The Well-Tempered Ear

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

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:


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


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.


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

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: Today is the Fourth of July or Independence Day when many American composers will be featured. But the music of composer Charles Ives best embodies the spirit of American Independence.

July 4, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Each year, there are usually two holidays on which American classical music is featured: Thanksgiving and TODAY, the 237th Fourth of July, or Independence Day.


Radio hosts and concert programmers come up with all sorts of patriotic, all-American choices.

Many are names that are common and predictable — like George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, John Philip Sousa, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, Duke Ellington, John Adams, Virgil Thomson, Philip Glass, John Corigliano and Steve Reich.

Others are less well-known American composers. They include Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Amy Beach, William Grant Still, Edward Joseph Collins, Roger Sessions, Milton Babbitt, John Harbison, Elliott Carter, Henry Cowell and John Cage.

In between are the known and the unknown you will find Charles Ives (1874-1954, below), the Yankee iconoclast who was asked to give up his music career as a church organist because of his daring harmonic improvisations on hymn tunes.

Charles Ives BIG

Trained at Yale University, Ives did quit music as a profession and went into the insurance business in his native Connecticut. He made a fortune while he continued to compose new and modern music with only his own standards and pleasure in mind.

Ives loved to use multiple keys at the same time, to use polyrhythms and to mix vernacular music with original music.

So today The Ear offers two Charles Ives pieces of very different natures.

To celebrate in the usual way, here is a YouTube video of Ives’ extroverted and celebratory “Fourth of July” movement from his “Holidays Symphony.” The conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is Michael Tilson Thomas. Try to hear the traditional tunes treated in a his own untraditional way:

But perhaps the most beautiful and haunting piece by Ives is “The Unanswered Question.” I offer this video (also by Michel Tilson Thomas and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) because I am haunted this holiday by my own question concerning liberty and patriotism: Why are second-rate politicians in Wisconsin and elsewhere trying to ruin a first-rate state, a first-rate university and a first-rate country?

And whatever your answer or whether you agree with the question or not, I hope you enjoy the music. And I hope you pass a memorable and enjoyable Fourth of July.

So as an encore, I’ll throw in a third spirited audio clip. It is of Russian-born piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz playing his own astonishing and knuckle-busting piano transcription of Sousa’s march “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” which I believe he came up with to mark his new status as an Americanized citizen in 1945.

Happy Fourth of July!

Classical music: PBS report shows that some important American symphony orchestras are in rough shape – which should make us grateful for the long success of the Madison Symphony Orchestra on the weekend of its season-closing concert. Plus, check out additions and changes to the performances on Sunday and Monday by Classical Revolution Madison.

April 6, 2013

ALERT: There have been additions and corrections to the programs by Classical Revolution Madison (below at the Fair Trade Coffee House in a photo by Tori Rogers) on Sunday and Monday. Here is a link to the revised blog post:

Classical Revolution Madison at Fair Trade Coffeehouse CR Tori Rogers

By Jacob Stockinger

As you may recall, this is the weekend when the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of music director John DeMain closes the current season with three performances.

The unusual and very intriguing program features the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus (bottom top) and the MSO concertmaster violinist Naha Greenholtz (below bottom) in a program of Handel, Rachmaninoff, Mendelssohn and Vaughan Williams.

Here is a link to the post that will refresh your mind:

Naha Greenholtz [playing

And here is a link to the MSO’s website about the concert:

We should realize how lucky we are in Madison not only to have the quality of the MSO under John DeMain (below in a photo by Greg Anderson), but also to be spared – at least so far – some of the major money problems and internal disputes that have plagued other American orchestras, many of them bigger and more established.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

A recent story about the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and its celebrated music director Michael Tilson Thomas (below), and its labor problems – including a bitter strike that led to the cancellation of a major East Coast tour including a concert in Carnegie Hall – was done on PBS’ “Newshour.”

Michael Tilson Thomas

It is worth a look and listen. Here is a link:

By mid-week the strike by the SFSO (below, celebrating its recent centennial) had been solved. But the questions about musicians wages versus administrative wages and about shrinking audiences continue to be pertinent to symphony orchestras in the US.

san francisco symphony turns 100

Classical music: A gala concert of flute music and a concert of new music are on tap this weekend at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Music. Plus, the celebrated Iowa University Center for New Music will perform works by UW composer Laura Schwendinger and others in a FREE concert on Sunday afternoon.

