The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Sept. 11. What music would you listen to, to commemorate the terrorist attacks on that day

September 11, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The news today will be filled with Hurricane Irma, Hurricane José and Hurricane Harvey as well as the wildfires raging out west.

But today is also Sept. 11, 2017.

That makes today the 16th anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in the Twin Towers in New York City (below top); the Pentagon in Virginia, close to Washington, D.C. (below middle); and that thwarted hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, which passengers forced to crash in a field in Pennsylvania (below bottom)  before it could reach the Capitol or White House.

During the September 11 attacks, 2,996 people were killed and more than 6,000 others wounded. These immediate deaths included 265 on the four planes (including the 19 terrorists), 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon.

A lot of music could be played to mark the occasion.

At bottom, in a YouTube video, is “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a piece by the American composer John Adams that was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic specifically to mark the event. It ended up winning a Pulitzer Prize.

It uses both an orchestra and a chorus, and it incorporates voices and sounds, actual recordings and tapes, from the events of that day. It all makes for a moving tribute.

But other music, in smaller forms and in many other styles,  would also be appropriate.

What piece would you suggest?


Classical music: Here is music to mark today’s 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11

September 11, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

A lot of classical music – requiems, symphonies, chamber music, solo works – could be used to commemorate the event. You can leave your own suggestions in the COMMENT section.

But The Ear wants to post something specific to the anniversary – something well known and something relatively unknown.

First the well known work:

Here is a slide show with the music “On the Transmigration of Souls,” by the American composer John Adams (below), who was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to compose a work related to 9/11.

John Adams

The composition mixes sounds from actual events with music, and it won the Pulitzer Prize.

When the Madison Symphony Orchestra performed it many seasons ago, it proved a deeply moving experience.

Here it is:

The events inspired other works too, including two by Kevin Puts (below), who was in Madison this summer for the premiere of a new song cycle and performances of his other instrumental works by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

Kevin Puts pulitzer

The Ear sure wishes there was a YouTube performance of the 16-minute work “Falling Dream.”

Here is a description by the composer:

“The piece was written in the months immediately after 9/11. Its composition was initially inspired by news footage I saw in which a couple leaped from one of the burning towers (below) holding hands.

“For months I was incapable of getting the image out of my head. It was so poetic in both its horror and beauty that I almost couldn’t justify a musical reaction to it.

“However I eventually found a way to illustrate the experience in extreme slow motion by creating a counterpoint of two slowly descending melodies, heard first at the beginning of the work. Episodes fade in and out of this slow descent like memories, but the illusion I wanted to create is that the falling never really ceases.

“The last section of the piece is, by contrast, a slowly building ascent that has no programmatic relevance but whose majestic quality functions as a message of hope.”

Twin Towers on 9-11

And here is a performance of Kevin Puts’ Symphony No. 2, which The Ear first heard on Wisconsin Public Radio. It too was informed by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Here is what Puts, who was educated at Yale and the Eastman School of Music and who now teaches at the Peabody Institute of Music at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says about it:

“In the September 24, 2001 issue of The New Yorker writer Jonathan Franzen wrote, “In the space of two hours we left behind a happy era of Game Boy economics and trophy houses and entered a world of fear and vengeance.”

“My second symphony, while by no means a memorial, makes reference to this sudden paradigmatic shift. During the first eight minutes of the work, a slow orchestral build describes the unsuspecting climate pre 9/11, a naïve world aptly described by my mother as a metaphorical island.

“After a brief passage for solo violin, an upheaval of sorts effectively obliterates this opening sentiment and initiates another gradual crescendo which makes use of the same material as the opening, cast this time in darker and more ambiguous harmonic colors.

“Once the entire orchestra reaches the climax of the work, the solo violin returns in a more extended passage than before and subdues the turbulent orchestra. This leads to a reflective epilogue in which a clock-like pulse creates a mood of expectancy and uncertainty, interlaced with hope.”


Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison performs under famed choral conductor Joseph Flummerfelt this Saturday night.

May 6, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following timely and important announcement:

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) and its new artistic director Sergei Pavlov – who teaches at Edgewood College — will close the current season with a special concert this Saturday night, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Christ Presbyterian Church, located at 944 East Gorham Street in downtown Madison.

