The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The future of Western classical music is in Asia – specifically China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Why is that?

May 25, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not just about Lang Lang.

The signs are everywhere.

They were present at a recent piano recital by elementary school, middle school and high school students that The Ear attended.

You see it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and at top music schools, including the Curtis Institute of Music, across the U.S. and Western Europe. And you see it in youth groups such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below).

Western classical music recording labels, such as Deutsche Grammophon and Sony Classical, are looking to develop new markets and so are signing more Asian musicians, such as the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai String Quartet, and releasing more Asian performances. (Below is the Taiwanese-Australian, prize-winning violinist Ray Chen, who is also a master at using social media to build his meteoric career.)

All these items point to the same conclusion: The future of Western classical music looks more and more likely to be found in Asian culture and in Asia  – specifically in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. (Next season, prize-winning South Korean pianist Joyce Yang (below) returns to Madison, where she first gave a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Consider some of the following:

There are, The Ear read somewhere, now more piano students in China than in all of Europe, North America and South America combined. And he is reading about more and more concert tours of China and other Asian countries by Western performers — even while in the U.S. the number of pianos in homes are on the decline.

Increasingly the winners of major international competitions — such as the Chopin competition, the Van Cliburn competition, the Tchaikovsky competition, the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium competition and the Leeds competition – come from Asia or are Asian. (Below, in a photo by Simon Fowler, is American pianist George Li, who immigrated from China as a child and attended Harvard and the New England Conservatory before winning a silver medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition. His concert career is now blossoming fast.)

In recent years, China has been building a lot of first-rate concert halls, opera houses and music schools. And the famed Juilliard School in New York City will open its second campus this fall in Tianjin, near Beijing.

China has certainly come a long way from the days of the Cultural Revolution when people could be imprisoned for listening to Beethoven, who is now a cultural icon in China — as you can hear at the bottom in the YouTube video of Li Jing Zhan conducting the orchestra at the Chinese National Opera in Beethoven’s No. 7. (Below is the striking new National Center for the Performing Arts in China.)

https://www.interlude.hk/front/culture-construction-chinas-new-concert-halls/

Nineteen of the 24 final competitors, ages 13-17, in the second Van Cliburn Junior Competition – which starts in Dallas, Texas, on May 31 and ends on June 8 – are Asian, Asian-American and Asian-Canadian, all with astonishingly impressive credentials and experience. It will be streamed live and free. Take a look and listen:

https://www.cliburn.org/2019-cliburn-junior-competitors/

Why this Asian shift is happening remains somewhat of a mystery to The Ear, although he had been thinking about for a long time.

Then he came across a op-ed column confirming the prevalence of Asian classical musicians. It was written by the American concert pianist and teacher Inna Faliks (below), who teaches at UCLA and who wrote convincingly about her recent concert experiences in China in The Washington Post.

Read it and see what you think, and tell us whether you agree:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-future-of-classical-music-is-chinese/2019/03/22/2649e9dc-4cb5-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html?utm_term=.7f149e0f8eb9

Why are Asians so interested in Western classical music and music education? And why do they respect it or even revere it so much?

Does it have to do with the “tiger mom” phenomenon of strong parental pressure to succeed and achieve?

Is it largely a function of population?

Is it because of the collective teamwork required to make a lot of chamber music and orchestral music, or with the intense and instructive teacher-student relationship?

Is it because the cultural depth and seriousness in Western music education – ing contrast to the increasingly pop culture of the West – that prepares students well for the training and intellectual discipline required in other educational fields and careers, including the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)?

Is Asia simply fascinated by Western culture the same way that Western culture was fascinated by the exotic Asian cultures – especially in China and Japan — during the 19th century and earlier? Or is the West increasingly ignoring its own culture. (The Ear can’t recall any classical musicians performing at President Donald Trump’s White House. Can you?)

How do you see the situation and react to it? And what do you think about the causes and effects?

Please leave your reactions and thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Want to know about Chinese classical music composers in our time? Read this story about the six-day Juilliard festival that starts today

January 19, 2018
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music – like everything else in China – has undergone momentous changes over the past few decades.

The importance of Western classical music in contemporary China is not seen only through the construction of new conservatories and opera houses; or through the many outstanding instrumentalists, especially pianists such as Lang Lang, Yundi Li, Haochen Zhang and Sa Chen, who have won prizes in Western competitions and become major performers.

Chinese composers have also left their mark, as the Juilliard School in New York City will prove over six days, starting today, during this year’s “Focus” festival.

One such older composer is Chou Wen Chung (below, in a photo by Andrew Reneissen for The New York Times).

A much younger composer is Chen Lin (below in a photo by Dawes Li).

You will find some but not a lot of their music on YouTube – yet.

But The Ear bets that many of the 33 Juilliard performances will soon find their way to social media.

