The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The New Yorker critic Alex Ross profiles and praises violinist Augustin Hadelich, who performs Dvorak with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend

April 11, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The timing could not be more perfect.

Alex Ross, the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning writer who writes for The New Yorker and is considered by many to be the best classical music critic today, recently went to Detroit to report about the dramatic the rebirth of the Detroit Symphony.

He ended up devoting half the story to a great profile of the Italian-German violinist Augustin Hadelich (below), who was there as a guest soloist to play the rarely programmed Violin Concerto by the British composer Benjamin Britten.

Now it just so happens that the Grammy Award-winning Hadelich returns to Madison for the third time this weekend to perform another rarely heard violin concerto – the Violin Concerto by Antonin Dvorak – with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below in a photo by Peter Rodgers).

The “String Fever” program includes the rarely performed Sinfonia da Requiem by Benjamin Britten and the “Spring” Symphony by Robert Schumann, which is surprisingly the MSO’s first performance of this well-known work.

Performances are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10-$90.

For more information about the artists and the program as well as how to obtain tickets, go to:

https://www.madisonsymphony.org/hadelich

For program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen, go to:

http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1718/7.Apr18.html

And as usual there will be a Prelude Discussion – this time by John DeMain — one hour before each performance.

In addition, the MSO encourages audiences to arrive early because of security check-ins at the Overture Center.

But let’s go back to the profile by Alex Ross (below) of Augustin Hadelich.

In it you will read that:

Hadelich is focusing more on unusual repertoire by Britten, Henry Dutilleux, Gygorgy Ligeti and Thomas Adès than on the well-known violin concertos by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Bartok.

(An impressive virtuoso, whom Ross praises for both technical brilliance and musicality, Hadelich can be heard performing the famously difficult and familiar Caprice No. 24 by Paganini in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Hadelich has high praise for regional symphony orchestras that gave his career a boost, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which he mentions by name along with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. He also points out how underappreciated many such regional orchestras are.

Hadelich is a methodical performing artist. The interview has fascinating background about how he works, including taking notes about each performance, and how he prepares for performances, including what kind of food he eats and when he eats it.

And there is more about Hadlelich’s compelling personal story as a recovered burn victim, about his outstanding playing, and about the life of an up-and-coming concert artist on the road.

The Ear found it fascinating on its own and excellent preparation for hearing Hadelich live. He hopes you do too. Here is a link:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/09/augustin-hadelichs-bold-violin-explorations


Classical music: The King’s Singers will mark 50 years when they perform Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

April 9, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed a cappella singing group The King’s Singers (below) will be marking its 50th anniversary when it performs the annual Fan Taylor Concert – named to honor the first director of the Wisconsin Union Theater – on this Saturday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall.

Tickets are $25-$45 general admission, $20 for youths and $10 for UW students. For more information, including the complete program, background, audio-video samples and how to purchase tickets, go to  https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/the-kings-singers/. You can also phone 608-265-ARTS (2787) or go in person. See locations and hours here.

Celebrating their Golden Anniversary this year, The King’s Singers are widely acclaimed for the quality of their singing and diverse repertoire, which includes over 200 commissioned works from the world’s leading composers.

The commissioned arrangements come from a breadth of musical genres: jazz standards to pop chart hits, medieval motets to Renaissance madrigals, and new scores by young composers.

The upcoming concert is part of their 50th anniversary world tour, and the program showcases their signature blend, purity of tone, and diversity of repertoire, with selections ranging from Renaissance polyphony to brand new commissions celebrating the 50th anniversary.

This love of diversity has always fuelled The King’s Singers’ commitment to creating new music. A panoply of commissioned works by many of the greatest composers of our times – including Luciano Berio, György Ligeti, John Rutter, Toru Takemitsu, Sir John Tavener and Eric Whitacre – sits alongside countless bespoke arrangements in the group’s extensive repertoire.

One of these is called “To Stand in This House” by Nico Muhly (below), which sets various texts by scholars who originated at King’s College, Cambridge, where The Kings Singers were founded.

