The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why hasn’t anyone written an opera about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement?

January 19, 2015
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a federal holiday in the US: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

And The Ear has just one question: Why hasn’t anyone yet composed an opera about MLK?

martin luther king 2

His larger-than-life existence has all the necessary operatic elements about it, from being a prisoner in jail and winning the Nobel Peace Prize to meeting with President Johnson in The White House and being assassinated while defending garbage workers in Memphis.

He took part in momentous events, some of them dramatic and violent, that involved huge masses of people.

Plus, he and his staff experienced major individual and personal conflicts.

And the cause he fought for forever altered the course of American history and the civil rights of other individuals and groups advocating women’s rights, Latino rights, gay rights and disabled rights among others.

Martin Luther King speech

Could it be that MLK has not been treated in an opera because the composers are white or non-American?

Who, then, could or should do it?

The contemporary American composer John Adams (below top) comes immediately to mind. He used President Richard Nixon (below bottom is a scene from “Nixon in China, as it was staged at the Metropolitan Opera); physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project in “Doctor Atomic: to create the atomic bomb; and in the still controversial opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” the question of terrorism examined through the story of Jewish tourist Leon Klinghoffer and his Palestinian murderers, to create his successful reality-based historical operas.

John Adams

nixon in china plane

So, why not Martin Luther King Jr.?

Music certainly was vital to King and his campaign.

But what hasn’t he himself been treated as the central figure of an opera?

Maybe the difficulties posed by the King estate would have something to do with it, as they did with the current movie “Selma.”

But one can’t imagine that they are insurmountable.

Anyway, tell us what you think.

Should there be an opera about Martin Luther King Jr.?

Who would be a good composer to write one?

And why do you think one hasn’t already been written? Does racism play a role?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Here are news items. Elusive and eccentric pianist Grigory Sokolov signs with Deutsche Grammophon. Italian maestro Daniele Gatti is named director of the famed Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra remains silent and locked out. And THIS AFTERNOON is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and pianist Olga Kern in an all-Russian program of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich.

October 19, 2014
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is the final performance of this season’s second concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John DeMain. Pianist Olga Kern (below) is the soloist in Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor. Other music includes the Suite from the ballet “Swan Lake” by Peter Tchaikovsky and the Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich. For information about tickets, the artists and the program, visit:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/kern

Here are reviews of Friday night’s opening night performance:

By John W. Barker of Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43817&sid=665cd87de278be4a3d198906d0365515

By Jess Courtier for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/city-life/symphony-review-mercurial-shostakovich-and-glamorous-olga-kern-make-a/article_289ef9a6-568e-11e4-821b-3be5190f72cd.html

And by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes the Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/October-2014/Russian-Music-Savory-and-Sweet/

Olga Kern

By Jacob Stockinger

The much admired but elusive, eccentric and enigmatic Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov (below) has signed up with Deutsche Grammophon and will release a live recital –- he refuses to make studio recordings – in January.

For the news plus an interesting interview and profile of Sokolov, here is a link to a story in the British magazine Gramophone. It includes some of his quirks such as not playing pianos older than five years and his specific repertoire favorites:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/grigory-sokolov-signs-exclusive-contract-with-deutsche-grammophon

Grigory Sokolov, Piano

Italian conductor Daniele Gatti is named the new maestro of the famed Dutch Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. He starts in 2016 and sounds like he might be quite a bit of a contrast to past Concertgebouw conductors such as Bernard Haitink. Here is a story:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/daniele-gatti-named-new-chief-conductor-of-the-royal-concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra continues its lockout over labor disputes, thereby postponing or canceling the opening of the new season. But last weekend ASO music director Robert Spano conducted the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in the German Requiem of Johannes Brahms.

Here is a link to a story on NPR  (National Public Radio) to yet another turmoil in the world of American symphony orchestras:

http://www.npr.org/2014/09/28/351810425/the-atlanta-symphony-lockout-continues-musicians-picket-on-peachtree-street

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Is “The Death of Klinghoffer” anti-Semitic, racist or pro-terrorist? Does it merit protests of and death threats to the Metropolitan Opera? Or is it a painfully realistic and human portrayal of political fanaticism and terrorism? What would Alice say? What do you say?

