The Well-Tempered Ear

Here is some classical music for voting in a presidential and Congressional election and waiting for the results.

November 6, 2012
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ALERT: This Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW cellist Parry Karp (below), who also plays in the Pro Arte String Quartet, will perform a FREE concert. He will perform with pianists brother Christopher Karp and father Howard Karp. The program features “Angélus! Prière aux anges gardiens” from Third Year of “Years of Pilgrimage” by Franz Liszt; the WORLD PREMIERE of MADISON-BORN AND UW-MADISON-EDUCATED COMPOSER Nils Bultmann’s Suite for Solo Cello, an homage to J.S. Bach‘s Solo Cello Suite No. 1; “Lasst mich allein,” Op. 82, No. 1, by Dvorak; Sonata in D major for Piano and Cello, Op. 102, No. 2, by Beethoven; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 “Héroïde-Élégiaque” by Liszt; and the Sonata in F minor for Piano and Clarinet, Op. 120, No. 1, by Johannes Brahms and transcribed by Parry Karp.

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, it’s too bad, isn’t it, that we don’t have the American equivalent of British ceremonial music for coronations and other major public events.

After all, today happens only once every four years.

It is Presidential Election Day in the U.S. with the entire world watching whether incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama (below top) wins reelection or whether Republican Party challenger Mitt Romney (below bottom) successfully unseats him – to say nothing of how the US Senate and House end up going.

Such an event would seem to invite music.

But although Baroque composer George Frideric Handel (below) wrote such occasional or ceremonial works as the “Water Musick” and the “Royal Fireworks Musick,” he apparently never got around to penning “Election Musick.”

Of course, democratic elections were not very common when he was composing music back around the 18th century in Germany, Italy and England.

But recently NPR’s outstanding classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” feature a couple of entries that are pertinent to the special day and event.

One post featured music and the reader quiz about the relevant issue of POLITICS, even with kings and royalty portrayed in opera:

The other posting, using a lot of opera, focused on THE WHITE HOUSE and its parallels in art and opera:

As for me, I don’t really know what music to choose.

But it should be something American, don’t you think?

The pundits and polls say the presidential race is tight, as are many others, and we will all be awaiting word, uplifting or depressing, about the winners. So The Ear thinks that the oh-so-Yankee mysterious and haunting piece “The Unanswered Question” by Charles Ives (below) is a fine choice (see at bottom).

But if you can think of other appropriate classical music – NOT Sousa marches, patriotic songs, doggerel jingles or campaign songs, please –– than please leave a message and a link n the COMMENT section.

Have a good Election Day and don’t forget to get out and vote.

Then listen for word of the winners — and to the beauty of Ives.


Classical music: The Ear gives a hearty “shout out” to the politically progressive musicians in the Minnesota Orchestra who publicly support marriage equality and oppose a proposed state constitutional ban against same-sex marriage.

August 6, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Here’s a well-deserved shout out!

The Minnesota Orchestra has done some remarkable work and made noteworthy and prize-winning recordings in recent years under the direction of Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska (below). They  include acclaimed cycles of Beethoven, Jean Sibelius and Anton Bruckner symphonies and concertos.

But to The Ear, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra (below) were especially brave when, as a group that depends on public sponsorship and public patronage, they publicly went on record as supporting marriage equality and opposing a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in the state of MInnesota.

Here is a link to the story:

That is the enlightened and compassionate stand to take, and I say congratulations to them for taking a progressive stand in a progressive state that has lately earned a reputation as a conservative Republican state because of Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann and possible Mitt Romney vice-presidential choice, Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Minnesota Progressives, including Hubert Humphrey, would be proud!

And so is The Ear.

Classical music review: Madison Opera’s production of Philip Glass’ “Galileo Galilei” proved a timely, well told tale of truth-telling during the endless demagoguery of presidential primaries and the growing number of anti-evolution science-deniers.

January 31, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Thank you, Madison Opera. We needed that – especially given today’s Florida Republican primary.

We needed to be reminded of what true intelligence and  truth-telling are.

I am talking about the Madison Opera’s production, with four sold-out performances, of Philip Glass’ chamber opera “Galileo Galilei.”

To be honest, it is not the best work by Glass (below) I have ever heard, even though it dates from 2002 and is mature Glass that has its appeal. But because the opera has never been recorded or put on DVD or film, it is a terrific choice to stage to mark the composer’s 75th birthday, which happens to be today—coincidentally, the same day as the hotly contested Florida Republican primary.

Plus, it is the Madison Opera’s first foray into Glass, or into minimalist opera for that matter – a brave move that deserves to be praised and repeated perhaps with other Glass works or maybe something by John Adams.

But that is just one way in which this production of “Galileo,” which I saw Sunday afternoon, has proved timely.

