The Well-Tempered Ear

Ukraine’s most famous living composer is now a war refugee in Germany

April 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

He fights and defends his native country with beautiful sounds.

Ukraine’s most famous living composer has had to flee his war-torn country and — like some 3 million fellow Ukrainians in various other countries — is now living as a a war refugee in Germany. 

He is Valentin Sylvestrov (below), 84, and has survived both World War II and the Nazi occupation as well as the Soviet rule experiencing democracy and freedom after the fall of the USSR and now the devastating Russian invasion five weeks ago.

The irony is that his music, which The Ear can’t recall ever hearing performed live in Madison — although Wisconsin Public Radio recently featured a beautiful choral work — seems calming and peaceful, even consoling.(Please correct me if I am mistaken.) Many people compare him to the style of Arvo Pärt, his Eastern European contemporary and colleague in Estonia.

Little wonder that his works have found a new popularity in worldwide concerts as the world hopes for the survival and victory of Ukraine — below is Ukraine’s flag — over Vladimir’s Putin’s army and war crimes. 

His works have been particularly popular at fundraisers and memorials. They underscore the long history and importance of Ukraine’s tradition of making music, which has been recounted in the news features you find in the press, on TV, on radio and elsewhere in the media including live streams and recorded videos other media, especially the Internet.

As far as The Ear can tell, his most popular work in the concert hall these days is his hauntingly beautiful 1937 “Prayer for Ukraine.” You can hear it, in  an orchestra version, in a YouTube video at the bottom.

As background here are two different interviews with the distressed and saddened Sylvestrov in exile.

The first interview, from The New York Times, is by a professor at Arizona State University who has published a book on postwar Eastern European composers and offers links to more works: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/30/arts/music/valentin-silvestrov-ukraine-war.html

The other interview is from the German media outlet Deutsche Welle, translated into English and featuring current photos: https://www.dw.com/en/ukrainian-composer-valentin-silvestrov-what-are-you-kremlin-devils-doing/a-61158308

The tragic occasion of the war in Ukraine could be the event that brings the soul-stirring music of Sylvestrov to a larger global public. 

He certainly deserves it — along with some live performances here — and The Ear certainly plans on posting more of his music.

Have you heard the music of Valentin Sylvestrov?

Do you have favorite works from his piano music, chamber music, choral music and many symphonies?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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How will you celebrate World Piano Day today?

March 29, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today — Tuesday, March 29, 2022 — is World Piano Day.

(Below is a restored vintage concert grand piano at Farley’s House of Pianos used for recitals in the Salon Piano Series.)

How will you mark it? Celebrate it?

It’s a fine occasion to revisit your favorite pianist and favorite piano pieces.

Who is your favorite pianist, and what piano piece would you like to hear today?

If you yourself took piano lessons or continue to play, what piece would you play to mark the occasion? Fo the Ear, it will be either a mazurka by Chopin or a movement from either a French Suite or a Partita by Johann Sebastian Bach. Maybe both!

What piano piece do you wish you could play, but never were able to? For The Ear, it would be the Ballade No. 4 in F minor by Chopin.

One of the best ways to mark the day is to learn about a new younger pianist you might not have heard of.

For The Ear, one outstanding candidate would be the Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson ( below), who has won critical acclaim and who records for Deutsche Grammophon (DG). 

Olafsson has a particular knack for innovative and creative programming, like his CD that alternates works by Claude Debussy and Jean-Philippe Rameau.

He also seems at home at in many different stylistic periods. His records every thing from Baroque masters, to Mozart and his contemporaries in the Classical period — including Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach — to Impressionists to the contemporary composer Philip Glass.

But The Ear especially loves his anthology of Bach pieces (below) that include original works and transcriptions, including some arranged by himself. His playing is always precise and convincing, and has the kind of cool water-clear sound that many will identify with Andras Schiff.

You can hear a sample of his beautiful playing for yourself in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is an live-performance encore from his inaugural appearance last August at The Proms in London, where he also played Mozart’s dramatically gorgeous Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor (also available on YouTube.)

Final word: You might find some terrific pianists and performances on the Internet. Record labels, performing venues and other organizations are marking the day with special FREE recitals that you can reach through Google and Instagram.

Happy playing!

Happy listening!