April 5, 2013
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The momentum toward drawing the current season to a close continues to build with more events at the UW School of Music this weekend, events besides the Madison Symphony Orchestra performances and the concert by UW cellist Uri Vardi, UW pianist Christopher Taylor, UW and Pro Arte Quartet violinist David Perry and three Paul Collins Fellows at the UW on Sunday night that was featured here yesterday, on Wednesday.

On Saturday evening at 5:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Wisconsin Flute Festival Gala Concert will feature guest artist John Thorne (below), a professor of flute at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music.

john thorne BIG

The program will include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sonata in F Major, KV 13; Franz Doppler’s “Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy,” Op. 26; Gabriel Faure’s “Competition Piece” and “Apres un reve” (After a Dream) transcribed from the original for cello; and Georg Philipp Telemann’s Sonata in F minor. (Below is a photo of Faure.)

Public admission tickets are $5 at the door.


Here is some background, thanks to the UW School of Music:

John Thorne was previously associate principal flute of the Houston Symphony since 1992. He has also held the position of principal flute with the San Antonio Symphony and the Florida West Coast Symphony (now called the Sarasota Orchestra). He started his career as a member of the inaugural season of the New World Symphony, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, who also is the music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

For more info about the Flute Festival and Thorne (below), you can visit:

john thorne

Then on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the guest artists are the University of Iowa’s Center for New Music Ensemble performing works by UW-Madison Professor Laura Schwendinger (below), Grisey, Tutschku and Van Herck. (The acclaimed Schwendinger will have her “Sinfonietta,” composed in 2013, premiered this April 12 in New York City by the New Juilliard Ensemble in Lincoln Center‘s Alice Tully Hall. And an excerpt from a recent all-Laura Schwendinger CD from Albany Record is in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The concert is FREE and open to the public.


Here is more background, again thanks to the UW School of Music:

“The Center for New Music (below), a performance organization devoted to the late 20th and early 21st century repertoire, is the focus of contemporary composition and performance at the University of Iowa. The Center, like the internationally renowned Writers Workshop, embodies the institution’s commitment to the vital role of the creative arts at the frontiers of human experience.

university of iowa center for new music ensemble

For more information, visit:

Classical music news: Everyone loves a Gershwin tune. That’s why George Gershwin is the go-to composer when symphony orchestras want to drum up attendance and close seasons on a high note.

May 18, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

 “You know, it is going to be hard to get good seats. This concert is really popular and has very sold well,” said the Overture Center’s box office agent when I went to exchange tickets to last weekend’s all-Gershwin concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra from Sunday afternoon to Friday night.

And she was right.

So I ended up sitting pretty close to the stage, with a somewhat limited vision of the soloists and especially of the full orchestra and chorus.

But one look backwards over my shoulder, out into beautiful Overture Hall, and I saw how packed the 2,200-seat hall was – and it was really packed. That is surely an enviable way to end a season on a high note.

Not that it was unexpected.

By now we all should know that MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below) has a special talent for Gershwin. He is closely identified with the opera “Porgy and Bess.” His recording of it won a Grammy, and he has conducted it some 400 times all over the country, including at the City Opera in New York City from which it was broadcast on PBS’ “Great Performances.”

While I don’t have exact attendance figures, it sure seems like houses were very good, even if the Sunday performance was a little under-attended because of Mother’s Day. One MSO player even commented that it was such a pleasure to play before a big and appreciative audience. So much for the terrific commercial success of closing out the season.

So artistically, how did the MSO do?

Well as you will see below, the critics, including The Ear, are pretty much unanimous in their judgments: the all-Gershwin concert was great artistic success for the MSO and DeMain as well as for the soloists and Madison Symphony Chorus.

How could it be otherwise?

That’s why Venezuelan-born and –trained superstar maestro Gustavo Dudamel (below) and the Los Angeles Philharmonic did a Hi-Def international satellite broadcast of Gershwin. Why Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony did one. Why Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic did an all-Gershwin broadcast for New Year’s Eve on PBS’ “Live From Lincoln Center.” And it also why the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, under Andrew Sewell, opened this past season with Gershwin’s  “Rhapsody in Blue” with the young Russian virtuoso pianist Ilya Yakushev as the soloist.

So here is how the MSO’s all-Gershwin fete sounded to The Ear.

The orchestra and Madison Symphony Chorus performed superbly and tightly and with all the tonal color and dance-like, bluesy rhythms that Gershwin demands, right down to the French taxi horns and Cuban percussion. They sounded balanced with convincing dynamics and a big sound.

