The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why do we love Chopin? Ask pianist Jeremy Denk

August 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like playing or hearing the music of Chopin (below).

Can you?

But just why the 19th-century Romantic composer has such universal appeal is hard to explain.

One of the best explanations The Ear has read came recently from pianist Jeremy Denk, whose essay on “Chopin as a cat” appeared in The New York Times.

Denk, who has performed two outstanding solo recitals in Madison, is clearly an important musical thinker as well as a great performer. You can also see that at once if you read his excellent blog “Think Denk.”

The Ear suspects the current essay grew out of some remarks that Denk gave during a lecture on Chopin’s pedaling at the UW-Madison, and will be incorporated into the book he is working on that includes his previous acclaimed essays in The New Yorker magazine.

Denk (below), who has lately been performing an intriguing survey concert that covers 600 years of music, thinks that Chopin’s uniqueness resides in how he consolidated and fused both conservative values and radical, even modern, innovations.

To the Ear, it is the best modern analysis of Chopin that he has read since the major treatment that the acclaimed pianist-musicologist Charles Rosen wrote about the Polish “poet of the piano” in his terrific book “The Romantic Generation.”

Moreover, the online web version of Denk’s essay is much more substantial and satisfying than the newspaper print edition. It has not only audio-visual performances of important Chopin works by major artists such as Arthur Rubinstein and  Krystian Zimerman, it also suggests, analyzes and praises some “old-fashioned” historical recordings of Chopin by Ignaz Friedman, Alfred Cortot and Josef Hoffmann.

Now if only Jeremy Denk would record an album of Chopin himself!

Here is a link to the Chopin essay:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/arts/music/jeremy-denk-chopin.html

Enjoy!

Please listen to the wonderful clips that Denk suggests.

Then tell us what pieces are your favorite Chopin works, big or small, and what performers are your favorite Chopin interpreters.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: See and hear what happens at the Metropolitan Opera just before show time. You will be amazed and entertained

July 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most illuminating and entertaining stories The Ear has seen recently came in The New York Times.

It does exactly what great journalism does: Take you to a place where you cannot go yourself.

The Times went behind the scenes at the famed Metropolitan Opera House in New York City (below) – the Met, for short – to see what was going on before show time.

And it was a lot more than opera.

There is so much to see and listen to, as suggested below in the 1966 drawing of the Metropolitan Opera House by David A. Mackay.

From the sets, props, wig and costume shops to rehearsals by the Met and the American Ballet Theatre and the Metropolitan Orchestra and even to the kitchen and dining room, to say nothing of the classes, hallways and stage.

What emerged was an enthralling story – full of impromptu serendipity — that made good reading in the newspaper and humanized the arts. Here is the text index version (click on the picture and then on the triangle you will see):

But then The Times took advantage of the Internet to create an interactive look at the same material that features only audiovisual clips and runs 7 minutes and 21 seconds.

https://www.nytimes.com/video/arts/100000005201650/what-happens-just-before-show-time-at-the-met-opera-in-12-rooms-youll-never-see.html

The final result is impressive, both for the great videography of the shoulder-held cameras and for the succinct labeling and explaining that doesn’t interrupt the flow.

What resulted should win some kind of prize or award. It should also serve as a model for what many other media – especially television – can do with various media tools at hand.

One last observation: Is The Ear the only person who thinks the driving drum soundtrack sounds suspiciously similar to the soundtrack of the 2014 Oscar-winning film “Birdman”?

What do you think about the video?

Did you like it?

Did you learn anything?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What are the best recordings by Arturo Toscanini and why did critics turn against him?

July 10, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This past weekend, The Ear posted a story about the massive new biography of the legendary Italian maestro Arturo Toscanini (below).

In case you missed it, here is a link that will also take you to the terrific book review by Robert Gottlieb of the fascinating new biography by Harvey Sachs that appeared in The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/classical-music-new-biography-explains-the-professional-importance-and-personal-quirks-of-famed-maestro-arturo-toscanini/

Turns out that The New Yorker magazine also featured two stories that relate to the new biography, which appears on the 150th anniversary of Toscanini’s birth.

