The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This Saturday night, Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev returns to the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos to perform popular works by Beethoven, Liszt and Gershwin

January 6, 2020
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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

This coming Saturday night, Jan. 11, at 7:30 p.m., the acclaimed Russian-born pianist Ilya Yakushev (below) will make his fourth recital appearance at the Salon Piano Series.

The concert will be held at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall.

Yakushev — who studied in his native St. Petersburg and at the Mannes School of Music in New York City — has also performed several times with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

He never fails to impress with both his virtuosic technique and his insightful interpretations, whether he is playing Russian repertoire by Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev or jazzy American classics like Gershwin.

“Yakushev is one of the very best young pianists before the public today,” said the American Record Guide about Yakushev who has also won major  international competitions.

For more information about Yakushev, including critics’ reviews, a biography, concert dates and a discography, go to his website: http://www.ilyayakushev.com

The Madison program includes:

Beethoven – Sonata “Pathetique,” Op. 13

Liszt – “Six Consolations” (You can hear the famous Consolation No. 3, often learned by students and played as an encore by concert artists, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Gershwin – music from the opera “Porgy and Bess” in an arrangement for solo piano

An artist’s reception will follow the concert.

Tickets are $45 in advance ($10 for students) or $50 at the door. Service fees may apply. Student tickets can only be purchased online and are not available the day of the event.

You can purchase tickets on line at: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/producer/706809

For more information, go to: https://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

This concert is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Salon Piano Series is a nonprofit founded to continue the tradition of intimate salon concerts featuring exceptional artists. For more information about the series, including upcoming concerts and how to support it, call (608) 271-2626 or go to: https://salonpianoseries.org.

 


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Classical music: Famed radio station WQXR names the best 100 recordings of 2019. Listen to samples of them here

December 28, 2019
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

Did you get a gift card for the holidays?

Are you looking how to spend it by either purchasing CDs or subscribing to a streaming service?

Help and guidance are available.

Few names in the airing of classical music carry more prestige than the famed radio station WQXR in New York City.

To check out the radio station’s choice of the best recordings of 2019 is also to see where the worlds of recording and concertizing are heading.

Such trends include rediscovering neglected composers and championing new music as well as women composers, such as Clara Schumann, and composers of color, such as the American composer Florence Price (below), who has often been featured on Wisconsin Public Radio this past year.

But you will also find noteworthy recordings of such classics as Johann Sebastian Bach – and two of his rarely heard cousins instead of his sons – and well as outstanding recordings of symphonies and piano sonatas (below, the set by Igor Levit) for the upcoming Beethoven Year to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the composer.

And you will also find names of outstanding performers you may not have heard of — such as the exceptional Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang (below), a Van Cliburn Competition gold medalist whom The Ear would like to see perform here.

Here is a link to 25 picks with commentaries– plus another 75 titles and samples, without commentary, to round out a Top 100.

Happy listening!

https://www.wqxr.org/story/best-classical-recordings-2019/


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Classical music: Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev returns to Madison to give a master class and to perform a solo recital of Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Gershwin at Farley’s House of Pianos this Sunday afternoon

November 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you recall the name of Ilya Yakushev (below), it is no doubt from the two impressive concerto appearances by the Russian virtuoso with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and conductor Andrew Sewell.


Madison audiences will finally have a chance to hear Yakushev, who directs the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College of Music in Manhattan, in a solo recital.

It will be held this coming Sunday afternoon, Nov. 12, at 4 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on the city’s far west side near the West Towne Mall. The concert is part of the Salon Concert Series, and a reception will follow the performance.

Tickets are $45, $10 for students. You can call (608) 271-2626 or go online (see below).

The program includes: Sonata in D Major by Franz Joseph Haydn; the Sentimental Waltz by Peter Tchaikovsky; “Pictures at an Exhibition,” in the original solo piano version, by Modest Mussorgsky; and a solo piano version of “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin.  (You can hear Yakushev play the opening part of the Mussorgsky in the YouTube video at the bottom)

On this Saturday, Nov. 11, at 4 p.m. Ilya Yakushev will also teach a master class at Farley’s House of Pianos. Yakushev will instruct three pianists, all of whom are on the piano faculty at Farley’s House of Pianos. This is a FREE event that the public is invited to observe.

