The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Renowned Czech “pianist’s pianist” Ivan Moravec is dead at 84.

July 29, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The renowned Czech pianist Ivan Moravec (below) — known as “a pianist’s pianist” — died Monday at the age of 84. He died in Prague of complications from pneumonia.

ivan moravec playing

Moravec was known especially for his interpretations of Chopin, DebussyBrahms and especially Mozart – his playing of a Mozart piano concerto was heard on the soundtrack of the popular and Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus,” which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom. He also played composers from his native land including Antonin Dvorak, Bedrich Smetana and Leos Janacek.

Ivan Moravec vertical young

Here are some obituaries:

From Gramophone magazine:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/pianist-ivan-moravec-has-died

From Classical Music magazine:

http://www.classicalmusicmagazine.org/2015/07/ivan-moravec-9-november-1930-8210-27-july-2015/

From Voy Forums with mentions of awards:

http://www.voy.com/221392/165442.html

From critic Norman Lebrecht‘s blog Slipped Disc:

http://slippedisc.com/2015/07/a-great-pianist-has-died/


Classical music: Here are the 2015 Grammy winners and the nominees for classical music. Pro Arte Quartet recording producer Judith Sherman wins again.

February 10, 2015
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The 2015 Grammy winners were announced Sunday night in a live three-hour broadcast.

The list of winners and nominees can be a good guide to new listening.

grammy award BIG

Of course most of the Grammy attention went to pop, rock, rap, country and the big selling music genres.

But here are the winners for classical music, along with the nominees and competition.

One thing to note: Producer of the Year again went to freelancer Judith Sherman (below).

Sherman will be in Madison again inn May to record the last two centennial commissions for the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet. (Below, she is seen recording the first four commissions with the Pro Arte in Mills Hall.) The new recording includes the terrific Clarinet Quintet based on Allen Ginsberg’s landmark Beat poem “Howl” by American composer Pierre Jalbert and Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3.

Judith Shermanjpeg

Judith Sherman with Pro Arte

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL

WINNER: Vaughan Williams (below): Dona Nobis Pacem; Symphony No. 4; The Lark AscendingMichael Bishop, engineer; Michael Bishop, mastering engineer (Robert Spano, Norman Mackenzie, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus). Label: ASO Media

Adams, John: City Noir. Richard King, engineer; Wolfgang Schiefermair, mastering engineer (David Robertson & St. Louis Symphony); Label: Nonesuch

Adams, John Luther: Become Ocean. Dmitriy Lipay & Nathaniel Reichman, engineers; Nathaniel Reichman, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) Label: Cantaloupe Music

Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time. Dmitriy Lipay, engineer; Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Riccardo Muti Conducts Mason Bates & Anna Clyne. David Frost & Christopher Willis, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Label: CSO Resound

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL

WINNER: Judith Sherman (below)

  • Beethoven: Cello & Piano Complete (Fischer Duo)
  • Brahms By Heart (Chiara String Quartet)
  • Composing America (Lark Quartet)
  • Divergence (Plattform K + K Vienna)
  • The Good Song (Thomas Meglioranza)
  • Mozart & Brahms: Clarinet Quintets (Anthony McGill & Pacifica Quartet)
  • Snapshot (American Brass Quintet)
  • Two X Four (Jaime Laredo, Jennifer Koh, Vinay Parameswaran & Curtis 20/21 Ensemble)
  • Wagner Without Words (Williams)

Morten Lindberg

  • Beppe: Remote Galaxy (Vladimir Ashkenazy & Philharmonia Orchestra)
  • Dyrud: Out Of Darkness (Vivianne Sydnes & Nidaros Cathedral Choir)
  • Ja, Vi Elsker (Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl, Ingar Bergby, Staff Band Of The Norwegian Armed Forces & Schola Cantorum)
  • Symphonies Of Wind Instruments (Ingar Bergby & Royal Norwegian Navy Band)

Dmitriy Lipay

  • Adams, John Luther: Become Ocean (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Fauré: Masques Et Bergamasques; Pelléas Et Mélisande; Dolly (Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony Chorale & Seattle Symphony)
  • Hindemith: Nobilissima Visione; Five Pieces For String Orchestra (Gerard Schwarz & Seattle Symphony)
  • Ives: Symphony No. 2; Carter: Instances; Gershwin: An American In Paris (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Ravel: Orchestral Works; Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)

