The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What qualities are needed to be a world-class conductor? New York Times critics weigh in. What do you think?

April 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that Alan Gilbert (below), the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, surprised the music world when he recently announced he would step down at the end of the 2017 season after only eight seasons on the job.

New York Philharmonic

Speculation about a successor — with Marin Alsop (below top) of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Finnish native Esa-Pekka Salonen (below bottom)  former director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, topping the lists — began immediately.

Right now, The Ear leans toward Marin Alsop. It would be great to see a woman in such a high-profile post. It would also be fitting for a protege of Leonard Bernstein to ascend to the podium where American-born and American-trained conductors first made their name. Buy American!

Marin Alsop big

esa-pekka-salonen-goes-multimedia-philharmonia-Esa_Pekka_Salonen_Philharmonia

The sensational Venezuelan-born and Venezuelan-trained superstar Gustavo Dudamel (below) seems to have taken himself out of the competition by agreeing to stay longer in LA. But every performer has his or her price, so his story may not yet be over in terms of going to New York.

dudamel-wild49754818

But Gilbert’s move also raises the issue: What qualities should one look for in a world-class music director and conductor?

These days, it involves a whole lot more than holding the baton and leading the players.

Anyway recently music critics for The New York Times weighed in with their preferences and points of view.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/15/arts/music/the-new-york-philharmonic-and-the-search-for-a-new-music-director.html?_r=0

Read and see what you agree and disagree with.

And also let us know who you think would be a good choice to be the next music director and conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor Marin Alsop lends her late parents’ valuable violin and cello as living memorials to them and as a way to help musicians in her orchestra.

February 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps you have read about the rapidly escalating cost of great musical instruments.

That puts a lot of younger or less well-known, cash-strapped players in a difficult spot.

For quite a while, banks and other financial institutions as well as museums and historical institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution have been putting the investment-quality instruments on loan to younger players whose playing deserves the instrument.

But individuals can do so too.

Take the case of the pioneering conductor Marin Alsop (below), a protégée of Leonard Bernstein who now heads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Sao Paulo State Symphony in Brazil, and who is being mentioned as a prominent candidate to follow Alan Gilbert when he steps downs from the podium of the New York Philharmonic in 2017.

Marin Alsop

When both her parents, who were distinguished professional musicians, died last year, they left behind valuable string instruments — a violin and a cello.

stradivari-solomon-ex-lambert

Cello and bow

Alsop didn’t want to sell the instruments.

But she also didn’t want them to lie unused and defeat their original purpose.

So Alsop (below, in a photo by Gabriella Dumczek of The New York Times) decided to turn the violin and cello into living memorials by placing them on loan with players in her Baltimore orchestra -– a move that has benefitted everyone and the instruments as well.

Here is a story from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/14/arts/music/at-baltimore-symphony-a-cello-and-a-violin-make-more-than-music.html?_r=0

It gives you ideas about what might be done on the local level, where some very fine instruments – including pianos — could benefit some very young but very fine local players who otherwise couldn’t afford to have them.

Marin Alsop  2015 CR Gabriella Demczuk NYT


Classical music: Why didn’t Beverly Taylor get to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Mozart’s Requiem last weekend and fill in for maestro John DeMain? Was it sexism or something more innocent? You can hear Taylor tonight conduct the University of Wisconsin Concert Choir and the UW Chamber Orchestra in J.S. Bach’s “St. John Passion” and then on Saturday night, April 26, when she conducts the UW Choral Union in Rachmaninoff’s a cappella “Vespers.”

April 12, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

There I was last Sunday afternoon, sitting in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, deeply engaged in and enjoying Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s glorious and poignant Requiem, incomplete as the original score is.

Now, I have my own personal reasons why the performance and music proved especially moving to me.

But suffice it to say that during the outstanding performance that was turned in by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top), the Madison Symphony Chorus (below bottom, in a photo by Greg Anderson), guest soloists including UW graduate soprano Emily Birsan and guest conductor Julian Wachner, from the famed Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City, I kept wondering:

Why isn’t Beverly Taylor conducting this program?

