The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Remembering The Modest Maestro. English conductor Sir Neville Marriner died this past week at 92

October 8, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

He played in a string quartet and a symphony orchestra before founding and directing a chamber orchestra that rose to the top ranks of the music world. Then he became a world-famous conductor of larger ensembles, including the Minnesota Orchestra.

He was Sir Neville Marriner (below, in old age), and he died at 92 on Oct. 2.


Perhaps because Marriner, who pioneered period practices on modern instruments when playing music of the Baroque and Classical eras, was famous for recording the soundtrack to the Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus,” his death was announced the same day on radio news programs – something that doesn’t happen often and speaks to his popularity and influence.

By all accounts, in the world of many egotistical maestros, Marriner remained modest. For this friendly titan, music mattered most and he was busy conducting right up until the end. Apparently, Marriner was a wonderful man to know and to work with.

Chances are good that by now you have already heard about Marriner’s death. So The Ear is offering some homages that repeat the details of his career and his passing. (Below is a photo of the young Neville Marriner.)


First are two moving testimonies from Marriner’s friend, the British critic Norman Lebrecht, published on Lebrecht’s blog Slipped Disc:

Here is the announcement of his death from the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (heard playing the Adagio by Tomaso Albinoni in the YouTube video at the bottom), which Marriner founded and led for many years:

Here is an exhaustive obituary from The New York Times:

And here is another obituary from The Washington Post:

Here is a good overview with some audio-visual samples, from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR or National Public Radio:

And here is a good summary from famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City:!/story/conductor-neville-marriner-dies-founded-london-orchestra/?utm_source=local&utm_medium=treatment&utm_campaign=carousel&utm_content=item5

Sir Neville Marriner was a prolific recording artist, with more than 500 recordings to his credit. The Ear fondly remembers an LP that had the Serenades for Strings by the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and the “Holberg” Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, which has been reissued as a “Legends” CD by Decca. The playing was warmly heart-felt and superb.

The Ear also loved his complete set of piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, done with pianist Alfred Brendel.

What are your favorite Marriner recordings?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Read the reviews. This afternoon is your last chance to hear — and, thanks to NASA, to see — Holst’s “The Planets.” But ARRIVE EARLY! The Madison Symphony Orchestra has alerted its audiences about new security measures at the Overture Center

September 25, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has sent out the following note, via email and regular mail, about new security measures at the Overture Center.

They will be in effect for the three MSO concerts this weekend, including the performance today, Sunday, Sept. 25, at 2:30 p.m.

For more information about the program, visit this link:

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

“Due to changes in the Overture Center’s security procedures, there will be only THREE main entry points into the building (below) as you come for your concert. When you arrive, please enter at:

 The main Overture Center entrance on State Street

 An entrance on Fairchild Street (one door only)

 The “back” entrance on Henry Street

Security stations will be placed at each entrance where Overture staff will conduct a bag search on bags larger than a small purse, including backpacks.


We anticipate that the process will be smooth and proceed quickly, although we do recommend you come early for peace of mind so you can enjoy the concert from start to finish!

For more information on the Overture Center’s security measures, please visit the website at

The Ear wonders what effect these new security measures will have on attendance at the symphony, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra concerts, the Madison Opera, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and other non-musical events.

The Ear would like to know if the new security measures come in response to an actual terrorist threat or are simply a new standard operating procedure. The published explanation leans to the latter and says the Overture Center was to take the same precautions that big presenters in, say New York City and Washington, D.C., do.

But The Ear wonders: Will similar measures now be adopted by the Wisconsin Union Theater, the University of Wisconsin School of Music and other major local venues?

Does anyone have more information or an opinion?

What do you think about the necessity or desirability of such measures ?

And what was your experience like with the new procedures?

Stay tuned.

The Ear wants to hear.

In the meantime, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the program that generally gets very positive reviews.

Here is the review that John W. Barker (below) wrote for Isthmus:


And here is the review that Jessica Courtier wrote for The Capital Times:

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

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).


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.

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).


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: Here is music to mark today’s 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11

September 11, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

A lot of classical music – requiems, symphonies, chamber music, solo works – could be used to commemorate the event. You can leave your own suggestions in the COMMENT section.

But The Ear wants to post something specific to the anniversary – something well known and something relatively unknown.

First the well known work:

Here is a slide show with the music “On the Transmigration of Souls,” by the American composer John Adams (below), who was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to compose a work related to 9/11.

John Adams

The composition mixes sounds from actual events with music, and it won the Pulitzer Prize.

When the Madison Symphony Orchestra performed it many seasons ago, it proved a deeply moving experience.

Here it is:

The events inspired other works too, including two by Kevin Puts (below), who was in Madison this summer for the premiere of a new song cycle and performances of his other instrumental works by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

Kevin Puts pulitzer

The Ear sure wishes there was a YouTube performance of the 16-minute work “Falling Dream.”

Here is a description by the composer:

“The piece was written in the months immediately after 9/11. Its composition was initially inspired by news footage I saw in which a couple leaped from one of the burning towers (below) holding hands.

