The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which well-known composers or works can’t you stand and consider overrated?

August 5, 2017
21 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

We all have them: Composers and well-known works we just don’t like and consider highly overrated.

Composers whose musical works are deemed masterpieces by some but just don’t speak to others.

The Ear recently saw a blog post on the Internet in which a musically sophisticated British listener ranted against Johannes Brahms (below) – the epitome for so many of carefully crafted, soulful late Romanticism — and about how unlistenable and overwritten Brahms’ music is.

The Ear also knows several people who think that the music of the Classical pioneer Franz Joseph Haydn (below) is boring beyond bearable, that his music is thoroughly second-rate or forgettable – even though the great contemporary American composer John Harbison calls Haydn the most undervalued and underplayed of the great composers.

The 12-tone, serial and atonal composers – Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alan Berg – also come in for more than their fair share of dismissal.

For The Ear, one of those composers who divide the world in two – into those who love him and those who hate him – is Alexander Scriabin (below), the late Russian Romantic (1872-1915).

Oh, some of the early piano preludes and etudes are OK, largely thanks to the obvious influence of Chopin.

But even though Scriabin died young, he developed his own mature style, including the use of a mystical chord and a taste for apocalyptic and visionary frenzy .

To The Ear, those late works seem way too over-the-top and out-of-control, lacking in discernible structure and significance.

Not long ago, Wisconsin Public Radio played Scriabin’s symphonic tone poem “The Poem of Ecstasy.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Is The Ear the only person who finds it more like “The Poem of Agony”?

And then there are the late, virtuosic and pretentious piano sonatas called “White Mass” and “Black Mass” – favorites of the great Russian piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (below) who, as a child played for Scriabin.

When it comes to the Russian school, The Ear far prefers the emotion in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and even Peter Tchaikovsky.

Well, what can you do? Such is taste.

So today, The Ear wants to know: Are there famous composers or famous works that you just can’t stand and consider highly overrated?

Leave the name and the reason you hate it so much in the COMMENT section.

Here’s hoping for some interesting and surprising responses.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The acclaimed Madison Choral Project will perform its third annual Holiday Concert this FRIDAY night (NOT Saturday) and Sunday afternoon. It features two world premieres plus readings from Shakespeare, Rumi and the Bible

December 15, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed Madison Choral Project (below top), under the direction of its founder and conductor Albert Pinsonneault (below bottom) — who used to teach at Edgewood College and now teaches at Northwestern University — will present two performances of its third annual holiday concert, “A Procession of Angels,” this weekend.

(NOTE: You can hear the Madison Choral Project singing its beautiful a cappella arrangement of the carol “Angels We Have Heard on High” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Madison Choral Project 5-15 1

Albert Pinsonneault 2

The popular Holiday program will be performed twice in Madison; this Friday night, Dec. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ at 1609 University Ave. and again on Sunday night, Dec. 20, at 2:30 p.m. at Lutheran Church of the Living Christ, 110 N. Gammon Rd.

The concerts feature Christmas music, as well as music from other traditions, and TWO WORLD PREMIERES of new compositions: “My Brilliant Image” by Madison composer and MCP singer Jasper Alice Kay (below top); and a new arrangement of “Deck the Hall” by the award-winning composer Jocelyn Hagen (below bottom). Other guests artists are also featured.

Jasper Alice Kay

Jocelyn Hagen

Wisconsin Public Radio‘s news director Noah Ovshinsky (below) again joins the MCP to read selected texts that relate to the theme of the concert. There will also be a chance for the audience to join in on some holiday sing-alongs.

Noah Ovshinsky

Music by composers such as Dominick Argento (below top), Felix Mendelssohn (below bottom), Alexander Sheremetev, William Billings, Ola Gjeilo and Kenneth Jennings, among others, will represent many of the points of view that unite the public in reflection upon the season.

dominick argento 1

mendelssohn_300

Also featured is John Aley (below), a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of music and the virtuoso principal trumpet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and the reading of texts by William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Hildegard von Bingen as well as from the Bible and from the mystic Sufi Arabic and Persian poets Ibn Arabi and Rumi.

john aley color

The Madison Choral Project, founded in 2012, is Madison’s professional choir. Its 22 voices are made up of professional singers, teachers and graduate students from the Madison Area.

