The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players will play music by Russian, British, Canadian and American composers this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

March 1, 2019
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ALERT: If you attend the concert by the Cuarteto Casals tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater, you night want to read local writer and amateur cellist Paul Baker’s interview with the Chicago-born violist who analyzes the interpretation of each piece on the program. Here is a link to Baker’s blog “Only Strings” where you can find the interview: https://onlystringswsum.wordpress.com/author/pbaker/  

For more information about the group and the concert, go to yesterday’s post:  https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/classical-music-this-friday-night-the-wisconsin-union-theater-presents-a-world-class-spanish-string-quartet-and-will-also-announce-the-special-programs-for-its-centennial-anniversary-next-season/

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend, the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) continue their season theme of Vignettes with compositions that depict concepts and stories.

The program includes dances from Panama, a string quartet from Russia and interpretation of the natural world woven into a composition by an American composer.

Performances will take place Saturday night, March 2, at 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, March 3, at 2 p.m. Both concerts will be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side not far from West Towne Mall.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $25 for general admission, $20 for seniors, and $5 for students. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com or call (608) 230-4316 for more information.

Five Novelettes for string quartet by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov (below) showcase the composer’s imagination and romantic writing. From the opening elegance in the Spanish style to the spirited Hungarian character in the finale, each of the five contrasting movements is graceful and captivating.

Red Hills Black Birds was composed by American composer Libby Larsen (below) for clarinet, viola and piano after she viewed contrasting paintings of New Mexico by Georgia O’Keeffe. Many of O’Keeffe’s works embody a sense of perspective, color and horizon. Larsen’s music uses her impressions of O’Keeffe’s art as her compositional focus. She reimagines six paintings of the southwest and shapes her composition to concepts of breadth and timelessness.

Dash for flute, clarinet and piano by American composer Jennifer Higdon (below) is a riotous musical chase. The composer chose these three instruments specifically for their capability of velocity. The unrelenting pulse creates a breath-taking technical sprint for the players.

O Albion by British composer Thomas Adès (below) is excerpted from his string quartet Arcadiana. The music has an ethereal quality and mesmerizes with its slow beauty and simplicity. (You can hear “O Albion” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Trio for flute, clarinet and bassoon is an upbeat piece written by Canadian composer, bassoonist and jazz pianist Bill Douglas. His writing brings together both classical and jazz influences.

The concert concludes with Danzas de Panama by William Grant Still (below) for string quintet and flute. A noted 20th century African-American composer, Still based this piece on Panamanian folk tunes collected in the 1920s. He used the lushness of the songs and compelling rhythms with great success. He was a talented orchestrator and it is hard to resist the panache and charm of the four movements: Taborita, Mejorana, Punto and Cumbia y Conga.

Oakwood Chamber Players members are Marilyn Chohaney, flute; Nancy Mackenzie, clarinet; Amanda Szyczs, bassoon; and Maggie Townsend, cello. They will be joined by guest artists Elspeth Stalter-Clouse, violin; Ariel Garcia, viola; Brad Townsend, bass; and Satoko Hayami, piano.

This is the fourth of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2018-2019 season series entitled Vignettes. Remaining concerts will take place on May 18 and 19.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years. They have also played in other local groups, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


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Classical music: To play or not to play Hanon? Should piano students do five-finger exercises as well as scales and arpeggios? Sergei Rachmaninoff thought so and Stephen Hough thinks so. What do today’s piano students and teachers think?

May 28, 2015
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Should piano students play exercises?

Should they play repetitive five-finger etudes by Hanon (below and in a YouTube video at the bottom), Czerny and other pedagogues?

Should they learn and play scales and arpeggios?

hanon 1

Should they learn them separately? Or within the context of a musical composition?

These remain controversial questions.

But the British classical pianist Stephen Hough (below top) recently blogged about how he and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below bottom) – often considered the greatest pianist of the 20th century as well as a major post-Romantic composer –- defend the practice.

