ALERT: University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music 2011 alumnus and violist Elias Goldstein is on his way to Carnegie Hall in New York City to perform all the virtuosic 24 Caprices originally for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini. But first he will perform them here in a FREE concert that also includes other works with pianist Thomas Kasdorf, another UW-Madison alumnus, on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. (Sorry, no word on the rest of the program.) Goldstein will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Wednesday at 2:25 p.m. in Morphy Hall.
For more information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
How does a contemporary American composer channel classic composers from more than 200 years ago?
You can find out by going to hear the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ, below). The critically acclaimed string quartet will perform this Friday night at 8 pm, in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
Tickets are $27.50 to $42.50.
For more information, including reviews and video samplings, visit:
The program features two quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, including the popular and famed “Emperor” Quartet and the earlier “Joke” Quartet as well as the Midwest premiere of John Adams; String Quartet No. 2.
NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured an interview with Adams discussing Beethoven:
But Christopher Costanza, the cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, recently gave an enlightening Q&A from the quartet’s point of view to The Ear:
Can you briefly bring the public up to date since your last appearance in Madison, when you performed “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” by Osvaldo Golijov? Major residencies and tours? Major commissions? Major performing and recording projects?
The St. Lawrence String Quartet has been busy with a wide range of projects in the years since our last appearance in Madison.
We’ve had a personnel change – our newest quartet member is Owen Dalby, our second violinist, who joined us in the spring of last year.
We happily continue as Artists-in Residence at Stanford University, where we are involved in a great number of activities, including teaching, performing, and collaborations with a wide range of schools and departments on campus.
And our international touring schedule remains very active, with concerts throughout North America and Europe; our most recent European tour, in late summer of 2015, included concerts in Scotland, Germany, Romania, Hungary and Switzerland, and we will tour Europe twice in 2016.
We’ve performed several pieces commissioned for us, including works by such composers as Osvaldo Golijov, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Samuel Adams, Jonathan Berger, James Matheson and George Tsontakis.
Of particular significance, John Adams has composed three works for us, two string quartets and a quartet concerto, “Absolute Jest,” which was written for the SLSQ, the San Francisco Symphony and the SF Symphony’s music director Michael Tilson Thomas.
We’ve performed “Absolute Jest” on several national and international tours with the San Francisco Symphony, as well as with the London Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, and the New World Symphony. Our recording of the work with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas was released this past summer.
We’ve recently embarked on a recording project of the Opus 20 quartets of Haydn, and other recording projects are in development.
Why did you choose to perform two Haydn string quartets to open and close the program, instead of a work by Beethoven, given the Beethoven influences in the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams?
We often perform programs that begin and end with a Haydn quartet, with a contemporary work (or works) in between. This showcases the great variety and brilliance of Haydn’s gigantic contribution to the quartet repertoire.
It also provides an interesting contrast between the earliest works for quartet and current compositional offerings, stressing the fact that Haydn (below) essentially invented the string quartet and paving the way for other composers to explore creativity in their compositions for quartet.
In truth, we do often program Beethoven (below) with the Second String Quartet by Adams. For this program, I think the Adams/Haydn juxtaposition will be a meaningful comment on the evolution of quartet writing, from the early years to works of the present.
As an exercise in compare and contrast programming, what would you like the public to know about the “Joke” and “Emperor” Quartets by Haydn? About Haydn’s music in general?
Haydn’s “Joke” Quartet, from his Op. 33 set, is, as you might guess, filled with humor and wit. The quartet is actually quite straightforward structurally, filled with robust and positive energy and simple, appealing melodies. It’s a compact work, inviting and charming.
The “Emperor” Quartet, from the Op. 76 set, comes from a later period of Haydn’s compositions, and it is a work of considerable length and weight. This quartet shows a natural link to Beethoven in its duration, dynamic contrast, emotional range, and overall musical substance. (You can hear Haydn’s “Emperor” Quartet performed, analyzed and discussed by the St. Lawrence Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Of significant note, the “Emperor” is named thusly for the second movement, a theme and variations based on the tune Haydn (below) originally wrote for the Emperor Francis of Austria as a sort of national anthem.
What should readers know about the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams (below)? How is it similar to or different from his other works that the public knows such as “Nixon in China,” “The Death of Klinghoffer,” “Doctor Atomic” “Harmonielehre” and “On the Transmigration of Souls”? Will this performance be the Midwest premiere? Will you record the quartet?
