The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: World-class conductors are making news with two retirements, a death and a contract renewal. Who will emerge as the new and younger star maestros? Plus, today is the last performance by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and pianist Ingrid Fliter of music by Benjamin Britten, Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann. Read two reviews of the concert.

February 15, 2015
4 Comments

ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is the last performance by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain and pianist Ingrid Fliter (below) of the “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge” by Benjamin Brittten, the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor by Frederic Chopin and the Symphony No. 4 in D Minor by Robert Schumann. Here are two reviews to tempt you.

Here is a review that John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=44522&sid=841e6fa0653921af622026d5ee793a0f

And here is a review that Jess Courtier wrote for The Capital Times and the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/reviews/review-mso-gives-an-engaging-performance-of-variations/article_20ea0913-bf1b-5a71-a8fb-173831888a6e.html

ingrid fliter with keyboard

By Jacob Stockinger

Sometimes things just seem to happen in waves and clusters.

This past week has been a rough one for the media, for example.

There were the deaths of reporter Bob Simon (he was 73) of CBS News and “60 Minutes” and columnist David Carr (he was 58) of The New York Times.

Then there are the ongoing truth-telling problems of NBC’s top-rated anchor Brian Williams. And comedian-host Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show.

The same seems to go for orchestral conductors.

Female Orchestra Conductor With Baton

ITEM: Edo DeWaart will step down at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra after the 2016-17 season. It is a major loss for the orchestra that many critics say has never sounded better.

http://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2015/02/12/edo-de-waart-to-step-down-as-milwaukee-symphony.html?surround=etf&ana=e_article

edo de waart conducting

ITEM: Alan Gilbert will step down from The New York Philharmonic after only eight seasons, after the 2016-17 season. He has his reasons for leaving such a prestigious post, especially after all the praise he has earned for programming and performing during his tenure.

Here is a terrific story from NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/02/06/384318430/a-friday-surprise-alan-gilbert-will-leave-the-new-york-philharmonic

And another story for the revered British magazine Gramophone:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/alan-gilbert-to-leave-the-new-york-philharmonic

New York Philharmonic Alan Gilbert

ITEM: The conductor Israel Yinon – known for exploring neglected repertoire — has died at the age of 58, during a performance in Lucerne, Switzerland of Richard Strauss’ “An Alpine Symphony.”

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/conductor-israel-yinon-has-died

Israel Yinon

But there is some good news:

On the other hand, the acclaimed Yannick Nézet-Séguin -– the openly gay French-Canadian maestro — has just extended his contract with the Philadelphia Orchestra through 2022.

Here is a story:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/yannick-nézet-séguin-extends-his-contract-with-the-philadelphia-orchestra

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

 


Classical music: Pianist Aldo Ciccolini, who popularized the music of Erik Satie, is dead at 89.

February 7, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Did I come to know the pianist Aldo Ciccolini through the music of Erik Satie?

Or did I come to know the music of Erik Satie through the playing of pianist Aldo Ciccolini (below in his later years)?

Aldo Ciccolini old

It says something to me – something very Sixties and very dear – that the two were, and remain, inextricable for me. (Once discovered, the more soulful music of Erik Satie (below) even found its way into popular culture and rock music through groups like ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears.”)

And the public’s taste for Satie continues. Satie, as played by Pascal Roge, was recently featured on the soundtrack to the documentary film “Man on Wire,” about Philippe Petit and his historic tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in New York City.)

Erik Satie

And maybe it was that way for you too.

Last Saturday night, Aldo Ciccolini, a prize-winning concert pianist, a prolific recording artist and a renowned teacher whose students included Jacques-Yves Thibaudet, died in his sleep at the age of 89.

There is not much for The Ear to say except that Ciccolini did for me what the greatest artists do: Use beauty to hijack me from the ordinary world and elevate me in an unforgettable way.

I am pretty sure that I and many others did not know the beautiful, graceful and contemplative “Trois Gymnopedies” until the young and handsome Ciccolini’s perfectly paced recordings of those pieces, and of Satie’s complete works, received worldwide circulation and acclaim.

Perhaps the same goes for the music of Camille Saint-Saens, another of Ciccolini’s specialties.

aldo ciccolini young

Ciccolini was Italian, but he had an uncanny flair for French music, which remains under-appreciated even today — including the music of Francois Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Gabriel Faure — even if the works of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy have fared much better.

