The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What music is good to listen to every day for a year? And why? Clemency Burton-Hill discusses her book “Year of Wonder” on PBS’ “Newshour”

March 23, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

What different pieces of classical music would be good to listen to every day of the year?

And what should you know about it?

Those are the simple but ambitious questions that the British writer Clemency Burton-Hill — who now works for the famed classical radio station WQXR in New York City — tackles in her book “Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day” (below).

You can get a sample by going to the book section of Amazon.com and looking inside the book. Just click on the Introduction for an overview and then click on some specifics dates to see how it works.

But recently Burton-Hill (below) also appeared on “The NewsHour” on PBS to talk about the book, where she explained her purpose and method, especially her intent to help expand the audience for classical music.

Her remarks impressed The Ear who has ordered a copy of her book and hopes to learn from it and maybe even pass along some lessons from it.

All the genres, all the great composers (dead and living) and most of the great works are covered, as are many other neglected composers and unknown works. So the book can be considered a terrific resource for music education for both beginners and those who are experienced.

Her commentaries are also a model of brevity and engaging interest.

All in all, “Year of Wonder” seems a supremely practical, unpretentious and informative guide to daily listening, especially given how many of these works – often they are shorter sections of larger works — can be found for free on YouTube. (In fact, a playlist of music featured in the book is available on YouTube. Go to YouTube and type in “Year of Wonder Playlist” into the search engine, then look to the upper right for a list. A sample is at the bottom. Or use this direct link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wNTNEZYoHg&list=PLKPwLlyrD2y-1x-uKmUBzSOiAh83GhU7A

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here is a link to the television interview:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/embracing-classical-music-and-its-potential-for-sonic-salvation

The Ear hopes you find the interview both informative and useful.

Happy listening!


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Classical music: This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra spotlights three of its principal players in music by Prokofiev, Debussy and Vaughan Williams along with works by Schubert and Gershwin

March 7, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below in a photo by Peter Rodgers) will once again perform a program that highlights its principal artists as soloists.

 The program for “Orchestral Brilliance: Three Virtuosi” begins with Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished.

Then the featured artists appear: concertmaster Naha Greenholtz performs Sergei Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2 for Violin; principal clarinetist JJ Koh follows with Claude Debussy’s Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra; and principal tubist Joshua Biere concludes with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra. For more biographical information about the soloists, see below.

The program finishes with George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

Performances will be held in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on Friday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 9, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 10, at 2:30 p.m.

Details about tickets ($18-$93) are below.

“Our March concerts shine the spotlight on our own brilliant musicians that make up the Madison Symphony Orchestra,” says music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson). “It is important to me on the occasion of my 25th anniversary with the symphony to share this celebration in a special way with these artists, who make my musical life such a pleasure.”

Franz Schubert (below) began composing his “Unfinished Symphony” in 1822, but left the piece with only two movements despite living for six more years. For reasons that remain unclear, the score was shelved until 1860 when the owner finally realized he possessed a gem. He approached conductor Johann von Herbeck with assurances of a “treasure” on par “with any of Beethoven’s,” and Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony had its premiere in 1865.

The Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63, by Sergei Prokofiev (below) is more conventional than the composer’s early bold compositions. It starts off with a simple violin melody and recalls traditional Russian folk music. The graceful violin melody flows throughout the entire second movement, and the third movement’s theme has a taste of Spain, complete with the clacking of castanets. (You can hear David Oistrakh play the gorgeous and entrancing slow second movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Composed between December 1909 and January 1910, the Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra by Claude Debussy (below) was written as one of two test pieces for the clarinet examinations at the Paris Conservatory. The piece is described as dreamily slow at the start, followed by a duple meter section that moves the music along until the joyous final section.

The Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams (below)
was written in 1953-54 to mark the 50th anniversary of the London Symphony Orchestra.

“An American in Paris” by George Gershwin (below) is one of the popular composer’s most well-known and most beloved compositions. Written in 1928, it evokes the sights and energy of the French capital in the 1920s. As Gershwin explains, the work’s purpose is to “portray the impressions of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city, listens to the various street noises, and absorbs the French atmosphere.”