The Master Class program includes: Stravinsky’s Piano Sonata (1924) – First movement, performed by Jason Kutz; Beethoven’s Sonata in E Major, Op. 109 “Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo,” performed by Kangwoo Jin; and Ravel’s “Miroirs” (Mirrors) – Third movement “Une barque sur l’ocean” (A Boat on the Ocean) performed by Jonathan Thornton.

For more information about the artist, the program, the master class. other concerts and tickets, go to:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html


Classical music: Sound the trumpets! Brass Fest 4 is this Saturday and Sunday at the UW-Madison

September 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

A fanfare is in order!

By the fourth year, an event has certainly become a tradition to look forward to and to follow.

So it is with Brass Fest IV, which will take place this Saturday and Sunday at the University of Wisconsin’s Mead Witter School of Music.

The activities will fill two days with workshops, master classes and concerts.

Music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” will be featured, along with many contemporary composers and arrangers.

Many of the events, including the big Saturday night concert at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The big Sunday afternoon concert at 2:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, with both brass quintets plus students, costs $15 for adults and $5 for non-School of Music students. A post-concert reception to meet students and other performers is included. (Below are students rehearsing at Brass Fest 3.)

The special guest this weekend is the Beaumont Brass Quintet from Michigan State University (below). Members are Ava Ordman, trombone; Corbin Wagner, horn; Alessandro Bonotto, trumpet; Philip Sinder, tuba and euphonium; and brass area chair; and Justin Emerich, trumpet.

The Beaumont Brass Quintet has recorded a CD of Christmas music for Naxos Records. See the YouTube video at the  bottom.

Also appearing with the Beaumont is the UW-Madison’s own Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson). Members, from left, are: Alex Noppe and Matthew Onstad, trumpets; Tom Curry, tuba; Mark Hetzler, trombone; and Daniel Grabois, horn.

For more information about the many activities, including biographies of the performers, full concert programs, a listing of other events, and tickets, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/brass-fest-iv/2017-09-30/


Classical music: Playing softly is the mark of great music-making

April 5, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Like so many young pianists, when The Ear was young he wanted to project strength. He wanted to play BIG virtuosic pieces and play them FAST and LOUD — even though they were usually way beyond his ability.

Pieces such as the “Appassionata” Sonata and “Emperor” Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, and Prelude in C-sharp minor (“Bells of Moscow”) by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Peter Tchaikovsky.

The “Great Gate at Kiev,” from “Pictures at an Exhibition,” by Modest Mussorgsky.

The ”Military” Polonaise and the “Revolutionary” Etude by Frederic Chopin.

You know, the kind of piece that can easily descend into pounding and banging, but that makes an impression on listeners and people who don’t play — and on the player too!

Back then, doing that kind of muscular music-making seemed the task of a real virtuoso.

But no longer.

Maturity brings an appreciation of subtlety and softness, which are much better hallmarks of musicality. Softness is definitely NOT weakness. In fact for The Ear, softness has become a kind of test of mature musicianship.

The past year or so has been a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that the mark of a really great and mature virtuoso artist is the ability to play softly.

The most recent example came this past Sunday afternoon when The Ear heard pianist Garrick Ohlsson (below) play the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, by Johannes Brahms with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of MSO’s longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.

Garrick Ohlsson

To be sure, the MSO performed absolutely superbly on its own in the 2011 Symphony by Steven Stucky and the tone poem “Don Juan” by Richard Strauss.

But the second half of the concert, devoted to the concerto, was both ear-opening and heart-rending.

The first concerto is a product of Brahms’ youth and is dramatic. Ohlsson, who possess both power and great technique, has no problem getting a huge sound out of the piano when he wants to or playing the most virtuosic passages with absolute fluidness and complete command.

But here is what really mattered: Ohlsson took away the bombast and bluster you so often hear in this early work. You felt as if you were hearing the concerto for the first time or at least hearing it anew.

What emerged was a uniquely convincing and beautifully poetic reading of this famous work – and not just in the slow movement but also in various interludes during the first and third movements. Plus, Ohlsson was joined by DeMain and the MSO whose accompaniment bought into his interpretation and also emphasized subtlety. It was complemented perfectly by the quietly songful encore, which was the lyrical Nocturne in D-flat major by Chopin.

There have been other occasions like that over the past year or so.

Here are just a few.

The duo-pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (below) at Farley’s House of Pianos played an all-Schubert recital and proved how seductive quiet and restrained playing can be.

Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax 2015

UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) can compete with the best when it comes to forceful playing. But what lingers in The Ear’s mind is hearing Taylor’s seductive playing of the slow movement from the Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5, by Johannes Brahms as a great example in how playing softly draws in listeners but requires great virtuosity and control.