I think Ciccolini understood that special French hybrid of clarity and mystery, of rationality and passion, of Descartes and Baudelaire. (You can hear Ciccolini’s incomparable playing of Satie in a popular YouTube video at the bottom which has a lot of reader comments.)

Anyway, here are three obituaries with lots of great background information.

From NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/02/02/383253499/aldo-ciccolini-an-italian-pianist-with-a-french-soul

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/arts/music/aldo-ciccolini-dies-at-89-pianist-interpreted-satie.html?_r=0

From the BBC:

http://www.classical-music.com/news/aldo-ciccolini-1925-2015

 

 


Classical music: Opera diva Deborah Voigt comes clean in her new memoir about her weight-loss surgery as well as her addictions to food, online dating and alcohol.

January 23, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about living a life that sounds like an opera.

Take opera diva Deborah Voigt (below).

Deborah  Voigt

Voigt is supremely talented.

And now it turns out that the opera star is also supremely honest. And boy, does she have some great stories to tell — stories that don’t always reflect well on the opera world, let alone herself.

In her new memoir, “Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva,” the opera star talks about her childhood, her career, her gastric by-pass weight-loss surgery in 2004 and other problems including her abuse of alcohol, her dangerous relationships with men she met online and of course her relationships with food and music.

deborah voigt memoir book cover

Here is pre-surgery Fat Debbie:

Deborah Voigt fat in 2013

Here is post-surgery Thin Debbie, playing Brunnhilde in Richard Wagner‘s “Ring” cycle for the Metropolitan Opera:

Thin Deborah-Voigt as Brunnhilde

Voigt also comes off as a thoughtful woman who does not shun her own individual responsibility for her problems, but who sees them in a social and even sexist context, such as the double standard in opera for heavy men like the legendary and obese tenor Luciano Pavarotti (below) and heavy women like herself.

Luciano Pavarotti

The Ear offers you a roundup of reviews and interviews about the new book.

Here is an interview with Scott Simon on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/2015/01/17/377503009/a-down-to-earth-diva-confronts-her-flaws-and-good-fortune

Here is a piece from The Wall Street Journal with a Q&A interview:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/opera-singer-deborah-voigt-an-anti-diva-bares-it-all-1421358335

Here is the take in the popular People magazine:

http://www.people.com/article/deborah-voigt-memoir-call-me-debbie-food-addiction

And here is a nitty-gritty account in The New York Post:

http://nypost.com/2015/01/11/too-fat-opera-singer-lost-the-weight-but-found-a-world-of-troubles/

But let’s not forget the talent and great voice that make all these other things noteworthy. So here is Deborah Voigt’s most popular video on YouTube:

 


Classical music: Amazon’s new TV comedy “Mozart in the Jungle — Sex, Drugs and Classical Music” depicts the problems of classical musicians in New York City, and gets cheers and jeers from critics for The New York Times and National Public Radio.

January 22, 2015
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Bankrupt symphony orchestras and opera companies?

Highly trained but out-of-work classical musicians?

The unfortunate realities of classical music in contemporary American culture have made their way into a fictional comedy.

Fresh off its surprise win in the Golden Globe awards, Amazon Studios is broadcasting an unusual comedy series based on the behind-the-scenes problems and trials of classical musicians in New York City.

It is called “Mozart in the Jungle” – a title that reminds The Ear of the moving scenes in the classic film “Out of Africa” where recordings of works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  — including the sublime middle movement of the Clarinet Concerto — are played by multiple Academy Award-winner Meryl Streep and Robert Redford on a phonograph in the midst of the African bush.

Below is a photo by Nicole Rivelli of Amazon Studios that shows Gael García Bernal (right), Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell starring in the classical music comedy series “Mozart in the Jungle.” You can see the trailer, which has a lot of details and bacground and which already has more than 1 million hits, for the new streaming series in a YouTube video at the bottom.

mozart in the jungle

But this urbane comedy take gets mixed marks for its realistic depiction of the difficulties of the classical music scene in New York City, which could easily apply elsewhere.

Here is the critique from NPR of National Public Radio by Anastasia Tsioulcas:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/01/15/377232599/what-we-love-and-hate-about-mozart-in-the-jungle

And here is the review by critic and reviewer Zachary Woolfe for The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/19/arts/television/mozart-in-the-jungle-an-amazon-series.html?_r=0

If you have watched “Mozart in the Jungle, let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Can you name the 20 famous classical musicians who died in 2014? NPR remembers them and The Ear celebrates them with the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms.

January 11, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last year, classical music lost of a lot of important people -– performers and composers.

