The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Music is another reason to like Emmanuel Macron, the new President of France

May 12, 2017
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ALERT 1: Due to unforeseen circumstances, the recital TONIGHT by the Ancora String Quartet in Janesville will take place in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, instead of in the Janesville Woman’s Club building.

For more information, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/classical-music-next-week-the-ancora-string-quartet-closes-its-16th-season-with-three-concerts-that-contrast-the-german-romanticism-of-beethoven-and-the-french-impressionism-of-saint-saens/

REMINDER: This Saturday, “Live From the Met in HD” will feature  Richard Strauss‘ “Der Rosenkavalier.” The acclaimed Metropolitan Opera production features superstar soprano Renee Fleming in a farewell performance of her signature role of the aging Marshallin.

By Jacob Stockinger

Besides the fact that he decisively defeated the dangerous far right candidate Marine Le Pen to become the new President of France, there is much to like about centrist Emmanuel Macron (below).

PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images

Some people like his background in economics and international banking, and his desire to stay in the European Union.

Some people like that he is a newcomer who has formed his own political party.

Some people like the fact that he married a high school teacher, Brigitte Trogneux, who is 25 years older than he is.

Some people like the fact that he has foregone having his own children in order to be an instant stepfather and step-grandfather through his wife’s family.

But here is another reason to like Macron.

Classical music.

Not only is Macron a winning politician, he is also an avid amateur pianist.

For details – including his training and his favorite composers — see the story on National Public Radio (NPR).

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2017/05/09/527577050/something-you-didnt-know-about-emmanuel-macron-hes-a-pianist


Chamber music: The Oakwood Chamber Players wraps up its current season on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon with a concert that explores musical scores and the composers’ intentions

May 9, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) wraps up its 2016-17 season series “Perspective” with a concert titled “Looking Closely at the Score” on this coming Saturday night,  May 13, at 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, May 14, at 2 p.m.

Both concerts will be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.

Looking Closely at the Score considers composers and influences on their scoring.

The concert includes an array of guest artists, with the Oakwood Chamber Players partnering with musical colleagues from the woodwind quintet Black Marigold (below) to expand their programmatic possibilities.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.

French composer Vincent D’Indy (below, in 1911) wrote Chanson et Danses (Song and Dances) for woodwind septet in 1898. He was greatly influenced by Cesar Franck who was his composition teacher and by a personal enthusiasm for the music of Richard Wagner.

This piece has a subtle feel of the pastoral quality of Siegfried’s Idyll and takes the listener from a sweetly stated Chanson through increasing animation of the Danses and a serene return to the song theme at its conclusion.

A student of Ralph Vaughan Williams, admired Irish composer, renowned pianist and fourth-generation newspaper editor, Joan Trimble (below) led a life full of creativity. Her Phantasy Trio for violin, cello and piano won a major compositional award from the Royal College of Music in 1940.

This piece highlights warm and expressive lines that she felt important to provide for musicians and ably reflects her personal view that “performers had to be considered and allowed to play with their individual qualities in mind. How else were they to communicate and have a response from listeners?”

Luise Adolpha Le Beau was a German composer, piano soloist and student of Clara Schumann. Performing in chamber music was of particular interest to her and she wrote many of her compositions for this musical genre.

The Oakwood Chamber Players will perform Allegro con Fuoco from her Piano Trio in d minor. The movement alternates rhythmic motifs with sweetly expressive melodic lines. (You can hear the lovely slow movement from the same piano trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Romantic Swiss-German composer Joachim Raff was influential in the European scene and considered an inspired musician by 19th-century luminaries such as Schumann, Mendelssohn and Liszt and interest in his work was revived by notable 20th-century conductor and composer Bernard Hermann, who was noted for his scores to flms by Alfred Hitchcock.

Raff (below) coined the term Sinfonietta for his piece that combines two woodwind quintets to convey a buoyant and transparent approach in contrast to a more prescribed symphonic approach to scoring. This delightful four movement work has abundant soaring melodic lines, a true understanding of the characteristics of the woodwind family of instruments and a dazzling conclusion.

