By Jacob Stockinger
This post wraps up the holiday gift-giving season for this year.
Over the past month or so, I have offered several major roundups of the Best of 2014 classical music recordings.
The posts have included a Top 10 list from NPR or National Public Radio:
A list from the critics at The New York Times:
A link from critic Jeremy Eichler at the Boston Globe:
And a list of the classical nominations for the 57th annual Grammy Awards:
Now, as the year ends, here comes the annual compilation by the venerable Gramophone magazine out of Great Britain. Top honors go to Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for their cycle of orchestral works, symphonies and overtures and more, by Johannes Brahms on the Decca label.
But there is a lot more to look at and listen to, and, predictably, a lot of choices with ties to United Kingdom.
Anyway, if you still need to give a gift or maybe to redeem a gift card or spend cash you received, here is the story along with the direct link to the FREE digital magazine issue (below):
By Jacob Stockinger
This is the last weekend for holiday shipping before Christmas, and retailers expect today to be even bigger and busier than Black Friday.
Plus, whether you are looking for a gift for someone else or for what to buy with that gift card or cash you receive, perhaps you will find the following lists convenient and helpful.
The three lists are compilations of the Best Classical Music Recordings of 2014, even if they appear a bit late. (I seem to recall that these lists appeared closer to Thanksgiving or Black Friday in past years, but I could be wrong.)
The first list, a long one, comes from the various critics at The New York Times:
It covers solo instruments, vocal music, operas, orchestral music, chamber music – you name it.
The second list from a critic for The Boston Globe:
The third list comes from ace music critic and prize-winner Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker Magazine. He names 20 different recordings along with 10 memorable live events from the concert scene in New York City.
The Ear finds it interesting how many agreements there are about certain composers, works and performers – such as the haunting, 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning work “Become Ocean” by the contemporary American composer John Luther Adams (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the Schubert recording by British pianist Paul Lewis (below middle) in late music by Franz Schubert or Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic in two symphonies by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.
And even happier listening!!
It will be interesting to see what 2015 brings.
By Jacob Stockinger
This year, the holiday gift-giving season went into high gear on Thanksgiving Day, not just Black Friday. That was followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday and on and on.
Doesn’t such commercialism of the holidays just make you want to break into “Joy to the World” or the “Hallelujah” Chorus?
Traditionally, The Ear has offered many lists and compilations for suggested classical recordings for the holidays — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, whatever.
Over this past weekend, the nominations for the 57th annual Grammy Awards were announced.
Of course, this event – no matter how hyped and prestigious for helping music — is an industry honoring and promoting itself. So of course classical music is way down on the list, far behind more money-making and better selling genres.
But over the years The Ear has found that the nominees are actually more useful than the much shorter list of winners, which doesn’t come out anyway until well after the holidays.
So here is a link to the complete list of Grammy nominations. Just go the website, and scroll down to Category 72 though Category 81.
Sure, the Big Labels and Gray Ladies – such as Deutsche Grammophon and EMI – are represented.
And so are some pretty big New Names, including the astonishingly gifted prize-winning young pianist Daniil Trifonov (below), who, The Ear thinks, show get a Grammy for his Carnegie Hall recital. (Just listen to the YouTube video, taken from that live recital, at the bottom. It features a difficult Chopin prelude and notice the virtuosic ferocity combined with lyricism, the voicing, and the flexibility of tempo or rubato.)
But once again The Ear notices how many recordings are being done by labels that have been established by the performing groups themselves or by smaller labels. Decentralization continues. So does the rediscovery of Baroque opera and early music as well as new music.
In addition, there continues to be an emphasis, established in recent years, on newer music and lesser known composers. So specialization also continues.
Notice too that veteran independent record producer Judith Sherman (below, holding the Grammy she won in 2012) is once again up for Producer of The Year – she has won it several times already.
Sherman is the same person who recorded the impressive first double CD of four centennial commissions for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet. That release included string quartets by John Harbison and Walter Mays as well as Piano Quintets by Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.
This spring Judith Sherman is coming back to the UW-Madison School to record the last two commissions: the terrific Clarinet Quintet based on Allen Ginsberg’s Beat poem “Howl’ by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below top) and for the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier (below bottom, in a photo by Lise Mernier).
More such suggestions for classical music gifts are to come.
Usually critics from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal weigh in, as does Alex Ross of The New Yorker magazine and the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR (National Public Radio), and The Ear will include those.
And often The Ear throws in his own idea for gifts, which often involves linking a local live concert with a CD or a book and a CD. Stay tuned.