The soloists were, for the most part, terrific and absolutely first-rate. DeMain knows how to pick singers, and they brought off the authentic Gershwin sound with infectious conviction. This music left you pleased, happy and satisfied. George Gershwin’s music seems one of the few things that Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, can agree on these days.

I guess that’s good.

The first half of the concert was devoted to the popular shorter pieces: the “Cuban” Overture, “An American in Paris” and “Rhapsody in Blue.” The entire second half was devoted to an extremely well-constructed concert version, by orchestrator and arranger Richard Russell Bennett (below), of “Porgy and Bess” that reduced the four-hour opera to 40 minutes.

The singers, soprano Laquita Mitchell (below top) and baritone Michael Redding (below bottom), both did an outstanding job with the 40-minute concert version of the 4-hour opera “Porgy and Bess.” Redding especially brought out the characters of the roles he sang. He projected right off the stage and was rewarded with loud cheers from the audience.

My biggest disappointment – and it wasn’t all that big– came in the “Rhapsody in Blue.” Dressed fittingly in a bright blue gown, pianist Martina Filjak (below) played the Rhapsody well. She sure has chops, but great interpretations require more than great chops. I found her technique too prominent. She seemed to bang it out at times when it could have used a subtler, softer and more seductive approach. This Gershwin work is more French than Russian, more Ravel than Rachmaninoff. She should listen to Oscar Levant’s old recording.

But what I am really left with is how my overall impression of Gershwin, to whom I previously had paid only passing attention, took shape.

I loved the Gershwin concert while I was in it. But as soon as I left it, I found the music did not stick with me except for some tunes and some lyrics. And it did not make me ask questions or leave me wanting more.

And that, in turn, tells me why Gershwin is so popular.

Gershwin (below), who died prematurely of a brain tumor at 38, was clearly a Tin Pan Alley composer. He composed some dozen Broadway musicals before he even took up writing music for the concert hall. And that experience shows.

There is an ease and naturalness about listening to a Gershwin tune. When the famous Burton Lane song asks “I like a Gershwin tune, how about you?” who could possibly answer “Well, I don’t.” Gershwin’s songs are irresistible. They watch over you.

But if I compare the “Rhapsody in Blue” to, say, Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 or Schumann’s Piano Concerto or Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 3, I have no problem knowing which one I would and wouldn’t want to hear repeatedly, which one lacks development and depth, and which one has them.

The “Rhapsody in Blue” is engaging and exciting while it lasts, but then it is over. On the other hand, the other more substantial works may not be as easily digestible, but their nourishment is more sustaining and they continue to yield up insights on repeated hearings.

It’s not that Gershwin is a crossover or superficial composer, even though he is used in a lot of ads. As DeMain explained in his illuminating comments before the performances, Gershwin does indeed define an identifiably American sound. But let’s be honest:  Gershwin’s American sound is closer to song masters George M. Cohan, Cole Porter and Jerome Kern than to composers Charles Ives and Aaron Copland.

You can take Gershwin (below) out of Broadway. But, like the music of Leonard Bernstein – a Gershwin champion and DeMain mentor whose greatest and most beloved is theater music from “West Wide Story” and “Candide” – you can’t take Broadway out of Gershwin. And Broadway is nothing, if not popular.

Little wonder that we remember “An American in Paris” from Gene Kelly’s Hollywood choreography. And little wonder that even “Porgy and Bess,” a genuinely sincere attempt at serious concert music, got treated this last year to a controversial ADD makeover for today’s Broadway.

This love of Gershwin is here to stay.

What did others think?

Here is John W. Barker’s review for Isthmus:

Here is a Lindsay Christians’ review for 77 Square, The Capital Times and the Wisconsin State Journal:

Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine and his blog “Classically Speaking”:

Here is a review by Bill Wineke for WISC-TV and

Classical music datebook: An all-Gershwin concert closes out the Madison Symphony Orchestra season this weekend. Plus, early vocal music by Eliza’s Toyes and “revolutionary” vocal music by the Madison Youth Choirs will be performed.

May 9, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

After the last three weeks, which were super busy with concerts, it is refreshing to have a relative breather leading into Mother’s Day this Sunday.

It’s happening later than usual, but the big MUST-HEAR event this week is that the Madison Symphony Orchestra is closing out is current season this coming weekend.

The program is an appealing all-Gershwin program – a natural fit for MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in photo by James Gill), who won a Grammy for his authentic production of the opera “Porgy and Bess.” He has since conducted it over 400 times, including a one show that was broadcast nationwide on PBS’ “Great Performances.”

