The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Is she or isn’t she retiring from opera? Here is everything you want to know about superstar soprano Renée Fleming and the confusion over her future plans

April 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Three recent stories tell you just about everything you could want to know about superstar soprano Renée Fleming (below), now 58, as she prepares to retire — at least partly retire — from the opera stage but still devote herself to music on and off the concert stage.

The first story came in The New York Times in a preview profile before her upcoming appearance as the aging Marschallin in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier.” (You can hear some of her singing in that role in the YouTube link at the bottom.)

Here is a link to that story:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/arts/music/the-diva-departs-renee-flemings-farewell-to-opera.html?_r=0

But just to eliminate any doubt about her leaving music altogether when she retires from singing and acting opera, Fleming also gave a long interview to Vanity Fair magazine in which she discusses her plans to still pursue music full-time as a recitalist, recording artist  and someone working offstage to benefit opera and music, much as the famed Beverly Sills once did.

Here is a link to that story:

http://www.vanityfair.com/style/2017/04/opera-legend-renee-fleming

And then Fleming also clarified some confusion in the Times story about her future plans in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/04/06/522876028/hold-up-ren-e-fleming-is-not-retiring-from-opera


Classical music: Spring arrives today. What is your favorite music celebrating spring?

March 20, 2017
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Has March’s proverbial lion finally yielded to the lamb?

Here is Madison there is still some snow on the ground. But it should all be gone by the end of today, which, like yesterday, will reach into the 50s.

Just in time.

Today is the Vernal Equinox, bringing the first day of spring. It arrives at 5:29 a.m. this morning.

Spring has been an inspiration to many composers. So there is a lot of music to choose from when you want to celebrate season musically.

The Ear is fickle and his choice changes from year to year.

But lately, his favorite has been the “Spring” Sonata in F Major for violin and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can hear the opening of the famously tuneful and upbeat sonata, performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Of course there are violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli; choral works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn; chamber music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; orchestral music by Robert Schumann, Peter Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky; piano pieces by Felix Mendelssohn and Edvard Grieg; songs by Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms. And there is more, so much more.

Yesterday, Wisconsin Public Radio programmed a lot of spring music, and The Ear expects the same for today’s programming.

But you can be your own DJ if you want. Here is a list of almost two hours of spring-related music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfe3MUMdWKQ

And here is a springtime puzzler, or quiz, about flowers in opera from NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/05/06/404499920/flower-songs-a-springtime-opera-puzzler

Plus, there are plenty of other guides and anthologies to music for spring that you can find online.

So here is what The Ear wants to know: What is your favorite piece of music to greet spring with?

Leave words in the COMMENT section along with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

And a Happy Spring to you!


Classical music: This 90-year-old Belgian classical pianist learned how to play slow movements by Mozart and Beethoven by hearing Ray Charles – and shows why The Ear likes the arts reporting on PBS and NPR

January 15, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, I posted a disconcerting story from the Columbia Journalism Review about how most mainstream newspapers and traditional media are cutting way back on art coverage.

After all, runs the conventional wisdom, how can the arts compete with sports, politics and crime for attracting readers?

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/classical-music-newspapers-and-media-continue-to-cutback-on-arts-writers-and-arts-critics-what-is-the-effect-on-the-arts/

Well, that kind of mistaken thinking is one reason why The Ear likes to watch PBS and national Public Radio or NPR. Especially on the PBS NewsHour, you find terrific stories about and interviews with major figures in the fine arts and the performing arts.

PBS treats the arts as vital and essential, not ornamental or secondary.

A wonderful example happened this week on the segment called “Brief But Spectacular” in which people offer their thoughts about their own lives and careers.

In this case, it was Jean Stark — a 90-year-old Belgian-born woman who was an accomplished concertizing classical pianist. She performed in Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York City, and in halls around the world, and who talks about her life and career for PBS.

jean-stark

In the four-minute interview, she laments how classical music isn’t promoted these days and emphasizes how wonderful it was to be alive during the golden years of classical music with such great figures as composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev.

But, she confesses, for all her accomplishments she was unsatisfied with how she played slow movements of sonatas by Classical-era masters Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

stark1-320x196

Until she came to the U.S. and went with a friend to a concert by Ray Charles.

Charles, she says, taught how to play slowly.

The Ear only wishes she had been more specific about the lessons she learned. Was it phrasing? Tempo? Accents? “Rubato,” or flexible timing?

It is a great, heart-warming story and typical of the kind of human interest arts coverage that you generally do not find on other television news channels, whether traditional networks like CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX or cable TV channels such as CNN and MSNBC.

So The Ear offers it as both an enjoyable and informative arts story, and as an endorsement of the PBS NewsHour and especially reporter Jeffrey Brown, who does such a terrific job of reporting on the arts.

Here is the segment, which you can find on YouTube, along with other recordings by Stark:

An after-thought: To the best of his knowledge, The Ear thinks that the music you hear her playing is the “Aeolian Harp” Etude in A-Flat Major, Op. 25, No. 1, by Frederic Chopin and part of the suite “Pour le piano” (For the Piano) by Claude Debussy.