The Oakwood Chamber Players will be joined by guests J. Elizabeth Marshall, flute; Jennifer Morgan, oboe; Bethany Schultz, clarinet; Juliana Mesa-Jaramillo, bassoon; and Dafyyd Bevil and Kia Karlen, horns.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


Classical music: A second photograph of Chopin has been discovered. Here it is along with how it was found and what it tells us

March 11, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A conservative musician who admired and valued the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart above that of  Ludwig van Beethoven and his own contemporaries, Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) is one of the most popular and most played of all Romantic composers.

He remains a perennial favorite of audiences, students and concert artists. Witness the recent sold-out concerts featuring Chopin’s music by Trevor Stephenson at his home and by Adam Neiman at Farley’s House of Pianos. An amazingly high percentage of Chopin’s works remains in the active repertoire.

His was no belated posthumous fame, either. Chopin, the famous Polish pianist-composer who was exiled in Paris, was well-known and widely respected in his own lifetime by the public and by other famous composers and pianists such as Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann.

Yet despite many drawings and paintings of Chopin – often at odds in their depictions — until recently only one known photograph of Chopin existed: The familiar one taken by Louis-Auguste Bisson in Paris towards the end of Chopin’s life, just months before he died of tuberculosis at age 39 in 1849.

Now a second photograph — or daguerreotype, to be exact — has been discovered. It probably dates from 1847 or so.

Here is the new photographic portrait of Chopin:

Want to know some background?

Here is the story from Poland via The Washington Post and the Associated Press:

https://etsuri.com/articles/a-rare-unknown-photo-of-frederic-chopin-probably-found

Here are the two known photographs side by side for comparison:

http://www.businessinsider.com/only-2-known-photos-of-chopin

And here is a terrific blog analysis of the two photographs that also discusses his late music and what the photographs tell us about Chopin:

http://jackgibbons.blogspot.com/2010/03/chopins-photograph.html

The Ear wonders how long it will be before we start seeing the new photograph of Chopin on CD jackets and liner notes.

In any case, as an homage, here is Chopin’s last composition, the archetypically Polish form of the Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4, played in a YouTube video by Vladimir Ashkenazy :


Classical music: On Saturday, the UW-Madison hosts a FREE and PUBLIC day of workshops, master classes and performances for pianists and other keyboard players

March 1, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Attention all pianists– amateurs, professionals and students — as well as other keyboard players.

This Saturday brings the first University of Wisconsin-Madison “Keyboard Day.”  The focus is comprehensive, having the title “From the Practice Room to the Stage: The Pathway to Artistry.”(The official logo is below.)

pathways-to-artistry-logo

The underlying reason may be to attract and recruit talented undergraduate students to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. But the net effect is that a lot of wisdom about keyboard playing – from practicing to performing — will be on display to be shared with those who attend.

All events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Steinway Grand Piano

The event takes place in Morphy Recital Hall from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Here is a schedule:

9:30-10 a.m. Coffee and Pastries (Mills Lobby)

10 a.m.-noon UW-Madison Keyboard Faculty Workshops

Strategies for Learning a New Piece with Professor Martha Fischer (below top) and Professor Jess Johnson (below bottom)

Getting Inside a Composer’s Head with Professor John Stowe

Beyond Repetitive Drilling: Custom Exercises for Every Difficult Passage with Professor Christopher Taylor

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion in the Practice Room with Professor Martha Fischer and Professor Jess Johnson

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

jessica johnson at piano

1:30-3:30 p.m. Master class for high school students with UW-Madison keyboard faculty

Etude in E major, Op. 10, No. 3 by Frederic Chopin; Yunyao Zhu, a student of Kangwoo Jin

Sonata in G major, Op. 49, No. 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven. George Logan, a student of Liz Agard

Sposalizio, by Franz Liszt. Owen Ladd, a student of  William Lutes

Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31, by Frederic Chopin. Jacob Beranek, a student of Margarita Kontorovsky

Morphy Hall 2

3:30-4 p.m. Reception in Mills Lobby

4-5 p.m. Recital featuring UW-Madison Keyboard Faculty

Sonata, Wq. 49 No. 5 by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). From Sei Sonate, Op. 2 (1744). John Chappell Stowe, harpsichord (below top)

Quasi Variazioni. Andantino de Clara Wieck by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) from Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 14. Jess Johnson, piano. *Performed on a Steinbuhler DS 5.0 TM (“7/8”) alternatively-sized piano keyboard.

