The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Take a FREE choral tour of the past year’s holidays this coming Saturday night at the UW-Madison. Plus, pianist Mark Valenti performs a FREE recital of Milhaud, Schubert and Prokofiev this Friday at noon.

November 18, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist Mark Valenti. He will play Three Pieces from “Le Printemps” (Spring) by Darius Milhaud; the Sonata in A major by Franz Schubert; and the Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major by Sergei Prokofiev.

By Jacob Stockinger

This week brings two FREE concerts by several choral groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

UW Madrigal Singers

On Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University Chorus, Women’s Choir and Master Singers will perform a FREE concert. Sorry, no word yet about the program.

Then on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chorale will perform a FREE concert called “It’s a Jolly Holiday!” Director Bruce Gladstone (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) will conduct.

BruceGladstoneTalbot

NOTE: This concert is NOT to be confused with the usually packed Winter Choral Concert — with its theme of holidays, multiple choirs and several conductors — that will take place on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 2 and 4 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church.

Here are some program notes:

“This fall, the UW Chorale gets into the holiday spirit.

“But which one?

“An entire year of them!

“The ensemble starts with New Year’s Day and moves through the calendar year singing choral works to commemorate each festive day.

“They’ll celebrate President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Earth Day (below) and so on, with a variety of great music that will leave you wondering why you only think about hearing a choir sing at Christmas.

earthdayplanet

“Works include “My Funny Valentine,” “Free at Last,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Regina Coeli,” Howard Hanson’s “Song of Democracy,” Aaron Copland’s “The Promise of Living” and many more.” (You can hear Howard Hanson’s “Song of Democracy,” with words by poet Walt Whitman and with the famous Interlochen theme from his “Romantic” Symphony No. 2, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“There will be something for everyone as they explore the days we call “holy.””

 


Classical music: Happy New Year! Viennese waltzes for orchestra by the Strauss Family aren’t the only ones suitable for seeing out the old year and ringing in the new. Here are waltzes by Chopin and Schubert played by Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz and Stephen Hough. What waltzes are your favorites?

January 1, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is January 1, 2014.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Here is a reminder that “New Year’s Day From Vienna,” with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (below) performing waltzes, polkas and marches of the Strauss Family under the baton of Daniel Barenboim, will be broadcast live this morning at 10 a.m. CST on Wisconsin Public Radio, and then air at 1:30-3 p.m. and again at 7-8:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.

As always the Strauss Family will be the featured stars. But while they made the waltz a livelihood and trademark, there are other outstanding waltz composers.

Two of my favorite waltz composers are Frederic Chopin and Franz Schubert, both of whom found the magic family to combine good cheer and glamor as well as bittersweet poignancy.

So here are two of my favorite sad waltzes both by Chopin. First, there is the so-called “Farewell” Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 69, supposedly written in the memory of a fellow student who was killed in the Polish rebellion by Russian troops. Here it is played in a beautifully restrained manner by British pianist Stephen Hough:

And then here is the Op. 34, No 2 in A minor, played by Arthur Rubinstein:

As for ringing in the New Year, here is one of the “Brilliant Waltzes” by Chopin often used by Arthur Rubinstein to start or end a recital:

More heartbreaking waltzes come from Franz Schubert in his “Noble and Sentimental” Waltzes, a title later borrowed ironically by Maurice Ravel. Here are some of those Schubert waltzes – both cheerful and dark — in one of those wonderful scissors-and-paste jobs, a free-wheeling transcription, by Franz Liszt in the “Soiree de Vienne No. 6” and played incomparably by Vladimir Horowitz.

Hope you enjoy them

Farewell to 2013.

Cheers to 2014.

What are your favorite sad and happy waltzes?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Maestro John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera is The Ear’s “Musician of the Year” for 2013. Plus, “New Year’s Day From Vienna” will be broadcast Wednesday once on Wisconsin Public Radio and twice on Wisconsin Public Television.

December 31, 2013
7 Comments

REMINDER: “New Year’s Day From Vienna,” with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performing waltzes, polkas and marches under Daniel Barenboim, will be broadcast live on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio, and then air at 1:30-3 p.m. and again at 7-8:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.

Vienna Philharmonic

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the day last of the old year, New Year’s Eve — which means it is that time of the year again when The Ear looks back over the past year and decides who deserves to be named “Musician of the Year.”

That is never an easy decision, especially in a city with as much fine classical music and as many fine classical musicians as Madison has. There are so many talented individuals and so many outstanding groups or ensembles in the area that any number of them could qualify for the honor.

