The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Get reacquainted with the harpsichord as a modern instrument through a story on National Public Radio (NPR).

June 26, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Harpsichord (below) or piano?

Historical or modern music?

Well, you don’t really have to choose.

Certainly one young performer sees the benefits in both. (Below is a photo of Trevor Stephenson of the Madison Bach Musicians working at his modern replica of a two-manual harpsichord that Johann Sebastian Bach used.)

Trevor Stephenson marking scores

But he also favors the harpsichord for various reasons, including a curious one: Annoying somebody special! 

Read the interview on National Public Radio (NPR) for yourself.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/06/12/413693373/how-to-annoy-your-dad-play-the-harpsichord

And at the bottom, in a YouTube video, listen to a trailer he did about the modernity of the harpsichord and his new recording that uses both old and new works, both Baroque and Minimalist music.


Classical music: Remember the Cellist of Sarajevo from 23 years ago? Now there is a Cellist of Baghdad. Read or hear all about him on NPR.

June 20, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

How music persists and endures in even the hardest and bloodiest and most unlikely of circumstances!

Perhaps you remember that during the Balkan wars, when Serbian snipers threatened daily life in Sarajevo, there was Vedran Smailovic (below), better known as the Cellist of Sarajevo, who defied the killers and resisted terror with beauty.

Sarajevo cellist Vedran Smailovic 1992

Now in the midst of the chaos created by religious conflict and the barbarism of ISIS comes The Baghdad Cellist. If you listen to the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear him playing — and it seems to be music, an excerpt from the solo suites for cello, by Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps the most universal of composers.

And why the cello in both cases? Perhaps, The Ear thinks, because it so approximates the human voice and seems a perfect stand-in for a human being in such inhuman situations. What do you think?

Cellist of Baghdad 3 at home

Cellist of Baghdad

Read or hear about Karim Wasfi, the extraordinarily brave professional musician who performs at the sites of terrorist car bombings and who was recently featured on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/2015/06/08/412284066/amid-violence-in-baghdad-a-musician-creates-a-one-man-vigil

 

 

 


Classical music: Metropolitan Opera radio host Margaret Juntwait is dead at 58.

June 6, 2015
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ALERT: This month’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” concert will take place tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III.

The concert features local violinist Kangwon Kim, violist Micah Behr and cellist Mark Bridges. The program includes a suite for solo viola by Quincy Porter and an arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous “Goldberg” Variations for string trio done by Russian violist Dmitry Sitkovetsky.

Admission is FREE. Since Wisconsin Public Radio ended live broadcasts of the concert after 36 years, you can stream it live starting at 12:30. Just go to the Chazen Museum of Art’s website where you will find the necessary link:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/the-goldberg-trio-sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-on-june-7

By Jacob Stockinger

Her expressive voice became as identifiable with the opera -– with the Metropolitan Opera -– as have some of the world’s great singers.

Her name is Margaret Juntwait (below in a photo by Jonathan Tichler) and she hosted the live radio broadcast from the Met that started in December and ran through May. Every Saturday, she reached more than one million fans worldwide with her commentaries and her outstanding interviews with singers and conductors.

Margaret Juntwait CR jonathan-tichler

This past Wednesday, Margaret Juntwait died at 58 of complications from ovarian cancer, which she had battled with for a decade.

Because today is Saturday, it seems like the perfect day for The Ear to post about her passing.

Here are three stories about Margaret Juntwait and her career plus a very short YouTube video about Puccini’s “La Boheme” that shows her quick wit.

From the Deceptive Cadence blog on National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/06/03/411784750/met-opera-and-public-radio-host-margaret-juntwait-dies

From the Metropolitan Opera:

http://metopera.org/metopera/news/features/news-flash/remembering-margaret-juntwait

From the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR and WNYC:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/margaret-juntwait-former-wnyc-host-and-voice-metropolitan-opera-dies-58/

Feel free to leave your thoughts and feelings in the COMMENTS section of the blog.

The Ear wants to hear – and so do others.

 

 


Classical music: Madison native son cellist, blogger and conductor Kenneth Woods has been named to head Colorado MahlerFest, starting in 2016. Plus, the Middleton Community Orchestra plays tonight at 7:30.

June 3, 2015
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REMINDER: The Middleton Community Orchestra plays tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School. Admission is $10; students get in FREE.