Christopher Taylor Recital

Christopher Taylor Recital

Pianist Emanuel Ax (below), who played the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, also demonstrated an uncanny ability to play softly with deep tone.

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

There were other examples in various kinds of music. The Ear recalls beautifully soft singing in some songs by Franz Schubert during the Schubertiade (below) at the UW-Madison in late January.

Schubertiade 2016 Shepherd on the Rock

He also remembers some fantastic quiet playing of Johann Sebastian Bach and Brahms in the debut recital by UW violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt).

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

There are many other examples from other individuals and groups, including the violinist Benjamin Beilman with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; the UW Choral Union in the Gloria by Francis Poulenc; the Madison Opera’s productions of Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Mark Adamo’s “Little Women”; pianist Joyce Yang at the Wisconsin Union Theater; and the Pro Arte Quartet among others.

But you get the point.

It isn’t easy to play softly. In fact, it can be downright hard.

But it makes music so beautiful.

So moving.

So unforgettable.

As listener or player, try it and see for yourself.


Classical music: Today is Super Bowl Sunday, so The Ear asks: Who are the winners and champions in the concert hall? Here are the most popular pieces, composers and soloists. Plus, on Tuesday night, violist Elias Goldstein returns to perform Paganini’s fiendish Caprices in a FREE recital

February 7, 2016
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ALERT: The Ear has received the following note from University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music viola professor Sally Chisholm, who also plays with the Pro Arte Quartet: “Elias Goldstein, who has a doctorate from UW-Madison (2011) and was a Collins Fellow, is playing a concert of all 24 Caprices, originally composed for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini, on VIOLA this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall. Admission is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

“On March 9, he will perform this program at Carnegie Hall in New York City, as the first violist ever to perform all 24 Caprices in one concert. This is such a feat that it is difficult to believe one of our own is accomplishing it. I was with him in Krakow, Poland when he performed 6 of them. He got standing ovations. He is professor of viola at Louisiana State University, won top prizes at the Primrose International Viola Competition and the Yuri Bashmet Viola Competition in Moscow in 2011.”

Elias Goldstein big

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 50th Super Bowl of the NFL, and will be played by the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos in the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, near San Francisco.

It starts at 5:30 p.m. CST.

Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem. Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars will perform in the half-time show. The Super Bowl will be broadcast live on CBS-TV.

super bowl 50 logo

So, one might ask in a society that loves competition, what constitutes The Super Bowl of classical music?

It is a source of endless discussion and often disagreement.

What classical music is the most mainstream, if not best?

Who are the big winners and champions in the concert hall?

A survey, compiled by a student at the UW-Milwaukee, of the most popular or frequently performed composers, works and soloists was recently conducted by the League of American Orchestras. The rest are for the 2010-11 season.

The No. 1 work is a YouTube video at the bottom. It is the Symphony No. 1 in C Minor by Johannes Brahms and is performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its late music director and conductor Sir George Solti.

And on March 11, 12 and 13 the Madison Symphony Orchestra hosts TWO of the Top 10 winners: Pianist Emanuel Ax performing the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven. (The Symphony No. 4 by Gustav Mahler completes the program.)

Emanuel Ax Philharmonia

Here is a link to the complete results along with the method used to gather data:

http://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2014/04/08/league-american-orchestras-performance-data

See what you think and leave a COMMENT.

Do they match up with your preferences and your choices of favorites?

In your opinion, what makes them so popular?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Happy Halloween! Here is some spooky music along with a spooky way to listen to it.

October 31, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

BOO!

Today is Halloween 2015.

halloween

Trick or treat?

The Ear is giving out treats today.

Eeriness has played a role in classical music since its beginning.

So here are the 13 scariest pieces of classical music – with links to performances – as determined by Limelight magazine:

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/features/13-scariest-pieces-classical-music-halloween

halloween black cat

And here is another selection of Halloween music, 10 pieces also with links to performances, from The Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/10/classical-music-pieces-for-halloween.html

Together the two websites offer a wide variety of composers: Camille Saint-Saens, Franz Liszt, Johann Sebastian Bach, Modest Mussorgsky, Hector Berlioz, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gyorgy Ligeti, Antonin Dvorak, Josef Suk, Jean Sibelius, Andre Caplet, Carl Maria von Weber and Franz Schubert.

You could stream them loudly as you do trick-or-treat with neighborhood children.

