The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter was born 100 years ago yesterday. Here is a short but comprehensive memoir and appreciation with a lot of biographical information and a good critical appraisal of his playing.

March 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday — Friday, March 20, 2015 – brought us the first day of spring.

It also marked the centennial of the birth of the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (below).

Sviatoslav Richter

Richter was such a complex and towering figure that it would take a book to really do justice to him and to his career.

But the following essay by Steve Wigler for the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio) does an excellent job for a short-form piece of criticism.

With one exception that gets no mention.

We now know beyond question that Richter (below) was a gay man who was forced by the Soviet government into a marriage of convenience and camouflage.

Somehow that information seems particularly pertinent to The Ear, given the growing acceptance of LGBT people and of marriage equality.

richterwithcross1

Still, Wigler’s essay is an excellent read and includes a YouTube video – there are many, many YouTube videos of Richter, who had an immense repertoire, playing. This video is of a live performance by Richter in which he plays the last movement of the first piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

You can hear the power and energy, the subtleties and excitement, to say nothing of the originality of interpretation, that Richter brought to music.

Richterconcerto

Enjoy it -– and tell us if you ever heard Richter live and what is your favorite performance by Sviatoslav Richter with a link to a YouTube video is possible.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/03/19/393778706/sviatoslav-richter-the-pianist-who-made-the-earth-move

 


Classical music: Cellist Amit Peled celebrates historical mentor Pablo Casals with Casals’ own cello. Peled performs this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

March 16, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

There is much to look forward to during this Friday night’s MUST-HEAR “Masterworks” concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under the baton of its longtime music director Andrew Sewell.

But clearly the big draw is the Israeli-born cellist Amit Peled (below), who is a now a very successful teacher at the Peabody Conservatory that is attached to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and who also tours the globe performing.

Amit Peled playing

The concert is at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Tickets cost $15, $37, $62 and $65. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Amit Peled has played here with the WCO before, and he showed then that his talent is as big as he is, a 6’5” man who projects a big presence physically and musically.

But Peled is also a congenial, humorous and curious musician who knows how to find an unusual angle, a new take on old music.

As an homage, Peled recently recreated a century later a concert by Pablo Casals, who remains perhaps the most famous and influential cellist in history, by performing the same program.

Pablo Casals BIG USE

The program included a solo suite by Johann Sebastian Bach since it was Casals who first discovered them and then who convinced the experts and the public that they were not exercises but genuine gorgeous music.

It also included a Catalan folk song, “The Song of the Birds,” which Casals himself arranged and frequently performed as an anthem to the need for freedom from Nazism and Fascism for his homeland. In fact it became a signature of Casals, and Peled will perform the same piece here.

Moreover, Peled performed this concert on Casal’s own cello, a superb 1733 Goffriller instrument, which Peled got on loan from Casals’ widow and which he had restored. (You can hear Amit Peled talk about and play the famed Casals cello in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

And that is the same cello he will bring to his date in Madison.

Here is a link to a story – two conjoined stories really — that NPR (National Public Radio) did about Peled and the Casals cello.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/02/11/385240526/what-it-means-to-play-pablo-casals-cello

Amit Peled 1

On the same cello, Peled will also perform the “Tarantella” by David Popper – another favorite of Casals — and the rarely played Cello Concerto by Robert Schumann (below), a late work written as the composer was descending into the mental illness that would eventually claim his life.

Schumann photo1850

Adding to the concert’s appeal are two other works.

One is the penultimate symphony by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below), the dark, dramatic and appealing Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550.

Mozart old 1782

The performance by the WCO (below top) should be a lively treat, given the complete mastery of the Classical-era style that conductor Andrew Sewell (below bottom) continues to demonstrate.

WCO lobby

andrewsewell

Another attraction is the Suite for String Orchestra by Frank Bridge (below), who was the teacher of famed 20th-century British composer Benjamin Britten. And if you have heard Sewell, who originally hails from New Zealand, you know he has a way for finding neglected repertoire and possesses a special fondness of and talent for performing British works.

Frank Bridge

For more information about the WCO and this concert, visit:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-iv

And here is a link to Amit Peled’s website, where you can find more information including reviews, recordings, biographical facts and more:

http://www.amitpeled.com


Classical music: Is American tenor Bryan Hymel the new King of the High C’s after the late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and the very active Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez?

March 1, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

For tenors, High C’s are the brass ring on the carousel of opera.

The late great Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and the very busy Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez both earned fame and fortune with their singing of the astonishing nine high C’s in Gaetano Donizetti’s bel canto opera “La Fille du Regiment.”

In fact, Florez repeated the same nine high C’s as an encore and it brought down the house.

But it seems there may be another King of the High C’s in the making.

He is a native of New Orleans (isn’t that fitting?) and he is America tenor Bryan Hymel (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta for Warner Classics), who was recently featured on the terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” for NPR (National Public Radio).

You will surely be hearing more about him. The 35-year-old Hymel has already made his debut at the famed Metropolitan Opera, where he has sung in “Les Troyens” by Hector Berlioz — a role he also sang at the Royal Opera House in London. And he will open the Met’s 2018 season in “Samson and Delilah” by Camille Saint-Saens.

Bryan Hymel CR Dario Acosta Warner Classics

Here is a link to that story by Tom Huizenga. It is complete with sound samples from Hymel’s debut album “Héroïque” — in particular the difficult aria “Asile héréditaire” from the opera “William Tell” by Giachino Rossini — and the CD features a total of 19 high C’s. That led Huizenga to proclaim: “This is why we listen to opera!”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/02/25/388783314/bryan-hymels-hefty-high-cs

The Amazon.com reader reviews of the new all-French album (below, with an audiovisual clip of the behind-the-scenes recording process) not only praise Hymel for his high C’s – and C-sharps and even D’s — but single out the quality of his singing.

You can hear that strong, pitch-accurate and seemingly effortless quality in one of The Ear’s favorite tenor arias: “Nessun dorma” from “Turandot” by Giacomo Puccini, which Hymel signs with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.


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
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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
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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:

 


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