The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Did she know or didn’t she? Here is the factual background about a flawed diva if you go to see the movies “Florence Foster Jenkins” or “Marguerite”

August 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week, The Ear saw the movie “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a story about the amateur singer Florence Foster Jenkins (below, in the 1920s in a photo from Getty Images), who was famous in the early- to mid-20th-century for singing terribly, painfully and laughably off-key but who nonetheless pursued performing in public and sold a lot of records.

Florence Foster Jenkins in the 1920s GETTY IMAGES

During the Wisconsin Film Festival, The Ear also saw a French movie, “Marguerite,” with a similar story line and main character.

Of the two, he much preferred “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Meryl Streep (below) plays the flawed diva with total commitment. The Ear suspects it will garner Streep, who did her own bad singing to perfection, her 20th Academy Award nomination, even if she doesn’t win a fourth Oscar.

British actor Hugh Grant might also be nominated for his supporting role as the British out-of-work actor who becomes her protector, promoter and caring love partner St. Clair Bayfield.

In additon, her piano accompanist Cosmé McMoon, played by Simon Helberg, who could also receive an Oscar nomination, develops into a memorable secondary character.

The English script — directed by the talented Stephen Frears –seemed more tightly written with better characters and dialogue than the French one, which dragged on too long and seemed forced in its ending, although both movies share similarities in their endings.

But to be honest, with both of the films The Ear had a major problem with suspending disbelief.

He just can’t believe that Jenkins didn’t know how badly she sang.

You can hear her butcher the famous and difficult “Queen of the Night” aria from “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Anyway, the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR, or National Public Radio, has provided an excellent background piece, a very factual biography of Jenkins, that also asks famous singers whether it is possible for Jenkins not to have known how flawed her singing was.

All The Ear knows is that if he played the piano that badly, he sure wouldn’t go perform a recital in Carnegie Hall.

Here is a link to the blog piece by Tom Huizenga:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/10/488724807/killing-me-sharply-with-her-song-the-improbable-story-of-florence-foster-jenkins

Now if you go to either or both movies, here is what The Ear wants to know:

Which film about Florence Foster Jenkins did you prefer, and why?

And do you think it is possible to sing as badly as Jenkins did without knowing it?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Let us now praise afternoon concerts. The Ear looks forward to two this weekend – by the Perlman Piano Trio and the Pro Arte String Quartet. Plus, wind music and harpsichord music are featured this week at the First Unitarian Society of Madison

April 6, 2016
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ALERTS: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, features the Mad Reeds Trio. The group’s members are: Laura Medisky, oboe; Bethany Schultz, clarinet; and Cindy Cameron-Fix, bassoon. They will perform music by Georges Auric, Alexander Tansman and Damian Montano.

Then on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., in the same venue, a recital by harpsichordist Mark Shuldiner. April 9, 7:30 p.m. will feature works by Jean-Henri D’Anglebert, Louis Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Bernardo Storace and Girolamo Frescobaldi.

It is a free concert, but donations will be accepted to benefit Madison Music Makers, which helps underserved children study music.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has always found the weekend afternoons are good times for concerts. One is usually both relaxed and attentive. And indeed, both the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and Edgewood College often schedule appealing concerts at an afternoon time.

They are not alone. As an aside, The Ear recalls that Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. was the preferred time for famed piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz, who felt that then both he and the audience were at their optimum.

Anyway, this weekend there are two FREE chamber music concerts that The Ear wants to draw your attention to.

SATURDAY

On Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the Perlman Piano Trio (below) will perform its only concert of the season.

The program, all masterpieces, features the Piano Trio in E Major, K. 542, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, by Robert Schumann; and the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, by Johannes Brahms.

The trio of scholarship winners, funded by retired chemist Dr. Kato Perlman, consists of Adam Dorn, violin (below left); SeungWha Baek, piano (below center); and Micah Cheng, cello. For the quintet, the trio will be joined by Keisuke Yamamoto on the violin and Luke Carmichael Valmadrid on the viola.

