The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Remembering The Modest Maestro. English conductor Sir Neville Marriner died this past week at 92

October 8, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

He played in a string quartet and a symphony orchestra before founding and directing a chamber orchestra that rose to the top ranks of the music world. Then he became a world-famous conductor of larger ensembles, including the Minnesota Orchestra.

He was Sir Neville Marriner (below, in old age), and he died at 92 on Oct. 2.


Perhaps because Marriner, who pioneered period practices on modern instruments when playing music of the Baroque and Classical eras, was famous for recording the soundtrack to the Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus,” his death was announced the same day on radio news programs – something that doesn’t happen often and speaks to his popularity and influence.

By all accounts, in the world of many egotistical maestros, Marriner remained modest. For this friendly titan, music mattered most and he was busy conducting right up until the end. Apparently, Marriner was a wonderful man to know and to work with.

Chances are good that by now you have already heard about Marriner’s death. So The Ear is offering some homages that repeat the details of his career and his passing. (Below is a photo of the young Neville Marriner.)


First are two moving testimonies from Marriner’s friend, the British critic Norman Lebrecht, published on Lebrecht’s blog Slipped Disc:

Here is the announcement of his death from the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (heard playing the Adagio by Tomaso Albinoni in the YouTube video at the bottom), which Marriner founded and led for many years:

Here is an exhaustive obituary from The New York Times:

And here is another obituary from The Washington Post:

Here is a good overview with some audio-visual samples, from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR or National Public Radio:

And here is a good summary from famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City:!/story/conductor-neville-marriner-dies-founded-london-orchestra/?utm_source=local&utm_medium=treatment&utm_campaign=carousel&utm_content=item5

Sir Neville Marriner was a prolific recording artist, with more than 500 recordings to his credit. The Ear fondly remembers an LP that had the Serenades for Strings by the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and the “Holberg” Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, which has been reissued as a “Legends” CD by Decca. The playing was warmly heart-felt and superb.

The Ear also loved his complete set of piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, done with pianist Alfred Brendel.

What are your favorite Marriner recordings?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Prize-winning Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara has died at 87

July 30, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

He was a contemporary composer who wasn’t afraid to change or adapt his compositional style in radically differently ways, and who found a broad public as well as great respect from fellow composers and performers.

He was Einojuhani Rautavaara (below, in a photo from Getty Images), who was considered the most important composer of his country since Jean Sibelius, and he died at 87 this past week.

einojuhani rautavaara GETTY IMAGES

Here is a fine summary and obituary by Tom Huizenga for the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

And here, in the YouTube video below, is the piece, complete with recorded bird songs recorded by the composer — Cantus Arcticus, Op, 61, from 1972 — that Rautavaara is perhaps best known for. It is also the piece that his fellow Finn, conductor Osmo Vanska, now the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, says he most admires.

Classical music: NPR looks back at important classical music events in 2015. How many do you recall?

January 10, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Anniversaries and deaths (below is a link to the musicians we lost in 2015).

Debuts, farewells and unusual tours.

(In a YouTube video at the bottom and below in photo by Yamil Lang for Getty Images, is the Minnesota Orchestra playing in Havana under music director Osmo Vanska during its historic tour to Cuba in May 2015.)

Minnesota Orchestra in Havana with Osmo Vanska May 2015 Getty Images Yamil Lang

Revivals and world premieres.

Appointments and retirements.

What were the notable events in classical music in 2015?

How many do you recall?

The blog Deceptive Cadence, written and posted by NPR or National Public Radio, takes a look back at 2015.


Classical music: The Minnesota Orchestra made history with its recent visit to Cuba. If you missed it, here are stories to catch up. Plus, fans of great singing should hear the Madison Choral Project under the legendary Dale Warland on Sunday afternoon.

May 30, 2015
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ALERT: The Ear attended an outstanding choral concert Friday night. It was put on by the Madison Choral Project with singers (below) plus UW-Madison trumpeter John Aley (far right), cellist Eric Miller and UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer, all under the direction of the legendary conductor Dale Warland. The concert “Music of Our Time” will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. on this Sunday at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. You can park in the lot two blocks away at the UW Foundation. If you love choral music, don’t miss it.

Madison Choral Project 5-15 1

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, President Obama made it official. He removed Cuba from the State Department‘s list of outlaw countries that sponsor terrorism.

The economic and cultural thaw is gathering momentum. And just as happened with the Soviet Union, cultural exchanges are going to play a major role.

The Minnesota Orchestra made history with its recent visit to Cuba, where it gave two concerts, played a side-by-side concert with a youth orchestra, played in a cafe informally with Cuban musicians and tutored music students.

