The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The new concert season features many world premieres in opera, orchestral music and chamber music. So, why not here in Madison?

September 20, 2016
12 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Who says classical music is dying?

You wouldn’t know it from some of the many world premieres of new music that will take place across the U.S. this season. Such events add a lot of excitement to the new concert season. And many critics and observers think they draw in new and younger audiences.

Quite a few of the premieres feature performers and composers familiar to Madison audiences. They include cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below top, in a photo by Harold Hoffmann for Decca Records), pianist Emanuel Ax (below second), composer Kevin Puts (below third) and composer Jake Heggie (below bottom).

alisa-weilerstein-cr-harold-hoffmann-for-decca

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

Kevin Puts pulitzer

Jake Heggie

Here is a round-up of the national scene by Tom Huizenga, who writes the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio or NPR.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/31/491833898/first-impressions-a-guide-to-new-music-in-the-new-season

It makes one wonder: What about the local scene here in Madison?

True, several seasons ago, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison commissioned and premiered six new works to mark its centennial. They included four string quartets, one piano quintet and one clarinet quintet, all of which are now available in terrific recordings from Albany Records.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

This summer the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society featured bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below) in the world premiere of a song cycle it commissioned from American composer Kevin Puts, who is mentioned in the NPR story, to mark its 25th anniversary.

Timothy Jones posed portrait

And this fall, at its annual Labor Day concert the Karp family premiered a new work by Joel Hoffman for piano and cello, based on the life of the late pianist and former UW professor Howard Karp and performed by his sons pianist Christopher Karp and cellist Parry Karp (below).

karp-hoffman-pic

This winter the Madison Opera will stage the new jazz-inspired opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” although Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera will do a world premiere of a work it commissioned. Could the Madison Opera commission again its own new work, such as it did years ago with Daron Hagen‘s opera “Shining Brow” about Frank Lloyd Wright?

And there are other commissions and premieres by smaller groups, such as the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion.

But what is the problem with getting new commissions and world premieres at bigger ensembles such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the UW Symphony Orchestra, which does perform a student work each year? Lack of money? Lack of will? Lack of audience interest?

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The music of Beethoven played a major role in modern China. Here’s how

September 3, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

If you think classical music has lost much of its relevance in modern times, you might want to read or listen to this terrific interview about the importance of Ludwig van Beethoven in modern China.

Below is a photo of the first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the “Choral” Symphony with the famous “Ode to Joy,” done in 1959 by an all-Chinese orchestra with Chinese singers and sung in Mandarin.

Plus, a radio broadcast of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony also played a major role in modern China following the Cultural Revolution.

Beethoven in China 1959

The interview, with two native Chinese musicians who now teach at Stanford University. was done by NPR or National Public Radio, for its Deceptive Cadence blog. The Ear found it both eye-opening and inspiring.

Perhaps it even helps to explain why these days classical music often seems more vital to the East than it does to the West.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/25/491353170/tracing-the-peoples-republic-of-beethoven

 


Classical music: For returning students, here is a lesson in the success of persistence

August 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Summer is close to over.

You can feel it the cooler morning air.

You can see it in the earlier sunsets.

And you can notice it with the return of students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus as well as Edgewood College and other public and private schools.

Recently, NPR – National Public Radio — hosted a story, which Jeff Lunden first reported on All Things Considered, on its Deceptive Cadence blog about the success of persistence.

The Ear won’t say more other than it involves a timpani student, five tries, the Tanglewood Festival at the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and a stage crew.

It’s not a particularly important musical story. But it has a lot of human interest and some lessons through the personal experience of Miles Salerni (in a photo at bottom, by Hillary Scott for the Boston Symphony Orchestra).

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/11/489621299/if-at-first-or-fourth-you-dont-succeed-join-the-tanglewood-stage-crew

miles salerni hillary-scott- BSO

 


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

August 15, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear keeps reading The New York Times and finding features about and laudatory reviews of the 50th Mostly Mozart Festival that is being held at Lincoln Center in New York City from July 22 through August 27.

Mostly Mozart Festival logo

But he doesn’t recall seeing or hearing anything on PBS, or public television – even in a delayed broadcast.

