The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This 90-year-old Belgian classical pianist learned how to play slow movements by Mozart and Beethoven by hearing Ray Charles – and shows why The Ear likes the arts reporting on PBS and NPR

January 15, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, I posted a disconcerting story from the Columbia Journalism Review about how most mainstream newspapers and traditional media are cutting way back on art coverage.

After all, runs the conventional wisdom, how can the arts compete with sports, politics and crime for attracting readers?

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/classical-music-newspapers-and-media-continue-to-cutback-on-arts-writers-and-arts-critics-what-is-the-effect-on-the-arts/

Well, that kind of mistaken thinking is one reason why The Ear likes to watch PBS and national Public Radio or NPR. Especially on the PBS NewsHour, you find terrific stories about and interviews with major figures in the fine arts and the performing arts.

PBS treats the arts as vital and essential, not ornamental or secondary.

A wonderful example happened this week on the segment called “Brief But Spectacular” in which people offer their thoughts about their own lives and careers.

In this case, it was Jean Stark — a 90-year-old Belgian-born woman who was an accomplished concertizing classical pianist. She performed in Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York City, and in halls around the world, and who talks about her life and career for PBS.

jean-stark

In the four-minute interview, she laments how classical music isn’t promoted these days and emphasizes how wonderful it was to be alive during the golden years of classical music with such great figures as composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev.

But, she confesses, for all her accomplishments she was unsatisfied with how she played slow movements of sonatas by Classical-era masters Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

stark1-320x196

Until she came to the U.S. and went with a friend to a concert by Ray Charles.

Charles, she says, taught how to play slowly.

The Ear only wishes she had been more specific about the lessons she learned. Was it phrasing? Tempo? Accents? “Rubato,” or flexible timing?

It is a great, heart-warming story and typical of the kind of human interest arts coverage that you generally do not find on other television news channels, whether traditional networks like CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX or cable TV channels such as CNN and MSNBC.

So The Ear offers it as both an enjoyable and informative arts story, and as an endorsement of the PBS NewsHour and especially reporter Jeffrey Brown, who does such a terrific job of reporting on the arts.

Here is the segment, which you can find on YouTube, along with other recordings by Stark:

An after-thought: To the best of his knowledge, The Ear thinks that the music you hear her playing is the “Aeolian Harp” Etude in A-Flat Major, Op. 25, No. 1, by Frederic Chopin and part of the suite “Pour le piano” (For the Piano) by Claude Debussy.

What do you think of arts coverage on the mainstream media and on PBS?

What do you think Jean Stark learned from Ray Charles?

If you saw this story, how did it affect you?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Georges Prêtre, the French conductor Vienna adored, has died at 92

January 10, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Vienna has been called “The Paris of the Reich.”

Perhaps that is why the Viennese took such a liking to the suave and debonair French conductor Georges Prêtre (below, in a photo by Dieter Nagli for Getty Images), who died last Wednesday at 92.

george-pretre-cr-dieter-nagli-getty-images

The urbane Prêtre – who specialized in French music but also was much in demand for a lot of German and Italian repertoire — studied karate and judo. But he also enjoyed the good life and by all accounts had a terrific sense of humor coupled to a “joie de vivre.”

He often said he preferred being a guest conductor to being a music director because the former was like a love affair and the latter was like a commitment. Yet Prêtre was committed: He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years.

His conducting career spanned 70 years. He was known for his association with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony. But he also conducted 101 performances of seven operas at the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He also frequently conducted in Milan, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Here is a good summary obituary, with sound clips of orchestral and operatic music, from National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/01/05/508374381/georges-pr-tre-a-conductor-with-a-70-year-career-dies-at-92

And here is a longer obituary, which gives you the French flavor of the man and the musician, from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/04/arts/music/georges-pretre-french-conductor-known-for-improvisation-dies-at-92.html

And here is George Prêtre’s most popular video on YouTube, which also serves as a fine memorial in sound:


Classical music: National Public Radio (NPR) names its Top 10 classical recordings of 2016. The Ear compares it to other lists of the Best of the Year

December 27, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Got a Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gift card to spend?