Minnesota Orchestra in Cuba with banner

If you missed it, here are stories — and a YouTube video interview with the orchestra’s Finnish-born music director and conductor Osmo Vanska and orchestra players at the bottom — to catch up.

Here is a photo essay put together by Minnesota Public Radio:

Here is the story from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio):

Here is The New York Times account of the two well received concerts that include the “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven and the two countries’ national anthems:

And here is The New York Times account of a more informal café get-together:

Finally, here is an account from the orchestra’s hometown Minneapolis Star-Tribune:


Classical music: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra gets a new, first-rate hall to perform in.

March 15, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

For a couple of years, the music news coming out of the Twin Cities has been pretty negative. It involved labor strife, personnel strife and economic strife.

But now something welcome and promising, in addition to the resurgence of the Grammy-winning Minnesota Orchestra under Finnish-born conductor Osmo Vanska, has emerged: A new state-of-the-art and unusual hall (below) as the musical home in Ordway Center for the acclaimed St. Paul Chamber Orchestra -– where the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director and the Madison Opera’s Artistic Director John DeMain once served as an associate conductor.

And, of course, a lot of Madison-area residents travel to the Twin Cities to see the sights and maybe hear the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. (In a YouTube video at the bottom, the orchestra performs Johann Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D, with former music director Pinchas Zukerman conducting.)

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra

So important is the new hall as an event that The New York Times sent out a critic to file a review. Here it is:

Classical music: The Minnesota Orchestra will try performing shorter and more informal concerts next season. What do you think? Should that be tried here in Madison and elsewhere?

November 16, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

You may remember that at the beginning of November, The Ear posted a series of 10 suggestions  to improve orchestral concerts (below bottom) intended to draw in bigger, newer and younger audiences.


The suggestions were made by conductor Baldur Bronniman (below).

Baldur Bronniman

I added two suggestions of my own: Make concerts shorter and make tickets cheaper.

The post drew a lot of strong responses, mostly con but some pro, from readers. You should check them out.

Here is a link:

Now I see that, with the help of a grant, the Minnesota Orchestra will try putting on some shorter and more informal concerts. The orchestra recently returned from the brink of bankruptcy and disaster under Finnish Grammy-winning music director Osmo Vanska, who took the same percentage pay cut at his players. (He is below and at bottom in a YouTube video conducting symphonies by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius), 

osmo vanska

While The Ear proposed 90-minute concerts without intermission, it seems the Minnesota Orchestra will try out the 60-minute formula in three concerts between this coming January and June. The programs look pretty good.

(Thanks for directing me to the story goes to Steve Kurr, below, the Middleton High School  music teacher and conductor of the Middleton Community Orchestra, which generally follows a short and more informal programs  for its concerts.)

Steve Kurr conducting

I will be anxious to see the results. So will a lot of other orchestra maestros and administrators, I suspect.

Just maybe we are beginning to see the start of a trend in bringing concert hall practices up to – or down to? — the standards of a high-tech and very busy society that is both timed-deprived and driven by a shorter attention span.

Here is a link to the story:

What do you think of the ideas in general and the experiments in Minnesota?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical Music: At Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts, The Ear always learns as he listens. Here are some lessons from last weekend that will no doubt reappear this coming weekend.

June 26, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

This summer, The Ear has yet to see a missed opportunity or hear a false note from the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which seems headed for a perfect season.

I find that each of the two weekend programs that the BDDS offers in three venues for three weekends each summer usually rewards me with a generous share of pleasure plus important lessons and pleasant surprises. Little wonder, then, that the BDDS has had its best second weekend ever last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to BDDS executive director Samantha Crownover.

Last weekend certainly did offer much pleasure, plus many lessons and surprises, with the “Take a Hike” and “Hasta la Vista, Baby” programs. And there is no reason to think that this coming weekend’s two programs — “Cut and Run” and “Hightail It” — won’t do the same.

So here are some quick looks backward that are likely to serve as good looks forward.

Here is a link for more information about performers, date and times, programs and tickets:

An avid amateur pianist myself, I get to hear terrific pianists whom I can emulate and who inspire me to practice and play better.

Almost every concert features BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Jeffrey Sykes, who teaches at University of California-Berkeley and California State University-East Bay. Sykes never disappoints. He is a master of different styles, color and dynamics — in short, an ideal collaborator.

And last weekend, this Pianist for All Seasons demonstrated yet another skill with his improvised embellishments and ornamentation on themes and passage work in a well-known Mozart piano concerto (Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488).


This weekend Sykes will play by himself in piano trios by Dmitri Shostakovich and Antonin Dvorak with the San Francisco Piano Trio of which he is a member. He will also perform duets and trios with his BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt. Particularly noteworthy is that this weekend, Sykes will again be joined by fellow pianist Randall Hodgkinson (below) in works for one piano, four hands, one by Darius Milhaud with a Charlie Chaplin movie to accompany it.  Hodgkinson teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music and Wellesley College, and he is really good.