Here is a link with more information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/the-perlman-piano-trio/

And here is more background from A Tempo, the music blog at the UW-Madison compiled and written by concert manager and publicity director Katherine Esposito:

“It’s my first piano trio,” says violinist Adam Dorn, a Minneapolis native. “It’s very high-caliber playing, very different from anything I’ve ever done. And being given a scholarship to do something that you love is amazing.”

The trio is coached by Martha Fischer, UW-Madison professor of collaborative piano, and Parry Karp, UW-Madison cellist of the Pro Arte Quartet.

A reception will follow the concert.

Perlman Piano Trio 2016

SUNDAY

Then on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) will give a FREE concert of some interesting rarities.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The program features UW-Madison guest soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below top), in a work by Ottorino Respighi plus another Respighi work, the Doric Quartet, and the String Quartet No. 3 by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below bottom), the Viennese-Czech Jewish composer and child prodigy who was exiled in Hollywood when he fled Hitler, the Nazis and World War II and who made his name and livelihood by composing popular film scores and compositions that won Oscar and Grammy awards.

You can hear the lovely slow movement of Korngold’s String Quartet No. 3 in the YouTube video at the bottom.

To The Ear, the Korngold work seems an especially fitting choice for the Pro Arte Quartet, which was founded in Brussels, Belgium, and itself was exiled in Wisconsin when Hitler invaded its homeland.

The quartet, which had come to play in the Wisconsin Union Theater the complete cycle of string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven, was then offered a job as artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison — the first such appointment anywhere for a musical group — and it has remained here ever since. It is now more than 100 years old, making the Pro Arte Quartet the oldest string quartet in history.

Elizabeth Hagedorn singing 2

erich wolfgang korngold at piano

Here is a link with more information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-3/


Classical music: The critically acclaimed vocal group Cantus sings about four kinds of love at the Stoughton Opera House this Saturday night. The Stoughton High School Concert Choir is a special guest performer.

March 30, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received word about an intriguing and appealing performance this weekend:

On this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., Cantus (below top, in a photo by Curtis Johnson), the critically acclaimed, nine-voice men’s vocal ensemble based in the Twin Cities, will perform at the Stoughton Opera House (below middle and bottom), known for its historical restoration and its fine acoustics.

Cantus Railing Clustered

Stoughton Opera House ext

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

Love has been the inspiration for artistic expression since the dawn of time. It is such a complex idea that the ancient Greeks broke it down into four different kinds: romantic, familial, friendly and unconditional or spiritual love.

Weaving together repertoire and interstitial remarks, Cantus regards this unquantifiable emotion from all sides.

The program spans multiple historical eras and cultural traditions.

It features music by Francis Poulenc, Edvard Grieg, Ludwig van Beethoven and Bobby McFerrin.

Each of those works is paired with newly commissioned works exploring each of the four loves (romantic, familial, friendly and spiritual) by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang (below top, in a photo by Peter Serling) as well as Roger Treece (second below), Joseph Gregorio (third below) and Ysaye Barnwell (below bottom).

david lang CR peter serling

Roger Treece

Joseph Gregorio

Ysaye Barnwell

The program brims with Cantus’s trademark programming juxtaposition, including pairing the Beach Boys’ “Their Hearts were Full of Spring” with  “Wedding Qawwali” by the Grammy Award- and Academy Award-winning Indian composer A. R. Rahman (below) and Michael McGlynn’s setting of the traditional Gaelic “Ceann Dubh Dilis (Her Sweet Dark Head)” in a set about romantic love.

A. R, Rahman

While seemingly disjointed on its face, the variety of repertoire throughout blends seamlessly and highlights the universality of Love – our greatest and most fragile gift.

