The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Rediscovering the music of composer Florence Price is a great way to start the celebration of Black History Month

February 3, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

February is Black History Month.

There are a lot of African-American performers and composers to emphasize during the month. Check out this exhaustive listing – conveniently organized into categories such as composers, conductors and pianists — in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:African-American_classical_musicians

But this year one of the best ways to mark the event is to rediscover the composer Florence Price (below, in photos from the University of Arkansas Libraries).

Much of her work was until recently hidden in 30 boxes in her abandoned and dilapidated summer home located 70 miles south of Chicago.

A good introduction to Price (1887-1953) – who was famous in her day and was the first African-American woman composer to be performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — can be found in the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio (NPR).

https://www.npr.org/2019/01/21/686622572/revisiting-the-pioneering-composer-florence-price

Here is a link to an excerpt from a new Albany recording of her two violin concertos:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2018/02/09/584312486/songs-we-love-florence-price-violin-concerto-no-2

And if you want to hear more of what her music sounds like check out the YouTube video at the bottom that has excerpts from the new Naxos recording, in the American Classics line, with her Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4.

You can also find quite a bit more of Price’s music, including a piano concerto, a piano sonata and orchestral suites, on YouTube.


Classical music: WQXR radio names 19 musicians to watch in ’19. What do you think of the choices? Who would you add?

January 28, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

What will 2019 bring in the way of classical music?

What and who should we be looking at and paying attention to?

WQXR — the famed classical radio station in New York City – recently published its list of 19 to watch in ‘19, with detailed reasons for and explanations of their picks.

It seems like a pretty good choice to The Ear, although there is always something of a parlor game aspect to such projects.

Nonetheless, the list covers a fine variety – instrumentalists and vocalists, young and old, American and international, the well-known and the up-and-coming such as the opera singer Devone Tines (below, in a photo by Nikolai Schukoff).

Some names will be familiar to Madison audiences – such as pianist Inon Barnatan, violinist Nicola Benedettti, the JACK Quartet and cellist Steven Isserlis — especially through their live appearances at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and the Madison Symphony Orchestra plus broadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here is a link to the list: https://www.wqxr.org/story/wqxr-presents-19-19-artists-collaborations-upcoming-year/

The Ear can think of some other musicians that he would add to the list.

An especially deserving one of them is the young American virtuoso pianist George Li (below, in a photo by Simon Fowler).

Born in China and brought as a child to the United States by his parents, Li attended Harvard and just finished his master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. (At the bottom, you can hear Li play virtuosic music by Liszt and Horowitz in the YouTube video of a Tiny Desk Concert at National Public Radio or NPR.)

Li won the silver medal in the 2015 at the 15th Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow and had a lot of people talking about the energy and excitement of his playing. He was praised for both outstanding technical prowess and deep expressiveness.

He then took first prize at a piano competition in Paris.

Ever since, he has been steadily booked. At 23, the amiable Li has already toured China, Japan and Russia and seems to have a very busy schedule ahead of him, judging by his posts on Instagram.

He has also released his first recording on the Warner Classics label, a fine CD that received many positive reviews from critics, including this one.

The program includes Haydn’s Sonata in B minor, Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor “Funeral March,” Rachmaninoff’s “Variations on a Theme of Corelli,” and Consolation No. 3 and the popular Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt.

Given all the concertos he is now performing, it would not surprise one to see his next recording be a concerto, possibly the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto N. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23, which brought him instant acclaim.

Here is a link to his website: http://www.georgelipianist.com

And here is a link to his entry in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Li

Keep your ears and eyes on George Li.

What do you think of the choices made by WQXR?

Who would you add to the list of musicians to watch in 2019, and why?

If possible, maybe you can include a YouTube link to a performance, live or recorded, in your comment.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: WQXR names the best classical recording of 2018. Plus, here are other guides to help you use gift cards

January 5, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is another gift list that The Ear just found. Even though it was compiled before the holiday, he looked for it but didn’t find it.