The program, GOLD, charts a journey through the music that has defined The King’s Singers so far, from Renaissance polyphony to art song to, naturally, close harmony favorites.

The group also looks toward the future with several commissions for the 50th season from composers and arrangers with who they have ties, including, in addition to Nico Muhly’s work, “We Are” by composer/conductor Bob Chilcott, himself a former member of The King’s Singers; and “Quintessentially” by Joanna and Alexander L’Estrange (below), which humorously tells the story of The King’s Singers’ past 50 years.

The King’s Singers was founded in 1968 at King’s College in Cambridge, England. They continually wow audiences across the globe in over 125 concerts a year. The group has won two Grammy awards and was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame for its vocal artistry and excellence. (You hear a sample from the group’s new anniversary album, “Gold,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Madison concert is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee.

This concert is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. WORT-FM 89.9 is the media sponsor.


Classical music: Here are the best classical recordings of 2016 as chosen by critics for The New York Times. Plus, take a break from Christmas music when the Middleton Community Orchestra plays music by Dvorak, Mendelssohn and Brahms tomorrow night

December 20, 2016
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REMINDER: Had your fill of holiday music yet? The Ear sure has. Listening to too much Christmas music is a little like drinking too much eggnog or eating too much fruitcake.

So he is grateful to the Middleton Community Orchestra, a mostly amateur but very accomplished ensemble that performs tomorrow night, Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School.

Happily, the MCO has a program that features conductor Kyle Knox and Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz. The music runs counter-intuitive to most seasonal programming and offers a break from all things Christmas except for beauty and joy: some Slavonic Dances by Antonin  Dvorak, the terrific Violin Concerto in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn and the sunny Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms.

Admission is $15 (NOT $10 as mistakenly stated earlier); free to students.

For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/classical-music-the-mostly-amateur-middleton-community-orchestra-will-give-its-holiday-concert-of-works-by-mendelssohn-dvorak-and-brahms-on-wednesday-night-dec-21/

By Jacob Stockinger

There is still time for giving and getting this holiday season.

So here are The Best Classical Recordings of 2016, as chosen by critics for The New York Times.

nyt-best-of-2016-1

The Times listing has good discerning commentaries and even some audiovisual excerpts of the recordings named. And at least one of the recordings — a CD of Haydn and Ligeti by pianist Shai Wosner — has connections to Madison and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

One can also use this list as a starting point.

The Ear likes to package a recording with a book and even a ticket to a live performance. And these choices offer much food for thought. For example. the recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Edward Elgar, recorded by conductor Daniel Barenboim, will be performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater this spring by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under its outgoing director Edo de Waart.

nyt-best-of-2016-2

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/arts/music/best-classical-music-recordings-2016.html?_r=0

And here is a link to two other gift guides.

The first is the post-Thanksgiving guide, which includes books and DVDs, by The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/classical-music-here-is-the-new-york-times-holiday-gift-guide-of-classical-music-for-2016/

The second is the list of nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2017-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

Enjoy and leave word of your agreement or disagreement along with other selections in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

nyt-best-of-2016-3


Classical music: Happy Halloween! Here is some spooky music along with a spooky way to listen to it.

October 31, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

BOO!

Today is Halloween 2015.

halloween

Trick or treat?

The Ear is giving out treats today.

Eeriness has played a role in classical music since its beginning.

So here are the 13 scariest pieces of classical music – with links to performances – as determined by Limelight magazine:

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/features/13-scariest-pieces-classical-music-halloween

halloween black cat

And here is another selection of Halloween music, 10 pieces also with links to performances, from The Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/10/classical-music-pieces-for-halloween.html

Together the two websites offer a wide variety of composers: Camille Saint-Saens, Franz Liszt, Johann Sebastian Bach, Modest Mussorgsky, Hector Berlioz, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gyorgy Ligeti, Antonin Dvorak, Josef Suk, Jean Sibelius, Andre Caplet, Carl Maria von Weber and Franz Schubert.

You could stream them loudly as you do trick-or-treat with neighborhood children.

