The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Edgewood Chamber Orchestra opens its new season this coming Sunday afternoon with music by Handel, Haydn and Beethoven.

September 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will present its first concert of the new season on this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission is free for persons with an Edgewood College ID, and $5 for others. Tickets will be available at the door.

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Blake Walter (below), will perform the Overture to the oratorio “Samson” by George Frideric Handel, a rarely played masterpiece.

blake walter john maniaci

Also featured is the Symphony No. 82 in C major, “The Bear,” by Franz Joseph Haydn. In its last movement, Haydn imitates the music used in the 18th-century Austria to accompany dancing bears — a popular form of street entertainment. (You can hear the last movement of the symphony in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The central part of the program is the last movement Finale of the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, by Ludwig van Beethoven. It marks the orchestral debut of pianist Johanna Novice-Leonard (below), winner of the Edgewood College Concerto Competition, and a student of Dr. Beatriz Aguilar.

Johanna Novich Leonard

Founded in 1993 via a generous endowment established by benefactors William O. Hart and Vernon Sell, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra fulfills a unique role in the Madison community, providing high-quality performances and unique educational opportunities. The ensemble is the permanent, in-house chamber orchestra of the college.


Classical music: Which violin concertos have the hardest openings? You may be surprised

September 18, 2016
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Recently The Ear stumbled upon a fascinating story, on a blog by Nathan Cole, about famous violin concertos.

It was NOT about the Top 10 Best Violin Concertos ranked in order.

It was NOT about the Top 10 Most Difficult Violin Concertos.

It was simply about the most difficult openings of violin concertos – about what happens when the violinist walks on stage and starts up along with the orchestra or before it or after it.

It uses the Olympics’ sports competitions as a model and awards degrees of difficulty along with explanations for the scoring.

(For a close to simultaneous start by orchestra and soloist, listen to American violinist Hillary Hahn, who played a recital last spring at the Wisconsin Union Theater, and conductor Paavo Jarvi in the opening of the popular Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn in the YouTube video at the bottom. It has over 8 million hits and it is very relevant to the story.)

stradivari-solomon-ex-lambert

The story reminds The Ear of famous literary critic Frank Kermode’s classic book “The Sense of an Ending” — only now it would be “The Sense of a Beginning,” a subject the late literary critic, cultural analyst and Palestinian activist Edward Said wrote about in his book “Beginnings: Intention and Method.”

The musical discussion features accessible and informative analysis by an accomplished violinist as well as terrific audio-visual clips of each concerto and the openings in question.

It’s a long piece – good for weekend reading, perhaps because it can be done in different segments at different times.

But even if you read only a part of it, it certainly imparts a sense of the challenges that a soloist faces. You vicariously experience the thrill and intimidation of walking out on stage and starting to play.

And it enhances your appreciation of some famous violin concertos and of what it takes to pull them off in live performance.

Like The Ear, you will come away with a new appreciation of the challenges that any concerto soloist – violinist, pianist, cellist, brass player, wind player, whatever — faces.

Here is a link:

http://www.violinist.com/blog/ncole78/20169/19726/

The Ear also hopes the website violinist.com follows up with a listing or ranking of the most difficult ENDINGS of violin concertos and a discussion of what makes them so difficult.

In the meantime, The Ears asks:

Do violinists out there agree or disagree with the scoring and reasons?

Do they care to leave a comment one way or the other?

Do they have other candidates – say, Baroque concertos by Antonio Vivaldi or Johann Sebastian Bach — to rank for the difficult of starting?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Meet the Chinese phenom pianist Yuja Wang in a New Yorker profile that has more details than you have ever seen before

September 17, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Whether you focus on her virtuosic playing or her sensational and controversial use of sexy fashion in performances, the young Chinese-born and American-trained pianist Yuja Wang is a phenomenon that has both audiences and critics talking in superlatives.

yuja wang dress times 3

True, she is no newcomer to the concert stage and has been in the mass media for years.

Yet the best profile that The Ear has yet seen was written by acclaimed journalist Janet Malcolm and appeared this month in The New Yorker magazine.

It is pegged to Yuja Wang’s recent performance at Carnegie Hall of the famously difficult “Hammerklavier” Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 106, by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can see and hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Yuja Wang Ian Douglas NYT May 2013

Here is a link to the profile, which is chock full of personal and professional details:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/05/yuja-wang-and-the-art-of-performance


Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet opens its new season this Saturday night with a new first violinist and works by Beethoven, Turina and Tchaikovsky

September 13, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed, Madison-based Ancora String Quartet welcomes its new first violinist Wes Luke – who replaces Leanne Kelso League — for the  launch of the string quartet’s 16th season.

The concert is this coming Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program includes the String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; “The Bullfighter’s Prayer” by the Spanish composer Joaquin Turina; and the String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11, by Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky.

Tickets at the door are $15 for general admission; $12 for seniors and students; and $6 for children under 12.

ancora-2016-group-1

Members of the Ancora (above from left) are: first violinist Wes Luke — who filled in for the past two seasons — plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the LaCrosse Symphony Orchestra, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra and the Mosaic Chamber Players; second violinist Robin Ryan, who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (she performs on both modern and early instruments) who plays with the Madison Bach Musicians, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble; and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and frequently performs chamber music.