It’s another of the top classical recordings of 2018. But this time, the list – with plenty of sound samples — comes from WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City.

It may be too late to use for holiday gift giving – unless it is for yourself. After all, there are a lot of gift cards waiting to be redeemed.

Also below are several other lists so that you can cross-check and compare. The CD of Chopin ballades and nocturnes by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (below), for example, makes almost all the lists, which is a good sign of quality. (You can hear Andsnes play the Ballade No. 4, The Ear’s favorite, in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Here is the link to WQXR:

https://www.wqxr.org/story/best-classical-releases-2018/

Here is a link to the top picks by critics for The New York Times and the Top 10 for National Public Radio (NPR):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/22/classical-music-gift-guide-or-gift-or-both-critics-for-the-new-york-times-name-their-top-25-classical-recordings-of-2018-so-does-national-public-radio-npr/

And here are the nominations for the 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/


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Classical music: Wikipedia offers a comprehensive overview of classical music in 2018. Plus, the annual New Year’s Day concert by the Vienna Philharmonic airs this morning on radio and tonight on TV

January 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – January 1, 2019 – brings just two items or stories to the blog.

NEW YEAR’S DAY FROM VIENNA

The first item is a kind of ALERT.

One of the most popular and beloved worldwide musical traditions is the annual Great Performances broadcast by National Public Radio (NPR) of “New Year’s Day From Vienna” with the Vienna Philharmonic.

This year’s conductor is Christian Thielemann  (below top) of the Munich Philharmonic and the host is Hugh Bonneville (below bottom in a photo by Nick Briggs) of PBS’ “Downton Abbey.”

The concert is a sold-out feast of waltzes, polkas and marches (including the famous clap-along “Radetzky March,” with Herbert von Karajan conducting in 1987, in the YouTube video at the bottom).

The radio version will be broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio from 10 a.m. to noon THIS MORNING, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019.

Then at 8-9:30 p.m. TONIGHT, Wisconsin Public Television will broadcast the visual version of the event, complete with ballet and wonderful landscape, interior and architectural shots in and around Vienna. There will also be encore performances: https://wptschedule.org/episodes/48242142/Great-Performances/From-Vienna-The-New-Years-Celebration-2019/

For a playlist and more background, go to: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/from-vienna-the-new-years-celebration-2019-about/9076/

2018 IN REVIEW

The first day of the new year seems like the perfect time to look back and see what happened in classical music during the past year.

And this year, The Ear found something truly comprehensive and international.

Wikipedia has put together a year-end overview that is astonishing for its amount of detail. 

You will find a global day-by-day calendar that includes links, in blue, for more details.

You will find news items and major events – including the effect of the #MeToo movement as well as deaths and obituaries, jobs and retirements.

You will find a list of new music.

You will find a list of new operas.

You will find lists for several major awards for classical recordings.

It is a terrific resource — a good long read, both informative and entertaining. Perfect for New Year’s Day.

Here is a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_in_classical_music

Happy New Year!


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Classical music: Gift guide or gift or both? Critics for The New York Times name their top classical recordings of 2018, and so does National Public Radio (NPR)

December 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is “Panic Saturday” — another, newer theme day on the commerce-driven Holiday Consumer Calendar that goes along with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber-Monday and Giving Tuesday. 

In past years, by this time many media outlets would publish the list of the top classical recordings of the past year. And The Ear has offered them as holiday shopping guides with links to the lists.

They seem to be running late this year, probably too late for many shoppers.

But recently the team of critics for The New York Times named their Top 25 classical recordings of 2018 that run from the 15th century to today (sample album covers are below).

This time, the website didn’t just reproduce something that first appeared in the printed edition. And something more than small snippets or excerpts are offered.

This time, the newspaper took full advantage of the electronic possibility of the web and used streaming to add hours of sound samples — some as long as 40 minutes – so you can see what you think of the recordings before you buy them. (Be sure to look at reader reactions and comments.)