Elaine Martone

  • Hallowed Ground (Louis Langrée, Maya Angelou, Nathan Wyatt & Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’ (Benjamin Zander, Stefan Bevier, Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra)
  • Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7; Tapiola (Robert Spano & Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)
  • Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem; Symphony No. 4; The Lark Ascending (Robert Spano, Norman Mackenzie, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus)

David Starobin

  • All The Things You Are (Leon Fleisher)
  • Complete Crumb Edition, Vol. 16 (Ann Crumb, Patrick Mason, James Freeman & Orchestra 2001)
  • Game Of Attrition – Arlene Sierra, Vol. 2 (Jac Van Steen & BBC National Orchestra Of Wales)
  • Haydn, Beethoven & Schubert (Gilbert Kalish)
  • Mozart: Piano Concertos, No. 12, K. 414 & No. 23, K. 488 (Marianna Shirinyan, Scott Yoo & Odense Symphony Orchestra)
  • Music Of Peter Lieberson, Vol. 3 (Scott Yoo, Roberto Diaz, Steven Beck & Odense Symphony Orchestra)
  • Rochberg, Chihara & Rorem (Jerome Lowenthal)
  • Tchaikovsky: The Tempest, Op. 18 & Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 23 (Joyce Yang, Alexander Lazarev & Odense Symphony Orchestra

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

WINNER: Adams, John (below): City Noir.  David Robertson, conductor (St. Louis Symphony). Label: Nonesuch

Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time.  Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony). Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Dvořák: Symphony No. 8; Janáček: Symphonic Suite From Jenůfa. Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra). Label: Reference Recordings

Schumann: Symphonien 1-4. Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker). Label: Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings.

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7; Tapiola. Robert Spano, conductor (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra). Label: ASO Media

John Adams

BEST OPERA RECORDING

WINNER: Charpentier (below): La Descente D’Orphée Aux Enfers. Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Aaron Sheehan; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble; Boston Early Music Festival Vocal Ensemble). Label: CPO

Milhaud: L’Orestie D’Eschyle. Kenneth Kiesler, conductor; Dan Kempson, Jennifer Lane, Tamara Mumford, Sidney Outlaw, Lori Phillips & Brenda Rae; Tim Handley, producer (University Of Michigan Percussion Ensemble & University Of Michigan Symphony Orchestra; University Of Michigan Chamber Choir, University Of Michigan Orpheus Singers, University Of Michigan University Choir & UMS Choral Union). Label: Naxos

Rameau: Hippolyte Et Aricie. William Christie, conductor; Sarah Connolly, Stéphane Degout, Christiane Karg, Ed Lyon & Katherine Watson; Sébastien Chonion, producer (Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment; The Glyndebourne Chorus). Label: Opus Arte

Schönberg: Moses Und Aron. Sylvain Cambreling, conductor; Andreas Conrad & Franz Grundheber; Reinhard Oechsler, producer (SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden Und Freiburg; EuropaChorAkademie). Label: Hänssler Classic

Strauss: Elektra. Christian Thielemann, conductor; Evelyn Herlitzius, Waltraud Meier, René Pape & Anne Schwanewilms; Arend Prohmann, producer (Staatskapelle Dresden; Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden). Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Marc-Antoine Charpentier color

BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

WINNER: The Sacred Spirit Of Russia. Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Conspirare). Label: Harmonia Mundi

Bach: Matthäus-Passion. René Jacobs, conductor (Werner Güra & Johannes Weisser; Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin; Rias Kammerchor & Staats-Und Domchor Berlin). Label: Harmonia Mundi

Dyrud: Out Of Darkness. Vivianne Sydnes, conductor (Erlend Aagaard Nilsen & Geir Morten Øien; Sarah Head & Lars Sitter; Nidaros Cathedral Choir). Label: 2L (Lindberg Lyd).

