The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Sequels come to classical music – centuries after the originals

September 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Sequels are not just for books, movies and Broadway shows any more.

Classical music is also starting to generate them — centuries after the originals.

It may be hard to imagine writing sequels to masterpiece sonatas, chamber music, symphonies and concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Igor Stravinsky and others.

But in a kind of musical postmodernism, that’s what is being done with more and more frequency.

The composer Timo Andres (below top, in a photo by Tawny Bannister for The New York Times) wrote a piano concerto based on Beethoven for the great young American pianist Jonathan Biss (below bottom), who has performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Biss, along with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, has commissioned five piano concertos in the spirit of Beethoven’s five piano concertos.

Timo Andres CR Tawni Bannister NYT

JonathanBiss

And the great young American violinist Jennifer Koh (below top, in a  photo by Loren Wohl for The New York Times) and her equally terrific recording partner, pianist Shai Wosner (below bottom) – who has performed several times in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — have commissioned three sonatas based on the work of older composers from three modern composers.

Jennifer Koh CR Loren Wohl NYT

Shai Wosner

But musicians and especially modern composers, including the important composer John Adams (below), have mixed feelings about such derivative projects.

john adams with pencil

Here is a fine story about the phenomenon of sequels that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/21/arts/music/got-a-classic-piece-here-comes-the-sequel-composers-write-responses-to-old-masters-works.html?_r=0


Classical music: Rediscovering old piano technique is altering how the music of the classical Old Masters sounds and how easily it is played

August 26, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Sure, for a long time musicology has traced how musical styles, forms and instrumentation have changed.

But now some researchers are using computers to investigate – and revive – an older keyboard technique from the 19th century that differs dramatically from the more modern technique generally in use. (Below is a photo by Alexander Refsum Jensenius.)

old piano technique CR Alexander Refsum Jensenius

It turns out not to be as outdated or useless as many assume.

It changes not only how the music of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin sounds but also the ease with which the performer can play it.

Here is a story from The New York Times that the Ear had stashed from about a year ago.

But he thinks it still seems timely – and fascinating.

And he hopes you do too.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/science/playing-mozart-piano-pieces-as-mozart-did.html

See what you think and leave a comment.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: This year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival celebrates local ecological restoration with “water music”

August 22, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an overview of the upcoming 27th Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which starts this Saturday, Aug. 27, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 4.

TOKEN CREEK, WIS. – Years in the planning, summer 2016 marks the completion of a major ecological restoration project on the Token Creek Festival property in the northeast corner of Dane County, part of the watersheds vital to the hydrology of Madison and southeastern Wisconsin.

TokenCreekentrance

TokenCreekbarn interior

During the 1930s, one of the most important feeder streams in the area, and its only cold-water trout stream, was ruined when it was widened to support short-lived commercial interests and development. Now, decades later, in a monumental effort, that stream has at long last been relocated, restored and rescued.

Festival-goers will be able to experience the project firsthand on the opening weekend, when each concert is preceded by an optional stroll along the new stream, with conversation guided by restoration ecologists and project managers.

Celebrating this monumental ecological project, the season theme of this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is: Water Music. Virtually all of the works programmed evoke brooks and streams and rivers and water in its many forms, with its ritual meanings, associations, allusions, and as metaphor.

In keeping with the theme, the Festival has adopted Franz Schubert (below) as the summer’s featured composer. His poetic, melancholic, ultimately organic and inevitable relationship to the natural world was expressed in composition after composition, wedded to his intense involvement with the poetry of his era, itself so infatuated with birds, fields, clouds and streams.

Franz Schubert big

The second program emphasis continues the festival’s most persistent theme: the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach1

Three strands of Bach’s music previously explored at Token Creek will be taken up again. We will present our third complete cantata performance, O heiliges Geist und Wasserbad, a mysterious and poetic piece from early in the composer’s career, with soloists from the Madison Choral Project (below).

Madison Choral Project color

We will conclude our survey of the three Bach violin concertos, this year the E major, co-artistic director Rose Mary Harbison (below top) again as soloist. And we take up our sequence of fugues from The Art of Fugue, co-artistic director and composer John Harbison (below bottom), who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur “genius grant,” adding three more to his personal odyssey with this work, due to conclude in 2030.

RosemaryHarbison

JohnHarbisonatpiano

NEW ARTISTS

Token Creek is pleased to introduce several new artists this season, including Grammy Award-nominated mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, who has been praised for her “glorious instrument” and dubbed an “undisputed star…who has it all – looks, intelligence, musicianship, personality, technique, and a voice of bewitching amber color.”

