The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Famed New York City radio station WQXR offers its Top 5 musical expressions of giving thanks. Plus, Wisconsin Public Radio has lots of holiday fare to listen to.

November 26, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving Day, 2015.

Music is such a part of Thanksgiving Day, from hymns and songs, solo music and chamber music, symphonies and oratorios.

thanksgiving dinner

Today, Wisconsin Public Radio will feature a lot of music with the theme of Thanksgiving and giving thanks.

And from 10 until noon, will also feature band, choral and instrumental music from the Honors Concerts of the Wisconsin School Music Association. That involves middle school and high schools students from around the state.

wpt state honors concert 2014

Then from noon to 3 p.m. there is a special National Public Radio (NPR) program for Thanksgiving that includes the British pianist Stephen Hough, who has performed several times in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and who also held master classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

But you might also be interested to stream some other music. WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City, has put together the Top 5 musical expressions of giving thanks. The website has audio and visual performances of the works that you can stream.

Here is a link:!/story/top-five-expressions-thanks-classical-music/

And if you have other idea about music that is appropriate for Thanksgiving this year, please leave them in the COMMENT section, preferably with a YouTube link if possible.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Classical music: Presidential debates should include questions about funding and supporting the arts and humanities

October 27, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, well.

Tomorrow night — from 7 to 9 p.m. CDT on CNBC — there will be another presidential debate.

The always astonishing and amazing Republicans, led by the always astonishing and amazing Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, will debate in Boulder, Colorado.

Republican presidential debate

The Ear has watched three presidential debates so far — two Republican and one Democratic.

But he still has no idea of where the various candidates on both sides stand when it comes to government support of the arts –- including music — and the humanities.

Please tell us, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, what you think?

bernie sanders and hillary clinton in presidential debate

And you too, Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and Chris Christie and Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and John Kasich and ….

Do you want to defund PBS?

pbs logo in black

Or defund NPR?


Or will you support these important and historic cultural commitments? Why or why not?

Along the same lines, do you want to defund, sustain or enhance the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities?

Why or why not?

Some funny reasoning is going on here. Some of the candidates want to eliminate all subsidies to the arts, which are a form of economic development after all – at a time when a lot of conservatives don’t mind funding big rich corporations in the same name of economic development.

The arts create a lot of jobs and spark a lot of spending and stimulus. Or don’t the culture-challenged charlatans realize that?

Stop and think a minute about the local situation. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Overture Center (below), public schools, the University of Wisconsin and its School of Music — all rely in part on public funding. They employ a lot of people and generate a lot of value.


Don’t these issues deserve a public airing? Doesn’t the arts consuming public have a right to know where the various candidates stand on these issues? Shouldn’t voters know what they might be getting in those areas?

As The Ear understand its, one flank of the attack has to do with the so called left-leaning liberal or progressive bias and politics of PBS and NPR.

Plus, there is the view that the art that public taxpayer money is helping to create doesn’t defend the so-called family values that the most radically conservative Republicans and Christian fundamentalists and Evangelicals want defended.

The other flank of the attack has to do with the stance that government should be smaller and that therefore should be funding less in general.

Makes you wonder just how the radical “freedom coalition” and Tea Party people in South Carolina, Texas and California feel about having a smaller government when it comes to providing aid for victims of torrential floods and devastating wildfires. And how is that kind of help for those in need different from funding education or health care?

California wildfires 2015 nbcnews

AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25, 2015 Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, TX – MAY 25, 2015
Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015.
(Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

Anyway, wouldn’t it be appropriate for some of the panelists to question the candidates on the issues pertaining to the arts and humanities?

The Ear is reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s comment during World War II. Some members of the British Parliament asked him if funding for the arts shouldn’t be cut and used instead to fight Hitler and the Nazis. He said no and added, “Then what would we be fighting for?”

winston churchill

Tell the Ear what you think. Leave a COMMENT.