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

You may recall that Beverly Taylor has headed the choral department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music for 19 years. Before that, she was at Harvard. Plus, she regularly tours and does guest stints.

And if you are like The Ear, Beverly Taylor (below) has probably brought you more memorable moments of great choral music than any other musician in town since Robert Fountain, especially through her almost two decades at the UW-Madison during which she has directed the main community and campus group, the UW Choral Union, as well as various other UW groups, including the Concert Choir.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

She has also conducted world premieres and Midwest premieres, and she has worked with some pretty big names, singers and instrumentalists (cellist Matt Haimovitz) as well as composers such as Robert Kyr (below top) and John Harbison (below bottom).

robert kyr

JohnHarbisonatpiano

So then I started thinking:

When have I heard Beverly Taylor conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra -– of which she is the assistant conductor, the same kind of post that launched the meteoric career of Leonard Bernstein (below) when he was the assistant conductor to Bruno Walter at the New York Philharmonic? Assistants often get to fill in when the principal conductor is ill or out-of-town. Same thing happened to assistant conductor Seiji Ozawa when Bernstein was ill disposed.

bernstein-new-york-city-nightlife-rmc-image-1001-bw

Perhaps memory fails me, but I could not think of a single time when I heard Taylor conduct the MSO in a regular season subscription concert.

Can it be true that she is good enough to keep her post, but not good enough to perform its duties when the occasion arises. And if it is true, is it right? Would that happen to a man?

Now, it is true that Taylor’s many duties include preparing the MSO Chorus. And she performed that important duty in a fine manner for the Mozart Requiem, which was acknowledged both in critics’ reviews and in the loud applause when she came on stage to take a bow. One suspects she herself has conducted Mozart’s Requiem several times in her long career.

Not that guest conductor Julian Wachner (below top) was in any way a failure or proved unsatisfactory. He conducted just fine, even if the program was somewhat odd because it opened with a single Slavonic Dance by Antonin Dvorak, which is usually an encore instead of a curtain-raiser; and because it featured Joseph Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante” for Organ and Orchestra with guest organist, and a real real virtuoso, Nathan Laube (below).

The Jongen is a work that wasn’t performed here at all until the Overture Center opened with its custom-built, million-dollar Klais concert organ; and now we have heard it twice in 10 years. I think I can go another 10 or 20 years without hearing this second-tier work again. It has its moments, but they are not very many and they are not very long.

Julian Wachner conducting

Nathan Laube at console

Anyway, just to be sure, I checked the biographies of Julian Wacher and Beverly Taylor. I compared and decided that Taylor’s holds up just fine. See for yourself:

http://www.julianwachner.com/press/biography/

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/btaylor

http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/bio?faculty_id=54

You will notice that Taylor, who has a good training pedigree, is not only the chorus preparer for the MSO, but also the Assistant Conductor -– the one who helps the main maestro and music director John DeMain help balance the orchestra during rehearsals and who consults with him on other occasions for other reasons.

And Beverly Taylor has certainly conducted her share of major chorus and orchestra masterworks with the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra: Requiems by Giuseppe Verdi and Johannes Brahms as well as Mozart; Benjamin Britten’s “War” Requiem’; Antonin Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater”; and many other works including Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and B Minor Mass, Mozart’s great C Minor Mass, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” (below); Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” George Frideric Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” (at bottom in a YouTube video performance by the UW Choral Union under the baton of Taylor), Franz Joseph Haydn’s “ Lord Nelson” Mass, the “Symphony of Psalms” by Igor Stravinsky and other works by Gabriel Faure,  Anton Bruckner, Leonard Bernstein and Francis Poulenc.