October 18, 2014
1 Comment

REMINDER: If you can’t or won’t go hear superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott in music by Johannes Brahms, Igor Stravinsky, Astor Piazzolla and others at their SOLD–OUT  recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater TONIGHT, you can stream it LIVE and for FREE by going to this website at 8 p.m.:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about mixing politics and art!

And especially at a time so close to a contemporary conflict — Hamas, Gaza and Israel — that reflects the continuing tensions, frictions and bloodshed depicted in the original art decades ago.

No wonder, then, that the Metropolitan Opera has been protested and has received death threats over the new production of American composer John Adams’ controversial reality-based opera about Israel and Palestinian terrorists called “The Death of Klinghoffer.”

Due to pressure from the pro-Israeli lobby and some Jewish groups, the opera was already canceled as part of this season’s “Live From The Met in HD” telecasts.

Both detractors and defenders of the opera are deeply displeased with the Met.

Klinghoffer protests

But the actual production — which has gone on without incident in other cities at other times — continues in rehearsal as it heads to its opening this Monday night. (At bottom is a YouTube video with the director, conductor and composer of “The Death of Klinghoffer.”) 

Here is a story from The New York Times (Below is a photo from The New York Times by Damon Winter of actor-singers Aubrey Allicock (left) and Paolo Szot):

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/15/arts/music/mets-death-of-klinghoffer-remains-a-lightning-rod-.html?_r=0

MET OPERA Klinghoffer  Damon Winter of NYT Aubrey Allicock (left) and Paolo Szot

And here is another story from The Los Angeles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-death-of-klinghoffer-metropolitan-opera-20141015-story.html

Met Klinghoffer 2

And finally here is a terrific and well-balanced, well-sourced summary story, which includes an interview with librettist Alice Goodman (below) — who converted from Judaism to Christianity and is now an Episcopalian priest in England — about the opera and the protests. It was broadcast Friday on NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/10/17/356889957/twenty-years-later-klinghoffer-still-draws-protests

Alice Goodman

What do you think about the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer”?

Would you be a defender?

Or a detractor and protester?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Ear sees blackmail, censorship, self-censorship and moral weakness –- NOT “compromise” – in the Metropolitan Opera’s decision to cancel the “Live in HD” broadcast of John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer” next fall.

June 24, 2014
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It sure doesn’t seem like the Metropolitan Opera (below) could or should be the hero in this opera. More like it plays the role of the bad guy, the villain.

Met from stage over pit

Or is it really more of a soap opera?

In case you haven’t been following the news, the general director of the Metropolitan Opera Peter Gelb has caved in to pressure from Israeli lobbies and agreed to cancel the scheduled “Live in HD” broadcast of the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” by the acclaimed contemporary American composer John Adams (below and at bottom in a YouTube video with the stage director of the Met’s production.)

John Adams

 The Ear finds that action thoroughly reprehensible.

It seems the pro-Israeli lobby thinks the opera is anti-Semitic and too kind in the way it treats the four Palestinian terrorists — from the Palestine Liberation Organizations — who in 1985 took over the luxury cruise ship the Achille Lauro and killed the disabled Jewish passenger Leon Klingerhoffer in his wheelchair and then threw him overboard.

Well, I want to tell the head honchos at the famed Met: Don’t do my thinking about terrorism and Mideast peace for me. Just give me the facts and let me make up my own mind.

I want to see art, not propaganda, which is apparently what some pro-Israeli activists think would be good for the rest of us. I think I can see tragedy where there is tragedy, whether it is Jewish or Arab tragedy, Israeli or Palestinian tragedy. Just listen to the “Night Chorus” (below) and watch the videos that go with it:

This whole affair sound more than a little to my mind like a protester who would censor William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” or Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” in the name of a higher morality.

I say: Let us see the opera –- it is one of next season’s “Live in HD” satellite broadcasts that I would like most to attend -– and then decide for ourselves.

Stop condescending to us, stop underestimating us.

Now, one suspects that the poor finances of the Met would help to explain a lot of the shameful action. And Gelb admits that donors didn’t pressure him but that groups connected to donors did.

So here is the compromise: There will be no protesting at the actual opera production in New York City –- where tickets can run hundreds of dollars and seating is limited and most of the world cannot and will not see it — and no boycotting or withdrawing of financial support if the Met doesn’t broadcast it worldwide to a much larger audience.

I think I smell blackmail.

What do you smell?

I know I smell censorship on the part of the protesters and self-censorship of the part of the famed opera company’s administrators who caved in to their demands.

“The Death of Klinghoffer” would seem to build on the other news-based or reality-based operas of John Adams that the Met has staged and then broadcast so successfully by the Met: “Nixon in China” (below) about President Richard Nixon meeting Chairman Mao; and “Doctor Atomic,” about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the building of the first atomic bomb.

DeMainNixon Orth2

Here is a line to the story in The New York Times about the original decision:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/18/arts/music/met-opera-cancels-telecast-of-klinghoffer.html?_r=0

And here is a link to reaction from the composer John Adams, who counters objections and make convincing points:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/arts/music/klinghoffer-composer-responds-to-mets-decision.html

Here is a link to a fine critique from the longtime senior music critic for The New York Times Anthony Tommasini:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/arts/music/what-the-death-of-klinghoffer-could-have-accomplished.html

Here a link to a fine editorial that appeared in The Boston Globe:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2014/06/21/met-opera-embarrasses-itself-and-cheats-its-audience-cancelling-klinghoffer-broadcast/2zsWa83uXtcIsFU5eQd0nI/story.html

And here is another great editorial, this one from The New York Times, which is located in a city known for its large Jewish population and, one presumes, its large body of Jewish subscribers:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/opinion/the-metropolitan-operas-backward-move.html

 

 

 

 


Classical music: A FREE Cello Choir concert will take place this Saturday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It features new music and works by Villa-Lobos, Francis Poulenc, J.S. Bach, Cesar Franck, Tchaikovsky and others. Plus, hear a clip of the Fusions Continuum art music concert with cello and oud to promote understanding and peace between Israelis and Arabs.

June 11, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Concerts of chamber music by the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society aren’t the only classical music events happening this weekend.

This week has also seen the annual National Summer Cello Institute (NSCI), which features master classes and performances plus sessions about using Feldenkrais Method and relaxation techniques to best employ one’s physical body to make music through the cello.

cello choir 2

national summer cello Institute 1

For more information about the Institute, here is a link to its home website:

http://www.yourbodyisyourstrad.com/main/2014_National_Summer_Cello_Institute.html

Here is a link to a previous post about the Institute on this blog:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/classical-music-news-for-the-next-two-weeks-madison-will-again-become-the-summer-capital-of-cello-world-and-this-time-the-public-is-invited-to-participate/

A fine musician and good friend of the blog, Professor Uri Vardi (below) teaches cello at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Along with his wife Hagit Vardi and some others, Uri Vardi runs the NSCI and sent this message:

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

Dear Jake,

The 2014 National Summer Cello Institute is ending on this Saturday, June 14, with a public FREE concert in Mills Hall at 8 p.m.

The concert will include “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5 (with soprano Anna Whiteway, below top) and No. 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Both pieces will be played by the NSCI Cello Choir, conducted by Professor James Smith (below bottom) of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Béatrice et Bénédict Rehearsal

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

The program will also include new music: two movements of a “Requiem for 6 Cellos and Double Bass” by former NSCI participant (and future UW-Madison Master’s of Music student) Kyle B. Price in memory of his aunt Connie Barrett (a 2010 NSCI participant).

Other solo pieces are by the following composers:  Francis Poulenc, Cesar Franck, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Peter Tchaikovsky, Johann Sebastian Bach and Jacques Offenbach.

I hope you will be willing to let your blog audience know about this.”

Vardi also took part this past season in a Fusions Continuum Concert that mixed the Western cello and the lute-derived Arabic oud (below) with the purpose of using different kinds of art music to promote peace and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.

oud

Adds Vardi: “Also, I thought you might be interested in a 17-minute YouTube clip of Fusions Continuum:”


Classical music: A FREE “fusion” concert of Arab and Jewish art music will take place on this coming Saturday night on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Plus, the students of UW tenor James Doing will perform a FREE recital of songs and arias this Thursday night at 7.