John Adams’s Second String Quartet is very strongly based on two motivic ideas from Beethoven’s Op. 110 piano sonata, as well as a variation from Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations.
The Beethoven elements are clearly presented in clever and skilled ways, and I think many of them will be evident to the astute listener. Most importantly, John is brilliant in his transformation of the Beethoven quotes, and the piece is very clearly an Adams piece, characterized by driving rhythms, great energy, and a true sense of musical intent and balance.
To get a sense of the piece prior to hearing it, I suggest listening to “Absolute Jest” (our recent recording) – another of John’s pieces inspired by Beethoven and filled with late Beethoven quotes – and the Op. 110 Piano Sonata by Beethoven.
We’ve performed the Second Quartet on several occasions since we premiered it at Stanford University about a year ago, but I do think our Madison performance will be a Midwest premiere. We are currently considering the possibility of recording the work, but specific plans have not yet been made.
What else would you like to say?
We’re thrilled to be returning to Madison after a gap of several years. It’s very exciting to be bringing a program of music by two of our favorite composers, Joseph Haydn and John Adams, and we think contrasting the two will be interesting and enlightening to all.
ALERT 1: The Sunday Afternoon Live performance by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet at the Chazen Museum of Art is NEXT SUNDAY, NOT TODAY. The Ear apologizes for the mistake.
ALERT 2: Tonight’s concert of new music for woodwinds and piano by UW-Madison professor Les Thimmig and pianist Jessica Johnson has been CANCELLED.
By Jacob Stockinger
He is Jaap van Sweden (below, in a photo by Todd Heiser for The New York Times , a 55-year-old Dutchman, acclaimed for his technical prowess, who now is the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic.
There are a lot of stories The Ear could link to.
Here is a short summary from NPR (National Public Radio) with audio clips of his conducting:
But he found the coverage by the New York Times quite comprehensive and, on balance, fair.
It featured a main news story with some important feature elements, including the critical acclaim van Sweden received for conducting music by Gustav Mahler and Ludwig van Beethoven. (Below, you can see van Sweden conducting the New York Philharmonic in 2014 in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).
And it also featured a column or commentary by senior classical music critic Anthony Tommasini, who spoke in Madison on the occasion of the centennial of the Pro Arte Quartet that was held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Overall, Tommasini’s notebook entry is a fine and insightful piece, even if it gets tiring to hear Tommasini climb up on his high horse and whine yet again about the neglect of new music and contemporary composers – which does not seem fully justified based on the record of this particular conductor.
Tommasini – who himself was trained as a composer — clearly would have preferred former Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below) as the new music director and conductor. Hmmm – could they be friends?
For his part, it may sound provincial but The Ear is more concerned that the very same symphony orchestra that made history in American culture for hiring the first American-born and American-trained maestro – Leonard Bernstein (below), who also just happened to put Jaap van Sweden on the path to a conducting career – is once again turning to Europe rather to the many fine conducting talents in this country.
Why was no American conductor chosen. One who comes to mind is Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (below top) and the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Brazil who is also a Bernstein protege. And then there is David Robertson of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia(below bottom).
Seems odd that Marin Alsop is good enough for Brazil and David Robertson is good enough for Australia — but not for New York?
The Ear wants to ask the Philharmonic’s board of directors: Do you really find all American conductors to be that inferior to Jaap van Sweden?
Maybe there were practical considerations — salary, contracts, availability, refusals — that made hiring an American conductor impossible. But the stories suggest that the choice of van Sweden was made early on and the fix seemed in. Too bad. It still seems like a great opportunity that was lost.
You can decide for yourself.
Here is the news story by Michael Cooper:
And here is Tommasini’s column:
Do you know the work of Jaap van Sweden?
Have you heard him in live or recorded performances?
What do you think?
Here is a sample of Jaap van Sweden conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in a YouTube video at the bottom.
Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
It is described as “Wisconsin Young Artists Compete.”
“The Final Forte” event is the final round of the Bolz Young Artist Competition in which the four finalists perform in a FREE concert with the Madison Symphony Orchestra that is broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and rebroadcast by Wisconsin Public Television (WPT).
“The Final Forte” will take place this Friday night at 7 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center. Seating is FREE but you must register with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. John DeMain will conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
According to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which organizes and conducts the competition:
“The Final Forte 2016 finalists (above) were selected from several young Wisconsin artists who competed in the Bolz Young Artist Competition’s two preliminary rounds. The event gave these four artists the chance to perform a movement from a concerto with the MSO.