For more information about Cantus, including biographies, photos, videos and audio samples, visit this link:

http://www.allianceartistmanagement.com/artist.php?id=cantus&aview=dpk

Here is a YouTube video about the program, with musical samples, to be performed in Stoughton:


Classical music: Violinist Daniel Hope explores the music created by composers who emigrated from Nazi Europe to Hollywood and wrote film scores. He performs that music with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend.

March 2, 2015
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

British violinist Daniel Hope (below) is a man on a mission.

Hope wants to foster the public’s appreciation of the composers who had to flee from Nazi Europe during World War II and who ended up exiled in Hollywood, where they composed film scores. They ended up creating the  “Hollywood sound” and often won Oscars or Academy Awards, but recognition as serious concert composers usually eluded them.

Daniel Hope playing

Until recently.

Lately, a rediscovery of their merits has been taking place, and Hope will explore that legacy with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and its longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

The program for “Composers in Exile: Creating the Hollywood Sound” includes the Violin Concerto and Suite from “Captain Blood” by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; the Sinfonietta for Strings and Tympani, and the score to “Taras Bulba” by Franz Waxman, who also founded the Los Angeles Music Festival in 1947; and the “Theme, Variations and Finale” as well as “The Parade of the Charioteers” and the “Love Theme” from “Ben-Hur” and the “Love Theme” from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” by Miklos Rozsa.

Tickets are $16-$84 plus fees for the Overture Center.

For program, information about tickets and links to audio samples, visit: http://madisonsymphony.org/hope

For more about the music, here are the program notes by MSO trombonist Michael Allsen who also teaches at the UW-Whitewater:

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1415/6.Mar15.html

The award-winning Daniel Hope, who is busy touring and recording, graciously took time to answer a Q&A for The Ear:

Daniel Hope full face

How would you compare in seriousness and quality these “exiled in Hollywood” composers and their music to other well-known 20th-century composers and mainstream modern classical music?

I don’t make comparisons in music. The composers who escaped the Nazis found themselves for the most part in a very different set of circumstances than those for which they were trained. They were incredibly talented and had to adapt quickly.

I think the more interesting question is what would have happened to 20th-century music if countless musicians and composers had not been forced to leave Europe. (Below is a photo of Igor Stravinsky, on the left, and Franz Waxman in Los Angeles, where Waxman founded a music festival in 1947.) The world of music would be a very different place indeed.

franz waxman with stravinsky

Why do you think these composers and this music were kept out of the concert hall for so long? What traits most mark each composer’s style?

In those days, even writing one number for a movie would almost certainly have ruined your reputation as a “serious composer.” It was seen as selling out. The fact that many of these composers were trying to survive, to support their families and to get their relatives out of Europe, was often forgotten — especially after World War II.

But they were also phenomenally talented at what they did. As the son of Miklos Rozsa (below) wrote to me recently, one day these composers may actually be forgiven for writing film music.

Miklos Rozsa BW

In the case of Korngold (below), he was one of the first to really introduce a leitmotif, a recurring theme that followed the character throughout the film. Essentially an operatic composer, Korngold described each film for which he scored as “an opera without singing,” his music no longer passively accompanying the images but actively engaging in dialogue, emotion and presentation. I believe both Korngold and Max Steiner totally changed American film music, also by adding a fin-de-siècle European symphonic grandeur.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold BW piano

How much of their current appeal is cultural interest, human interest or personal stories, or the quality of the music itself?

I think it’s all of the above. But if you look at the symphonic works of some of the composers, Korngold’s and Rosza’s Violin Concertos or Waxman’s oratorio “The Song of Terezin,” you will find music of the highest quality. And let’s not forget, it was Mahler and Richard Strauss who forecast a great future for the young Korngold. (You can hear the lovely second movement of Korngold’s Violin Concerto performed by Hilary Hahn in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

What factors explain their revival as concert music? How did you rediscover them and become interested in them? Has a loosening of formal definitions of classical genres helped their revival?

I think both the role and the appeal of film music have changed in today’s society. I had long been aware of this group of émigré musicians.