It was particularly difficult this year because, due to personal circumstances, The Ear didn’t get to attend a lot of live events he wanted to.  Even so, this year the choice seemed somewhat obvious.

For example, here is a link to an insightful overview of the 2013 season offered in Isthmus by critic John W. Barker, who often is a guest writer on this blog. You just have to scroll down through the long story until you find Barker’s spot-on assessments of the year in classical music. It should make any classical music fans envious and proud to be in Madison:

http://www.thedailypage.com/scroll/2013/arts2013/index.html

So on to the man who happens to be the most common denominator among Barker’s Best Picks: John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Let’s start at the beginning.

It has been 20 years since maestro John DeMain came to Madison as the Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Director of the Madison Opera. And he is a supremely articulate — he often does interviews on TV and radio — and cordial advocate of his own causes, as you can hear for yourself in a video at the bottom and in more than a dozen video on YouTube.)

Even before he arrived here, DeMain had a high profile as the artistic director of the Houston Grand Opera, where he commissioned and premiered John Adams’ “Nixon in China” and has a long history with the City Opera, where he conducted while still a student at the Juilliard School. He had also won a prestigious Grammy Award for his landmark recording of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”

But coming to Madison, DeMain had a chance to show his strength as an organizational  builder and planner -– with results that the Madison public could easily see, hear and be impressed by.

John DeMain inherited a fine organization for an amateur or semi-professional orchestra, one that had been built up especially by Roland Johnson during his long tenure.

But once he took over, DeMain vastly improved the playing and then programmed more ambitious pieces for the players, and developed his approach to them. His Brahms now is tighter and leaner and more exciting than when he arrived. John DeMain (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) is devoted to lifelong learning and improvement, and doesn’t take even the music he already knows and performs for granted.

John DeMain conducting MSO CR Greg Anderson

Over his tenure, DeMain has discovered and booked exciting and affordable young guest soloists – pianist Philippe Bianconi, violinists Augustin Hadelich and Henning Kraggerud, cellist Alisa Weilerstein tenor Stephen Costello — although The Ear would also like to see some big and more expensive figures brought to town to allow us to hear these artists live. Plus, DeMain listens to dozens of auditions each year and unerringly picks great young up-and-coming singers for the Madison Opera’s season including the popular Opera in the Park each summer.

opera in park De Main_001

I also find it noteworthy and important. DeMain is in demand elsewhere and every season has many opportunities to guest conduct out of town — for the now defunct New York City Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York and many others.

John DeMain conducting 2

No less important is his willing to expand out into the local scene. In addition to the opera, he has conducted the chamber groups Con Vivo the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. He continues to play the piano — he was trained as a pianist before turning to conducting.

As an administrator and organizer, he has demonstrated great skills at putting together a team. True, the orchestra has suffered somewhat during the Great Recession and its aftermath – as did all artistic groups. It had to cut back its season by one concert, which DeMain says he hopes to restore to the subscription season.

But the same labor strife that has led to great damage to the Minnesota Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and so many others has not touched the MSO. DeMain’s contained the damage.

Having inherited double performances, DeMain took the MSO to three performances of each concert, reaching about 5,000 people or so with each “triple” performance. He continues to experiment with programming, and in late January will try out the “Behind the Score” series of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak (below).

dvorak

And while some listeners might complain about the lack of more adventurous contemporary music, DeMain has seats to fill and still manages to program contemporary works every season, even with many experimental offerings nearby at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

DeMain attends concerts at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and is a tireless promoter of music education from the televised “Final Forte” Bolz concerto competition to the matinée Young People’s concerts (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson).

MSO Fall Youth kid greg anderson

And let’s not forget that DeMain was instrumental in getting the impressive Overture Center built and then programming concerts for the orchestra’s and opera’s home in Overture Hall (below).

Overture Hall

I am sure there is more I am overlooking.

Do I have some disappointments? Sure.

I thought his 20th anniversary season would be a bit more ambitious and adventurous, and feature some big works by Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. I would like to see few more big-name and hot young soloists, including pianists Joyce Yang, Daniil Trifonov and Jeremy Denk (below), who has done two recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater but has yet to perform a concerto. And there are so many young talented soloists out there today, we should be hearing more of them live and while they are still affordable in our market.