Randall Hodgekinson 1

Still, the real piano treat last weekend was tango pianist – and also music arranger -– Pablo Zinger (below), a native Uruguayan who now lives in New York City. Zinger once arranged music for and performed the works of Argentinean tango master Astor Piazzolla. And it was in two evenings of Piazzolla’s tangos that Zinger displayed his amazing skills.

I watched how carefully he pedaled, never overdoing it. I listened to how well he balanced volume with other instruments. I heard his unfailing ability to execute complex rhythms and to quickly but naturally change tempi. I listened to what seemed an undeniably classical keyboard technique that allowed him to play multiple voices independently, as in a Bach fugue. Articulate and laconic, Pablo Zinger (below top, he is talking; below bottom, he is playing) proved nothing short of a master instrumentalist, not just some generic dance-band pianist. I don’t think I will ever forget his rendition with BDDS of Astor Piazzolla’s heartbreakingly beautiful “Oblivion,” which you can hear in a comparable chamber music arrangement in a YouTube video at the bottom.

BDDS 2014 Pablo Zinger talks

BDDS 2014 Pablo Zinger playing

I get to hear first-rate, terrific artists from out-of town.

Some of the performers who were familiar from past BDDS seasons included husband-and-wife cellists Anthony Ross and Beth Rapier, who both play with the Minnesota Orchestra. They are terrific separately and together, as when they played the only Concerto for Two Cellos composed by Antonio Vivaldi (below) whose appealing works we hear played live too infrequently.

Beth Rapier and Anthony Ross BDDS 2014

Violinist Carmit Zori, who is the founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn (NY) Chamber Music Society, never fails to impress me with her sound and her expressiveness. This was especially true is the Romance, Op. 23, for Violin and Piano by Amy Beach, which I had never heard before. (You can hear it below in a YouTube video of Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine, who also discusses the American violinist Maud Powell to whom the Romance was dedicated and who gave the world premiere of the work. Barton Pine will perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra next season.)

The Beach Romance also reminded me of what a great strategy it is to open a concert with a slow piece to help get the audience into The Zone. In a way, it seems like back to the future, back to Baroque-era sonatas that went Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast rather than the Classical-era style of Fast-Slow-Fast in their sequence of movements. More concert programs should do the same.

Carmit Zori BDDS 2014

Clarinetist Alan Kay, who performs in New York City and who teaches at both the Mannes School of Music and the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, proved simply sublime in the great “autumnal” Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms as well as other pieces. What tone, color and control the man has. He made klezmer-like passages both howl with laughter and lament with moans.

Alan Kay 1 BDDS 2014

I get to hear unknown or neglected repertoire, both old and new.

Last weekend, as I said earlier, one gem was the Romance for Violin and Piano by Amy Beach; another was the chamber music arrangement by Johann Nepomuk Hummel of a Mozart piano concerto. I also liked a pampas- or gaucho-inspired work by Alberto Ginastera for cello and piano. Contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov’s string quartet and clarinet called “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (1994) was breathtaking.

This weekend I will get to hear music by composers I have never even heard of: Philippe Gaubert (below top), who, I suspect, sounds a bit like Gabriel Faure, and will feature virtuoso flutist Stephanie Jutt, BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director ; plus another Argentinean composer Angel Lasala (below bottom)  and William Hirtz (below bottom right with pianist Jon-Kimura Parker on the left), who are also complete unknowns to me. That adds excitement.

Philippe Gaubert 2

Angel Lasala

John Kimura Parker (left) and composer William Hirtz

I learned that the importance of dance forms in music survives.

In Baroque suites like the French and English Suites of Johann Sebastian Bach, the Concerti Grossi of George Frideric Handel and of various Italian composers, you find the allemande, gigue, minuet and sarabande among other dance forms.

In the Romantic era, it was the waltz, the polonaise, the mazurka, the polka and the Slavonic Dances of Antonin Dvorak and Hungarian Dances of Brahms.

Right into that tradition fits the Tango or, more precisely, the “new tango” or “nuevo tango.”

I could go on, but, you get the idea.

I find the Bach Dancing and Dynamite programs extremely well planned and then extremely well executed. And I am not alone, as repeated standing ovations demonstrate (below left at the Stoughton Opera House, below right at The Playhouse in the Overture Center).

To miss music and performances as fine as these is to cheat yourself.

And that just doesn’t make sense, does it?