The first story by David Denby focuses on the best recordings by Toscanini. They include the new and impressively re-mastered ones, and most can be found for FREE listening on YouTube.

Here is a link to that critique of the great Toscanini recordings that proved so influential in the history of classical music in the modern era.

It includes what famed Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine considers the most perfect orchestral recording ever made — which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom (be sure to read the comments):

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/toscaninis-greatest-recorded-performances

And here is a follow-up story by Denby about why critics turned against the famous and revered Italian conductor:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/07/10/the-toscanini-wars


Classical music: New biography explains the professional importance and personal quirks of famed maestro Arturo Toscanini

July 8, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

You  know  how sometimes a movie preview or trailer gives so much away of the story that it leaves you feeling you don’t really need to see the movie.

That’s how The Ear felt when he read a recent review in The New York Times of a new and exhaustive biography by Harvey Sachs of the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini (below).

Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867 – 1957) conducts the NBC Symphony Orchestra in a televised recording of Verdi‘s ‘Hymn of the Nations‘, 1944. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This is the second time that Sachs has written about the maestro. This time, however, he had access to recently released private papers.

And boy, are there some surprises.

In his lengthy review, Robert Gottlieb gives The Ear just about all he wants to know or needs to know about the Italian master from his youth (below, ca. 1890) to old age — and then some. (In the YouTube video at the bottom you can hear and see Toscanini conducting “The Ride of the Valkyries” by Richard Wagner in  1948.)

The Ear knew Toscanini was important. But he was never really quite sure why.

Now he knows.

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/27/books/review/toscanini-biography-harvey-sachs.html

Read the review and see if you agree.

And tell us what you make of Toscanini the musician and Toscanini the man.

The Ear wants to hear.


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: Pianist Gabriela Montero plays music by Schubert and Schumann and then does her own spontaneous improvisations this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

February 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pianist Gabriela Montero (below, in a photo by Shelley Mosman) will perform in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Saturday night, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. Montero last performed in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and wowed the house at the Overture Center.

On this Friday, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Mills Hall, Montero will also hold a master class, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

gabriela-montero-2017-shelley-mosman

Here are ticket prices for her recital: UW-Madison students are $10; Union members and non-UW students are $42, $38 and $25; UW-Madison faculty and staff are $44, $40 and $25; the general public is $46, $42 and $25; and young people 18 and under are $20.

Tickets can be bought online; by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787); or in person — see locations and hours here.

The first half of Montero’s program features the first set of Four Impromptus, Op. 99, D. 899, by Franz Schubert and the playfully Romantic “Carnival” by Robert Schumann.

After intermission, the former prodigy will perform the spontaneous improvisations – usually on themes suggested by the audience – that she is acclaimed for.

According to The New York Times, “[Gabriela] Montero’s playing has everything: crackling rhythmic brio, subtle shadings, steely power in climactic moments, soulful lyricism in the ruminative passages and, best of all, unsentimental expressivity.”

Here she is performing the third Schubert impromptu, in G-flat major, in the set of four that she will play here:

Montero was born in Venezuela and gave her first performance to a public audience at the age of five. When she was eight, she made her concerto debut in Caracas, which led to a scholarship for private study in the United States.

Montero played with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman and clarinetist Anthony McGill at Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Inauguration.

She has been invited to perform with the world’s most respected orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Liverpool Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony and more, performing in the Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall and Wigmore Hall, among others.

Celebrated for her ability to brilliantly improvise, compose and play new works, Montero is an award-winning and best-selling recording artist.

She has received the Bronze Medal at the Chopin Competition, two Echo Klassik Awards in 2006 and 2007, and a Grammy nomination for her Bach and Beyond follow-up Baroque work in 2008.

She participated in the 2013 Women of the World Festival in London and spoke at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. She has also been recognized as a composer for her Piano Concerto No. 1.

In the YouTube video at the bottom you can hear Montero improvise on a famous melody by Sergei Rachmaninoff in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach.

This performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee and was supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Media sponsors are WORT 89.9 FM and the UW-Madison student station WSUM 91.7 FM. 