Next to music, I’ve always had a passion for film, most of all for the movies of “vintage Hollywood,” for me the period beginning with the epic cinematic storytelling of the 1930s. As a young violinist, I was struck as much by the sound of the violin in these movies of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. I especially took note of the violinists playing this glorious mood music. To a young boy in London, names like Toscha Seidel, Felix Slatkin, Eudice Shapiro and Louis Kaufman sounded as exotic as the films they embellished.

But then writing for the studio musicians of prewar and postwar Hollywood was a group of astonishing composers, many of whom had escaped the Nazis, and who helped shape what was to become the Hollywood Sound. (Below, y0u can hear excerpts from a sampler from the Deutsche Grammophon CD on which Daniel Hope explores the Hollywood Sound.)

Hollywood muisicians with reels of film

You have recorded this music and performed it many times elsewhere. How do audiences typically respond to it?

Audiences are generally extremely enthusiastic about the music. And many of them are moved or intrigued by the stories of these composers.

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: NPR explores the music soundtracks for movies that nominated for Academy Awards and could receive an Oscar at tonight’s ceremonies airing on ABC-TV.

March 2, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Oscar would no doubt say that movie soundtracks deserve special attention and serious consideration as art music.

YL Oscar foods statue

Of course purists will probably argue that movie soundtracks are not really classical music – except in certain cases like Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” “Shine,” “Amadeus” and such obvious fare.

And it would be hard to disagree with them.

Perhaps some would say that movies are the real operas of our day, except that the music plays a secondary or tertiary role.

Besides, more and more symphony orchestras are turning to concert programs that feature movie soundtracks, perhaps to attract new and younger audiences.

And radio stations seem to be mixing in and playing more and more movie music on their classical programs.

And more and more composers who aspired to be classical composers but who were forced earn a living in Hollywood –- Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below) comes immediately to mind –- are being increasingly programmed for their classical fare as well as their commercial Hollywood work.

erich wolfgang korngold at piano

Besides, “crossover” and “fusion” are the key words of the day in the classical music scene, as you can see with the success of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project (below top) and the “new tangos” by Astor Piazzolla (below bottom), to name but two examples.

Silk Road Ensemble

astor piazzolla

So perhaps it is only natural that, in the run-up to the Academy Awards tonight, NPR and its terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence’ have featured several posts about the music that is featured in nominated movies, especially the story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the late 110-year-old pianist (below, in photo by Yuri Dojc) who survived Auschwitz by playing music, especially the etudes of Frederic Chopin -– and who just died last week. (You can hear her speak and play the piano at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that has almost a million hits.) 

The Ear suspects her story, “The Lady in Number 6,” will win the Oscar for short documentary because she was the oldest survivor of the Holocaust and was a testament to the power of music, and therefore of all art and beauty, over evil and adversity. She embodied hope — a cherished value.

Here is a link to her fascinating and detailed obituary in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/28/world/europe/alice-herz-sommer-pianist-who-survived-holocaust-dies-at-110.html

Alice Herz Sommer CR Yuri Dojc

So as you prepare to watch the live broadcast on ABC-TV tonight starting at 6 p.m. CST (it will also be streamed live), here are links to consider when you think about music and films.

Here is the link to a story about music and documentaries:

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/28/283072030/music-takes-center-stage-in-oscar-nominated-documentaries

Here is an overview of several nominees, including William Butler (below) of Arcade Fire, for Best Score:

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/26/283026146/and-the-oscar-goes-to-mr-star-wars-or-arcade-fire

william butler of arcade fire

And here is a link to another story about quiet music — specifically, composer Alexandre Desplat and his score for “Philomena” starring Judi Dench (below) — and how hard it is to compose and perform:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/02/08/273151282/philomena-and-the-power-of-a-quiet-film-score

Judi Dench in %22Philomena%22

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Classical music: On Oscar weekend, The Ear asks: How realistic are the “quartet” films – “A Late Quartet” and “Quartet” – in dealing with classical music and the lives of classical musicians? Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times offers his level-headed assessment. Plus Steven Bryant’s Concerto for Wind Ensemble gets its Wisconsin premiere tonight at 8.