Don Quixote a Dulcinea (1933) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) Poetry by Paul Morand. Paul Rowe, baritone, and Martha Fischer, piano

The Banjo by Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869). Christopher Taylor, piano (below middle). You can hear the piece in the YouTube video at the bottom. Taylor will also play “Ojos criollos” (Creole Eyes) and “Pasquinade” by the American composer Gottschalk.

Nature Boy by George Alexander “eden ahbez” Aberle (1908-1895) Johannes Wallmann, jazz piano (below bottom)

BATC2 John Chappelle Stowe and Edith Hines

Christopher Taylor new profile

johannes wallmann playing


Classical music: Pianist Adam Neiman defines what makes for great Chopin playing. He performs an all-Chopin recital this Sunday afternoon at Farley’s House of Pianos.

February 21, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

What makes for great Chopin playing?

It is an especially germane question since the critically acclaimed pianist Adam Neiman (below) will perform an all-Chopin recital this coming Sunday at 4 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall.

Tickets are $45. For more information, go to:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

Neiman –pronounced KNEE-man — has appeared here as a soloist with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded piano concertos by Mozart with the WCO. He is a critically acclaimed prize-winning pianist with a major concertizing and recording career. He also teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago and is a member of the Trio Solisti, a piano trio that has been hailed as the successor to the famous Beaux Arts Trio.

Here is a link to Neiman’s website with information about him and his recordings, including upcoming releases of Beethoven, Liszt and Rachmaninoff:

http://www.adamneiman.com

Adam Neiman also recently did an email Q&A interview with The Ear:

adam-neiman-2017

There are some exceptional players of Beethoven and other German composers who sound completely out of their element in Chopin. What qualities do you think make for great Chopin playing and what makes Chopin difficult to interpret?

Chopin’s music incorporates a narrative language and an emphasis on very “first person” points-of-view; in other words, it is highly personalized, expressing emotion from the perspective of the individual, including nationalistic sentiments. Often, Germanic music aims for “objective” viewpoints, with extremely stringent instructions by the composer.

For players who struggle with the open-ended idiomatic flavor in Chopin’s music, the lack of objective instruction by the composer can make it difficult for them to know what to do. (You can hear Adam Neiman discussing much more about Chopin’s personality and artistic achievement in the YouTube video at the bottom)

To play Chopin (below) at a very high level requires imagination and freedom, as well as a poetic and introspective musical tendency. The fluidity of rubato, the contrapuntal interaction between the hands and the frequent use of widely spread textures requires a nimble master of the instrument, one with the ability to emphasize the piano’s specific virtuosic abilities.

In addition, Chopin’s music is centered around a bel canto operatic style of melody, whereas Germanic melody tends to be more motivic in nature, and therefore developmental.

A composer like Beethoven will emphasize motivic metamorphosis as a means of augmenting a form to create large structures, whereas Chopin will glide from one melodic area to another, using harmonic exploration as the central means of formal expansion.

This compositional difference outlines different strengths in the pianists, as the skill set to play reams of melody lines in succession can often be very different from those skills required to highlight motivic development in a work.

Chopinphoto

Can you place the 24 Preludes that you will be playing within the context of Chopin’s entire body of works. What would you like the public to know about the preludes and how you see them individually and as a group?

The 24 Preludes were composed while Chopin was on holiday in Mallorca, Spain, which proved to be Chopin’s first palpable bout with tuberculosis, the disease that eventually killed him. (Below is an 1849 photo of Chopin on his deathbed.)

Many of these works were written in a fever-state, in haste, and during a stressful time period in which Chopin was not only facing his own mortality, but also dealing with the myriad challenges of integrating with the children of his lover, the French writer Aurora Dudevant who is better known as George Sand.

These Preludes are like snapshots into the mind of the composer at a moment in time, often without regard for cohesion or development. They exist in a timeless place, where the music expresses the extremely personal sentiments roiling through Chopin’s consciousness.