Classical music: This Friday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” with guest guitarist Ana Vidovic as well as the Symphony No. 3 by Bruckner and the Symphony No. 30 by Mozart

January 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) opens the second half of its season with a promising concert that has both sunny lyricism and dark drama.

WCO lobby

Tickets run $10 to $80. Here is a link to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s website with information about the concert, the soloist and how to get tickets:

http://www.wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-ii-2/

As usual, WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) has created a program that mixes music of different moods from different eras.

AndrewSewellnew

The guest artist is classical guitarist Ana Vidovic (below top), who performed with the WCO two years ago to critical and audience acclaim.

This time Vidovic will perform the popular “Concierto de Aranjuez” by the 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo (below bottom), who took inspiration from Baroque music for this work. (You can hear the gorgeously tuneful slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Jazz great trumpeter Miles Davis also used to play the slow movement from the Rodrigo concerto.

ana-vidovic-2017

joaquin rodrigo

The concert will open with the Symphony No. 30 in D Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and will close with the Symphony No. 3 in D minor by the Austrian late Romantic composer Anton Bruckner (below), who is often coupled with Gustav Mahler.

Anton Bruckner 2

For many listeners, the big draw is the Bruckner symphony since Bruckner does not get heard often here.

So The Ear thought it might be useful to read comments about Bruckner by the world-famous maestro Daniel Barenboim, who was the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for many years.

This week, Barenboim (below top conducting and below bottom in an informal portrait photo by Andrea Gjestvang for The New York Times) is leading the Staatskapelle Berlin in a complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies — coupled with Mozart piano concertos played and conducted by Barenboim himself from the keyboard — in Carnegie Hall in New York City. He also recently recorded all the Bruckner symphonies with the same orchestra. And just yesterday he got rave review from The New York Times for the first two Bruckner-Mozart concerts.

daniel barenboim with baton

daniel-barenboim-portrait-ny-times-andrea-gjestvang-2017

Here is a link to the interview and story in The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/13/arts/music/a-long-party-of-concerts-to-celebrate-anton-bruckner.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FBarenboim%2C%20Daniel&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0


Classical music: Georges Prêtre, the French conductor Vienna adored, has died at 92

January 10, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Vienna has been called “The Paris of the Reich.”

Perhaps that is why the Viennese took such a liking to the suave and debonair French conductor Georges Prêtre (below, in a photo by Dieter Nagli for Getty Images), who died last Wednesday at 92.

george-pretre-cr-dieter-nagli-getty-images

The urbane Prêtre – who specialized in French music but also was much in demand for a lot of German and Italian repertoire — studied karate and judo. But he also enjoyed the good life and by all accounts had a terrific sense of humor coupled to a “joie de vivre.”

He often said he preferred being a guest conductor to being a music director because the former was like a love affair and the latter was like a commitment. Yet Prêtre was committed: He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years.

His conducting career spanned 70 years. He was known for his association with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony. But he also conducted 101 performances of seven operas at the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He also frequently conducted in Milan, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Here is a good summary obituary, with sound clips of orchestral and operatic music, from National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/01/05/508374381/georges-pr-tre-a-conductor-with-a-70-year-career-dies-at-92

And here is a longer obituary, which gives you the French flavor of the man and the musician, from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/04/arts/music/georges-pretre-french-conductor-known-for-improvisation-dies-at-92.html

And here is George Prêtre’s most popular video on YouTube, which also serves as a fine memorial in sound:


Classical music: Here are the best classical recordings of 2016 as chosen by critics for The New York Times. Plus, take a break from Christmas music when the Middleton Community Orchestra plays music by Dvorak, Mendelssohn and Brahms tomorrow night

December 20, 2016
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REMINDER: Had your fill of holiday music yet? The Ear sure has. Listening to too much Christmas music is a little like drinking too much eggnog or eating too much fruitcake.

So he is grateful to the Middleton Community Orchestra, a mostly amateur but very accomplished ensemble that performs tomorrow night, Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School.

