The Well-Tempered Ear

See and hear The Cliburn piano competition for FREE via streaming. It runs through June 18

June 4, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The 16th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition got under way this past Thursday, June 2, and will run through Saturday, June 18, when the winners will be announced.

2022 marks the 60th anniversary year of the competition, which the American pianist Van Cliburn founded at Texas Christian University after his 1958 Cold War victory in the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow,.

You can follow it all online. The complete impressive competition is being broadcast on medici.tv and on YouTube.

But The Ear has used the competition’s own streaming website and finds the videos, sound quality, contestant biographies and background information very professional and helpful. So far, it has been a thoroughly satisfying, enjoyable and engaging experience. I highly recommendation it for students, amateur pianists and all music lovers.

For The Ear, one of the most impressive performances from yesterday was given by the 21-year-old Chinese pianist Yangrui Cai (below), heard in the YouTube video at the bottom. Such beautiful and subtly virtuosic but shaded Liszt and Brahms is not often heard.

Here is a link to the home page (below): https://cliburn.org

From there you can hear live performances, past performances and many facts , including the complete schedule, about The Cliburn, as it is now called. All times are Central Daylight.

Starting at 10 a.m. today — Saturday, June 4 — will see the final 10 performances (3 in the morning and night, four in the afternoon) of the preliminary round, which has featured 30 pianists in 40-minute solo recitals. Except for a specially commissioned “Fanfare Toccata” by Sir Stephen Hough, who is also on the jury, the choice of programs is entirely up to the individual contestants.

The road to the Cliburn is not easy.

It started with 388 applicants. That was trimmed down to 72 by preliminary judges. Out of 72, 30 were chosen by jurors to compete.

After today, it will be on to the quarter-finals with 18 contestants in 40-minute recitals with no repetition from the preliminary round; then the semi-final round with 12 contestants in a combination of 60-minute solo recital along with a Mozart piano concerto accompanied by the Fort Worth Symphony conducted by the Nicholas McGegan, who is famous for his interpretations of Baroque and Classical era music; and the final concerto round with each contestant play two concertos with Fort Worth Symphony under famed conductor Marin Alsop, who is also the head juror.

The Ear will be posting his own thoughts as he experiences the extensive competition, maybe after each round or even each day.

But The Ear also wants to hear from you.

Do you have thoughts about the various contestants?

Who are your favorites and why?

Thoughts about the programs and repertoire being played?

Other thoughts about the competition in general?

The Ear Wants to hear.

 


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To celebrate Pride month, here are lists of LGBTQ+ composers, performers and musical ensembles 

June 27, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

June is Pride month.

And this weekend will see Pride marches and celebrations in some major cities including New York City, Chicago, Paris and Rome.

As time passes, scholars are finding out more about the LGBTQ+ composers, performers and musical groups that have been hidden by history.

And some ironies emerge. One can only imagine the response of conservative, right-wing Evangelical Christians who find out that the composer of “Messiah” – George Frideric Handel (below) — was queer, at least according to some researchers.

For most listeners, surprises abound.

Here is a good place to start. It is the very large Wikipedia entry of LGBTQ+ composers and performers, both contemporary and historical. The Ear finds it very informative. It is organized by the kind of musicians they are and the category of their sexual identity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:LGBT_musicians

If you want to be more selective, try these: https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/greatest-lgbtq-conductors-you-should-know/. They include Marin Alsop (below top) and her teacher and mentor Leonard Bernstein (below bottom).

Here is longer essay that focuses on lesbian conductors as well as gay men and reaches back to the Middle Ages: http://www.glbtqarchive.com/arts/conductors_A.pdf

And here is one with some great photos or pictures of the individuals: https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/great-classical-composers-who-were-gay/

Finally, here are some of the international music ensembles – with audio samples of their performances — made up of LGBTQ+ singers and instrumentalists, including the Rainbow Symphony of Paris (in the YouTube video at the bottom, performing the beautiful Gloria by the gay French composer Francis Poulenc in a benefit Concert Against Homophobia for UNESCO): https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/best-lgbtq-classical-music-ensembles/

Inevitably, some readers will react by asking: What difference does the sexual identity of composer or performer make? All that matters, they argue, is the music.

Here is a reply to that specious argument that focuses on Yannick Nézet-Séguin (below), the music director of the Metropolitan Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the City Symphony of Montreal. It appeared in The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/15/arts/music/yannick-nezet-seguin-met-opera-gay.html

Happy Pride – this month and every day of the year!

Do you have questions, additions or comments?

Leave them below.

The Ear wants to hear.