The 2016 contestants are (below, left to right): Pianist Audrianna Wu of Madison, who will perform the third movement of the Piano Concerto in A minor by Edvard Grieg (you can hearing the famous concerto played by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in a YouTube video at the bottom); pianist Liam Mayo of Green Bay, who will perform the first and third movement of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by German composer Felix Mendelssohn; violinist Tabby Rhee of Brookfield, who will perform the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius; and marimbist Robert Rockman of Sun Prairie, who will perform the “Fantasy on Japanese Prints” by American composer Alan Hovhaness.
This year’s anniversary event features special guest co-host, concert pianist Christopher O’Riley, who hosts NPR’s “From the Top” that airs here on Sunday night 8-9 p.m.
The most comprehensive information about the FREE concert, the live broadcasts, the biographies the four young contestants, the complete list of sponsors and a link to register to reserve a seat (you can also call 608 257-3734) can be found at the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s website:
According to the MSO: “This competition has captured an enormous following and numerous honors, including an Emmy nomination, First Place in the “Special Interest” category from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association in 2007, and fifth most-watched program in the February 2007 Nielsen ratings.
The 2008 WPT and WPR broadcasts reached more than 60,000 viewers and listeners in the Madison market alone and the 2009 broadcasts reached an estimated 200,000 statewide.”
This event will be broadcast on: Wisconsin Public Television: Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 7, at 12 p.m.
Milwaukee Public Television: Friday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 4 a.m.
Wisconsin Public Radio: Sunday, Jan. 31, at 12:30 p.m.
Here is a link to Wisconsin Public Television, which features introductory videos about each performer:
And here is a link to Wisconsin Public Radio, where Thursday right after the noon news on The Midday, Christopher O’Riley, host of NPR’s popular classical music program From The Top, chats with radio host Stephanie Elkins (below) about his show and the young musicians from Wisconsin that have appeared on his show in the past. O’Riley is in town to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Bolz Young Artists Final Forte.
By Jacob Stockinger
Anniversaries and deaths (below is a link to the musicians we lost in 2015).
Debuts, farewells and unusual tours.
(In a YouTube video at the bottom and below in photo by Yamil Lang for Getty Images, is the Minnesota Orchestra playing in Havana under music director Osmo Vanska during its historic tour to Cuba in May 2015.)
Revivals and world premieres.
Appointments and retirements.
What were the notable events in classical music in 2015?
How many do you recall?
ALERT: This Sunday at 2 p.m., Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN-FM 88.7 in the Madison area) will start a new weekly two-hour broadcast series. It features 13 weeks of live recorded concerts given by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. This Sunday’s music, conducted by MSO music director Edo de Waart, includes three outstanding works: the Four Sea Interludes from the opera “Peter Grimes” by Benjamin Britten; the beautiful Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar with soloist Alisa Weilerstein; and the lyrical Symphony No. 8 in G Major by Antonin Dvorak.
For more information about the series and performers, visit:
By Jacob Stockinger
Just last year saw celebrations of Boulez, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, around the world.
That included one here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music by bassoonist and Professor Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) who studied and worked with Boulez and the famous Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris.
Professor Vallon generously agreed to write a personal reminiscence and appreciation of Pierre Boulez for The Ear.
Here it is:
By Marc Vallon
I had the privilege to work with Pierre Boulez in the early 1980s, a couple of years after he founded the Ensemble Intercontemporain (below) in Paris, the first-ever fully salaried ensemble devoted to contemporary music.
Boulez was a very demanding conductor (below) and everyone would come to the rehearsals very prepared. If you were not, you would likely take the sting of his sarcastic humor.
I remember a situation when the flutist kept fumbling on a tricky passage in Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony for Wind Instruments. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, he made the mistake of saying, “I don’t understand, it worked perfectly at home,” to which Boulez replied, “Well then, perhaps we should play the concert in your living room.”
I was involved in the first performance of the work often considered as Boulez’s masterpiece, Répons for orchestra and live electronics (heard at bottom in a YouTube video). It was a fascinating window into Boulez’s compositional process.
During the two-week rehearsal period, the parts would be collected after each session and would come back on our music stands the next day with numerous additions of grace notes and changed rhythms and dynamics. The longer we worked, the more intricate and multi-layered the piece became.
This is not surprising if one remembers Boulez’s definition of good music: It is complex and can be looked at from so many different angles that it ultimately resists full analysis.
Another important contribution that Boulez brought to the French musical scene, and the artistic world in general, was the often explosive radicalism of his ideas.