BDDS 2014 Standing ovation in Stoughton

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation



Classical music: Is classical music in America dead or dying? Or is it alive and thriving? The debate rages on. Hear both sides in these essays and videos.

March 8, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

For a couple of months now, a discussion or even a debate has been quietly but vociferously  raging, with lots of adamant back-and-forth, in the blogosphere.

The subject is the state of health –- of lack of health –-of classical music in America. It is a timely and endless topic of debate given the financial difficulties of many symphony orchestras (below, members of the beleaguered Minnesota Orchestra) and opera companies, of record companies, and even of piano sellers.


You can search or Google other sources.

Here is the essay, written from the perspective of a pessimist, that first appeared on and seemed to kick off the controversy:

And for optimists, here are some responses –- from such usually reputable sources as The New Yorker and The Washington Post — and rejoinders that take issue with the initial premise:

And at the bottom are two YouTube videos that take up the question. Be sure to check out viewer comments.

What points — either experiential or theoretical — would you make in defense of one side or the other?

Please leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section.

Have you read other essays supporting either side?

You could also leave some links in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The Minnesota Orchestra will play again – at last — because the long lockout is over. Is this good news in general for classical music? New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini sees optimism amid crises as a lesson of the past year.

January 17, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

By now you have probably heard the good news:

The lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra (below, playing with its Grammy-nominated conductor Osmo Vanska who has resigned) is over. It was ended by an agreement, long sought after and long disputed, between the musicians and the administration.

Minnesota Orchestra with Osmo Vanska

Here are several stories about the ending of the unfortunate situation that even led the superb  and acclaimed conductor Osmo Vanska to resign. (You can hear Osmo Vanska’s farewell speech in a YouTube video at the bottom,  in which he plays with the musicians an performs the “Valse Triste” or Sad Waltz of his fellow Finn Jean Sibelius as a final encore. The sadness of him, the musicians, the audience and the music is palpable.)

The first is a fine summary story from NPR’s outstanding blog “Deceptive Cadence”:

And here is a reaction story from NPR about what’s next that “All Things Considered“:

Here is a story from The New York Times about the same situation followed by another summary:

Of course, the Minnesota Orchestra is just one of several American orchestras that faced serious financial crises. You may recall that last year saw problems for other orchestras, and the New York City Opera (below, with its final production, the world premiere of “Anna Nicole”) even went bankrupt.

anna nicole opera

Yet one longtime and perceptive observer of the classical scene – New York Times senior critic Anthony Tommasini – see good news amid the rules and dire predictions.

Here is a column he wrote recently about “The Lessons of 2013” for classical music. In his column he doesn’t downplay the many difficulties, which mostly concern finances and smaller, aging audiences. But he does suggest that if you take a longer view, the future of classical music doesn’t look quite so bleak or dismal.

Read it and see what you think and whether you agree. Then tell The Ear by sending in your remarks in the COMMENT section of this blog:

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Classical music: It was the best of years and the worst of years. Here is NPR’s year-end national wrap-up of the state of classical music in 2013.

January 4, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

As I said in yesterday’s post, even though we are now into 2014 there is some unfinished business to wrap up for 2013 for reasons that I also explained yesterday. Here is a link:

Most media outlets, from old-fashioned newspapers to high-tech blogs, tend to take a year-end look back at the high points and low points of classical music as well as other forms of art and culture. But they tend to favor local performances and trends – even the venerable and first-class New York Times, the national newspaper that sets the media’s agenda, nonetheless generally focuses on The Big Apple as the center of the cultural universe.

So imagine my delight when I found a really good wrap-up of national trends, and even international events, on NPR’s great classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence.” It even opens up your eyes to what The Industry considers to be classical music by revealing the “classical” music that made it onto the Billboard charts of best-sellers.

The post was compiled and documented on by the blog’s director, Tom Huizenga, (below top) with, I suspect, help from the always informed and creative Anastasia Tsioulcas (below bottom).


anastasia tsioulcas

What is especially praiseworthy is that it is comprehensive with much food for thought; it also seems to The Ear to be fair and balanced, neither boosterish nor alarmist; and it includes a lot of photos and a lot of links to develop any particular story that grabs you even further.

So here it is — from the mixed state of symphony orchestras (the locked out Minnesota Orchestra, which lost its conductor Osmo Vanska to labor strife, is below top) to the demise of the New York City Opera with the world premiere of the new opera “Anna Nicole” (below bottom) to the issue of bullying LGBT teenagers to various anniversaries of works and composers including the centennials of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and of the birth of Benjamin Britten.


Anna Nicole opera  StephanienBerger

It should easily provide you with some fine reading on what promises to be a bitterly cold and mean January weekend and work week.

Enjoy. And now it is onward to the high notes and low points of 2014!

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