In many ways, these works capture his spirit in the most distilled possible way, giving the player and listener an opportunity to view the mind and heart of Chopin without filter or refinement, hallmarks of his larger works.

Despite the widely varied emotional content of these Preludes, as a set they hold together as a marvelous and surprisingly cogent musical journey. They exemplify the 19th-century “Romantic” ideals of fantasy, freedom, individuality and raw emotion.

Chopin on deathbed photo

You will also perform all four Ballades. How they do they rank within Chopin’s output? What would you like listeners to know about each of the four ballades, about what they share in common and what distinguishes each one? Do you have favorites and why?

If the Preludes represent the pinnacle of Chopin’s ability to express poetic ideals within miniature forms, the Ballades represent the apex of his more grandiose musical philosophy.

The Ballade, as a form, emanates from epic poetry, often portraying a heroic protagonist overcoming seemingly inescapable challenges. Ballades can also be tied to nationalistic notions, and for Chopin, all four Ballades are truly Polish in their expression.

As Chopin’s native Poland was invaded and he was cut off permanently from re-entry, Chopin became an orphan of the world, whose adopted home of France revered and celebrated him without equal.

His musical mission — exemplified by the Ballades, Mazurkas and Polonaises in particular — was to heighten awareness of Poland’s cultural contributions to a European audience totally unaware of the goings-on in the east.

As a result of the immense conflicts suffered by Chopin’s homeland, and in keeping with the deep pride and identification Chopin felt as a Pole, these Ballades express the emotional rollercoaster of a lone Polish hero — perhaps Chopin himself, autobiographically — battling the world.

All four of these works make an enormous impression on the listener. From the despair and anger of the first Ballade, the bi-polar conflicts of the second (below is the opening of the second Ballade in Chopin’s manuscript), the pastoral hopefulness of the third, and the desolate introspection of the fourth, these Ballades speak to the soul and require the most intensely personal voice of the performer.

Adam Neiman 2 2016

They require the possession of immense physical power and emotional maturity, which renders these works as being among Chopin’s most challenging.

I love all four of them equally. They are true masterworks of the highest order.

chopin-ballade-2-autograph

In there anything else you would like to say?

I am deeply honored and extremely delighted to return to Madison to perform this recital. I look forward to seeing many familiar faces, as well as new friends. Thank you!


Classical music: It’s Valentine’s Day. What piece of classical music would you give to your Valentine?

February 14, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Valentine’s Day.

Cupid

If you want to celebrate, there is always chocolate or roses or champagne or a special dinner.

But there is music too.

Many composers come to mind: Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Antonin Dvorak, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Gabriel FaureGiacomo Puccini, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, and  Sergei Rachmaninoff to name a few.

But The Ear thinks one of the most beautiful pieces is a short one, a miniature if you will.

It is the Romance in F-sharp Major, Op. 28, No. 2, by the Romantic German composer Robert Schumann (below with his wife Clara Wieck Schumann). Nobody wrote music about love, music filled with love and yearning, better than Schumann.

Schumann_Robert_and_Wieck_Clara

Not only does the piece sound intimate.

It IS intimate — with the two thumbs playing the melody a third apart much of the time. It is as if the two thumbs, left and right, are the two lovers.

Little wonder that the composer asked his virtuoso pianist-composer wife Clara to play it for him as he lay dying.

And to top it off, it is not all that difficult to play, so you could learn it and play it for your Valentine.

Here it is, performed in a YouTube video by the late Van Cliburn:

But what about you?

As radio stations like to say ”The Request Line is open!

What piece of classical music – big or small, old or new, hard or easy — would you play or dedicate to your Valentine?

Duets of all kinds seem especially appropriate. But so do songs and symphonies, operas and oratorios, and all kinds of chamber music.

So tell us about your musical gift for Valentine’s Day.

Leave a message in the COMMENT section, with a short explanation and dedicatory comment and perhaps with a YouTube link if possible — the forward it to your Valentine.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: National Public Radio (NPR) names its Top 10 classical recordings of 2016. The Ear compares it to other lists of the Best of the Year

December 27, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Got a Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gift card to spend?