For The Ear, three of the most important people were the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below top), who was a master of the mainstream operatic and orchestral repertoire; the English conductor Christopher Hogwood (below middle), who also pioneered the performance and recording of early music, Baroque musicClassical era composers and even early Romantic composers — including Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert — on period instruments and with historically informed performance practices; and the Dutch flutist and conductor Frans Bruggen (below bottom), whose career followed a similar trajectory as Hogwood’s.

Claudio Abbado

Christopher Hogwood

Frans Bruggen 1

Those men made us hear music in new, unexpected and exciting ways — the highest achievement that any performer or interpreter can aspire to.

But we also lost highly accomplished and important singers and instrumentalists, including pianists and violinists.

The always outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio) recently ran a list of 20 figures who died in 2014, though I am sure there are more.

Below is a link to the NPR story.

When you click on each entry you will get photo and full obituaries, readers’ comments and fine sound samples. So don’t be afraid to leave the NPR page and follow the various links.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/01/09/375630332/swan-songs-classical-musicians-we-lost-in-2014

And here is a fitting tribute, the final movement of the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms in which the chorus sings “Blessed are the dead for their works shall live on after them.”

And be sure to use the Comments section of this blog for any additions and tributes you wish to add, perhaps by naming your favorite composer or work they performed or recorded.

 


Classical music: Starting off the New Year, can you identify the opening of certain works of music? Here is an NPR puzzler to open 2015.

January 10, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

What is a good way to start off the New Year musically?

There are always the New Year’s Day celebrations from Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic. They get broadcast on PBS and also National Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here is a link to a preview of this year’s celebrations:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/classical-music-dance-into-2015-this-morning-and-tonight-with-waltzes-and-more-from-vienna-on-public-radio-and-tv/

Golden Hall in Vienna

But this year sees another way, an intriguing and original way, to mark the new year: A quiz about how great works of classical music begin and whether you can recognize them right away.

Female Orchestra Conductor With Baton

So here is The New Year Puzzler from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR.

Go ahead.

Take it and see how well you do.

The Ear wants to hear.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/01/06/375127303/getting-off-to-a-good-start-a-new-years-puzzler

And below is a popular YouTube video, with 2.5 million hits, of one of my favorite and most inspired and dramatic openings that should be immediately recognizable:

 

 


Classical music: Wednesday marked 60 years since contralto Marian Anderson became the first African American soloist at the Metropolitan Opera.

January 9, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a good day to think about the American singer Marian Anderson (below).

marian anderson

Maybe you think that opera is progressive, or at least more progressive than, say, orchestras or societies at large.

Do you think that the famed Metropolitan Opera (below, in its newer building at Lincoln Center) in ethnically diverse New York City has been especially progressive and pioneering?

metropolitan opera 1

Met from stage over pit

Well, think again.

Maybe in some things.

But not in race relations.

Here is a story from NPR (National Public Radio) about the 60th anniversary of the debut of contralto Marian Anderson’s at the Met. She was the first African American soloist to appear at the Met.

And that was on Jan 7, 1955.

That appearance came almost 20 years after she performed the historic 1939 outdoor recital (below) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. That event, done to great critical acclaim and before a huge public crowd, came about because First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, with the help of President FDR, procured permission for Anderson to sing at the memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied Anderson the use of Constitution Hall because of her race. It was broadcast nationally on the radio.

anderson

At the Met, Anderson performed the role of the sorceress Ulrica (below, from the photo archives at the Met) in “Un ballo in maschera” (A Masked Ball) by Giuseppe Verdi.

marian anderson in 1955 at Met  Verdi un ballo en maschera

Anyway, the 60th anniversary celebration of that historic Met performance came this past week, on Wednesday.

Here is the NPR story that even has sound snippets of Anderson’s singing:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/01/07/375440168/marian-andersons-groundbreaking-met-opera-moment

And here is a YouTube video of Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial that was broadcast as part of a series by public television or PBS on its Newshour:

 


Classical music: Learn about the odd history of Frederic Chopin’s heart and its long, eerie journey from France back to Poland.

January 4, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849, below in a photo from 1849) remains one of the greatest and most popular of all classical composers, both for amateurs or students and for professional performers.

As they say, he was “the poet of the piano,” and he composed almost exclusively for that instrument, even revolutionizing and modernizing piano technique through his two books of etudes.