Ms. Lattimore will offer works of Franz Schubert and John Harbison on the Festival’s opening concerts, By the Brook (August 27 and 28), where she will be joined by pianist Molly Morkoski.

www.margaretlattimore.net

Margaret Lattimore

Ms. Morkoski (below), who last appeared at Token Creek in 2013, consistently garners praise for her refined virtuosity and “the bold confidence and interactive grace one wants in a devoted chamber music maker.” In addition to the opening program, Morkoski will also be heard on the season finale in Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet (Sept. 2 and 4).

http://www.mollymorkoski.com/

molly morkoski

On that same concert, tenor William Hite and pianist Kayo Iwama join forces in Schubert’s devastating and tragic song cycle, Die Schöne Müllerin (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter), in which a brook functions prominently as the protagonist’s confidante. (You can hear the legendary baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sing “The Miller and the Brook” from the flowing song cycle in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini has called Hite (below) a “breathtaking communicator of spoken nuance” for his ability to reveal the meaning and emotion embodied in the text and the music, solidifying his reputation as an engaging and expressive artist.

http://www.williamhitetenor.com/

william hite

Kayo Iwama (below) is associate director of the Bard College Conservatory of Music graduate vocal arts program, the master’s degree program for classical singers, and she also coordinates the vocal studies program at the Tanglewood Music Center. Her frequent concert partners include Dawn Upshaw and Lucy Shelton.

http://www.bard.edu/academics/faculty/details/?action=details&id=1838

Kayo Iwama

VIOLS AND WILLIAM WARTMANN

Finally, the “technically faultless and consistently sensitive and expressive,” consort of viols, Second City Musick (below), based in Chicago, will offer a guest recital on Tuesday, Aug. 30, anchored by John Harbison’s The Cross of Snow.

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Commissioned by local businessman and philanthropist William John Wartmann (below) in memory of his wife, mezzo-soprano Joyce Wartmann, this evocative new piece, on texts of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, blends the ethereal lushness of violas da gamba with the haunting clarity of the countertenor voice, here Nathan Medley (below bottom), to explore the emotions of grief, loss and love.

wiiliam wartmann

Nathan Medley

At its first performance in Chicago last May, a local critic praised both the work and the musicians: “The Chicago-based ensemble was ideally suited to premiere this profoundly affecting work, and the shared sensibility between composer and performers was noticeable.”

Tuesday’s program will also include works of Henry Purcell, William Byrd, John Jenkins and Johann Sebastian Bach.

www.secondcitymusick.org

Other festival artists this season include vocalists Rachel Warricke, Sarah Leuwerke, Daniel O’Dea, and Nathan Krueger; violinists Rose Mary Harbison, Laura Burns, and Isabella Lippi; Jen Paulson, viola; Karl Lavine, cello; Ross Gilliland, bass; Linda Kimball, horn; and John Harbison, piano.

HERE ARE FESTIVAL PROGRAMS AT A GLANCE:

Program 1: By the Brook – Schubert, Bach and Harbison

Saturday, Aug. 27: 6:45 p.m. – optional guided stream stroll*; 8 p.m. – concert

Sunday, Aug. 28:  2:45 p.m. – optional guided stream stroll*; 4 p.m. – concert

*(The stream stroll is free, but reservations are recommended)

Program 2: Music for Viols, Then & Now

Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 7:30 p.m.

Program 3: Water Colors = Two Schubert Masterworks

Friday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 4 at 4 p.m.

Concert tickets are $32 (students $12). The preview stream stroll on opening weekend is free to concertgoers, but advance reservations are recommended.

Reservations can be made in several ways:

  • Online:    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/token-creek-chamber-music-festival-2016-tickets-26070692142
  • Website (printable order form): www.tokencreekfestival.org
  • Phone: 608-241-2525 (voicemail only, please leave a message)
  • Email: info@tokencreekfestival.org
  • U.S. mail: P.O. Box 5201, Madison WI, 53705

Performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison) with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small—early reservations are recommended.

Token Creek 2011 Mozart Trio, Levin, Harbison, Ryder

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events and artists can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608 241-2525.


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

August 15, 2016
3 Comments

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:

http://mostlymozart.org

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

Why?

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: Do we need smaller concert halls?

August 13, 2016
6 Comments

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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/04/arts/music/review-mostly-mozart-big-music-doesnt-need-huge-halls.html?_r=0

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
5 Comments

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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/24/arts/music/jaap-van-zweden-new-york-philharmonic-recordings-discography.html?_r=0

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.


Classical music: Classical musicians take up the cause of Black Lives Matter

July 13, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music can easily appear isolated from current events and social issues these days, more of a shelter or sanctuary or retreat than an engagement.

Pop, rock, country and rap music often seem much more timely and symptomatic or even concerned and supportive.

But classical music has often shown a social conscience.

One thinks of the composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein and his support of those protesting the Vietnam War and of black power advocates – efforts that often drew criticism and sarcasm from those who disagreed.

Something similar seems to be happening today with the Black Lives Matter movement and classical musicians in the wake of the Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas shootings, death and murders.