It also was a success in that it marked four successive years of sold-out mid-winter performances for operas done in smaller venues of the Overture Center like The Playhouse and Promenade Hall. Previously, the Madison Opera staged Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land,”  Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw” (below) and Kurt Weill‘s “Threepenny Opera.”

Clearly, there is a market for the smaller, less common works. It would seem these smaller and more experimental winter productions are here to stay, and I applaud that heartily. I can’t wait to see what the next season brings.

Finally, I also found the production timely on another count.

It tells the story of the Renaissance Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (below), who explored the heavens with his telescope and who defended the heliocentric, or Sun-centered, model of the universe at a time when the all-powerful Roman Catholic Church – using the Bible as an inerrant source — insisted on the Earth-centered model of the ancient Greek Ptolemy.

So this was the tale of a genuine, authentic truth-teller; the story of someone who, as the Quakers say, spoke Truth to Power, who championed facts over faith. True, he recanted his revolutionary thoughts under threat of torture and death, and spent the remainder of his life under house arrest and with the guilt of knowing he was right for speaking out and wrong for recanting.

But still, there is something inspiring in the 10 scenes of the opera that trace the trajectory of Galelio’s quiet but inquisitive heroism from youth and middle age to old age with the death of his daughter and the persecution by the Church. There is something I find reassuringly modern and also challenging about using The Scientist — and the Scientific Method — as hero.

That in itself made the production unforgettable for me since these days it is good to be reminded that what is democracy but a form of science, of peer-reviewed government, if you will. Without democracy, science is stifled. Without facts, and based only on faith, democracy degenerates and withers.

But free inquiry does not mean a free license to distort and tell untruths.

Some men and women don’t seem to know the difference between truth and truthiness. Galileo did.

But to listen to news reports right now, and for the rest of this year, is to be barraged with slanders, distortions and outright lies from all the candidates, including Barack Obama, but especially from Mitt Romney (below) and Rick Santorum to say nothing of the defeated Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. Politics just isn’t as intellectually honest as science. 

Still, the most odious to me is Newt Gingrich (below). He styles himself a smart man and deep thinker, and he is educated through a doctorate. But he seems smart only in some kind of pompous and smarmy, conniving and self-promoting way. Best I can tell, he is not an intellectual in the way that genuinely deep thinkers and open-minded explorers are. That is the take-away lesson of “Galileo” for me, at least at this particular time and in this particular place.

As for the production itself, there was much to praise — and to justify the standing ovation it received. The set by Barry Steele was quite inventive and effective in using projections of Renaissance gardens and celestial maps, though the blurry soft-focus eventually became more distracting than any sharp focus might have been.

The 13 musicians, most from the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Kelly Kuo (below), performed very well. Glass’ music is much harder to play than it sounds. It isn’t their fault, after all, that too much of Glass sounded the same with a kind of repetitive jackhammer aesthetic that either you take to or you don’t. I’ve heard better scores from Glass. This one could have used a few melodic lines or motives for the individual characters.

Among the singers, many of whom played multiple roles, tenor William Joyner (below right, in  a photo by James Gill) and baritone John Arnold (below left) stood out as the older and younger Galileo, respectively.

Local talents, including Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below, second from right in a photo by James Gill), Allisanne Apple (second from left) and Jennifer DeMain – curiously, all mezzo-sopranos – acquitted themselves well and dependably. (Saira Frank is on the far right.)

I also liked the effective scenes with the Inquisitors, the Cardinals and the Pope, where the singing and acting seemed in balance.

I found the mood-setting costumes by Karen Brown-Larimore a good match to the story and setting. And I liked the engaging staging by A. Scott Parry (below) up until that last five minutes, when the singers doffed their costumes for street clothes and did some silly Matisse-like Zodiac dance around the old but vindicated, if now lame and blind, Galileo before they traipsed off stage, arms waving in the air, and passed by the audience as they sang some monotonous  ta-taaa–ta-ta-taa of the score. It all seemed too much like a bad Be-In from the 1960s. Even the singers seemed uncomfortable and awkward with the finale, as if they were being asked to chant Hare! Hare! Krishna! Krishna!

Galileo, both the man and the opera, fared very well for the most part but deserved a better end. Staying in character and in the Renaissance period seemed much preferable to me.

But there is certainly room to disagree. Here are some other reviews for you to compare mine with:

John Barker’s review for Isthmus, for example, focuses more on the production and less on the context:

Lindsay Christians’ review for The Capital Times and 77 Square gives you a good sense of the technology that was used:

Here is Greg Hettmansberger’s review for Madison Magazine and its blog “Classically Speaking”:

And here is Bill Wineke’s exceptionally honest and candid review for Channel 3000:

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