Halloween witch and haunted house

But The Ear also wants to share what he finds to be a fascinating and irresistible but nonetheless spooky way of listening to the famous Organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, a work that made both lists of music appropriate to Halloween.

The YouTube video uses an ingenious but spooky visual bar graph bar way to follow the music. Try it and see for yourself! Over 25 million people have!

Then leave any suggestions you have for Halloween music, along with a link to a YouTube or other performance if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Here is the new season in June of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

May 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

There are still some smaller-scale concerts left to the season – some chamber music and vocal music by the Oakwood Chamber Players and the Madison Choral Project, for example.

But the next big series of classical music events on tap are the concerts over three weekends in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green during June by the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below).

bddsgroup

As usual, the group – co-founded and co-directed by UW-Madison professor and Madison Symphony Orchestra principal flute Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, a UW-Madison grad who teaches in Berkeley — is known for showcasing well-known and neglected works as well as imported and local musicians.

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

For full information, including tickets information and samples from the 2014 season, here is a link to the BDDS website:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

In the meantime, here is a round-up of this summer’s programs and a schedule of performances.

WEEK ONE | JUNE 12, 13, 14

Stephanie Jutt, flute

Jeffrey Sykes, piano
 Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory 
of Barbara Ekholm

Katarzyna Bryla, violin

Parry Karp (below top), cello
 Sponsored by Sue Cleary Koch

Timothy Jones, bass-baritone

Emily Birsan (below middle), soprano

Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom), piano
 Sponsored by Tim Teitelbaum, 
in memory of Susan Horwitz

Parry Karp

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

 STOLEN MOMENTS

Johann Sebastian Bach: Arias and Duets — Sponsored by Carla & Dick Love

Felix Mendelssohn: Cello Sonata in D Major, op. 58

Gian Carlo Menotti: “Steal Me” from The Old Maid and the Thief

Franz Joseph Haydn: Divertimento in G Major, Hob. IV: 7 — Sponsored by Barbara Johnson

Ludwig van Beethoven: Scottish and Irish Folk Songs and Duets

The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on 
Friday, June 12, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green
 Sunday on June 14, 2:30 PM

ROB THE CRADLE

Dick Kattenburg: Sonata for flute and piano

Dmitri Shostakovich: Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, op. 127

Modest Mussorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death

Louise Farrenc: Trio in E minor, op. 45

The Playhouse (below), Overture Center, Madison on 
Saturday, June 13, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green
 on Sunday, June 14, 6:30 PM

BDDS Playhouse audience

WEEK TWO | JUNE 19, 20, 21

Stephanie Jutt, flute

Jeffrey Sykes, piano
 Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory 
of Barbara Ekholm

Axel Strauss, violin Sponsored by James Dahlberg & 
Elsebet Lund

Jean-Michel Fonteneau, cello 
Sponsored by Dan & Karen Baumann

Alan Kay, clarinet 
Sponsored by Vicki & Jerry Stewart and Katherine Naherny & Roger Ganser

Thomas Kasdorf, piano
 Sponsored by Anne & Peter Wadsack

Axel Strauss

Jean-Michel Fonteneau

Alan Kay 1 BDDS 2014

HONOR AMONG THIEVES

Johann Sebastian Bach: Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1038

John Harbison: Songs America Loves to Sing

Ludwig van Beethoven: Trio in E-flat Major, op. 38, arranged from the Septet, op. 20

Stoughton Opera House on 
Friday, June 19, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green
 on Sunday, June 21, 2:30 PM

BREAKING AND ENTERING

Florent Schmitt: Sonatina in trio, op. 85 — Sponsored by Jane & David Villa

Paul Schoenfield: Country Fiddle Pieces Sponsored by Martha & Charles Casey

Paul Desenne: Haydn Tuyero, Chicharras, Galeones Sponsored by Jane Blumenfeld & Willow Harth

Johannes Brahms: Piano Trio in B Major, op. 8 — Sponsored by Jacob Stockinger, in memory of Judy Schwaemle

The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on Saturday, June 20, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green 
on Sunday, June 21, 6:30 PM

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

WEEK THREE | JUNE 26, 27, 28

Stephanie Jutt, flute

Jeffrey Sykes, piano
 Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory 
of Barbara Ekholm

Romie de Guise-Langloise, clarinet

Orlando Pimentel, clarinet

Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon

Richard Todd, horn

Carmit Zori (below), violin
 Sponsored by Daphne Webb

Hyejin Lee, violin

Ara Gregorian, viola 
Sponsored by the family of John Stoelting, 
in loving memory