ABOUT THE SOLOISTS

Naha Greenholtz (below, in a photo by Chris Hynes) is concertmaster of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Quad City Symphony Orchestra. Additional performance highlights include guest concertmaster appearances with the Oregon Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic, National Ballet of Canada, Omaha Symphony and Memphis Symphony, among many others. Additionally, she performs frequently with the Cleveland Orchestra both domestically and abroad. Greenholtz has also held positions with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, joining the latter as Associate Concertmaster at age 21.

JJ Koh (below) joined the Madison Symphony Orchestra as principal clarinetist in 2016. In addition, he holds a position with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Prior to joining the MSO, Koh was a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He is a founding member of the Arundo Donax Reed Quintet, and a winner of the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. As principal clarinetist of KammerMahler, Koh participated in a world premiere recording project, which featured chamber versions of Gustav Mahler’s Fourth and Ninth Symphonies.

Joshua Biere (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) joined the Madison Symphony Orchestra as principal tubist in 2013. He also holds the principal tuba chair with the Kenosha Symphony and regularly performs with the new Chicago Composers Orchestra. Biere has also performed at the Grant Park Music Festival (Chicago), and with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. An established chamber musician, Biere is also a highly sought-after clinician and teacher, maintaining a studio of well over 35 tuba and euphonium students.

CONCERT AND TICKET DETAILS

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert. One hour before each performance, maestro John DeMain will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticketholders.

The MSO recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

Program notes for the concerts are available online: http://bit.ly/mar2019programnotes

  • Single Tickets are $18-$93 each and are on sale now at: http://madisonsymphony.org/orchestral
through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online/phone sales.
  • Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit, https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.
  • 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 $15 or $20 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush
  • Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
  • Flex-ticket booklets of 10 vouchers for 18-19 symphony subscription concerts are available. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/flex

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Presenting sponsorship provided by the Kelly Family Foundation. Major funding provided by Madison Magazine, Louise and Ernest Borden, Scott and Janet Cabot, and Elaine and Nicholas Mischler. Additional funding provided by von Briesen & Roper, S.C., and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).


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Classical music: Here are classical music winners — and nominees — of the 61st annual Grammy nominations for 2019.

February 17, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This should have come out sooner since the Grammy Awards (below) were given out a week ago. But it has been such a busy week for Iive music in Madison – as will next week be – that this was the first occasion to post them.

In any case, for all their insider shortcomings they are a matter of interest to many, and can be helpful in understanding the contemporary classical scene and new music as you build your own playlists and recording library.

There are some points of interest including the fact that two Grammys were won by Canadian violinist James Ehnes for his performance of the Violin Concerto by the contemporary composer Aaron Jay Kernis.

Ehnes (below) is in town this weekend to play the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (the last performance is this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. The Ear hopes he might return to perform the Kernis concerto with MSO.

Also, Apollo’s Fire, which won in the Best Solo Vocal category, will perform Baroque music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Marco Uccellini at the Wisconsin Union Theater on Saturday, March 30.

Finally and unfortunately, some Madison nominees — including retired UW-Madison flute professor Stephanie Jutt and her co-director of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society pianist Jeffrey Sykes — got edged out in the Producer category, as did retired UW professor James P. Leary for his liner notes to “Alpine Dreaming.”

 In the orchestra category is John Harbison — who is in town marking his 80th birthday with many events, including the world premiere tonight at the W-Madison of his Sonata for Viola and Piano. In the Chamber Music category, Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin will solo in concertos by Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss with the Madison Symphony Orchestra on April 12-14. 

Look at the winners carefully. Clearly, the recording industry is, by and large, skipping over the usual classical masters such as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms to focus instead on living composers and contemporary music or stories relevant to our times, such as the opera by Mason Bates about the late Apple wizard Steve Jobs.

One major exception is the third Grammy in a row for the cycle of symphonies by the famed Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich being done by the Latvian-born conductor Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Here are the nominees and winners – the latter marked with an asterisk, a photo and the word WINNER — for the 61st Grammy Awards. Leave a comment with wa you think of the nominees and winners.

  1. Best Engineered Album, Classical
    An Engineer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS. Mark Donahue & Dirk Sobotka, engineers; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra)

BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3; STRAUSS: HORN CONCERTO NO. 1
Mark Donahue, engineer; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)

JOHN WILLIAMS AT THE MOVIES. Keith O. Johnson & Sean Royce Martin, engineers; Keith O. Johnson, mastering engineer (Jerry Junkin & Dallas Winds).