The terrific program includes concertmaster Valerie Sanders in the Adagio from the Violin Concerto by Max Bruch and guest pianist Thomas Kasdorf in the ever-popular Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (AKA the “Van Cliburn Concerto”). Here is a link to a fuller posting with more information:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/classical-music-the-middleton-community-orchestra-closes-out-its-fifth-season-next-wednesday-night-with-music-by-marquez-bruch-brahms-and-the-never-fail-tchaikovsky-piano-concerto-no-1/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following important and impressive news about Kenneth Woods. Woods, you may recall, attended Memorial High School in Madison, played in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) and attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he work with Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp. We can all say Congratulations, Maestro!

Kenneth_Woods

Here is the press release:

Kenneth Woods has been appointed Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest. He is only the second Artistic Director in the festival’s 28-year history and succeeds Founding Artistic Director Robert Olson. Woods will oversee his first festival, MahlerFest XXIX, in May 2016.

MahlerFest poster 1

Of his appointment, Woods remarks: “I’m thrilled and humbled to be invited to steer the festival’s ongoing exploration of one of the greatest composers of all time. I’ve always been impressed by the sophistication of MahlerFest’s programming and presentation, not to mention the musical standards attained by its participants. I must extend enormous congratulations to Bob Olson for everything he has achieved.”

Woods continues: “The complexity and scale of some tasks can only be fully appreciated once you’ve done them yourself, and as someone who has put together a few crazy Mahler projects of my own over the years, I know something about the kind of heroic effort Bob has made to build and sustain this festival. I take very seriously my responsibility to keep the torch he has lit blazing brightly for many years to come.”

Founded by conductor Robert Olson (below in 1988, the Boulder-based Colorado MahlerFest is an annual celebration of the life and music of Gustav Mahler.

Robert Olson is leaving the MahlerFest he founded at the end of this year's performances. He'll stay on as conductor of Longmont Symphony Orchestra. (Greg Lindstrom/Times-Call)

Robert Olson is leaving the MahlerFest he founded at the end of this year’s performances. He’ll stay on as conductor of Longmont Symphony Orchestra. (Greg Lindstrom/Times-Call)

Throughout one week every May, the festival explores Mahler through symposia, exhibits, films and the performance of a major symphonic work by the composer. MahlerFest is currently in the midst of its third cycle of Mahler’s symphonic compositions.

MahlerFest orchestra

In 2005, MahlerFest received the Gold Medal  (below) of the Vienna-based International Gustav Mahler Society, an honor so far bestowed on only one other American organization, the New York Philharmonic.

MahlerFest gold medal

Gustav Mahler’s music has been a lifelong source of inspiration for Kenneth Woods, and has played an important part in his career. He has conducted acclaimed performances of the symphonies and songs across the Americas and Europe.

His first recording of Mahler’s music, Schoenberg’s chamber ensemble versions of Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth) and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) (Somm Records, 2011), received an IRR Outstanding rosette from International Record Review.

Off the podium, Woods (below) is in demand as an essayist and speaker on Mahler’s life and music. He has given talks and participated in panel discussions on Mahler for the BBC and NPR, and was the official blogger of The Bridgewater Hall’s Mahler in Manchester series in 2010-11.

Kenneth Woods

In his native U.S., Woods achieved national media recognition as conductor of the Pendleton-based Oregon East Symphony for staging Redneck Mahler, an event that galvanized the community of a small, western Rodeo town.

With its combination of conducting, symposia, pre-concert lectures, films, community engagement and blog posts, MahlerFest’s format plays perfectly into Woods’ multifarious hands.

“For me,” Woods says, “Mahler has a singular creative voice. His music should be experienced as an immersive, transformative experience.”

You can hear Kenneth Woods conducting Mahler, with UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe and the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, in a YouTube video at the bottom.

PRAISE FOR KENNETH WOODS’ MAHLER

“This is a most important issue, and all Mahlerians should make its acquisition an urgent necessity.” International Record Review

“a richly balanced performance that easily stands out” Gramophone Magazine

“gives Mahler the ride of his life.” The Oregonian

“something that every lover of Mahler should hear.” MusicWeb International

* * * * *

For more information about Kenneth Woods please visit http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/

For more information about the Colorado MahlerFest please visit http://www.mahlerfest.org

About Kenneth Woods

Kenneth Woods is Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, a post he assumed in 2013, succeeding Vernon Handley.

Hailed by the Washington Post as a “true star” of the podium, Woods has worked with many orchestras of international distinction, and has appeared on the stages of some of the world’s leading music festivals. His work on the concert platform and in the recording studio has led to numerous broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, National Public Radio, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

As Principal Guest Conductor of Stratford-upon-Avon-based Orchestra of the Swan (2010-2014), Woods made numerous acclaimed recordings, including the first-ever cycle of the Symphonies of Hans Gál (AVIE).

