The Well-Tempered Ear

Which classical composer has helped you the most during the Covid-19 pandemic?

January 4, 2021
6 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

The holidays are over and as we close in on marking a year of the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, The Ear has a question:

Which composer has helped you the most to weather the pandemic so far?

The Ear wishes he could say Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin or Brahms. And the truth is that they all played a role, some more than others.

But The Ear was surprised by the composer whose works he most listened to and liked — Antonio Vivaldi (below), the Red Priest of Venice who lived from 1678 to 1714 and taught at a Roman Catholic girls school.

Here is more about his biography, which points out that his work was neglected for two centuries and began being rediscovered only in the early 20th-century and still continues being rediscovered to the present day: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Vivaldi

The Ear isn’t talking about popular The Four Seasons although that set of 12 solo violin concertos has its charms and originalities.

The Ear especially appreciated the lesser-known concertos for two violins and the cello concertos, although the concertos for bassoon, flute, recorder, oboe, lute, trumpet and mandolin also proved engaging, as did the concerto grosso.

It was the 20th-century composer Igor Stravinsky (below) – the modern pioneer of neo-Classicism — who complained that Vivaldi rewrote the same concerto 500 times. “Vivaldi,” Stravinsky once said, “is greatly overrated – a dull fellow who could compose the same form many times over.”

But then did anyone turn to Stravinsky – who, The Ear suspects, was secretly envious — when they needed music as medicine or therapy during the pandemic? 

Vivaldi was, in fact, a master. See and hear for yourself.  In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear a performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in G minor, RV 535,  performed by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.

Why Vivaldi? You might ask.

Well, it’s nothing highbrow.

The best explanation is that Vivaldi’s music simply seems like caffeine for the ears and sunshine for the eyes. His music isn’t overly introspective or glum, and it isn’t too long or melodramatic.

The melodies and harmonies are always pleasing and energizing, and the tempi are just right, although bets are that the music is much harder to play than it sounds.

In short, Vivaldi’s extroverted music is infectious and appealing because it just keeps humming along — exactly as those of us in lockdown and isolation at home have had to do.

Happily, there are a lot of fine recordings of Vivaldi by period instrument groups from England, Italy and Germany and elsewhere that use historically informed performance practices. But some the most outstanding recordings are by modern instrument groups, which should not be overlooked.

With a few exceptions – notably Wisconsin Public Radio – you don’t get to hear much Vivaldi around here, especially in live performances, even from early music and Baroque ensembles. If you hear Vivaldi here, chances are it is The Four Seasons or the Gloria. Should there be more Vivaldi? Will we hear more Vivaldi when live concerts resume? That is a topic for another time.

In the meantime, The Ear wants to know:

Which composer did you most listen to or find most helpful throughout the pandemic?

Leave your choice in the comment section with, if possible, a YouTube link to a favorite work and an explanation about why you liked that composer and work.

The Ear wants to hear.

Thank you and Happy New Year!

 


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Here are the classical music nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in 2021

November 28, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s time again for the annual Grammy Awards (below).

Although determined by the recording industry and often considered promotional marketing, they might be more helpful given the peculiar circumstances of the past year.

After all, the coronavirus pandemic has changed our listening habits.

Perhaps you now listen mostly via computer to virtual online concerts and performances that are streamed.

Perhaps you listen to Compact Discs using home stereo systems.

Perhaps you subscribe to a streaming service such as Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and others.

However you listen to music, you might find the following list useful, especially as it comes at the beginning of the holiday shopping and gift-giving season.

You might also find the nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards informative about individual musicians and musical groups in your area.

They can help you judge how many or how few contemporary composers and new works get performed.

Performers provide other examples. You might find it interesting, for example, that soprano Sarah Brailey (below) has been nominated for her role in the solo vocal work “The Prison” by Ethel Smyth. Brailey is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music and a co-founder and performer of the free monthly Just Bach concerts.

Pianist Shai Wosner (below, in a photo by Marco Borggreve), who played late Schubert sonatas at the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, is included in a list of producer awards for his recording of those sonatas.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Florentine Opera have been nominated for a recording of Carlisle Floyd’s opera “Prince of Players.” 

Conductor Julian Wachner (below top), violinist Augustin Hadelich (below middle) and pianist Jonathan Biss (below bottom) have all performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, some more than once.

Soprano Laquita Mitchell (below) — who has sung with the Madison Opera — has been nominated for her performance in the choral work “Sanctuary Road” by Paul Moravec. 

Cellist Matt Haimovitz (below top) and composer Luna Pearl Woolf (below bottom) have been nominated for the latter’s “Fire and Flood.” Both have appeared with UW-Madison orchestral and choral groups.

If you notice more local connections, please leave word in the Comment section.

