The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Black Friday started the holiday shopping rush. What gifts about classical music would you recommend?

November 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday was Black Friday – the day that ushers in the start of frantic holiday gift shopping.

Today is Small Business Saturday for local shopping and Monday is Cyber Monday for on-line shopping.

It sure sounds like decadent capitalism that is growing ever more desperate for sales and marketing gimmicks.

And it sure sounds overwhelming.

But some help is available.

As in past years, from now through late December The Ear will offer some gift ideas of his own, including books, recordings and tickets to live performances.

Also as usual, he will offer the new Grammy nominations plus list of the Top 10 of 2017 and similar lists from The New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR), WQXR-FM (see the link below), The Washington Post, Gramophone magazine, and other sources.

In fact, you can use the blog’s search engine to look up suggestions from past years. You might be surprised at how relevant a lot of them still remain.

http://www.wqxr.org/story/hand-picked-gift-guide-classical-music-lover-your-list/

Is there a trend this year?

Well, because of the Leonard Bernstein centennial there is a lot of Lenny (below) being repacked for holiday sales, including his mid-century revival of Gustav Mahler with the New York Philharmonic. (You can hear Bernstein introduce and explain Mahler to young people in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And the growing prevalence of digital streaming means that more and more wonderful box sets of operas, orchestral music, choral music, vocal music, chamber music and solo music are available for about $3 a disc or less.

But this year, The Ear also wants to encourage his readers, who are often very knowledgeable, to send in their own suggestions for holiday gift-giving.

It should be something you would either like to give or like to receive.

Plus, the recordings or whatever other products you mention do not have to be new.

The only important criterion is that you think either yourself or the recipient would enjoy it and somehow benefit from it.

Maybe it is something new you think up.

Or something you heard from someone else or another source.

Maybe it is a gift that you yourself received and think others would enjoy getting.

Anyway, let’s all educate each other and please each other this holiday season.

Let the suggestions begin!

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Classical music: Want to hear the highest note ever sung at the Metropolitan Opera?

November 17, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It is called the note that has never been sung before.

Not even at the famed Metropolitan Opera (below, first from outside and then from the stage over the orchestra pit) in New York City.

It is that high.

An A.

Waaaay up there.

And with no preparation, no working up to it, in the score.

Just BAM!! There it is.

You can hear more about it, and the discipline and preparation it takes to sing it, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But it gets sung in the new opera by Thomas Adès, “The Exterminating Angel,” which will be broadcast in area cinemas this Saturday afternoon and a week from next Wednesday in “Live from the Met in HD.”

Here is a story in The New York Times that has an audio sample:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/arts/music/metropolitan-opera-high-note-exterminating-angel.html

And here is a link to a story on NPR that also allows you to hear the note sung by coloratura soprano Audrey Luna (below, in a photo by Greg James), who has a special talent, a gift, for singing high notes and specializes in them:

https://www.npr.org/2017/11/10/563224351/soprano-aubrey-luna-makes-history-at-new-yorks-metropolitan-opera

And here is a link to Audrey Luna’s website:

http://audrey-luna.com

Finally, here is a link to a previous post this week with background and details about the Adès opera and its broadcast times and date. The New York Times’ senior critic Anthony Tommasini says “”The Exterminating Angel” should be the one opera you see this year if you only see one.”

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/classical-music-this-saturday-and-next-wednesday-live-from-the-met-in-hd-will-feature-the-thomas-ades-operatic-remake-of-luis-bunuels-film-the-exterminating-angel/


Classical music: This Saturday and on Wednesday, Nov. 29, “Live From the Met in HD” will feature the Thomas Adès operatic remake of Luis Buñuel’s film “The Exterminating Angel.” Here is background and a review of the production

November 15, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about the dinner party from Hell!

It may not be the most popular production this season staged by the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City, but it is certainly the newest as well as the most unusual and interesting production.

It is an operatic remake of Spanish Surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s 1962 movie ‘The Exterminating Angel” (below is the poster).

You can see it in a live performance in the next “Live From the MET in HD” broadcast that will take place this coming Saturday afternoon with encore presentations on Wednesday afternoon and night.

On this Saturday, the show time is 11:55 a.m. at the Marcus Point Cinemas and the Marcus Palace in Sun Prairie. On Wednesday, Nov. 29 — postponed because next Wednesday is the day before Thanksgiving — the encore presentations at both cinemas are at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes. The opera will be sung in English with surtitles in German, Spanish and English.

Tickets are $22, $18 for seniors.

Here is a link to the Met’s website with information about the production, including a cast sheet and a synopsis:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/2017-18-Season/exterminating-angel-ades-tickets/

http://www.metopera.org/metoperafiles/season/2017-18/operas/exterminating_angel/hd_syn_Angel_global_dates.pdf

Here are stories that provide some background.