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

In fact, you can hear Beverly Taylor in action TONIGHT at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, when she conducts the UW Concert Choir and the UW Chamber Orchestra in Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” (tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for seniors and students); and again on Saturday night, April 26, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, when she will conduct the UW Choral Union in the large-scale a cappella “Vespers” by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) for one performance only.  Admission for the “Vespers” is $10 for the public, free for seniors and students. 

rachmaninoffyoung

So I am again left with the question: Why didn’t Beverly Taylor get to fill in on the podium for MSO conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), who is also the artistic director of the Madison Opera and who was off in Virginia guest conducting Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen.” It sure seemed like her kind of program.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

I want to give the MSO the benefit of the doubt and not jump to the conclusion that Taylor didn’t get the podium to herself because of sexism, especially since the MSO has booked guest women conductors, including the Finnish firecracker Anu Tali (below top), and hired a woman concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below bottom), whom it has often highlighted as a soloist.

Anu Tali

Naha Greenholtz profile

But then I also remembered that the MSO used Taylor’s colleague at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, instrumental conductor James Smith, for this year’s “Final Forte” Bolz Young Artist Competition concert and broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.

And I also read a New York Times story about how even the great and high-profile Metropolitan Opera has had only three -– yes, count them, three -– women conductors  (below top is Anne Manson leading the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra) in its entire history, even during the time when women conductors like Marin Alsop (below middle) and JoAnn Falletta (below bottom) are much in the news. Here is a link to that story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/22/arts/music/female-conductors-search-for-equality-at-highest-level.html?_r=0

women conductors NY Tmes Anne Manson leading the Manitoba Chamber orchestra

Marin Alsop 2

conducting_joann_falletta

So what about our own hometown woman conductor? Maybe it really is a question of sexism, perhaps the unconscious or subconscious kind, or the kind that is camouflaged under other concerns like incompetence and low public appeal. Or maybe it is just a question of the orchestra’s history, habit and tradition in action.  Or perhaps it is something as simple and innocent as a schedule conflict or an overbooked schedule. But it looks suspiciously like the old vicious circle: She is inexperienced, so we can’t give her the experience.

I raise the question more than I claim to I have the answer. But I also want to know if I am alone in my curiosity and concern.

I want to hear what other readers and musicians in the area and elsewhere have to say, even though they may be reluctant to speak up using their real names to question or criticize such a major player as the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

But Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is a major player in Madison too. And she deserves a chance to move from behind-the-scenes and once in a while have her talents place in the public spotlight for the same organization that she has served so well for so long.

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot

Who knows, she might even have saved the MSO some money in booking fees and her local fans might even have helped filled some of the empty seats I saw last Sunday afternoon.

So The Ear says: Come on, MSO, give Beverly Taylor the chance she has earned to stand alone and conduct by herself after almost 20 years of being a team player. Please shine the spotlight on her when the chance next presents itself.

What do readers and audience members think?

Don’t be shy.

The Ear wants to hear.

 

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Classical music: The centennial of British composer Benjamin Britten was Friday. Here are three fine appreciations of him and his music. Plus, you can watch the State High School Honors Concerts today and Monday on Wisconsin Public Television.

November 24, 2013
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ALERT: Wisconsin‘s finest young musicians (below) unite for one of the most rewarding musical experiences of their lives. Wisconsin School Music Association’s (WSMA) High School State Honors Concerts were recorded Oct. 24, 2013 at Madison’s Overture Center. The show is part of the Young Performers Initiative to celebrate Wisconsin’s young performers and those who inspire them. The hour-long special airs this afternoon at 5 p.m. and Monday night at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television’s main channel and also on alternative The Wisconsin Channel. For more information about other air times and channels, here is a link: http://wptschedule.org/episodes/44717914/2013-State-Honors-Concerts/

wpt state honors 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

No one could blame you if you missed the centennial of British composer Benjamin Britten (below).

After all, the Britten celebration was largely overshadowed by the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which also fell on this past Friday, Nov. 22.

But Benjamin Britten was a great composer, for more reason than many of us realize.

Benjamin Britten

Here are three essays – two from NPR and one from The New York Times – that I found particularly helpful and insightful, especially the detailed explanations by Baltimore Symphony Orchesrra conductor Marin Alsop (below) explanation to Scott Simon of Britten’s “War Requiem” (see the YouTube video at the bottom) and her three points about what makes Britten so important and unique. (Be sure to listen to the longer program rather than read the short text):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/23/246386046/consumed-by-violence-with-hope-for-peace-britten-s-war-requiem

Marin Alsop big

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/14/245211949/act-like-you-know-benjamin-britten

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/22/arts/music/the-village-that-benjamin-britten-never-left.html?_r=0

Do you have a favorite piece by Benjamin Britten?