The winners will be announced on CBS Television the evening of Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021.


73. Best Engineered Album, Classical
An Engineer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA
Bernd Gottinger, engineer (JoAnn Falletta, James K. Bass, Adam Luebke, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)
 

·      GERSHWIN: PORGY AND BESS 
David Frost and John Kerswell, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (David Robertson, Eric Owens, Angel Blue, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)
 

·      HYNES: FIELDS
Kyle Pyke, engineer; Jesse Lewis and Kyle Pyke, mastering engineers (Devonté Hynes & Third Coast Percussion)
 

·      IVES: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES (below)

Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, engineers; Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineers (Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
 

·      SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONY NO. 13, ‘BABI YAR’
David Frost and Charlie Post, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (Riccardo Muti and Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

·  
  74. Producer Of The Year, Classical
A Producer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

·      BLANTON ALSPAUGH

• Aspects Of America – Pulitzer Edition (Carlos Kalmar and Oregon Symphony)
• Blessed Art Thou Among Women (Peter Jermihov, Katya Lukianov and PaTRAM Institute Singers)
• Dvorak: Symphony No. 9; Copland: Billy The Kid (Gianandrea Noseda and National Symphony Orchestra)
• Glass: The Fall Of The House Of Usher (Joseph Li, Nicholas Nestorak, Madison Leonard, Jonas Hacker, Ben Edquist, Matthew Adam Fleisher and Wolf Trap Opera)
• Kahane: Emergency Shelter Intake Form (Alicia Hall Moran, Gabriel Kahane, Carlos Kalmar and Oregon Symphony)
• Kastalsky: Requiem (Leonard Slatkin, Steven Fox, Benedict Sheehan, Charles Bruffy, Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, The Saint Tikhon Choir, Kansas City Chorale and Orchestra Of St. Luke’s)
• Massenet: Thaïs (Andrew Davis, Joshua Hopkins, Andrew Staples, Erin Wall, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra)
• Smyth: The Prison (Sarah Brailey, Dashon Burton, James Blachly and Experiential Orchestra)
• Woolf, L.P.: Fire And Flood (Julian Wachner, Matt Haimovitz and Choir Of Trinity Wall Street)

·      DAVID FROST (below)

• Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 9 (Jonathan Biss)
• Gershwin: Porgy And Bess (David Robertson, Eric Owens, Angel Blue, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus)
• Gluck: Orphée ed Eurydice (Harry Bicket, Dmitry Korchak, Andriana Chuchman, Lauren Snouffer, Lyric Opera Of Chicago Orchestra and Chorus)
• Holst: The Planets; The Perfect Fool (Michael Stern and Kansas City Symphony)
• Muhly: Marnie (Robert Spano, Isabel Leonard, Christopher Maltman, Denyce Graves, Iestyn Davies, Janis Kelly, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus)
• Schubert: Piano Sonatas, D. 845, D. 894, D. 958, D. 960 (Shai Wosner)
• Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13, ‘Babi Yar’ (Riccardo Muti, Alexey Tikhomirov, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus)

·      JESSE LEWIS

• Gunn: The Ascendant (Roomful Of Teeth)
• Harrison, M.: Just Constellations (Roomful Of Teeth)
• Her Own Wings (Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival)
• Hynes: Fields (Devonté Hynes and Third Coast Percussion)
• Lang, D.: Love Fail (Beth Willer and Lorelei Ensemble)
• Mazzoli: Proving Up (Christopher Rountree, Opera Omaha and International Contemporary Ensemble)
• Sharlat: Spare The Rod! (NOW Ensemble)
• Soul House (Hub New Music)
• Wherein Lies The Good (The Westerlies)

·      DMITRIY LIPAY

• Adams, J.: Must The Devil Have All The Good Tunes? (Yuja Wang, Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• Cipullo: The Parting (Alastair Willis, Laura Strickling, Catherine Cook, Michael Mayes and Music Of Remembrance)
• Ives: Complete Symphonies (Gustavo Dudamel & Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• LA Phil 100 – The Los Angeles Philharmonic Centennial Birthday Gala (Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• Langgaard: Prelude To Antichrist; Strauss: An Alpine Symphony (Thomas Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony Orchestra)
• Nielsen: Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 2, ‘The Four Temperaments’ (Thomas Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony)

·      ELAINE MARTONE

• Bound For The Promised Land (Robert M. Franklin, Steven Darsey, Jessye Norman and Taylor Branch)
• Dawn (Shachar Israel)
• Gandolfi, Prior and Oliverio: Orchestral Works (Robert Spano and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)
• Singing In The Dead Of Night (Eighth Blackbird)
• Whitacre: The Sacred Veil (Eric Whitacre, Grant Gershon and Los Angeles Master Chorale)

