both forms. (An audience survey later revealed that, in fact, the crossover audience is very small; we were surprised.) The jazz became popular, and began in certain ways to drive the festival, especially logistically (a night-club set up, an eventual two-concerts-per-day schedule). Part of our effort to recapture the original spirit of the festival involves letting go of the jazz for this year, becoming smaller and more thoughtful again.

One of our best colleagues, a performer, has a brother, a violinist, who started a European festival. It grew and it added things on, his responsibilities changed. Is he happy with the growth? we asked. “Well of course, it’s a success, but he is pretty sad. … he no longer plays the violin.”

Every musician is challenged, at every point in their development, to try to remember why they went into music, to recapture the basic impulse. Sometimes that requires going back to a starting point, and either starting over, or summarizing what has happened.

Institutions, like individuals, are always challenged to grow, to go forward, to move on, and must occasionally reconstruct themselves, at the risk of not fitting expectations, dreams, or the economic model.

I write with the hope of encountering their best instincts and reconnecting with like souls, the natural constituency.

CARL PHILIP EMMANUEL BACH (1714-1799), AN ANNIVERSARY

By John Harbison (below)

JohnHarbisonatpiano

One of the many privileges of co-directing a music festival is study, a chance to pause over music that might go by too fast; a chance, even, to make a connection with music that has remained alien too long. For many years I cherished a suspicion of, close to an aversion to, CPE Bach’s music.  This was based on a large number of keyboard pieces I heard in the ‘60s played by the eminent harpsichordist Louis Bagger.  The pieces had a pronounced WOW factor, they were calculated to immediate effect, they asked provocative questions, then shirked answering.  The non-sequiturs, as in many of today’s novelties, seemed mere posturing, the work of a gadfly without a message.

Tied to this was an impression that CPE was an ingenious person.  In spite of his good stewardship of the materials left to him from his father, he seemed self-servingly willing to promote J.S. Bach’s teacher reputation, a prescription that stemmed from the competition between them.

I now believe many of these impressions were wrong, or at best uninformed.  CPE Bach is a complicated case, and needs a much more attentive examination.

He was J.S. Bach’s second son.  The first, Wilhelm Friedemann, was more talented, but less industrious. Friedmann’s best pieces seem to have a naturalness and pure musicality unavailable to CPE, but they lack a strategy to fully separate from his father.

Such a strategy does CPE deploy, with a vengeance.  This took courage and an investigative mind.  It seems clear that the son’s valuation of his father’s music grew during the course of his career.  Together with his vast experience as a composer came an appreciation of the foundation he had received from his only teacher, together with a perception of the enormity of that teacher’s artistic achievement.

Carl Philip Emmanuel (below, in a 1733 portrait by a relative Gottfried Friedrich Bach) was too good a musician not to notice something: In spite of being the most famous and highly regarded composer in the world by the 1740s (J.S. Bach was still alive), he was not in the same league with the old man.  He becomes, instead, an avatar of the new, often at his best while disturbing the logic, proportion and density that were his father’s hallmark.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1733 painted by Gottfriend Friedrich Bach, a relative

Much has been said about the manner, the tone of much of his music, which says: This need not always be so serious, this need not be so responsible, this is apprehendable right away. These are things worth stating, periodically, and can be expressed, as in CPE’s music, by a kind of nervousness, hurry, irresponsibility — winning qualities in his best pieces.

But the main agent of change in CPE can be very simply described: He dismantles his father’s bass-line—radically clears it out, reduces it much of the time to skeletal support, thus placing new emphasis on the charm, buoyancy and unpredictability of the melodies.

J.S. Bach’s music, in asserting that the bass possesses a profile very like the upper parts in activity and articulateness (and often surpasses them in importance) draws on very old principles carried forward from Renaissance polyphony. In reducing and domesticating the bass, CPE achieves a new intelligibility and friendliness of texture, and cuts his hereditary umbilical cord.

Still he retains a lot of J.S. in his ability, when he chooses, to develop and vary motives, to spin out large phrases, and to create drama and propulsion.