Halloween witch and haunted house

But The Ear also wants to share what he finds to be a fascinating and irresistible but nonetheless spooky way of listening to the famous Organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, a work that made both lists of music appropriate to Halloween.

The YouTube video uses an ingenious but spooky visual bar graph bar way to follow the music. Try it and see for yourself! Over 25 million people have!

Then leave any suggestions you have for Halloween music, along with a link to a YouTube or other performance if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: This will be an outstanding semester for piano fans in the area. But it starts with a “train wreck” this Friday night with dueling piano concerts by Christopher Taylor and Ilya Yakushev.

January 20, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

For piano fans, the first semester in Madison proved a bit underwhelming, even disappointing when compared to many past falls.

But that is about to change this semester, starting this weekend.

Of course this piano-rich week comes complete with the inevitable piano “train wreck,” as The Wise Critic terms such scheduling conflicts and competition.

Farley's House of PIanos MMM 20141

CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR OR ILYA YAKUSHEV

For many area listeners, the big annual piano event is on this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. That is when the UW-Madison School of Music virtuoso Christopher Taylor (below) — whom The Ear hears other schools are trying to lure away from the UW — performs his annual solo faculty recital.

Taylor, famed for his prodigious technique and fantastic memory, has won praise nationwide and even internationally for his performances of all kinds of difficult music, from Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven to Olivier Messiaen and Gyorgi Ligeti as well as contemporary musicians like Derek Bermel.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Taylor’s program this time is an unusual one that mixes old and new.

It features another of the dazzling two-hand transcriptions by Franz Liszt of the symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven, which Taylor has been performing elsewhere in a cycle. This time he will perform the famous Symphony No. 6 in F Major, “Pastoral.”

Also on the program are seven of the 12 etudes by the contemporary American composer William Bolcom, who taught at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and the Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5, by Johannes Brahms — a wondrously dramatic and beautiful work that you can hear performed by Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner Radu Lupu in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Tickets are $10 and benefit the UW-Madison School of Music Scholarship Fund.

For more information, including some national reviews of Taylor, here is a link to the UW website:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/christopher-taylor-piano-faculty-recital/

But, as I said, there is a problem.

At exactly the same time on Friday night, in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, is a terrific concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev (below), who last performed Prokofiev and Gershwin concertos with the WCO.

This Friday night’s program includes Yakushev in two well-known concertos: the keyboard concerto in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Felix Mendelssohn.

ilya yakushev 3

Also on the program – typically eclectic in the style that conductor Andrew Sewell (below) favors — is the English Suite for Strings by British composer Paul Lewis and the Chamber Symphony No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg.

For information, go to: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/77/event-info/

andrewsewell

But this piano weekend doesn’t stop there.

On Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., Ilya Yakushev will open the new season of the Salon Piano Series when he plays a solo recital in the concert room (below) at Farley’s House of Pianos, on Madison’s far west side.

The program includes the famous Sonata in C minor “Pathétique,” Op. 13, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Sonata No. 2 by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and “Carnival” by Robert Schumann. A reception will follow the recital.

Farley Daub plays

Here is a link with more information:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

And as background, here is a Q&A that The Ear did in 2011 with Ilya Yakushev:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/classical-qa-russian-pianist-ilya-yakushev-discusses-prokofiev-and-gershwin-which-he-will-play-at-the-opening-concert-of-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-on-friday-night/

ilya yakushev mug

MORE TO COME

Of course this is just the beginning of Piano Heaven.

There is still the concerto competition for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to come, along with the UW-Madison concerto competition, the Bolz “Final Forte” Concerto Competition of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and others.

Later this semester, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will also feature two other returning pianists –- Shai Wosner (below top) and Bryan Wallick (below bottom). They will perform, respectively, two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major “Emperor” by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

Bryan Wallick mug

Here is a link to the WCO website:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/

And let’s not forget the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to the above piano events and others, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will feature the Irving S. Gilmore Competition winner Ingrid Fliter (below), a native of Argentina, in the lusciously Romantic Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor by Frederic Chopin on Feb. 13-15 – perfect fare for Valentine’s Day weekend.

