The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A curmudgeon vents his complaints concerning the music scene in Madison, Plus, this Sunday Afternoon the Pro Arte Quartet plays Haydn and Dvorak in a FREE concert at the Chazen Museum of Art that will be streamed live

November 4, 2017
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ALERT: The UW’s acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet will perform a FREE concert tomorrow, Sunday, Nov. 5, at 12:30 p.m., at the Chazen Museum of Art in Brittingham Gallery No. 3. The program features the String Quartet in E Major, Op. 53, No 3, by Franz Joseph Haydn and the String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 16, by Antonin Dvorak. The “Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen” concert will also be streamed live. Here is a link:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-with-pro-arte-quartet-november-5/

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an essay by Larry Wells, a guest reviewer and a frequent concertgoer. He writes:

“As I have aged, I have become more of a curmudgeon. (My friends and family will readily attest to this.) It is in that spirit that I address some annoyances I have been experiencing over the past few years while attending musical events in Madison.

“I will start with a recent experience, attending University Opera’s performances of “A Kurt Weill Cabaret” at Music Hall (below). The two arms of any seat in the hall have two different numbers. Unless the guest was paying attention as he entered the row, it is unclear which number belongs to which seat. After attending a few shows there, I have figured it out. But I don’t believe I have ever been to a performance there when there hasn’t been confusion about which seat is which. I have routinely heard people asking others (who are generally equally clueless), and I have routinely seen blocks of people shift over one seat. You would think that someone at a great educational institution could figure out a way to make the seating less baffling.

“An equally annoying phenomenon occurs regularly at Mills Hall, also on campus. I discovered that, for choral concerts particularly, the sound in the balcony is far better than the sound on the main floor. However, the doors of the balcony are often locked and the ushers regularly say that the balcony is not open. Upon making further insistent inquiries, I usually manage to get someone to unlock the balcony, but I wonder why it is felt that unlocking it routinely is such an onerous task.

“I will also mention that, regardless of one’s seat location in Mills Hall, it is difficult not to notice that the sound clouds over the stage are in sore need of a dusting and cleaning.

Stephen Sondheim wrote a wonderfully amusing song for “The Frogs” called “Invocation and Instructions to the Audience.” In it the audience is reminded not to talk, cough, fart and so on. (You can hear the piece in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“At the aforementioned performances in the Music Hall (I went twice), I saw people texting and video recording the performance even though the program has, in very small print, an admonishment not to photograph or film. At a recent choral concert in Mills Hall, texting was rampant during the performance, and there was no mention about turning off cell phones in the program. The bright screens immediately draw the eye away from the stage. I find it extremely distracting.

“At performances given by the UW Dance Department, a loud and forceful announcement at the beginning of each performance instructs the audience to turn off cell phones, no texting, no photos, etc. A similar announcement takes place not only at the beginning of the concert but also at the end of intermissions for performances at Overture Center. I think it is time for the UW Music Department to address the issue in a similar way.

“Another criticism of the way that things are done by the Music Department: Why is it so hard to find out what is being performed at a recital or concert? The Music Department has a good website with a calendar that lists the performances being given on any day, but many times the program is not included in that information. I am disinclined to go to a concert when I don’t know what the program is, and I often will go to a performance just to hear one work if it’s one I am anxious to hear. Thus, I often have to go roaming around the Music Building looking for posters or sometimes even going to the person sponsoring the performance to ask what the program is. It shouldn’t be that hard.

“An issue at Overture Center is whispering. I do not understand how people have lived to the ripe old ages that most of the audience members have and not come to realize that whispering is still audible.

“Two seats away from me at Overture Hall for my symphony subscription is a woman who, at every single performance, starts to cough as soon as the music begins, noisily unzips her purse, reaches in and fumbles around until she finds her cough drop, and then noisily unwraps its cellophane cover. Every time. It is a wonderment to me that she has not discovered that she could unwrap the cough drops in advance and have them at the ready.

“When I subscribed to the San Francisco Symphony, there were bowls of wax paper wrapped cough drops at every entrance. Not a bad idea.