Hough_Stephen_color16

Rachmaninoff

Here is a link to the recent blog post by Stephen Hough for The Guardian newspaper in the UK:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100076542/remembering-what-nourished-our-roots/

The Ear wants to know what you think, especially if you are a pianist, a piano student or a piano teacher.


Classical music: Breakfast on next Sunday morning, Feb. 1, will benefit the choir program at Middleton High School.

January 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends in the music program at Middleton High School have asked The Ear to announce the following fundraiser and benefit:

The Middleton High School Choral Boosters invite you to attend the 21st Annual Country Breakfast on Sunday, February 1, 2014, from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Middleton High School Student Center located at 2100 Bristol Street.

Middleton High School

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and children (10 and under), and can be purchased at the door.

The all-you-can-eat breakfast is not only for enjoying wonderful pancakes, eggs, sausage, fruit and beverages, but also for enjoying the incredible MHS talent showcased all day long from four choirs along with individual solos and ensembles.

(Below is a photo of the Middleton High School Concert Choir and Cantus performing together.)

Middleton High School Concert Choir and Cantus together

Check out the schedule posted at http://tinyurl.com/mrmielke to see when your favorite MHS singer is performing!

Don’t forget the silent auction, too!

All funds benefit the MHS choral music program.

Your support is greatly appreciated!

 


Classical music: BBC Music Magazine names the biggest trends of 2014. What do you think the trends will be in 2015? And bachtrack.com gives out all kinds of statistics about classical musicians in 2014.

January 13, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Which were the busiest orchestras in the world in 2014? What were the most popular works performed? Who were the Top 10 among individual and group performers?

And who were the busiest young conductors?

Some of the answers may surprise you, so it is a good way to educate yourself about the classical scene today. They might even lead you to buy certain recordings or attend certain live concerts.

Others I find to be expected.

Female Orchestra Conductor With Baton

Who were the Top 10 singers, pianists, violinists, string quartets and other individual and ensemble musicians?

What were the most popularly performed works, both from the established repertoire and established composers like Beethoven (below), and from contemporary composers?

Beethoven big

If the answers to these questions intrigue you, then you should follow the two links below to see the trends and statistics report on 2014.

They come from the BBC Music Magazine (below) and bachtrack.com

BBC Music Magazne Top 50

The Ear hopes you enjoy them and learn from them and that they leave with something to say in the Comments section of this blog.

http://www.classical-music.com/news/what-were-biggest-trends-classical-music-2014

http://bachtrack.com/top-ten-statistics-classical-music-2014


Classical music: What is the best music to listen to in sub-zero cold weather?

January 6, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, I know three of the pieces I will NOT be listening to this week: the “Alpine” Symphony by Richard Strauss, the “Sinfonia Antarctica” by Ralph Vaughan Williams and the “Winter Wind” etude by Chopin.

BRRRRRRRR.

This week, we in the Upper Midwest are getting a typical January blast from the Arctic. The low temp last night was -11 degree F. As I am writing, the temperature has risen all the way to -8.

sub-zero weather

It will get above zero today. Briefly.

But then another winter Arctic front moves in and we again drop done below zero again with absolute temps down to -20 and wind chills down to -50 or more. On Wednesday, the daytime high will be -3.

So it seems The Ear will be logging quite a lot of indoor time since no warm up is in store until the weekend.

Hence The Ear’s Question of the Week: When the weather is this dangerously cold and you end up pretty much housebound, what is the music you like to listen to?

Sometimes I want to explore a new piece or a new composer.

But often, feeling deprived of normal activities, I want the comfort of listening to something familiar and maybe a little passionate and Romantic, which translates into “heated.” For one example, look below at the YouTube video of pianist Arthur Rubinstein playing the Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52, by Chopin.