And here is a link to more about the Grammys, including background
By Jacob Stockinger
Compared to the start of many seasons, surprisingly this fall hasn’t seen a lot of piano music— either solo recitals or concertos.
The Ear says “surprisingly” because box office statistics seem to suggest that piano concerts general draw good audiences. Pianists are favorites as soloists with orchestra fans -– as you could see in October when Russian pianist Olga Kern performed a concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain to a big, enthusiastic house.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that so many people take piano lessons when they are young. Or maybe it is because the repertoire is so big, so varied and so appealing.
And, true to form, next semester promises a whole lot more piano concerts of all kinds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Salon Series at Farley’s House of Pianos.
Anyway, one piano standout of the fall is about to happen this week.
The program is an outstanding one. It features the dramatic “Tempest” Sonata in D minor, Op 31, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the “Symphonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann; a medley of the late piano intermezzi and other miniatures, Op. 116 through Op. 119, by Johannes Brahms, works we hear too infrequently, possibly because they are more for the home than the concert hall; and the rarely played Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Tickets are $40, $42 and $45; $10 for UW-Madison students.
For more information, plus a video and some reviews, visit this link:
And here is a link to a story about her unusual career that appeared in The New York Times:
This is Valentina Lisitsa’s third appearance at the Wisconsin Union Theater. She has performed there twice when she accompanied American violinist Hillary Hahn in what The Ear found to be memorable programs that offered a wonderful balance of dynamics in a chamber music partnership.
Lisitsa has established a special reputation for building her live concert and recording career not through the traditional ways or by winning competitions, but through using new media. In particular, she has amassed a huge following with something like 62 million individual views of and 98,000 subscribers to her many YouTube videos.
So impressive was her record with YouTube, in fact, that the venerable record label Decca offered her a contract. Her first release was a live recording of a recital of music by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin that she gave in the Royal Albert Hall in London — a recital for which she let her fans determine the program through voting on-line.
Then she recorded the complete knuckle-busting Rachmaninoff concertos, an all-Liszt album and a bestselling CD of “Chasing Pianos” by the contemporary British composer Michael Nyman, who wrote the well-known score for the popular gothic romance film “The Piano.”
Here is a link to an interview Valentina Lisitsa did with NPR (National Public Radio):
Now she has a new and nuanced recording out of the complete Etudes, Opp. 10 and 24, by Frederic Chopin plus the “Symphonic Etudes” By Robert Schumann that she will perform here. (You can hear Chopin excerpts from the new CD in a YouTube video at the bottom.) The Ear is betting that, if an encore is in the offing this Thursday night, it will be a Chopin etude or two from the new recording — perhaps a slow and poetic one, perhaps a virtuosic one, or perhaps one of both kinds.
Her Madison appearance features a big and difficult program. But Lisitsa has the technique and power, the chops, to bring it off. She also demonstrated how she combines that substantial power with sensitive musicality in memorable solo recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos. And she claims to have developed a keyboard method that allows her to play difficult music for long periods of time without strain or injury. To one admiring reader comment about the new YouTube etude video, she says simply: “Playing piano is easy!”
Well, good for her! But I say go and judge for yourself — and don’t forget to enjoy the music as much as the musician.
By Jacob Stockinger
The suggestions were made by conductor Baldur Bronniman (below).
I added two suggestions of my own: Make concerts shorter and make tickets cheaper.
The post drew a lot of strong responses, mostly con but some pro, from readers. You should check them out.
Here is a link:
Now I see that, with the help of a grant, the Minnesota Orchestra will try putting on some shorter and more informal concerts. The orchestra recently returned from the brink of bankruptcy and disaster under Finnish Grammy-winning music director Osmo Vanska, who took the same percentage pay cut at his players. (He is below and at bottom in a YouTube video conducting symphonies by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius),
While The Ear proposed 90-minute concerts without intermission, it seems the Minnesota Orchestra will try out the 60-minute formula in three concerts between this coming January and June. The programs look pretty good.
(Thanks for directing me to the story goes to Steve Kurr, below, the Middleton High School music teacher and conductor of the Middleton Community Orchestra, which generally follows a short and more informal programs for its concerts.)
I will be anxious to see the results. So will a lot of other orchestra maestros and administrators, I suspect.
Just maybe we are beginning to see the start of a trend in bringing concert hall practices up to – or down to? — the standards of a high-tech and very busy society that is both timed-deprived and driven by a shorter attention span.
Here is a link to the story:
What do you think of the ideas in general and the experiments in Minnesota?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Last week brought sad news.
Paulus was probably best known to Madison-area residents for the many works and several compositions that the Festival Choir of Madison commissioned and performed.
And talk about timing.