Want to take advantage of post-holiday and year-end and New Year sales?

Here is the list of the Top 10 classic music recordings from National Public Radio (NPR), which critic Tom Huizenga (below top) wrote for the blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

huizenga_tom_2011

npr

It emphasizes unknown performers – like soprano Barbara Hannigan (below in a photo by Elmer Haas) and contemporary or new music. But it features piano music, orchestra music, chamber music and opera. And it has generous sound samples from the chosen recordings:

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/12/22/504694907/a-year-of-listening-desperately-10-classical-albums-that-saved-2016

soprano-barbara-hannigan-cr-elmer-de-haas

Over the past month, The Ear has featured several other Best of 2016 lists. So here they are for purposes of comparison and crosschecking.

For example, on several lists you will find conductor Daniel Barenboim‘s recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Edward Elgar and pianist Daniil Trifonov‘s two-CD recording of the complete piano etudes by Franz Liszt — and justifiably so. (You can hear the trailer for Trifonov’s Liszt etudes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is the post-Thanksgiving guide from 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/

Here is a 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/

And here is a link to a list by the critics of The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-recordings-of-2016-as-chosen-by-critics-for-the-new-york-times/


Classical music: Here is classical music to help you celebrate both Christmas Eve and the start of Hanukkah

December 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a double holiday.

It marks the start of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah and Christmas Eve.

As is true for most holidays, music is an integral part of the celebrations.

So without a lot of news to report, The Ear offers some links and YouTube videos with appropriate classical music to help you celebrate.

For Hanukkah music, go to this website. It features eight works, including an oratorio by George Frederic Handel with composers, titles and performances:

http://www.classicalite.com/articles/4041/20131126/classicalite-s-best-eight-musical-works-chanukah.htm

happy-hanukkah-logos

Some people celebrate Christmas mostly on Christmas Eve while others wait until Christmas Day.

For those of you in the former category, here is a link to a website with a list of classical Christmas music from Johann Sebastian Bach to Peter Tchaikovsky:

https://www.timeout.com/newyork/music/best-classical-christmas-music

And here is another list from The Telegraph in the United Kingdom. As you might expect, it seems slanted toward British composers. Nonetheless it includes some relatively neglected and even surprising Christmas-related music, including works by Francis Poulenc and Arnold Schoenberg, Franz Liszt and (one of The Ear’s favorites) Gerald Finzi:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/11294202/The-10-best-pieces-of-Christmas-classical-music.html

christmas-ball

Feel free to leave more suggestions and links in the COMMENT section.

Enjoy the music!

Enjoy your holiday!

HAPPY HANUKKAH!!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!


Classical music: Organist Greg Zelek makes his debut Tuesday night in Overture Hall for the Madison Symphony Orchestra

November 6, 2016
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Madison Opera‘s production of Charles Gounod‘s operatic version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/01/classical-music-madison-opera-stages-charles-gounods-opera-romeo-and-juliet-this-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon-to-celebrate-the-400th-anniversary-of-the-death-of-willia/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/classical-music-what-are-the-differences-between-romeo-and-juliet-as-an-opera-and-as-a-play-madison-opera-stages-the-opera-this-weekend/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) welcomes acclaimed organist Greg Zelek (below) for a debut recital this Tuesday night, Nov. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

greg-zelek-face

Zelek will perform works by Felix Mendelssohn, Max Reger, Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonin Dvořák and Franz Liszt, among others.

You can hear and see Greg Zelek perform Bach’s Prelude andFugue in A minor, BWV 543, which he will play in Madison, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For more information, including an interview with Zelek and the full program, go to: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/zelek

Praised for his “effortless facility on the instrument,” Zelek is increasingly recognized as one of the most exciting young organists on the American organ scene.

A recent graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, he makes his Overture debut with an exciting program of music to maximize the many colors of the colossal Klais organ.

greg-zelek-playing

General Admission for each Overture Concert Organ performance is $20. Tickets can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/zelek, (608) 258-4141 or the Overture Center Box Office.

Student Rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 tickets.

This performance is sponsored by Walter and Karen Pridham. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.

