The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: We need more women conductors. And here is where some of them will come from

March 31, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear bets that most of you have heard of Marin Alsop (below), the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

And he bets that many of you have also heard of JoAnn Falletta (below, in a photo by Cheryl Gorski), who is the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

And then?

How many other women conductors can you name?

So the last day of Women’s History Month seems a good time to take a look at a program that may produce quite a few major women conductors.

Here it is:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/bringing-women-conductors-front-orchestra/


Classical music: This 90-year-old Belgian classical pianist learned how to play slow movements by Mozart and Beethoven by hearing Ray Charles – and shows why The Ear likes the arts reporting on PBS and NPR

January 15, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, I posted a disconcerting story from the Columbia Journalism Review about how most mainstream newspapers and traditional media are cutting way back on art coverage.

After all, runs the conventional wisdom, how can the arts compete with sports, politics and crime for attracting readers?

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/classical-music-newspapers-and-media-continue-to-cutback-on-arts-writers-and-arts-critics-what-is-the-effect-on-the-arts/

Well, that kind of mistaken thinking is one reason why The Ear likes to watch PBS and national Public Radio or NPR. Especially on the PBS NewsHour, you find terrific stories about and interviews with major figures in the fine arts and the performing arts.

PBS treats the arts as vital and essential, not ornamental or secondary.

A wonderful example happened this week on the segment called “Brief But Spectacular” in which people offer their thoughts about their own lives and careers.

In this case, it was Jean Stark — a 90-year-old Belgian-born woman who was an accomplished concertizing classical pianist. She performed in Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York City, and in halls around the world, and who talks about her life and career for PBS.

jean-stark

In the four-minute interview, she laments how classical music isn’t promoted these days and emphasizes how wonderful it was to be alive during the golden years of classical music with such great figures as composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev.

But, she confesses, for all her accomplishments she was unsatisfied with how she played slow movements of sonatas by Classical-era masters Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

stark1-320x196

Until she came to the U.S. and went with a friend to a concert by Ray Charles.

Charles, she says, taught how to play slowly.

The Ear only wishes she had been more specific about the lessons she learned. Was it phrasing? Tempo? Accents? “Rubato,” or flexible timing?

It is a great, heart-warming story and typical of the kind of human interest arts coverage that you generally do not find on other television news channels, whether traditional networks like CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX or cable TV channels such as CNN and MSNBC.

So The Ear offers it as both an enjoyable and informative arts story, and as an endorsement of the PBS NewsHour and especially reporter Jeffrey Brown, who does such a terrific job of reporting on the arts.

Here is the segment, which you can find on YouTube, along with other recordings by Stark:

An after-thought: To the best of his knowledge, The Ear thinks that the music you hear her playing is the “Aeolian Harp” Etude in A-Flat Major, Op. 25, No. 1, by Frederic Chopin and part of the suite “Pour le piano” (For the Piano) by Claude Debussy.

What do you think of arts coverage on the mainstream media and on PBS?

What do you think Jean Stark learned from Ray Charles?

If you saw this story, how did it affect you?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Meet J’Nai Bridges who went from the dream of playing professional basketball to the reality of singing professional opera

January 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Baseball season is done.

Football season is almost over.

Basketball season is here.

So it seems an appropriate time for The Ear to share a great story about sports and classical music that he recently saw on the PBS NewsHour.

It is also a good story about good luck to run today, on Friday the 13th, a date that is traditionally synonymous with bad luck.

The story concerns J’Nai Bridges (below) who started out wanting to be a professional basketball player.

jnai-bridges

That dream fell apart dramatically and suddenly — though she doesn’t reveal if it was an injury or some other cause.

But then good luck unexpectedly stepped in.

During her senior year in high school, she signed up for choir as an elective and her teacher immediately recognized her gift.

She started late, but she had the right attitude to stay open to new discoveries and new possibilities.

Turns out she possesses a world-class mezzo-soprano voice. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Bridges singing an aria from “Carmen” by Georges Bizet .)

And now she has gone on to a career in opera and is a rising star singing major roles in major opera houses around the world.