Ingrid Fliter playing

That program which also includes the Symphony No. 4 by Robert Schumann and British composer Benjamin Britten’s “Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge” -– Bridge was Britten’s teacher — promises to be a memorable performance by a renowned Chopin specialist who last played a solo recital here ay the Wisconsin Union Theater.

And if you know of more. just add them in a Reader’s Comment for others to see,

 

 


Classical music: Pop pianist Bruce Hornsby takes a surprising turn to classical music. He performs in Madison on Oct. 30.

September 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pop pianist Bruce Hornsby (below) has made quite the reputation for himself over the past 25 years or so as a keyboard wizard — and singer — who explores all kinds of music, including rock and folk, with impressive improvisations and interpretations.

bruce hornsby with piano

But imagine The Ear’s surprise when Hornsby announced that he was looking and playing and even programming classical music as well as jazz.

And on top of that, some of the classical music he is favoring comes from the Second Viennese School – the difficult 12-tone and atonal composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. He also plays music by Gyorgy Ligeti and Olivier Messiaen.

Clearly, Hornsby’s classical tastes runs to early modernism. One can’t be sure that kind of music will be included in the upcoming concert, but it sure sounds as if it will.

Hornsby’s concert in Madison is in Overture Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 30. Tickets run $39.50 to $59.50.

Here is a link to more information about the concert and tickets, which have been on sale for about two weeks now and which can also be reserved by calling the Overture Center box office at (608) 251-4848.

http://www.overturecenter.org/events/bruce-hornsby

Hornsby also talked to All Things Considered, on NPR or National Public Radio, about his turn toward the classics, especially in the wake of being a relatively late bloomer as a student instrumentalist. (And the classical stuff he plays is hard and very challenging both for performers and listeners.) But you can tell he has impressive technique in the YouTube video at the bottom.

You may also notice that buying a concert ticket gets you a copy of his latest 25-track, 2-CD set with The Noisemakers called “Solo Concerts,” which includes some of the classical music.

Anyway, here is a link to the NPR story about Bruce Hornsby’s Classical Moment:

http://www.npr.org/2014/08/23/341957012/bruce-hornsbys-modern-classical-moment?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=music

 

 


Classical music: In the next few days, three groups with a big and loyal local following will perform duo-piano music, woodwind music and clarinet trios.

March 12, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

With limited space — after all there are only so many days in the week and the local classical music scene keeps getting more and more crowded — sometimes The Ear has to combine performers and events. And that is the case today.

Several smaller concerts, some featuring performers with a loyal local following and all being offering for FREE, will take place this week and weekend.

DUO-PIANISTS VARSHAVSKI AND SHAPIRO

On Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the Oakwood Village West Center for Arts and Education, 6205 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne, duo-pianists Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro (below) will perform.

The program includes the “Allegro Brilliante” by Felix Mendelssohn; the “Lebenssturme” (Life Storm) by Franz Schubert; and “Petrushka” by Igor Stravinsky as arranged by Varshavi and Shapiro. (At the bottom you can hear a YouTube video in which the two women perform a beautiful Barcarolle from a suite by Sergei Rachmaninoff.)

For more information about the duo-pianists and samples of their music, visit:

http://www.piano-4-hands.com

Stanislava Varshavski-Diana Shapiro

THE KAT TRIO

On this Friday at 7:30 p.m., the Kat Trio -– short for the Ekaterinberg Trio that uses the violin, clarinet and piano  — will perform a FREE concert at First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Avenue in Madison.

The original violin, clarinet and piano ensemble (below) from Ekaterinburg, Russia, was formed in May of 1998 in Ekaterinburg by three friends: Victoria Gorbich (violin), Vladislav Gorbich (clarinet) and
 Vasil Galiulin (piano). They had just graduated from the Ural State Music Conservatory.

original Kat Trio

Today’s “The Kat Trio” (below) -– which is well-known to Madison audiences -– is made up of Victoria, Vladislav and pianist Justin Snyder (below standing). Victoria and Vlad are doctoral graduates of Arizona State University. Justin is a graduate of University of Michigan and recently finished studying in London at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

According to publicity materials, Kat Trio concerts showcase unique Russian arrangements and transpositions of timeless melodies and feature classical works, well-known inspirational songs, and even American pop standards, including Scott Joplin’s rags.

