The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel counters pianist Gabriele Montero and defends for art’s sake his remaining distant and quiet about the political and social protests in Venezuela.

March 22, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps you have been seeing the many news reports about the major student-led political and social protests going on in Venezuela. They concern corruption, poverty, food shortages and the general ineptitude of Nicolas Maduro, the narrowly elected leader who followed the populist and leftist strong man Hugo Chavez after he died a year ago.

Venezuela protest 2014

venezuela mass protests

Then the protests spilled over into the artistic world.

Take the Venezuela-born pianist Gabriele Montero (below). You may recall that not long ago she played the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15, by Ludwig van Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. She is also known for her improvisations, once of which she performed as an encore in Madison.

Montero has voiced a strong protest over the deadly upheaval in her native land.

Gabriela Montero

She also called on her colleague, superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel (below), who now leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic as well as the student Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Venezuela, to speak up about what was happening in his homeland. When he didn’t, she took him to task and protested his silence or his tacit endorsement of the failing government.

DudamelChris Christodoulou

Montero compared Dudamel handling of Venezuela to the election endorsements that two well-known Russian musicians with international reputations — conductor Valery Gergiev (below top on the right with Vladimir Putin) and opera diva Anna Netrebko (below bottom on the right with Putin) — gave to Russian President and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. (Hmm–The Ear wonders how Gergiev and Netrebko stand on Ukraine and the Anschluss or illegal annexation of Crimea.) But that is another issue for another time and another post.

vladimir putin decorates valery gergiev

Anna Netrebko and Vladimir Putin

Here is an open letter that Montero wrote to Dudamel, as it was reprinted in British critic Norman Lebrecht’s blog “Slipped Disc”:

https://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2014/02/an-open-letter-to-gustavo-dudamel-on-the-venezeuala-situation.html

Dudamel has been silent or timid at best, and many have said it is because Hugo Chavez (below top, on the left with Gustavo Dudamel) and his successor Nicolas Maduro (below bottom) have both been generous to “el sistema,” the national music education program out of which Dudamel emerged. Many observers speculated that Dudamel was watching out for the interest of his young followers and successors.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) spe

Nicolas Maduro

Here is his letter response to Montero, also as it appear on Lebrecht’s blog:

https://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2014/02/just-in-gustavo-dudamel-replies-to-gabriela-monteros-open-letter.html

But now Dudamel has spoken out forcefully and more at length, defending himself and saying that he intends to keep politics and arts separate.

Except that his removing himself from the controversy is itself political enough, and getting more so. The Ear recalls the saying of the 19-century Romantic French novelist Stendhal that speaking of politics in things of the imagination (like art) is like firing a gun in the middle of a concert.

Anyway, The Ear recently stumbled across a story by The Boston Globe that provided a very good wrap-up of Dudamel’s current position and also included an excellent chronology and summary of the background including Montero’s point of view and accusations.

Here is a link:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2014/03/15/los-angeles-philharmonic-gustavo-dudamel-will-play-music-not-politics/3jz5l0elMa9InVgR4GCZaI/story.html

What do you think?

Should Gustavo Dudamel speak up about the protests and government killings in Venezuela?

Or should art and politics be kept separate?

Does this controversy change what you think of either pianist Gabriele Montero or conductor Gustavo Dudamel?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: Superstar fashionista pianist Yuja Wang is in the news again with her new recording of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev concertos. In an interview she talks about everything including her piano playing, her small hands and her controversial concert clothes.

December 28, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There are a lot of talented young pianists on the scene today including Daniil Trifonov, Lang Lang, Jan LisieckiKirill Gerstein, Yundi Lee, Benjamin Grosvenor, Jonathan Biss, Igor Levit and Inon Barnaton, to name just a few.

But few make the waves that 26-year-old pianist Yuja Wang (below) always does. She is nothing short of electrifying to see and hear, according to the reviews I have read – even the reviews that don’t especially like her interpretations. (The Ear would like to hear Wang perform some serious Classical and Baroque works, not just later Romantic or modern music.)

YujaWang casual photo

Yang’s latest venture is an exciting recording for Deutsche Grammophon (below) of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s gargantuan Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor and Sergei Prokofiev’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor.

Yang – featured on the cover in almost a parody of the Madame Butterfly look with fake eyelashes — performs them live with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela under its superstar alumnus Gustavo Dudamel, who is now the music director and conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. (You can hear Dudamel’s take on Wang in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Yuja Wang Rach 3 CD coverGD

I have listened to the recording, and these are high-octane performances that remind one, for better and worse, of Vladimir Horowitz and Martha Argerich — not bad artists to be compared to. 

But Yuja Wang has added to their appeal with an interview she recently did with the Los Angles Times on the occasion of four performances in LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall that was designed by Frank Gehry. It even builds on the one she did with NPR in which she compared Rachmaninoff to jazz great Art Tatum in this mastery of improvisation:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/02/243942819/yuja-wang-rooted-in-diligence-inspired-by-improvisation

In a surprisingly candid and matter-of-fact manner, she covered a lot of topics.

They included he background, her training, her taste in non-classical music, her piano playing and acclaimed technique, even her controversial concert attire such as the scarlet micro-skirt (below top) she wore at the Hollywood Bowl and the thigh-high slit black gown and stiletto heels she wore for her Carnegie Hall debut (below bottom).

yuja wang dress times 3

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Ruby Washington NYTimes

Here is a link to the interview, which I hope you enjoy as much as The Ear did:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-conversation-yuja-wang,0,3852129.story#axzz2oDubILHw


Classical music: Sexy phenom pianist Yuja Wang sees Rachmaninoff rooted in improvisation and compares him to jazz giant Art Tatum. Hear her talk – and play — on NPR. Also, Marvin Rabin, founder of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, has died at 97.