LIQUID MELANCHOLY – CLARINET MUSIC OF JAMES M. STEPHENSON
Bill Maylone & Mary Mazurek, engineers; Bill Maylone, mastering engineer (John Bruce Yeh)

*WINNER — SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONIES NOS. 4 & 11. Shawn Murphy & Nick Squire, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Andris Nelsons & Boston Symphony Orchestra)

VISIONS AND VARIATIONS. Tom Caulfield, engineer; Jesse Lewis, mastering engineer (A Far Cry)

  1. Producer Of The Year, Classical
    A Producer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

* WINNER — BLANTON ALSPAUGH (below)

  • Arnesen: Infinity – Choral Works (Joel Rinsema & Kantorei)
  • Aspects Of America (Carlos Kalmar & Oregon Symphony)
  • Chesnokov: Teach Me Thy Statutes (Vladimir Gorbik & PaTRAM Institute Male Choir)
  • Gordon, R.: The House Without A Christmas Tree (Bradley Moore, Elisabeth Leone, Maximillian Macias, Megan Mikailovna Samarin, Patricia Schuman, Lauren Snouffer, Heidi Stober, Daniel Belcher, Houston Grand Opera Juvenile Chorus & Houston Grand Opera Orchestra
  • Haydn: The Creation (Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Betsy Cook Weber, Houston Symphony & Houston Symphony Chorus)
  • Heggie: Great Scott (Patrick Summers, Manuel Palazzo, Mark Hancock, Michael Mayes, Rodell Rosel, Kevin Burdette, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nathan Gunn, Frederica von Stade, Ailyn Pérez, Joyce DiDonato, Dallas Opera Chorus & Orchestra)
  • Music Of Fauré, Buide & Zemlinsky (Trio Séléné)
  • Paterson: Three Way – A Trio Of One-Act Operas (Dean Williamson, Daniele Pastin, Courtney Ruckman, Eliza Bonet, Melisa Bonetti, Jordan Rutter, Samuel Levine, Wes Mason, Matthew Treviño & Nashville Opera Orchestra)
  • Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Serenade To Music; Flos Campi (Peter Oundjian & Toronto Symphony Orchestra)

DAVID FROST

  • Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Volume 7 (Jonathan Biss)
    • Mirror In Mirror (Anne Akiko Meyers, Kristjan Järvi & Philharmonia Orchestra)
    • Mozart: Idomeneo (James Levine, Alan Opie, Matthew Polenzani, Alice Coote, Nadine Sierra, Elza van den Heever, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)
    • Presentiment (Orion Weiss)
    • Strauss, R.: Der Rosenkavalier (Sebastian Weigle, Renée Fleming, Elīna Garanča, Erin Morley, Günther Groissböck, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus) 

ELIZABETH OSTROW

  • Bates: The (R)evolution Of Steve Jobs (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra)
    • The Road Home (Joshua Habermann & Santa Fe Desert Chorale)

JUDITH SHERMAN

  • Beethoven Unbound (Llŷr Williams)
    • Black Manhattan Volume 3 (Rick Benjamin & Paragon Ragtime Orchestra)
    • Bolcom: Piano Music (Various Artists)
    • Del Tredici: March To Tonality (Mark Peskanov & Various Artists)
    • Love Comes In At The Eye (Timothy Jones, Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, Jeffrey Sykes, Anthony Ross, Carol Cook, Beth Rapier & Stephanie Jutt)
    • Meltzer: Variations On A Summer Day & Piano Quartet (Abigail Fischer, Jayce Ogren & Sequitur)
    • Mendelssohn: Complete Works For Cello And Piano (Marcy Rosen & Lydia Artymiw)
    • New Music For Violin And Piano (Julie Rosenfeld & Peter Miyamoto)
    • Reich: Pulse/Quartet (Colin Currie Group & International Contemporary Ensemble)