“And then there is the seemingly obligatory standing ovation syndrome that has become a standard feature of every performance in Madison. In the rest of the world a standing ovation is reserved for an extraordinary performance deserving special recognition. Here I think of Pavlov’s dog and sheep. The performance ends, one person leaps to his feet (that’s the Pavlov part) and everyone else stands (that’s the sheep). At the same time the sentiment has been lost, and it all seems rather provincial to me.

“I realize that these are all first-world problems of little importance. They are minor annoyances, but that is what a curmudgeon dwells on. And it feels great to vent.”

Do you agree with any of these complaints?

Do you have any major or minor complaints to add?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: Violinist and concertmaster David Kim will discuss becoming a professional musician and will give two public master classes plus a student performance of string music by Vivaldi, Massenet and Brahms

October 16, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about upcoming events:

“From oboist to organist, whether one performs pop or Prokofiev, every musician has a story of an intricate and sometimes unsettling pathway to a professional career.

“Violinist David Kim, (below) who will visit the School of Music TODAY and Tuesday, Oct. 16 and 17, is no different. Since 1999, Kim has been the concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

“On Tuesday at 7: 30 p.m. in Mills Hall, Kim will offer a talk, “From Prodigy to Professionalism – A Life in Music.” (Editor’s note: You can sample Kim’s terrific conversational style and accessible analysis in the interview with him about his violin in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“He’ll describe his experiences and struggles to reach the pinnacle of his career, interspersed with performances of some of Mr. Kim’s favorite works. It will be a humorous, sometimes jarring, and often poignant story not to be missed.

“Kim’s talk will be followed by a concert with UW-Madison strings and pianist Thomas Kasdorf. The program will include “Sonatensatz” (Sonata Movement) by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); “Banjo and Fiddle” by William Kroll (1901-1980); “Meditation” from the opera “Thais” by Jules Massenet (1842-1912); and “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741).

“I’ve always shared anecdotes about my crazy upbringing,” Kim wrote in an email. “From the beginning, my story seemed to resonate, especially with parents. After all, who doesn’t have a story of an overzealous parent from some stage of life!

“Now I share my story numerous times each season and have been urged by many to write a book – a la the widely read book, ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.’

“But that will probably never happen as I prefer speaking during my concerts and love seeing the audience react in person.”

“Join us for our “Conversation & Concert” with David Kim, our strings players and pianist Thomas Kasdorf (below), a UW-Madison alumnus and graduate student. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for students, except Mead Witter music majors, who receive free admission. Buy tickets here. They will also be sold at the door, starting at 6:30 p.m.

“Additional Events: 
Violin Master Class is TODAY, Monday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. in Morphy Hall;
 Strings Orchestral Excerpts Master Class is on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 11 a.m. in Morphy Hall. Both classes are free and open to the public.

“Learn more here: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/david-kim-vivaldis-four-seasons/


Classical music: Farley’s underappreciated Salon Piano Series shines again with duo-pianists Robert Plano and Paola Del Negro

September 29, 2017
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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

Roberto Plano appeared last season in a four-piano concert in the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos. This year, to open the 2017-18 season in the same series on last Sunday afternoon, the Boston-based pianist brought along his pianist wife, Paola Del Negro, for a duo program of utter fascination. (They are below.)

The first half of the program was devoted to music for piano-four hands, the duo alternating between primo and secondo parts. Robert Schumann’s six “Pictures From the East,” Op. 66, are examples of the composer’s important duo output.

Burgmein was the pen name of the covert composer better known as the influential music promoter and publisher Giulio Ricordi (below). His set of six duet pieces evoking characters from the Italian Renaissance Commedia dell’Arte tradition followed.

Then came two of the Hungarian Dances (No. 2 and 5) by Johannes Brahms in their original piano-duo form. (You can hear them play Hungarian Dances by Brahms in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Ending the program’s first half was one of its biggest hits. After composing the great orchestral cycle of six patriotic scenes called “My Country,” Bedrich Smetana (below) made four-hand piano arrangements of each. Plano and Del Negro played that for the popular “Moldau.” This arrangement managed to capture a good deal of the orchestral original’s coloristic and dramatic effects, and was played with particular power.