December 7, 2013
3 Comments

NEWS ALERT: Marvin Rabin (below, at an award dinner in 2011),  the man who founded and directed the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra back in the 1960s, after a similar history in Louisville and Boston, died at 97 (NOT 95, as I erroneously first stated) on Thursday night. He was a giant in the field of music education, and had a national and international reputation. Look for a longer blog posting tomorrow, on Sunday. He was an amazingly talented, devoted and humane person who affected tens of thousands of lives for the better.

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/wyso-founder-dr-marvin-rabin-passes-away/

Rabin portrait USE

By Jacob Stockinger

Was that refreshing or what?

Maybe it even shows that there is more of an NPR audience for classical music than for some of the hip-hop and Latin stuff they cover to attract younger audiences. One can always hope.

Twenty-six years old and already a superstar, piano phenom Yuja Wang proved playful and articulate as she promoted her new recording (below) for Deutsche Grammophon. It features Sergei Rachmaninoff’s famous Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor and Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, both with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela under its superstar former conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who now is the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. (The Madame Butterfly eye lashes on the CD’s cover are a bit much, no? It’s guilding the lotus, The Ear would say. Wang is attractive and sexy enough just as she is.)

Yuja Wang Rach 3 CD coverGD

Yuja Wang and Gustavo Dudamel make a great team, as you can hear in the excerpts in the YouTube video at the bottom. And watch how, since she is wearing s strapless dress, you can see how her shoulder and chest muscles get that big sound from a small woman.)

Relaxed and freewheeling, Wang herself proved a great improviser in an interview with NPR’s “Morning Edition” co-host Steve Inskeep as she deconstructed and eve performed parts of the “Rach 3” (below, in the NPR studio in a photo by Diane DeBelius).

yuja wang at npr Denise DeBelius NPR

Wang also emphasized the improvisational qualities of the music and compared Rachmaninoff (below top), one favorite of Vladimir Horowitz (below middle), to the blind jazz giant Art Tatum (below bottom), another favorite of Horowitz. I myself think it is very controlled improvisation, much like the music of Frederic Chopin.

Rachmaninoff

Vladimir Horowitz

art tatum

You may recall that the work in question is the titanic, knuckle-busting and wrist-taxing Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor that ruined pianist David Helfgott’s sanity or at least triggered his nervous breakdown in the 1996 Australian film “Shine.”

Be sure to listen to Wang’s expressive voice and to read the Readers’ Comments. There are quite a few – and just about all positive.

Many of them see Yuja Wang as a new Vladimir Horowitz — an obvious comparison reinforced by both the way she plays and the repertoire she plays. (Why not see her as the new Martha Argerich — whom Horowitz himself said had learned much from him.)

But the readers also clearly encourage NRP to do more stories along these lines.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/02/243942819/yuja-wang-rooted-in-diligence-inspired-by-improvisation

And guess what?

There was no talk about her attractive looks and the sexy micro-skirts and black gown with heels and thigh-slits (below) that have sparked such controversy when she played in them at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall, respectively.

yuja wang dress times 3

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Ruby Washington NYTimes


Classical music: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Mahler’s 8th for “LA Phil Live in HD” on Saturday; and the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble continues its long tradition of championing early music in the Madison area.

February 17, 2012
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Alert: Gustavo meets Gustav again this Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Eastgate and Point Cinemas, when the “LA Phil Live in HD” broadcast features the 31-year-old superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel (below) with the combined Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Venezuela and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, plus soloists and choirs,  performing Gustav Mahler‘s famous Symphony No. 8, the “Symphony of a Thousand.” Tickets are $20 for adults, $16 for children. For information, here is a link to a New York TImes story: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/15/arts/music/gustavo-dudamel-and-los-angeles-philharmonic-hailed-in-caracas.html?pagewanted=all

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) has established such high standards of programming and performance that it is easy to take them for granted.

But their mid-season concert at The Gates of Heaven on last Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12, in the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below) in James Madison Park was another opportunity to appreciate what musical riches they bring to us.

The program was a typical mixture of genres and national styles.

Two works for low stringed instruments provided focal points. One was played adroitly by Anton TenWolde (below, front left): an early example of a cello sonata, by the late-17th century Bolognese master Domenico Gabrielli (no relation to the Venetian Gabrielis: note difference in spelling!). The other was the third of Bach’s sonatas for viola da gamba, given a bracing reading by Eric Miller.

On the vocal side, soprano Mimmi Fulmer and mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo (below) joined in two examples of the small-scaled sacred pieces (with German texts) by Heinrich Schütz, with both blending of, and contrast between, their fine voices. Later, they took turns at the verses making up one of Lalande’s settings of the Latin Lamentations for Good Friday, powerfully emotional expressions of sacred anguish.

Climaxing each of the program’s two halves were demanding chamber works.

From François Couperin, one of the concerts from his set of Les Goûts-réunis (“The Tastes Reconciled”), endeavoring to reconcile the Italian style of Corelli with the French mode of ensemble writing. Violinist Edith Hines (below) had ample opportunity to shine in its eight contrasting movements.

And, as a grand finale, all the instrumentalists joined together (with harpsichordist Max Yount (below), the anchor throughout the entire program) for Marin Marais‘s extravagant fantasy on bell-pealing, the “Sonnerie de Sainte Geneviève du Mont” (at bottom) wherein Hines and Miller brought further virtuosity to bear.

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble was, from 1990, the pioneer regional group devoted to exploring early music and historical performance practices.

Its survival this long is one of the demonstrations of Madison’s exciting yet mature nurturing of literature beyond the conventional. We continue to be in the WBE’s debt.


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