DIRK SOBOTKA

  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1 (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
    • Lippencott: Frontier Symphony (Jeff Lippencott & Ligonier Festival Orchestra)
    • Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (Thierry Fischer, Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Utah Symphony)
    • Music Of The Americas (Andrés Orozco-Estrada & Houston Symphony)
  1. Best Orchestral Performance Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra
  • BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3; STRAUSS: HORN CONCERTO NO. 1. Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) 
  • NIELSEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3 & SYMPHONY NO. 4. Thomas Dausgaard, conductor (Seattle Symphony) 
  • RUGGLES, STUCKY & HARBISON: ORCHESTRAL WORKS. David Alan Miller, conductor (National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic)
  • SCHUMANN: SYMPHONIES NOS. 1-4. Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony) 
  • * WINNER — SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONIES NOS. 4 & 11 Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)

 76.  Best Opera Recording Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.

  • ADAMS: DOCTOR ATOMIC. John Adams, conductor; Aubrey Allicock, Julia Bullock, Gerald Finley & Brindley Sherratt; Friedemann Engelbrecht, producer (BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Singers) 
  • * WINNER –BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS. Michael Christie, conductor; Sasha Cooke, Jessica E. Jones, Edwards Parks, Garrett Sorenson & Wei Wu; Elizabeth Ostrow, producer (The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra) 
  • LULLY: ALCESTE. Christophe Rousset, conductor; Edwin Crossley-Mercer, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro & Judith Van Wanroij; Maximilien Ciup, producer (Les Talens Lyriques; Choeur De Chambre De Namur) 
  • STRAUSS, R.: DER ROSENKAVALIER. Sebastian Weigle, conductor; Renée Fleming, Elīna Garanča, Günther Groissböck & Erin Morley; David Frost, producer (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Metropolitan Opera Chorus) 
  • VERDI: RIGOLETTO. Constantine Orbelian, conductor; Francesco Demuro, Dmitri Hvorostovsky & Nadine Sierra; Vilius Keras & Aleksandra Keriene, producers (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra; Men Of The Kaunas State Choir) 
  1. Best Choral Performance. Award to the Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble. 
  • CHESNOKOV: TEACH ME THY STATUTES. Vladimir Gorbik, conductor (Mikhail Davydov & Vladimir Krasov; PaTRAM Institute Male Choir) 
  • KASTALSKY: MEMORY ETERNAL. Steven Fox, conductor (The Clarion Choir) 
  • * WINNER — MCLOSKEY: ZEALOT CANTICLES. Donald Nally, conductor (Doris Hall-Gulati, Rebecca Harris, Arlen Hlusko, Lorenzo Raval & Mandy Wolman; The Crossing) 
  • RACHMANINOV: THE BELLS. Mariss Jansons, conductor; Peter Dijkstra, chorus master (Oleg Dolgov, Alexey Markov & Tatiana Pavlovskaya; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Chor Des Bayerischen Rundfunks) 
  • SEVEN WORDS FROM THE CROSS. Matthew Guard, conductor (Skylark)
  1. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. For new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (24 or fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.
  • * WINNER — ANDERSON, LAURIE: LANDFALL. Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet 
  • BEETHOVEN, SHOSTAKOVICH & BACH. The Danish String Quartet
  • BLUEPRINTING. Aizuri Quartet 
  • STRAVINSKY: THE RITE OF SPRING CONCERTO FOR TWO PIANOS. Leif Ove Andsnes & Marc-André Hamelin
  • VISIONS AND VARIATIONS. A Far Cry 