Katja Linfield, cello

Zachary Cohen, bass

CarmitZori0752

CROOKED BUSINESS

Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata in B minor, BWV 1030Sponsored by Linda & Keith Clifford

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491 — Sponsored by Norma & Elliott Sober

Johannes Brahms: Serenade in D Major, op. 11, arr. Alan Boustead — Sponsored by Michael Bridgeman, in honor of Jack Holzhueter

Stoughton Opera House on 
Friday, June 26, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater (below), Taliesin, Spring Green
 on Sunday, June 28, 2:30 PM

HIGHWAY ROBBERY

Claude Debussy: Première Rhapsodie — Sponsored by Tim Teitelbaum, in memory of Susan Horwitz

Kevin Puts: Seven Seascapes Sponsored by Miriam Simmons & Jim Cain

Franz Peter Schubert: Octet in F Major, D. 803 — Sponsored by Larry Bechler & Patty Struck

The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on 
Saturday, June 27, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater (below), Taliesin, Spring Green on 
Sunday, June 28, 6:30 PM

taliesin_hillside2

 

 


Classical music: The great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter was born 100 years ago yesterday. Here is a short but comprehensive memoir and appreciation with a lot of biographical information and a good critical appraisal of his playing.

March 21, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday — Friday, March 20, 2015 – brought us the first day of spring.

It also marked the centennial of the birth of the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (below).

Sviatoslav Richter

Richter was such a complex and towering figure that it would take a book to really do justice to him and to his career.

But the following essay by Steve Wigler for the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio) does an excellent job for a short-form piece of criticism.

With one exception that gets no mention.

We now know beyond question that Richter (below) was a gay man who was forced by the Soviet government into a marriage of convenience and camouflage.

Somehow that information seems particularly pertinent to The Ear, given the growing acceptance of LGBT people and of marriage equality.

richterwithcross1

Still, Wigler’s essay is an excellent read and includes a YouTube video – there are many, many YouTube videos of Richter, who had an immense repertoire, playing. This video is of a live performance by Richter in which he plays the last movement of the first piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

You can hear the power and energy, the subtleties and excitement, to say nothing of the originality of interpretation, that Richter brought to music.

Richterconcerto

Enjoy it -– and tell us if you ever heard Richter live and what is your favorite performance by Sviatoslav Richter with a link to a YouTube video is possible.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/03/19/393778706/sviatoslav-richter-the-pianist-who-made-the-earth-move

 


Classical music: It’s time to go back to the future. The classical music scene needs more professional groups to act like the Middleton Community Orchestra and break down barriers between performers and listeners.

June 7, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

There was a time when no professional symphony orchestras existed, at least outside of royal courts. Even Ludwig van Beethoven had to hire freelance pick-up orchestras to premiere his monumental and iconic symphonies and concertos.

That meant that classical music was much more of a home activity and much more of a community affair that it usually is today.

But there are exceptions.

I was reminded of that on Wednesday night when – in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School — I attended the concert that closed the fourth season of the Middleton Community Orchestra (below).

MCO June 2014 orchestra

As I sat there, I realized I was simultaneously getting a glimpse of both the past and the future of classical music, which is under siege and needs some new strategies to thrive and prevail if it is to attract new and younger audiences.

I have written before about why I like the Middleton Community Orchestra so much.

Here is a link to a 2012 review with the nine reasons why I like them and think you should too:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

But this most recent concert only deepened and expanded those convictions.

So here are some of my more recent thoughts, not necessarily deep but perhaps helpful and even insightful:

First and foremost, I liked the way the barriers between the performers and the audience members were broken down. I took some photos of what I saw: brass and string players talking with friends, family members, admirers and strangers both before the concert, during the intermission and then during the social dessert reception after the concert.

It all made the act of music-making seem more humane, more do-able, more central to daily life. Music seemed a cohesive bond for the entire community.

MCO trombonist and public 6-2014

MCO violinist and public 6-2014

I also liked that the community orchestra –- which used some professional members but also many amateur musicians — once again turned in convincing readings of great music.

And they did so by once again spotlighting local talent.

One was pianist and Middleton native, Thomas Kasdorf, who did his undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who returns there in the fall for a graduate degree.