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NPR names relevant classical albums in a musical Diary of the Plague Year of the pandemic, racial protests, wildfires and hurricanes

December 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

For an unusual and difficult year, NPR (National Public Radio) and critic Tom Huizenga have found a new and unusual way to recommend this past year’s top classical music recordings.

On the  “Deceptive Cadence” blog for NPR, Huizenga kept a personal month-by-month diary of “music and mayhem.”

For last February, for example, this ancient image of The Dance of Death inspired contemporary composer Thomas Adès to compose his own “Totentanz” or Dance of Death. (You can hear an excerpt from the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Some of the thematically-related music is modern or contemporary, some of it is from the Baroque or Classical era.

In June, as protests against the death of George Floyd (below top) flared up and spread worldwide, NPR names a recording of the “Negro Folk Symphony” by African-American composers William Dawson and Ulysses Kay (below bottom), thereby helping to rediscover Black composers whose works have been overlooked and neglected in the concert hall and the recording studio.

Devastating wildfires on the West Coast, Presidential impeachment and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast also found their way into the choices of music to listen to.

It is an unusual approach, but The Ear thinks it works.

See and hear for yourself by going to the sonic diary and listening to the samples provided.

Here is a link to the NPR album diary: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/12/21/947149286/music-and-mayhem-a-diary-of-classical-albums-for-a-troubled-2020

But many roads, if not all, lead to Rome, as they say.

What is also interesting is that a number of the NPR choices overlap with ones listed by music critics of The New York Times as the 25 best classical albums of 2020.

Some choices also are found on the list of the nominations for the Grammy Awards that will be given out at the end of January.

In other words, the NPR diary can also serve as yet another holiday gift guide if you have gift cards or money to buy some new and notable CDs, and are looking for recommendations.

Here is a link to the Times’ choices, which you can also find with commentary and a local angle, in yesterday’s blog post: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/arts/music/best-classical-music.html

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/12/27/the-new-york-times-names-the-top-25-classical-recordings-of-2020-and-includes-sample-tracks/

And here is a list to the Grammy nominations: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/11/28/for-holiday-shopping-and-gift-giving-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-63rd-grammy-awards-in-2021/

What do you think of the NPR musical diary of the plague year?

Do you find it informative? Accurate? Interesting? Useful?

Would you have different choices of music to express the traumatic events of the past year?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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It’s Thanksgiving Day. Conductor Marin Alsop, NPR, WQXR, WFMT and Wisconsin Public Radio offer music suggestions. What piece would you choose to mark the holiday?

November 26, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020 — is Thanksgiving Day.

Right now, the U.S. has had more than 12 million cases of COVID-19 with more than 260,000 deaths plus all the alarming signs and conditions that many more cases and deaths are coming in the next several months.

We might be sad that we can’t be with the family and friends we usually celebrate with. But we nonetheless have many things to give thanks for during this strange and tragic time.

We can thank the vaccine researchers; the doctors and nurses; and the other health care workers who take care of Covid patients, even those who don’t observe precautions and bring on their own illness.

We can thank all kinds of people on the front lines — food and transportation workers, for example — who help protect us and care for us.

We can thank the friends, family and others who stay in touch and help get us through these trying times.

And we can thank technology that makes isolating a lot less unbearable because we have telephones, radios, TVs, CD players, computers, cell phones and virtual online ZOOM meetings and gatherings and various other events including live-streamed concerts.

For The Ear, music has never meant more or brought more comfort than during this difficult year. He is giving thanks for that as well as for the other people and things just mentioned.

So what music should we celebrate this year’s emotionally complicated and mixed Thanksgiving holiday with?

Well, you can Google sources and go to YouTube to find compilations of music appropriate to the holiday. (See one playlist lasting 90 minutes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Famed classical radio station WQXR in New York City has five suggestions for being musically grateful: https://www.wqxr.org/story/top-five-expressions-thanks-classical-music/

And WFMT in Chicago is offering 20 suggestions based on holiday food: https://www.wfmt.com/2019/11/25/a-complete-thanksgiving-feast-in-20-food-inspired-pieces/

But here are a couple of other suggestions, some local.

Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) is always a reliable source. And tomorrow is no exception.

If WPR programming stays true to past patterns, music by American composers will be emphasized.

Plus, starting at 10 a.m. WPR will broadcast performances from the Honors Concerts (below) by middle and high school students around the state and who participate in the Wisconsin School Music Association. This year, for the first time, the performances will be virtual. But as in past years, they are sure to be moving and even inspiring.

Other fine suggestions from the world-famous conductor Marin Alsop  (below), a Leonard Bernstein protégée, who recently spoke for 7 minutes to NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon. 

Here is a link, but you should listen rather than just read the transcript if you want to hear the musical samples: https://www.npr.org/2020/11/21/937448472/this-thanksgiving-put-on-some-music-to-soothe

Do you like any of those suggestions? Were any new to you?

