The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Super Bowl Sunday, so The Ear asks: Who are the winners and champions in the concert hall? Here are the most popular pieces, composers and soloists. Plus, on Tuesday night, violist Elias Goldstein returns to perform Paganini’s fiendish Caprices in a FREE recital

February 7, 2016
1 Comment

ALERT: The Ear has received the following note from University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music viola professor Sally Chisholm, who also plays with the Pro Arte Quartet: “Elias Goldstein, who has a doctorate from UW-Madison (2011) and was a Collins Fellow, is playing a concert of all 24 Caprices, originally composed for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini, on VIOLA this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall. Admission is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

“On March 9, he will perform this program at Carnegie Hall in New York City, as the first violist ever to perform all 24 Caprices in one concert. This is such a feat that it is difficult to believe one of our own is accomplishing it. I was with him in Krakow, Poland when he performed 6 of them. He got standing ovations. He is professor of viola at Louisiana State University, won top prizes at the Primrose International Viola Competition and the Yuri Bashmet Viola Competition in Moscow in 2011.”

Elias Goldstein big

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 50th Super Bowl of the NFL, and will be played by the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos in the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, near San Francisco.

It starts at 5:30 p.m. CST.

Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem. Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars will perform in the half-time show. The Super Bowl will be broadcast live on CBS-TV.

super bowl 50 logo

So, one might ask in a society that loves competition, what constitutes The Super Bowl of classical music?

It is a source of endless discussion and often disagreement.

What classical music is the most mainstream, if not best?

Who are the big winners and champions in the concert hall?

A survey, compiled by a student at the UW-Milwaukee, of the most popular or frequently performed composers, works and soloists was recently conducted by the League of American Orchestras. The rest are for the 2010-11 season.

The No. 1 work is a YouTube video at the bottom. It is the Symphony No. 1 in C Minor by Johannes Brahms and is performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its late music director and conductor Sir George Solti.

And on March 11, 12 and 13 the Madison Symphony Orchestra hosts TWO of the Top 10 winners: Pianist Emanuel Ax performing the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven. (The Symphony No. 4 by Gustav Mahler completes the program.)

Emanuel Ax Philharmonia

Here is a link to the complete results along with the method used to gather data:

http://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2014/04/08/league-american-orchestras-performance-data

See what you think and leave a COMMENT.

Do they match up with your preferences and your choices of favorites?

In your opinion, what makes them so popular?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Court victories favoring same-sex marriage equality and an extended Valentine’s Day weekend add up to a magical and loving mix for musical partners, including opera star Patricia Racette, who comes out as a lesbian.

February 16, 2014
3 Comments

ALERT: If you are undecided about going to this afternoon’s concert at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth (below), here are links to positive reviews by John W. Barker for Isthmus and by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42078&sid=4d977189e5be9d039af0d641c547219f

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/February-2014/Madison-Symphony-Gives-the-Large-Variety-Box-for-Valentines-Day/

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, when a holiday falls on a Friday – like Valentine’s Day this year — one can be forgiven for prolonging it over the weekend, don’t you think?

But it seems a good chance to blend two recent stories and trend lines that are increasingly coming together.

And coming out.

One is the recent various court victories for marriage equality, or same-sex marriage, or gay marriage. Whatever you want to call it, it seems to becoming more and more a legal and social reality with every week that passes.

gay marriage in suits

And those legal victories lead to more and more gays and lesbians coming out, including the star football player and top NFL draft possibility star Michael Sam (below top) and “Juno” actress Ellen Page (below bottom).

Here is a link to a New York Times story about Michael Sam:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/10/sports/michael-sam-college-football-star-says-he-is-gay-ahead-of-nfl-draft.html?_r=0

Michael Sam in football uniform

And here is a link to a Washington Post story about Ellen Page:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/juno-actress-ellen-page-comes-out-as-gay/2014/02/15/f3327800-9627-11e3-ae45-458927ccedb6_story.html

Ellen Page

As for Valentine’s Day, imagine what how rewarding it could be to work cooperatively in the performing arts with your life partner and love.

That is exactly what was documented in a recent story on NPR’s great blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

NPR highlighted various musical couples in classical music who met in a musical setting and fell in love while working, and who now get to work together.

