The Well-Tempered Ear

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.


Classical music: Composer Philip Glass, 78, writes a fascinating memoir of his training, struggle and acceptance as a “minimalist” musician.

April 19, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Not a lot of musicians write well. It’s probably because they prefer to let their music-making do their communicating.

But one notable exception is the “minimalist” composer Philip Glass (below), whose new volume of memoirs is being praised for its insights and for its engaging, articulate style. (A good sample of his speaking, composing and playing is in the YouTube  video at the bottom.)

Phlip Glass 2015

Recently, Glass did a 46-minute interview for Terry Gross and her “Fresh Air” program on NPR (National Public Radio.) He discussed his early days composing and performing as well his training with famed French teacher Nadia Boulanger.

Philip Glass book cover

The NPR story has the interview plus some highlights from the interview and also some excerpts from the book “Words Without Music.

The Ear thinks that Glass, now 78, emerges as a very thoughtful and perceptive man who is also droll and self-deprecating.

See what you think.

Here is a link to the NPR story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/06/397832333/philip-glass-on-legacy-the-future-its-all-around-us

And here is a highly positive review of the book that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/06/books/review-philip-glasss-words-without-music-tells-of-a-life-full-of-changes-in-rhythm.html?_r=0

What do you think of Philip Glass and his music? His memoirs?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Famed music critic Andrew Porter has died at 86.

April 10, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Music critic Andrew Porter, best known in this country for his 20-year tenure at The New Yorker magazine, died in London this week at the age of 86. (Below, he is seen working on “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in a Toronto production in 2005.)

andrew porter magic flute toronto 2005

In his music reviews for The New Yorker magazine, critic Andrew Porter always seemed a cut above most journalistic critics.

His reviews had enough depth and substance beyond the occasion of the specific performance he was reviewing that they were collected and published in several books — unfortunately many are now out of print — that still provide terrific research possibilities and vindicate his earlier judgments.

Here is a link to a page at amazon.com that lists his essays and libretto translation:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=andrew+porter+music&sprefix=andrew+porter%2Cstripbooks%2C237

Andrew Porter book

So many of us learned to appreciate classical music in more knowledgeable and sophisticated ways, thanks to Andrew Porter and his wealth of detailed knowledge as well as his superior writing style. (Below, you can see Andrew Porter in the 1970s.)

andrew porter 1970s

But I had no idea of his really erudite sides — including his command of several languages and his extensive involvement in the actual performances of music, especially translating opera librettos — until I read his obituaries.

Here is a sampling of the memorial essays about a critic who will go down as one of the greatest critics ever.

Here is a story from the terrific Deceptive Cadence blog of NPR )National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/03/397295421/multifaceted-music-critic-andrew-porter-dies-at-86

Here is a story from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/arts/music/andrew-porter-new-yorker-classical-music-critic-dies-at-86.html

And here is a story, with great background and details, from The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom where Porter — seen below in 1992 in a photo by Jane Bown — lived in London since retiring from the New Yorker:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/apr/07/andrew-porter

Andrew Porter in 1992.

 


Classical music: French avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez turns 90. Do you find his music both radical and sensual?

March 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Once the enfant terrible of new music, French composer Pierre Boulez (below in 2011 in a photo by Martin Schalk of Getty Images) turned 90 on Thursday.

pierre boulez at 90 (2011) Matin Schalk Getty Images

But now Pierre Boulez is part of the establishment. (You can hear him discuss his approach to music, and how it differs from the 12-tone composers and atonal composers, in a YouTube video at the bottom. Somehow, I find his music more interesting to discuss than to listen to.)

Maybe you were lucky enough to attend the special concert marking the event last Friday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (The Ear was unable to go.) It was organized and hosted by Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), a French-trained bassoonist who teaches at the UW-Madison and who once worked with Boulez.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

A lot of musicians live in awe of Boulez, who has been very influential in the development of new music. They include the Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini (below top), who championed his work early on, and the American conductor David Robertson (below bottom) who does so today.

Polliniplaying

David Robertson

Perhaps the best summary of Boulez (below, in a photo from his younger years from Sony Music) is the one that was researched and written by Tom Huizenga for the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio).

pierre boulez younger with scorers Sony Music

It features audio samples from Boulez’ orchestral and instrumental works, from his masterpieces and his unknown works.

To be honest, I prefer the modernist Boulez who, as the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducts and records the music of Gustav Mahler and Claude Debussy. He definitely has a point of view that clarified the older music. I like his interpretations more than I like his compositions.

I am willing to admit that his music, his modernist esthetic, is important.

But I don’t think I would go so far as to call his music “sensual.” Radical, yes. But I find the sound too jagged and rough to be sensual, despite it being French. Sensual, for me, means pleasurable. And pleasurable is not an adjective I, personally, would use to describe the music of Boulez.

But then maybe I am just being overly insensitive.

Anyway, read the NPR story and listen to the samples, and then tell us how you perceive Pierre Boulez and his music.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/03/26/395318157/the-sensuous-radical-pierre-boulez-at-90

The Ear wants to hear.


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.


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