Kasdorf  (below) gave an absolutely thrilling and gorgeous reading of Edvard Grieg’s popular Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16. Here is a link to an interview The Ear did with him:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/classical-music-qa-native-son-pianist-thomas-kasdorf-talks-about-playing-solo-recitals-chamber-music-and-the-grieg-piano-concerto-with-the-middleton-community-orchestra-which-also-closes-out-i/

MCO june 2014 Thomas Kasdorf plays Grieg

Kasdorf played with dynamism and lyricism, drawing a big sound out of the smaller-than-concert grand Steinway. He captured the many moods and beautiful tunes, the infectious rhythms, the long and songful phrases, and the stirring harmonies of Grieg’s evergreen concerto.

Not everyone agreed. Here is critic John W. Barker’s dissent for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/music/article.php?article=42912

No less than pianist-composer Sergei Rachmaninoff  (below) told Arthur Rubinstein that the Grieg Piano Concerto was the best and most effective piano concerto ever composed. And Rachmaninoff, who himself used the Grieg as a model, knew a thing or two about composing and performing piano concertos.

Rachmaninoff

Kasdorf wasn’t alone in excelling.

UW-Madison graduate violist Alice Bartsch (below) also turned in a sublime and moving reading of Antonin Dvorak’s soaringly lyrical Romance in F Minor, Op. 11, for Violin and Orchestra. It was all the more moving because it was her last concert as concertmaster of the MCO before she moves on to a professional job. (You can hear Dvorak’s lovely Romance at the bottom in a popular YouTube video. Tell me it doesn’t make you want to hear more of the tuneful Dvorak’s music.)

MCO June 2014 Alice Bartsch plays Dvorak

In fact, conductor Steve Kurr, who teaches at Middleton High School, also recognized other members of the orchestra who were moving on after this valedictory concert and asked them to stand up for applause — which they received:

MCO June 2014 players who will leave

I also loved the audience. I don’t know them by name, but enough people were there that the house seemed plenty full. Moreover, many of the listeners were very young or looked like people you don’t usually see at events like the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Well, one reason is that the price is right. WCO admission has two prices: $10 for adults and free for students. At that level, who can’t afford to take a chance? It might be nice if bigger groups tried cutting costs instead of increasing them. Affordability begets accessibility, The Ear suspects.

The orchestra, of course, also played on its own. It gave a respectable and at times moving reading to Sir Edward Elgar’s ambitious musical portraits in the “Enigma” Variations. As happened in also in the Grieg, I found especially the brass and percussion outstanding, though all sections, and especially the strings and winds, also held their own and had much to be proud of.

That’s not to say there weren’t mistakes or lapses or shortcomings. But, hey, this isn’t the Berlin Philharmonic. Besides, imperfection is an inherent part of most performing arts. But the orchestra clearly communicated the music’s emotion to the audience, and that is what matters most.

MCO June 2014 Orchestra stands up

The concert finished with the suite of three dances from Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s ballet score for “The Three-Cornered Hat.”

And there was my one criticism.

I am afraid the MCO has unfortunately expanded to imitate more professional organizations. I prefer the 90-minute, no intermission format. I think that could have been done if they had programmed this way: open with the Dvorak Romance; then do the Grieg Piano Concerto; and then finish with the Elgar Variations. (By my reckoning that would add up to about 85 minutes of music, with time left over for some stage changes.)

This concert was just a bit too long. People were tired, especially on a weekday night. And beside, it is nice to get in The Zone and then leave The Zone –- and not try to renter the Zone after intermission. It is also nice to get back home early when work is facing you the next day.

Then came the FREE desserts and the chat between hungry musicians and hungry audience members.

MCO June 2014 reception

But it seemed everyone left with their appetite for music satisfied.

So congratulations then to the MCO co-founders Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic plus conductor Steve Kurr. Over four seasons, they have grown an experimental project into a new tradition that seems to be attracting more people who appreciate them -– as you could tell from the cheers and hearty applause and prolonged standing ovations.

MCO June 2014 standing ovation

Next season promises very good things: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8; Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”; the famous “William Tell” Overture (the “Lone Ranger” theme) by Giacchino Rossini and the Academic Festival Overture and Tragic Overture by Johannes Brahms; plus Thomas Kasdorf again in the great Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky (with, three cheers, Thomas Kasdorf as soloist in what The Ear jokingly calls the Van Cliburn Piano Concerto No. 1) and more.

It is something to look forward to.

All that music and all that fun for all that affordability.

See you then, see you there!

 

 

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