The Ear thinks that Bridges’ words reflect wisdom that others should share in.

For one, her moving story also highlights the importance of a liberal arts education, where you can try out many different subjects you have no idea about and see what you like and how you do. That gives students a chance to explore their untapped interests and potential.

It also runs contrary to some of the current politicians who want to reform secondary and higher education into a kind of trade school or vocational training ground for work and careers.

It also is a fine summary of the role that music plays both for the performer and for the audience.

Here is a link to the moving and informative story:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/sports-gave-way-singing-rising-star/


Classical music: Here is how you attract African-American and Latino students to classical music.

August 22, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Attracting African-American and Latino students – and audiences – to classical music has been a difficult problem across the nation for a long time.

But thanks to Project STEP in Boston, which started in 1982 and is run through the Boston Symphony Orchestra, progress is being made. STEP recruits children from kindergarten and trains them through graduation from high school. Full parental involvement is required.

Project STEP

In Madison, groups such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and Madison Music Makers, as well as the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, have tackled the same problem.

Perhaps the Boston program — which was recently featured on the PBS NewsHour — holds clues to a successful outcome. It certainly is inspiring to see and hear Project STEP’s success stories. 

Project STEP 2

Here is a YouTube link to the story:

 


Classical music: Madison’s maestro John DeMain and others preview and review the world premiere by the Santa Fe Opera’s production of Jennifer Higdon’s opera “Cold Mountain.”

August 10, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

First it was a best-selling and prize-winning novel.

Then it became a popular Oscar-winning Hollywood movie.

Now it is an opera that received its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera this past week and is proving so popular with audiences that an extra performance has been added and regional premieres are already booked around the country. (The Minnesota Opera will give the Midwest premiere.)

It is “Cold Mountain,” a Civil War story about a Confederate soldier’s return home that is loosely based on Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.”

cold mountain cast and set

Here is a review, posted on Facebook, by our own John DeMain, the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera, who attended the world premiere performance. DeMain came to Madison, by the way, from his post as director of the Houston Grand Opera, where he gave the world premiere of John Adams’ “Nixon in China.” So he is a fan of new operas.

DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) writes:

“How wonderful “Cold Mountain” was last night at its world premiere in Santa Fe. Jennifer Higdon is simply a wonderful composer and her piece with Gene Scheer‘s compelling libretto, soared to great heights. Great directing from Leonard Foglia, with a brilliant design concept, and a great cast. Emily Fons was magnificent as Ruby. Fabulous orchestral writing, beautiful choral work, and compelling duets and ensembles. A very sad, grim piece given a dynamic treatment by all involved.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Such discerning enthusiasm makes you wonder if DeMain and the Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith might not be looking to bring “Cold Mountain” to Madison in a couple of seasons. (The male lead Nathan Gunn has already sung in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and  with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, by the way.) One can hope! (Below are the leads mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Ada and baritone Nathan Gunn as Inman in a photo by Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera.)

Cold Mountain Nathan Gunn as Inman and Isabel Leonard as Ada CR Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera

You can hear the creators of the opera discuss it in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Here are some other sources for previews and reviews:

Here is a story from NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/08/05/429370329/cold-mountain-takes-civil-war-odyssey-to-the-opera-stage

cold mountain by ken howard

The PBS NewsHour aired a lengthy feature by Jeffrey Brown that includes lots of video and interviews with the cast; with Charles Frazier (below right), who wrote the best-selling novel; and with Jennifer Higdon (below left), the composer of the opera who teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/civil-war-tragedy-cold-mountain-inspires-opera/

Jennifer Higdon and Charles Frazier

And here is a short news story and a longer, more negative or critical review from Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/16/santa-fe-opera-adds-performance-of-cold-mountain/?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/arts/music/review-cold-mountain-at-santa-fe-opera-recounts-a-separated-lovers-arduous-journey-only-one-half-makes-the-journey.html


Classical music: Wednesday marked 60 years since contralto Marian Anderson became the first African American soloist at the Metropolitan Opera.