February 23, 2013
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ALERT: Just a reminder that a Wisconsin premiere takes place tonight — for FREE and with   composer Steven Bryant ( below) present — at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below) and the UW Wind Ensemble. Here are some links: http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/February-2013/The-Most-Successful-Composer-You-Never-Heard-of-Is-Here/ and https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/classical-music-qa-american-composer-steven-bryant-explains-why-wind-and-brass-bands-dont-get-more-respect-as-serious-music-ensembles-even-as-he-prepares-for-a-residency-and-a-premiere/

Steven Bryant 2

By Jacob Stockinger

It is Oscar weekend.

On this Sunday night at 6 p.m. CST on the ABC TV network, the Beautiful People, in their Beautiful Gowns and Beautiful Jewelry, will line up to collect the gold-plated statuettes knows as The Oscars.

It is the Academy Awards, and after a record-breaking box office year at the cinemas, it should be interesting to see who takes home an Oscar.

Here is a link to all the nominees in the many categories:

http://oscar.go.com/nominees

YL Oscar foods statue

Curiously, this has been a terrific year for classical music in the movies. That comes as something of a pleasant surprise, given how much negative coverage is written about the declining state of classical music today.

The film “A Late Quartet” stars (below and from left) Mark Ivanir, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener. It examines the individual lives and collective life of a string quartet. I really liked it, despite some awkward moments. And it centers on the late Op. 131 String Quartet in C-sharp minor by Beethoven. That is the same sublime work of chamber music that a dying Franz Schubert asked to hear played.

A Late Quartet frontal

Then legendary actor Dustin Hoffman (below) made his directing debut in “Quartet,” about retired opera singers and instrumentalists living in a retirement home for musicians in England. This romantic comedy starred Maggie Smith, she of “Downton Abbey” fame right now, and was a lot of fun to watch and listen to. (“Quartet” is still playing the Point Cinemas on Madison’s far west side.)

dustin hoffman directing

“Quartet” stars (below and from the left, in a photo by Kerry Brown for the Weinstein Company) Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins. It features opera music and chamber music by Haydn, Rossini, Puccini and others,  but the film centers on a quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” plays an especially pivotal role.

QUARTET Large

And the shattering, much nominated film “Amour,” by Michael Haneke, featured the story of the decline and death of a piano teacher. (Haneke also directed the unsettling film “The Piano Teacher” several years ago, and seems to have something with pianos and pianists.)

“Amour” (with screen vetefans Jean-Louis Trintignant (below top) and Emmanuelle Riva (below bottom) is playing in Madison at the Sundance Cinemas at Hilldale.

Amour Jean-Louis Trintignant

amour emmanuelle riva

It also uses piano music of Bach-Busoni, Beethoven and Schubert (below bottom), played by the young and wonderful French pianist Alexandre Tharaud (below bottom), who is best known for his playing of Baroque music (Francois Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti ) on the modern piano although he has also recorded Chopin, Ravel, Satie and others. His playing is a model of clarity and fluidity.

Alexandre Tharaud  Marco Borggreve Virgin Classics

Anyway, I have heard somewhat mixed reactions to the various films, although the shattering “Amour,” comes the closest to being unanimous in the acclaim it has received and it is up for several Oscars, including Best Picture.

As for the two “Quartet” films: a very perceptive and understanding appreciation was published several weeks ago by Anthony Tommasini (below), the senior music critic for the New York Times.

tommasini-190

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/arts/music/a-late-quartet-and-quartet-with-music-making-on-film.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

What do you think about the resurgence of classical music in the films, as both plot and soundtracks?

And what do you think of the films and of Tommasini’s take on them?

The Ear wants to hear.


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