From “Schoenberg is dead” to “We have to blow up the opera houses,” who else would proclaim the end of serialism or attack the conservatism of established opera houses in such provocative terms?
Boulez’s public aversion to any artistic conservatism was, in the 1970s, a much-needed antidote to an international musical scene that was often too easily tempted to fill concert halls by programming symphonies by Tchaikovsky again and again.
It is still needed today. “Boulez est mort,” but his fight for the endless renewing of musical creation should go on.
For more obituaries and appreciations of Pierre Boulez, who served as music director of the New York Philharmonic and was a major guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, here are four sources:
National Public Radio or NPR:
And here is a terrific and insightful personal appreciation of Pierre Boulez, with a link to current issues and events in classical music, by Anthony Tommasini, the senior classical music critic for The New York Times:
ALERT: The influential and controversial French avant-garde composer and conductor Pierre Boulez had died at 90. The Ear will feature more about him this weekend. Stay tuned.
ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison‘s Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, start up again this Friday after a break for the holidays. The concert takes place from 12:15 to 1 p.m. and features bassoonist Juliana Mesa-Jarmillo and pianist Rayna Slavova in music by Gustav Schreck, Eugene Bordeau, Gabriel Pierne and Antonio Torriani.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear can remember when Sergei Rachmaninoff (below, 1873-1943) was treated as something of a joke by serious classical musicians – especially by the 12-toners and atonalists, who were more into R&D music (research and development) than into offering pleasure and emotional connection.
The academic musicians, and some prominent music critics too, thought that the Russian composer’s music was too Romantic — meaning too accessible, too shallow and even cheap. They just didn’t consider Rachmaninoff a major 20th-century composer or artist.
But time is proving them wrong.
Surely The Rachmaninoff Deniers would like such popularity, durability and enthusiasm for their own music.
Because Rachmaninoff had real genius linked to real heart.
So surely The Ear is not the only listener who finds so much of Rachmaninoff’s music -– especially his preludes, concertos, etudes and variations — irresistible and even moving.
And pianist Joyce Yang played the momentous Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor at her recital in the Wisconsin Union Theater.
This year’s Grammy nominations also include a whole CD of Rachmaninoff’s solo and concerto variations, including the wonderful tuneful and ingenious Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
Last year also saw “Preludes,” (below, in a photo by Tina Fineberg for The New York Times) ) a successful play about the young Rachmaninoff — or Rachmaninov — climbing out of a deep depression with the help of therapist and hypnotist Dr. Nikolai Dahl, who helped him compose again and become world-famous with his Piano Concerto No. 2.
Just this fall and winter, the New York Philharmonic with music director and conductor Alan Gilbert and pianist Daniil Trifonov (below), performed a retrospective featuring the complete cycle of Rachmaninoff piano concertos.
And here are some very perceptive and respectful remarks by conductor Marin Alsop (below) about Rachmaninoff’s life and work and about the less frequently played Symphony No. 3 in A minor that she will discuss and conduct.
It comes from an interview with Scott Simon on Weekend Edition for NPR or National Public Radio. The Ear found her remarks about Rachmaninoff’s life in Beverly Hills and his effect on other exiled European musicians working in Hollywood to be especially perceptive.
Indeed, you may recall that Rachmaninoff was offered a lucrative chance to write a movie score and refused. So the moviemakers hired the British composer Richard Addinsell to write a piece that sounded like Rachmaninoff. The result was the Warsaw Concerto and the result does indeed sound a lot like Rachmaninoff.
Here is a link to the NPR story, which has audio samples of the Symphony No. 3, that also features a written essay by Marin Alsop about Rachmaninoff:
I like a Rachmaninoff tune. How about you?
So here is a YouTube performance, made in 1920, of Rachmaninoff himself playing my favorite Rachmaninoff piece — the wistful Prelude in G Major, Op 32, No. 5:
ALERT: The Ear’s friend and radio host colleague Rich Samuels writes: “I’ll be airing the performance of Felix Mendelssohn‘s Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, by the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) on this Thursday morning (Dec. 31) at 7:14 on my “Anything Goes” broadcast on WORT-FM 88.9. (It was recorded July 31, 2015 by WORT at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church). I think this was the high point of the ensemble’s inaugural season. It’s nice to know WSCP will be back next summer and that they have a special event scheduled on Jan. 23 and 24.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Both organizations are outstanding friends of classical music, although sometimes The Ear wishes there was more music and fewer British mysteries — which this year interfere with arts programming and push music broadcasts later.
