The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The murdered civil rights leader has become a character in opera, oratorios and musicals as well as popular songs

January 15, 2018
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the holiday to celebrate the 89th birthday of Martin Luther King (below), the American civil rights pioneer who was born on this day in 1929, won the Nobel Peace Prize and was assassinated in 1968, when he was 39.

For more biographical information, here is the Wikipedia entry:

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

There will be many celebrations, including the 38th annual one at noon in the State Capitol of Wisconsin in Madison, which will be broadcast live and recorded by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and Wisconsin Public Television (WPT).

Music is always an important art of honoring King. There will be spirituals and gospel choirs.

But King himself has become a musical, and dramatic, figure.

Maybe you knew that.

The Ear didn’t.

So here are some links to sample from YouTube, which has many of King’s speeches and much of the music done to honor King over the years.

MLK is a character is the opera by Philip Glass called “Appomattox,” which deals with civil rights from The Civil War onwards and was commissioned and performed by the Washington National Opera.

Here is part of it in rehearsal:

And in performance:

And here is the one-hour video called “I Have a Dream”:

Do you know of any other musical works in which Martin Luther King Jr. actually figures and plays a role?

What piece of classical music would you choose to honor King?- Perhaps the poignant aria “Give Me Freedom” from Handel’s opera “Rinaldo” (performed in the YouTube video at the bottom) or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy” finale about universal brotherhood.

Let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The Ear asks again — why hasn’t an opera about Martin Luther King Jr. been written? What classical music should be played to honor him?

January 16, 2017
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is an important and, in some parts of the United States, still  controversial holiday: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

martin luther king 2

Such an occasion and its artistic celebration assumes even greater importance now that we are on the verge of the Trump Era, which starts this coming Friday with the Inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Once again The Ear looked for classical music to mark the occasion and the holiday. But the results he found were limited. Do we really need to hear Samuel Barber’s famous and sadly beautiful but overplayed “Adagio for Strings” again on this day?

So The Ear asks the same question he asked two years ago: Why hasn’t anyone written an opera about the pioneering civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in 1968 and would today be 88? 

Martin Luther King speech

Here is a link to that more extended post that asks the same question:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/classical-music-why-hasnt-anyone-written-an-opera-about-martin-luther-king-jr-and-the-civil-rights-movement/

If you know of such an opera, please let The Ear know in the COMMENT section.

Or perhaps a composer could write something about King similar to Aaron Copland‘s popular “A Lincoln Portrait.” King certainly provided lots of eloquent words for a inspiring text or narration.

And if there is classical music that you think is appropriate to mark the occasion, please leave word of it, with a YouTube link if possible.

In the meantime, in the YouTube video below The Ear offers the first movement from the “Afro-American Symphony” by the underperformed  black American composer William Grant Still (1874-1954):


Classical music: The piano played an important role in the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, whose democracy party just triumphed over the military in the election held this past week in Myanmar, or Burma.

November 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Often we lose a sense of the importance of music to non-musicians and to life outside the concert hall and conservatory or school of music.

Which is a reminder why supporting this weekend’s concerts by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has social and educational as well as artistic meaning. Here is a link to the WYSO schedules and programs;

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/classical-music-education-alumna-violist-vicki-powell-returns-this-weekend-to-perform-with-wisconsin-youth-symphony-orchestras-wyso-and-kick-off-wysos-50th-anniversary-season/

But this past week the world also received a vivid and dramatic reminder of just how important music can be in the life of the non-musical world.

It has to do with the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar, formerly called Burma. That is the party led by the democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi (below) – or The Lady, as her compatriots and supporters simply refer to her.

aung san suu kyi

During her 20 years of house arrest by the military, the piano helped her keep her sanity and her resolve.

And hearing her play the piano also reassured her neighbors outside her home in Yangon (Rangoon) about her emotional and mental health.

Exercise, study and playing the piano (below) all proved key during the 20 years of house arrest imposed  by the military on the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

It is also worth noting that to honor her, on its 50th anniversary, the famous Leeds international Piano Competition in Great Britain in the United Kingdom renamed its top Gold Medal in her honor. 

Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan even wrote and performed a special song, “Unplayed Piano,” for Suu Kyi in honor of her 60th birthday in 2005. You can hear it in there Youtube video at the bottom.

Aung San Suu Kyi playing piano

Here is an overview:

http://theappendix.net/issues/2013/7/solitude-and-sandaya-the-strange-history-of-pianos-in-burma

And here is another story with more specific details, including her favorite composers – Bach, Telemann, Mozart, Clementi, Pachelbel and Bartok — and how piano tuners, when finally allowed by the military to repair her piano, dealt with the forcefulness with which she sometimes played as well as with the effects of the hot and humid climate:

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/nov/15/world/la-fg-myanmar-piano-tuner-20121116

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/rangoons-piano-tuners-recall-the-vital-part-they-played-in-suu-kyis-struggle-7601138.html

 

 


Classical music: Why hasn’t anyone written an opera about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement?