This week’s program includes: a trio by Aram Khachaturian, plus works by Vladimir Vavilov, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Peter Tchaikovsky, Louis Moreau Gottschalk; Amy Beach; Samuel Barber; Michael Joncas; Joseph Lamb; Jerry Bock; and Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach).

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., but the three performers will do an audience Q&A prior to their performance, so you might arrive early.

The concert is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. A free will offering will be taken.

The Ekaterinburg Trio’s website, www.thekattrio.net, features a Music page where fans can hear music files from all 10 CDs. The Video link also features dozens of Kat Trio videos on YouTube.

kat trio with justin

BLACK MARIGOLD

This week will also see two performances by the Madison-based woodwind quintet Black Marigold (below).

Black Marigold will perform on this Friday, March 14, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s FREE Noon Musicale from 12:15 to 1 p.m. They will perform in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic building that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Then on Sunday, Black Marigold will perform on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.” The FREE concert will be held from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The concert will also be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area).

The program for both concerts includes: the Quintet, Op. 88, No. 2, by Anton Reicha; Six Bagatelles by Gyorgy Ligeti; “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky, and arranged by Jonathan Russell; and “Vignettes Balletiques” by Brian DuFord.

For more information about Black Marigold, visit or write to:

https://www.facebook.com/BlackMarigold

blackmarigoldwinds@gmail.com

Black Marigold

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Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players of Madison explain and explore the demanding and original horn trios by Johannes Brahms and Gyorgy Ligeti. Now if the musicians can only get the word out and reach the audience they deserve. Plus, on Thursday morning, WORT-FM will preview the FREE world premiere concert on Saturday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by the Pro Arte Quartet.

February 25, 2014
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ALERT: Our blog friend and radio host Rich Samuels at WORT-FM 89.9 writes: “On this Thursday, Feb. 27, I’ll be playing the following items which should help publicize the FREE concert this coming Saturday night by the Pro Arte Quartet . It takes place at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall and features an early quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn and a viola quintet by Anton Bruckner — with guest violist Samuel Rhodes of the Juilliard School and the Juilliard String Quartet — as well as the WORLD PREMIERE of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3. The program should also help publicize the FREE open rehearsal wight he composer that same Thursday morning in Mills Hall from 9 a.m. to noon.

Here is the schedule of my 5-8 a.m. show “Anything Goes”: at 7:10 a.m. — the original Pro Arte Quartet’s December, 1933 recording of the final movement of the quartet by Maurice Ravel; at 7:18 a.m. — the present-day Pro Arte Quartet (below) and its recording (with UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor) of the final movement of William Bolcom‘s Piano Quintet No. 2, which was commissioned by the Pro Arte, performed and recorded for its centennial celebration two seasons ago; and at 7:25 a.m. — Invention No. 1 from Benoit Mernier’s “Five Inventions for Organ” (with the composer performing). I had to choose short selections because we’re in a pledge drive on Feb. 27, which mandates a certain amount of on-air fundraising.”

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also took the performance photos. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Mosaic Chamber Players is a group of instrumentalists in the area who enjoy performing chamber works for a public that still needs to grow and appreciate the players and programs.

On Saturday night, three members of the group presented two examples of the rare idiom of trio for piano, violin and horn — the one by Johannes Brahms (1865), which was the trail-blazer in the idiom, and the one by the modern Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti (below, 1923-2006), composed in 1982 as a tribute to the older composer.

gyorgy ligeti

The Ligeti work was given first, and a very sensible touch was to have a little background presentation on it by Sarah Schaffer, who is also a cellist with the Mosaic group.

Having the players contribute actual examples of passages in the Ligeti score, Schaffer (below) did a fine job of sketching the background of the composer and work, and demonstrating the thematic and motivic ideas out of which Ligeti crafted his work with such considerable skill.