What is it and why is it a favorite?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Sexism still greets women conductors.

October 13, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, isn’t this an unpleasant and unexpected surprise – lo, these many years later and into the 21st century.

Given all the progress that women have made over the past few decades in so many fields and professions including classical music, you might think that the question about whether they have the strength, stamina or smarts to be a conductor would be a totally moot or meaningless question by this point.

But you would be wrong.

Just take a look at the story – and follow the various links in it to other essays and analyses — on the “Deceptive Cadence” blog at NPR to see that the forces of sexism are still trying to shut out or belittle the achievement of women conductors.

Take the American conductors as Marin Alsop (below top) of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra, who also was the first woman in 118 to conduct the BBC Proms concerts in England concerts this summer (in a YouTube video at the  bottom) and who sells a lot pf CDs for Naxos Records;  and such as  JoAnn Falletta of the Buffalo Philharmonic (below middle in a photo by Cheryl Gorski). Or take the Australian conductor Simone Young (below bottom) of the Hamburg State Opera.

Marin Alsop 2

conducting_joann_falletta

simone young 

Locally, we have heard great concerts at the Madison Symphony Orchestra from the firecracker Finnish guest conductor Anu Tali (below).

Anu Tali

Here is a link to the story that you should read and listen to, and then react to in the COMMENTS section of this blog.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/10/09/230751348/what-is-classical-musics-women-problem

Read and listen to it and let us know what you think about what should be done about women conductors and the sexism they face.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Does The Great American Symphony” exist – or even its equivalent in a different form or genre? American conductor JoAnn Falletta takes up the challenging question on NPR with “All Things Considered” host Robert Siegel. Also, the 14th annual Madison Early Music Festival opens tonight with a concert by Piffaro and a lecture on “The Germanies of 1616.”

July 6, 2013
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A REMINDER: The 14th Madison Early Music Festival, with the theme “Renaissance Germany,”  opens tonight with a performance by the Renaissance band Piffaro (below) at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. It will be preceded at 6:30 p.m. by a FREE lecture by frequent guest blog contributor John W. Barker on “The Germanies of 1616 and How They Got to Be That Way” in Room L-160 of the Elvehjem Building of the nearby Chazen Museum of Art. For more information, visit: http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/lsa/memf/index.html

piffaro

By Jacob Stockinger

Back when The Ear was an undergraduate, he had a philosophy professor who claimed in an aesthetics course that no one in the class that was full of ambitious artists and especially would-be writers should worry about writing The Great American Novel.

It had already been written.

The Great American Novel, he said, was “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (below):

f. scott fitzgerald writing

It’s a great choice, though others might disagree and name Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” or Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

Still, overall, I think the decades have proven him right – which is why Gatsby has been made into several movie versions, including an older one with the actor Robert Redford and a recent one by director Baz Luhrman, and John Harbison’s full-length opera (below, with Dawn Upshaw as Daisy and Jerry Hadley as Jay Gatsby). And maybe a TV drama based on the novel is yet to come.

John Harbison Great Gatsby

But even though that quite of question somehow seems impertinent or irrelevant, it can lead to some memorable discussions and exposure to new music.

So last week, when everyone was looking up American music to play on Independence Day or the fourth of July, the question of The Great American Symphony arose.

And it was discussed on NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog by Tom Huizenga and also on “All Things Considered” by veteran host, the cultured, cultivated and witty Robert Siegel (below top) and American conductor JoAnn Falletta (below bottom), in a photo by Cheryl Gorski), who now leads three different orchestras as music director. (The three are the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland.) Falletta comes up with some interesting choices of American composers and works — some you have heard of and some you haven’t. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the beautiful slow movement from Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1, which I had never heard either live or in a recorded performance.)

robert siegel in npr studio

conducting_joann_falletta

It would be interesting to hear what some other American-born and American-trained maestros and champions of old and new American music – from Leonard Bernstein and Alan Gilbert of the New York Philharmonic to Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas (below) of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra said or have to say when they took on the same question.

gam_callout

Anyway, here are links to the NPR discussions. I recommend listening to the program and not just reading the transcript.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/07/02/197590007/IN-SEARCH-OF-THE-GREAT-AMERICAN-SYMPHONY

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/07/03/198018168/the-innovative-mosaic-of-american-symphonies

What do you think?