“For months I was incapable of getting the image out of my head. It was so poetic in both its horror and beauty that I almost couldn’t justify a musical reaction to it.

“However I eventually found a way to illustrate the experience in extreme slow motion by creating a counterpoint of two slowly descending melodies, heard first at the beginning of the work. Episodes fade in and out of this slow descent like memories, but the illusion I wanted to create is that the falling never really ceases.

“The last section of the piece is, by contrast, a slowly building ascent that has no programmatic relevance but whose majestic quality functions as a message of hope.”

Twin Towers on 9-11

And here is a performance of Kevin Puts’ Symphony No. 2, which The Ear first heard on Wisconsin Public Radio. It too was informed by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Here is what Puts, who was educated at Yale and the Eastman School of Music and who now teaches at the Peabody Institute of Music at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says about it:

“In the September 24, 2001 issue of The New Yorker writer Jonathan Franzen wrote, “In the space of two hours we left behind a happy era of Game Boy economics and trophy houses and entered a world of fear and vengeance.”

“My second symphony, while by no means a memorial, makes reference to this sudden paradigmatic shift. During the first eight minutes of the work, a slow orchestral build describes the unsuspecting climate pre 9/11, a naïve world aptly described by my mother as a metaphorical island.

“After a brief passage for solo violin, an upheaval of sorts effectively obliterates this opening sentiment and initiates another gradual crescendo which makes use of the same material as the opening, cast this time in darker and more ambiguous harmonic colors.

“Once the entire orchestra reaches the climax of the work, the solo violin returns in a more extended passage than before and subdues the turbulent orchestra. This leads to a reflective epilogue in which a clock-like pulse creates a mood of expectancy and uncertainty, interlaced with hope.”

Classical music: What piece of classical music best celebrates Labor Day? And which pieces require the most work to play?

September 5, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day, 2106.

We spend so much of our lives working and so little of our art relating to that work. 

But there are exceptions, such as the great historic photo “Working” by Lewis Hines that is below.

Here are suggestions of work-related music and a listing from 2014 by the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR-FM:!/story/poll-what-music-best-captures-spirit-labor-day/

And here is a pie chart and a 3-part listing from WQXR-FM this year with music that pertains to labor as well as to the work needed to play a piece of music as well. Just place the cursor over the segment of the pie chart to see the title and composer:!/crowdsourcing/classical-music-labor-day/report/

working Lewis hine photo

WQXR usually broadcasts labor-related music on Labor Day.

Here is a link for listening via streaming:!/

The Ear guesses that other radio stations, including Wisconsin Public Radio and Sirius XM Satellite Radio, will do the same.

But feel free to leave suggestions that might have been overlooked in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

For example, The Ear thinks that the “Hammerklavier” Sonata and the “Diabelli” Variations by Ludwig van Beethoven qualifies as does the Symphony No. 8, the so-called “Symphony of a Thousand” by Gustav Mahler, the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. there are many, many others. It often takes hard work to make great beauty.

Anyway, tell us what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Labor Day!


Classical music: Did she know or didn’t she? Here is the factual background about a flawed diva if you go to see the movies “Florence Foster Jenkins” or “Marguerite”

August 19, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

This week, The Ear saw the movie “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a story about the amateur singer Florence Foster Jenkins (below, in the 1920s in a photo from Getty Images), who was famous in the early- to mid-20th-century for singing terribly, painfully and laughably off-key but who nonetheless pursued performing in public and sold a lot of records.

Florence Foster Jenkins in the 1920s GETTY IMAGES

During the Wisconsin Film Festival, The Ear also saw a French movie, “Marguerite,” with a similar story line and main character.

Of the two, he much preferred “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Meryl Streep (below) plays the flawed diva with total commitment. The Ear suspects it will garner Streep, who did her own bad singing to perfection, her 20th Academy Award nomination, even if she doesn’t win a fourth Oscar.

British actor Hugh Grant might also be nominated for his supporting role as the British out-of-work actor who becomes her protector, promoter and caring love partner St. Clair Bayfield.

In additon, her piano accompanist Cosmé McMoon, played by Simon Helberg, who could also receive an Oscar nomination, develops into a memorable secondary character.

The English script — directed by the talented Stephen Frears –seemed more tightly written with better characters and dialogue than the French one, which dragged on too long and seemed forced in its ending, although both movies share similarities in their endings.

But to be honest, with both of the films The Ear had a major problem with suspending disbelief.

He just can’t believe that Jenkins didn’t know how badly she sang.

You can hear her butcher the famous and difficult “Queen of the Night” aria from “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Anyway, the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR, or National Public Radio, has provided an excellent background piece, a very factual biography of Jenkins, that also asks famous singers whether it is possible for Jenkins not to have known how flawed her singing was.

All The Ear knows is that if he played the piano that badly, he sure wouldn’t go perform a recital in Carnegie Hall.