According to program notes: “Beethoven’s charming and lyrical early quartet shows him bridging the divide between the Classical and Romantic eras; Turina’s dramatic tone poem fuses French Impressionism with musical elements from his native Seville; and Tchaikovsky’s first quartet includes the poignant Andante Cantabile, which moved writer Leo Tolstoy to tears. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

A champagne reception will close the evening.


Classical music: Women conductors speak out about breaking the glass ceiling with a baton

September 10, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The time has finally come!

It has been, in fact, long overdue.

The candidacy of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee to be President of the United States is a historic first.

And it is generating a lot of buzz about breaking glass ceilings in politics and elsewhere.

So it seemed very timely when The New York Times reported on women conductors at a conference-festival in Lucerne, Switzerland. The pioneering American woman conductor Marin Alsop (below), who heads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, is among them.

Marin Alsop marching

Among the younger generation included is the Finnish conductor Susanna Malkki (below), who is taking over as the Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra this month. (You can hear her discuss her inaugural season in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

finnish-conductor-susanna-malkki

Here is a link to the story and interviews with four female conductors. They offer some terrific advice and many memorable anecdotes:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/arts/music/female-conductors-lucerne-festival.html?_r=0


Classical music: What is the greatest symphony ever written? And what are the other nine in the maestros’ list of the Top 10 symphonies?

September 9, 2016
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The BBC Music Magazine recently surveyed 151 conductors about their favorite symphonies. (Below is a photo of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Of course, the maestros – who were asked to name their Top 3 symphonies to generate a master list — might well disagree with the public. One suspects that conductors like BIG, difficult and complex works that challenge them.

Here’s a big surprise — NOT: the list is heavily weighted toward German and Austrian composers. And The Ear doesn’t mean Haydn, Schubert or Schoenberg.

Now making such rankings and lists is certainly a subjective experience, some say, silly.

Still, it can be informative as well as fun.

Here are the results, as reported in The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/aug/04/beethoven-eroica-greatest-symphony-vote-bbc-mozart-mahler

Do you agree with the maestros?

What modern and contemporary symphonies would you name?

What great symphony, from any period, do you think is missing from the Top 10 and would you add?

The Ear – who confesses his special fondness for the Symphony No. 1 “Titan” by Gustav Mahler — wants to hear.


Classical music: Sequels come to classical music – centuries after the originals

September 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Sequels are not just for books, movies and Broadway shows any more.

Classical music is also starting to generate them — centuries after the originals.

It may be hard to imagine writing sequels to masterpiece sonatas, chamber music, symphonies and concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Igor Stravinsky and others.

But in a kind of musical postmodernism, that’s what is being done with more and more frequency.

The composer Timo Andres (below top, in a photo by Tawny Bannister for The New York Times) wrote a piano concerto based on Beethoven for the great young American pianist Jonathan Biss (below bottom), who has performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Biss, along with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, has commissioned five piano concertos in the spirit of Beethoven’s five piano concertos.

Timo Andres CR Tawni Bannister NYT

JonathanBiss

And the great young American violinist Jennifer Koh (below top, in a  photo by Loren Wohl for The New York Times) and her equally terrific recording partner, pianist Shai Wosner (below bottom) – who has performed several times in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — have commissioned three sonatas based on the work of older composers from three modern composers.

Jennifer Koh CR Loren Wohl NYT

Shai Wosner

But musicians and especially modern composers, including the important composer John Adams (below), have mixed feelings about such derivative projects.

john adams with pencil

Here is a fine story about the phenomenon of sequels that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/21/arts/music/got-a-classic-piece-here-comes-the-sequel-composers-write-responses-to-old-masters-works.html?_r=0


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

September 5, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day, 2106.

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

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

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

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

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

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

working Lewis hine photo

WQXR usually broadcasts labor-related music on Labor Day.

Here is a link for listening via streaming:

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

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

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

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

Anyway, tell us what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Labor Day!

 


Classical music: The music of Beethoven played a major role in modern China. Here’s how

September 3, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

If you think classical music has lost much of its relevance in modern times, you might want to read or listen to this terrific interview about the importance of Ludwig van Beethoven in modern China.

Below is a photo of the first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the “Choral” Symphony with the famous “Ode to Joy,” done in 1959 by an all-Chinese orchestra with Chinese singers and sung in Mandarin.

Plus, a radio broadcast of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony also played a major role in modern China following the Cultural Revolution.

Beethoven in China 1959

The interview, with two native Chinese musicians who now teach at Stanford University. was done by NPR or National Public Radio, for its Deceptive Cadence blog. The Ear found it both eye-opening and inspiring.

Perhaps it even helps to explain why these days classical music often seems more vital to the East than it does to the West.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/25/491353170/tracing-the-peoples-republic-of-beethoven

 


Classical music: Rediscovering old piano technique is altering how the music of the classical Old Masters sounds and how easily it is played

August 26, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Sure, for a long time musicology has traced how musical styles, forms and instrumentation have changed.

But now some researchers are using computers to investigate – and revive – an older keyboard technique from the 19th century that differs dramatically from the more modern technique generally in use. (Below is a photo by Alexander Refsum Jensenius.)

old piano technique CR Alexander Refsum Jensenius

It turns out not to be as outdated or useless as many assume.

It changes not only how the music of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin sounds but also the ease with which the performer can play it.

Here is a story from The New York Times that the Ear had stashed from about a year ago.

But he thinks it still seems timely – and fascinating.

And he hopes you do too.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/science/playing-mozart-piano-pieces-as-mozart-did.html

See what you think and leave a comment.

The Ear wants to hear.


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