Anyway, here is a link to the comprehensive preview in The New York Times, which also features some sound and video samples.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/12/arts/music/juilliard-china-music.html


Classical music: NPR explores Opus 1 works to mark Jan. 1 and New Year’s Day

January 3, 2018
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Each year, the media look for new ways to mark the holidays and especially New Year’s Day.

One of the best and most original The Ear has seen and heard in a long time came from National Public Radio (NPR).

On Morning Edition, the radio network consulted Miles Hoffman (below), a violist, conductor and educator, about the first works – the Opus 1 works – that various composers published.

Hoffman’s remarks touch on quite a few young composers and prodigies, including Ludwig van Beethoven (below top), Felix Mendelssohn (below middle) and Ernst von Dohnanyi (below bottom).

Here is a link to the story, which should be listened to, and not just read, for the sake of the music and sound samples:

https://www.npr.org/2018/01/01/574932138/on-the-first-day-of-the-new-year-celebrating-composers-opus-one

And from YouTube here are two more Opus 1 works that The Ear would add.

The first is the Rondo in C Minor, Op. 1, by a young Frédéric Chopin (below, in a drawing from Getty Images) and performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy. It shows just how early Chopin had found his own style and his own distinctive voice:

And here are the “Abegg” Variations by critic-turned-composer Robert Schumann (below), played by Lang Lang:

Can you think of other Opus 1 works to add to the list?

Please leave the composer’s name, the work’s title and a YouTube link to a performance, if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Master pianist Richard Goode performs music by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Alban Berg in a MUST-HEAR recital this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

November 1, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

He may not have the instant worldwide name recognition and box-office appeal of, say, Lang-Lang or Martha Argerich.

But in The Ear’s book American pianist Richard Goode (below) is nonetheless a superstar.

That is because Goode is a chameleon in the best sense.

Whatever he plays — live or on recordings — feels as if someone with a deep understanding and a natural affinity for the unique qualities of that specific composer and work is at the keyboard.

His Bach always sounds so Bachian. His Mozart always sounds so Mozartean. His Beethoven always sounds so Beethovenian. His Schubert always sounds so Schubertian. And his Brahms – for which he won a Grammy – always sounds so Brahmsian. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Goode discuss how he deliberately chooses a selective repertoire that he can return to again and again.)

Whenever you hear Goode, you come away thinking, “Now that is  how the composer meant his music to sound.” Goode just disappears into the music.

Goode, who co-directed the venerable summertime Marlboro Music Festival for 14 years until 2013, always puts himself at the service of the music, never the other way around as so many other firebrand virtuosos do.

Goode, a shy man who collects books and fine art, is not given to flamboyance or theatrics. His interpretations always seem exactly right, never exaggerated and weird but both beautiful and emotionally convincing. He is, in short, a complete musician — recitalist, soloist in concertos and chamber music partner — and not just a great pianist. His is a quiet, self-effacing virtuosity.

You get the idea.

And you can sample such superlative musicianship for yourself this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. when Goode returns to perform a varied recital in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

This is a performer and a program that no serious fan of the piano – professional or amateur, teacher or student — should miss.

On the program of music from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, are: a selection of Preludes and Fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, by Johann Sebastian Bach; Alban Berg’s Sonata No. 1; Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101, which Goode, who has recorded all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas, says is his favorite; the Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, No. 1, and the Mazurka in C-sharp Minor, Op. 50, No. 3, by Chopin.

Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (below) will deliver a free pre-concert lecture at 6 p.m.

Tickets run from $20 to $47.

Here is a link to more background and information about obtaining tickets:

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/richard-goode-piano/


Classical music: Who are the best pianists of all time? And which ones do you think were left off the list by Classic FM?

September 16, 2017
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The British radio station and website Classic FM recently published its list of the 25 greatest pianists of all time.

Plus, the website also included samples of the playing where possible.

It is an impressive list, if pretty predictable — and heavily weighted towards modern or contemporary pianists. You might expect that a list of “all-time greats” would have more historical figures — and more women as well as more non-Western Europeans and non-Americans, especially Asians these days.

Here is a link:

http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/instruments/piano/best-pianists-ever/

So The Ear started what turned out to be a long list of others who should at least be considered and maybe even included.

Here, then, is the question for this weekend: What do you think of the list? Which pianists do not belong on the list? And which are your favorite pianists who are not included in the compilation?

Leave your candidate or candidates in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube link of a favorite performance, wherever possible.

Happy listening!


Classical music: How well did Western classical music fare in China during the Cultural Revolution compared to today?

July 10, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Western classical music seems to be thriving in the new China.

The Ear sees Lang Lang — the world’s highest paid classical pianist — and Yundi Li and all the Chinese winners of major competitions, and he reads that there are more piano students in China than in all of Western Europe, North America and South America combined.