Kenneth Woods Schumann 2 Gal cover

Woods’ unique gifts have been widely acknowledged by some of today’s leading conductors. In 2001, he was selected by Leonard Slatkin to be one of four participants in the National Conducting Institute at the Kennedy Center, where he made his National Symphony debut.

Toronto Symphony Music Director Peter Oundjian has praised Woods as “a conductor with true vision and purpose. He has a most fluid and clear style and an excellent command on the podium … a most complete musician.”

kenneth woods conducting english symphony orchestra

A widely read writer and frequent broadcaster, Woods’ blog, “A View from the Podium,” is one of the 25 most popular classical music blogs in the world. He has provided commentary for the BBC Proms, and has spoken on Mahler on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and BBC Radio 4’s “Today” Programme.

 


Classical music: Cellist Joel Krosnick will retire from the Juilliard String Quartet and is one more example of how musicians love their careers and how teacher-performers deserve more respect.

June 2, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear knows a lot of musicians.

And he considers them among the most privileged of people and workers.

That’s because he has never met a musician who regretted being a musician, even if they don’t get the job they want or earn as much as they need.

Musicians are happy, The Ear thinks, because they speak a higher language and never get tired of it.

We who listen are envious of those who play.

The latest example of it comes in a wonderful interview with cellist Joel Krosnick (below) that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog done by NPR (National Public Radio).

Joel Kroskick1

Krosnick is the longtime cellist of the legendary Juilliard String Quartet (below). He never thought he would retire, but now, after 42 years, he says he will indeed retire at the end of the 2015-16 season, although he will continue to teach at the Juilliard School.

Getting old, he explains, means that he can do one full-time career but no longer two. That should bring new respect to teacher-performers who are too often portrayed more as failed performers who have to teach by default.

Juilliard String Quartet copy

Read or listen to the interview for yourself and see what I mean.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/05/18/406687266/after-42-years-juilliard-string-quartet-cellist-to-step-down

And here, in a YouTube video at the bottom, is a slow movement from one of the late “Prussian” Quartets that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed for the King of Prussia, who played the cello quite well. So Mozart gave the work a prominent role to the cello.


Classical music: The Minnesota Orchestra made history with its recent visit to Cuba. If you missed it, here are stories to catch up. Plus, fans of great singing should hear the Madison Choral Project under the legendary Dale Warland on Sunday afternoon.

May 30, 2015
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ALERT: The Ear attended an outstanding choral concert Friday night. It was put on by the Madison Choral Project with singers (below) plus UW-Madison trumpeter John Aley (far right), cellist Eric Miller and UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer, all under the direction of the legendary conductor Dale Warland. The concert “Music of Our Time” will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. on this Sunday at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. You can park in the lot two blocks away at the UW Foundation. If you love choral music, don’t miss it.

Madison Choral Project 5-15 1

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, President Obama made it official. He removed Cuba from the State Department‘s list of outlaw countries that sponsor terrorism.

The economic and cultural thaw is gathering momentum. And just as happened with the Soviet Union, cultural exchanges are going to play a major role.

The Minnesota Orchestra made history with its recent visit to Cuba, where it gave two concerts, played a side-by-side concert with a youth orchestra, played in a cafe informally with Cuban musicians and tutored music students.

Minnesota Orchestra in Cuba with banner

If you missed it, here are stories — and a YouTube video interview with the orchestra’s Finnish-born music director and conductor Osmo Vanska and orchestra players at the bottom — to catch up.

Here is a photo essay put together by Minnesota Public Radio:

http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/05/18/photos-a-look-back-at-the-orchestras-trip-to-cuba

Here is the story from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/05/17/406993869/after-thaw-minnesota-orchestra-returns-to-cuba

Here is The New York Times account of the two well received concerts that include the “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven and the two countries’ national anthems:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/arts/music/minnesota-orchestra-in-groundbreaking-cuba-tour-sells-out-house.html?_r=0

And here is The New York Times account of a more informal café get-together:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/18/arts/music/fire-and-ice-minnesotans-join-orquesta-aragon-in-havana.html?src=relcon&moduleDetail=lda-articles-0&action=click&contentCollection=Music&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&configSection=article&isLoggedIn=false&pgtype=article

Finally, here is an account from the orchestra’s hometown Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-orchestra-wins-hearts-in-cuba-as-it-caps-a-historic-trip/304004891/

 


Classical music: It’s spring. Can you pass this quiz from NPR about flower songs in opera?

May 9, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s a funny kind of spring where The Ear lives in the Midwest.