  1. Best Classical Instrumental Solo. Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable. 
  • BARTÓK: PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2. Yuja Wang; Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker) 
  • BIBER: THE MYSTERY SONATAS. Christina Day Martinson; Martin Pearlman, conductor (Boston Baroque) 
  • BRUCH: SCOTTISH FANTASY, OP. 46; VIOLIN CONCERTO NO. 1 IN G MINOR, OP. 26. Joshua Bell (The Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields) 
  • GLASS: THREE PIECES IN THE SHAPE OF A SQUARE. Craig Morris 
  • * WINNER — KERNIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO. James Ehnes; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony)
  1. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. Award to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors, chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more playing time of new material.
  • ARC. Anthony Roth Costanzo; Jonathan Cohen, conductor (Les Violons Du Roy) 
  • THE HANDEL ALBUM. Philippe Jaroussky; Artaserse, ensemble 
  • MIRAGES. Sabine Devieilhe; François-Xavier Roth, conductor (Alexandre Tharaud; Marianne Crebassa & Jodie Devos; Les Siècles) 
  • SCHUBERT: WINTERREISE. Randall Scarlata; Gilbert Kalish, accompanist 
  • * WINNER — SONGS OF ORPHEUS – MONTEVERDI, CACCINI, D’INDIA & LANDI. Karim Sulayman; Jeannette Sorrell, conductor; Apollo’s Fire, ensembles
  •  
  1. Best Classical Compendium. Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) and Engineer(s) of over 51% playing time of the album, if other than the artist. 
  • * WINNER — FUCHS: PIANO CONCERTO ‘SPIRITUALIST’; POEMS OF LIFE; GLACIER; RUSH. JoAnn Falletta, conductor; Tim Handley, producer 
  • GOLD. The King’s Singers; Nigel Short, producer 
  • THE JOHN ADAMS EDITION. Simon Rattle, conductor; Christoph Franke, producer
  • JOHN WILLIAMS AT THE MOVIES. Jerry Junkin, conductor; Donald J. McKinney, producer 
  • VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: PIANO CONCERTO; OBOE CONCERTO; SERENADE TO MUSIC; FLOS CAMPI. Peter Oundjian, conductor; Blanton Alspaugh, producer 
  1. Best Contemporary Classical Composition. A Composer’s Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.
  • BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS. Mason Bates, composer; Mark Campbell, librettist (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra) 
  • DU YUN: AIR GLOW. Du Yun, composer (International Contemporary Ensemble) 
  • HEGGIE: GREAT SCOTT. Jake Heggie, composer; Terrence McNally, librettist (Patrick Summers, Manuel Palazzo, Mark Hancock, Michael Mayes, Rodell Rosel, Kevin Burdette, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nathan Gunn, Frederica von Stade, Ailyn Pérez, Joyce DiDonato, Dallas Opera Chorus & Orchestra) 
  • * WINNER — KERNIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO. Aaron Jay Kernis (below top), composer (James Ehnes, Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). You can hear the first movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.
  • MAZZOLI: VESPERS FOR VIOLIN. Missy Mazzoli, composer (Olivia De Prato)


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Classical music: WQXR names the best classical recording of 2018. Plus, here are other guides to help you use gift cards

January 5, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is another gift list that The Ear just found. Even though it was compiled before the holiday, he looked for it but didn’t find it.

It’s another of the top classical recordings of 2018. But this time, the list – with plenty of sound samples — comes from WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City.

It may be too late to use for holiday gift giving – unless it is for yourself. After all, there are a lot of gift cards waiting to be redeemed.

Also below are several other lists so that you can cross-check and compare. The CD of Chopin ballades and nocturnes by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (below), for example, makes almost all the lists, which is a good sign of quality. (You can hear Andsnes play the Ballade No. 4, The Ear’s favorite, in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Here is the link to WQXR:

https://www.wqxr.org/story/best-classical-releases-2018/

Here is a link to the top picks by critics for The New York Times and the Top 10 for National Public Radio (NPR):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/22/classical-music-gift-guide-or-gift-or-both-critics-for-the-new-york-times-name-their-top-25-classical-recordings-of-2018-so-does-national-public-radio-npr/

And here are the nominations for the 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/


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Classical music: Gift guide or gift or both? Critics for The New York Times name their top classical recordings of 2018, and so does National Public Radio (NPR)

December 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is “Panic Saturday” — another, newer theme day on the commerce-driven Holiday Consumer Calendar that goes along with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber-Monday and Giving Tuesday. 

In past years, by this time many media outlets would publish the list of the top classical recordings of the past year. And The Ear has offered them as holiday shopping guides with links to the lists.

They seem to be running late this year, probably too late for many shoppers.

But recently the team of critics for The New York Times named their Top 25 classical recordings of 2018 that run from the 15th century to today (sample album covers are below).

This time, the website didn’t just reproduce something that first appeared in the printed edition. And something more than small snippets or excerpts are offered.

This time, the newspaper took full advantage of the electronic possibility of the web and used streaming to add hours of sound samples — some as long as 40 minutes – so you can see what you think of the recordings before you buy them. (Be sure to look at reader reactions and comments.)

It is a new and innovative way to do a Top 25 list – very appealing or entertaining as well as informative. Even if you don’t use it to buy anything for others or yourself, it can provide many minutes of listening pleasure. You can think of it as a gift guide or a gift or both.