Want to take advantage of post-holiday and year-end and New Year sales?

Here is the list of the Top 10 classic music recordings from National Public Radio (NPR), which critic Tom Huizenga (below top) wrote for the blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

huizenga_tom_2011

npr

It emphasizes unknown performers – like soprano Barbara Hannigan (below in a photo by Elmer Haas) and contemporary or new music. But it features piano music, orchestra music, chamber music and opera. And it has generous sound samples from the chosen recordings:

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/12/22/504694907/a-year-of-listening-desperately-10-classical-albums-that-saved-2016

soprano-barbara-hannigan-cr-elmer-de-haas

Over the past month, The Ear has featured several other Best of 2016 lists. So here they are for purposes of comparison and crosschecking.

For example, on several lists you will find conductor Daniel Barenboim‘s recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Edward Elgar and pianist Daniil Trifonov‘s two-CD recording of the complete piano etudes by Franz Liszt — and justifiably so. (You can hear the trailer for Trifonov’s Liszt etudes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is the post-Thanksgiving guide from The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/classical-music-here-is-the-new-york-times-holiday-gift-guide-of-classical-music-for-2016/

Here is a list of nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2017-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

And here is a link to a list by the critics of The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-recordings-of-2016-as-chosen-by-critics-for-the-new-york-times/


Classical music: Today is Christmas Day. Here are many hours of classical music to help you celebrate the holiday.

December 25, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2016.

You may have your own collection of recorded holiday music.

But if you are looking for familiar or especially unfamiliar classical music to help you celebrate the holiday, The Ear has some suggestions as a sort of holiday gift.

There is always the reliable Wisconsin Public Radio and other affiliates of National Public Radio (NPR), which will feature holiday music throughout the day. And chances are pretty good that the local community-sponsored alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 will do the same.

But YouTube also is offering some other sources that you can stream while you are opening gifts, eating, mingling, gathering with others for the holiday or just enjoying it by yourself.

Plus the audio sites have timings so you can skip or find specific pieces or event movement within the pieces.

Here are two:

This is a 10-hour compilation that you could stream and play. It includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Pachelbel, Franz Schubert and Peter Tchaikovsky among many others:

And here is one of The Ear’s favorites, with over one million hits because it features more than three hours of music with a lot of music of the Italian Baroque, including works by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli, Francesco Manfrediini and Pietro Locatelli as well as music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hector Berlioz, Peter Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Astor Piazzolla:

Feel free to make other suggestions by leaving a composer, title and links, if possible, in the COMMENT section.

And also feel free to tell us what is piece is your favorite classical music for Christmas and why.

The Ear wants to hear.

And MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

 


Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras performs “Sounds of the Season” with area high school choirs on TV once again on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Plus, WYSO names Randal Swiggum as its new interim music director

December 23, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has two pieces of news to report:

As in past years, WYSO will perform its popular one-hour, commercial-free “Sounds of the Season” concerts on TV on NBC 15 this weekend. 

Three WYSO groups will be featured: the Youth Orchestra (below top), the Youth Brass Choir (below middle) and the Percussion Ensemble (below bottom).

WYSO Youth Orchestra James Smith conducting 2015

WYSO Brass Choir

WYSO Percussion Ensemble 2012

There will be one performance on Christmas Eve at 10 p.m., and then two performances on Christmas Day at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

The orchestra and ensembles will also be joined by choirs from area high schools. Sorry, but The Ear can’t find word of which ones.