It is a new and innovative way to do a Top 25 list – very appealing or entertaining as well as informative. Even if you don’t use it to buy anything for others or yourself, it can provide many minutes of listening pleasure. You can think of it as a gift guide or a gift or both.

Of course, there are also the usual short and very readable, to-the-point narratives or explanations about why the recording stands out and what makes it great music, a great performance or a great interpretation.

So there is a lot to listen to and help you make up your mind. The Ear has enjoyed it and found it helpful, and hopes you do too, whether you agree or disagree with the choice:

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/arts/music/best-classical-music-tracks-2018.html

Since this is the last weekend for holiday shopping before Christmas, here is the previous list – notice the duplications in the two lists — posted here, which was of the nominations for the upcoming 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/

And here is the Top 10 list, which was chosen by the always discerning Tom Huizenga (below) — who explains the reasons for his choices — and which also offers generous sound samples, from National Public Radio (NPR) and its Deceptive Cadence blog. Also look for duplications:

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/18/677776208/npr-musics-best-classical-albums-of-2018

What recordings would you suggest? 

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Why do symphony orchestras program so few women composers – and often none?

July 26, 2018
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The summer is rolling along.

Soon August will be here, and then September with the new concert season.

Looking over the programs, which feature new music and living composers, for the next season at the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO), The Ear was reminded of a recent story.

It came from National Public Radio (NPR) and was about why so few women composers – or even no women composers – are being programmed at major national and regional symphony orchestras.

One major exception is Jennifer Higdon (below), the Curtis Institute teacher who has won a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award, who has been performed by the MSO and who is quoted in the story.

Here is a link to the story:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2018/06/19/617136805/the-sound-of-silence-female-composers-at-the-symphony

Now, The Ear likes the 2018-19 season at the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) for many reasons he will go into another time. He thinks it is a big improvement over last year, probably because it also celebrates the 25th anniversary of John DeMain’s tenure as the artistic director. And it does open with the “Fanfare Ritmico” by Jennifer Higdon. But you still won’t find major works by Higdon or other women composers.

Here is a link:

https://www.madisonsymphony.org/18-19

And the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) also has an interesting and appealing season that includes some unusual features, including a recorder soloist and a repeat performance of a two-piano concerto that the WCO commissioned and premiered a couple of seasons ago. But, again, there are no women composers:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performance-listing/category/2018-19-season

The UW Symphony Orchestra, which last year performed a work by Caroline Shaw (below), hasn’t yet released its new schedule of programs.

If The Ear’s memory is correct, certain local chamber music and vocal groups — the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Oakwood Chamber Players come to mind — do a better job at programming works by women and composers of color, although there is still room to improve.

And it sure seems to The Ear that Wisconsin Public Radio has started to make a concerted effort to program more works by women.

What do you make of the lack of women composers?

Would you like to see more works by women composers programmed — say, Higdon’s violin and viola concertos? (You can hear the slow second movement of the Violin Concerto with Hilary Hahn in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Do you think programming more women composers would boost, lessen or not affect attendance?

Do you have suggestions for specific composers and specific works?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music education: NPR gets rid of pianist Christopher O’Riley as a long-time host of “From the Top”

July 15, 2018
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

If you are a fan of the award-winning program “From the Top” – which spotlights talented young classical musicians (below) and is broadcast weekly on National Public Radio (NPR) – you will want to know that this season is the last one for pianist Christopher O’Riley (below), who has hosted the show for the past 18 years.

NPR is not renewing his contract and O’Riley will NOT return for the 2018-19 season.

“From the Top” airs locally on Sunday nights — including tonight — at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR).

You might recall that O’Riley — a gifted and award-winning pianist is his own right — has also played his own concerts in Madison.

Years ago, he played his solo piano transcriptions of rock songs by Radiohead at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

This past spring, he played a Mozart piano concerto to close the season of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

For more about the 61-year-old O’Riley, here is a link to his biography on Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_O%27Riley

For the radio program, he accompanied some of the talented young classical musicians who were featured, and also provided short interludes of solo piano music, which were compiled on a CD several years ago.