Please leave a comment and let The Ear and other readers know what you think of the piano — which seems to be falling out of favor these days — and which pianists and piano pieces you will identify this year with World Piano Day.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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New York Times critics name their Top 10 online concerts in April. They start today with a Good Friday performance of Bach’s “St. John Passion.”

April 2, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

More people are getting COVID vaccines, but concerts will remain virtual and online for quite a while yet, especially if a fourth wave or another spike hits the U.S. and the world.

So here, once again, are the Top 10 online choices for April listening picked by the classical music critics for The New York Times.

This being the weekend of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it couldn’t be more timely.

The first choice, which starts steaming today, is perfect for both occasions. It is a production of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion.” It is conducted by THE Bach performers – the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque soloists, all conducted by Bach expert John Eliot Gardiner.

Gardiner has recorded and toured the world with Bach’s cantatas and oratorios. He also wrote the well criticially acclaimed book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.”

If you like Bach, you are in for some good listening this month. Pianist Jeremy Denk (below) will also perform the complete first book of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier” at the end of the month. (You can hear the famous first prelude, popular with students and amateurs  but also used in a sacred setting by Schubert and Gounod, in the Youtube video at the bottom.)

You may recall that Denk performed Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” several years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater, which also hosted an online concert by Denk this season in a program of Brahms and the two Schumann’s – Robert and Clara. 

You can also hear chamber music, including a concert of contemporary composers by the Attacca Quartet.

And there is a period performance of “Pelleas and Melisande” by Debussy (below). It will attempt to recreate how the opera score sounded when it was first performed in 1902.

The ever-inventive music educator Leon Botstein will conduct a concert of music by Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein and Tania Leon. 

German baritone Benjamin Appl will perform the famous song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin” (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter) by Franz Schubert. It streams from the faned Wigmore Hall in London.

One of the most intriguing choices is the score to Philip Glass’ “pocket opera” based on the short story “In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka.

The well-known conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below), who is also the new music director of the San Francisco Symphony after Michael Tilson Thomas retired last year. Much of the program is Salonen’s own music, along with Minimalist music by Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

There are also “Monumental Trios, featuring piano trios by Brahms and Beethoven, performed by members of the Chamber Music of Society.

And of course there will be a world premiere of the Symphony No. 2 by Huw Watkins  (below is his Wikipedia bio with a photo in case you haven’t heard of the composer).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huw_Watkins

For more details, here is a link to the Times story. Click on the headline. It includes some commentary by the critic who chose each piece. You will also find links to the artist and organization plus the debut date and how long the post will remain available. Please note that all times are Eastern Daylight Time.

Do you have other concerts you recommend for streaming – local, regional, national or international?

Please leave your selection in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy listening.


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Starting TODAY, the First Unitarian Society of Madison offers three free, online mini-concerts at noon on Fridays to celebrate Women’s History Month

March 12, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about three free, online mini-concerts to celebrate Women’s History Month through the Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison.

The concerts start today:

UPCOMING PERFORMANCES

•   To celebrate Women’s History Month, the First Unitarian Society of Madison will present three Friday Noon Musicales during March. 

•   All three will be guest produced by Iva Ugrcic. 

•   Iva Ugrcic (below) is Founding Artistic Director of the Madison-based LunART Festival, which supports, inspires, promotes and celebrates women in the arts.  

•   Each program will feature highlights from past LunART Festival performances.

•   Each program will be approximately 45 minutes long.

DATES AND PROGRAMS

Each video will become available at noon on the indicated date, and will remain available for viewing in perpetuity.

This Friday, March 12 — Works by living composers Jocelyn Hagen, Salina Fisher and Missy Mazzoli (below top), as well as Romantic-era composer Clara Schumann (below bottom, Getty Images).  Specific titles are not named.

Performers include: Iva Ugrcic, flute; Matthew Onstad, trumpet; Tom Macaluso, trombone; Elena Ross and Todd Hammes, percussion; Kyle Johnson, Jason Kutz, Satoko Hayami and Yana Avedyan, piano; Beth Larson and Isabella Lippi, violin; Karl Lavine, cello (below); ARTemis Ensemble.