And for good measure, they included the Metropolitan Opera star soprano Patricia Racette (below top, out of costume, and below bottom in the title role of Puccini’s “Tosca”), who openly talks about what a great marriage she has with her female partner. (You can hear Patricia Racette as the title character Cio-Cio-San sing the finale of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Patricia Racette soprano

Patricia Racette in Tosca

Of course, most of the couples are heterosexual in the story just as they are in real life. And we have seen some of them – tenor Stephen Costello (below top) at the Madison Opera‘s Opera in the Park as well as cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han (below bottom) at the Wisconsin Union Theater, in Madison.

Fort Worth Opera 2008

Wu Han and David Finckel BIG

But it is both sensitive and brave of NPR, which is always under the gun and budget knife of the self-righteous and nutty right-wing extremists and homophobes, to do the story.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/02/11/273159447/classical-couples-sweethearts-sharing-the-stage

One can only hope and imagine the chain reaction that is to happen as each coming out brings several more, as bravery and tolerance build, and as the visible becomes visible.

Saint Valentine -– at least my Saint Valentine — would be very pleased.

Saint Valentine

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Classical music: What classical music goes best with the NFL’s Super Bowl 48 football championship today? Plus, University of Wisconsin-Madison singers and instrumentalists movingly celebrate Franz Schubert in death as he was in life – with a “Schubertiade” birthday party.

February 2, 2014
11 Comments

READER POLL: The Ear wants to know what piece of classical music — if any — goes well with today’s NFL Super Bowl 48 national football championship between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks? Maybe Aram Khachaturian‘s “The Gladiators” from “Spartacus”? Leave your suggestions, with a link to a YouTube video if you can, in the COMMENTS section.

Super Bowl 48

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

January 31, 1797 was the birthdate of Franz Schubert (below), who died at only 31 on Nov. 19, 1828. So Friday night, January 31, 2014, was the 217th anniversary of his birth.

Franz Schubert writing

With her opportunity of giving a faculty recital, University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist (and singer) Martha Fischer (below, in a photo by Karin Talbot) decided to do a very Schubertian thing to mark the anniversary: Have a party. (Event photos are by The Ear.)

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

In the last years of his short life, Schubert was sustained socially as well as financially by a devoted circle of friends, drawn from the cultural classes of Vienna in his day. Their spontaneous parties, which they came to call “Schubertiades” (depicted below, with Schubert at the piano, in a painting by Julius Schmid) were lively social gatherings with their focus on Schubert’s latest compositions.

Schubertiade in color by Julius Schmid

Accordingly, backed by her pianist husband, Bill Lutes, Fischer invited a number of colleagues from the UW School of Music to pay tribute to the beloved composer with a facsimile of a Schubertiade,

And so, the stage of Mills Hall (below) was fitted out with a large carpet, a standing floor lamp and circles of chairs welcomed members of the audience, to be close presences to the fun. (Alas, though, no free beer was included!)

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

The constantly shifting lineup of singers involved four voice-faculty members (sopranos Mimmi Fulmer and Elizabeth Hagedorn (below top), tenor James Doing, baritone Paul Rowe) and three graduate students in voice (soprano Sarah Richardson, below bottom on the left), tenor Thomas Leighton (below bottom on the right) and baritone Jordan Wilson).

Schubertiade 2014 Elizabeth Hageborn

Schubertiade 2014 Sarah Richardson  soprano and Thomas Leighton tenor

Assuming her mezzo-soprano hat, Fischer sang two items herself, and she and Lutes rotated as piano accompanists, each demonstrating the talent and skill it takes to be a fine collaborative musician. Both of them tightly controlled the balance between voice and modern concert grand piano, never allowing the piano to drown the singers. And both pianists also matched the moods of the songs and the singers. That’s important because this concert had a lot of high-quality vocal talent, and it must be said that the student singers held their own splendidly with their faculty partners.

When one thinks about it, a great proportion of Schubert’s compositions is social music, meant for parlors and domestic music-making rather than concert situations.