January 9, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a good day to think about the American singer Marian Anderson (below).

marian anderson

Maybe you think that opera is progressive, or at least more progressive than, say, orchestras or societies at large.

Do you think that the famed Metropolitan Opera (below, in its newer building at Lincoln Center) in ethnically diverse New York City has been especially progressive and pioneering?

metropolitan opera 1

Met from stage over pit

Well, think again.

Maybe in some things.

But not in race relations.

Here is a story from NPR (National Public Radio) about the 60th anniversary of the debut of contralto Marian Anderson’s at the Met. She was the first African American soloist to appear at the Met.

And that was on Jan 7, 1955.

That appearance came almost 20 years after she performed the historic 1939 outdoor recital (below) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. That event, done to great critical acclaim and before a huge public crowd, came about because First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, with the help of President FDR, procured permission for Anderson to sing at the memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied Anderson the use of Constitution Hall because of her race. It was broadcast nationally on the radio.

anderson

At the Met, Anderson performed the role of the sorceress Ulrica (below, from the photo archives at the Met) in “Un ballo in maschera” (A Masked Ball) by Giuseppe Verdi.

marian anderson in 1955 at Met  Verdi un ballo en maschera

Anyway, the 60th anniversary celebration of that historic Met performance came this past week, on Wednesday.

Here is the NPR story that even has sound snippets of Anderson’s singing:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/01/07/375440168/marian-andersons-groundbreaking-met-opera-moment

And here is a YouTube video of Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial that was broadcast as part of a series by public television or PBS on its Newshour:

 


Classical music: As the beginning of a new school year approaches, a parent makes the case for letting students study and major in music and then pursue a musical career – no matter how difficult it seems in the bad job market today.

August 11, 2013
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As the beginning of another new school year approaches, a good and loyal friend of this blog wrote in to say that others should read this essay that she found on-line. It defends students who want to study and even major in music and then go on to pursue a professional career in music. (Below is a photo of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chamber Orchestra.)

UW Symphony Orchestra 9-2012

This comes at a welcome moment, especially in the wake of the two stories I recently posted by Paul Solman (below), the longtime and prize-winning economics reporter for PBS’ “The Newshour” and a Distinguished Fellow now teaching journalism at Yale University.

Paul Solman hat

In one story Solman explored how difficult it is to pursue music as a career in such a difficult job market as we have today.

Here is a link to that post and story with sources that included gifted student at the Juilliard School and professional musicians:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/classical-music-beauty-is-big-business-and-a-hard-job-pbs-economics-reporter-paul-solman-insightfully-explores-how-hard-it-is-to-find-good-jobs-for-even-the-most-talented-musicians-and-othe/

And then Solman followed it up with a story, using some of the sources, about how young musicians should develop entrepreneurial skills.

Here is a link to that story:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/classical-music-todays-young-classical-musicians-need-to-develop-skills-as-business-entrepreneurs-according-to-a-very-credible-newshour-report-by-ace-pbs-economics-reporte/

And here is the blog essay by a parent who works in music making the case that young students should indeed be allowed to pursue their dreams of a musical m career and not dissuaded towards a “real” career.

It makes for good reading and perhaps sage advice. So here is a link:

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130728144536-52594-let-the-kid-study-music-already

Along similar lines, here is a story about the famous Berklee College of Music (below) in Boston that is linking up with a business program:

http://www.boston.com/yourcampus/news/berklee/2013/08/berklee_launches_first_all-online_mba_in_music_business.html

Berklee College of Music

How does the blog essay defending musical careers compare with the realities, the fears and the rewards that you, your children and others you know have experienced?

The Ear – -who likes and favors a flexible liberal arts education education and who thinks we often end up making a living and having a career in a field we never expected to enter — wants to hear.


Classical music: Beauty is big business and a hard job. PBS’ economics reporter Paul Solman insightfully explores how hard it is to find good jobs for even the most talented musicians and other performing artists. Plus, Madison Opera’s 12th annual Opera in the Park is tonight at 8.

July 13, 2013
4 Comments

ALERT : Just a reminder that the Madison Opera‘s 12th annual FREE Opera in the Park (below) will be held tonight at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side. The outdoor concert will feature guests soloists, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Youth Choirs, all under the baton of conductor John DeMain. It is a great program that looks forward to next season and includes Broadway theater, and the weather looks to be pleasantly coolish if not exactly perfect. For more information, here is a link: http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2012-2013/park/

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

By Jacob Stockinger

Probably my favorite economics reporter these days is Paul Solman (below) of PBS TVI like the clarity and simplicity of his reporting, and the comparisons he makes as well as the original angles he takes on his subject. He comes up with great story ideas and then turns them into great stories. If that isn’t the definition of an outstanding journalist, I don’t know what is.

I love watching and hearing Solman’s reports on the “PBS Newshour.” I also admire him because he continues to work — and love his work — at age 68, despite a brush with serious illness. The Boston-based Solman doesn’t just report for PBS, but he also holds down a second job teaching as a Distinguished Fellow at Yale University. Plus, I like his sense of humor and irony about himself that comes through his stories, and how he interviews himself in a YouTube video at the bottom of this post. 

Paul Solman hat

Of course there are other economics reporters I like and hold in high regard from my political perspective.

At the Wall Street Journal, I like David Wessel, who also makes regular appearances on PBS shows like “Washington Week.”

At The New York Times, I like Joe Nocera, who also does guest spots on PBS; Andrew Ross Sorkin, the articulate author of “Too Big to Fail,” who so clearly documented how The Great Recession came about; the Nobel Prize-winning researcher, columnist and Princeton University professor Paul Krugman (below), who debunks right-wing lies, baloney and mythology with hard facts; and Gretchen Morgenson who appears on a variety of other media outlets.

And I like Zanny Minton Beddows and Greg Ip of The Economist. Both explain complex matters clearly and succinctly as well as fairly.

Paul Krugman

I am sure there are more, but those will do to illustrate the point.

Yet perhaps the reason I like Paul Solman’s reports the most is because he goes at economics from angles that others economists and economics reporters ignore or don’t think are important.

I feel close to that same approach because I also took it back n the days when I was an arts reporter at the daily evening newspaper The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin.

A lot of money changes hands through the arts. And a lot of economic development takes place through the arts, especially since Richard Florida (below) has popularized the idea of the key role that the Creative Class plays in generating new prosperity.

richard florida

Curiously, though I have found that arts organizations – and even many arts patrons and customers – resist that quantitative economic approach because linking money and the arts somehow seems to dirty the hands of the artists – a really stupid reaction. That kind of knee-jerk elitism, as well as the kind of misplaced and desperate secrecy that arts groups often wrap their financial operations in, does a deep disservice to the big business of beauty.

Of course, non-monetary values are vital, central in the performing arts and visual arts. (Did you know for example that the biggest tourist attraction in New York City is the Metropolitan Museum of Art?) But as many arts organizations have found out, without the appropriate financial backing, that non-monetary message won’t go anywhere.

Anyway, recently Paul Solman explored the problem of young performing artists finding and keeping good jobs. As examples, he even went to some of the most talented performing artists and musicians whom he found as students (below) at the prestigious, exclusive and expensive Juilliard School in Manhattan, where classes are held in dance and acting as well as music.

Juilliard School BIG

Juilliard students

Here is a link to his report. I urge all fans of the arts — participants, audiences or patrons – to look at and listen to the video and not just read the transcript.

Solman’s report is nothing short of eye-opening and helps to explain why so many of the most talented musicians I meet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music are choosing to relegate music to a secondary role as an lifelong avocation or serious hobby while they pursue degrees and careers in the sciences or technology or some other more lucrative and secure profession. (Below, a UW students performs in Mills Hall.)

Beethoven sonatas 26 Margaret Runaas

It also helps explain why regional symphony orchestras are rising in quality and why recently there were almost 40 applicants from across the U.S. who actually made the final auditions for the open chair of Principal Tuba with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Here is the link. Enjoy and think, and let The Ear know your reactions:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/jan-june13/artists_06-27.html

 


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