January 19, 2015
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a federal holiday in the US: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

And The Ear has just one question: Why hasn’t anyone yet composed an opera about MLK?

martin luther king 2

His larger-than-life existence has all the necessary operatic elements about it, from being a prisoner in jail and winning the Nobel Peace Prize to meeting with President Johnson in The White House and being assassinated while defending garbage workers in Memphis.

He took part in momentous events, some of them dramatic and violent, that involved huge masses of people.

Plus, he and his staff experienced major individual and personal conflicts.

And the cause he fought for forever altered the course of American history and the civil rights of other individuals and groups advocating women’s rights, Latino rights, gay rights and disabled rights among others.

Martin Luther King speech

Could it be that MLK has not been treated in an opera because the composers are white or non-American?

Who, then, could or should do it?

The contemporary American composer John Adams (below top) comes immediately to mind. He used President Richard Nixon (below bottom is a scene from “Nixon in China, as it was staged at the Metropolitan Opera); physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project in “Doctor Atomic: to create the atomic bomb; and in the still controversial opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” the question of terrorism examined through the story of Jewish tourist Leon Klinghoffer and his Palestinian murderers, to create his successful reality-based historical operas.

John Adams

nixon in china plane

So, why not Martin Luther King Jr.?

Music certainly was vital to King and his campaign.

But what hasn’t he himself been treated as the central figure of an opera?

Maybe the difficulties posed by the King estate would have something to do with it, as they did with the current movie “Selma.”

But one can’t imagine that they are insurmountable.

Anyway, tell us what you think.

Should there be an opera about Martin Luther King Jr.?

Who would be a good composer to write one?

And why do you think one hasn’t already been written? Does racism play a role?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: A FREE “fusion” concert of Arab and Jewish art music will take place on this coming Saturday night on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Plus, the students of UW tenor James Doing will perform a FREE recital of songs and arias this Thursday night at 7.

April 2, 2014
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ALERT: Tomorrow, Thursday night at 7 p.m., University of Wisconsin-Madison tenor James Doing will present another of his FREE  studio recitals. It will feature 17 of his students (below, with Doing on the back row on the far right) — but this time NOT Doing himself — in various works, performed with piano accompaniment. The composers to be heard include George Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, Henri Duparc, Leo Delibes, Manuel DeFalla, Giaocchino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi, Leonard Bernstein and William Bolcom. The Ear has found such recitals in the past extremely informative and extremely enjoyable, a model of teacher-student cooperation based on a kind of master-apprentice model. Here is my review of a previous such recital:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/classical-music-review-uw-tenor-james-doing-successfully-reinvents-the-art-song-recital/ 

2014 James Doing Studio USE

By Jacob Stockinger

It seems to The Ear that the Israel-Palestinian conflict has lately been on the back burner for the most part, though it is heating up again as the Palestinians threaten again to go to the United Nations for official statehood recognition .

israel palestine conflict

Still, that turmoil seems pretty much buried under the turmoil in Ukraine involving Russia’s annexation of Crimea; under the three week-long story of the missing Malaysian jet on its flight to Beijing; and under the tragedy of the massive and deadly mudslide near Seattle.

Add in the civil war in Syria, the student protests in Venezuela, concerns over Iran and nuclear proliferation and some African politics, and you can quickly understand why the Israelis and the Palestinians are less visible these days.

But although their disagreement may be less visible in the headlines, the Jewish-Arab problem is still there and is still urgent in its need to be solved.

After all, President Obama just returned from a trip to the Mideast where he met with to Saudi officials. And his administration continues to look for peace even as troubles from Palestinian rocket attacks to new Israeli construction on the West Bank, still plague the peace process.

So the Israel-Palestinian peace process, and the effort to secure a two-state solution, continues — or so one can hope.

With that background, it might seem that University of Wisconsin-Madison cellist Uri Vardi, who is an Israeli by birth and training, is following the current trend towards using art –- specifically music – to promote cross-cultural understanding and ultimately peace.

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

If that goal seems far-fetched or distant, well you might recall that world-famous conductor Daniel Barenboim has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra that he founded with the late Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said to foster peace by bringing together Israeli and Palestinian young musicians for concerts and recordings.

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, Carnegie Hall

And the universally acclaimed early music master Jordi Savall (below top) and his ensemble Hesperion XXI have just released to rave reviews their second CD volume of music (below bottom) that blends Arabic and European cultures.

savall

Jordi Savall Orient-Occident 2 CD cover

But Uri Vardi is anything but late to the game. For almost two decades he has been promoting such international understanding and peace efforts through art for a very long time through the Fusions Continuum Project.