Of course, there are also the usual short and very readable, to-the-point narratives or explanations about why the recording stands out and what makes it great music, a great performance or a great interpretation.

So there is a lot to listen to and help you make up your mind. The Ear has enjoyed it and found it helpful, and hopes you do too, whether you agree or disagree with the choice:

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/arts/music/best-classical-music-tracks-2018.html

Since this is the last weekend for holiday shopping before Christmas, here is the previous list – notice the duplications in the two lists — posted here, which was of the nominations for the upcoming 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/

And here is the Top 10 list, which was chosen by the always discerning Tom Huizenga (below) — who explains the reasons for his choices — and which also offers generous sound samples, from National Public Radio (NPR) and its Deceptive Cadence blog. Also look for duplications:

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/18/677776208/npr-musics-best-classical-albums-of-2018

What recordings would you suggest? 

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra impresses in a concert of “non-holiday” music for the holidays. Plus, what music is best to greet the Winter Solstice today?

December 21, 2018
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ALERT: Today we turn a  corner when the Winter Solstice arrives at 4:23 p.m. Days will start getting longer. What music would you celebrate it with? Antonio Vivaldi’s “Winter” section of “The Four Seasons”? Franz Schubert’s “Winterreise” or “Winter Journey”? Let The Ear know in the COMMENT section with a YouTube link if possible. Here comes the sun!

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. 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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

On Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) proudly presented an alternative Christmas program of music, none of which had any connection whatsoever with that otherwise inescapable holiday.

It was a program of great variety, full of novelties.

It began soberly with Gustav Mahler’s early song cycle, the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). This venture into German orchestral song (with a folk song background) provided symphonic inspiration for his First Symphony, the so-called “Titan,” so it unites many strains in the composer’s work.

Baritone Paul Rowe (below), of the UW-Madison’s music faculty, sang these songs. Rowe has a strong feeling for German, and he used clear diction to capture the dramatic meanings of the four song texts.

A contrast then, and a particular novelty, was the appearance of Matthew Coley (below), of the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion, playing the cimbalom, the intensely Hungarian version of the hammered dulcimer. 

He was joined by the orchestra for a fancy arrangement of the Hungarian dance, the popular Czardas by Vittorio Monti. (You can hear Matthew Coley play the same piece on the cimbalom in the YouTube video at the bottom.) He followed this with an encore, a hand-me-down arrangement of a movement from one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s solo cello suites.

More contrast came with the mini-ballet score by Darius Milhaud Le Boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof) of 1919. This was one of the French composer’s trailblazing introductions of American jazz styles into European music.

It really works best with a small orchestra, so Middleton’s was a bit overblown for the assignment. But the elaborate solo role for violin was taken by Naha Greenholtz — concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and wife of the evening’s guest conductor, Kyle Knox, who is the music director of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and the Associate Conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. There are some fiendish passages in the solo work, and Greenholtz brought them off with unfailing flair.

The final part of the program was devoted to the orchestral suite that Zoltan Kodaly derived from his Singspiel of 1926, Hary Janos, in which a comic Hungarian soldier upstages even Napoleon.

This is a satiric and highly colorful assemblage that offers wonderful opportunities for all of the instruments and sections to show off. And Coley was back with his cimbalom for Hungarian spice. The players clearly were having a great frolic, and conductor Knox drew the best out of them in a bravura performance.

Ah yes! Christmas without “Christmas” music. A wonderful idea to refresh the ears in December!


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Classical music: Combining a ticket to a live music performance with a book or recording that is tied to the concert’s program makes a great holiday gift

December 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The holidays seem to arrive earlier each year.

The Ear isn’t sure why that is.

Whatever the reason, a lot of holiday gift shopping can by now seem last-minute and somewhat frantic.

But if you are shopping for a classical music fan, you are in luck if you go local.

The best way to please the recipient and also to support the local arts is to give a ticket to a live concert – always the most powerful and exciting musical experience — perhaps coupled to a related book or recording. (Below is UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor in a photo by Michael R. Anderson).

This blog doesn’t have room to list separately all the many musical groups in the area. But here are some samples that might interest you.