NEW YEAR’S EVE
On Thursday night from 10 to 11:30 p.m., Wisconsin Public Television will air an all-French program from New York City with Alan Gilbert (below top) conducting the New York Philharmonic and guest soloist mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (below bottom). “Live From Lincoln Center” will broadcast “La Vie Parisienne” (Parisian Life) program includes music by Jacques Offenbach and Camille Saint-Saens.
The Ear likes the program and wonders if it was decided before or after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.
However, The Ear is very disappointed by the late hour of the airing. It would be better if young people and children could hear and see it. He would much prefer prime-time broadcasts from 8 to 9:30 p.m. or maybe 9 to 10:30 p.m.
What do readers think?
NEW YEAR’S DAY
On Friday morning from 10 a.m. to noon, Wisconsin Public Radio will air a broadcast from Vienna’s Golden Hall (below) of “New Year’s Concert From Vienna,” with waltzes and polkas by the Strauss family as well as some other music.
This is the 75th anniversary of the event that will be broadcast to more than 90 countries and seen by some 50 million people. It is billed as the world’s largest classical music event.
Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons, who leads the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and appears regularly with major orchestras around the world, is returning for his third stint as the conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic for this program.
Here is a link with more information, which is hard and confusing to find on the website (look under Seasonal Programming, not the regular schedule):
In the afternoon from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and in the evening form 10 to 11:30 p.m., the 32nd annual television version of “Great Performances” will be broadcast by Wisconsin Public Television. Actress Julie Andrews (below) returns to host for the seventh time, and dancers from the Vienna State Ballet will be featured along with great landscape shots of Vienna and its historical landmarks.
And of course there will be the final clap-along encore: The Radetzky March, which you can hear conducted by Daniel Barenboim in a YouTube video at the bottom.
Once again, The Ear recalls that it used to air at a much earlier, more family-friendly hour.
For more information, go to:
Maybe next year will see earlier broadcast times and more information about the programs and broadcast’s duration on the web and the regular radio schedule.
By Jacob Stockinger
By now most of the Christmas gifts have been bought, given and opened.
And soon the gift cards will be spent.
So how commercial is the holiday?
And how does one return to the true meaning of the holiday?
Those were the issues that composer and librettist Mark Adamo set out to explore in his new opera ‘Becoming Claus,” which recently received its world premiere at the Dallas Opera, where it was commissioned. (You can hear Mark Adamo discuss how he became an opera composer in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
It might interest local readers especially because the Madison Opera will stage Mark Adamo’s opera version of Louisa May Alcott‘s “Little Women” on Feb. 5 and 7 in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.
Here is a link to more information about that local production:
In fact, perhaps the new chamber opera (below) will one day be staged in Madison, where its message would be sure to resonate.
By Jacob Stockinger
Not many arts figures get to achieve what German conductor Kurt Masur (below) did in his lifetime.
He was credited with turning in great performances of great classical repertoire with many of the world’s greatest orchestras.
He was credited with reviving the artistic stature of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
And he was credited with helping to peacefully bring down the Berlin Wall and reunite East Germany and West Germany.
Quite the legacy!
A week ago, on Dec. 19 in Greenwich, Conn., Kurt Masur died at 88 of complications from Parkinson’s disease, from which he had been suffering for a long time.
That same day, Wisconsin Public Radio played some recordings by Kurt Masur. The Ear praises such news tie-ins and thanks WPR for being so on the ball. It is a model of timely radio programming and makes classic music more urgent and relevant.
Here are two obituaries for Kurt Masur.
The first is from The New York Times:
And here, in a YouTube video, is one of the performances for which he will be most remembered and which seems particularly fitting on his death: The “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms that he conducted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
By Jacob Stockinger
Time is running out for Christmas and holiday shopping.
But there may still be time to either find a gift in a local store or to use that gift card you will receive.
The list, posted a bit late in the shopping season this year, runs from early music through mainstream classics to contemporary music, including John Adams‘ Beethoven-like work “Absolute Jest” (the origins of which you can hear John Adams discuss in the YouTube video at the bottom):
You can hear samples on the website:
And here are the previous five gift-giving guides that The Ear has posted:
And an overall gift guide from The New York Times that was published around Thanksgiving on Black Friday:
And the 2015 Grammy nominations:
Even if you don’t use these listings to buy gifts for others or yourself, they will give up some idea of what happened in the world of classical music recordings during the past year.