With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ (below), which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.

Overture Concert Organ overview


Classical music: What’s the point of the new “Hyperpiano” if it just mars the music, frustrates the performer and alienates the audience?

November 3, 2016
16 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Like everyone in the almost sold-out house at Mills Hall last Friday night, The Ear went to hear the wonderfully gifted UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor unveil his new hi-tech invention: the so-called “Hyperpiano.”

Taylor (below) patiently explained in detail how the hybrid electronic-acoustic piano was conceived and developed, and then how it worked.

Here is a link to two stories with detailed background:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/christopher-taylor-to-debut-new-piano/

Hyperpiano explaining

But at the risk of hurting the feelings of the brilliant and personable Taylor, The Ear has to confess: He left the event – more an experiment or demonstration than a concert – disappointed. He just doesn’t see the point. It seems a case where the idea will inevitably prove superior to the reality.

This new piano, conceived and executed by Taylor with lots of help, features a digital-like console (below) with two keyboards. The console then links up electronically to two regular acoustic concert grand pianos by means of lots of wires. Wires pass along electronic digital impulses to mechanical fingers that hit actual piano keys and makes traditional pianos play.

Hyperpiano console

If the Hyperpiano sounds like some kind of Rube Goldberg contraption, well, that’s because it IS. Ingenious, yes; practical, hardly.

The piece Taylor used to demonstrate his new piano was the momentous and magnificent “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, a promising and appealing challenge for the new piano. The Ear has heard Taylor play this music before, and it was a memorable experience. 

Not this time.

A great instrument is supposed to make playing easier, to bring both the performer and the audience closer to the music. But this new piano interfered with both and did just the opposite. It put you on edge, just waiting for the next thing to go wrong and get fixed and then go wrong again. It made no sense, and little beauty.

Hyperpiano fixing a problem

Clearly the Hyperpiano – more accurately dubbed Frankenpiano by Taylor’s students — is a technological curiosity that is still a work-in-progress, with lots of snags and flaws that became apparent during 2-1/2 hours.

But even had it worked perfectly, The Ear asks: What is the point?

Certainly it makes for an interesting electrical engineering problem to solve, one that eats up lots of time, thought, energy and money. But why have three $100,000 concert grand pianos and a custom-built piano console all on the stage when a single traditional piano would do the job just fine?

Hyperpiano stage

Single-keyboard pianos have brought us many memorable performances of the Goldbergs – including those by Rosalyn Tureck, Glenn Gould, Andras Schiff, Jeremy Denk, Murray Perahia and Angela Hewitt among others, to say nothing of Taylor himself.

And on stage was an old one-of-a-kind, two-keyboard Steinway that Taylor has used before to fine effect, rather like the two-manual harpsichord that Bach originally wrote the music for and that facilitates the difficult cross-hand passages.

Despite distractions, Taylor played the Bach with total commitment and enthusiasm as well as with his back to the audience, as piano recitals used to be played before the young Franz Liszt turned the piano sideways to show off his heart-throb profile.

Yet the misfiring of electrodes plus an unending loud chirp or tweet and the uneven pistons or clunky mini-jackhammers (below) that hit the keyboards as artificial “fingers” just meant a lot of dropped notes and, for the most part, a very choppy reading of Bach’s great music that stymied both the performer and the listeners.

Hyperpiano fingers

Compounding the performance was that Taylor took all the repeats, which often just doubled the frustration. How The Ear wishes Taylor had played just the first half on the Hyperpiano and then, for comparison, switched to a regular piano or to the two-keyboard Steinway.

True, at the end the audience gave Taylor well earned applause and a prolonged standing ovation. But The Ear suspects it was more for his perseverance, patience, good humor and stupendous effort than for the music itself or the new piano. He bets only a very few listeners would pay to go back to hear another recital on the Hyperpiano.

Will Taylor continue to work on improving the terrifically complex Hyperpiano? Yes, one suspects that he will and one wishes him success. But wouldn’t all that time and effort be better spent learning new music and performing it?

The Ear says: Enough hype about the Hyperpiano!

It’s time for a great musician to get back to the music.

Did you go hear the Hyperpiano?

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


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