75. Best Orchestral Performance
Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra.

·      ASPECTS OF AMERICA – PULITZER EDITION (below)
Carlos Kalmar, conductor (Oregon Symphony)
 

·      CONCURRENCE
Daniel Bjarnason, conductor (Iceland Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      COPLAND: SYMPHONY NO. 3
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
 

·      IVES: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
 

·      LUTOSLAWSKI: SYMPHONIES NOS. 2 and 3
Hannu Lintu, conductor (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra)

76. Best Opera Recording
Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.

·      DELLO JOIO: THE TRIAL AT ROUEN
Gil Rose, conductor; Heather Buck and Stephen Powell; Gil Rose, producer (Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Odyssey Opera Chorus)
 

·      FLOYD, C.: PRINCE OF PLAYERS 
William Boggs, conductor; Keith Phares and Kate Royal; Blanton Alspaugh, producer (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Florentine Opera Chorus)
 

·      GERSHWIN: PORGY AND BESS (below)
David Robertson, conductor; Angel Blue and Eric Owens; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus)
 

·      HANDEL: AGRIPPINA
Maxim Emelyanychev, conductor; Joyce DiDonato; Daniel Zalay, producer (Il Pomo D’Oro)
 

·      ZEMLINSKY: DER ZWERG
Donald Runnicles, conductor; David Butt Philip and Elena Tsallagova; Peter Ghirardini and Erwin Sturzer, producers (Orchestra of The Deutsche Oper Berlin; Chorus of The Deutsche Oper Berlin)

·    

77. Best Choral Performance
Award to the Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble.

·      CARTHAGE
Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
 

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA (below)
JoAnn Falletta, conductor; James K. Bass and Adam Luebke, chorus masters (James K. Bass, J’Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon, Kenneth Overton, Hila Plitmann and Matthew Worth; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and UCLA Chamber Singers)
 

·      KASTALSKY: REQUIEM
Leonard Slatkin, conductor; Charles Bruffy, Steven Fox and Benedict Sheehan, chorus masters (Joseph Charles Beutel and Anna Dennis; Orchestra Of St. Luke’s; Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, Kansas City Chorale and The Saint Tikhon Choir)
 

·      MORAVEC: SANCTUARY ROAD
Kent Tritle, conductor (Joshua Blue, Raehann Bryce-Davis, Dashon Burton, Malcolm J. Merriweather and Laquita Mitchell; Oratorio Society of New York Orchestra; Oratorio Society of New York Chorus)
 

·      ONCE UPON A TIME
Matthew Guard, conductor (Sarah Walker; Skylark Vocal Ensemble)

·       

78. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
For new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (24 or fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.

·      CONTEMPORARY VOICES
Pacifica Quartet
 

·      HEALING MODES
Brooklyn Rider
 

·      HEARNE, T.: PLACE
Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods and Place Orchestra
 

·      HYNES: FIELDS
Devonté Hynes and Third Coast Percussion
 

·      THE SCHUMANN QUARTETS
Dover Quartet

·      

79. Best Classical Instrumental Solo
Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable.

·      ADÈS: CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA
Kirill Gerstein; Thomas Adès, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      BEETHOVEN: COMPLETE PIANO SONATAS (below)
Igor Levit
 

·      BOHEMIAN TALES
Augustin Hadelich; Jakub Hrusa, conductor (Charles Owen; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks)
 

·      DESTINATION RACHMANINOV – ARRIVAL
Daniil Trifonov; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor (The Philadelphia Orchestra)
 

·      THEOFANIDIS: CONCERTO FOR VIOLA AND CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
Richard O’Neill; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)

·       

80. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album
Award to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors, chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more playing time of new material.

·      AMERICAN COMPOSERS AT PLAY – WILLIAM BOLCOM, RICKY IAN GORDON, LORI LAITMAN, JOHN MUSTO
Stephen Powell (Attacca Quartet, William Bolcom, Ricky Ian Gordon, Lori Laitman, John Musto, Charles Neidich and Jason Vieaux)
 

·      CLAIRIÈRES – SONGS BY LILI and NADIA BOULANGER
Nicholas Phan; Myra Huang, accompanist
 

·      FARINELLI
Cecilia Bartoli; Giovanni Antonini, conductor (Il Giardino Armonico)
 

·      A LAD’S LOVE
Brian Giebler; Steven McGhee, accompanist (Katie Hyun, Michael Katz, Jessica Meyer, Reginald Mobley and Ben Russell)
 

·      SMYTH: THE PRISON
Sarah Brailey and Dashon Burton; James Blachly, conductor (Experiential Chorus; Experiential Orchestra)

·       

81. Best Classical Compendium
Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) and Engineer(s) of over 51% playing time of the album, if other than the artist.