But the path to such success wasn’t easy.

In fact it was downright tragic during the Cultural Revolution waged by Chairman Mao Zedong – with dramatic stories and figures that may be worthy of an opera or two. (Below is a poster from the Cultural Revolution.)

Cultural Revolution poster

Anyway, weekends are a good time for reading longer pieces.

So here is a fine and eye-opening story The Ear liked. It comes from The Guardian newspaper in the UK. It even ponders the question of whether the more cerebral and intellectual Johann Sebastian Bach will soon replace the more dramatic and emotional Ludwig van Beethoven as China’s favorite classical composer.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jul/08/after-the-cultural-revolution-what-western-classical-music-means-in-china


Classical music: Meet Korean pianist Ji-Yong and see the back story to the great TV piano ad for Google Android apps.

February 29, 2016
3 Comments

ALERTS: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall is a FREE recital by the UW-Madison percussion studio. Sorry, no details about the program. Also please note that the joint faculty recital on this coming Saturday night by flutist Stephanie Jutt, oboist Kostas Tiliakos and pianist Christopher Taylor has been CANCELLED. 

By Jacob Stockinger

Maybe you’ve seen one of The Ear’s favorite TV ads these days.

He finds it to be both very eye-catching and very ear-catching. It is called “Monotune.”

It is about the Google Android apps and it features the well-known young Korean pianist Ji-Yong (Kim) playing a section of the emotionally ferocious and technically difficult last movement of the famous “Moonlight” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven on a regular Steinway piano and then an on a specially build “monotune” piano where all the notes are the same – specifically, Middle C.

The ad emphasizes difference and complementarity of difference – and provides a good metaphor for social diversity too. So The Ear bets that it wins some awards in the advertising profession.

Here is the YouTube video of the ad:

Making of the Android App ad included building a special piano that could be tuned so all notes play a middle C. Here is the fascinating back story:

From the playing The Ear thought: This is a serious and accomplished pianist – not some second-rate hack brought in for an ad. He is expressive but not self-indulgent or flamboyant like, say, the Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang.

He was right.

Ji-Yong is a serious pianist and former impressive prodigy, so maybe the Android ad will further his career with many new bookings. He deserves it. The Ear sure would like to hear him live.

Here are other samples of his playing:

Here he is playing the complete Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825, by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Ear likes his lively but convincing interpretation of Baroque music on a modern piano:

And here he plays the opening movement of the virtuosic “Waldstein” Sonata, Op. 53, by Beethoven:

Along more miniature and less heroic lines, here he plays two favorites from Robert Schumann’s “Scenes From Childhood” – first “Of Foreign Lands and People” and then “Träumerei” or “Dreams,” which was a favorite encore of Vladimir Horowitz:

Finally, here is a pretty amazing YouTube video of him as a young prodigy playing at the Miami International Piano Festival in 2008. He is performing a difficult work, the Andante and Grande Polonaise, Op. 22, by Frederic Chopin:

What do you think of the Android ad?

And what do you think of pianist Ji-Yong?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Edgewood College features a musical collaboration by faculty members to mark Valentine’s Day this Sunday afternoon. Plus a FREE guitar recital of Bach, Scarlatti and Villa-Lobos is at noon on Friday.

February 11, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to take place from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, features classical guitarist Naeim Rahmani (below) who will perform music by Domenico Scarlatti, Johann Sebastian Bach, Heitor Villa-Lobos and more.

Naeim Rahmani

By Jacob Stockinger

You can celebrate Valentine’s Day this coming Sunday afternoon with “five musical conversations,” a collaborative faculty recital presented by six faculty members from the Music Department at Edgewood College.

The concert is at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Performers include mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson, guitarist Nathan Wysock, violinist Laura Burns, percussionist Todd Hammes, and pianists Susan Gaeddert and Jennifer Hedstrom.

Below in the Edgewood College photo are (from left): music department faculty and staff Jennifer Hedstrom (piano), Todd Hammes (percussion), Laura Burns (violin), Nathan Wysock (guitar), Susan Gaeddert, (piano) and Kathleen Otterson (mezzo-soprano).

Edgewood College Five Musical Conversations - media

The six performers will present five musical sets featuring a variety of styles and chamber combinations.

Included on the program are a set of lute songs by John Dowland, performed by Otterson and Wysock; three works by Santiago de Murcia, performed by Wysock and Hammes, a set of modern works by Chick Corea and Todd Hammes, performed by Hammes on vibraphone with Jennifer Hedstrom on piano; Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite (heard at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that features Argentinean Martha Argerich and Chinese Lang Lang in a subtle and colorful performance) for piano, four hands, performed by Hedstrom and Susan Gaeddert; a set of Lieder or art songs by Louis Spohr, sung by Kathleen Otterson with Susan Gaeddert on piano and Laura Burns on violin.

