The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What music best expresses the “bomb-cyclone” and Arctic blasts?

January 6, 2018
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Weather-wise, the past couple of weeks have been unforgettable and, in many ways, unbearable.

First, around Christmas, we had one bitterly cold Arctic blast.

Then after New Year’s Day came the massive “bomb-cyclone” that brought snow and ice, high winds and flooding, to the East Coast all the way from Florida to Maine.

Next came another Arctic blast – that put most of the country into the deep freeze with sub-zero temperatures that broke records over a century old.

(How, The Ear wonders, does the Arctic blast differ from the Polar Vortex of a few years ago? And who invents such colorful names that certainly seem new.)

Such extreme wintry weather has brought misery, hardship and even death to wherever it struck.

With luck, the coming week will see a return to more normal temperatures and more normal winter weather.

Still, the past few weeks got The Ear to wondering: What music best expresses such extreme kind of winter weather?

The highly virtuosic and aptly named “Winter Wind” Etude in A minor, Op. 25, No. 11, by Frederic Chopin came to mind. Its swirling notes suggest the howling wind and bitter cold while the minor-key melody has a certain dirge-like or funereal quality to it.

You can hear it played by Evgeny Kissin in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But The Ear is sure that many readers could suggest other musical depictions of extreme winter weather.

So please leave the name of the composer, the title of the work and, if possible, a link to a YouTube video performance at the bottom.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra presents a FREE Farmers’ Market Concert of music for organ and piano this Saturday morning. Plus, there is a FREE orchestra concert and viola concert at Capitol Lakes Retirement Center TONIGHT at 7.

June 15, 2015
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ALERT: A friend writes: TONIGHT at 7 p.m. at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, downtown off the Capitol Square, UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below with the Middleton Community Orchestra) will be conducting the Serenade No. 1 by Johannes Brahms (at bottom, you can hear the Berlin Philharmonic under conductor Claudio Abbado, in a YouTube video) performed by many members of the Middleton Community Orchestra, and past and future soloists. On the second half of the program, violist Vicki Powell, who is just in Madison for the week, will perform solo works.

The Brahms sounds great. We are lucky to be joined by Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz; violinist Paran Amirinazari who will be Middleton Community Orchestra’s concertmaster in the fall; and violist Vicki Powell plus many other fine players.

THE CONCERT IS FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Kyle Knox conducts MCO

By Jacob Stockinger

It could sound like a professional wrestling match: “This Saturday the Über Steinway meets the Colossal Klais!”

The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s (MSO) German (Hamburg) Steinway piano will meet the colossal Klais Overture Concert Organ (below) in a free concert featuring guest pianist Stephen Nielson and organist Samuel Hutchison.

Overture Concert Organ overview

The concert will take place during the Dane County Farmers’ Market (below) on this Saturday, June 20, at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State Street.

No tickets or reservations are needed for this 45-minute concert.

dane county farmers' market

From familiar hymns to rousing patriotic medleys and stunning solos for piano and organ, this first and only Farmers’ Market organ concert of the summer promises to deliver thrills for all.

American pianist Stephen Nielson made his orchestral debut as a pianist at age 11. During a 30-year collaboration with his late colleague, Ovid Young, Nielson performed more than 3,500 concerts world-wide as part of the distinguished piano duo Nielson & Young.

His 2008 performance with Samuel Hutchison in Overture Hall garnered rave reviews from those in attendance. Nielson received his degree from Indiana University, where he also earned the Distinguished Performer and Phi Beta Kappa honors. Nielson was named a finalist in the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels and has performed throughout Europe and Asia.

Stephen Nielson

Samuel Hutchison has served as Curator and Principal Organist for Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Overture Concert Organ since 2001. An honors graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, Hutchison has presented many recitals in the U.S and in Europe in locations that include the Riverside Church, New York City; St. Paul’s Cathedral, London; and Notre Dame, St. Sulpice and St. Étienne-du-Mont, Paris. He also performed the complete works of J.S. Bach in a series of 11 weekly recitals for the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Sam Hutchison  close up

The Madison Symphony Orchestra and Overture Center for the Arts present the Farmers’ Market Concert in partnership with the Wisconsin State Journal/Madison.com.

Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund. With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.

To see the Overture Concert Organ series of concerts for 2015-16 or to subscribe at a 25% savings, visit: www.madisonsymphony.org/organseason15-16

 

 


Classical music: Opera diva Renee Fleming will sing the National Anthem to open the NFL Super Bowl XVIII (48) next Sunday. But WHY and HOW did that happen and WHAT does it mean for professional music and professional sports?