What piece of music would you choose to express gratitude on this particular Thanksgiving?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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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: We need more women conductors. And here is where some of them will come from

March 31, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear bets that most of you have heard of Marin Alsop (below), the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

And he bets that many of you have also heard of JoAnn Falletta (below, in a photo by Cheryl Gorski), who is the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

And then?

How many other women conductors can you name?

So the last day of Women’s History Month seems a good time to take a look at a program that may produce quite a few major women conductors.

Here it is:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/bringing-women-conductors-front-orchestra/


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

September 10, 2016
1 Comment

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: Which great maestro would you be? Take the WFMT quiz and see

June 6, 2016
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Chicago classical music radio station WFMT has come up with a novel idea.

That is the radio station by the way, that brings us “Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin,” which airs every weekday night 8-9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio. The insightful McGlaughlin himself is a former conductor, and The Ear suspects he had something to do with the quiz.

WFMT is the same radio station with The Beethoven Satellite Network that brings us host Peter Van De Graaff who chooses and comments on classical music overnight. A performing baritone singer who has sung George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra several times, the discerning Van De Graaff might also have had something to do with figuring out different and distinctive conducting styles.

Anyway, the WFMT staff devised a quiz and put it on the radio station’s official blog.

You answer questions and then you see which great symphony orchestra conductor you would mostly likely be.

Among the names mentioned are Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Leonard Bernstein (whom The Ear was pegged as!) and the three below (from left): Marin Alsop, Pierre Boulez and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who heads the Philadelphia Orchestra and last week was named the new music director of the Metropolitan Opera.

WFMT conductor quiz

Here is a link to the quiz and to the comments that its results have inspired:

http://blogs.wfmt.com/offmic/2016/04/22/quiz-which-great-conductor-are-you/

Take the quiz and let The Ear and other readers know the results and what you thought of the quiz.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Why couldn’t the New York Philharmonic find an American conductor? Meet Dutchman Jaap van Sweden, its next music director. Plus, Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen, is NEXT SUNDAY — NOT TODAY — and tonight’s concert of new music by UW-Madison professor Les Thimmig has been CANCELLED

January 31, 2016
4 Comments

ALERT 1: The Sunday Afternoon Live performance by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet at the Chazen Museum of Art is NEXT SUNDAY, NOT TODAY. The Ear apologizes for the mistake.

 ALERT 2: Tonight’s concert of new music for woodwinds and piano by UW-Madison professor Les Thimmig and pianist Jessica Johnson has been CANCELLED.

By Jacob Stockinger

This week the New York Philharmonic announced its next music director and conductor who will succeed Alan Gilbert, starting in 2018.

He is Jaap van Sweden (below, in a photo by Todd Heiser for The New York Times , a 55-year-old Dutchman, acclaimed for his technical prowess, who now is the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Jaap van Sweden CR Todd Heisler NYT

There are a lot of stories The Ear could link to.

Here is a short summary from NPR (National Public Radio) with audio clips of his conducting:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/01/27/464563264/jaap-van-zweden-named-new-music-director-of-the-new-york-philharmonic

But he found the coverage by the New York Times quite comprehensive and, on balance, fair.

It featured a main news story with some important feature elements, including the critical acclaim van Sweden received for conducting music by Gustav Mahler and Ludwig van Beethoven. (Below, you can see van Sweden conducting the New York Philharmonic in 2014 in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).

Jaap van Sweden conducting the NY PHIL cr Horiyuki Ito NYT

And it also featured a column or commentary by senior classical music critic Anthony Tommasini, who spoke in Madison on the occasion of the centennial of the Pro Arte Quartet that was held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Overall, Tommasini’s notebook entry is a fine and insightful piece, even if it gets tiring to hear Tommasini climb up on his high horse and whine yet again about the neglect of new music and contemporary composers – which does not seem fully justified based on the record of this particular conductor.

Tommasini – who himself was trained as a composer — clearly would have preferred former Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below) as the new music director and conductor. Hmmm – could they be friends?

Esa Pekka Salonen

For his part, it may sound provincial but The Ear is more concerned that the very same symphony orchestra that made history in American culture for hiring the first American-born and American-trained maestro – Leonard Bernstein (below), who also just happened to put Jaap van Sweden on the path to a conducting career – is once again turning to Europe rather to the many fine conducting talents in this country.

Leonard Bernstein CR Jack Mitchell

Why was no American conductor chosen. One who comes to mind is Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (below top) and the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Brazil who is also a Bernstein protege. And then there is David Robertson of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia(below bottom).