The MCP says it “is committed in its mission to enrich lives in our community by giving voice to the great music of our diverse world; to express, to inspire, to heal; to garner joy in the experience of live music; and to educate and strengthen the next generation of singers and listeners.”

Tickets are available in advance at www.themcp.org as well as at the door of each performance venue. ($25 at the door, $20 advance tickets and $10 student tickets with student I.D.)

For more information, visit: http://themcp.org


Classical music: The Rural Musicians Forum offers two FREE but contrasting modern “Magnificats” — by Jonathan Willcocks and Alan Hovhaness — this coming weekend in Spring Green and Plain.

December 2, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Rural Musicians Forum — which is directed by Kent Mayfield (below) of Milwaukee and which does such a laudable service by bringing classical music to rural areas in south  central Wisconsin — send us the following word about some remarkable performances this coming weekend:

Kent Mayfield  Rural Musicians Forum

“The Rural Musicians Forum welcomes the holiday season with two Advent concerts in early December. Each concert features the ancient text of the “Magnificat” in two dramatically contrasting modern musical settings for orchestra, chorus and soloists.

One performance will be at 7 p.m. on this Friday, Dec. 5, at the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church (below), at 253 West Washington Street in Spring Green.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The second is at 3 p.m. on this Sunday, Dec. 7 at the basilica-like St. Luke’s Catholic Church (below), at 1240 Nachreiner Avenue, in Plain.

St Luke's Church in Plain

Both concerts will be directed by Gregory Dennis (below), who is widely appreciated around the state for his able choral direction.

Gregory DennisJPG

The concerts are NOT ticketed. A free-will offering will be received. These concerts are underwritten in part by support from the Spring Green Area Arts Coalition, the Spring Green Arts and Crafts Fair, Kraemer Brothers LLC and generous individual donors.

“The first work is from the British composer, Jonathan Willcocks (below), who is known for a broad range of choral and orchestral music, much of it written for television and film, as well as for King’s College Christmas celebrations.

His “Magnificat” is a melodious, rhythmic and colorful piece, set in five contrasting movements from the Latin with two additional 15th-century texts in praise of the Virgin Mary and interweaves the Latin of the Church with the English of the common people — as if interweaving spiritual and secular themes through the use of two languages.

Jonathan Willcocks 2

“The second setting for the “Magnificat” is strikingly different. Influenced by the sounds and rhythms of the Holy Land, Alan Hovhaness (below) — who is also known as an “American mystic” — captures the mysticism, the beauty and the burning ardor of early Christianity. The result is an experience of intense longing, a declaration of grateful praise and resounding jubilation from voices filled with faith. (You can hear the opening of the Magnificat by Alan Hovhaness in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

alan hovhaness full face

Announcing the concerts, RMF’s Artistic Director Kent Mayfield notes, “In Willcocks, we have vitality and joyful excitement. With Hovhaness, we sense mystery, inspiration and an unforgettable radiant beauty. Each brings an abiding sense of spirituality to an often-secular holiday. Each prompts a stirring emotional response appropriate to the season.”

“‘Two Magnificats: Ancient Texts – Modern Voices’ promises a rich musical experience exploring deeper themes of personal and universal, spiritual and aesthetic meaning in a single holiday celebration.”

“Two performances of “Two Magnificats” are scheduled with full orchestra and featuring soloists soprano Christina Kay (below top), alto Katie Butitta (below second), tenor J. Adam Shelton (below third) and bass Derek Miller (below bottom).

christina kay magnificat

Katie Butitta

J. Adam Shelton

Derek Miller

For more information about the Rural Musicians Forum and its concert series, here is a link:

http://www.ruralmusiciansforum.org

 

 


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