What do you think of arts coverage on the mainstream media and on PBS?

What do you think Jean Stark learned from Ray Charles?

If you saw this story, how did it affect you?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today is Christmas Day. Here are many hours of classical music to help you celebrate the holiday.

December 25, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2016.

You may have your own collection of recorded holiday music.

But if you are looking for familiar or especially unfamiliar classical music to help you celebrate the holiday, The Ear has some suggestions as a sort of holiday gift.

There is always the reliable Wisconsin Public Radio and other affiliates of National Public Radio (NPR), which will feature holiday music throughout the day. And chances are pretty good that the local community-sponsored alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 will do the same.

But YouTube also is offering some other sources that you can stream while you are opening gifts, eating, mingling, gathering with others for the holiday or just enjoying it by yourself.

Plus the audio sites have timings so you can skip or find specific pieces or event movement within the pieces.

Here are two:

This is a 10-hour compilation that you could stream and play. It includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Pachelbel, Franz Schubert and Peter Tchaikovsky among many others:

And here is one of The Ear’s favorites, with over one million hits because it features more than three hours of music with a lot of music of the Italian Baroque, including works by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli, Francesco Manfrediini and Pietro Locatelli as well as music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hector Berlioz, Peter Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Astor Piazzolla:

Feel free to make other suggestions by leaving a composer, title and links, if possible, in the COMMENT section.

And also feel free to tell us what is piece is your favorite classical music for Christmas and why.

The Ear wants to hear.

And MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

 


Classical music: Christmas is Tuba Time. Who knew?

December 18, 2016
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s the holidays.

At a time when so much music for the holiday season is predictable from year to year, here is a kind of music that is unusual – at least to The Ear.

Apparently, for some years now Christmas has been a time to celebrate the tuba (below) worldwide.

tuba

The music they play isn’t classical, but it is seasonal. And it is a good excuse to celebrate and orchestral instrument and member of the brass family that too often goes largely unnoticed.

If you go to YouTube and type in TubaChristmas, you can find samples of TubaChristmas celebrations and concerts in Chicago, Portland, Rochester, Kansas City, Boston, Baltimore, New York City, Washington, D.C. and many more.

The Ear hasn’t heard if there is a TubaChristmas celebration in Madison or anywhere else in Wisconsin. If there is, please leave word in the COMMENT section.

Below is a photo from Getty Images of more than 400 tuba players – called “tubists” in the profession – who gathered in Chicago for 2003 Tuba Christmas. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear tubas playing carols at the Palmer House hotel in Chicago in 2013.)

400-plus-tubas-at-tubachicago-in-2003-getty-images

Maybe you knew about it, but The Ear sure didn’t, even though he should have.

And in case you didn’t either, here is a link to the story that aired this past week on “All Things Considered” for National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/2016/12/16/505878391/at-tubachristmas-an-underdog-instrument-shines

It is a fine story about the event – complete with some tuba music — along with its origin and some background about the tuba.

Enjoy!

And let us now what you think of the tuba and of TubaChristmas.

The Ear wants to hear.

http://www.npr.org/2016/12/16/505878391/at-tubachristmas-an-underdog-instrument-shines


Classical music: Here is The New York Times holiday gift guide of classical music for 2016

November 27, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The holiday shopping has started with a Black Friday that set records for on-line sales — more than $3 billion or an increase of 11 percent over last year, according to news reports.

And this coming Cyber Monday is supposed to be even bigger, setting more records.

Over the next several weeks, The Ear will feature several holiday gifts guides, including the upcoming Grammy Award nominations and lists of the year’s top recordings from Gramophone magazine, National Public Radio (NPR) and other media outlets.

The Ear will also offer some of his own ideas, although he thinks it is pointless to single out the “best,” given so many choices, and will feature instead things that gave him – and might give you or the recipient – special pleasure.

Anyway, here is the 2016 holiday gift guide for classical music from critics for The New York Times.

ny-times-classical-gifts-2016

Once again, the emphasis is on boxed sets, which have become more widespread and even more of a bargain as streaming becomes increasingly popular. One expensive set features Mozart’s complete works and runs almost $500 – or about only $2 a disc.

The list features tried-and-true classics and also more contemporary music and new music. It seems big on opera and orchestral works especially, but offers precious little chamber music or early music.

The list features CDs, DVDs, books and – The Ear’s favorite – a plea for giving tickets to live concerts or else gift certificates for them.

Read it and decide for yourself how useful it is.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/24/arts/music/gift-ideas-for-classical-music-fans.html?_r=0

If you have gift ideas of your own, or reactions to these suggestions, leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein pays homage to the late Canadian songwriter, singer and poet Leonard Cohen with theme and variations on the song “Suzanne”

November 14, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Leonard Cohen (below), the acclaimed Canadian songwriter, singer and poet, died at in his home in Los Angeles last Thursday at the age of 82.

leonard-cohen-singing

Cohen was not a major figure in classical music.