Jeremy Denk playing 2

I also get impatient with what I call “playing the Gershwin card” too often -– including again for this year’s season finale -– because the important and identifiable George Gershwin (bel0w) had such an easy-listening and crossover pop-like musical style that it unfailingly draws so many listeners. I loved DeMain’s last concert version of “Porgy and Bess,” but there must be other solutions.

gershwin with pipe

But in the end I have to defer to his judgment. The excellence that John DeMain has brought to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera has extended to the entire city and to other groups. The rising tide he brought has lifted all boats.

If any one individual can take credit for the ever-increasing quality of the classical music that wehear in Madison, that person is John DeMain (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

DeMainOpera

Little wonder, then, that on this 20th anniversary of his arrival in Madison, maestro John DeMain is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

Thank you, John DeMain. We all – listeners and performers alike — are in your debt.

Cheers and good luck in the coming years!


Classical music: Happy New Year to you from The Ear, from Beethoven and from Spain.

January 1, 2013
5 Comments

A REMINDER: The  annual “New Year’s Day Concert From Vienna” (below) with the Vienna Philharmonic under conductor Franz Welser-Most and with TV host Julie Andrews will air this morning on NPR (and Wisconsin Public Radio) at 10 a.m. this morning with the TV version airing tonight on PBS (and Wisconsin Public Television) at 7 p.m. For more information and links to a play list of Strauss family waltzes and polkas plus works by Verdi and Wagner and lots of background, visit:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/30/classical-music-lets-get-ready-for-new-years-day-from-vienna-concert-on-radio-ad-tv-what-is-the-allure-of-the-waltz-waltz-meister-andre-rieu-discusses-the-allure/

Vienna Golden Hall

By Jacob Stockinger

Today, Jan. 1, 2013, is New Year’s Day.

The past year was not an easy year in so many ways.

Especially disappointing is the increasing polarization or partisanship one sees not only in the US but also around the world. I myself fear for the rise of right-wing fanaticism (often signaled by hatred of immigrants, a callousness toward social welfare and the oppression of minorities) in Greece and elsewhere because of economic situations. Economic strife often leads to war or other forms of strife and suffering. (Below is a CNN photo of an austerity protest riot in Greece.)

riot protest in Greece 2012

One can only  hope for much better in 2013.

So that makes this “flash mob” performance of Beethoven (below) all the more appropriate and moving. It certainly was an emotional experience for and for the very old friend who sent it on to me — as well as for the more than 8 million viewers so far on YouTube.

Beethoven big

It is the perfect piece – or, to be precise, the perfect excerpt of the perfect piece – in words and music — performed in a perfect way that was commissioned by Banco Sabadell in Barcelona to mark its 130th anniversary, I believe.

It is the “Ode to Joy” and finale from Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 9 “Choral.”

What a great gift to all of us! So  pass it on. Link to it. Forward it. Facebook or Twitter it. But see that other people you know and care about experience this flash mob video.

It gives one hope – especially at a time when Spain, like so many other countries, in undergoing the trials, tribulations and testing of austerity.

Judge for yourself – be sure to look at the facial expressions of the children and the ordinary people who just pass by and stop to take it all in. You can see that great music connects and bonds.

And let us know what you think by leaving something in the COMMENTS section.

Happy New Year to you! May Peace, Joy and Prosperity be in abundance in 2013.


Classical music: Is the Vienna Philharmonic sexist? Why does it have so few women players and why doesn’t it book a woman guest conductor for the New Year’s Day gala concert?

January 4, 2012
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday I reviewed and commented on two classical music concerts that took place in New York City on New Year’s Eve. Both seemed largely, even overwhelmingly, successful, according to my own views and to the reviews I directed you to.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, however, things did not go as smoothly – at least not as far as The Ear is concerned.

True, the largely Strauss family concert of waltzes and polkas from the legendary and beautiful Golden Hall (below) in Vienna went largely as it usually has over almost 30 years. As always, it seemed sold-out. And as always, the audience was enthusiastic, clapping merrily along with The Radetsky March finale.

But I also noticed some sharp contrasts with the New York Philharmonic, long-standing contrasts that I did not like.

It is simply this:

Why are there so few women playing in the Vienna Philharmonic (below), especially when compared to the New York Philharmonic? The Vienna Philharmonic is one of the world’s greatest orchestras and would seem to be a draw for top women instrumentalists from around the world.

Is the orchestra’s administration just outright sexist?

Are the audiences and the Viennese public in general that sexist or narrow-minded?

