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: You Must Hear This: Violinist Hilary Hahn plays “Mercy” by Max Richter

March 26, 2018
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the gems in the 27 encores that violinist Hilary Hahn commissioned from 27 different composers a couple of years ago is “Mercy” by the German-born British composer Max Richter.

Hahn has played here several times, mostly at the Wisconsin Union Theater but also with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Although Max Richter’s Minimalist music has not been played in Madison as far as The Ear remembers, you might already know his name from the popular recording of his take on Vivaldi in “The Four Seasons Recomposed” or his more ambitious and most current project “Sleep,” which provides music for eight and a half hours of sleeping.

But The Ear confesses he had not heard this moving miniature called “Mercy” until recently, even though Hahn recorded it along with the other 26 encores with pianist Cory Smithe.

He likes it.

And so apparently do a lot of other listeners.

So it is something that is well worth using five minutes of your time to sample.

Write your comments, positive or negative, below.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Do you have trouble sleeping? Try listening to composer Max Richter’s new eight-hour lullaby.

September 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Not many days go by where you don’t see, hear or watch stories about how far too many Americans have insomnia and are sleep-deprived.

insomnia 1

In fact it sometimes seems like sleep research and insomnia cures are two of the big payoff fields in contemporary American medicine. The Ear wonders: Is it the same story elsewhere in the world? Why or why not?

Of course, there are drugs that can be used and behavioral changes that can be made.

But maybe some music can help.

Especially the eight-hour lullaby by the London-based German composer Max Richter (below, in a photo by Rhys Frampton for Deutsche Grammophon), who last found fame for his minimalist reworking of “The Four Seasons” in “Vivaldi Recomposed.”

max richter BW CR Rhys Frampton for DG

Richter’s mammoth lullaby is called – what else? – “Sleep.” A shorter version will soon be released on CD by Deutsche Grammophon.

You can hear a sample of “Sleep” in a YouTube video at the bottom. Is The Ear the only one who thinks that this sample owes something to the famous Prelude No. 1 in C major of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by Johann Sebastian Bach — the same prelude that was later reworked into a popular setting of “Ave Maria” by the French composer Charles Gounod?

Here is a link to the story about the work and an interview with the composer that appeared on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/09/03/436963414/trouble-sleeping-a-composer-wants-to-help

 


Classical music: Listen to American violinist Hilary Hahn revive the old tradition of salon music by playing the 27 short encores she commissioned from today’s important composers.

November 23, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

A frequent critic and gifted guest reviewer on this web site recently referred to Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine as the most exciting violin talent to emerge on the American scene.

Well, Barton Pine is indeed special and very gifted, as she proved earlier this month when she opened the Wisconsin Union Theater season with the magnificent Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, performed with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra conducted under the baton of UW alumnus and Madison native Kenneth Woods.

Here is a link to that review:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/classical-music-the-wisconsin-union-theater-opens-its-new-season-with-a-winning-blockbuster-program-of-brahms-and-shostakovich-performed-by-native-son-conductor-kenneth-woods-chicago-violist-rachel/

But The Ear has to respectfully disagree.

For my money, or my taste, or my values — whatever you want to call it —  the most exciting violin talent on the American scene is Hilary Hahn (below).

hilary_hahn

Hahn performs the classics and the great masterworks terrifically, with a great sense of architectural shape and beautiful tone, plus exciting but not exaggerated or distorted interpretations.

She also plays modern works and commissions works, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon (below) who teaches composition at the same Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where Hahn trained.

And her two recitals with the then relatively unknown pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater were among the best performed and most originally programmed recitals that I have ever heard.

Jennifer Higdon and cat Beau

Oh, and Hilary Hahn also blogs, by the way.

And she also did her own interviews, posted on YouTube, with the 27 composers — including Max Richter, Lera Auerbach and Avner Dorfman — who composed the encores.

Check out her website: http://hilaryhahn.com

Now the heirloom record label Deutsche Grammophon has released the “The Hilary Hahn Encores in 27 Pieces,” which features 27 recently composed pieces, all commissioned by Hahn for her use as concert encores. It is a welcome throwback, in a way, to salon music and to composers like virtuoso violinist Fritz Kreisler.

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

I don’t know how they did it – I suspect it was some kind of swap for advertising space – but NPR has terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” and a feature called “First Listen” that also allows you to hear some music before it is released commercially. (But, as I understand it, you can’t download it or recorded it from the NPR site.)

NPR did the same for Jeremy Denk’s acclaimed new recording for the Nonesuch label of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.

Anyway, here is a link to the new Hilary Hahn CD of encores. Enjoy the music and listening to it.

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/03/242090716/first-listen-hilary-hahn-in-27-pieces-the-hilary-hahn-encores

And let us know your Top 5 picks of the 27, or even just your Top Pick.

It will be interesting to see if there is a consensus and what ones are liked the most.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today brings the Winter Solstice – a perfect time to listen to Vivaldi’s original “Four Seasons” and Max Richter’s “Recomposed” version of Vivaldi’s popular violin concertos.

December 21, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the winter solstice in the Western Hemisphere.

We turn the corner and the days start getting longer, and the night shorter.

The solstice arrives today — on Friday, Dec. 21. Specifically, it arrives this morning at 5:12 a.m. CST.

Could there be a better time to celebrate the famed “The Four Seasons,” a series of violin concertos, composed in 1725 by Antonio Vivaldi (below), and a work that is reputed to be the most recorded piece of classical music of all time?

vivaldi

Here is the original “Winter” section by Vivaldi, with its virtuosic rush of notes, slashing chords and chilly tremolos.

But the winter solstice is also a good time to take a listen to Max Richter’s reworking of Vivaldi’s famous, if overplayed, masterpiece.

It is called  “Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons” and is available on the Deutsche Grammophon label (below). And it would also be a make for a good holiday gift, especially if someone already has and likes the original “Four Seasons.” It isn’t often after all, that you can have Baroque music and contemporary music in the same work.

Max Richter Recomposed CD cover

Recently, NPR’s exceptional blog “Deceptive Cadence’ featured a fine review of the album, in which the well-known former Beaux Arts Trio violinist Daniel Hope stars, and an interview with the young German-born British composer Max Richter (below).

Max Richter

I find it a quintessentially postmodern project, but one which I find quite effective – and which I think Vivaldi himself might like and approve of. After all, most of the great Baroque composers — including J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel — transcribed their own works and freely borrowed from and elaborated on or altered the works of their colleagues.

Here is a link to the NPR story and interview:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/11/21/165659291/max-richter-recomposes-the-four-seasons

And here are links to some other reviews:

Blogcritics.org:

http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-max-richter-recomposed-by/

The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/oct/21/max-richter-vivaldi-four-seasons

See what you think and let me know.

The Ear wants to hear.


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