January 26, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

What is THIS all about?

Next Sunday -– a week from today – is Superbowl XVLIII (that’s 48 in plain English numerals — does the NFL think Latin adds class to football?)) between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. It will be held in bad cold weather in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. That’s the football game where the best seats are going for more than $25,000. (Where are you now, Tony Soprano?) Not that a wealth gap exists between professional sports like football (below) and the rest of America. Oh, no — never that.

football

And guess who will sing the national anthem, the tricky “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to open the show – and it is a show. None other than superstar soprano Renee Fleming (below).

reneefleming

Yep, the lovely and gifted opera diva herself.

Now, I am not about to complain about a classical music star getting a chance for such exposure. But it does makes you wonder how it happened.

Did her agent approach the NFL?

Or did the billionaire-packed NFL decide on its own — somewhere in its posh 280 Fifth Avenue headquarters (below top is the exterior, below bottom is the interview its tacky half-Football Desk) that are tax-exempt – that it would buy some highbrow class and at the same time help the cause of classical music and maybe build a new audience?

NFL headquarters 280 Park Ave

Inside NFL headquarters

The Ear can’t imagine it was done by popular choice, under pressure from the fans.

And WHY was it done?

Did a lot of classical music presenters, who already realize that it is commercial suicide to hold a concert on Super Bowl Day, think to put some class into the Super Bowl and not risk bad attendance?

Was it just out of a taste for variety?

Fleming, who has a deep background in jazz and popular music, will probably nail it of course.

But will Renee Fleming create the same kind of rowdy, over-the-top atmosphere that is appropriate to the occasion as some bluesy-gospel, pop-rock or hip-hop star rendition would? Sure, Fleming sells a lot of records and tickets — but nowhere near as much as the superstars in those others genres of music do.

I guess we will see.

If she goes over well, maybe they can book her for the half-time act in a couple of years. But someone like superstar pianist Lang Lang (below), who will perform with metal rockers Metallica at this year’s Grammy Awards to be broadcast live tonight, seems a more likely candidate. Why book Rubinstein when you can get Liberace?

Lang Lang goofy

Well, at least folks at the Super Bowl can feel as classy as the Metropolitan Opera folks for a couple of minutes –- until the concussions start.

I don’t know if we will ever get the back story about the why and the how. But here is a link to the story that NPR’s excellent Deceptive Cadence blog had about Renee Fleming and the Super Bowl.

It is good, short and to the point, even if it doesn’t move beyond the headlines.

See what you think.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/21/264553311/guess-whos-singing-the-national-anthem-at-the-super-bowl

And for True Fans, here is a link to the official NFL Super Bowl 48 site, loaded with information and complete with a clock counting down to the coin toss and kickoff:

http://www.nfl.com/superbowl/48

What would be a good, an appropriate opera aria to mark the Super Bowl? How about Puccini’s “Nessum dorma” (“No one sleeps”) from “Turandot,” below in a popular YouTube video with almost 9 million hits. It features tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who made it his signature aria, and it shows the last time he sang it in 2006 at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Look at the sets. Listen to the crowd going wild. It seems in keeping with the Super Bowl, no?

But if you can suggest another choice, The Ear wants to hear it.

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Classical music: Here are some more lists of the Best of 2013 Classical Recordings. They include NPR, Alex Ross and The New Yorker magazine, the San Jose Mercury News and the Star-Ledger of New Jersey.

December 23, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Just like the list of the past year’s best classical recordings (below) from The New York Times, which I posted yesterday and which has a link below, other media outlets are checking in with their lists.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/classical-music-the-top-classical-recordings-of-2013-are-finally-named-by-the-critics-for-the-new-york-times-does-the-list-come-too-late-to-serve-as-a-holiday-gift-giving-guide/

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

Here is the list, posted three days ago, of notable local concerts plus great recordings by the acclaimed critic Alex Ross  (below) of The New Yorker magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/12/notable-classical-performances-and-recordings-of-2013.html

AlexRoss1

And once again, The Ear has to ask: Why so late? There isn’t much time let to go shopping in local traditional brick-and-mortar stores or even on-line in time for Christmas.

Could it be that the late Thanksgiving threw everyone off?

Are maybe such lists just receiving a lower priority than they used to?