Do you have an orchestral work to nominate as The Great American Symphony or its equivalent?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Meet new guest blogger Greg Hettmansberger, who reviews and praises “The Story of Naxos” because it compellingly documents the rise of the budget record label Naxos as it grew from ‘David vs. Goliath’ to ‘David Becomes Goliath.’

February 24, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Today’s posting marks the debut of guest blogger Greg Hettmansberger. Since August, 2011 he has authored the blog “Classically Speaking” for Madison Magazine, and added a print column of the same name nearly a year ago. He was first published as a critic by the Los Angeles Times in 1988, and free-lanced as a critic and features contributor for a number of newspapers and other publications in Southern California. He began writing program notes in 1996, and is currently completing his 18th season as an annotator for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Moving to the Madison area in 2001, Hettmansberger (below) was the director of bands for Abundant Life Christian School until 2008.

greg hettmansberger mug

By Greg Hettmansberger

Rarely do I hear anything (a celebrity birthday, etc.) that evokes the response “that makes me feel old.” But it happened last fall, when it was announced that Naxos — the one-time “little classical label that could” — was turning 25 years old. It seemed like almost yesterday that I had interviewed the founder of Naxos, Klaus Heymann, on the occasion of Naxos’ fifth anniversary.

That was in Los Angeles, and Heymann (below bottom, in Hong Kong) was making a North American tour to do everything he could to turn his foothold of credibility as the all-digital budget label into a foundation of respectability as a significant force in the classical recording industry. Late 1992 was still the time of the Naxos “white wall,” the point-of-purchase displays of their distinctively plain white covers that featured not the glossy pose of the latest Tchaikovsky Competition winner but (gasp!) simply the composer and work in the largest type, against a mostly white background.

In the U.S. the CDs sold for about $5, but a number of leading critics and periodicals — if they deigned to review them at all — rarely exceeded the left-handed compliment “excellent quality for a budget cd.”

But what was a story of “David vs. Goliath” morphed into “David becomes Goliath”: over the next two decades, Naxos not only became competitive with the former giants of the classical industry, it overtook them all.

We get the whole story in the new book “The Story of Naxos: The Extraordinary Story of the Independent Record Label that Changed Classical Recording Forever” (below).

Naxos book

In a detailed, and often fascinating, 450 pages, author Nicolas Soames chronicles the story of Klaus Heymann (below), the “German businessman from Hong Kong,” as he almost by accident moved from new kid on the classical block, to producer and distributor of not only affordable, high-quality classical CDs, but branched out into audiobooks, jazz, world music, DVDs — and, oh yes, they have quite the digital/web presence today as well.

Heymann’s personal story is told at once, a fleshing-out of his great quote that is given on p. 423: “When I am asked the secret of my success, I reply: 1. I didn’t read music. 2. I didn’t play an instrument. 3. I hadn’t worked for a record label.” What he did do is combine a lifelong passion for classical music with great business skills, and a personal radar for rare opportunities that never seems to be turned off.

Klaus Heymann with CDs and awards

Soames opens with a fabulous overview of the state of the classical recording industry from the mid-1960’s through the mid-1980’s, overlapping the layers of business, technological and artistic factors that led to the Naxos “revolution.” Then we meet the man who made it all happen — and quite unexpectedly. It really started with Heymann’s marriage to the Japanese violinist, Takako Nishizaki — who also became his leading artist on his first label, Marco Polo.

But what makes this book worthwhile are the chapters that give dozens of snapshot sketches of soloists and conductors who, in most cases, went from obscurity to solid careers and occasionally, international fame beyond the walls of Naxos’ recording studios.