Festival Choir of Madison at FUS

The performance features one of the legendary American choral conductors, Maestro Joseph Flummerfelt (below right, with Sergei Pavlov). You can hear a long Q&A interview with Joseph Flummerfelt in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Sergei Pavlov (l) with Joseph Flummerfelt

The program with the Festival Choir includes music by German composers Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms, British composer Herbert Howells, Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, Polish composer Henryk Gorecki and Scottish composer James MacMillan. Sorry, no word on individual works to be performed.

Tickets for the evening concert are available at the door and cost between $9 and $15.

Since 1971, Joseph Flummerfelt (below) has been responsible for most of the choral work of the New York Philharmonic, working closely with its music directors Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Alan Gilbert. Until 2004 he was Director of Choral Activities in the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey.

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting side

Joseph Flummerfelt (below) with the Westminster Symphonic Choir and New York Choral Artists has been featured in 45 recordings, including a Grammy Award-winning CD of the Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler with Leonard Bernstein. His collaboration with the great American composer Samuel Barber includes the Grammy Award-winning recording of Barber’s opera “Anthony and Cleopatra.”

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting frontal

In 2004 Flummerfelt was awarded a Grammy for the New York Choral Artists’ recording of “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning composition written by John Adams in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

A master teacher, Flummerfelt’s many former students occupy a number of major choral positions throughout the world. Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below) — the current music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, who, as a teenager, studied with Dr. Flummerfelt in two advanced conducting summer workshops — cites him as one of the two major influences in his life as a conductor. A 2009 New York Times article said, “Mr. Nezet-Seguin called those sessions with Flummerfelt the only significant conducting lessons he ever had.”

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

Flummerfelt has a special connection with Madison as well. As an undergraduate student in De Pauw University in Indiana, he was deeply inspired by a performance of a visiting choir, and the conductor of this group was Robert Fountain, the legendary Director of Choral Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Also on Saturday, May 7 at 11 a.m. there will be a question/answer session for all who would like to meet the Maestro Flummerfelt. The host is Edgewood College, and the session will be at the Washburn Heritage Room in the Regina Building. This is a FREE event.


Classical music: What music will you listen to on Memorial Day? The Ear offers several stirring stories about music and Memorial Day, from Walt Whitman and the Civil War through World War II to the Twin Towers and the War of Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

May 26, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2014

My Mom always referred to it as Decoration Day

I liked that name. It seemed to fit the occasion better.

army grave with flag and flowrds istock photo

To be honest, The Ear has always liked the idea of honoring military service, but is much less inclined to celebrate unabashed militarism with parades and flag-waving (below is a photo of a Memorial Day parade in Chicago).

I think of Memorial Day as a sadder, more introspective and memory-driven holiday, as well as the traditional start of summer -– which, especially after a Wisconsin winter like the last one, is nothing to apologize for.

chicago memorial day parade

In any case, here is a link to an informative but very accessible history of the holiday that also highlights the important difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

graves with flags USE day

But putting history aside for a moment, how would you celebrate the holiday artistically, especially musically?

That is what The Ear wants to know.

Every year, the excellent blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR offers its musical take on Memorial Day. This year is no different and NPR has chosen some moving words and music that you should check out:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/24/315107700/asleep-in-dress-blues-music-for-memorial-day

But over the past years, The Well-Tempered Ear has also offered previous blog posts – some offering suggested listening, others seeking it — that still seem relevant and still invite readers to participate.

Here is one from last year:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/classical-music-for-you-what-classical-music-best-celebrates-memorial-day/

And here is a link to memorable 2011 posting, which made a lot of suggestions for composers and specific works, then asked for reader feedback and also featured the moving version of Sir Edward Elgar’s beautifully poignant “Nimrod” Variation from the “Enigma” Variations (heard in the original orchestration  at the bottom in a YouTube video that has almost 2,5 million hits and features Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and Norah Jones in her “Hymn to America,” both used convincingly and touchingly in Ken Burns’ mammoth documentary film “The War”:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/classical-and-classic-what-music-do-you-think-best-expresses-memorial-day/

Finally, here is a stirring story, much of it previously unknown to me, about the history of “Taps” that appeared on NPR:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/classical-music-for-memorial-day-and-as-a-tribute-to-all-veterans-here-is-the-long-and-moving-history-of-taps-from-npr/

TAPS Getty Images

What music comes to your mind and heart when you think of Memorial Day?

The Ear wants to hear.

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