Do women players avoid the orchestra because they feel unwanted or demeaned in the mostly male and possibly hostile or misogynist ensemble, no matter how prestigious it is. I remember the unfortunate trouble that pioneering clarinetist  Sabine Meyer faced with the Berlin Philharmonic when she was hired sand then drummed out of it many years ago.

There is no getting around it, Vienna is a very conservative city and always has been, even though it would like to deny or forget its Nazi past. But you would nonetheless expect more progress over the years, especially given the global spotlight on women’s rights and gender equality in the wake of the Arab Spring.

And how about making history by booking for the widely broadcast  New Year’s Day concert a woman guest conductor – say, the critically acclaimed American protégée of Leonard BernsteinMarin Alsop (below):  

Or the widely travelled and much recorded American conductor JoAnn Falletta (below)?

Or the dynamic Estonia conductor, who has wowed Madison audiences, Anu Tali (below)

And I am sure there are many other fully qualified and capable women conductors I have not named.

If they have already done that, I am unaware of it,. But doing that would send a good signal to young and older women alike, and might even help the orchestra recruit more female musicians. After all, the New Year’s Day concert is billed as the world’s biggest live concert and with an audience of more than one billion listeners in 72 countries.

Would that really be so radical a step?

The Ear says it is time — in fact, long overdue time — for more women players in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and  for a woman conductor to stand on its podium, especially for the always symbolic and hopeful New Year’s Day Concert.

Hey, Vienna! Make some good history! Strike a blow for women’s equality!

In the mean time, readers and listeners, let us know:

And what you think of so few women playing in the Vienna Philharmonic?

What explains it?

Would you like to see a woman conductor preside ever the New Year’s Day concert?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music news: As we say Happy New Year — in Vienna and here — and Cheers to 2012, let us also take one last look at memorable concerts of 2011.

January 1, 2012
5 Comments

ALERTS: For many years now — since it began in 1959,  -, the unofficial start of the new year in classical music has been been marked by the New Year’s Day Concert From Vienna. The radio version will air on Wisconsin Public Radio at 10 a.m. today; the TV version, on the series “Great Performances,” which run on Wisconsin Public Television from 6:30 to 8 p.m. tonight. The Vienna Philharmonic will be conducted by Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons (below). The TV host for this broadcast that reaches over a billion viewers in 72 countries and is considered the largest classical music event in the world, will again be Julie Andrews. And the recording industry will see to a fast turn-around: Sony Classical recordings will release the CD on Jan. 7 and then the DVD on Jan. 21.

By Jacob Stockinger

The music-making of the New Year will begin seriously in just under two weeks. Then, once the University of Wisconsin School of Music reopens after Winter Break, the classical season will get under way full steam .

In the meantime, even as we look forward, it is a chance to remember the music that most moved us during 2011, the year that just ended.

For various reasons I did not have time to do a full compilation this that this year. Yet I can honestly say that every organization or presenter I heard offered at least one or more very memorable performance that will stay with me for a long time.

First — given persistent concerns about the aging and decline of classical music audiences and the future of classical music — let me note that, in the words of Bob Dylan: The times, they are a-changin.

Some of my colleagues did a more comprehensive Year in Review type of piece, even though they seemed to miss out on such news and music trends as the local branch of Classical Revolution, which presents classical music free in alternative venues (for example, Grace Episcopal Church) and New MUSE (below), or New Music Everywhere, which performs classical and contemporary music in alternative venues (Fair Trade Coffeehouse on State Street) and generated a 9/11 flash mob at the Dane County Farmers Market on the Capitol Square  in 2010 and performed at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (below) in 2011.

I also think not enough attention was paid to the small early music ensembles, such as the Madison Bach Musicians (below), that Madison finds itself so blessed with.

But when it comes to mainstream fare and bigger venues –the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater and the UW School of Music —  these two of roundup surveys strike me as generally pretty fair.

Here is the assessment from Greg Hettmansberger, an experienced music critic, who writes the “Classically Speaking” blog for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/December-2011/What-Lingers-in-the-Ear-Madisons-Year-in-Review-Classically-Speaking/

And here are summary judgments by Isthmus’ former news editor and now freelancer Marc Eisen, who has a sensitive set of ears and a refined if universal taste in music. His classical choices alternate with jazz, pop and others, but his summation story is well worth the read and reminders of a memorable year:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=35569&sid=f79860405f202d96d00d7ffa1f8afa62

Finally, no one mentioned the impressive performances by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, including the world premiere (below) of Madison composer John Stevens’ “Fanfare for an Uncommon Man,” a tribute to WYSO founder Marvin Rabin.


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