Of course, one could choose works on a grander scale such as symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven or Gustav Mahler, concertos by Robert Schumann or Peter Tchaikovsky, oratorios by George Frideric Handel, masses and requiems, and of course operas by Verdi and Puccini.

Or perhaps, like me, you favor a more intimate but collaborative rather than solo genre -– perhaps a string quartet or the piano trio, one of my favorites. I find the music of Franz Schubert so friendly and empathetic.

There is also some about the music of the Baroque and Classical eras that seems light, rational, clear-headed and reassuring. Something like Comfort Food for the Ears.

So perhaps I will put on some music by Johann Sebastian Bach or some of my favorite chamber music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A week like this could also be a good start on listening to a series, something like all the symphonies or string quartets of Franz Joseph Haydn or all the piano concertos of Mozart.

Another good choice would be to set out to explore the 550 sunny Italian-Spanish keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.

Maybe it is an instrument that provides a respite from the cold — perhaps the guitar.

Anyway: Don’t be shy. Help us get through this bitter cold snap. Please use the Comment section to let The Ear and other readers know what you are listening to in weather like this -– or what you think you would listen to. Or what we should listen to. Include a link to a YouTube performance, if you can.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Which composer, or piece of music, or performer, do you most give thanks for?

November 22, 2012
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.

I give thanks for all kinds of music and don’t know how I would live without music. I think of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (below) and his observation in “The Twilight of the Gods”: “Life without music would be a mistake.”

But is there a special reason for or object of my gratitude?

It can and does change from year to year, from age to age, from mood to mood, and from event to event.

But at any given moment there is usually a piece of music for which I give special thanks, music that seems to embody and enhance and grace my existence. Bach and Mozart have done it. So have Chopin and Schumann. Beethoven does it, but to a lesser degree generally.

These days the composer that I, as a devoted amateur pianist, most give thanks for is Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and the pieces by Schubert I most give thanks for are two.

First comes the big last Piano Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960, which I can’t play, but the poignant and haunting beginning of which – to say nothing of the rest of the sonata  — is especially moving and memorable as performed by Alfred Brendel in his “Farewell Concert” for Decca recording and by Murray Perahia in a Sony Classical set of the last three piano sonatas.

Second comes the miniature “Allegretto” in C Minor, D. 915, also a very late and intimately bittersweet work, which I can play, and which I enjoy as performed by Paul Lewis (on Harmonium Mundi, below) and Maurizio Pollini (on Deutsche Grammophon).

I find Schubert’s warmth and sense of empathy so very touching. His sublime melodies, his sudden major-minor harmony shifts, his sense of accessible counterpoint, his blending of joy and tragedy -– they all are irresistible. Schubert’s music contains worlds, and reassuring worlds at a time when I need to be reassured, and at a time when I also think the world needs to be reassured.

And there is so much music to choose from: the hundreds of fabulous songs and song cycles; the late string quartets, the otherworldly String Quintet, the Octet and the “Trout” Quintet; the Sonatas, Impromptus and Moments Musicaux for solo piano.

 

In a similar way, famed New York Times senior music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) touched on this same theme in a “Musical Moments” column that he published last week and in which he talked about longtime favorite passages or moments in music by Chopin, Wagner, Puccini and Stravinsky. He even coupled his thoughts to short audio-visual clips he made especially to accompany the column.

You should read and listen to the column, plus pay attention to the more than 600 reader comments:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/18/arts/music/anthony-tommasinis-musical-moments.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

And here are links to the short videos that he did to go with his column:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/16/musical-moments-what-moves-us/

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/19/musical-moments-part-ii-a-new-video-on-mahler/

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/musical-moments-part-iii-two-operas/

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/21/musical-moments-part-iv-stravinskys-symphony-of-psalms/

And just as Anthony Tommasini asked you for your favorite moments, I am also asking you to leave something in the COMMENT section with the name of the composer or piece of music for which you are most giving thanks this Thanksgiving.

Let me know what they are.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!


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