The entire second half was devoted exclusively to a major work by Brahms, his Sonata for Two Pianos, Op. 34b. This work was created first as a string quintet, then later discarded. But the two-piano version (below) was superseded by Brahms’ transformation of its material into a Quintet for Piano and Strings (reckoned as plain Op. 34).

The Quintet — which, by the way will be performed by the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet in the Salon Series next March — is, of course, one of the composer’s masterpieces. But the Two-Piano Sonata survives on its own merits. The parallel material is presented cogently, all of it redistributed in consistently keyboard terms, as against the mixed media of the Quintet.

The duo played it with the necessary Brahmsian burliness and power, and on Farley’s wonderful vintage pianos it sounded simply magnificent.

As an encore, the duo played a two-piano arrangement of an energetic tango piece by Astor Piazzolla, but then followed with another, in this case, an eight-hand piano trifle in which the Plano-Del Negro duo were joined as parents by their two young daughters (below). The audience could hardly resist that!

Plano and Del Negro are great discoveries. And once again, the Salon Piano Series has shown itself as one of the exciting, if too-little-known of Madison’s musical treasures.

For more information about the Salon Piano Series and its upcoming concerts, go to: http://salonpianoseries.org


Classical music education: Here are 10 reasons why students should be allowed to major in music

August 29, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Many, maybe most, of the college and university students are back by now.

And a week from tomorrow, classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will begin.

K-12 classes in public schools and private schools will also start, if they haven’t already, as will another year of music lessons.

And so will the new concert season.

Coincidentally, The Ear came across a post from Forbes magazine that deals with whether students should be allowed to major in music (below, in a photo by Shutterstock).

Many parents, and many politicians too, feel that more practical, higher paying fields are better investments of energy, time and especially money.

The same logic applies these days to the arts and humanities versus the so-called STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Anyway, the advice columnist Liz Ryan answered the question with 10 reasons why it is a good idea to let a student major in music.

The Ear –- who is an avid defender of the liberal arts and of college years not as a trade school but as a chance to explore and experiment — thought that whether you are a student, parent or teacher, you might be interested in reading the reasons why a music major makes sense.

Here is a link:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2017/06/04/ten-reasons-to-let-your-kid-major-in-music/


Classical music: Why do we love Chopin? Ask pianist Jeremy Denk

August 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like playing or hearing the music of Chopin (below).

Can you?

But just why the 19th-century Romantic composer has such universal appeal is hard to explain.

One of the best explanations The Ear has read came recently from pianist Jeremy Denk, whose essay on “Chopin as a cat” appeared in The New York Times.

Denk, who has performed two outstanding solo recitals in Madison, is clearly an important musical thinker as well as a great performer. You can also see that at once if you read his excellent blog “Think Denk.”

The Ear suspects the current essay grew out of some remarks that Denk gave during a lecture on Chopin’s pedaling at the UW-Madison, and will be incorporated into the book he is working on that includes his previous acclaimed essays in The New Yorker magazine.

Denk (below), who has lately been performing an intriguing survey concert that covers 600 years of music, thinks that Chopin’s uniqueness resides in how he consolidated and fused both conservative values and radical, even modern, innovations.

To the Ear, it is the best modern analysis of Chopin that he has read since the major treatment that the acclaimed pianist-musicologist Charles Rosen wrote about the Polish “poet of the piano” in his terrific book “The Romantic Generation.”

Moreover, the online web version of Denk’s essay is much more substantial and satisfying than the newspaper print edition. It has not only audio-visual performances of important Chopin works by major artists such as Arthur Rubinstein and  Krystian Zimerman, it also suggests, analyzes and praises some “old-fashioned” historical recordings of Chopin by Ignaz Friedman, Alfred Cortot and Josef Hoffmann.