In this 300th anniversary year there is an added fascination: A scholarly filling out of his canon.  A great proportion of his output is being made available for the first time in published form. There are many surprises, especially in the form of vocal and instrumental chamber music.

“Premieres” are being offered, around the world, and the music, which has always been valued as a necessary historical moment, is now being valued for itself.

We can hear not only the way he both holds and breaks with his father, we can also hear why Joseph Haydn (below and at the bottom in a YouTube video of the famed Beaux Arts Trio playing the same Haydn piano trio that will be played during this year’s festival) was so taken with this music.  It has its own surprises, quirks, and above all a burning energy, singular, bold, drawing our attention, chastening our misconceptions.

Haydn

 

 


Classical music: More bad news. The Minnesota Orchestra cancels its fall season and two Carnegie Hall concerts over labor strife that causes its acclaimed Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska to resign.

October 6, 2013
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a week of really bad news for classical music.

Yesterday I posted a blog about the closing of the New York City Opera – the “People’s Opera” — after 70 years because of a failed attempt to raise the millions of dollars money that it needed to continue.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/classical-music-the-final-curtain-falls-tonight-on-the-peoples-opera-the-city-opera-of-new-york-while-across-town-the-metropolitan-opera-launches-the-new-season-of-the-glo/

But last week also brought word that the long ongoing labor strife and lock-out at the Minnesota Orchestra (below are the musicians protesting), based in Minneapolis, has not been resolved. To the contrary, the administration and the players still remain so far apart that the fall season has now been canceled.

minn-musicians

Moreover, the acclaimed Finnish conductor Osma Vanska (below)  who led the Minnesota Orchestra has quit.

Vanska brought much critical praise to the orchestra with their recordings of a Beethoven symphony and concerto cycle as well as a Grammy-nominated recording (at bottom in a YouTube video) of Sibelius symphonies (all on BIS records). But he has kept his promise of resigning if the two Carnegie Hall concerts by the orchestra were canceled.

Canceled they were, and resign he did – with a dignified and diplomatic message, as follows:

1 October 2013

Press statement from Osmo Vänskä

Today I have given notice of my resignation as Music Director and Conductor for the Minnesota Orchestra Association, effective 1 October 2013.

It is a very sad day for me. Over ten years ago I was honoured to be invited to take up this position. I moved from Finland to the Twin Cities. At that time I made clear my belief that the Minnesota Orchestra could become one of the very greatest international ensembles. During the intervening years I have had the privilege of seeing that belief vindicated through the skill, hard work and commitment of this wonderful group of players and with the valued support of the Board of Directors, management and administration team, volunteers, as well as our exceptional community.

I send my deepest thanks to everyone involved for what we have achieved together and I wish the Minnesota Orchestra all the very best for its future.

Osmo Vänskä

Osmo Vanska BIG

And here are links to stories about the Carnegie Hall cancellations and the fallout with Vanska, who conducted two concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra musicians – plus pianist Emanuel Ax (below)  in piano concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for the first concert — in an unofficial capacity at a concert hall on the University of Minnesota campus:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/02/arts/music/vanska-quits-minnesota-orchestra.html

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/05/departing-director-conducts-locked-out-minnesota-orchestra/

Emanuel Ax Philharmonia

What is one to do?

Here is the press release from The Minnesota Orchestra:

http://www.minnesotaorchestra.org/about/press-room/615-concerts-cancelled-through-nov-25

Well, we in Madison can be very happy that we don’t seem to have similar problems with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra – at least not right now.

But maybe some fundamental structural reforms need to be made. Maybe the ways of doing business and administering art need to be changed.

Perhaps one way out of the awful dilemmas is to make the musicians a more integral part of the administration, similar to the way that principal oboist James Roe (below, in a photo by Fred R. Conrad for The New York Times) was made the president and CEO of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in June.

James Roe, principal oboist, became president and CEO of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra cr Fred R. Conrad, NYTIMES

Here is a story from The New York Times reporter and critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim about doing just that, which seems like a smart move to The Ear:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/29/arts/music/orchestras-hire-performers-as-executives-to-head-off-strife.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


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