Holst: First Choral Symphony; The Mystic Trumpeter. Andrew Davis, conductor; Stephen Jackson, chorus master (Susan Gritton; BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Symphony Chorus). Label: Chandos Records

Mozart: Requiem. John Butt, conductor (Matthew Brook, Rowan Hellier, Thomas Hobbs & Joanne Lunn; Dunedin Consort). Label: Linn Records

BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

WINNER: In 27 Pieces – The Hilary Hahn Encores (below). Hilary Hahn & Cory Smythe. Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Dreams & Prayers. David Krakauer & A Far Cry. Label: Crier Records

Martinů: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1-3. Steven Isserlis & Olli Mustonen. Label: BIS

Partch: Castor & Pollux. Partch. Track from: Partch: Plectra & Percussion Dances. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Sing Thee Nowell. New York Polyphony. Label: BIS

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

WINNER: Play. Jason Vieaux. Label: Azica Records

All The Things You Are. Leon Fleisher. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

The Carnegie Recital. Daniil Trifonov. Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Dutilleux: Tout Un Monde Lointain. Xavier Phillips; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony). Track from: Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time. Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Toccatas. Jory Vinikour. Label: Sono Luminus

BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM

WINNER: Douce France. Anne Sofie Von Otter; Bengt Forsberg, accompanist (Carl Bagge, Margareta Bengston, Mats Bergström, Per Ekdahl, Bengan Janson, Olle Linder & Antoine Tamestit). Label: Naïve

Porpora: Arias. Philippe Jaroussky; Andrea Marcon, conductor (Cecilia Bartoli; Venice Baroque Orchestra) Label: Erato

Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin. Florian Boesch; Malcolm Martineau, accompanist. Label: Onyx

Stella Di Napoli. Joyce DiDonato; Riccardo Minasi, conductor (Chœur De L’Opéra National De Lyon; Orchestre De L’Opéra National De Lyon). Label: Erato/Warner Classics

Virtuoso Rossini Arias. Lawrence Brownlee; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra). Label: Delos

BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

WINNER: Partch (below): Plectra & Percussion Dances. Partch; John Schneider, producer. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Britten To America. Jeffrey Skidmore, conductor; Colin Matthews, producer. Label: NMC Recordings

Mieczysław Weinberg. Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, Daniil Grishin, Gidon Kremer, & Daniil Trifonov & Kremerata Baltica; Manfred Eicher, producer. Label: ECM New Series

Mike Marshall & The Turtle Island Quartet. Mike Marshall & Turtle Island Quartet; Mike Marshall, producer. Label: Adventure Music

The Solent – Fifty Years Of Music By Ralph Vaughan Williams. Paul Daniel, conductor; Andrew Walton, producer. Label: Albion Records

harry partch

BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

WINNER: Adams, John Luther (below): Become Ocean. John Luther Adams, composer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). Label: Cantaloupe Music

Clyne, Anna: Prince Of Clouds. Anna Clyne, composer (Jaime Laredo, Jennifer Koh, Vinay Parameswaran & Curtis 20/21 Ensemble). Track from: Two X Four. Label: Cedille Records

Crumb, George: Voices From The Heartland. George Crumb, composer (Ann Crumb, Patrick Mason, James Freeman & Orchestra 2001). Track from: Complete Crumb Edition, Vol. 16. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Paulus, Stephen: Concerto For Two Trumpets & Band. Stephen Paulus, composer (Eric Berlin, Richard Kelley, James Patrick Miller & UMASS Wind Ensemble). Track from: Fantastique – Premieres For Trumpet & Wind Ensemble. Label: MSR Classics

Sierra, Roberto: Sinfonía No. 4. Roberto Sierra, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony). Track from: Sierra: Sinfonía No. 4; Fandangos; Carnaval.  Label: Naxos

John Luther Adams

 


Classical music: The well-named Nonesuch Records turns 50 –– and keeps being a pioneer in music from budget baroque, electronic music and contemporary classical music to folk, ragtime, rock and world music.

September 14, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

If you judge solely by the size of an operating budget and the number of albums released in a year, Nonesuch Records surely does not rank among the industry titans like Deutsche Grammophon, Decca or Sony Classical.

But what the label does, it does exceptionally well.

Of late, I am especially taken with Nonesuch because they feature two of my favorite pianists -– Richard Goode and Jeremy Denk (below) –- and of one my all-time favorite singers, soprano Dawn Upshaw, as well as the great Kronos Quartet.

Jeremy Denk, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

Here is a link to the label’s website with forthcoming releases and a list of recording artists:

http://www.nonesuch.com

In addition, I find the sonic engineering Nonesuch provides is also top-notch. Much as I loved the old Emerson Quartet, when it moved from DG to Sony, it received inferior sonic engineering that favored an echoing or overly resonant ambient sound. Myself, I prefer a clean and close-up microphone that lets my own living room provide the performance space acoustics.