But even as a young artist (below) in the 1960s, he inspired many musicians, including classical musicians, who covered his songs. (You can hear him singing his most influential song “Hallelujah” in the YouTube video at the bottom. It has more than 41 million views.)

leonard-cohen-young-in-1960s

Here is a link to an obituary in Rolling Stone magazine:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/leonard-cohen-dead-at-82-w449792

For example, pianist Simone Dinnerstein (below), who made her name with a self-financed recording of the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach — has paid tribute to Cohen with a set of piano variations (called “The Cohen Variations”) on the song “Suzanne,” which was popularized by the folk and pop singer Judy Collins.

simone dinnerstein2.

A recording of that work is featured on the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio.

Here is a link to it:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/11/11/501693707/a-new-twist-on-the-leonard-cohen-classic-suzanne


Classical music: Minimalist pioneer Steve Reich turns 80 and now finds his music in the mainstream. Plus, here is the program for the clavichord concert on Sunday

November 5, 2016
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ALERT: The Ear has received late notice of the program for the clavichord concert on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. in the Gates of Heaven Synagogue in James Madison Park.

The music, to be played by early music specialist David Schrader of Roosevelt University in Chicago, includes the Partita No. 5 in G Major, BWV 829, by Johann Sebastian Bach; the Sonata in C Major, K. 330, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Sonata No. 44 in G minor by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the Sonata in A minor by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.

For more information about the unusual concert, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/classical-music-a-rare-early-music-recital-on-a-locally-built-clavichord-is-this-sunday-afternoon-at-the-gates-of-heaven-synagogue/

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is another better-late-than-never posting.

Composer Steve Reich, along with Philip Glass, was one of the pioneering giants of minimalism in classical music, which in turn influenced even pop music icons such as David Bowie and Brian Eno. (You can hear Part 1 of his influential and hypnotic work “Drumming” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

steve-reich-2016

Last month Steve Reich turned 80.

Here is a story that traces the evolution of Reich’s career and art — including his reliance on rhythm, his use of percussion and words, and his exploration and rediscovery of Judaism — from the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/10/09/496552301/steve-reich-at-80-the-phases-of-a-lifetime-in-music

And here is another story from The New York Times that covers Reich past, present and future:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/02/arts/music/steve-reich-at-80-still-plugged-in-still-plugging-away.html?_r=0

Enjoy!


Classical music: The new concert season features many world premieres in opera, orchestral music and chamber music. So, why not here in Madison?

September 20, 2016
12 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Who says classical music is dying?

You wouldn’t know it from some of the many world premieres of new music that will take place across the U.S. this season. Such events add a lot of excitement to the new concert season. And many critics and observers think they draw in new and younger audiences.

Quite a few of the premieres feature performers and composers familiar to Madison audiences. They include cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below top, in a photo by Harold Hoffmann for Decca Records), pianist Emanuel Ax (below second), composer Kevin Puts (below third) and composer Jake Heggie (below bottom).

alisa-weilerstein-cr-harold-hoffmann-for-decca

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

Kevin Puts pulitzer

Jake Heggie

Here is a round-up of the national scene by Tom Huizenga, who writes the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio or NPR.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/31/491833898/first-impressions-a-guide-to-new-music-in-the-new-season

It makes one wonder: What about the local scene here in Madison?

True, several seasons ago, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison commissioned and premiered six new works to mark its centennial. They included four string quartets, one piano quintet and one clarinet quintet, all of which are now available in terrific recordings from Albany Records.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

This summer the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society featured bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below) in the world premiere of a song cycle it commissioned from American composer Kevin Puts, who is mentioned in the NPR story, to mark its 25th anniversary.

Timothy Jones posed portrait

And this fall, at its annual Labor Day concert the Karp family premiered a new work by Joel Hoffman for piano and cello, based on the life of the late pianist and former UW professor Howard Karp and performed by his sons pianist Christopher Karp and cellist Parry Karp (below).

karp-hoffman-pic

This winter the Madison Opera will stage the new jazz-inspired opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” although Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera will do a world premiere of a work it commissioned. Could the Madison Opera commission again its own new work, such as it did years ago with Daron Hagen‘s opera “Shining Brow” about Frank Lloyd Wright?

And there are other commissions and premieres by smaller groups, such as the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion.

But what is the problem with getting new commissions and world premieres at bigger ensembles such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the UW Symphony Orchestra, which does perform a student work each year? Lack of money? Lack of will? Lack of audience interest?

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The music of Beethoven played a major role in modern China. Here’s how

September 3, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

If you think classical music has lost much of its relevance in modern times, you might want to read or listen to this terrific interview about the importance of Ludwig van Beethoven in modern China.

Below is a photo of the first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the “Choral” Symphony with the famous “Ode to Joy,” done in 1959 by an all-Chinese orchestra with Chinese singers and sung in Mandarin.

Plus, a radio broadcast of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony also played a major role in modern China following the Cultural Revolution.

Beethoven in China 1959

The interview, with two native Chinese musicians who now teach at Stanford University. was done by NPR or National Public Radio, for its Deceptive Cadence blog. The Ear found it both eye-opening and inspiring.

Perhaps it even helps to explain why these days classical music often seems more vital to the East than it does to the West.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/25/491353170/tracing-the-peoples-republic-of-beethoven

 


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