That is most particularly true of his songs, and part-songs, with piano. The program offered 14 songs (with each singer having at least two solo assignments), one duet, and two part songs. The program was divided into two halves, with the general themes of “Night and Dreams” and “Love and Death.” While a couple of the songs were among Schubert’s more familiar ones (like the famous  “Die Forelle or The Trout, below as sung by baritone Jordan Wilson and also heard at the bottom in a YouTube video with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore) most were chosen artfully from among the less often-heard ones.

Schubertiade 2014 barione Jordan Wilson

Fulmer (below top) was particularly expressive in her two solos. She was, in fact, absolutely gripping in Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), a Gothic-horror scene in which a court dwarf, betrayed by his former lover, the queen, kills her and sails into oblivion. (I unashamedly admit this grim masterpiece, so compellingly designed by Schubert, is one of my favorites among his songs.) James Doing (below bottom) had just the right range of gestures and expressions to make Lachen und Weinen (Laughter and Tears) a casual expression of ironic bafflement.

Schubertiade 2014 Mimmi Fulmer BIG

Schubertiade 2014 James Doing

And Paul Rowe (below) gave Totengräbers Heimweh (Grave-Digger’s Longing) a quality of dark probing into the very prospects of human mortality that Schubert himself was learning to fear when he wrote it. But perhaps it is unfair to single out individual performances, since they were all so lovely.

Scubertiade 2014 Paul Rowe baritone BIG

Each of the program’s two halves had its own instrumental intermezzo.

In the first half, it was the simple but moving Notturno (Nocturne) for violin, cello, and piano (below) — a discarded movement from one of Schubert’s piano trios, in which violin student Alice Bartsch and cello professor Parry Karp joined Fischer in a beautiful performance.

Scubertiade 2014 Notturno

For the second half, the dynamic duo of Fischer and Lutes plunged into the ambitious and late Fantasy in F minor for piano-four hands — surely among the supreme masterpieces of all music for piano duet.

Schubertide 2014 Bil Lutes and Martha Fischer

There was one added song, however, as the finale. All the singers gathered together to sing the sublime An die Musik (To Music), but with the audience invited to join in—sustained by a reproduction of the score on the back of the texts handout — and responded with a standing ovation for all the performers (below).

Schubertiade 2014 standing ovation

This kind of sing-along trick could have been cheap, but in fact it worked beautifully, with many in the audience adding their voices, obviously caught up in the spirit of that most social, most lovable and most astounding of great composers, Franz Schubert.

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Classical music: Opera diva Renee Fleming will sing the National Anthem to open the NFL Super Bowl XVIII (48) next Sunday. But WHY and HOW did that happen and WHAT does it mean for professional music and professional sports?

January 26, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

What is THIS all about?

Next Sunday -– a week from today – is Superbowl XVLIII (that’s 48 in plain English numerals — does the NFL think Latin adds class to football?)) between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. It will be held in bad cold weather in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. That’s the football game where the best seats are going for more than $25,000. (Where are you now, Tony Soprano?) Not that a wealth gap exists between professional sports like football (below) and the rest of America. Oh, no — never that.

football

And guess who will sing the national anthem, the tricky “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to open the show – and it is a show. None other than superstar soprano Renee Fleming (below).

reneefleming

Yep, the lovely and gifted opera diva herself.

Now, I am not about to complain about a classical music star getting a chance for such exposure. But it does makes you wonder how it happened.

Did her agent approach the NFL?

Or did the billionaire-packed NFL decide on its own — somewhere in its posh 280 Fifth Avenue headquarters (below top is the exterior, below bottom is the interview its tacky half-Football Desk) that are tax-exempt – that it would buy some highbrow class and at the same time help the cause of classical music and maybe build a new audience?

NFL headquarters 280 Park Ave

Inside NFL headquarters

The Ear can’t imagine it was done by popular choice, under pressure from the fans.

And WHY was it done?

Did a lot of classical music presenters, who already realize that it is commercial suicide to hold a concert on Super Bowl Day, think to put some class into the Super Bowl and not risk bad attendance?

Was it just out of a taste for variety?

Fleming, who has a deep background in jazz and popular music, will probably nail it of course.