Anyway, I was listening to National Public Radio Wednesday afternoon last week and heard this terrifically informative report on the 50th anniversary of Nonesuch, which is based in New York City and the anniversary of which is being celebrated with special concerts and special releases.

The story particularly emphasized the foresight of the label’s longtime top boss Robert Hurwitz (below, on the left next to Kronos violist Hank Dett and producer Judith Sherman, who also recorded the world premiere commission of the Pro Arte Quartet centennial at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.)

Using his own taste and instinct, Hurwitz anticipated the best-selling popularity of electronic music, Cuban music, ragtime music and many other genres. (Below in an interview he did at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that can be found on YouTube.) One person, it seems, can make a huge difference.

211033-D162

I do wish Hurwitz had offered a fuller explanation of why the wonderful and cheap budget recordings of Baroque music and early music that Nonesuch issued in the 1960s and 1970s -– the ones with the great art on the covers and the ones that hooked so many of us on relatively littkle-known works as well as masterpieces –- have not been remastered and reissued on CD.

Old Nonesuch cover

But in any case, the NPR story provided a fascinating look at how a record company continued to expand and branch out – not by following listeners’ tastes and desires, but by ANTICIPATING them. It is kind of like what happened with Sony and the success of the Walkman.

Some things you just cannot judge by polls and surveys, no matter what the branding and PR experts say. They take personal vision and leadership and risk-taking. That is what the Nonesuch way.

Anyway, here is the link to the NPR story. I hope you find it compelling as The Ear did.

http://www.npr.org/2014/09/10/347155810/nonesuch-at-50-a-record-label-without-borders

 

 


Classical music: Jeremy Denk’s piano recital this Thursday night is a MUST-HEAR event from one of the most promising and most original young musicians on the scene. Plus, acclaimed violist Nobuko Imai gives a FREE master class tonight at the UW.

April 8, 2013
6 Comments

REMINDER: The FREE master class by violist Nobuko Imai (below) — who performs a FREE concert Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall with the UW Pro Arte String Quartet — will be held TONIGHT, Monday, April 8, at 7 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

Imai Nobuko 018.jpg

By Jacob Stockinger

Last time pianist Jeremy Denk passed through Madison, he had time for a Q&A for this blog; a public panel on blogging held at the Wisconsin Union Theater (WUT); a master class for young local pianists (below)at the WUT; a fascinating talk about pedaling in Chopin at the UW School of Music; and a fabulous, memorable and mammoth recital of Charles Ives’ Piano Sonata No. 1 and J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.

Jeremy Denk teaching 1

Since then much has happened in the career of the 42-year-old pianist (below). He has been signed to a major label (Nonesuch) and released his acclaimed first CD for his new label. He has been in residence at NPR where he explored Bach’s Goldberg” Variations. He continues to write his acclaimed blog Think Denk at www.thinkdenk.net. He has been written up in Vanity Fair and he has published his own illuminating essay on piano lessons throughout his career in the April 8 edition of The New Yorker.

All this, then, plus the many concerts – solo recitals, chamber music concerts and concerto appearances – surely keep this pianist-writer and thinker extremely busy.

So it is little wonder that time apparently did not allow Denk all the background and extras that his last visit did.

Jeremy Denk playing 2

But Madison has too few piano recitals – certainly far fewer than it used to in the heyday of the Wisconsin Union Theater and the UW School of Music’s piano department. Yes, as Madison Symphony Orchestra maestro John DeMain suggested last year, we could use more chamber music groups – but we already have a lot of them. What we rarely hear are solo piano recitals, not a good thing for all music lovers and especially for piano students.

Farley’s House of Pianos leads the way with the WUT and the UW following close behind. But given the Hamburg Steinway in Overture Hall, why doesn’t the MSO or the Overture Center start a piano recital series there? We could bring up the same great top-tier pianists who perform recitals in Chicago at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s great piano series on Sunday afternoons.

Anyway, we are fortunate that the Wisconsin Union Theater is again bringing Jeremy Denk to town. This time Denk will perform this Thursday night, April 11, at 8 p.m. — NOT 7:30 p.m. — in Mills Hill, where the Wisconsin Union Theater is holding concerts while the actual theater is undergoing renovation and restoration.