The Festival Choir of Madison (below) will open its new season by performing the All-Night Vigil of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky –- NOT the more famous work with the same name by Sergei Rachmaninoff –- on this coming Saturday night, November 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Day Drive, on Madison’s near west side.
One wonders if the group will dedicate the performance to the memory of Paulus, whose music proved both modern and accessible, and often seemed Midwestern in that Aaron Copland kind of way.
Written nearly 35 years before the more famous Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninoff, the All-Night Vigil by Tchaikovsky (below) was written in an attempt to ensure that church music in Russia retained a uniquely Russian flavor. (You can hear a sample of the Tchaikovsky work in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The work, containing settings from three “overnight” canonical hours (Vespers, Matins and First Hour), is a beautiful representation of the Russian liturgical repertoire.
A pre-concert lecture begins at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets are $15 for the general public; $12 for seniors; and $9 for students.
Here is a link with information and reservations:
And here is more about Stephen Paulus (below), whom The Ear interviewed many years ago when he was working for The Capital Times. He was the model of a cordial and gracious artist who cared deeply about the public’s ability to appreciate his work.
Here is an obituary that appeared in The New York Times:
And here is a story that appeared on Minneapolis Public Radio, which, like Wisconsin Public Radio, emphasizes classical music when many affiliates of NPR (National Public Radio) are increasingly turning to talk radio.
ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is the final performance of this season’s second concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John DeMain. Pianist Olga Kern (below) is the soloist in Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor. Other music includes the Suite from the ballet “Swan Lake” by Peter Tchaikovsky and the Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich. For information about tickets, the artists and the program, visit:
Here are reviews of Friday night’s opening night performance:
By John W. Barker of Isthmus:
By Jess Courtier for The Capital Times:
And by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes the Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine:
By Jacob Stockinger
The much admired but elusive, eccentric and enigmatic Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov (below) has signed up with Deutsche Grammophon and will release a live recital –- he refuses to make studio recordings – in January.
For the news plus an interesting interview and profile of Sokolov, here is a link to a story in the British magazine Gramophone. It includes some of his quirks such as not playing pianos older than five years and his specific repertoire favorites:
Italian conductor Daniele Gatti is named the new maestro of the famed Dutch Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. He starts in 2016 and sounds like he might be quite a bit of a contrast to past Concertgebouw conductors such as Bernard Haitink. Here is a story:
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra continues its lockout over labor disputes, thereby postponing or canceling the opening of the new season. But last weekend ASO music director Robert Spano conducted the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in the German Requiem of Johannes Brahms.
Here is a link to a story on NPR (National Public Radio) to yet another turmoil in the world of American symphony orchestras:
REMINDER: If you can’t or won’t go hear superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott in music by Johannes Brahms, Igor Stravinsky, Astor Piazzolla and others at their SOLD–OUT recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater TONIGHT, you can stream it LIVE and for FREE by going to this website at 8 p.m.:
By Jacob Stockinger
Talk about mixing politics and art!
And especially at a time so close to a contemporary conflict — Hamas, Gaza and Israel — that reflects the continuing tensions, frictions and bloodshed depicted in the original art decades ago.
No wonder, then, that the Metropolitan Opera has been protested and has received death threats over the new production of American composer John Adams’ controversial reality-based opera about Israel and Palestinian terrorists called “The Death of Klinghoffer.”
Due to pressure from the pro-Israeli lobby and some Jewish groups, the opera was already canceled as part of this season’s “Live From The Met in HD” telecasts.
Both detractors and defenders of the opera are deeply displeased with the Met.
But the actual production — which has gone on without incident in other cities at other times — continues in rehearsal as it heads to its opening this Monday night. (At bottom is a YouTube video with the director, conductor and composer of “The Death of Klinghoffer.”)
And here is another story from The Los Angeles Times:
And finally here is a terrific and well-balanced, well-sourced summary story, which includes an interview with librettist Alice Goodman (below) — who converted from Judaism to Christianity and is now an Episcopalian priest in England — about the opera and the protests. It was broadcast Friday on NPR (National Public Radio):
What do you think about the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer”?
Would you be a defender?
Or a detractor and protester?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s brass festival, “Celebrate Brass,” starts TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall with the UW-Madison Wisconsin Brass Quintet and composer Anthony Plog. It runs through next Monday. All events and concert except the big one on this Saturday night — are FREE and open to the public.
Here is a link to a previous story about it:
And here is a link to a complete schedule of the festival:
By Jacob Stockinger
Recently, the famed Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City had to weather some pretty severe turbulence –- labor strife that threatened to close down the Met and delay the opening of its season.