Naxos Records logo

But there was a catch, and one that Heymann had in place from the beginning. He paid a flat fee per recording, and no royalties; the artist also had to agree not to record for any other budget label. But back in 1992 I asked him, what happens if an artist comes to Heymann and says they have been offered a large contract by one of the “big” labels? He replied: “I say to them, ‘My friend, I understand. Take it; I’ll never pay you that kind of money, and if your new label spends $2 million promoting you, I will sell lots more of your recordings.’ There are no hard feelings.”

But what dozens of artists did get was a chance to record that they might never have gotten, and often recorded repertoire that no mainstream label would ever touch. And over the last quarter-century, Heymann can be said to have nurtured in varying degrees the careers of such artists as pianists Jeno Jando and Idil Beret, the Kodaly Quartet, and the conductor Marin Alsop (below), among others.

Marin Alsop

There is no questioning the qualifications of Nicolas Soames for writing this history: he was involved at the beginning of Naxos Audiobooks about 15 years ago, and has seen the growth of Naxos from the inside. (Originally Naxos was a distributor of Soames’ small label, Clarinet Classics).

Nicolas Soames Naxos book BIG

I was surprised to learn how much I didn’t know about how Naxos grew, and as both a music lover and writer about music, the book has pointed me in a handful of exciting new directions. Want a place to start? Go to the appendix, which contains a partial list of Naxos’ award-winning discs in its seven and a half pages.

For everyone from hard-core classical fan to someone who just likes a story about a business phenomenon no one saw coming via a model that likely will remain unique, “The Story of Naxos” is a great read.


Classical music: For Black History Month, conductor Marin Alsop rediscovers jazz master James P. Johnson as a serious classical musician and composer of symphonies. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie String Quartet plays a FREE concert of Mozart and Brahms in Stoughton on Tuesday evening.

February 11, 2013
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ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie String Quartet (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) will play music by Mozart and Brahms in a FREE concert tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Skaalen Retirement Community Chapel , at 400 North Morris Street, in Stoughton. Free-will donations will be welcome at the door. The quartet brings together some of the brightest stars of the MSO: Co-concertmaster Suzanne Beia, Principal Cellist Karl Lavine, Principal Violist Christopher Dozoryst and violinist Laura Burns. The concert will include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s  String Quartet No. 15 in D minor, K. 421, and Johannes Brahms‘ Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 155, featuring MSO clarinetist Nancy Mackenzie. The Rhapsodie String Quartet is the resident quartet of the MSO’s HeartStrings Community Engagement Program which reaches beyond traditional learning environments to bring live, interactive performances by some of the MSO’s best players into healthcare and residential facilities.

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

February is Black History Month.

That makes it a great time to once again ask a question that I posted last month on Martin Luther King Day: Where are African-American classical musicians, and why don’t we see and hear more of them?

Apparently, I’m not the only person with that question on my mind. In fact, if you follow this link back to that posting, you can read reader Comments and see some very fine suggestions for more names of black composers and performers.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/classical-music-on-martin-luther-king-jr-day-and-president-barack-obamas-second-inauguration-day-the-ear-wonders-why-arent-there-more-african-american-players-in-and-audiences-fo/

But there is more.

National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” with Scott Simon also featured a terrific story about Marin Alsop (below), the conductor and music director of the Baltimore Symphony and the Sao Paul Symphony in Brazil.

Marin Alsop big

It turns out that Alsop uncovered long-lost manuscripts of serious music by the forgotten James P. Johnson (below, in a photo by William Gottlieb), best known as an outstanding jazz stride pianist who also taught Fats Waller.

And as a jazz composer, he wrote THE piece that embodied an entire age: “The Charleston.”

But it runs our that there was a classical side to Johnson too. He wrote “Harlem” Symphony (an excerpt in a YouTube video is at the bottom) and several other works that were actually performed in Carnegie Hall during the 1940s.

alsop_johnson

Moreover, Alsop – a Leonard Bernstein student in spirit as well as name — is trying to bring Johnson back into the mainstream.