Time was, it seems, that the gala opening concert was broadcast during prime time on either “Live From Lincoln Center” or “Great Performances.”

But for several years now it seems that it is no longer broadcast.

And The Ear misses it. They were almost always good concerts with memorable music, memorable performers and memorable performances. (You can get an idea from the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And music director Louis Langree (below) has instituted some great innovations, including new music, more music by other composers, and smaller alternative venues and programs.

louis langree

This year’s offerings are no different. Check out the schedule at the festival’s website:

http://mostlymozart.org

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

Why?

To be more mainstream?

To make room for more British mysteries or other more popular shows?

That would be a shame for the alternative broadcast company.

Does anybody else feel the same way?

Has The Ear just missed the broadcasts?

Or have they really been suspended or ended?

If so, does the credit go to PBS? Or to Wisconsin Public Television?

The Ear sure would appreciate getting some answers.

And seeing and hearing more of Mostly Mozart.


Classical music: Are American violins equal to or even superior to European ones? The Library of Congress thinks so and will buy 263 of them

August 11, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Whether it is conductors or orchestras, singers or instrumentalists, Americans have often been viewed as inferior to Europeans.

And that goes for modern instruments, not just those that are centuries old.

But one collector felt otherwise. He is David Bromberg, a guitarist who played with Bob Dylan and Beatle George Harrison, and he ended up collecting some 263 American-made violins.

The violins are modern but some go back to the 19th century.

American Violins NPR

Now the American government – specifically, the Library of Congress – will raise $1.5 million to purchase the collection.

NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured a terrific story about the phenomenon, which should help overcome any sense of cultural inferiority.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/2016/08/07/488561838/these-250-plus-violins-are-about-to-be-owned-by-the-u-s-government

Read it and see what you think.

Then let us know in the COMMENT section.

Does anyone else wonder about the quality of violins and string instruments made in Asia, in China and especially in Japan, which is the home of the Suzuki method that has trained so many string players?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Prize-winning Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara has died at 87

July 30, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

He was a contemporary composer who wasn’t afraid to change or adapt his compositional style in radically differently ways, and who found a broad public as well as great respect from fellow composers and performers.

He was Einojuhani Rautavaara (below, in a photo from Getty Images), who was considered the most important composer of his country since Jean Sibelius, and he died at 87 this past week.

einojuhani rautavaara GETTY IMAGES

Here is a fine summary and obituary by Tom Huizenga for the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/07/28/487824438/eclectic-finnish-composer-einojuhani-rautavaara-dies-at-87

And here, in the YouTube video below, is the piece, complete with recorded bird songs recorded by the composer — Cantus Arcticus, Op, 61, from 1972 — that Rautavaara is perhaps best known for. It is also the piece that his fellow Finn, conductor Osmo Vanska, now the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, says he most admires.


Classical music: Opera in the Park takes place TONIGHT!!! Start your week – and every day – with John Zeck’s “Composers Datebook.” Should Wisconsin Public Radio air it?

July 24, 2016
1 Comment

ALERT: Because of weather and storms, the Madison Opera’s 15th annual FREE “Opera in the Park” has been postponed from last night to TONIGHT. Here is a link with more details about the event:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/18/classical-music-madison-operas-free-opera-in-the-park-turns-15-and-takes-place-this-saturday-night/

By Jacob Stockinger

You might recall that last Sunday—at the start on a new week, just like today — The Ear suggested a FREE app for iPhones, iPads and iPods that offers a daily briefing on classical music.

It is called “Composer of the Day” and is put together by the music department at Wittenberg University.

Here is a link to that post and that app:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/17/classical-music-composer-of-the-day-app-is-a-great-way-to-start-a-new-week/

But there is another FREE  classical musical datebook that a loyal and knowledgeable reader of this blog suggested. The reader specifically praised the fact that it works on many different platforms.

It is “Composers Datebook” with host John Zeck (below), and it is done for Minnesota Public Radio and then distributed through American Public Media.

It seems similar to the format of “The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor that, unfortunately, Wisconsin Public Radio no longer carries. But maybe WPR would consider including the “Composers Datebook” in its “Morning Classics” lineup? It certainly would be an educational addition, something just right for an alternative to commercial radio.

john zech

The two-minute daily diary streams nicely. It has many more details and examples about composers and includes sound clips of their work. It also does more than one entry for each day.