But general director Peter Gelb (bel0w) and his negotiators reached an agreement with several labor unions, and everything remains on schedule.
That means the new season of “Met Live in HD” will open this Saturday with the acclaimed production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Macbeth” that features soprano Anna Netrebko in a major role that is unusually and unexpectedly dramatic for her. The conductor is Fabio Luisi.
That successful production should be very good news. The “MET Live in HD” program in seen in hundreds of cities around the world, and is one of the big moneymakers for the Met.
Main showings in Madison are this Saturday at 11:55 a.m. at the Point Cinemas on Madison’s far west side and the Eastgate Cinema on the city’s far east side. Running time is about 3-1/2 hours.
Admission is $24 for adults, $18 for children.
Encore showing are usually at 6:30 pm. on the following Wednesday and cost $18.
Here is some background including a review by New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini and a profile of Anna Netrebko (below), who can be heard singing an aria from the same opera, in a different production with conductor Valery Gergiev in Russia, at the bottom in a YouTube video.
Here is the link to the review by Anthony Tommasini:
And here is the feature about diva Anna Netrebko:
Want to know more about the Met’s HD season so you can plan?
Here is a link to see other information, including the entire season’s offering with dates, times, artist biographies, audio-video clips, synopses and program notes.
ALERT: Some local-related news came in too late to include yesterday.
This morning, UW-Madison School of Music alumna and Appleton native Brenda Rae Klinkert (BA, 2004 and seen below in costume) is singing with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in Richard Strauss’ opera “Die Schweigsame Frau” (The Silent Woman, 1935) and the performance is being broadcast LIVE on the Internet. You can watch the free audio-visual transmission at 11 a.m. via http://www.staatsoper.de/en/staatsopertv.html (Staatsoper.TV).
Please pass the word to any students and professors, friends and fans who might be interested in this opera and this performer. Adds local opera fan Dan Shea: “Brenda Rae currently is continuing a series of major breakthroughs in her operatic career, an amazing arc of success in Europe and the U.S. with major roles in major operas. Just take a look at her schedule at brendarae.com
“Personally, I’ve seen a lot of “Traviatas” all over the world, but hers at Santa Fe in the summer of 2013 was especially wonderful, and in a class by itself — as the reviews attested.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Yesterday I wrote about violinist Joshua Bell — a superstar who is both a renowned performer and a devoted teacher, all at the same time.
Today I want to write about someone who established a big performing career when he was young – but then walked away from it all at the same age Joshua Bell is right now, about 50, in order to devote himself to teaching, writing books and composing.
Chances are you haven’t heard about pianist Seymour Bernstein (below), or heard only a little bit if anything.
But it turns out that might all change, thanks to the movie star Ethan Hawke (below left with Bernstein on the right), who met Bernstein at a dinner party and ended up directing a documentary about Seymour Bernstein, who is now 87 years old and still active.
It happened especially after Bernstein help the screen-veteran Hawke to overcome his stage fright, which itself is a fascinating story.
It was also fascinating to read that Bernstein doesn’t think the concert world is the way for classical music to go today. He wants instead to recapture the joy of amateur music-making.
I read a great story about the movie and how it came about in The New York Times. Here is a link:
I got so intrigued that I tried to order some of his books by going to Amazon.com.
It turns out they are all out of print and some go for hundreds of dollars as rarities.
PLEASE NOTE A MISTAKE AND A CORRECTION: The Ear just got a post-posting correction to this error, for which he apologizes. If you go to a Reader Comment by Pru Palachek, you will find out that Seymour Bernstein’s books are indeed available — for a higher price — from a small music publisher, Manduca, in Portland, Maine. You can also visit Bernstein’s own website for more information. Just Google “Seymour Bernstein.”
Well, there is always the library. But being an avid amateur pianist, I would like my own copies to mark up and keep near the keyboard.
So I am hoping somebody can persuade Amazon to reissue them as both regular books and especially e-books. Maybe the success of the movie will help. Maybe Hawke’s fame will help.
And what I read isn’t hype.
It turns out The Ear knows someone who herself took some piano lessons from Seymour Bernstein and played for him. This pianist says Bernstein is all he is cracked up to be -– a cordial and kind man, an excellent teacher and an outstanding performer.
In the meantime let us hope for two things:
1. That the movie, which might win some awards and garner a big audience, gets wide circulation.
2. That Amazon, or some other publisher, agrees to reprint the books in regular and e-book formats.
What do you know about Seymour Bernstein?
Did you ever heard him live or in recording?
Did you ever read his books or use his methods?
What did you think?
The Ear wants to hear.