Happily, the MCO has a program that features conductor Kyle Knox and Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz. The music runs counter-intuitive to most seasonal programming and offers a break from all things Christmas except for beauty and joy: some Slavonic Dances by Antonin  Dvorak, the terrific Violin Concerto in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn and the sunny Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms.

Admission is $15 (NOT $10 as mistakenly stated earlier); free to students.

For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/classical-music-the-mostly-amateur-middleton-community-orchestra-will-give-its-holiday-concert-of-works-by-mendelssohn-dvorak-and-brahms-on-wednesday-night-dec-21/

By Jacob Stockinger

There is still time for giving and getting this holiday season.

So here are The Best Classical Recordings of 2016, as chosen by critics for The New York Times.

nyt-best-of-2016-1

The Times listing has good discerning commentaries and even some audiovisual excerpts of the recordings named. And at least one of the recordings — a CD of Haydn and Ligeti by pianist Shai Wosner — has connections to Madison and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

One can also use this list as a starting point.

The Ear likes to package a recording with a book and even a ticket to a live performance. And these choices offer much food for thought. For example. the recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Edward Elgar, recorded by conductor Daniel Barenboim, will be performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater this spring by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under its outgoing director Edo de Waart.

nyt-best-of-2016-2

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/arts/music/best-classical-music-recordings-2016.html?_r=0

And here is a link to two other gift guides.

The first is the post-Thanksgiving guide, which includes books and DVDs, by The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/classical-music-here-is-the-new-york-times-holiday-gift-guide-of-classical-music-for-2016/

The second is the list of nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2017-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

Enjoy and leave word of your agreement or disagreement along with other selections in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

nyt-best-of-2016-3


Classical music: Give the gift of LIVE music. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Union Theater are offering holiday discounts.

December 13, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

A lot of holiday gift lists suggest recordings, videos and books related to classical music.

The Ear recently posted a link to the holiday gift guide by critics of The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/classical-music-here-is-the-new-york-times-holiday-gift-guide-of-classical-music-for-2016/

The Ear also offered the 2017 Grammy nominations for gift suggestions:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2017-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

But The Ear thinks the best gift by far is LIVE music – a ticket to one or more of the many concerts that take place in the Madison area. You can’t beat live music for excitement, insight and enjoyment.

There may be more, but at least two major arts presenters in Madison are offering holiday discounts to make your gift-giving easier and more affordable.

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Through Dec. 24, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering a special deal — two levels of tickets for $20 and $49. That includes values up to $89. Concerts in the next semester include two outstanding pianist soloists (Stephen Hough, below top, playing the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saens and Philippe Bianconi playing the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, or “The Rach 3”) as well as the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms, the “Beyond the Score” performance about Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (with actors from American Players Theatre in Spring Green) and Norwegian trumpet virtuoso Tina Thing Helseth (below bottom).

Here are two relevant links:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/holidaysale

http://www.overture.org/events/madison-symphony-orchestra/

Hough_Stephen_color16

Helseth (c) ColinBell EMI Classics

WISCONSIN UNION THEATER

Through Jan. 8, at the Wisconsin Union Theater will forego the $4 per ticket handling fee for any event, including the classical pianist and improviser Gabriela Montero (below top), the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with its famous outgoing music director Edo de Wart conducting (below bottom).

Here is  a link to shows for the second semester:

https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/AdvSearchForm?Locations[329]=329

Gabriela Montero

milwaukee-symphony-orchestra-with-edo-de-waart

And of course discounts are not the only reason to choose a certain program or performer.

Whatever you are looking for — early music or new music, chamber music or orchestral music, art song recitals or choral music — you can find it in Madison, and usually at a very affordable price.

Lots of specific concerts at the UW-Madison and elsewhere are either free or low in price, as is the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Here are two links:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

http://www.middletoncommunityorchestra.org

And you can find numerous other sites by Googling the organization’s name.

Combine a ticket to a live performance with a recording of a work or an artist, and maybe even include an invitation to be a companion, and you have a fine gift package that promises to be truly memorable.

Are there any other holiday deals the Ear hasn’t heard about?

Any suggestions or ideas for giving live music?

Leave word and links in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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