Tickets are available at the door.

Admission is $7, or free with Edgewood College ID.


Classical music: Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle” wins two Golden Globe awards. But Season 2 — which is now available for streaming and features real-life famous longhairs — gets a mixed review from The New York Times

January 17, 2016
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

“Sex, drugs and classical music”?

It was easy to underestimate the Amazon comedy sitcom “Mozart in the Jungle” as just a commercial low-brow, rock and roll take on the high-brow world of classical music.

Mozart in the Jungle poster

Until two weeks ago.

That when the TV comedy series, which portrays the trials and tribulations of being a classical musician in today’s pop-oriented culture, won two Golden Globe awards.

golden globes 2016

One award went to the accomplished Mexican actor, director and producer Gabriel Garcia Bernal (below) for the Best Actor in a TV Series, Comedy or Musical. He plays Rodrigo, an orchestra conductor.

Gael Garcia Bernal as conductor Rodrigo Mozart in the Jungle CR Amazon Studios

The second award went to the show as Best TV Series for Comedy or Musical.

Will any Emmys follow?

The second season has been ready for streaming since Dec. 30. And winning the two Golden Globe awards is sure to spike viewer interest. (You can see the trailer for Season 2 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Although there are some fine things to admire in Season 2, apparently it loses steam and gets repetitive.

At least that is the assessment of music critic Zachary Woolfe, who writes for The New York Times.

One interesting sidelight of Season 2 is that several big-name classical musicians make a cameo appearance on the show.

They include the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the phenom music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic:

DudamelChris Christodoulou

The flamboyant Chinese superstar pianist Lang-Lang:

Lang Lang so expressive

And mainstream American piano star Emanuel Ax, who will perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in March. (NOTE: Ax was to play the Symphonic Variations by Cesar Franck and the Burleske by Richard Strauss. That program has now been changed to the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven.)

Emanuel Ax Philharmonia

To The Ear, the show still sounds like fun – if you can get past or overlook the endless sense of crisis.

Which, curiously, also just happens to be how one might feel about the real-life, non-fiction world of classical music these days with its focus on declining attendance, fewer recordings, labor strife and programming.

Here is a link to the review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/arts/television/mozart-in-the-jungle-where-classical-music-meets-soap-opera.html?_r=0

Tell us in the COMMENT section what you think of either the first season or the second season, if you have already started to watch it.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The New Yorker magazine opens up its on-line archives. You can read for FREE fascinating profiles of pianists Lang-Lang, Helene Grimaud and Jeremy Denk; of mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato; and of violinist Christian Tetzlaff. Follow these links on NPR.

August 16, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Two of the best sources for reading about classical music are NPR (National Public Radio) with its Deceptive Cadence blog; and The New Yorker magazine, which features Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Alex Ross (below) on its staff.

AlexRoss1

These days a lot of publications are figuring out how to “monetize” their websites and on-line stories since they are losing readers of printed editions.

Perhaps David Remnick, the reporter-turned-editor of the The New Yorker who has more than doubled the magazine’s circulation and inaugurated a series of best-selling books of story and cartoon collections, may have a new and unorthodox approach. He seems to be thinking “outside the box” and in reverse: Use the web to increase the profile, and profitability of the print edition.

That approach may mean opening up to FREE ACCESS some of the stories that will give people a taste of what they are missing if they do not subscribe to or regularly read the source.

Whatever the reasoning, The New Yorker has opened up its archives to classical music fans with five not-to-miss profiles and stories about high-profile musicians.

They include the Chinese phenomenon and superstar pianist Lang-Lang (below), who is often dismissed by critics as “Bang-Bang” for his Liberace-like flamboyance and unmusicality, but who remains the most sought-after classical pianist in the world. (At bottom, you can see and hear the opening of a BBC documentary about Lang Lang on YouTube.)

Lang Lang Liszt cover

Others include the American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is highly articulate about the world of singing and opera; the French woman and highly individualistic pianist Helene Grimaud, who aims for unusual interpretations; the German violinist Christian Tetzlaff, who is renowned for eschewing the customary path of virtuosity; and the famous essay on taking piano lessons “Every Good Boy Does Fine” by American pianist Jeremy Denk (below), who recently won a MacArthur  “genius grant”; who has performed recitals twice in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater; and who will be releasing a book-length volume of his essays and postings on his acclaimed blog “Think Denk” this fall.

Jeremy Denk, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

The weekend is a good chance to catch up on such reading. You will learn a lot if you read these stories.

And maybe you, like The Ear, will also become a loyal New Yorker reader. When it calls itself “the best magazine in the world,” it is not kidding.

That goes for politics, social trends, art and culture, and even poetry.

Here is a link, which also features some audio samples:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/12/339560307/read-these-while-theyre-still-free

 


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