·      ADÈS CONDUCTS ADÈS
Mark Stone and Christianne Stotijn; Thomas Adès, conductor; Nick Squire, producer
 

·      SAARIAHO: GRAAL THEATER; CIRCLE MAP; NEIGES; VERS TOI QUI ES SI LOIN
Clément Mao-Takacs, conductor; Hans Kipfer, producer
 

·      SEREBRIER: SYMPHONIC BACH VARIATIONS; LAMENTS AND HALLELUJAHS; FLUTE CONCERTO
José Serebrier, conductor; Jens Braun, producer
 

·      THOMAS, M.T.: FROM THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and MEDITATIONS ON RILKE
Isabel Leonard; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Jack Vad, producer
 

·      WOOLF, L.P.: FIRE AND FLOOD
Matt Haimovitz; Julian Wachner, conductor; Blanton Alspaugh, producer

·      

82. Best Contemporary Classical Composition
A Composer’s Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.

·      ADÈS: CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA
Thomas Adès, composer (Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès and Boston Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA
Richard Danielpour, composer (JoAnn Falletta, James K. Bass, Adam Luebke, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)
 

·      FLOYD, C.: PRINCE OF PLAYERS (below)
Carlisle Floyd, composer (William Boggs, Kate Royal, Keith Phares, Florentine Opera Chorus and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      HEARNE, T.: PLACE
Ted Hearne, composer (Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods and Place Orchestra)
 

·      ROUSE: SYMPHONY NO. 5
Christopher Rouse, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)

If you want to see many more nominations, including those for pop, rock, folk, hip hop, jazz and videos, go to: https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2021-grammys-complete-nominees-list


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TONIGHT at 7:30 the UW-Madison offers free but conflicting online concerts of opera and percussion music

November 24, 2020
1 Comment

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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight – Tuesday, Nov. 24 – at 7:30 p.m. the University of Wisconsin’s Mead Witter School of Music will offer two FREE but competing events online.

You would think with so many empty spots in the events calendar due to the coronavirus pandemic that such conflicts could be avoided.

In any case, whichever concert you choose to watch – or perhaps to toggle back and forth between the two – here are the details:

OPERA SCENES

The first concert, done by University Opera, is Opera Scenes.

According to the website description: “What was to be Opera Workshop’s Fall Opera Scenes program has morphed in a delightful way.

“This term, each singer undertook an in-depth study of one particular operatic role. We’ll be presenting the fruits of that study – excerpted recitatives and arias from The Coronation of Poppea, Don Giovanni and Orfeo ed Euridice – staged in each student’s adapted habitat, and filmed by the students themselves.”

Here is the program with specifics about the singers and the selections as well as other aspects such as direction and accompaniment:

UW-Madison Opera Workshop: Professors Mimmi Fulmer, Thomas Kasdorf and University Opera head David Ronis (below) are the directors; William Preston and Molly Schumacher are the TAs.

“Batti, batti” and “Vedrai carino” from “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Zerlina: Maria Steigerwald
Directors: Molly Schumacher and David Ronis
Pianist: William Preston

“Chiamo il mio ben così” and “Che farò senza Euridice” from “Orfeo ed Euridice” by Christoph Willibald Gluck

Orfeo: Emily Quartemont
Director: David Ronis
Pianist: Thomas Kasdorf

“Or sai chi l’onore” and “Non mi dir” from “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Donna Anna: Sachie Ueshima
Director: Mimmi Fulmer
Pianist: Thomas Kasdorf

Excerpts from Act I, Scenes 3, 4, and 10 from “L’incoronazione di Poppea”by Claudio Monteverdi. (Below is a photo by Michael R. Anderson of a previous fully staged production in 2018 by University Opera of the Monteverdi opera.)

Poppea: Molly Schumacher
Director: Mimmi Fulmer
Pianist: William Preston

Here is a direct link to the one-hour production: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANcPY9sLGls

UW CHAMBER PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE

Also tonight is a concert by the UW-Madison Chamber Percussion Ensemble (below), directed by Anthony Di Sanza and Thomas Ross.

It takes place in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the Hamel Music Center, and will run from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. No in-person attendance is allowed.

The UW-Madison Chamber Percussion Ensemble is dedicated to the performance of significant and engaging works for the Western percussion ensemble tradition. Repertoire from diverse trends in 20th and 21st century chamber composition is explored with an emphasis on new compositions for percussion.