Maybe, just maybe, someone else will read it and pass it along and we will finally get a substantive discussion from the candidates about where they stand on arts and humanities funding by the federal government.


Classical music: Meet Zuhal Sultan, the founder of the Iraqi Youth Orchestra

October 17, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Wouldn’t it be nice for a change to hear good news from Iraq?

Usually we hear about sectarian violence, suicide bombings and widespread government corruption.

So for a change of pace, meet Zuhal Sultan (below), the woman who founded the Iraqi Youth Orchestra.

Zuhal Sultan

Her words remind us of what must have been in the mind of Marvin Rabin when he founded the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, which is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Sultan’s words about the importance of music education and music performance have meaning not only to Iraq and other nations at war but also to us.

Not that she and the Iraqi Youth Orchestra (below) don’t continue to face major obstacles, especially from The Islamic State (or ISIS or ISIL) as they were preparing for a tour. (You can hear the orchestra during a festival in Scotland in a YouTube video at the bottom. Be sure to check out the comments by readers and listeners as wells by Zuhal Sultan.)

Iraqi Youth Orchestra 2

But NPR, or National Public Radio, has done a public service by offering us a fine interview with her, by showing harmony amid conflict.

Here is a link to the story done by the reporter and new host of “All Things ConsideredAri Shapiro. You can read the set up piece, but you a should also listen to the audio:

Classical music: This Saturday, “Live From the Met in HD” offers a controversial and innovative production of Verdi’s “Otello.” Here are some background stories plus a positive review from The New York Times.

October 15, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday, “Live From The Met in HD” will present a live performance by the Metropolitan Opera of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Otello,” which is based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello.”

This is the production that has made news because it is the first one in the history of The Met not to use blackface. (Below, in a photo by Ken Howard for The Metropolitan Opera, are the Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, right, as Otello and baritone Zjelko Lucic as Iago.)

otello (left) Aleksandrs Antonenko CR Ken Howard:Metropolitan Opera

This year marks the 10th season of the popular and innovative series of high-definition broadcasts that are beamed via satellite to 2,000 screens in 70 countries.

In Madison, the opera can be seen at the Point Cinemas on the city’s far west side and at Eastgate cinemas on the far east side.

Admission is $24 for adults and $22 for seniors 60 and over; and $18 for children 3 to 11. Tickets to the encore productions are $18.

The performance starts at 11:55 a.m. and will last about 2 hours and 45 minutes including an intermission. (Below center is the acclaimed Bulgarian soprano Sonja Yoncheva as Desdemona.)

Otello Met Sonja Yoncheva as Desdemona

The handsome new and ingenious Romantic-era production (below top) in a photo by Sarah Krulwich for The New York Times) has been praised for its stage direction by Bartlett Sher.

Otello (Aleksandrs Antonenko) and Iago (Zeljko Lucic, right) CR Sara Krulwich NYT

Also drawing praise is the production’s firebrand conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below bottom), the acclaimed French-Canadian music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra who reportedly is a likely candidate to succeed the legendary James Levine as music director of The Met.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin in aciton

For information about the cast and a synopsis:

From NPR or National Public Radio, here is a story about The Met foregoing blackface in this production. It is especially interesting because the reporter talks to an African American tenor who does not object to the use of such makeup:

And here is a debate about the blackface issue in which the central question is: If you didn’t know the plot of the play or opera, would you realize the pivotal role that race plays in the story without blackface? Read it and decide for yourself. (In a YouTube video at bottom is part of the love duet between Otello and Desdemona.)

Finally, here is a positive review by Anthony Tommasini for The New York Times:

Classical music: Superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma turns 60. NPR offers a capsule biography and generous sound samples from throughout his varied career.

October 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Have cello. Will play.

Any style. Any place.

Last Wednesday, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, turned 60.

The unquestionable quality, astounding diversity and enviable longevity of his career will come as no surprise to Madison audiences.