Jeremy Denk playing swoon

Denk’s program is exactly what The Ear likes to see: an unusual and unpredictable mix of composers and works designed to provide contexts for and dialogues with each other — making J.S. Bach talk with Liszt and Beethoven, for example, or Bartok talk with Liszt. It is the same program that Denk played to great acclaim at Carnegie Hall (below, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Tines) two weeks ago.

Jeremy Denk in Carnegie Hall

The recital program is big – as befits Denk who is clearly a musical marathoner rather than a sprinter.

It starts with Bartok’s rarely heard Piano Sonata, and moves on to several Liszt works, including the “Dante” Sonata,  the Petrarch Sonata No. 123, the prelude of J.S. Bach’s chorale “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen,” and the arrangement of the Liebestod (Love Death) from Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde.” Then after intermission comes the gorgeous Prelude and Fugue in B Minor from J.S. Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Book 1 and Beethoven’s iconic last Piano Sonata, No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, which appeared last year with several Gyorgi Ligeti etudes on Denk’s debut album for Nonesuch.

If we are lucky and enthusiastic as an audience, it sounds like some Brahms and Bach are on the encore play list.

Tickets are $25 for general admission with discounts for groups and families; and $10 for UW-Madison students. Here is a link to the WUT site with information about tickets and much more about Denk:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season12-13/jeremy-denk.html

Since I didn’t hear directly from Denk, but still don’t want reader to underestimate the potential pleasure and illumination of this recital, I have included several other firms of background material in the form of links and a wonderful YouTube video at the bottom that gives you a good taste of Denk’s personality and piano playing.

Here is a link to the Vanity Fair piece on Jeremy Denk:

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/04/jeremy-denk-pianist-carnegie-hal

And here is link to his eassy about piano lessons (“Every Good Boy Does Fine”) in the new issue of The New Yorker (April 8 issue).

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/04/08/130408fa_fact_denk

Here is the rave review in The New York Times of Jeremy Denk’s Carnegie Hall recital with the same program that he will perform in Madison:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/26/arts/music/jeremy-denk-pianist-at-carnegie-hall.html?_r=0

Judge for yourself, but I am sure you will arrive at the same conclusion as The Ear: This is a piano recital not to be missed.


Classical music news: Pianist Jeremy Denk “de-normalizes” classical music with his new CD of Beethoven and Ligeti, and points the way to the industry’s future with a recording that deserves a Grammy.

May 21, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Pianist Jeremy Denk (below) – who says he is “obsessed with de-normalizing classical music” – is of one of the most promising and original musical talents not only in the US but also on the world scene.

And he is no stranger to Madison.

He first played here several years ago as the accompanist to star violinist Joshua Bell, with whom he recently toured Europe and recorded an outstanding album of French sonatas for Sony Classical.

Two seasons ago, Denk appeared at the Wisconsin Union Theater and performed a mammoth program of J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations and Charles Ives’ neglected Piano Sonata No. 1. He also held a master class for young piano students; participated in a blogging workshop; and gave a fascinating lecture on pedaling in Chopin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

A year from now, Denk will again perform on the Wisconsin Union Theater concert series, over in Mills Hall since the Memorial Union will be closed for two seasons while it undergoes major renovation.

A graduate of Oberlin College (where he major in chemistry) and the Juilliard School, Denk has many honors to his credit. He taught at Indiana University 1996-2002 and currently teaches at Bard College. For a week this winter, he was an artist–in-residence at NPR and you can go to http://www.npr.org to listen to him. His blog “Think Denk” (http://jeremydenk.net/blog/) is extremely well written with thought-provoking perspectives on music and is extremely popular. Acclaimed critic Alex Ross, of The New Yorker Magazine singles it out as among the very best.

Last week, Nonesuch released Denk’s debut CD for the label: It features Beethoven’s visionary last piano sonata, No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111, sandwiched in between selections of Gyorgy Ligeti’s fiendishly difficult two books of 20th and 21st century etudes.

It is a revelatory recording that The Ear expects to be nominated for and win a Grammy as well as several other international recording awards. Yes, it is that good. It is that landmark a recording with eye-catching black-and-white photography by Michael Wilson and with liner note by Denk himself.

I also think it is also an indicator of how the recording industry might once again find its commercial feet and reclaim its artistic soul by emphasizing connection among music works – by combing new music with old, or mixing works by very contrasting composers — and by offering listeners musicianship of an original sort rather than the same old celebrity and virtuosity of competition winners.