Here is a direct link to the live-streamed concert, with more information  about the program and the names of the players if you click on “Show More”: https://youtu.be/iZKO8pZmomA

And here is the program of the mostly new music:

Living Room Music (in the times of Covid) (1940) by John Cage and heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.
I. To Begin
II. Story
III. Melody
IV. End

Spanesque Oscillations (2003) by Steve Riley

For High Hats (2017) by Matt McBane

INTERMISSION

Marimbaireachd (1997) by Matthew Welch

The Lonelyness of Santa Clause (1994) by Fredrik Andersson

Metric Lips (1988) by Bela Fleck (arr. Steinquest)


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The UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra will provide a welcome break on Election Night

November 1, 2020
2 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

If you find yourself needing some relief or a short break from vote counting and the barrage of election news this coming Tuesday night, Nov. 3, the masked and socially distanced UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) fits the bill.

The group’s refreshingly short, one-hour and intermission-free online video premiere begins at 7 p.m. CST on YouTube. There is no fee for watching the event in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the Hamel Music Center, although donations are welcome.

No in-person attendance is allowed.

The program features “Strum” (1981) by Jessie Montgomery (below, in a photo by Jiyang Chen); the famous and familiar Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler (which you can hear with conductor Claudio Abbado in the YouTube video at the bottom); and the youthful Sinfonia No. 7 in D minor by Felix Mendelssohn, who wrote 13 of the string symphonies between the ages of 12 and 14.

 

Here is a direct link to the UW-Madison music school’s YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/TMNCy9qooCM

Just a personal note of appreciation and encouragement from The Ear: If you are a fan of orchestral music and pay attention to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Middleton Community Orchestra, for example, then you owe to it yourself to become acquainted with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra if you don’t already know it.

It is that good, as you can hear for yourself in this virtual concert during the pandemic. You will probably find yourself wanting to hear more.

The programs are outstanding and often feature neglected, modern and contemporary music as well as classic repertoire, and the playing is usually first-rate.

The orchestra sounds exceptionally good, often even professional, under its new conductor Oriol Sans (below), a native of Spain who arrived here last season from a post at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Sans has provided remarkable leadership both in the orchestra’s programs and in accompanying the University Opera productions and the UW Choral Union.

For more information, including the names of the orchestra’s members, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-madison-symphony-orchestra-video-premiere/

If you listen to it, please let us know: What did you think?

Did the performances please or impress you?

Did you like or dislike the scheduling on Election Night?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: Today is Sept. 11, 2020. Here is music to mark the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks during the coronavirus pandemic. What would you choose?

September 11, 2020
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CORRECTION: The Virtual Gala fundraiser for the Handel Aria Competition started last night, and will end on Thursday, Oct. 1 – NOT on Oct. 11, as mistakenly stated in yesterday’s blog headline. Here is a link with more information: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/09/10/classical-music-the-worldwide-virtual-and-online-gala-fundraiser-for-the-handel-aria-competition-starts-today-and-runs-through-oct-10-donations-will-be-matched-up-to-2000/

By Jacob Stockinger

Today marks 19 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

For the basic information, here is a Wikipedia summary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks

There are many ways to remember and honor the dead and the injured in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and Shanksvillle, Pennsylvania. And in past years, The Ear has offered many different ones.

There are the well-known requiems by Mozart, Brahms, Verdi and Faure; passions by Bach; and other works.

There are also the pieces especially composed for the commemoration, including “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning work by John Adams that incorporates police tapes and phone calls, and Steve Reich’s “WTC 9/11.”

But this year there is the coronavirus to deal with and complicate the commemorations.

Here is a story from NBC News about how the official commemorations, both real and virtual, will be affected by the pandemic.

And somehow in such circumstances, it feels like back to basic is a good approach.

So here, in the YouTube video at the bottom, is the most universal piece of mourning that The Ear knows: American composer Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” as played by Leonard Slatkin conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

It serves to mark 9/11 but perhaps also the more than 190,000 American deaths so far from the Covid-19 pandemic.

You can find other versions and other pieces on YouTube:

What piece would you want to hear to mark this sad and solemn occasion?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: This summer the Token Creek Festival goes online. The music starts TODAY at 4 p.m. Concerts run daily through Sept. 15 and remain up for this month

September 2, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival normally occurs in the final weeks of summer, just before Labor Day, in the welcoming rustic comfort of the beautifully converted barn (below) located on the rural farm property of composer John Harbison and violinist Rose Mary Harbison.

With its normal concert season canceled due to Covid-19, the festival is pleased to announce an alternative for the summer almost ended.

Slightly later than usual, “MUSIC FROM THE BARN” is a two-week virtual season, a retrospective of concert compilations from 30 years of performances.

The topical programs will be released daily over the period Sept. 1–15 at 4 p.m. (CDT), and will remain posted and available to “attendees” throughout the month. From anywhere in the world, you can revisit whole programs or individual pieces.

The goal of the series has been to achieve the broadest possible representation of repertoire and artists who have graced the Token Creek stage since the series began in 1989.