Turns out that the Ear already wrote about it in 2010. But it is worth a repeat visit to remind readers about this fine resource.

Here is a link, which you can bookmark or subscribe to, that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/classical-music-review-“composers-datebook”-is-a-radio-gem-for-classical-fans-listen-to-it-read-it-get-free-podcasts/

And here is a direct link to “Composers Datebook.”

http://www.yourclassical.org/programs/composers-datebook/episodes

Try it.

See what you think.

And decide whether Wisconsin Public Radio should air it.

Then tell The Ear and his readers what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: A new opera takes listeners back to The Bad Old Days of anti-gay America – and reminds us of the bigotry today that camouflages itself as religious freedom

July 2, 2016
1 Comment

CORRECTION: Yesterday’s post about the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition had a mistake about when it will be held. The correct time is next FRIDAY, July 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The Ear regrets the error. General admission is $10. Here is a link with more information:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/classical-music-handel-aria-competition-announces-2016-finalists-to-sing-next-thursday-night/

By Jacob Stockinger

Issues pertaining to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are much in the news these days.

Of course there were the shootings and mass murder at the Pulse gay bar in Orlando, Florida.

And there were the so-called “bathroom laws” enacted against transgender people and designed to protect “normal” people who ere never really threatened.

In contrast, the military announced that transgender people could serve under the usual conditions and regulations.

Then President Obama declared the Stonewall Inn (below) in Greenwich Village in New York City, a national historical landmark. In 1969 a police raid against the gay bar led to riots that, in turn, sparked the gay liberation movement to secure human rights and civil rights for homosexuals.

stonewall inn

This week saw a U.S. District Judge in Mississippi ruling against so-called “religious freedom” laws that many states have enacted in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage a year ago.

Such laws were ruled to discriminate against LGBT people and to unconstitutionally favor certain religions or forms of religion.

A lot of the proponents of such laws seem to have a false nostalgia for the good old days.

Well, maybe they were good for some people. But they were terrible times for many others, including LGBTQ people.

Gregory Spears’ new opera, called “Fellow Travelers” (below is a crucial scene in a photo by Philip Goushong for the Cincinnati Opera) has an interesting take on that historical era with its “Lavender Scare” that parallels the Red Scare of McCathyism.

Fellow Travelers and Lavender Scare CR Philip Groshong for the Cincinnati Opera

Here is a story that aired on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/06/18/482307467/a-new-opera-illuminates-the-lavender-scare-a-little-explored-era-in-queer-histor


Classical music: Let us now praise women composers — with the help of a new history and recent political events

June 12, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Politically, this has been a historic week and a week to remember for women.

Democrat Hillary Clinton (below), the former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State,  became the first woman to win the presidential nomination – barring something unexpected or a surprising turn of events – of a major political party in the United States.

hillary clinton thumbs up

That victory was soon followed by an endorsement from President Barack Obama and from another promising woman in American politics: Senator Elizabeth Warren.

So it also seems a good time to take a long look back to the 17th century and discover women composers who were overlooked and who failed to crack the glass ceiling of artistic fame or sexism in the arts in their own lifetimes.

They include the Baroque composer Barbara Strozzi, the Romantic composers Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel and Clara Schumann (below top, in a photo from Getty Images), and the modern composers Lili Boulanger and Elizabeth Maconchy (below bottom).

(You can hear a lovely Romance for solo piano by Clara Schumann, a virtuoso pianist who championed the works of her husband Robert Schumann, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Clara Schumann Getty Images

Elizabeth Maconchy 2

The Ear doubts there is a better guide than Anna Beer (below top, in a photo by Jeff Overs) and her new book “Sounds and Sweet Airs: Forgotten Women of Classical Music” (below bottom):

anna beers CR Jeff Overs

Sounds and Sweet Airs

The historian and writer recently spoke with Rachel Martin of NPR or National Public Radio, about her history. Here is a link to the blog site, which also has links to related stories:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/05/22/478734604/sounds-and-sweet-airs-remembers-the-forgotten-women-of-classical-music


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

June 11, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

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

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

He will start full-time in 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yannick Nézet-Séguin CR Getty Images

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

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

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

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


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