We need more dialogue between the past and the present – and that is exactly what the thoughtful and virtuosic Denk makes music do.

Denk recently e-mailed The Ear with comments about his new recording and his upcoming appearance in Madison:

What does the new recording for Nonesuch mean to you and to your career?

Who knows the answer to that question? You’d have to predict the future, probably. Obviously it’s a Good Thing. At the very least it means I am a very happy camper, and I went out for some excellent celebration drinks with my friends.

I guess the best part is that on some level it associates me with a group of musicians that I deeply admire and respect—among many others Richard Goode, Brad Mehldau—and even with the idea of Nonesuch, which often seems to be about music that doesn’t care to fit “normally” in the genre cubbyholes that tradition and habit have built.

I am sort of obsessed with de-normalizing classical music (for instance, in this case, making Beethoven sound even weirder by surrounding him with Ligeti). I guess it also can mean trying to play Mozart (or Brahms or whatever) in a way that makes it feel less familiar; so that the surprises in the music — the radical inventive qualities — re-emerge.   These radical qualities are certainly there, but the whole tradition and trapping of the classical concert (and even our education as musicians) can sometimes conspire to hide them!

I blame the metronome, among other things.  But Ligeti does amazing things with the metronome; he understands its “soul” (so to speak).

What plans for future releases and repertoire (Bach Toccatas, Beethoven Concerto No. 1, Chopin ballades and mazurkas you lectured about here) do you have with Nonesuch?

There are no completely definite repertoire plans, but the “Goldbergs” seem to be the favored option for the next project. This would make sense, since I’ve been playing them off and on the last several years.

Why did you pair Ligeti etudes and the Beethoven’s final Sonata, Op. 111? Do the both share some quality? How does pairing them change or enhance the listener’s perception and appreciation of each composer or piece?

I had the hardest time cutting my liner notes down to size, partly because I had so many different justifications for this pairing.  To sum up, the super-duper Reader’s Digest Version: 1) They’re both “new music,” the Beethoven perpetually unsettling, a work which will never feel traditional; the Ligeti, a radicalization of tradition; 2) Op. 111 is an amazing portrait of infinity, a carefully constructed journey to eternity, and the Ligeti Etudes are an amazing collection of snapshots of the infinite; they’re both “friendly with ∞;” 3) Both the Ligeti and Beethoven are about complex dualisms of time, visions of time that are drifting apart.

One very important thing about the Beethoven that got cut from my notes:  The first movement seems very much in a hurry, kind of driven — this is the movement where Beethoven drags in the past very overtly (Bach, French Overture, fugue); whereas the second is very patient, very leisurely. In other words, it offers a beautiful paradox:  the movement that is consumed with the past is in a desperate hurry, and the movement that foresees the future is infinitely patient.

You will return next spring to Madison. Do you have a program in mind?

I am guessing good old-fashioned Brahms (below) and Liszt — the demonic side of Brahms, and all sorts of facets of Liszt from the sacred to the profane.  I recent re-fell in love with the “Paganini Variations,” one of the most inspired sets of variations in history.  I love Brahms when he doesn’t have to develop or do too much complicated thinking; when he must simply rely on inspiration, moment to moment. He really rises to these occasions.

I think you will be doing some kind of alternative time (lunch) -alternative venue (small concert space) while you are in Madison. Any comment?

I don’t know what it is, but I’m looking forward to it.

Is there anything you want to say about the recording, you, your career, the Madison date or the music scene in general, including your recent gigs on NPR?

I think my problem is certainly not saying too little.  A lot of my thoughts are on my blog, so many.  I’ve left quite a trail.  I hope my career is developing in a way that makes sense to someone!

As for the recording, it represents an enormous swath of my life, love and attention; I find Op. 111 to be one of the most affecting works of art, ever — period, end of story; I am always choked up and overwhelmed when Beethoven “re-finds” the theme in the second movement; it is something completely harrowing, completely redeeming.  It’s more like an experience than a piece of music.  It’s what music is for, if music is for anything.  And I think the Ligeti Etudes are equally astounding in a different way.

In short, there is no way I can make any reasonable, objective assessment of the record; it’s a bit like a limb that’s been cut away from me, and now, like it or not, it’s out in the world, doing its thing.


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