Through Monday, Dec. 24, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) is once again offering a special deal for the remainder of the season. Tickets to both the “Beyond the Score” program and the remaining four season concerts, including Mahler’s mammoth “Symphony of a Thousand,” have been reduced to two price ranges: $10 and $25 for the former; $25 and $50 for the latter.

For more information, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/buy-tickets/offers-discounts/holiday-tickets-sale/

If you want to see what other performers and presenters are offering – say, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), the Oakwood Chamber Players, the Madison Bach Musicians, the Middleton Community Orchestra, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, the Willy Street Chamber Players, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Overture Center and the Madison Opera, to name just a few of the more prominent names – just go to Google and type in their name to search and go to their home page on the web.

Many of them have all sorts of other discounts for students, seniors, subscribers, groups and others.

Don’t forget that Madison features many FREE concerts, especially at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

True, a few of the most attractive and gift-worthy UW concerts are ticketed ($17 for adults, $7 for UW students) – including the annual Schubertiade, the yearly recital by pianist Christopher Taylor and the world premiere of the new Viola Sonata by John Harbison (below). But you could offer to take someone to a free chamber music or orchestral concert and provide companionship, transportation and maybe even dinner.

Here is a link to the very busy lineup and informative previews at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music: https://www.music.wisc.edu

To top it off, you could add one of two outstanding local books The Ear puts at the top of the holiday gift guide.

The first is John Harbison’s “What Do We Make of Bach” (below top) which is short, very readable, thoroughly engaging and wonderfully informative in an autobiographical way that helps us celebrate both the 80th birthday of Harbison and the upcoming 334th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The second book, now in its second printing, is a comprehensive history of the Pro Arte Quartet (below) done by John W. Barker, who often writes for this blog as well as Isthmus.

Of course, a CD with one of the composers or works on a program also makes a fine complement, whether it is a Mahler symphony, a Bach suite or Schubert’s “Swan Songs” from his final year.

Finally, The Ear wants to know: What are your suggestions for a for holiday gift of classical music?

It could be a live concert or a recording, either something new or an old favorite.

It could be a particularly informative and enjoyable or entertaining book, including biographies of Leonard Bernstein (including one by his daughter Jamie Bernstein, below), whose centennial has been celebrated this season.

Over the next few days, The Ear will post suggestions  and Top 10 lists by professional critics. But in the end, it is the audience, the ordinary public, that many people want to hear from.

So perhaps you will leave your ideas in the COMMENT section.

Thank you! And have Happy Holidays — a Merry Christmas, a joyous Kwanzaa and a Happy New Year.


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Classical music: Autumn arrives today. What composers, works and instruments do you like to listen to in fall? The Ear favors late Brahms – specially the strings, the piano and the clarinet

September 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Fall arrives today.

The autumn equinox will occur at 8:54 p.m. Central Daylight Time.

As the days get markedly shorter and the night longer, one’s mood often changes as do one’s listening preferences.

Many composers have written pieces about autumn, and you are sure to hear many of them on Wisconsin Public Radio or other media outlets.

But The Ear has his favorites.

Not for nothing is the late music of Johannes Brahms described as autumnal, both because it happens late in the composer’s life and because of its bittersweet sounds, its poignant harmonies and its melancholy melodies.

For The Ear, you will find it in most of late Brahms, especially in the slow movements. He loves the string music – the violin, the cello and especially the viola sonatas – as well as the clarinet sonatas and piano intermezzi.

Below are three samples.

Here is the slow movement from the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, played by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Daniel Barenboim:

Here is the slow movement of the Sonata in F Minor, Op. 120, No. 1, for, in this case, clarinet or viola:

And here is a particularly moving piano intermezzo, Op. 117, No. 2, in B-flat minor, played by Arthur Rubinstein:

And should you still be unsure what music you like for the fall, here is a link to two hours of music for fall  — vocal and instrumental music by Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn  Alexander Glazunov, Peter Tchaikovsky, Giuseppe Verdi, Edvard Grieg, Gustav Mahler and others — put together by Minnesota Public Radio:

Is there a special composer who evokes autumn for you?

What instruments most speak to you of fall?

Are there special works you like to listen to in autumn?

Leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section, along with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The new FREE concert brochure for the UW-Madison’s music school is both entertaining and informative — it’s a MUST-GET, MUST-READ and MUST-USE

September 15, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The new 2018-19 concert season has started. And the Internet makes it very easy to take out your date book and plan out what you want to attend.