Friday, March 19 — Works by living composers Linda Kachelmeier, Elsa M’bala, Doina Rotaru (below top) and Eunike Tanzil, as well as Medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen (below bottom) and Romantic-era Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel. Specific works are not named. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear flutist Iva Ugrcic play Doina Rotaru’s haunting “Japanese Garden.”)

Performers include: Iva Ugrcic, flute; Jose Ignacio Santos Aquino, clarinet; Midori Samson, bassoon; Breta Saganski and Dave Alcorn, percussion; Satoko Hayami (below), Jason Kutz and Eunike Tanzil, piano; ARTemis Ensemble

Friday, March 26 — Alexandra Olsavsky, Edna Alejandra Longoria, Kate Soper and Jenni Brandon as well as post-Romantic era American composer Amy Beach (below bottom). Specific pieces are not named. 

Performers include: ARTemis Ensemble; a string quartet with violinists Isabella Lippi and Laura Burns, violist Fabio Saggin, and cellist Mark Bridges (below); Jeff Takaki, bass; Vincent Fuh and Kyle Johnson, piano; Jennifer Lien, soprano; Iva Ugrcic, flute.

THREE OPTIONS FOR ATTENDING

•   Website — https://www.fusmadison.org/musicales

•   Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/fusmadison

•   YouTube — https://www.youtube.com/fusmadison > “Playlists” > “Music at FUS”

ABOUT THE “FRIDAY NOON MUSICALES” RECITAL SERIES

•   The Friday Noon Musicales at First Unitarian Society is a free noon-hour recital series offered as a gift to the community. 

•   Founded in 1971, 2020-2021 is the series’ 50th season. 

•   The series has featured some of the finest musicians in the Midwest, who flock to perform in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium.

•   The music performed is mostly classical, but folk, jazz and musical theater styles are presented on occasion.

•   During the pandemic, the Musicales have largely been on hiatus.

JUSTICE AND MUSIC INITIATIVE (JAM)

•   The Justice And Music Initiative (JAM) at the First Unitarian Society of Madison represents a commitment to more socially equitable and earth-friendly music practices. 

•   This commitment includes music performed on our campus, both for worship and non-worship events. 

•   To help achieve our goal, we recognize and celebrate recognition days and months with our musical selections, such as Hispanic Heritage Month (9/15–10/15), LGBT History Month (October); Native American Indian Heritage Month (November), Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), and African-American Music Appreciation Month (prev. Black Music Month; June).


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The eighth annual UW Schubertiade is this Sunday afternoon. It features a FREE online retrospective of the past seven years plus a new four-hand piano performance

January 29, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The University of Wisconsin has posted the following announcement:

For the eighth consecutive year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music will present its annual Schubertiade — a special concert celebrating the music of Franz Schubert (below).

Traditionally these concerts have been held around the composer’s birthday. This year’s concert will in fact occur on his birthday — this Sunday, Jan. 31, at 3-4:30 p.m. CST. The pre-recorded premiere is at: https://youtu.be/7sshhKiFPAg

You can also use the link to prepare for the concert before or during the concert. You will find the program with song titles, the original German texts and English translation, and biographies of the performers by simply clicking on “SHOW MORE” on the YouTube website and follow the links to PDFs.

BECAUSE THERE ARE NO COPYRIGHT ISSUES, ACCORDING TO UW OFFICIALS, THE POST SHOULD BE UP AND AVAILABLE INDEFINITELY AFTER ITS PREMIERE.

As in past years, founders and performers Martha Fischer (below left), professor of piano and head of the collaborative piano program at UW-Madison, and her husband Bill Lutes (below right), an independent piano teacher, and UW emeritus artist-in-residence, will host the program.

These concerts have been presented in the sprit of the first Schubertiades (below, in a painting by Julius Schmid) that took place during the composer’s lifetime (1797-1828) in the homes of his friends and fellow artists, poets and fans.

These were social as well as musical occasions with Schubert himself presiding at the piano, giving his audience a chance to hear his latest songs, piano duets and chamber music, as well as pieces that had already become favorites.

This year’s Schubertiade will be different in response to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It will be an online look back — or Rückblick — at past concerts, with songs chosen from performances that have been preserved in the audio and video archive.

The featured performers will include faculty members, students and alumni from the Mead Witter School of Music, along with special guests.