This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Vardi will play the cello and his friend and colleague Taiseer Elias will play the oud (below) -– a fretless, lute-like instrument that is the ancient ancestor of the guitar and of the entire string family including the violin, viola, cello and double bass.

oud

Taiseer Elias

They will be joined by pianist-composer Menachem Wiesenberg (below), who is seen performing one of his own compositions with our master Taseer Elias in a YouTube video at the bottom.

menachem wiesenberg with music

If you miss that performance, the concert will be repeated the next day, this Sunday, on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” (below), which will be broadcast LIVE statewide on Wisconsin Public Radio from 12:30 to 2 p.m., and on Sunday night at a FREE concert in Milwaukee at 7 p.m. at the Rubinstein Pavilion, 1400 North Prospect Avenue. Then the trio will embark of a tour of the U.S.

SALsetupgallery

In 2008, Vardi and Elias – an acclaimed teacher and performer in Israeli — gave the world premiere in Madison in a specially composed Double Concerto for Oud and Cello by the American composer Joel Hoffman (below). It was premiered by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain, and it is the kind of cultural crossover project that has found similar success with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project.

Joel Hoffman

Here are three links to stories about Uri Vardi and the upcoming fusion concert of Arab and Israeli music:

The first is to the shorter story on the outstanding blog “Fanfare” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/acappella_taylorpiano_beatriceopera/

The second longer and more detailed story is a press release from the newsletter of the UW-Madison Department of Jewish Studies:

http://jewishstudies.wisc.edu/newsletter/winter2014/vardi/

And the third link will give you the full program:

http://jewishstudies.wisc.edu/arts/fusions/program/

What do you think of a project like this?

Can it be practical in the pursuit of peace and understanding?

Or does it remain pretty much irrelevant entertainment?

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section of this blog.

The Ear wants to hear.

 

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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra will unveil its first “Beyond the Score®” multi-media performance of Antonin Dvorak’s popular Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”) this coming Sunday afternoon.

January 20, 2014
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger 

Today is the birthday celebration of the murdered Nobel Peace Prize-winning civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (below) with celebrations around the nation, including a live broadcast from the state Capitol on Wisconsin Public Radio at noon CST. (The MLK tribute will also air tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.)

martin luther king 2

So one could hardly think of a better time to perform classical music that pioneered the use of Negro spirituals and indigenous American Indian music.

And that is exactly what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) will do this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall in a first-time and one-time only concert that looks, according to marketing director Teri Venker, headed for a sellout.

MSO playing

Here is the MSO press release:

“Bohemian Antonín Dvořák’s uniquely American composition, Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” will be the focus of Beyond the Score®, a multimedia concert experience Sun., Jan. 26, 2014, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall in Madison, WisconsinThis is a Madison first and a one-time only performance.

“Beyond the Score® will feature videos and photos, actors and narrator, and musical examples, as well as a full performance of the symphony by Conductor John DeMain and the musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The experience will fully immerse the audience in the “New World Symphony’s” context in history, how it relates to Dvořák’s other works, and the events in the composer’s life that influenced its creation.

“MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) said: “This is an entertaining way to learn more about one of the world’s masterpieces through video, music, and actors. Hopefully, you’ll hear the symphony in a whole new way. This is an opportunity you won’t want to miss!” (At the bottom is a popular YouTube video , that has over 1.3 millions hits, and that features superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic leading the exciting final movement of the :”New World” symphony in a special concert for Pope Benedict XVI.)

John DeMain full face by Prasad

“Other professional talent will also play key roles.

“Anders Yocom, of Wisconsin Public Radio, will narrate.

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

“Actor David Daniel (below top), a core member of American Players Theatre, will perform the role of Antonin Dvorak (below bottom).

david daniels color

dvorak

Actor James Ridge (below), also a core member of American Players Theatre, will enact multiple roles.

James Ridge

“Mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Colbert (below), who is director of the women’s chorus at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison and is president of the Madison Symphony Chorus, will sing excerpts of spirituals that influenced Dvorak.

Jacqueline Colbert

“Dan Lyons (below), principal pianist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will be the accompanist.

Dan Lyons

“Dvorak, already an internationally renowned composer, came to America in 1892 at the invitation of wealthy East Coast philanthropist Jeannette Thurber. He headed the American Conservatory of music in New York City and his main goal was to discover “American Music” and employ it in his own compositions. He also vacationed in the Czech community Spillville, Iowa, which holds an annual Dvorak festival each summer.

“Dvorak was particularly taken with the music of both African-Americans and Native Americans, and in 1893 began work on Symphony No. 9.  To this day there is a lively debate as to whether the piece more prominently reflects these “new world” cultures or rather Dvořák’s native Bohemia. 

“According to notes from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, “For Americans, this is the first great symphony about America. For African-Americans, this is the first great orchestral work to use themes inspired by their songs and spirituals. For Native Americans, it is the first, and so far the only, great work inspired by Native American music.” Beyond the Score® is a complete exploration of these varied and intriguing influences.

“Tickets are $15-$60 each, and are available at www.madisonsymphony.org/beyond ; through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin or by calling the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

“Beyond the Score® is produced by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Gerard McBurney, creative director, and Martha Gilmer, executive producer. Major funding for this concert is provided by an anonymous friend of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.”

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