You can hear part of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” as performed by WYSO on “Sounds of the Season” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For more information, photos and audiovisual clips from a last year’s “Sounds of the Season,” go to:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/misc/NBC15-Sounds-Of-The-Season-2016-406076915.html

wyso-sounds-of-the-season-logo

In addition WYSO has named an interim replacement for outgoing music director James Smith (below), who is retiring from WYSO as well as from the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the end of this season.

james smith Jack Burns

Here are details from WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser:

“WYSO is very pleased to announce that Randal Swiggum (below) has been appointed WYSO Interim Artistic Director and Youth Orchestra Conductor for the 2017-2018 season.

“Randy is well-known to many WYSO students already, whether through Summer Music Clinic, the recent Wisconsin Middle Level Honors orchestra, or Suzuki Strings of Madison. He prepared the WYSO Youth Orchestra for its 2012 Overture Center performance of “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” and has subbed in with Philharmonia Orchestra and chamber music rehearsals.

Randall Swiggum

“Randy is in his 19th season as Artistic Director of the award-winning Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, a large program similar to WYSO, which draws students from 70 different communities in suburban Chicago.

“Under his direction, the EYSO has collaborated with renowned artists like Midori, Yo-Yo Ma and Rachel Barton Pine, as well as Grammy-winning chamber ensemble eighth blackbird. The EYSO has appeared on NPR’s “From the Top” and at the Ravinia Festival, where they will return to perform again in 2018.

“The Illinois Council of Orchestras has twice named him Conductor of the Year and awarded its prestigious Programming of the Year Award to the EYSO.

“A frequent guest conductor of orchestral and choral festivals, Randy recently conducted the Scottish National Youth Symphony in Glasgow, All-State Orchestras in Georgia and Illinois, the American Mennonite Schools Orchestra Festival, Northern Arizona Honors Orchestra, the APAC Orchestra Festival in Seoul, and both the Wisconsin Middle Level Honors Choir and Orchestra, among many others.

“Randy also works with a number of professional orchestras, designing and conducting concerts for young people. Last year, he led the Madison Symphony in his original “Symphony Safari: What Nature Teaches Us About the Orchestra,” attended by several thousand middle school students in Overture Hall.

“Next February, he returns for a fourth season with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in its acclaimed “Teen Partner” series, conducting the Gloria by Francis Poulenc.

“He also appears next spring with the Chippewa Valley Symphony, conducting his “Beethoven Superhero” concert, which has been popular with teachers, students and parents alike, with the Elgin Symphony and The Florida Orchestra (Tampa).

“As an author and lecturer, Randy works with teachers around the country and internationally, most recently with international school teachers in Hong Kong and at Carnegie Hall, where last summer he returned for a fourth season teaching its Music Educator Workshops, and leading members of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA.

“Randy is a proud UW-Madison graduate and lives in Madison, where you can find him on Monday nights working with the Madison Boychoir (in the Madison Youth Choirs) alongside colleague Margaret Jenks.

“WYSO is truly fortunate to have such a dedicated and tireless educator guiding its artistic vision next season.”


Classical music: Christmas is Tuba Time. Who knew?

December 18, 2016
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s the holidays.

At a time when so much music for the holiday season is predictable from year to year, here is a kind of music that is unusual – at least to The Ear.

Apparently, for some years now Christmas has been a time to celebrate the tuba (below) worldwide.

tuba

The music they play isn’t classical, but it is seasonal. And it is a good excuse to celebrate and orchestral instrument and member of the brass family that too often goes largely unnoticed.

If you go to YouTube and type in TubaChristmas, you can find samples of TubaChristmas celebrations and concerts in Chicago, Portland, Rochester, Kansas City, Boston, Baltimore, New York City, Washington, D.C. and many more.

The Ear hasn’t heard if there is a TubaChristmas celebration in Madison or anywhere else in Wisconsin. If there is, please leave word in the COMMENT section.

Below is a photo from Getty Images of more than 400 tuba players – called “tubists” in the profession – who gathered in Chicago for 2003 Tuba Christmas. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear tubas playing carols at the Palmer House hotel in Chicago in 2013.)