Alsop is attempting to restore the lost manuscripts that languished in an attic for decades. And she intends to give performances of the music that will become, one suspects, recordings. The story even includes some excerpts, so stream it and listen to it, don’t just read it.

And more live performances and recordings of a black composer just might also lead to more black students and black audiences.

At least one can hope so.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/02/02/170864270/treasures-in-the-attic-finding-a-jazz-masters-lost-orchestral-music


Classical music: Will 2013 give us more proof that the future of Western European classical music can be found in South America, Asia and elsewhere in the Developing World? American conductor Marin Alsop seems to think so.

January 3, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most interesting stories I heard about classical music in 2012 points yet again to a curious paradox.

Even while many First World audiences, as well as school programs, in Western Europe and North America seem to be turning their backs on classical music, that same classical music is thriving and blossoming in South America and Asia, and even in Africa (below is a double bass player in the Kinshasa Symphony).

Kinshasa Symphony bassist

Curiously, the greatest success often seems to come from the most unlikely source: The poor and undereducated young people and students, plus their families and friends, for whom the music takes on even more personal and cultural or social meaning.

landfill harmonic cello

One example is Gustavo Dudamel (below), the fiery and charismatic superstar conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel  and “el sistema” in Venezuela, which trained him and gets countless young people into making classical music.

dudamel-wild49754818

You may remember that on Christmas Day I touched on this same theme with a very moving video of poor young in Paraguay who are featured in the upcoming documentary “Landfill Harmonic” about poor students who recycle trash into instruments of musical beauty.

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/

And here is a link to the story, which aired on NPR in which Leonard Bernstein protégée and conductor Marin Alsop, who leads both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Sao Paulo Orchestra in Brazil, discusses her exhilarating experience south of the border.

Those experiences include an outdoors concert for 20,000 (below) and taking the first South American orchestra ever invited  to the famed British Proms concerts, where the crowds went wild. (At bottom is a YouTube video of Alsop and the Sao Paulo Orchestra playing encores at the 2012 Proms in Britain.)

alsop_brazil

Such beauty, meaning and enthusiasm are indeed contagious. Let us hope 2013 brings more of that same energy and devotion to beautiful music and a lifelong appreciation of it right here!

I found the story hopeful and inspiring, and I hope you do too:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/12/22/167459993/marin-alsop-a-utopian-musical-dream-from-south-america


Classical music: Fifth Symphonies, like Ninths, can mark a turning point in a composer’s career and in the history of music.

August 23, 2012
5 Comments

ALERT and REMINDER: A new chamber group in the area, the Black Marigold wind quintet (below) performs its second feee concert tomorrow, on Friday, Aug. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Hall of Capitol Lakes Retirement Center, 333 W. Main St. For more  informaiton about the performers and the program, go to: http://host.madison.com/calendar/music/black-marigold-summer-concert-series/event_0b76af2a-e0b3-11e1-9f8f-1777522ac029.html#.UCFecwfQz_A.facebook

By Jacob Stockinger

Most classical music fans know about the so-called Curse of Beethoven’s Ninth, which seems to have intimidated many composers who cam later and kept them from completing more than nine symphonies. (A small number compared to Haydn’s 104 and Mozart’s 41, no?)

But Fifth Symphonies also mark a sea change in a composer’s career and inspire a certain kind of awe and legend, also going back to Beethoven (below).

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conductor Marin Alsop (below), who has recorded for Naxos Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony with her new additional orchestra, the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil. She discussed Fifth Symphonies with NPR’s Scott Simon.

It is an illuminating talk with great audio clips that help her explain the music. Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/21/157113606/a-grand-soviet-symphony-by-way-of-brazil

Curiously, my favorite fifth symphony – after Beethoven’s Fifth, that is – was never even mentioned: Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, with its great final movement featuring brass and strings plus an unbeatably dramatic finale punctuated by silence (at bottom).

I also don’t recall hearing them talk about Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, which is also a great one, though Shostakovich’s great Fifth Symphony gets a nod.

Do you have favorite Fifth Symphony?

Let The Ear know what it is.


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