If you just use Google to go to home websites, you will find lots of information about the dates and times of performances; cost of tickets; works on the program; biographies of performers; and even notes about the pieces.

That is true for all large and small presenters, including the biggest presenter of all for live classical music events: The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. Just click on the Events Calendar when you go to http://www.music.wisc.edu

You can also subscribe to an email newsletter by sending an email to: join-somnews@lists.wisc.edu

And you can also download the helpful mobile app for your smart phone that gives you what is happening today with searches possible for other months and days.

But there is something more old-fashioned that you should not forego: the printed season brochure (below).

It is 8-1/2 by 11 inches big and has 24 pages, and it features numerous color photographs. Along the right hand edge is an easy-to-use calendar of major events for the month.

It is a fun and informative read that gives you even more respect for the School of Music than you already had because it contains a lot of background  and human interest stories about students, faculty members, guest artists, alumni and supporters. Editor and Concert Manager Katherine Esposito and her staff of writers and photographers have done an outstanding job.

The brochure also has a lot of news, including updates about the new Hamel Music Center that is being built on the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue and will open in 2019, and about the seat-naming, fundraising campaign ($1,500-plus) that is being used for the new performance center.

A particularly useful page (23) gives you information about ordering tickets (many have increased to $17 this year) either in advance or at the door (for the latter you are asked to show up 30 minutes early to avoid long lines); about finding parking, both free and paid; and about making special arrangements for disability access.

In larger and bolder type, the brochure tells you about stand-out special events: the 100th birthday tribute to Leonard Bernstein being held tonight (Saturday, Sept. 15) at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall; the fifth annual Brass Fest on Sept. 28 and 29; the University Opera’s production of Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea” on Nov. 16, 18 and 20; the annual Schubertiade on Jan. 27; the world premiere of a viola sonata by John Harbison on Feb. 17; the Choral Union’s joint performance with the Madison Symphony Orchestra of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand” (Symphony No. 8) on May 3, 4 and 5; and much, much more.

In short, the brochure is an impressive publication that also provides many hours of enjoyable browsing while you educate yourself about the state of music education at the UW-Madison.

The only major shortcoming The Ear perceives is that lack of specific programs by some individuals and groups that must surely know what they are going to perform this season but apparently didn’t report it. Maybe that can be remedied, at least in part, next year.

Still, the brochure is successful and popular, which is why the UW sent out 13,000 copies – up from 8,000 last year. If you want to get one, they will be available at concerts until supplies run out. You can also order one to be mailed to you by emailing music@music.wisc.edu

Do you have the UW music brochure?

What do you think of it?

Do you find it useful? Enjoyable?

What do you suggest to improve the brochure, either by adding something or deleting something or doing it differently?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Today is Earth Day 2018. Listen to a new one-hour symphony commissioned by National Geographic to mark the event in sound and pictures

April 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is April 22, 2018 – Earth Day.

A lot of classical music is appropriate to the occasion, from the sound paintings in oratorios by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Franz Joseph Haydn and Felix Mendelssohn to the chamber music and songs of Franz Schubert; from the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvorak and Gustav Mahler to the contemporary award-winning environmental music by John Luther Adams, much of whose work can be found on YouTube.

But of special interest this year is the one-hour “Symphony for Our World.” It is a five-movement symphony that was commissioned from two different composers – Austin Fray (below top) and Andrew Christie (below bottom) — by National Geographic to celebrate the planet.

The presentation premieres TONIGHT at 6 p.m. on the TV channel National Geographic WILD. (In the Madison area, the Spectrum/Charter cable channel is 147, 707 for HD.) Here is a link to a search engine that finds the channel where you live. Just plug in your ZIP code and your television provider:

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel_finder/wild/

The performance tonight also marks the beginning of a national orchestra tour with the music. (You can see and hear the first two minutes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link to a story with more information, including a trailer, the dates and places of the world tour, and quotes from the composers about the composition and which instruments evoke which natural phenomena:

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/04/symphony-for-our-world-austin-fray-andrew-christie-culture-spd/

What composer or piece of classical music do you think best celebrates Earth Day?

Leave your answer with a YouTube link, if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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