400-plus-tubas-at-tubachicago-in-2003-getty-images

Maybe you knew about it, but The Ear sure didn’t, even though he should have.

And in case you didn’t either, here is a link to the story that aired this past week on “All Things Considered” for National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/2016/12/16/505878391/at-tubachristmas-an-underdog-instrument-shines

It is a fine story about the event – complete with some tuba music — along with its origin and some background about the tuba.

Enjoy!

And let us now what you think of the tuba and of TubaChristmas.

The Ear wants to hear.

http://www.npr.org/2016/12/16/505878391/at-tubachristmas-an-underdog-instrument-shines


Classical music: Mozart outsells Beyoncé, Adele and Drake in 2016

December 17, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s official.

The 18th-century classical music icon Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has sold more CDs in 2016 than such superstar pop singers as Beyoncé, Adele and Drake.

Mozart c 1780 detail of portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce

Of course it has something to do with a quirk of packaging and marketing – specifically a 200-CD set of the complete works by Mozart that is selling well at holiday time.

The Ear doesn’t think it means much in the way of reversing the decline in attendance at live classical concerts or the need to find bigger and younger audiences for the classics.

To be sure, the Grammys will still devote more air time and publicity to Beyoncé, Adele and Drake.

And The Ear is betting the same thing won’t happen again next year. Or the year after that. Or maybe ever.

But it still feels good, even if only temporarily.

And the phenomenon does say something about where the recording industry is heading.

To find out more here is a good summary story, which you can listen to or read, that appeared on National Public Radio (NPR)

http://www.npr.org/2016/12/12/505311193/when-it-comes-to-cds-in-2016-mozart-outsells-beyonce-adele-and-drake

The Ear has so many favorite Mozart works. One is his last piano concerto – No. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595 — which you can hear performed by Mitsuko Uchida in the YouTube video at the bottom.

What is your favorite Mozart work?

An opera? A work of chamber music? A sonata for solo piano or for piano and violin? A string quartet or quintet?

Leave word and, if you can, a link to your favorite recording of it.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho discusses her opera “L’Amour de Loin” on NPR. Its premiere production at the Metropolitan Opera will air this Saturday on “Live From the Met in HD” and on Wisconsin Public Radio

December 9, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday will see the “Live From The Met in HD” transmission to area cinemas of the popular 2002 opera “L’Amour de Loin” by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (below, in a photo by Maarit Kytoharju).

The show starts at 11:55 a.m. at the Point Cinema in Madison’s far west side and the Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie. The running time is three hours with an intermission. (It will also be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio starting at 1 p.m.) It will be sung in French with English supertitles.

kaija-saariaho-maarit-kytoharju-for-met

Based on the real-life story of the 12th-century French prince and troubadour Jaufré de Rudel, the opera will be the first one by a women composer to be done by the Metropolitan Opera in 113 years.

It must also be a landmark for Finland, since both the composer and the acclaimed conductor, Susanna Mälkki (below, in a photo by The New York Times), are Finnish. Mälkki is making her Met debut.

susanna-malkki-ny-times

And the cast sounds terrific: Bass-baritone Eric Own (below left, in a photo by Ken Howard) plays the troubadour.

eric-owens-plays-the-12th-century-french-prince-and-troubadour-jaufre-rudel-cr-ken-howard-met

Susanna Phillips (below right) plays his love Clémence, who hails from what is now Lebanon.

eric-owens-and-susanna-phillips-in-mets-%22lamour-de-loin%22-cr-ken-howard-for-met

It sounds like the production, by French-Canadian theater director Robert Lepage – who worked with the Cirque du Soleil and did the Met’s recent controversial “Ring” cycle by Richard Wagner, is appealing on several scores. (You can hear Robert Lepage and Kaija Saariaho discuss the production briefly in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link to more information about the opera and cast at the Met’s website:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/2016-17-Season/amour-de-loin-saariaho-tickets/

The appeal has been added to by a story that Jeff Lunden did for National Public Radio or NPR.