Here is a link to the blog piece by Tom Huizenga:

Now if you go to either or both movies, here is what The Ear wants to know:

Which film about Florence Foster Jenkins did you prefer, and why?

And do you think it is possible to sing as badly as Jenkins did without knowing it?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Where did the Mostly Mozart Festival go on PBS?

August 15, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear keeps reading The New York Times and finding features about and laudatory reviews of the 50th Mostly Mozart Festival that is being held at Lincoln Center in New York City from July 22 through August 27.

Mostly Mozart Festival logo

But he doesn’t recall seeing or hearing anything on PBS, or public television – even in a delayed broadcast.

Time was, it seems, that the gala opening concert was broadcast during prime time on either “Live From Lincoln Center” or “Great Performances.”

But for several years now it seems that it is no longer broadcast.

And The Ear misses it. They were almost always good concerts with memorable music, memorable performers and memorable performances. (You can get an idea from the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And music director Louis Langree (below) has instituted some great innovations, including new music, more music by other composers, and smaller alternative venues and programs.

louis langree

This year’s offerings are no different. Check out the schedule at the festival’s website:

Is it The Ear’s imagination that the Mostly Mozart Festival has disappeared from the airwaves?


To be more mainstream?

To make room for more British mysteries or other more popular shows?

That would be a shame for the alternative broadcast company.

Does anybody else feel the same way?

Has The Ear just missed the broadcasts?

Or have they really been suspended or ended?

If so, does the credit go to PBS? Or to Wisconsin Public Television?

The Ear sure would appreciate getting some answers.

And seeing and hearing more of Mostly Mozart.

Classical music: Which political campaigns have used classical music?

August 14, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

In the past, the music that political campaigns used was often jingles that reminded one of Madison Avenue advertising, even when they were composed by Broadway song master Irving Berlin.

These days, it seems to The Ear that most political campaigns use rock, pop or country music.

Sometimes folk music.

Never jazz.

And, one supposes, you will never hear the blues since that would be a pretty downbeat message for politicians.

But leave it to our friends at WQXR-FM, the famed classical music radio station in New York City, to offer some samples of political campaign music, including some that used classical music.

Ike campaign political campaigns and classical music

Donald Trump (below), the current Republican nominee for president, has tried to use the famous opera aria “Nessum dorma” (None Shall Sleep) from “Turandot” by Giacomo Puccini.

Donald Trump thumbs up

Fittingly, in the opera the moving and beautiful aria is sung by a prince to woo a Chinese tyrant or despot.

The Ear especially loved the way it was used so appropriately during the carpet bombing of Cambodia by the U.S. in the movie “The Killing Fields.”

Trump used one of the best versions available – sung by Luciano Pavarotti, one of which has 38 million hits and which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.

But the Pavarotti estate refused to grant him permission to use it and asked him to cease and desist. Good for them.

Now Trump uses something in the public domain: the Overture to the opera “The Thieving Magpie” by Giachino Rossini.

Anyway, here is a link to the story:!/story/6-us-political-campaigns-set-to-classical-music/

Classical music: Do we need smaller concert halls?

August 13, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Recently, senior New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini wrote a column in which he praised the intensity and intimacy that listeners feel in a smaller concert hall.

His remarks come in the context of the $500-million remodeling of David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center and the opening of the Mostly Mozart Festival.

And he offers the suggestions as a solution not only for solo recitals and chamber music performances but also for symphony orchestras and operas.

The Ear compares, say, the intensity of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below top), with the audience at the edge of the stage) in the Playhouse at the Overture Center to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in the Capitol Theater to the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below bottom) and Madison Opera in Overture Hall.

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

You can indeed hear intense performances in all three venues. But overall The Ear has to agree that being closer to the musicians also brings you closer to the music.

Here is a link to Tommasini’s column:

What does your own experience tell you?

What is your favorite concert hall or venue?

Let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: New York Times critic David Allen is a role model of how to prepare for listening to a new and unknown conductor

August 7, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Many people were taken off guard when in January the New York Philharmonic named Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden (below) as its new music director — the highest paid conductor in the U.S.

Jaap van Sweden CR Todd Heisler NYT

The Ear certainly was.

And so was the New York Times critic David Allen.

But rather than wait to go hear van Zweden live, Allen plunged into van Zweden’s discography. The many recordings gave him a very good idea of what the conductor’s strengths and weaknesses are.

It took Allen some 52 hours of listening to do his due diligence and get a comprehensive background and preparation.

But the conclusions he reaches about van Zweden (below, in a photo by Washington of The New York Times) in contemporary repertoire as well as in classic works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Peter Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky, Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner, among others, are illuminating.

You can hear Jaap van Sweden conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in what seems to The Ear an energetic and forceful interpretation of the Symphony No. 1 by Brahms in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Jaap van Zweden CR Ruby Washington NYTImes

Here is a link. You can judge for yourself what the public can look forward to:

What do you think of Allen’s assessment?

Does it seem fair? Biased?

Does it make you look forward to hearing van Zweden?

The Ear wants to hear.

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