In addition, pianists Fischer and Lutes will give a “new” performance recorded for this occasion of the great Fantasie in F minor for piano duet. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear that work, performed by Dutch brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen and recorded live in Seoul, South Korea.)

The songs have been chosen to reflect themes that were not only relevant to Schubert and his circle, but also to all of us in the midst of this challenging time: hope for a brighter future; the need for connection with others; remembrance of happier times; and the consolation to be found in nature.

Schubert left a vast and precious legacy of beauty — an enormous output of music that he composed in his short lifetime.

In a sense, each time his music is performed and heard, it is a journey from the past to our own time, the sounds speaking to us today as vividly and consolingly as they did when they were created 200 years ago.

Performers

Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes, pianists

Alumni:

Jamie-Rose Guarrine, soprano (below, in a photo by Peter Konerko)
Emily Birsan, soprano
Michael Roemer, baritone
Jennifer D’Agostino, soprano
Daniel O’Dea, tenor
Wesley Dunnagan, tenor
Sarah Brailey (alumna and current DMA student)
Sara Guttenberg

Guests:

Marie McManama, soprano
Cheryl Bensman-Rowe, mezzo-soprano

Faculty:

Mimmi Fulmer, soprano
Paul Rowe, baritone (below)
Julia Rottmayer, soprano

Staff

David Alcorn, videographer, editor, etc.
Katrin Talbot, images for audio only tracks

 


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Classical music: Today is Sept. 11, 2020. Here is music to mark the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks during the coronavirus pandemic. What would you choose?

September 11, 2020
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CORRECTION: The Virtual Gala fundraiser for the Handel Aria Competition started last night, and will end on Thursday, Oct. 1 – NOT on Oct. 11, as mistakenly stated in yesterday’s blog headline. Here is a link with more information: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/09/10/classical-music-the-worldwide-virtual-and-online-gala-fundraiser-for-the-handel-aria-competition-starts-today-and-runs-through-oct-10-donations-will-be-matched-up-to-2000/

By Jacob Stockinger

Today marks 19 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

For the basic information, here is a Wikipedia summary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks

There are many ways to remember and honor the dead and the injured in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and Shanksvillle, Pennsylvania. And in past years, The Ear has offered many different ones.

There are the well-known requiems by Mozart, Brahms, Verdi and Faure; passions by Bach; and other works.

There are also the pieces especially composed for the commemoration, including “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning work by John Adams that incorporates police tapes and phone calls, and Steve Reich’s “WTC 9/11.”

But this year there is the coronavirus to deal with and complicate the commemorations.

Here is a story from NBC News about how the official commemorations, both real and virtual, will be affected by the pandemic.

And somehow in such circumstances, it feels like back to basic is a good approach.

So here, in the YouTube video at the bottom, is the most universal piece of mourning that The Ear knows: American composer Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” as played by Leonard Slatkin conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

It serves to mark 9/11 but perhaps also the more than 190,000 American deaths so far from the Covid-19 pandemic.

You can find other versions and other pieces on YouTube:

What piece would you want to hear to mark this sad and solemn occasion?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Today is the Fourth of July. Here are two extended playlists of American masterpieces

July 4, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Independence Day – the Fourth of July holiday.

It is a good occasion to listen to classical music by American composers (below), which you can hear much of the day on Wisconsin Public Radio.

But here are two other extended playlists of American classical music:

Here, thanks to a California radio station, is a list with complete performances of some of the best American masterpieces, including the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak, the “Afro-American” Symphony by William Grant Still (below), “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin and “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” by Leonard Bernstein:

https://www.capradio.org/music/classical/2019/07/04/playlist-american-classical-music-for-your-fourth-of-july/

And thanks to Minnesota Public Radio, here are four hours of patriotic music for the holiday: https://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2018/06/29/celebrate-the-fourth-of-july-with-our-4hour-patriotic-classical-playlist

Finally, in the YouTube at the bottom is the “American” String Quartet by Antonin Dvorak (below), who summered in Spillville, Iowa. He loved hearing and tried to capture sounds of nature, including bird songs, traditional Black spirituals and music by Native Americans.

The Ear especially likes it because it is proof that just as Americans have been influenced by European composers, European composers, European composers have been influenced by American composers.

Do you have a special or favorite piece of classical music to help celebrate the Fourth of July?

What do you like about it?

