The Well-Tempered Ear

Did any composer ever capture the quiet, timeless and motionless cold of deep winter better than Debussy?

February 9, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

It was one of those deep subzero days of the polar vortex that we seem locked in now right now.

The Ear looked out a window.

It was a chilly scene of winter, as the American writer Ann Beattie once described it.

The Ear saw the snow piled up.

He listened to the windless quiet.

Time, like motion, seemed to stop– or at least slow down — in the severe cold.

He saw tracks in the snow.

He couldn’t say whether they came from a rabbit or a squirrel or some other critter.

But it brought to mind a piano prelude by Debussy (below) that contains a kind of frozen minimalism.

Life was once again imitating art, as Oscar Wilde once observed, remarking that “there was no fog in London until the Impressionists painted it.”

Has any piece ever captured the cold, the quiet, the feeling of time and motion slowing down or stopping as Debussy did in “Des pas dans la neige” (Tracks in the Snow)?

Especially as it was played by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (below) who, like Sviatoslav Richter, wasn’t afraid to risk taking a slower-than-usual tempo if it right felt right and created the appropriate  atmosphere. (You can hear Michelangeli playing the Debussy prelude in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Do you agree about the Debussy piece?

About Michelangeli’s interpretation?

Do you know of another piece that captures the Arctic cold spell we are in?

Please leave a comment and a YouTube link, if possible.

The Ear wants to hear.

Stay safe and warm.

 


Due to popular demand, Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) opens its FREE virtual master classes to the public. Today features the violin and Monday features the bass

January 10, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) welcomes back two distinguished and successful alumni this weekend to teach the fifth and sixth master classes in an ongoing series that has already wowed observers. (WYSO alumni are noted below with an asterisk.)

Each virtual event is free and open to the general public with registration required in advance.

“The series has been so fabulous that, due to popular demand, we’ve opened up the events to anyone who wants to attend,” says Susan Gardels, marketing and communications director for WYSO. 

TODAY – Sunday, Jan. 10 — from 5:30-7:30 p.m. CST Derek Powell, a violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., will coach four WYSO violin members in a two-hour master class.

This will be followed the next evening with a master class coached by Scott Pingel, Principal Bass with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (Monday, Jan. 11, 6:30-8:30 p.m. CST).

A master class presents a one-on-one opportunity for a student musician to learn from a guest artist with an audience invited to observe the process.

In previous master classes in this series, the audience has learned instrument performance techniques and musical interpretation tips from a wide variety of guest artists who professionally play music around the world.

With the master classes presented in an intimate Zoom setting, the audience learns along with the student— and it is amazing to see the sudden growth in a student’s musical prowess as a master class proceeds.

Derek Powell’s bio includes his experience with the New World Symphony where Powell (below) performed as concertmaster with famed conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and as a violinist with the Army Strings, as well as his current experience with the National Symphony Orchestra. 

Scott Pingel (below) was a trumpet player in his WYSO days with a side love for electric bass. Pingel switched to concert bass as an undergraduate at UW-Eau Claire, continued studies at the Manhattan School of Music, and played with the New World Symphony and the Charleston Symphony before joining the San Francisco Symphony as Principal Bass in 2004. He recently created buzz by playing with Metallica in a packed house with the San Francisco Orchestra.

For more information, go to: WYSO Amazing Masterclass Series

Here are details and links to register:

*Derek Powell, Violin Master Class

TODAY, Sunday, Jan. 10, 5:30-7:30 p.m. CST

Free and open to the public

Click here to register in advance

_______________________________

*Scott Pingel, Bass Master Class

Monday, Jan. 11, 6:30-8:30 p.m. CST

Free and open to the public

Click here to register in advance

Here are is a schedule of future WYSO alumni master classes:

Katherine Steele (below), oboe 
Sunday, Jan. 17, 6-8 p.m. CST
(Principal Oboe, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra) https://wysomusic.org/katherine-steel-masterclass/

James Shields (below), clarinet
Sunday, Jan. 24, 7-9 p.m. CST
(Principal Clarinet, Oregon Symphony Orchestra)
Read more about James Shields

*Nancy Goeres (below), bassoon
Sunday, Feb. 7, 6-8 p.m. CST
(Principal Bassoon, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)

Danbi Um (below), violin
Sunday, Feb. 21, Time TBD
(Soloist, member Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center)

Megumi Kanda (below), trombone
Sunday, Feb. 28, 5:30-7:30 p.m. CST (Principal Trombone, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra)

David Perry (below), violin
Sunday, March 7, 6-8 p.m. CST
(First Violin, UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet and UW-Madison Music Professor)

Naha Greenholtz (below), violin
Sunday, March 28, 6-8 p.m. CST
(Concertmaster, Madison Symphony Orchestra and Quad Cities Symphony Orchestra)

*Sharan Leventhal (below), violin
Sunday, April 11, 6-8 p.m. CST
(Boston Conservatory)

For more information, go to https://wysomusic.org or call (608) 733-6283.


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It’s Thanksgiving Day. Conductor Marin Alsop, NPR, WQXR, WFMT and Wisconsin Public Radio offer music suggestions. What piece would you choose to mark the holiday?

November 26, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020 — is Thanksgiving Day.

Right now, the U.S. has had more than 12 million cases of COVID-19 with more than 260,000 deaths plus all the alarming signs and conditions that many more cases and deaths are coming in the next several months.

We might be sad that we can’t be with the family and friends we usually celebrate with. But we nonetheless have many things to give thanks for during this strange and tragic time.

We can thank the vaccine researchers; the doctors and nurses; and the other health care workers who take care of Covid patients, even those who don’t observe precautions and bring on their own illness.

We can thank all kinds of people on the front lines — food and transportation workers, for example — who help protect us and care for us.

We can thank the friends, family and others who stay in touch and help get us through these trying times.

And we can thank technology that makes isolating a lot less unbearable because we have telephones, radios, TVs, CD players, computers, cell phones and virtual online ZOOM meetings and gatherings and various other events including live-streamed concerts.

For The Ear, music has never meant more or brought more comfort than during this difficult year. He is giving thanks for that as well as for the other people and things just mentioned.

So what music should we celebrate this year’s emotionally complicated and mixed Thanksgiving holiday with?

Well, you can Google sources and go to YouTube to find compilations of music appropriate to the holiday. (See one playlist lasting 90 minutes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Famed classical radio station WQXR in New York City has five suggestions for being musically grateful: https://www.wqxr.org/story/top-five-expressions-thanks-classical-music/

And WFMT in Chicago is offering 20 suggestions based on holiday food: https://www.wfmt.com/2019/11/25/a-complete-thanksgiving-feast-in-20-food-inspired-pieces/

But here are a couple of other suggestions, some local.

Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) is always a reliable source. And tomorrow is no exception.

If WPR programming stays true to past patterns, music by American composers will be emphasized.

Plus, starting at 10 a.m. WPR will broadcast performances from the Honors Concerts (below) by middle and high school students around the state and who participate in the Wisconsin School Music Association. This year, for the first time, the performances will be virtual. But as in past years, they are sure to be moving and even inspiring.

Other fine suggestions from the world-famous conductor Marin Alsop  (below), a Leonard Bernstein protégée, who recently spoke for 7 minutes to NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon. 

Here is a link, but you should listen rather than just read the transcript if you want to hear the musical samples: https://www.npr.org/2020/11/21/937448472/this-thanksgiving-put-on-some-music-to-soothe

Do you like any of those suggestions? Were any new to you?

What piece of music would you choose to express gratitude on this particular Thanksgiving?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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