Excerpts of “Porgy and Bess’ with will performed with singers soprano Laquita Mitchell (below) and baritone Michael Redding in solo roles. Also included are “An American in Paris,” the “Cuban” Overture and the evergreen “Rhapsody in Blue” with pianist Martina Filjak. The Madison Symphony Chorus, under Beverly Taylor, will also perform.

Always popular, the music of George Gershwin (below) is undergoing a major revival, it seems to The Ear. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opened this past season with the “Rhapsody in Blue.” Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic did a Gershwin concert for HD satellite broadcast.  Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony also did a Gershwin concert.

Some of the best commentary and analysis I’ve ever heard about the music of Gershwin came on Wisconsin Public Radio on Monday. That is when DeMain appeared with host Norman Gilliland on The Midday (noon to 1 p.m.).

DeMain sat at the studio keyboard and played snippets and sang – not a voice to win the Met auditions but quite serviceable — as he demonstrated all sorts of things. He showed how carefully Gershwin structured “Porgy and Bess.” He demonstrated why Gershwin (below) is as much a classical composer as he is a jazz, popular or crossover composer. He explained how an orchestra “swings” a rhythm. He talked about various piano soloists, including Leonard Bernstein, who wrongly think they can “improve” the “Rhapsody in Blue” by taking liberties with the notes, rhythm and tempi. He showed how Gershwin loved and incorporated the music of J.S. Bach. And his wit and good humor matched his deep knowledge and extensive first-hand experience.

It was a brilliant and accessible, amiable and witty discussion that all Gershwin fans, and especially non-Gershwin fans, would be smart to listen to. Hands down, it was the best introduction to Gershwin that The Ear has ever heard.

When I last looked for  the interview-demonstration, it was not yet posted in WPR’s Audio Archives. But I suspect it will be shortly. So here it s a link:

In the meantime, the all-Gershwin concerts will be held in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $13.50 to $78.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, visit:

For program notes by J. Michael Allsen, visit:


Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianists Sonya Clark and Leo Van Asten who will perform music for piano-four hands by Dvorak, Ginastera, Schubert, Brahms and Van Asten. For information, call 608 233-9774 or visit


At 7:30 p.m. in the downtown historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below) in James Madison Park, 302 East Gorham Street, the local early music, period instrument and vocal ensemble Eliza’s Toyes and guests will be performing rarely heard music composed by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Schein, and Samuel Scheidt.

The concert, titled “The three Sch’s: Music By Schütz, Schein, and Scheidt,” includes a pre-concert lecture at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 at the door.

The program by Eliza’s Toyes (below) will showcase some of their best works, both sacred and secular. Highlights include Scheidt’s most somber setting of “Miserere mei Deus” for soprano and 5 low voices, and his uplifting setting of Psalm 148 in German “Lobet, ihr Himmel den Herren”; Schein’s motet “Ach Herr, ach meiner schone”, and a very funny song from his 1626 collection “Studentenschmaus”; and selections of Schütz’s rarely heard Italian madrigals, particularly “Vasto Mar” for 8 voices.

Besides musicians from the regular ensemble, special guests viol player Eric Miller (belowl) and Lawrence Conservatory faculty organist Kathrine Handford will be joining in the music making.

At 7 p.m. in the same venue, there will be a pre-concert lecture titled “Singing the Reformation”, by Erin Lambert, A.W. Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Fellow in History and a Ph.D. candidate in early modern European history at UW-Madison.

Here are some program notes from director and performing member of Eliza’s Toyes, Jerry Hui:

“Schütz, among the three featured composers, received the most household recognition because his career spanned across several countries. However, they all were regarded highly. Singled out by the 17th-century German composer/theorist Wolfgang Caspar Printz as the best German composers in his book “Historische Beschreibung” (1690), they were important in cultivating a distinctly German musical style, and their work would influence generations of composers to come —from J.S. Bach in later Baroque period, to Brahms in the Romantic period, and even to Hugo Distler of the 20th century.”

Adds Hui (below): “Much of these composers’ music, driven strongly by modal counterpoint but also showing influence of Baroque harmonic progression, are not heard as frequently as they should. Perhaps this is because many other Baroque composers — such as Bach and Sweelinck — worked around that time period wrote in a style that is more distinguishable from what is considered the Renaissance period. Also, the vocal range demanded by these composers from the choir often differs from the standard setup of a four-part choir, especially in requiring more low altos or high tenors.”

For more information about the program and Eliza’s Toyes, visit:


From 12:30 to 2 p.m. “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” closes out its current season with pianist Raffi Basalyan (below) in Brittingham Gallery Number III at the Chazen Museum of Art, 759 University Ave. This will be his fourth appearance on “Sunday Afternoon Live.”