Leave a comment with a YouTube link if possible?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: The prize-winning critic Alex Ross grieves to Brahms. What composer and piece would you choose to mourn the tragedies of the past week?

May 30, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This past week feels like a week that deserves mass grieving.

Of course, there was the life-changing, historic landmark of surpassing, in only a few months, more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

There were the spikes in new COVID-19 cases and deaths following the opening up from lockdowns and the mass gatherings over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, such as the party at the Lake of the Ozarks (below) in Missouri.

Then there was the tragic, racist death — an alleged murder — of George Floyd by the police and the ensuing rioting, violence and additional death in Minneapolis as well as the seven shootings among protesters in Louisville.

And depending of your political point of view, there were the incidents of White House threats against social media, especially Twitter, for simply telling the truth or at least directing viewers to it.

So what can one say about these sad events and sad times with music?

Well, not too long ago Alex Ross (below), the prize-winning and internationally respected music critic for The New Yorker magazine, wrote an engaging and moving essay about why he finds Brahms to be the perfect composer for grieving and mourning.

He mentions other composers as possibilities, including Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

But Ross still finds Brahms more suited for several reasons. He even cites a favorite performance of a Brahms short, late Intermezzo by the Romanian pianist Radu Lupu. (You can hear that performance in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/grieving-with-brahms

What composers – and what pieces or performances – do you find best for grieving? For marking loss?

Read the essay, listen to the music.

Then let us know in the comment section what music – perhaps Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings? – that you would want to listen to during sad occasions.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: This summer’s Handel Aria Competition is postponed again — until next summer. But a Virtual Gala with new performances will be held online on Sept. 10

May 20, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 8th Annual Handel Aria Competition (below) has been postponed for a second time — until 2021 — for the safety of our singers, musicians and audience members.

The upper age limit for the competition will be extended when the competition resumes, so that all singers eligible this year can still participate.

We are introducing a new initiative to support the finalists from the past seasons of the competition – all of whom have had their opportunities to perform severely curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic. Your assistance in spreading the word would be much appreciated!

Originating in Madison, the Handel Aria Competition Virtual Gala will take place online and worldwide on Thursday, Sept. 10, at 7:30 p.m.

While the gala will not actually be live, since it requires editing together many separate elements of video, it will be shared via Facebook Live and also be available on YouTube and our website (see below).

It is our plan to feature professionally recorded Baroque arias specially performed for the occasion by past finalists and winners, as well as some of the videos recorded during the competition itself. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear bass-baritone Jonathan Woody singing an aria from the oratorio “Belshazzar” in 2019.)

We are also going to ask the finalists to record short video quotes about how the Handel Aria Competition has helped their careers, and why they love singing Handel.

Our host will be the Handel Aria Competition’s artistic director — and first prize-winner in 2015 — Sarah Brailey (below), who is also pursuing her doctorate at the UW-Madison.

Thanks to individual donations and foundation grants, all of the funds raised during the gala will be shared among the participating singers.

We hope you will join us in showing that we value their talent, and want to help them get through this difficult time.

For news updates and details, go to: https://handelariacompetition.com

 


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Classical music: Today is May 5  — Cinco de Mayo. And here is a work by Mexican composer Gustavo Campa to celebrate the holiday

May 5, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is May 5 – the colorful Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo.

If you don’t know the origins of the holiday and what events sparked it, here is a link to the Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinco_de_Mayo

Usually the music that celebrates the holiday is popular music or folk music – including mariachi bands and guitar music.

But there is also a good amount of classical music by Mexican composers that can mark the occasion.

In past years, this blog has featured Mexican performing artists such as the terrific pianist Jorge Federico Osorio and the most famous Mexican composer, Carlos Chavez (below, in a photo by Paul Strand).

But there are many others.

Perhaps programming and performing more Mexican and Latin American composers and music would help attract Latinx listeners to concert halls once they reopen.

In any case, here is a link to a sampler or compilation of Mexican music found on Spotify:

https://www.classicalmusicindy.org/cinco-de-mayo-playlist/

And here, in the YouTube video at the bottom, is a lovely “Melody” for violin and orchestra, with a photo essay, by the Mexican composer Gustavo Campa (below) along with a link to his biography:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustavo_Campa

Happy Cinco de Mayo!


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