It is, to be sure, a thorny work, tremendously demanding on the players, and posing obstacles of an arcane style on the listeners. But Schaffer’s lecture was most helpful. In this trio Ligeti was, after all, playing the avant-gardist taking on classical forms.

Sarah Schaffer on Mosaic Ligeti

The work is in essentially the same four-movement format as the Brahms, echoing the latter, but in Ligeti’s own terms. Listeners can gradually get their bearings. I, for one, came to appreciate the Lamento finale as packed with very moving beauty. (You can hear that finale in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The style of Brahms (below) 117 years earlier is, of course, much more congenial to our ears, even if this trio is not that often performed. It also contrasts directly with Ligeti’s counterpart work in its rationale.

Whereas Ligeti pits the three players against each other, as veritable opponents, Brahms treats them as collaborators and partners.  He retains their individuality: the muscularity of the piano, the sweetness of the violin, and the horn’s rugged suggestion of the forests and the hunt.  And yet, the power of the horn is tamed, and made to consort comfortably with the violin, under the piano’s firm supervision.

brahms3

The performers (below) were members of the group founded by pianist Jess Salek, who was joined in these two trios by violinist Laura Burns and hornist Brad Sinner. They had invested a good three months in working on the Ligeti, I was told, and their mastery of this very tricky score showed how deeply they had come to understand and appreciate it.  (Its difficulties were highlighted by the use of not one but two page-turners for the players.)

The spirit with which they tackled it was appropriately transferred to the Brahms, in a rousing performance.

Mosaic Chamber Players horn trios

Barely over 30 people attended the concert, held in the historic old Landmark auditorium in the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The Mosaic Players will return there on Sunday evening, June 8, for a concert of Cesar Franck and Franz Schubert.  I certainly will be there.  Why not you, too? 

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Classical music news: Pianist Jeremy Denk “de-normalizes” classical music with his new CD of Beethoven and Ligeti, and points the way to the industry’s future with a recording that deserves a Grammy.

May 21, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pianist Jeremy Denk (below) – who says he is “obsessed with de-normalizing classical music” – is of one of the most promising and original musical talents not only in the US but also on the world scene.

And he is no stranger to Madison.

He first played here several years ago as the accompanist to star violinist Joshua Bell, with whom he recently toured Europe and recorded an outstanding album of French sonatas for Sony Classical.

Two seasons ago, Denk appeared at the Wisconsin Union Theater and performed a mammoth program of J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations and Charles Ives’ neglected Piano Sonata No. 1. He also held a master class for young piano students; participated in a blogging workshop; and gave a fascinating lecture on pedaling in Chopin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

A year from now, Denk will again perform on the Wisconsin Union Theater concert series, over in Mills Hall since the Memorial Union will be closed for two seasons while it undergoes major renovation.

A graduate of Oberlin College (where he major in chemistry) and the Juilliard School, Denk has many honors to his credit. He taught at Indiana University 1996-2002 and currently teaches at Bard College. For a week this winter, he was an artist–in-residence at NPR and you can go to http://www.npr.org to listen to him. His blog “Think Denk” (http://jeremydenk.net/blog/) is extremely well written with thought-provoking perspectives on music and is extremely popular. Acclaimed critic Alex Ross, of The New Yorker Magazine singles it out as among the very best.

Last week, Nonesuch released Denk’s debut CD for the label: It features Beethoven’s visionary last piano sonata, No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111, sandwiched in between selections of Gyorgy Ligeti’s fiendishly difficult two books of 20th and 21st century etudes.

It is a revelatory recording that The Ear expects to be nominated for and win a Grammy as well as several other international recording awards. Yes, it is that good. It is that landmark a recording with eye-catching black-and-white photography by Michael Wilson and with liner note by Denk himself.

I also think it is also an indicator of how the recording industry might once again find its commercial feet and reclaim its artistic soul by emphasizing connection among music works – by combing new music with old, or mixing works by very contrasting composers — and by offering listeners musicianship of an original sort rather than the same old celebrity and virtuosity of competition winners.

We need more dialogue between the past and the present – and that is exactly what the thoughtful and virtuosic Denk makes music do.