After all, Ma (below, in a photo by Jason Bell for Sony Classical) has performed here many times, mostly at the Wisconsin Union Theater – he reopened the renovated Shannon Hall — but also at the Overture Center.

yo-yo ma CR Jason Bell:Sony Classical

Ma has performed solo here. But he also has played with his longtime chamber music partner pianist Emanuel Ax and with the acclaimed Silk Road Ensemble and the bluegrass or roots music by violinist-composer Mark O’Conner.

And Ma has commissioned many works – including some by composers Osvaldo Golijov and John Adams – that have entered the mainstream repertoire. His influence on contemporary music will be felt for a very long time.

The Ear has met Ma in person a couple of times and found him to be as congenial and humorous as he is talented and original.

An iconic figure on TV and radio, Ma is a master of using the mass media although he never seems a crass self-promoter.

He is a veritable American cultural institution who also enjoys going on PBS for “Sesame Street” and “Live From Lincoln Center” as well as doing a cameo appearance playing unaccompanied Bach in the drama “The West Wing.” (You can hear him play the same piece in a YouTube video at the bottom that has more than 12 million hits.)

Perhaps you have also heard him live, maybe even more than once.

One thing is important but is overlooked by the NPR piece: The ever-reliable Ma is outstandingly successful at the box office. He is probably the most bankable and commercially successful American classical musician on the scene today. Ma’s career bodes well for the future of classical music that otherwise worries so many observers and participants.

You surely will appreciate the eminently readable and listenable post that Tim Huizenga wrote for the “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

Here is a link:

Do you have a birthday greeting for or memory of cellist Yo-Yo Ma?

Leave it in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Why are most artist bios and program notes such snoozers?

September 26, 2015

ALERT: Trevor Stephenson, the founder and artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians, writes:

Dear Friends: The Madison Bach Musicians begins its 12th season next weekend on Saturday night (8 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church on the near east side) and Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m., at Holy Wisdom Monastery on the far west side on County M) with a marvelous program of four Baroque concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Heinrich Biber, Leonardo Leo and Antonio Vivaldi! Soloists will be MBM concertmaster violinist Kangwon Kim, and guest artist Steuart Pincombe baroque cellist. I’ll give pre-concert lectures at both events (at 7:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., respectively).

I’ll be discussing these upcoming concerts on two radio programs here in the next couple of days. This Sunday morning, Sept. 27, from 10:30 to 11 a.m. on WORT FM radio (89.9), I’ll be Alan Muirhead’s guest on the Musica Antiqua program. On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Kangwon Kim, Steuart Pincombe and I will all be Norman Gilliland’s guests on the Midday program noon-12:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM). I hope you can tune in. Tickets are available online at (, at our ticket outlets, and at the door. I look forward to seeing you at the concerts!!

By Jacob Stockinger

The new concert season is here.

That means many of us will spend too many minutes reading second-rate program notes and inferior artist biographies as we wait for a concert to take place — even though I think many local groups and local program note writers do quite well.

But why do so many of those predictable and formulaic artist bios seem such surefire ways to bore an audience or put it to sleep? (Below is a photo from istock.)

sleeping audience istock

That is the question raised by reporter and critic Anastasia Tsioulcas (below) for the Deceptive Cadence blog on National Public Radio or NPR.

anastasia tsioulcas

It’s a good piece and raises a lot of questions as well as provides some suggestions. It has been long overdue.

Here is a link:

Leave your own reactions, criticism and suggestions about program notes and artist bios in the COMMENTS area.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Meet Marin Alsop, the pioneering American maestra who will conduct the closing concert of the BBC British Proms concerts this Saturday night.

September 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you listen regularly to NPR, or National Public Radio, you will often hear stories featuring the American conductor Marin Alsop (below) and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra she leads on Saturday mornings. That is when Scott Simon interviews her about her latest projects for Weekend Edition.

Marin Alsop big

And you may know Alsop’s name as a student and protégée of the legendary Leonard Bernstein and as the music director and conductor of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil.