Chopinphoto

Chopin, who was one of the greatest melody writers in the history of Western music, is also known for his fusing of the clarity and counterpoint of the Baroque and Classical-era styles with the emotion or passion of the Romantic style. Chopin loved the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, he did NOT like, admire or play most of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

But Chopin was also a famed dandy who wore a new pair of lavender kid leather gloves every day and who was known for his love affairs. That is probably why some images of Chopin (like the one below from Getty Images) tend to glorify him or idealize him, and to make his as handsome, as beautiful, as his music.

Chopin drawing Getty Images

But most people probably do not know much about his quirkier side.

And nothing in Chopin’s life seems more quirky than his death and The Tale of Chopin’s Heart.

It all stems, as I recall, from his terrifying fear of being buried alive. But then the story gets complicated and involves France and Poland, World War I, the Roman Catholic Church and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany during World War II.

Here are two links to fill you in.

The first comes from NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/11/17/364756853/uncovering-the-heart-of-chopin-literally

The second comes from The Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/17/chopin-heart_n_6170820.html

There is also research that questions whether Chopin actually died from tuberculosis or from some other malady.

But that is another story from another time.

And here is a YouTube video of the last piece that Chopin composed: His Mazurka in F Minor Op, 68, No. 4, as played by Chopin master Arthur Rubinstein. The mood of the piece seems to fit the sad story.

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Historic Steinway Hall in Manhattan to be torn down and moved.

December 29, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

I think of Steinway Hall the same way that some people think of and advertise Sedona, Arizona: A kind of navel to a spiritual world.

For many pianists, anyway, such is the case.

Steinway Hall (below is the hallmark rotunda of the famed building) is a landmark building where a historic meeting took place between composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and keyboard virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz.

steinway hall

For generations it is where the greatest keyboard artists have gone to select the proper instrument for the Carnegie Hall and other solo recitals, chamber music concerts and concerto appearances at other venues such as Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center.

To be selected and named a “Steinway artist” was the highest professional accolade, whether you were Arthur Rubinstein or Van Cliburn or Emanuel Ax or Pierre-Laurent Aimard or Jeremy Denk or Daniil Trifonov. And there have been countless others.

But nothing can block “progress.”

Especially the progress officials call economic development.

So soon the old Steinway Hall will move to a new location, and the old Steinway Hall will be demolished to make room for upscale luxury condominiums.

Maybe it is just another example of the old real estate saying: Location, location, location.

After all, Steinway Hall is not very far from Carnegie Hall (below).

carnegie-hall-address

Talk about prime locations and reputable or prestigious addresses.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/27/372730314/steinway-bids-farewell-to-its-historic-hall

Here is a link to an earlier story and less complete story, with less background, from March 2013 in The New York Times. Be sure to read the Reader Comments:

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/26/steinway-to-sell-its-famed-showroom-building/?_r=1

 

 


Classical music: Gramophone magazine names its Best of 2014 Classical Recordings. Here it is, along with several other major compilations.

December 28, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This post wraps up the holiday gift-giving season for this year.

Over the past month or so, I have offered several major roundups of the Best of 2014 classical music recordings.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-recordings-of-2014-from-the-new-york-times-and-the-boston-globe-as-well-as-npr/

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

The posts have included a Top 10 list from NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/11/370067981/best-classical-albums-of-2014

A list from the critics at The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/arts/music/classical-critics-pick-the-top-music-recordings-of-2014.html?_r=1

A list — really, two lists — from the prize-winning critic Alex Ross (below), who writes for The New Yorker Magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/ten-notable-performances-recordings-2014

Alex Ross 2

A link from critic Jeremy Eichler at the Boston Globe:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2014/12/13/the-best-albums/6q7Tin4lPvj5RmqfCCSTFP/story.html

And a list of the classical nominations for the 57th annual Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/classical-music-the-57th-annual-grammy-award-nominations-provide-a-useful-guide-to-holiday-gift-giving/

grammy award BIG

Now, as the year ends, here comes the annual compilation by the venerable Gramophone magazine out of Great Britain. Top honors go to Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for their cycle of orchestral works, symphonies and overtures and more, by Johannes Brahms on the Decca label.

Brahms Chailly cover

But there is a lot more to look at and listen to, and, predictably, a lot of choices with ties to United Kingdom.

Anyway, if you still need to give a gift or maybe to redeem a gift card or spend cash you received, here is the story along with the direct link to the FREE digital magazine issue (below):

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/recordings-of-the-year-2014-free-digital-magazine-out-now

http://www.exacteditions.com/read/gramophone/recordings-of-the-year-2014-41178

Gramophone recordings of 2014 cover


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