To festival-goers, it will come as no surprise that the virtual season emphasizes music of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, vocal music, works by artistic director John Harbison and his colleagues, and, of course, jazz.

In addition to the welcoming beauty of the barn and festival grounds, with sparkling creek and abundant gardens and woods, and the convivial intermissions at every concert, one of the features most beloved by audiences is the concert introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient and MIT professor John Harbison (below) that begins each program. Happily, these remain a feature of the virtual season as well.

Season Schedule

Tues., Sept. 1: Welcome and introduction from the artistic directors (below and  in the link to the YouTube video at the bottom)

TODAY, Wed., Sept. 2: Founders Recital

Thurs., Sept. 3: Haydn Piano Trios

Fri., Sept. 4: Bach I: Concertos

Sat., Sept. 5: A Vocal Recital (I)

Sun., Sept. 6: Beethoven

Mon., Sept. 7: Contemporaries

Tues., Sept. 8: Early Modernists

Wed., Sept. 9: A Vocal Recital (II): Schubert and Schumann

Thurs., Sept. 10: Jazz 2003-2019

Fri., Sept. 11: Neo-classicists: Pizzetti, Martinu, Stravinsky

Sat., Sept. 12: Schoenberg and His Circle

Sun., Sept. 13: Mozart

Tues., Sept. 14: John Harbison: Other Worlds

Wed., Sept. 15: Bach II: Preludes, Fugues, Arias, Sonatas

Programs will be posted on Token Creek’s YouTube Channel, accessible from the festival website (https://tokencreekfestival.org), which will also host concert details: works, artists, program notes and other information.

All concerts are FREE and open to the browsing public.

In addition to the virtual concert season, the Token Creek Festival is pleased to release two new CDs.

A Life in Concert (below) features music written for Rose Mary Harbison by John Harbison, and performances of diverse music by the two of them. It includes the world premiere recordings of Harbison’s Violin Sonata No. 1 and Crane Sightings: Eclogue for Violin and Strings, inspired by frequent encounters with a pair of sandhill cranes at the Wisconsin farm.

Wicked Wit, Ingenious Imagination (below) offers four piano trios by Haydn, a beloved genre the festival has been surveying regularly since 2000.  CDs will be available at the festival website by mid-September.

For more information, go to: https://tokencreekfestival.org

https://tokencreekfestival.org/2020-virtual-season/welcome/#


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Classical music: What composer or piece of music would you like to hear once the coronavirus is contained and concert halls open again?

August 15, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The news can be confusing and even contradictory about some specifics, but the general direction of reports and statistics about the coronavirus pandemic and deaths from COVID-19 is clear.

It is going to be a long haul until we safely get to go hear live music in large crowds again, just as The Ear talked about earlier this week. (Below is a photo of conductor John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra in Overture Hall.)

Here is a link to that post: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/classical-music-its-clear-to-the-ear-it-will-be-at-least-another-full-year-before-music-lovers-in-the-u-s-can-safely-attend-live-concerts-what-do-you-think/

When performers finally get to play, and the concert halls finally get to open, and audiences finally get to listen in person, here is what The Ear wants to know:

What composer would you like hear?

Maybe Beethoven (below) because so much of the Beethoven Year – marking the composer’s 250th birthday this coming December – has been canceled or postponed?

Maybe Johann Sebastian Bach (below) because he just seems so basic, varied and universal?

And what specific piece of music would you like to hear?

Perhaps Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony “Choral” with its “Ode to Joy”? Or maybe the “Eroica” Symphony? Or one of the string quartets?

Perhaps the “St. Mathew Passion” or the Mass in B Minor? Maybe one or more of the cantatas?

Should the music pay homage to the suffering, loss and death – perhaps with Mozart’s “Requiem”? Or Brahms’ “A German Requiem”? Or Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony?

Or should the music be upbeat and joyous, like Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture” (below in the YouTube video)? Or some glittering and whirling waltzes by the Strauss family?

Is there an opera that seems especially relevant?

Would you prefer instrumental, choral or vocal music?

And what period, era or style would you prefer?

It will be great to be reacquainted with old and familiar friends. But it would also seem an ideal time to commission and perform new music.

Leave your suggestions in the Comment section with, if possible, a link to a YouTube performance to help us decide.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: Leon Fleisher, the inspirational pianist and teacher who died a week ago, had ties to Madison

August 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Famed American pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher (below, in a photo by Chris Hartlove), who also conducted, died of cancer at 92 last Sunday, Aug. 2.

Wisconsin Public Radio, like many other media outlets including National Public Radio (NPR) and most major newspapers and television stations, devoted a lot of time to tributes to and remembrances of Fleisher.