Marin Alsop marching

You might also know that Alsop thinks classical music has become elitist and so she works hard for educational programs and community outreach.

But you may not know that in 2013 Alsop was the first woman chosen to conduct the mammoth closing night of the popular Proms concerts (below) in London’s Royal Albert Hall for the BBC in England. (You can hear the rousing and popular speech she gave then in a YouTube video at the bottom. And be sure to read some of the sexist and homophobic reader comments.)

BBC Proms

This Saturday night she returns to the United Kingdom to conduct the closing concert of this summer’s Proms, which will have a huge audience of over 40 million listeners worldwide via TV, radio and the Internet.

Here is a link to the portal for listening to the concert:

Thanks to a story and a Q&A interview in The Economist, here is a chance to meet Marin Alsop and learn more about this impressive musician:



Classical music: Here is an entertaining story about the American GI rifleman who fiddled for Josef Stalin, Harry Truman and Winston Churchill at Potsdam.

September 6, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Nothing big today.

Or important.

Just a good old entertaining story about Stuart Canin (below), the American GI rifleman who suddenly got called on to play his violin for Josef Stalin, Harry Truman and Winston Churchill (below bottom) at the Potsdam conference right after the Allies’ defeat of Hitler‘s Nazi Germany during World War II.

stuart canin violin

More proof that you just never know when playing an instrument — or singing, for that matter — will come in handy.

Potsdam L to R British Prime Minister Winston Churchill President Harry S. Truman and Soviet leader Josef Stalin

This is the story as it was reported on NPR or National Public Radio:


Classical music: You can hear Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on 5,000 kazoos at this year’s Burning Man Festival.

August 31, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about counter-cultural!

This year’s famed Burning Man festival started yesterday and runs through Sept. 7.

The unusual event, held in the north Nevada desert, features many noteworthy things including nudity, drugs and lot of talk about peace and love — kind of like an updated Woodstock festival but on a much grander and more ambitious scale. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

One remarkable thing is the sheer size of the event (below, in an aerial photo by Kenny Reff), a temporary city estimated to be more than 60,000 strong this year:

Burning Man aerial CR Kenny Reff

Another is the impressive and dramatic sculpture that is set aflame (below is last year’s) at the festival’s end:

Burning Man 2014

But there is also classical music included at the iconic pop event.

In fact this year, the “Ode to Joy,” from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, will be played 5,000 kazoos.

In addition, there will be strings (below top in a photo by Jaki Levy) and a certain conductor named Dr. FireTuba (below bottom in a photo of Eric Yttri by Jaki Levy) as part of the 63-piece pickup symphony orchestra that also includes winds such as flute and clarinets. The group will perform music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Edvard Grieg and other composers on the playlist.

Burning Man music cellist 2014 Jaki Levy

Burning Man Dr FireTuba (Erio Ittry) CR Jaki Levy

Here is an illuminating and entertaining story about classical music at Burning Man that was reported in NPR or National Public Radio:


Classical music: Meet Dame Ethel Smyth –- a Victorian feminist and forceful composer as well as an advocate of women’s rights and same-sex relations.

August 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

You probably don’t know the name Ethel Smyth (pronounced smaith, below).

The Ear certainly didn’t.

ethel smyth

But then he came across this fascinating account of her life and work.

Smythe was friends with Peter Tchaikovsky and Johannes Brahms.

An early feminist leader for same-sex equality, she fell in love with the much younger writer Virginia Woolf.

And her muscular music and politically charged operas reminded people of Richard Wagner.

Now she has been resurrected thanks to Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College who also directs the American Symphony Orchestra and the Bard Music Festival. He staged her 1904 opera “The Wreckers.” (At bottom, you can hear a YouTube performance of the Overture to “The Wreckers.”)

Leon Botstein conducting USE

Tom Huizenga, of the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog, wrote this profile and appreciation for NPR, or National Public radio:

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