For more about the show (below), go to: https://www.fromthetop.org and view the YouTube video at the bottom, which features a behind-the-scenes look at the show:

Although it focuses on string players who have appeared on “From the Top,” here is a story, with many names and details, from The Violin Channel:

https://theviolinchannel.com/christopher-oriley-from-the-top-radio-tv-let-go-contract-not-renewed/

One thing worth mentioning is that O’Riley’s departure will NOT mark the end of the show. “From the Top” will continue with guest hosts, some of whom will be successful or famous alumni of the show.

What do you think of the news about Christopher O’Riley?

What do you think of “From the Top”?

What do you think of Christopher O’Riley as a host and a pianist?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: It’s summer. Which composers and musical works have been inspired by insects?

July 14, 2018
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s summer.

The Ear likes to watch the fireflies or lightning bugs and hear the crickets that come with the season.

But he is much less fond of ants and spiders, of bees and wasps, and especially of mosquitoes, which seem particularly plentiful and aggressive after the very wet spring Wisconsin experienced.

But it turns out that, over many centuries, insects have inspired a lot of composers to write music that mimicked them and their noises and movements.

Professional violist and music educator Miles Hoffman (below) recently discussed insect music on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Here is a link:

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/09/627190250/classical-composers-have-been-inspired-for-centuries-by-insects

You can read the printed transcript, but the real fun and learning come if you listen to the audio clip that includes musical excerpts.

Some prominent ones were overlooked or not mentioned, including Romantic composer Robert Schumann’s “Papillons” (Butterflies) for solo piano, which you can hear played by Wilhelm Kempff in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Can you think of other composers and pieces that focus on insects?

Leave the name or title, plus a YouTube link to a performance if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Here is an NPR interview with British cellist sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason and an encore presentation of his performance at the Royal Wedding last weekend

May 27, 2018
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

So far, at least in the United States, the 19-year-old British sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason (below) has been more talked about than talked to.

But on Saturday afternoon, NPR interviewed him for “All Things Considered.”

Some interesting facts about him and his blossoming career and his inaugural recording for Decca Records (below) came out of the six–minute discussion and questions by host Michel Martin.

Especially impressive was how all the children in his family are accomplished classical musicians. Here is a video of them playing music by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev together:

And in case you missed it the first around, also included is an encore presentation of the three pieces he played last Saturday at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Here is a link to the interview and the encore performance:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2018/05/21/613025939/cello-bae-sheku-kanneh-mason-wins-worldwide-fans-after-royal-wedding

And here is a YouTube video of Sheku Kanneh-Mason playing his own cello transcription of a the song “No Woman No Cry” by reggae legend Bob Marley, who was a mentor and inspiration to the young musician:


Classical music: A long-lost American opera about Tabasco makes a fiery return to New Orleans. Are you burning to hear it?

January 29, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

It seems it’s time to revise the history of American opera.

That is due to the recent rediscovery of a lost 1894 opera about Tabasco (below, in photo by Tim Grosscup for New Orleans Opera) – that famous Southern hot sauce – that sheds a new light on that history.

The musical score, which had been lost for more than a century, was rediscovered in 2009 and has now received a fiery revival in its natural home — New Orleans, which also happens to have the oldest opera company in the United States.

The music was written by the American composer George Whitefield Chadwick (below). You can hear the Overture to the “burlesque opera” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The libretto’s plot focuses on an Irish traveler who gets lost at sea and ends up as a chef in Morocco where the famous hot sauce pleases the Pasha who has captured him and so saves the traveler’s fate.

The opera was premiered in Boston, then went for a run on Broadway and toured to dozens of cities.

Of course, one still wonders if the opera will receive performance elsewhere these days. But that is another question for another day.

In the meantime, here is a fine story, with a sound sample, from National Public Radio (NPR) about the opera and its historical and artistic significance.

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/01/25/580713942/tabasco-opera-makes-fiery-return-in-new-orleans


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