That is as it should be. If any musician deserved it, Fleisher did.

Fleisher (1928-2020) was a titan who became, over many years and despite major personal setbacks — stemming from an almost paralyzed right hand — a lot more than a keyboard virtuoso.

But despite lots of air time, less well covered has been his relationship to Madison audiences, who had the pleasure of seeing and hearing him several times in person.

In 2003 and then again in 2016 (below top) — at age 88 — Fleisher performed with the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below bottom).

Both times he played the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, a masterpiece of chamber music. He and his wife, Katherine Jacobson, also performed a joint recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater in 2009.

Fleisher felt at home in Baroque, Classical, Romantic and even modern music. He was renowned as an interpreter of Brahms. Indeed, his early and widely acclaimed recordings of both Brahms piano concertos as well as of the Waltzes and Handel Variations remain landmarks.

Once he was again playing with both hands, Fleisher also recorded the piano quintet for Deutsche Grammophon with the Emerson String Quartet, another frequent and favorite performer in Madison. (You can hear the finale in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a this blog’s review of his last Madison appearance: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Leon+Fleisher

Fleisher liked performing with the Pro Arte, and therein lies another historical tale.

His most influential teacher — the famed pianist Artur Schnabel, with whom the San Francisco-born Fleisher went to study in Europe when he was just 9 — also played often with the earlier members of Pro Arte Quartet. Together they recorded Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet by Franz Schubert, and that recording is still in the catalogue and available on Amazon.

Fleisher discusses studying with Schnabel in his entertaining and informative 2010 autobiography “My Nine Lives” (below).

Fleisher was a child prodigy who made his name while still young. Famed French conductor Pierre Monteux – who conducted the world premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in Paris — called Fleisher the “musical find of the century.” Fleisher made his concerto debut at 16 with the New York Philharmonic under Monteux.

Fleisher was just 36 and preparing for a tour with the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell – a perfect pairing and a conductor with whom he recorded all the Beethoven and Brahms concertos among may others – when he found he could not uncurl the last three fingers of his right hand.

Various diagnoses and causes were offered, and many cures were tried. In the end, it seems like that it was a case of focal dystonia that was caused by over-practicing, especially octaves. “I pounded ivory six or seven hours a day,” Fleisher later said.

After a period of depression and soul-searching, Fleisher then focused on performing music for the left hand; on conducting; and especially on teaching for more than 60 years at the Peabody Institute, located in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University.

There he helped shaped the career of many other famous pianists, including André Watts, Yefim Bronfman and Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Julian Edelstein), who played when Fleisher received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007. (All three have performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Here is an inspiring overview of Fleisher’s life and career from the Peabody Institute: https://peabody.jhu.edu/faculty/leon-fleisher/

And here is another short biography from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Fleisher

Here are three especially noteworthy obituaries:

NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/08/02/702978476/leon-fleisher-the-pianist-who-reinvented-himself-dies-at-92

The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/02/arts/music/leon-fleisher-dead.html

The Washington Post, written by critic Anne Midgette who worked with Fleisher on his memoir: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/leon-fleisher-sublime-pianist-with-one-hand-or-two-dies-at-92/2020/08/02/c7c98f90-527d-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_story.html

The Ear has always found Fleisher’s playing remarkable for its technical fluency combined with the utmost clarity and exacting but flexible sense of rhythm. He always managed to make a piece of music sound just right, as it was intended to sound. His musicality always seemed innate and perfectly natural.

Sample it for yourself. The Ear thinks the performance of all five Beethoven concertos with George Szell still sets a high standard with its exciting, upbeat tempi, its exemplary balance between piano and orchestra, and its exceptional engineering.

The affable Fleisher will long remain an inspiration not only for his playing and teaching, but also for his determination to overcome personal obstacles and go on to serve music — not just the piano.

Did you ever hear Leon Fleisher play live or in recordings? What did you think?

Do you have a comment to leave about the legacy of Fleisher?


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Classical music: On Fridays in July, the critically acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players will offer both past performances and some new performances to be live-streamed

July 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following public announcement to post from the Willy Street Chamber Players (below), a terrific chamber music group that he named as “Musicians of the Year” in 2016.

For more details and to subscribe to their email list, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

WE MISS YOU!

Today —  July 10 – would have been the day of our first concert of 2020.

Although it’s sad to think about what could’ve been, we look forward to new beautiful experiences with all of you in the years to come.

In the meantime, we have some exciting news!

We didn’t want you to go without your weekly Friday evening Willy Street Chamber Players fix this July, so we have put together some video memories that we’ll be sending out over the next few weeks.

Check your inbox on Fridays this month — you may want to add us to your email address book — for a weekly archived performance.