It is good background for seeing and hearing the production.

Here is a link. You can read the summary in print, and you can hear the longer broadcast version – which The Ear recommends — with the voices of the composer and others, by clicking on the big red button on the top left:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/12/03/503986298/half-of-humanity-has-something-to-say-composer-kaija-saariaho-on-her-met-debut

Do you know the opera “L’Amour de Loin”?

Have you seen or heard it already?

Whether you saw a previous Metropolitan Opera production or this one, let us know what you think of the opera as new music and a fetching love story. Will it “have legs” and survive long into the future?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Can arias from Baroque operas address current chaos and concerns? Singer Joyce DiDonato thinks so. Plus, a FREE concert of music by Dvorak, Debussy, Frank Bridge and Amy Beach is at noon on Friday

November 29, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Shannon Farley, viola, with Chris Allen, guitar; Leah King and Jason Kutz, piano; Elspeth Stalter Clouse and Ela Mowinski, violin; Leslie Damaso, mezzo-soprano; and Morgan Walsh, cello. They will perform the Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81, by Antonin Dvorak; Three Songs for Mezzo-soprano, viola and piano by Frank Bridge; “Beau Soir” (Beautiful Evening)  for guitar and viola by Claude Debussy; and a Romance for violin by Amy Beach as arranged for viola and piano. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

Can the past help us understand and weather the present time with its conflicts and chaos?

Mezzo-soprano and Grammy Award winner Joyce DiDonato (below) thinks so.

joyce-didonato

In fact her latest album, for the Erato-Warner label, of arias from Baroque operas from the 17th and 18th centuries is dedicated to that proposition. The album’s title is “In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music” (below).

It includes arias from opera by George Frideric Handel (one of which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom), Henry Purcell, Niccolo Jommelli, Leonardo Leo and Claudio Monteverdi, and it features two world premiere recordings as well as familiar works.

joyce-didonato-cd-cover-in-war-and-piece

The singer talks about her concept album in an interview with Ari Shapiro of “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio (NPR).

She boils much of her viewpoint down to one question: In the widest of chaos, how can you find peace?

Sure seems timely, given foreign wars and domestic political strife.

Here is a link with the interview and some fetching music:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/11/04/500515350/joyce-didonato-on-why-art-matters-in-the-midst-of-chaos

Listen to it.

See what you think.

Then let the rest of us know what you think, and whether you agree or disagree, and whether you have other works that come to mind.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Here is The New York Times holiday gift guide of classical music for 2016

November 27, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The holiday shopping has started with a Black Friday that set records for on-line sales — more than $3 billion or an increase of 11 percent over last year, according to news reports.

And this coming Cyber Monday is supposed to be even bigger, setting more records.

Over the next several weeks, The Ear will feature several holiday gifts guides, including the upcoming Grammy Award nominations and lists of the year’s top recordings from Gramophone magazine, National Public Radio (NPR) and other media outlets.

The Ear will also offer some of his own ideas, although he thinks it is pointless to single out the “best,” given so many choices, and will feature instead things that gave him – and might give you or the recipient – special pleasure.

Anyway, here is the 2016 holiday gift guide for classical music from critics for The New York Times.

ny-times-classical-gifts-2016

Once again, the emphasis is on boxed sets, which have become more widespread and even more of a bargain as streaming becomes increasingly popular. One expensive set features Mozart’s complete works and runs almost $500 – or about only $2 a disc.

The list features tried-and-true classics and also more contemporary music and new music. It seems big on opera and orchestral works especially, but offers precious little chamber music or early music.

The list features CDs, DVDs, books and – The Ear’s favorite – a plea for giving tickets to live concerts or else gift certificates for them.

Read it and decide for yourself how useful it is.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/24/arts/music/gift-ideas-for-classical-music-fans.html?_r=0

If you have gift ideas of your own, or reactions to these suggestions, leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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