April 2, 2014
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ALERT: Tomorrow, Thursday night at 7 p.m., University of Wisconsin-Madison tenor James Doing will present another of his FREE  studio recitals. It will feature 17 of his students (below, with Doing on the back row on the far right) — but this time NOT Doing himself — in various works, performed with piano accompaniment. The composers to be heard include George Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, Henri Duparc, Leo Delibes, Manuel DeFalla, Giaocchino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi, Leonard Bernstein and William Bolcom. The Ear has found such recitals in the past extremely informative and extremely enjoyable, a model of teacher-student cooperation based on a kind of master-apprentice model. Here is my review of a previous such recital:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/classical-music-review-uw-tenor-james-doing-successfully-reinvents-the-art-song-recital/ 

2014 James Doing Studio USE

By Jacob Stockinger

It seems to The Ear that the Israel-Palestinian conflict has lately been on the back burner for the most part, though it is heating up again as the Palestinians threaten again to go to the United Nations for official statehood recognition .

israel palestine conflict

Still, that turmoil seems pretty much buried under the turmoil in Ukraine involving Russia’s annexation of Crimea; under the three week-long story of the missing Malaysian jet on its flight to Beijing; and under the tragedy of the massive and deadly mudslide near Seattle.

Add in the civil war in Syria, the student protests in Venezuela, concerns over Iran and nuclear proliferation and some African politics, and you can quickly understand why the Israelis and the Palestinians are less visible these days.

But although their disagreement may be less visible in the headlines, the Jewish-Arab problem is still there and is still urgent in its need to be solved.

After all, President Obama just returned from a trip to the Mideast where he met with to Saudi officials. And his administration continues to look for peace even as troubles from Palestinian rocket attacks to new Israeli construction on the West Bank, still plague the peace process.

So the Israel-Palestinian peace process, and the effort to secure a two-state solution, continues — or so one can hope.

With that background, it might seem that University of Wisconsin-Madison cellist Uri Vardi, who is an Israeli by birth and training, is following the current trend towards using art –- specifically music – to promote cross-cultural understanding and ultimately peace.

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

If that goal seems far-fetched or distant, well you might recall that world-famous conductor Daniel Barenboim has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra that he founded with the late Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said to foster peace by bringing together Israeli and Palestinian young musicians for concerts and recordings.

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, Carnegie Hall

And the universally acclaimed early music master Jordi Savall (below top) and his ensemble Hesperion XXI have just released to rave reviews their second CD volume of music (below bottom) that blends Arabic and European cultures.

savall

Jordi Savall Orient-Occident 2 CD cover

But Uri Vardi is anything but late to the game. For almost two decades he has been promoting such international understanding and peace efforts through art for a very long time through the Fusions Continuum Project.

This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Vardi will play the cello and his friend and colleague Taiseer Elias will play the oud (below) -– a fretless, lute-like instrument that is the ancient ancestor of the guitar and of the entire string family including the violin, viola, cello and double bass.

oud

Taiseer Elias

They will be joined by pianist-composer Menachem Wiesenberg (below), who is seen performing one of his own compositions with our master Taseer Elias in a YouTube video at the bottom.

menachem wiesenberg with music

If you miss that performance, the concert will be repeated the next day, this Sunday, on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” (below), which will be broadcast LIVE statewide on Wisconsin Public Radio from 12:30 to 2 p.m., and on Sunday night at a FREE concert in Milwaukee at 7 p.m. at the Rubinstein Pavilion, 1400 North Prospect Avenue. Then the trio will embark of a tour of the U.S.

SALsetupgallery

In 2008, Vardi and Elias – an acclaimed teacher and performer in Israeli — gave the world premiere in Madison in a specially composed Double Concerto for Oud and Cello by the American composer Joel Hoffman (below). It was premiered by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain, and it is the kind of cultural crossover project that has found similar success with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project.

Joel Hoffman

Here are three links to stories about Uri Vardi and the upcoming fusion concert of Arab and Israeli music:

The first is to the shorter story on the outstanding blog “Fanfare” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/acappella_taylorpiano_beatriceopera/

The second longer and more detailed story is a press release from the newsletter of the UW-Madison Department of Jewish Studies:

http://jewishstudies.wisc.edu/newsletter/winter2014/vardi/

And the third link will give you the full program:

http://jewishstudies.wisc.edu/arts/fusions/program/

What do you think of a project like this?

Can it be practical in the pursuit of peace and understanding?

Or does it remain pretty much irrelevant entertainment?

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section of this blog.

The Ear wants to hear.

 

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