Black Lives Matter Dallas

Here is a story from The New York Times that explores the connections:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/12/arts/music/for-black-lives-matter-classical-music-steps-in.html?_r=0


Classical music: Yannick Nézet-Séguin answers his critics who question why the wait and what is his vision

June 11, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

One week ago, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (below) was named the new music director of the Metropolitan Opera.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

He will start full-time in 2020.

Here is a link to the post with the announcement in Opera News:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/classical-music-the-metropolitan-opera-names-yannick-nezet-seguin-as-its-next-music-director-to-succeed-james-levine/

But some critics were quick to question the choice and to wonder why he is waiting so long to officially start his new post. (He will also remain as head of the Philadelphia Orchestra until 2026.)

Chief among them were two critics for The New York Times: Zachary Woolfe and Anthony Tommasini.

Here are posts with their opinion pieces, first the one by Woolfe and then the one by Tommasini:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/classical-music-should-yannick-nezet-seguin-be-the-metropolitan-operas-next-music-director-here-are-the-pros-and-cons/

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/03/arts/music/is-yannick-nzet-sguin-worth-the-wait-at-the-met.html?_r=0

But the young conductor (below in a photo by Getty Images) proved he can ably respond, which he did in an interview with the Deceptive Cadence blog by NPR or National Public Radio.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin CR Getty Images

Here he is, answering his critics and explaining the time lag as well has his plans and his vision of the future at the Met:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/06/03/480638340/the-metropolitan-opera-baton-passes-to-yannick-n-zet-s-guin

The Ear finds him convincing and thinks he wins when it comes to arguing with his critics.

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Metropolitan Opera names Yannick Nézet-Séguin as its next music director to succeed James Levine.

June 3, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s official.

The relatively young, 41-year-old Montreal native and French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin (below) has been named by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to be its next music director.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

The appointment comes just weeks after the retirement of the legendary James Levine, who served for 40 years.

Nézet-Séguin is currently the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he will remain until 2026. He officially starts his new post at The Met in the 2020-21 season and will serve as interim music director until then.

Here is the story from Opera News:

http://www.operanews.com/Opera_News_Magazine/2016/6/News/Yannick_Nezet-Seguin_Met_Music_Director.html

And here is a long piece about the conductor that appeared in the New York Times. The Ear linked to it in a previous post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/classical-music-should-yannick-nezet-seguin-be-the-metropolitan-operas-next-music-director-here-are-the-pros-and-cons/

 


Classical music: Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. So here are guides to this summer’s local, national and even international festivals of classical music

May 29, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

Madison now has great classical music year-round, including in the summer, which long ago ceased being an artistic desert.

LOCAL

This summer’s offerings include:

The 25th anniversary season, filled with new music but also tried-and-true treasured masterpieces, of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that runs June 10-26:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

The 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival, which runs from July 10-16 and will focus on William Shakespeare in honor of the 400th anniversary of his death:

https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/

The annual Madison Savoyards’ production of Gilbert & Sullivan will stage “The Gondoliers” for six performances July 29-Aug. 7:

http://madisonsavoyards.org

The second season of the Willy Street Chamber Players (below):

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

The 27th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which runs Aug. 27-Sept 4 and this year features music celebrating water and the natural world. Programs include music by Johann Sebastian Bach,  English Renaissance music of John Dowland, William Byrd and Henry Purcell and a Wisconsin premiere by composer and co-director John Harbison plus Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin” and his equally famous masterpiece, the “Trout” Piano Quintet:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

Plus there are a lot of smaller groups including the Madison Summer Choir and the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, both of which have received critical acclaim. And there is the Green Lake Festival. Some I might also include the six Concerts on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, which this year features a hefty dose of classical fare.

NATIONAL

But if you don’t stay around town and hit the road instead, there is a lot that might interest you in the way of summer music festivals around the country. There are festivals of chamber music, orchestral music and opera.

And The Ear has always wanted to attend the Bard Music Festival (below), which emphasizes the cultural context of the music, and the Mostly Mozart Festival. One of these years! (You can hear from co-artistic director and Bard College president Leon Botstein how the unique Bard Music Festival is run in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Bard Music Festival Frank Gehry Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts hall

Here is a roundup by The New York Times, which put all kinds of genres together. Just scroll down until you hit the Classical Festivals section that was compiled and annotated by the Times’ trustworthy critic Vivien Schweitzer:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/05/19/arts/summer-festivals.html?_r=0

Here is a fairly comprehensive national guide from Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Classical_music_festivals_in_the_United_States

Here is a guide from two years ago, done by NPR or National Public Radio, that includes the Madison Early Music Festival and divides up the selection by regions of the country:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2014/05/01/307968750/10-cant-miss-classical-music-festivals

And for good measure, for those taking international vacations here is a guide to international music festivals:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_classical_music_festivals

Happy hunting and choosing. Then happy and safe traveling. And finally Happy Listening.

The Ear hopes you have a classic “classical” summer.


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