Denk recently e-mailed The Ear with comments about his new recording and his upcoming appearance in Madison:

What does the new recording for Nonesuch mean to you and to your career?

Who knows the answer to that question? You’d have to predict the future, probably. Obviously it’s a Good Thing. At the very least it means I am a very happy camper, and I went out for some excellent celebration drinks with my friends.

I guess the best part is that on some level it associates me with a group of musicians that I deeply admire and respect—among many others Richard Goode, Brad Mehldau—and even with the idea of Nonesuch, which often seems to be about music that doesn’t care to fit “normally” in the genre cubbyholes that tradition and habit have built.

I am sort of obsessed with de-normalizing classical music (for instance, in this case, making Beethoven sound even weirder by surrounding him with Ligeti). I guess it also can mean trying to play Mozart (or Brahms or whatever) in a way that makes it feel less familiar; so that the surprises in the music — the radical inventive qualities — re-emerge.   These radical qualities are certainly there, but the whole tradition and trapping of the classical concert (and even our education as musicians) can sometimes conspire to hide them!

I blame the metronome, among other things.  But Ligeti does amazing things with the metronome; he understands its “soul” (so to speak).

What plans for future releases and repertoire (Bach Toccatas, Beethoven Concerto No. 1, Chopin ballades and mazurkas you lectured about here) do you have with Nonesuch?

There are no completely definite repertoire plans, but the “Goldbergs” seem to be the favored option for the next project. This would make sense, since I’ve been playing them off and on the last several years.

Why did you pair Ligeti etudes and the Beethoven’s final Sonata, Op. 111? Do the both share some quality? How does pairing them change or enhance the listener’s perception and appreciation of each composer or piece?

I had the hardest time cutting my liner notes down to size, partly because I had so many different justifications for this pairing.  To sum up, the super-duper Reader’s Digest Version: 1) They’re both “new music,” the Beethoven perpetually unsettling, a work which will never feel traditional; the Ligeti, a radicalization of tradition; 2) Op. 111 is an amazing portrait of infinity, a carefully constructed journey to eternity, and the Ligeti Etudes are an amazing collection of snapshots of the infinite; they’re both “friendly with ∞;” 3) Both the Ligeti and Beethoven are about complex dualisms of time, visions of time that are drifting apart.

One very important thing about the Beethoven that got cut from my notes:  The first movement seems very much in a hurry, kind of driven — this is the movement where Beethoven drags in the past very overtly (Bach, French Overture, fugue); whereas the second is very patient, very leisurely. In other words, it offers a beautiful paradox:  the movement that is consumed with the past is in a desperate hurry, and the movement that foresees the future is infinitely patient.

You will return next spring to Madison. Do you have a program in mind?

I am guessing good old-fashioned Brahms (below) and Liszt — the demonic side of Brahms, and all sorts of facets of Liszt from the sacred to the profane.  I recent re-fell in love with the “Paganini Variations,” one of the most inspired sets of variations in history.  I love Brahms when he doesn’t have to develop or do too much complicated thinking; when he must simply rely on inspiration, moment to moment. He really rises to these occasions.

I think you will be doing some kind of alternative time (lunch) -alternative venue (small concert space) while you are in Madison. Any comment?

I don’t know what it is, but I’m looking forward to it.

Is there anything you want to say about the recording, you, your career, the Madison date or the music scene in general, including your recent gigs on NPR?

I think my problem is certainly not saying too little.  A lot of my thoughts are on my blog, so many.  I’ve left quite a trail.  I hope my career is developing in a way that makes sense to someone!

As for the recording, it represents an enormous swath of my life, love and attention; I find Op. 111 to be one of the most affecting works of art, ever — period, end of story; I am always choked up and overwhelmed when Beethoven “re-finds” the theme in the second movement; it is something completely harrowing, completely redeeming.  It’s more like an experience than a piece of music.  It’s what music is for, if music is for anything.  And I think the Ligeti Etudes are equally astounding in a different way.

In short, there is no way I can make any reasonable, objective assessment of the record; it’s a bit like a limb that’s been cut away from me, and now, like it or not, it’s out in the world, doing its thing.


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