Now if only Jeremy Denk would record an album of Chopin himself!

Here is a link to the Chopin essay:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/arts/music/jeremy-denk-chopin.html

Enjoy!

Please listen to the wonderful clips that Denk suggests.

Then tell us what pieces are your favorite Chopin works, big or small, and what performers are your favorite Chopin interpreters.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Two weeks of choral music and world premieres start this week at the UW-Madison

April 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The last two weeks of April look to be a busy time, with several world premieres of new music taking place – one in chamber music this week, then next week one in choral music and one by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in orchestral and piano music.

It is also a busy time for choral music, especially with back-to-back performances next week by the Concert Choir and the community-campus UW Choral Union.

All UW-Madison concerts scheduled for this week are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Here — with an unfortunate lack of details about programs — is the UW-Madison lineup for this week:

TUESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, the University Opera presents its spring program of “Opera Scenes” done by the UW-Madison Opera Workshop. Sorry, no word about specific operas, scenes or singers. Staging is minimal and accompaniment is done by a piano.

WEDNESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Pro Arte Quartet (below top) will give the world premiere of “The Cross of Snow,” written by John Harbison (below middle) and commissioned by local businessman William Wartmann in memory of his late wife.

The new work, scored for string quartet and voice, features guest mezzo-soprano Jazmina Macneil (below bottom).

Also on the program are: String Quartet in E Major, Op. 54, No. 3 (1788), by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the String Quartet in A Minor Op. 16 (1874) by Antonin Dvorak.

For more information about the new work, including the text of the poem “The Cross of Snow” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-7/

FRIDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Chorale and the Madrigal Singers (below) team up for a joint concert under director Bruce Gladstone. Sorry, no word about composers or works.

SATURDAY

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the All-University Strings – an amateur group of non-music majors — will perform its annual spring concert. Sorry, no word on the program.

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Women’s Chorus (below), Masters Singers and University Chorus will give a joint concert. Sorry, no word on the program.

SUNDAY

From 2 to 5 p.m. in Mills Hall, University Bands will perform under directors Darin Olson, Nathan Froebe and Justin Lingre will perform. Sorry, no word on specific programs.

This week, The Ear also counts 10 different student degree recitals on tap, from piano and violin to percussion and voice. Some listings mention programs, but others do not. For more information, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/


Classical music: Cellist Parry Karp plays music by Beethoven, Franck and Sulkan Tsintsadze in a FREE recital this Friday night

February 22, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Cellist Parry Karp (below) will perform a FREE recital this Friday night, Feb. 24, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Karp, who is the longtime cellist of the Pro Arte Quartet, heads the chamber music program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Parry Karp

Karp will be joined by pianist Eli Kalman (below right with Karp), a longtime partner who did his graduate work at the UW-Madison and now teaches at the UW–Oshkosh.

Parry Karp and Eli Kalman

Their program features two well-known works.

Karp will perform his own transcription of the Sonata in A minor for Violin and Piano (1801) by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is the eighth of the 10 violin sonatas by Beethoven that Karp has transcribed, keeping the violin works in their original key on the cello.

The duo will also play the famous Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano (1886) by Cesar Franck. It was transcribed by Jules Delsart with some adjustments from Karp.

Then comes a rarity: the 24 Preludes for Cello and Piano (1980) by Sulkhan Tsintsadze (1925-1991, below).

sulkhan-tsintsadze-2-dramatic

Here are some remarks about these works by Karp, who likes to explore neglected composers and repertoire:

“The 24 Preludes (1980) by Sulkhan Tsintsadze are a wonderful find. Tsintsadze was a composer and cellist from Georgia in the USSR, and was very taken by the 24 prelude format.

“The piece goes through all of the major and minor Keys in the same order as the do the preludes for solo piano by Chopin.”

“Each Prelude is similar to a short story or vignette, and the emotional range of the entire set is compelling.”

Here is more information about the composer:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulkhan_Tsintsadze

And here is a YouTube video – the first of four parts – with samples of the 24 Preludes for Cello and Piano:


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