More than giving us a steady spring, the weather seems to bounce back and forth between winter and summer. One week we have high in the 80s. The next week — like the one coming up – we’re in the 50s or lower.

Add in all the rain and gust wind, and this spring has been hard on the flowers in my yard. The daffodils have hardly blossomed and are already shriveling up, while the newly sprouted tulips are already dropping petals.

tulips and daffodils

Oh well, at least we haven’t had tornados—not so far.

But it is still worth s celebrating the greening out and other bright colors we see after the long, gray winter.

How well do you know your flowers from opera? (Below, in a photo by Cory Weaver, is mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili in a field of red poppies that was used in the production of the 19th-century Russian composer Alexander Borodin‘s opera “Prince Igor” by the Metropolitan Opera.)

Mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili in Met's Pricne Igor by Borodin CR Cory Weaver MET

Here is a seasonal puzzler — with only five multiple choice questions — from the exceptional blog Deceptive Cadence on NPR or National Public Radio.

The Ear found it not so hard but tricky.

Still, it seems that celebrating flowers in music is universal. At the bottom is a YouTube video with an excerpt from the Chinese operaJasmine Flower,” which is NOT included in the quiz.

But hard or not, the quiz was fun and educational.

See how you do and let The Ear know.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/05/06/404499920/flower-songs-a-springtime-opera-puzzler


Classical music: Virtuoso trumpeter and Empire Brass founder Rolf Smedvig dies suddenly at 62. The Empire Brass plays with the Overture Center Concert Organ on Tuesday, May 12.

May 2, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Rolf Smedvig, the Norwegian-Icelandic trumpeter extraordinaire, died suddenly this past week at age 62, apparently of a heart attack.

Once the young principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony and renowned soloist, he also cofounded and played with the Empire Brass.

rolf smedvig

Passing along the news seems especially timely and appropriate since the Empire Brass will perform in Overture Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12.

Tickets are $20. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Empire Brass

The brass ensemble will perform with organist Douglas Major (below top), former organist at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.,  at the console of the Overture Center Concert Organ (below bottom).

Douglas Major

Overture Concert Organ overview

The program is a delightfully and largely Baroque one, which should highlight the brass sound. It features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Tomaso Albinoni, Georg Philipp Telemann, Johann Pachelbel and Dietrich Buxtehude and Henry Purcell. (You can hear the Empire Brass, with Rolf Smedvig, performing Handel’s “Water Music” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

But one wonders: Is there a substitute for Rolf Smedvig? Or has the brass group changed its membership since the publicity photo? It sounds like the latter is the case, but The Ear doesn’t know for sure. Do you?

Here is a link for more information about the Madison concert:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/empire

Here is a link to a terrific obituary and feature profile done by Tm Huizenga for the Deceptive Cadence blog on National Public Radio (NPR).

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/28/402836867/dazzling-trumpeter-rolf-smedvig-dies-suddenly

 

 


Classical music: Music festivals, with premieres of new operas and chamber music, might fit into your summer travel plans. Check them out here.

April 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Many people are starting to make their summer travel plans.

Those plans could include music festivals, many of which will include the American premiere or even world premiere of a new opera or new chamber music. (Below is Marin Alsop conducting the Cabrillo Festival in Santa Cruz, California, which champions new music.)

Cabrillo Festival and Marin Alsop

Many are well known, such as the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York City, the Bard Music Festival in the Hudson River Valley and the Aspen Festival in Colorado as well as the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina and the Wolf Trap Festival in Virginia, not far from Washington, D.C.

But there are many, many others you may not know.

Here is a line-up as it appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/22/399609489/get-out-and-hear-some-new-music-this-summer

 


Classical music: Meet composer Julia Wolfe, who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for her oratorio about Coal Country.

April 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Monday, the winners of the 2015 Pulitzer Prizes were announced.

You will hear a lot about the journalism recipients.

You will hear much, much less about the arts recipients.

So meet American composer Julia Wolfe (below).

Julia Wolfe full face

Wolfe, who is associated with the group Bang on a Can!, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for “Anthracite Fields,” her oratorio for chorus and sextet about families living in coal mining country.

Coal Miners

Wolfe (below, at the piano in her home in a photo by Richard Perry of The New York Times) did a fine interview with the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR or National Public Radio.

julia Wolfe with piano CR Richard Perry NYT

Here is a link to that interview:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/20/401010330/julia-wolfe-wins-music-pulitzer-for-anthracite-fields

And here is a link to her own website:

http://juliawolfemusic.com

Finally, here is a haunting documentary video with excerpts from “Anthracite Fields” in a YouTube video. A recording of the complete work is scheduled to be released in September.


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