Seems odd that Marin Alsop is good enough for Brazil and David Robertson is good enough for Australia — but not for New York?

The Ear wants to ask the Philharmonic’s board of directors: Do you really find all American conductors to be that inferior to Jaap van Sweden?

Maybe there were practical considerations — salary, contracts, availability, refusals — that made hiring an American conductor impossible. But the stories suggest that the choice of van Sweden was made early on and the fix seemed in. Too bad. It still seems like a great opportunity that was lost.

Marin Alsop big

David Robertson

You can decide for yourself.

Here is the news story by Michael Cooper:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/arts/music/new-york-philharmonic-taps-jaap-van-zweden-as-its-next-maestro.html?_r=0

And here is Tommasini’s column:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/arts/jaap-van-zweden-and-the-future-of-the-new-york-philharmonic.html

Do you know the work of Jaap van Sweden?

Have you heard him in live or recorded performances?

What do you think?

Here is a sample of Jaap van Sweden conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: A major reassessment of Rachmaninoff is under way. Plus, French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez has died at 90 and the Unitarian Society’s FREE Friday Noon Musicales start again this week

January 7, 2016
4 Comments

ALERT: The influential and controversial French avant-garde composer and conductor Pierre Boulez had died at 90. The Ear will feature more about him this weekend. Stay tuned.

ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison‘s Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, start up again this Friday after a break for the holidays. The concert takes place from 12:15 to 1 p.m. and features bassoonist Juliana Mesa-Jarmillo and pianist Rayna Slavova in music by Gustav Schreck, Eugene Bordeau, Gabriel Pierne and Antonio Torriani.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear can remember when Sergei Rachmaninoff (below, 1873-1943) was treated as something of a joke by serious classical musicians – especially by the 12-toners and atonalists, who were more into R&D music (research and development) than into offering pleasure and emotional connection.

Rachmaninoff

The academic musicians, and some prominent music critics too, thought that the Russian composer’s music was too Romantic — meaning too accessible, too shallow and even cheap. They just didn’t consider Rachmaninoff a major 20th-century composer or artist.

But time is proving them wrong.

And how!!!

Surely The Rachmaninoff Deniers would like such popularity, durability and enthusiasm for their own music.

Haha.

Not likely.

Because Rachmaninoff had real genius linked to real heart.

So surely The Ear is not the only listener who finds so much of Rachmaninoff’s music -– especially his preludes, concertos, etudes and variations — irresistible and even moving.

Rachmaninoffold

Last fall saw Rachmaninoff’s appealing final work, the Symphonic Dances, performed by both the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under John DeMain, and the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, under James Smith.

And pianist Joyce Yang played the momentous Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor at her recital in the Wisconsin Union Theater.

This year’s Grammy nominations also include a whole CD of Rachmaninoff’s solo and concerto variations, including the wonderful tuneful and ingenious Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Last year also saw “Preludes,” (below, in a photo by Tina Fineberg for The New York Times) ) a successful play about the young Rachmaninoff — or Rachmaninov — climbing out of a deep depression with the help of therapist and hypnotist Dr. Nikolai Dahl, who helped him compose again and become world-famous with his Piano Concerto No. 2.

Rac and Rachmaninoff Tina Fineberg NYT

Just this fall and winter, the New York Philharmonic with music director and conductor Alan Gilbert and pianist Daniil Trifonov (below), performed a retrospective featuring the complete cycle of Rachmaninoff piano concertos.

danill trifonov 1

trifonov rachmaninov

And here are some very perceptive and respectful remarks by conductor Marin Alsop (below) about Rachmaninoff’s life and work and about the less frequently played Symphony No. 3 in A minor that she will discuss and conduct.

Marin Alsop big

It comes from an interview with Scott Simon on Weekend Edition for NPR or National Public Radio. The Ear found her remarks about Rachmaninoff’s life in Beverly Hills and his effect on other exiled European musicians working in Hollywood to be especially perceptive.

Indeed, you may recall that Rachmaninoff was offered a lucrative chance to write a movie score and refused. So the moviemakers hired the British composer Richard Addinsell to write a piece that sounded like Rachmaninoff. The result was the Warsaw Concerto and the result does indeed sound a lot like Rachmaninoff.

Alsop, you may recall, was a student of Leonard Bernstein and is now the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Brazil.

Here is a link to the NPR story, which has audio samples of the Symphony No. 3, that also features a written essay by Marin Alsop about Rachmaninoff:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/12/28/461281186/rachmaninoff-an-american-without-assimilation

I like a Rachmaninoff tune. How about you?

So here is a YouTube performance, made in 1920, of Rachmaninoff himself playing my favorite Rachmaninoff piece — the wistful Prelude in G Major, Op 32, No. 5:

 


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