This week would’ve been one of our favorite events: our annual admission-free Community Connect performance at the Goodman Community Center.

In honor of that, we’d like to share a fun tidbit from 2017’s performance – Astor Piazzolla’s invigorating “Four, for Tango!” (Editor’s Note: You can see it and hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

We hope this short preview will get you excited for archived performances from Immanuel Lutheran Church in the coming weeks.

We’ll also be announcing some special live-streamed performances happening later this summer. We can’t wait to share what we have in store!

 


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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra uses a new website and a new brochure to announce its new Masterworks season plus other innovations

May 23, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

In many ways, there is much that is familiar or tried-and-true about the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below, in a photo by Mike Gorski) and its new Masterworks season for 2020-21.

But in other ways it seems as if the WCO is reinventing and rebranding itself – perhaps under the direction of its new CEO Joe Loehnis – as the ensemble starts a double anniversary: its 60th season of existence and its 20th year under the baton of music director Andrew Sewell (below in a photo by Alex Cruz).

As in past years, the WCO programs feature a mix of familiar composers and works with new and neglected ones. It also features both new and returning guest soloists.

Start with what’s new.

The new WCO home website – like the new brochure that has been mailed out — has been redesigned, with more visuals and more information about the 34-member orchestra. The Ear finds both the new brochure and the new home page to be more attractive, better organized and easier to use. Take a look for yourself: https://wcoconcerts.org

There also seems to be a heightened emphasis on donations and raising money, including a new organization called “Friends” that brings special benefits for $30 or even more perks at $8 a month.

And the website seems more customer-friendly. There is a section on the website about “What to Expect,” which includes how to choose seats, how to dress, when to applaud and so forth. There is also a portal for streaming events and concerts.

There is more, much more, including the pre-concert dinners for the Masterworks concerts and the culturally diverse programs for the postponed Concerts on the Square (below), to run this summer on Tuesday nights at 6 p.m. (NOT the usual Wednesdays at 7 p.m.) from July 28 to Sept. 1.

There seems to be more emphasis on Sewell, who this year provides extensive first-person notes about each program and the guest artists. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Sewell discuss the new Masterworks season with Wisconsin Public Radio host and WCO announcer Norman Gilliland.)

This season will see two performances of Handel’s “Messiah”: one on Saturday, Dec. 19, at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton; and another downtown on Sunday, Dec. 20, at the UW-Madison’s Hamel Music Center.

The Masterworks series of concerts – held on Friday nights at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center – will begin in late November rather than in late January. The six concerts include five new ones and the postponed appearance of harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, whose appearance this season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, on May 14.

Two of the concerts – on two Saturdays, Feb. 20 and April 10 – will also be performed in the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield at the Sharon Lynn Wilson Center for the Arts (below).

You can read more about the community outreach and music education programs, especially the Youth and Education programs. They include the free Family Series and “Side by Side” concerts (below, in a photo by Mike DeVries for The Capital Times, WCO concertmaster Suzanne Beia, right, tutors a WYSO student); the Super Strings educational program; and the Young Artists Concerto Competition for grades 9-12.

Here are the Masterworks series:

NOV. 20Pianist John O’Conor (below) returns in a program of the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” by Beethoven; the Septet by Igor Stravinsky; and the Symphony No. 1 in D Major by Luigi Cherubini.

JAN. 15Cellist Amid Peled (below, in a photo by Lisa Mazzucco) returns in a program of Cello Concerto No. 1 by Dmitry Kabalevsky and the Andante by Jacques Offenbach; plus the Wind Serenade in D minor by Antonin Dvorak; and the Symphony No. 34 by Mozart.

FEB. 19Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky (below) in returns in Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires”; plus the Suite for Strings by Leos Janacek.

MARCH 19Grammy-winning Spanish guitarist Mabel Millán (below) making her U.S, debut in an all-Spanish program that features the Concierto del Sur (Concerto of the South) by Manuel Ponce; the Sinfonietta in D major by Ernesto Halffter; and the overture “Los Esclavos Felices” (The Happy Slaves) by Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga.

APRIL 9Pianist Michael Mizrahi (below), who teaches at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wis., on the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Beethoven plus the Serenade No. 1 by Johannes Brahms.

MAY 14Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis (below) in the Harp Concerto by Alberto Ginastera; plus the Sinfonietta by Sergei Prokofiev and the Symphony no. 88 by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Single tickets, which go on sale in July, are $15 to $80. Season subscriptions are available now with seat preference through July 1, bring a discounted price with an extra 10 percent off for first-time subscribers.

For more information, go to the website at https://wcoconcerts.org; call 608 257-0638; or mail a subscription form to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Attn: Subscriptions; PO Box171, Madison, WI 53701-0171.

 


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