But will Renee Fleming create the same kind of rowdy, over-the-top atmosphere that is appropriate to the occasion as some bluesy-gospel, pop-rock or hip-hop star rendition would? Sure, Fleming sells a lot of records and tickets — but nowhere near as much as the superstars in those others genres of music do.

I guess we will see.

If she goes over well, maybe they can book her for the half-time act in a couple of years. But someone like superstar pianist Lang Lang (below), who will perform with metal rockers Metallica at this year’s Grammy Awards to be broadcast live tonight, seems a more likely candidate. Why book Rubinstein when you can get Liberace?

Lang Lang goofy

Well, at least folks at the Super Bowl can feel as classy as the Metropolitan Opera folks for a couple of minutes –- until the concussions start.

I don’t know if we will ever get the back story about the why and the how. But here is a link to the story that NPR’s excellent Deceptive Cadence blog had about Renee Fleming and the Super Bowl.

It is good, short and to the point, even if it doesn’t move beyond the headlines.

See what you think.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/21/264553311/guess-whos-singing-the-national-anthem-at-the-super-bowl

And for True Fans, here is a link to the official NFL Super Bowl 48 site, loaded with information and complete with a clock counting down to the coin toss and kickoff:

http://www.nfl.com/superbowl/48

What would be a good, an appropriate opera aria to mark the Super Bowl? How about Puccini’s “Nessum dorma” (“No one sleeps”) from “Turandot,” below in a popular YouTube video with almost 9 million hits. It features tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who made it his signature aria, and it shows the last time he sang it in 2006 at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Look at the sets. Listen to the crowd going wild. It seems in keeping with the Super Bowl, no?

But if you can suggest another choice, The Ear wants to hear it.

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Classical music: Here is a “Fantasy Football and Fugue” to accompany prep, college and especially NFL football this weekend.

September 21, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

You don’t usually identity football – American football (below), not soccer — with classical music and especially playing the piano.

football

But now an American musician and instrumentalist from the West Coast has put together a new work called the “Fullback Fugue” that you might find a good accompaniment to football.

And the weekend is the heavy time for prep, college and professional NFL football.

It was posted on the famed classical music radio station WQXR in New York City. But you can also see it on YouTube, where it has garnered almost 25,000 hits since it was posted on Sept. 4.

A musician from Portland, Ore., named Ansel Wallenfang has created “Fantasy Football & Fugue,” a video featuring a fugue built of NFL themes from the four networks that broadcast pro football games (FOX, NBC, CBS, ESPN).

Ansel Wallenfang

He even performs it in full costume — or  should I say, “uniform” — with cleats and jersey, helmet and knuckle tape.

Now, given the football themes, just because the piece uses polyphony in the form of a fugue doesn’t automatically qualify it as classical music – though it does make it a classic curiosity for sure.

The Ear think it sounds rather like bad Rachmaninoff, or maybe a pedantically dry Bach toccata as transcribed by Busoni or some other bass-heavy Romantic piano virtuoso and transcriber.

But I’ll let you decide for yourselves whether the four-minute work is just a gimmick or a genuine, if admittedly derivative, work of classical music and tell me in the COMMENTS section what you think of it and what it sound like.

So go ahead: tackle it -– so to speak.

Here it is, including the composer’s comments about his intent, which he says:

“If football and classical piano were any more similar they would be the same thing.

“Both are fiercely competitive.
Both require violence, elegance, and nerves of steel.
Both demand a lifetime of intense training and discipline.
Both promise fame and glory but usually lead to working with kids.
Both will leave you with some sort of brain trauma.
But both will totally get you laid.

“The Fantasy Football and Fugue isn’t just a bad music pun, it’s a classical mashup of network NFL anthems (CBS, ESPN, FOX, and NBC) that would make Bach and Butkus proud.

Through the lens of classical music and short film, I hope to open these seemingly dissimilar fields to new audiences, sign a multi-million dollar development deal with a major Hollywood studio, become friends with Aaron Rodgers, and not get sued by 4 networks simultaneously.”

Now, it’s kickoff time — so on to the music:

Spread the word — and of course the music — to other football fans.

Remember to tell me how it scores in your playbook.

The Ear wants to hear.


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