The first is a general background piece about the opera (below, in a photo by Eamon Hassan for The New York Times) from the “Deceptive Cadence” blog written for NPR or National Public Radio:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/11/05/561366931/luis-bu-uels-the-exterminating-angel-gets-an-off-kilter-adaption-from-screen-to-

Here are two guides, from The New York Times, with what you need to know about the opera and production:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/arts/music/thomas-ades-exterminating-angel-metropolitan-opera.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/01/arts/music/exterminating-angel-metropolitan-opera-thomas-ades-bunuel.html

And here is a rave review from Anthony Tommasini, the senior critic for The New York Times, who says if you only see one Met production this season, “The Exterminating Angel” should be it (below is a trailer on YouTube):

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/arts/music/exterminating-angel-review-metropolitan-opera.html


Classical music: Former UW pianist Catherine Kautsky will talk, play music and sign copies of her book “Debussy’s Paris: Piano Portraits of the Belle Epoque” this Thursday night at the Mystery to Me bookstore in Madison

October 17, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Some of you may recall the pianist Catherine Kautsky (below). She came from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wis., to the UW-Madison where she performed many memorable concerts.

Then, after about five years, she returned to Lawrence as the head of the piano department.

Kautsky always showed an affinity for French music — she has recorded both books of Debussy‘s Preludes for piano — and now she has transformed her francophilia into a book: “Debussy’s Paris: Piano Portraits of the Belle Epoque” ($38, below).

Kautsky will be in Madison this Thursday night from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Mystery to Me bookstore, 1863 Monroe Street, next to Neuhauser Pharmacy and across from Trader Joe’s.

A terrific explainer, Kautsky will talk about her book and sign copies. A keyboard will also be available for Kautsky to play some of the music she talks and writes about. (You can hear Kautsky playing and discussing the great last Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960, by Franz Schubert in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a description of the book with biographical information:

“Debussy’s Paris: Piano Portraits of the Belle Époque takes readers on a tour of Paris through detailed descriptions of the city’s diversions and the music Debussy wrote reflecting them.

“Catherine Kautsky explores how key works reveal not only the most appealing aspects of Paris, but also the more disquieting attitudes of the time. In contrast to the childlike innocence of fairy tales, minstrel shows had racist overtones, colonization entailed domination, and the brooding nationalism of the era was rife with hostility.

“Debussy (below) left no avenue unexplored, and his piano works present a sweeping overview of the passions, vices, and obsessions of the era’s Parisians.

“When played today, Debussy’s music breathes the story of one the world’s most fascinating cities. Kautsky reveals little known elements of Parisian life during the Belle Époque and weaves the music, the man, the city, and the era into an indissoluble whole.

“Her portrait will delight anyone who has ever been entranced by Debussy’s music or the 
city (below) that inspired it.”

Catherine Kautsky is chair of keyboard at Lawrence University and has been lauded by the New York Times as “a pianist who can play Mozart and Schubert as though their sentiments and habits of speech coincided exactly with hers…” She has concertized widely, performing in major halls in New York, Chicago, Washington, and Boston, soloing with the St. Louis Symphony and other orchestras and appearing frequently on public radio.

Here is a link with more information, including praise from pianist Richard Goode who will perform in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/debussys-paris-with-author-pianist-catherine-kautsky-tickets-37666427298?aff=eivtefrnd?utm_source=eb_email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=evitefrnd&utm_term=eventimage


Classical music: Today is the start of Fall. Here is autumnal music by Richard Strauss. Plus, UW-Madison soprano Jeanette Thompson makes her FREE debut tonight at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall.

September 22, 2017
1 Comment

ALERT: UW-Madison faculty soprano Jeanette Thompson gives her FREE debut recital tonight at 7 p.m.  in Mills Hall. Guest performers are pianist Thomas Kasdorf and faculty colleague baritone Paul Rowe.

Thompson has put together a concert of some of her favorite love songs, though not always typical of love songs:  some of them are about a love that is lost, some of them are about a love desired, and some of them are about a love for God.

These songs include excerpts from Gustav Mahler’s Rückert Lieder and Johannes Brahms’ Volksbuchlieder. In addition to Rückert, they include some of her favorite poets like Charles Baudelaire and Eduard Möricke. She will perform songs by Cole Porter and George Gershwin, and will be joined by baritone Paul Rowe to sing two of the most beautiful “Porgy and Bess” love duets ever written.

Thompson (below) will conclude the concert with some of her favorite spirituals, including her mother’s favorite song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.“

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the autumnal equinox, which arrives at 3:02 p.m. CDT. It marks when the day has an equal amount of daylight and night.

It also means that today is the first official day of Fall.

And despite the hot weather right now, Fall is often a great time to start returning to indoor activities.

That makes it a good time for listening to classical music.

There are the usual candidates such as Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and its modern counterpart “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by tango master Astor Piazzolla.

If you want to hear other season-appropriate music, YouTube, Spotify, Classical-music.com and other websites have generous compilations. Just Google “classical music for autumn.”

But today The Ear want to feature just one selection to celebrate the season. It is soprano Jessye Norman singing “September” from “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss.

What is you favorite music to greet autumn with?

Use the COMMENT section to let us know, along with a link to a video performance if possible.


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

August 12, 2017
1 Comment

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
6 Comments

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
1 Comment

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


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