The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear hears the impressive young pianist Joyce Yang and thinks Madison needs more piano recitals. Plus, a FREE concert of female vocal duets is at noon on Friday.

October 22, 2015
9 Comments

ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held 12:15-1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature sopranos Susan Savage Day and Rebekah Demaree with pianist Sharon Jensen in duets by Gabriel Faure, Jacques Aubert, Jules Massenet, Claudio Monteverdi, UW-Madison alumnus Lee Hoiby and more.

By Jacob Stockinger

There he was last Thursday, sitting in the lower balcony in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Ear was in Piano Himmel, listening to a masterful performance.

The occasion was a solo piano recital by Joyce Yang (below), an up-and-coming, prize-winning Korea-born and America-trained pianist, still in her late 20s, who was making her Madison debut.

Joyce Yang

And the same thought haunted The Ear, himself an avid amateur pianist, that also came to him during a fine student piano recital this summer.

That thought was simply this: Madison needs to have many more solo piano recitals.

The piano is perhaps the one most commonly studied musical instrument and is a staple of music education, so the potential audience should be there. The repertoire is vast and wonderful. And the piano just hasn’t been receiving its due compared to the many new choral groups and chamber music ensembles that always seem to be proliferating in the area.

The Wise Teacher recalls years ago when almost a dozen solo piano recitals happened during a single season. This season there are only three -– and two have already taken place.

One was the recital of Mendelssohn, Franck and Chopin by Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino (below top)  on Oct. 4 at Farley’s House of Pianos on its Salon Piano Series. (The Ear couldn’t go because he is was in Chicago that afternoon hearing a piano recital by Maurizio Pollini.) The second was by Joyce Yang. The third one will be the performance by UW-Madison virtuoso professor Christopher Taylor (below bottom) on Friday, Feb 26. (No program has yet been announced.)

Daniel del PIno square

Christopher Taylor new profile

Here is an afterthought: Maybe the Madison Symphony Orchestra could start a piano series like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra offers on Sunday afternoons?

Let’s be clear: This is a matter more of pleasure and education than of justice.

Take Yang’s performance, which drew an unfortunately small house of only 300-400.

The first half was remarkable for both the clarity and color she possessed. Ethnic themes, folk songs and folk dances, especially Latin American and Spanish in nature, united the first half of her program.

She opened with two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the three “Estampes” or Prints by Claude Debussy and two pieces from “Iberia” by Isaac Albeniz and three virtuosic “cowboy” dances by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera.

In all those works, Yang proved a complete and mature keyboard artist. Her technique is rock solid, but it is her musicality that most impresses the listener. The Ear was particularly struck by Yang’s command of dynamics, her ability to play softly and still project, and to delineate and balance various voices.

The second half, all works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, proved less satisfying to The Ear, if not to the audience. It featured two transcriptions of vocal works or songs — “Dreams” and  “Vocalise”  — by the late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild (below).

earl wild

Unfortunately, Wild himself possessed a Lisztean (or Horowitzean) command of keyboard technique. And like Franz Liszt (or Vladimir Horowitz), Wild just couldn’t resist adding Liberace-like flourishes, flash and trash to his transcriptions in places where simplicity rather than Big Chords would have more than sufficed.

At certain points in a Wild transcription, the work inevitably sounds louche or decadent and over-the-top, like something you might hear at a piano bar or in a cocktail lounge. In short, they are more piano than music. (You can listen to Earl Wild himself performing his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Then came  the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Rachmaninoff (below) in its revised 1931 edition. To be honest, this is a Big Piece that is full of sound and fury signifying not very much that The Ear can discern. (The Ear much prefers Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, preludes and Etudes Tableaux.)

To be sure, the bombastic sonata requires impressive and powerful piano playing, which must explain the muscular work’s popularity among professional pianists and certain segments of the public. It is a Wower and wow us it does, although many of us would rather be seduced than wowed.

Rachmaninoff

The sonata surely is effective in live performance and brought an immediate standing ovation. That, in turn, was rewarded with another Earl Wild transcription this time of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Too bad the love once again seemed overpowered by difficult but flawlessly executed scales and runs.

But putting those shortcomings aside, the sound of an amazingly played piano recital was such a welcome experience.

The Ear hopes that many more of them are somehow in store.

 


Classical music education: Do early music lessons change the brain and affect language learning by older children?

September 15, 2012
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Scientists are still working at making all the connections and determining all the effects.

But a new study from Northwestern University suggests that early music lessons do indeed positively affect the structure of the brain and help older children learn other important things, including language.

In fact, music lessons may be more important than budget-cutters often think.

Here is a great round-up story that appeared in the Science Times section of the New York Times this past week:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/10/early-music-lessons-have-longtime-benefits/


Classical music: Let us now praise French trumpeter Maurice Andre, dead at 78, whose mastery sparked a revival of Baroque and Classical repertoire and helped launch a renaissance in brass.

March 3, 2012
7 Comments

ALERT and UPDATE: Due to treacherous road conditions, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet concert that was scheduled for Friday night at 8 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall was canceled. However, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet will perform its FREE concert as scheduled tonight at 8 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall.

By Jacob Stockinger

It is not very often that a musician gets a change to change and remake the public’s perception of his instrument and the repertoire for that instrument, even to advance that perception and spark a kind of renaissance that alters music history.

Certain performers come immediately to mind: Wanda Landowska and the harpsichord; Andres Segovia and the guitar; Jean-Pierre Rampal and the flute; Heinz Holliger and the oboe; Jordi Savall and the viola da gamba. There are others.

Ranking high among them is French trumpeter Maurice Andre (below), who died last week week at the age 78. He pioneered a renaissance of great trumpet playing (especially on his trademark piccolo trumpet), and arguably of brass playing in general, and especially helped revive the Baroque and Classical era repertoire for his instrument.

I first got to know Andre’s performances when his version of Fasch’s Trumpet Concerto was on the Musical Heritage Society’s original issue of the Paillard Chamber Orchestra’s version of the bestselling recording of Pachebel’s Canon in D.

But then I heard him in Haydn (at bottom), Hummel, Vivaldi, Albinoni, Purcell and so much more.

From the first, his playing seemed to me filled with joie de vivre, the embodiment of the Biblical injunction to make a joyful noise. It was clear that Maurice Andre loved what he was doing.

Andre reminded me of a classical cross between jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, playing with both heat and cool. He  possessed great chops or technique. His playing was sensual but also had clarity, that ice water-like bracing transparency of tone, that I identify with, say, pianist Andras Schiff. To my mind, the fusing of those two qualities made Andre’s playing quintessentially French.

Andre’s playing possessed the force of a great declarative sentence that relies on verbs, not nouns or adjectives. It seemed irresistible and essential, never flowery of puffy.

In its breath control and long phrases, his playing seemed easy and effortless — the mark of a true virtuoso.

He was a hard worker with boundless energy and stamina who often played 180 dates a year.

And he was prolific in the studio. When you look him up at Amazomn.com, you get almost 500 hits.

And he is remembered as an unassuming man who never thought of himself as a star and who never forgot his time as a young coal miner.

Here is a link to some colorful obituaries and appreciations:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/02/27/147497910/virtuoso-trumpeter-maurice-andr-dies-at-78

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/music-obituaries/9109388/Maurice-Andre.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/feb/29/maurice-andre?newsfeed=true

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/maurice-andre-french-master-of-the-classical-trumpet-dies-at-78/2012/03/02/gIQA6nRqnR_story.html


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