Were reviewers more interested in other things, like the expensive box sets that companies are pushing and they got review copies of?

Or have staff cuts at various newspapers added to the work load and made it more difficult to cover live events and also get out this seasonal features?

The Ear wonders and is waiting to hear some answers from others in the media or from his readers.

In the meantime, here are even some other lists and suggestions from various less well-known sources.

Use them for holiday gifts guide, for others or – at this point in time – for yourself if you receive some gift cards to, say, Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com or Archivmusic.com

Here is one from NPR’’s superb blog “Deceptive Cadence” that lists NPR’s Top Ten classical choices (below) for 2013:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/bestmusic2013/2013/12/13/249751178/npr-classicals-10-favorite-albums-of-2013

NPR 10 best classical cds of 2013

Here is one from the San Jose Mercury-News:

http://www.mercurynews.com/music/ci_24759155/best-2013-classical-hilary-hahns-27-pieces-top

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

And here is one from the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

http://www.nj.com/entertainment/music/index.ssf/2013/12/best_of_2013_classical_music_recordings_and_performances.html

You will notice some crossovers and agreements with NPR. The San Jose Mercury News and The New York Times. That bodes well, it seems to me, and makes the choosing that much easier.

jeremy denk bach golbergs cd

But, as I have said often before, add immensely to the holiday gift by including some tickets to live local concerts – don’t forget that the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering cut-rate tickets for the rest of the season through midnight of Christmas Eve — and the promise of your companionship and help or assistance.

For more information local concerts, here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/classical-music-this-holiday-season-why-not-give-the-gift-of-live-music-plus-your-time-and-companionship-here-are-some-suggestions-from-the-ear-and-from-guest-blogger-janet-murphy/

Music, like other forms of art, is a pleasure to be shared and is social in its origins.

Audience attentive


Classical music news: Did opera composer Puccini find inspiration – or even steal melodies – for his famous Asian stories from a Swiss music box?

June 24, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Composers have long been known for finding inspiration in all sorts of places. Sometimes they rework the material; sometimes they just appropriate it outright.

The sources range from folk songs and folk dances to borrowings from their own works, which Bach and Handel did often.

Now research suggests that perhaps the popular Puccini (below), who along with Verdi and Wagner makes up the Holy Trinity of opera – found inspiration for “Madama Butterfly” and even the unfinished ‘Turandot” in a Swiss music box.

The 1877 music box has Chinese tunes that Puccini might have listened to. It is located in the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey. Here is a view of one of the tune sheets:

Take a look and read the story from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/arts/music/puccini-opera-echoes-a-music-box-at-the-morris-museum.html?pagewanted=all


Classical music: Two Madison teenage pianists don’t win the International Piano Arts Competition, but they do well and receive special prizes. Go inside the competition with a detailed blog account of every event.

June 18, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

So, how did they do?

All weekend long, people have been asking me how the two teenage pianists from Madison – Ariela Bohrod and Garrick Olsen – fared in last week’s International Piano Arts Competition in Milwaukee? (The contest is held every two years and gets high marks for its educational value as well as its performances.)

Well, it took me a whole to find out. The biennial competition didn’t post results immediately on its website – despite the reputation for immediacy that the electronic media and the Internet enjoy. And I wasn’t aware of the blog that I link to below, thanks to UW pianist Martha Fischer.

A drumroll, please!

Three other contestants won the top spots.

But the results are in: Ariela Bohrod (below), who studies at Interlochen, won a special prize as a Wisconsin pianist.

Olsen, who studies with Madison teacher Bill Lutes, won a prize for the best performance of post-1940 American music, which was two etudes by the well-known “super-virtuoso” pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, who was born in Canada but now resides and teaches in the U.S., at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

For more information about the Top Three prize winners, here is a link to the competition’s web page, which also has a link to videos of performances, profiles of the competitors with their solo and concerto repertoire, and a Facebook posting:

http://www.pianoarts.org/

Finally, here is a terrific and comprehensive blog, complete with videos and lots of photos plus detailed accounts and criticism of each performance, by Andrew Tisdel, that covers not only the results for the Madison contestants but also the entire competition and master classes:

http://pianoarts2012.blogspot.com/2012_06_01_archive.html

Please be sure to leave any Comments for the contestants or blogger in the COMMENT sections of this blog. I am sure both Ariela and Garrick as well as their friends, family and many fans, would appreciate reading them.

And stay tuned. The Madison contestants may have some personal remarks to share about being in the competition.


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