The program includes Baghdassarian’s Prelude in B minor; Bach/Busoni: Two Chorale Preludes; Liszt’s Transcendental Etude #10 in F minor and “Mephisto Waltz”; and Rachmaninoff’s “Polka de WR” and Sonata No. 2, Op. 36.

 As usual, the concert will be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Members of the Chazen Museum of Art or Wisconsin Public Radio can call ahead and reserve seats for Sunday Afternoon Live performances. Seating is limited. All reservations must be made Monday through Friday before the concert and claimed by 12:20 p.m. on the day of the performance. For more information or to learn how to become a museum member, contact the Chazen Museum at (608) 263-2246.

A reception will follow the performance with treats, coffee, and tea donated by local businesses. We would like to thank our generous donors, Fresh Madison Market, Steep & Brew, and Coffee Bytes. A free docent-led tour in the Chazen galleries begins every Sunday at 2 p.m.

On Sunday, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area Performing Arts Center (below) at 2100 Bristol Street, in Middleton High School, the Madison Youth Choirs will perform their spring concert series, entitled Revolution!

These concerts focus on the connections between music and social change. Featuring music from “revolutionary” composers along with compositions from the Civil Rights movement, Revolutionary War, anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa and the Estonian “singing revolution.”

Selections by Brahms, Billings, Britten, Persichetti, Vittoria, Handel, and more will be featured.

Here is the schedule of performers and programs:

2 p.m.: three boychoirs (Purcell, Britten, Holst) and three girlchoirs (Choraliers, Con Gioia, Capriccio)

7 p.m.: three high school ensembles (Cantilena, Cantabile, Ragazzi)

Tickets are $9 plus a processing fee in advance or $12 at the door. Children 7 and under are free.

About Madison Youth Choirs (MYC): According to the organization, “Madison Youth Choirs strives to create a community of young musicians dedicated to musical excellence through which we inspire enjoyment, enhance education, and nurture personal, musical, and social development, by the study and performance of high-quality and diverse choral literature. To this end, we focus on the process and provide singers a rich rehearsal experience where thoughtful discussion and activities lead to larger connections and a music education that becomes a springboard for understanding the world.”

For more information, visit:

Classical music: One musician’s cancellation can make another musician’s career. Just ask conductors Leonard Bernstein, Fabio Luisi and Michael Tilson Thomas; pianists Lang-Lang, Yuja Wang, Jonathan Biss and Jeremy Denk; and singer Renee Fleming among many others.

April 28, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

We are all disappointed when we buy a ticket to hear a well-known musician perform a great piece of music, only to find out that the artist is “indisposed” and has cancelled.

In some cases, of course, it can be downright ludicrous.

For example, whenever pianist Martha Argerich (below) – who was notorious for cancelling concerts – used to release a schedule of her upcoming concerts for the next seasons, some waggish critics would joke about her releasing her list of upcoming cancellations for the next season.

Sometimes it is something as simple as a scheduling conflict. That is how the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra gave us the local debut of the terrific young Israeli-American pianist Shai Wosner (below) last spring when Anne Marie McDermott had to cancel. (She will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Minor with the WCO next March.)

But most often, I suspect it is genuine. Still, there is an upside when a performer becomes ill or sick or otherwise indisposed.

It often marks the beginning of another stellar career and gives a break to a promising artist who needs a break to advance their career or have a major debut. Just ask conductors Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas and Fabio Luisi; pianists Lang-Lang, Yuja Wang, Jonathan Boss and Jeremy Denk; and superstar singer Renee Fleming among many others who got their big break through someone else’s illness.

In fact, you have to wonder if sometimes the famous artist who cancelled wasn’t really sick at all but instead cancelled deliberately to give a younger talented colleague they admired a break in such a competitive profession. Why not? I say. Whatever works.

For example, that’s how soprano Renee Fleming (below) got to make her Metropolitan Opera debut a year earlier than scheduled, much like Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic. And there are many such stories and examples. Just look up musicians’ biographies in Wikipedia and check out their early careers.

Here is a link to a fine in-depth story, which also talks about repertoire complications and how the right substitutes are found, in the Wall Street Journal about that phenomenon:

Have you ever heard a great musician by chance and because he or she was a substitute for the scheduled “indisposed”performer who had to cancel?

Who was it and what did you think?

The Ear wants to hear.

« Previous Page

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,238 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,165,142 hits
%d bloggers like this: