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:
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.
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.
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.
By Jacob Stockinger
Baseball season is done.
Football season is almost over.
Basketball season is here.
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.
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.
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:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear keeps reading The New York Times and finding features about and laudatory reviews of the 50th Mostly Mozart Festival that is being held at Lincoln Center in New York City from July 22 through August 27.
But he doesn’t recall seeing or hearing anything on PBS, or public television – even in a delayed broadcast.
Time was, it seems, that the gala opening concert was broadcast during prime time on either “Live From Lincoln Center” or “Great Performances.”
But for several years now it seems that it is no longer broadcast.
And The Ear misses it. They were almost always good concerts with memorable music, memorable performers and memorable performances. (You can get an idea from the YouTube video at the bottom.)
And music director Louis Langree (below) has instituted some great innovations, including new music, more music by other composers, and smaller alternative venues and programs.
This year’s offerings are no different. Check out the schedule at the festival’s website:
Is it The Ear’s imagination that the Mostly Mozart Festival has disappeared from the airwaves?
To be more mainstream?
To make room for more British mysteries or other more popular shows?
That would be a shame for the alternative broadcast company.
Does anybody else feel the same way?
Has The Ear just missed the broadcasts?
Or have they really been suspended or ended?
If so, does the credit go to PBS? Or to Wisconsin Public Television?
The Ear sure would appreciate getting some answers.
And seeing and hearing more of Mostly Mozart.
ALERT: On Saturday night at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, David Richardson, a first-year DMA candidate in Collaborative Piano at the UW-Madison, will be joined by a guest artist, baritone Alan Dunbar, for a FREE performance of the famous song cycle “Winterreise” (Winter Journey) by Franz Schubert. The Ear hears it promises to be an outstanding performance.
By Jacob Stockinger
There are many student recitals and concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison each season – many dozens and maybe even into the hundreds.
But still there are standouts.
One such standout is coming up this Sunday night at 6 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. That’s when the Hunt Quartet, made up of very talented UW-Madison graduate students, will perform a FREE concert.
Too bad it has to compete with the special two-hour final episode of the popular PBS series “Downton Abbey,” which The Ear suspects will cut into the audience. Could they have moved the concert up to 5 or earlier? That would be nice, but maybe hall logistics made that impossible.
Anyway, the members of the string quartet were selected by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music faculty because they are outstanding performers and pedagogues.
Members are seen below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot. They are from left: Clayton Tillotson, violin; Blakeley Menghini, viola; Paran Amirinazari, violin; and cellist Andrew Briggs, cello.
The appealing all-masterpiece program is: String Quartet No. 5 in A major, Op. 18 No. 5, by Ludwig van Beethoven; Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, Op. 9, by Anton Webern; and the famous String Quartet in D minor, “Death and the Maiden,” by Franz Schubert. (You can hear the slow movement of the Schubert, based on a song he composed, played by the Alban Berg Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Hunt Quartet is the graduate string quartet for UW-Madison’s School of Music. As Project Assistants within the School of Music, the Quartet performs concerts at the School of Music and university events, as well as part of community outreach.
Members work closely with faculty, including the Pro Arte Quartet, and have Professor Uri Vardi as their principal coach. Other artists who have worked with the Quartet include violist Nobuko Imai, violist Lila Brown, and members of the Takacs String Quartet.
The Quartet is also the integral part of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s “Up Close and Musical” program, visiting area schools to teach students about fundamentals of music and the string quartet.
The Hunt Quartet is generously sponsored by Kato Perlman and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
ALERT: The Ear’s friend and radio host colleague Rich Samuels writes: “I’ll be airing the performance of Felix Mendelssohn‘s Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, by the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) on this Thursday morning (Dec. 31) at 7:14 on my “Anything Goes” broadcast on WORT-FM 88.9. (It was recorded July 31, 2015 by WORT at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church). I think this was the high point of the ensemble’s inaugural season. It’s nice to know WSCP will be back next summer and that they have a special event scheduled on Jan. 23 and 24.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Both organizations are outstanding friends of classical music, although sometimes The Ear wishes there was more music and fewer British mysteries — which this year interfere with arts programming and push music broadcasts later.
NEW YEAR’S EVE
On Thursday night from 10 to 11:30 p.m., Wisconsin Public Television will air an all-French program from New York City with Alan Gilbert (below top) conducting the New York Philharmonic and guest soloist mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (below bottom). “Live From Lincoln Center” will broadcast “La Vie Parisienne” (Parisian Life) program includes music by Jacques Offenbach and Camille Saint-Saens.
The Ear likes the program and wonders if it was decided before or after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.
However, The Ear is very disappointed by the late hour of the airing. It would be better if young people and children could hear and see it. He would much prefer prime-time broadcasts from 8 to 9:30 p.m. or maybe 9 to 10:30 p.m.
What do readers think?
NEW YEAR’S DAY
On Friday morning from 10 a.m. to noon, Wisconsin Public Radio will air a broadcast from Vienna’s Golden Hall (below) of “New Year’s Concert From Vienna,” with waltzes and polkas by the Strauss family as well as some other music.
This is the 75th anniversary of the event that will be broadcast to more than 90 countries and seen by some 50 million people. It is billed as the world’s largest classical music event.
Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons, who leads the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and appears regularly with major orchestras around the world, is returning for his third stint as the conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic for this program.
Here is a link with more information, which is hard and confusing to find on the website (look under Seasonal Programming, not the regular schedule):
In the afternoon from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and in the evening form 10 to 11:30 p.m., the 32nd annual television version of “Great Performances” will be broadcast by Wisconsin Public Television. Actress Julie Andrews (below) returns to host for the seventh time, and dancers from the Vienna State Ballet will be featured along with great landscape shots of Vienna and its historical landmarks.
And of course there will be the final clap-along encore: The Radetzky March, which you can hear conducted by Daniel Barenboim in a YouTube video at the bottom.
Once again, The Ear recalls that it used to air at a much earlier, more family-friendly hour.
For more information, go to:
Maybe next year will see earlier broadcast times and more information about the programs and broadcast’s duration on the web and the regular radio schedule.
By Jacob Stockinger
Tomorrow night — from 7 to 9 p.m. CDT on CNBC — there will be another presidential debate.
The Ear has watched three presidential debates so far — two Republican and one Democratic.
But he still has no idea of where the various candidates on both sides stand when it comes to government support of the arts –- including music — and the humanities.
Please tell us, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, what you think?
And you too, Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and Chris Christie and Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and John Kasich and ….
Do you want to defund PBS?
Or defund NPR?
Or will you support these important and historic cultural commitments? Why or why not?
Why or why not?
Some funny reasoning is going on here. Some of the candidates want to eliminate all subsidies to the arts, which are a form of economic development after all – at a time when a lot of conservatives don’t mind funding big rich corporations in the same name of economic development.
The arts create a lot of jobs and spark a lot of spending and stimulus. Or don’t the culture-challenged charlatans realize that?
Stop and think a minute about the local situation. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Overture Center (below), public schools, the University of Wisconsin and its School of Music — all rely in part on public funding. They employ a lot of people and generate a lot of value.
Don’t these issues deserve a public airing? Doesn’t the arts consuming public have a right to know where the various candidates stand on these issues? Shouldn’t voters know what they might be getting in those areas?
As The Ear understand its, one flank of the attack has to do with the so called left-leaning liberal or progressive bias and politics of PBS and NPR.
Plus, there is the view that the art that public taxpayer money is helping to create doesn’t defend the so-called family values that the most radically conservative Republicans and Christian fundamentalists and Evangelicals want defended.
The other flank of the attack has to do with the stance that government should be smaller and that therefore should be funding less in general.
Makes you wonder just how the radical “freedom coalition” and Tea Party people in South Carolina, Texas and California feel about having a smaller government when it comes to providing aid for victims of torrential floods and devastating wildfires. And how is that kind of help for those in need different from funding education or health care?
Anyway, wouldn’t it be appropriate for some of the panelists to question the candidates on the issues pertaining to the arts and humanities?
The Ear is reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s comment during World War II. Some members of the British Parliament asked him if funding for the arts shouldn’t be cut and used instead to fight Hitler and the Nazis. He said no and added, “Then what would we be fighting for?”
Tell the Ear what you think. Leave a COMMENT.
Maybe, just maybe, someone else will read it and pass it along and we will finally get a substantive discussion from the candidates about where they stand on arts and humanities funding by the federal government.
By Jacob Stockinger
Have cello. Will play.
Any style. Any place.
Last Wednesday, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, turned 60.
The unquestionable quality, astounding diversity and enviable longevity of his career will come as no surprise to Madison audiences.
After all, Ma (below, in a photo by Jason Bell for Sony Classical) has performed here many times, mostly at the Wisconsin Union Theater – he reopened the renovated Shannon Hall — but also at the Overture Center.
Ma has performed solo here. But he also has played with his longtime chamber music partner pianist Emanuel Ax and with the acclaimed Silk Road Ensemble and the bluegrass or roots music by violinist-composer Mark O’Conner.
And Ma has commissioned many works – including some by composers Osvaldo Golijov and John Adams – that have entered the mainstream repertoire. His influence on contemporary music will be felt for a very long time.
The Ear has met Ma in person a couple of times and found him to be as congenial and humorous as he is talented and original.
An iconic figure on TV and radio, Ma is a master of using the mass media although he never seems a crass self-promoter.
He is a veritable American cultural institution who also enjoys going on PBS for “Sesame Street” and “Live From Lincoln Center” as well as doing a cameo appearance playing unaccompanied Bach in the drama “The West Wing.” (You can hear him play the same piece in a YouTube video at the bottom that has more than 12 million hits.)
Perhaps you have also heard him live, maybe even more than once.
One thing is important but is overlooked by the NPR piece: The ever-reliable Ma is outstandingly successful at the box office. He is probably the most bankable and commercially successful American classical musician on the scene today. Ma’s career bodes well for the future of classical music that otherwise worries so many observers and participants.
Here is a link:
Do you have a birthday greeting for or memory of cellist Yo-Yo Ma?
Leave it in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
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.
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.
Here is a YouTube link to the story:
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.”
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.”
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.)
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:
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:
And here is a short news story and a longer, more negative or critical review from Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times: