The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Pianist Philippe Bianconi returns to solo in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend. The MSO premiere of the Concerto for Orchestra by Witold Lutoslawski is also on the program

April 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Pianist Philippe Bianconi (below, in a photo by Bernard Martinez) returns this weekend to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in one of the most challenging works written for piano, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

The program opens with Schumann’s dramatic Manfred Overture, followed by the MSO’s premiere performance of Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra.

Concluding the program is a performance of the notoriously difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1973-1943). The performance features French pianist Bianconi, who won a silver medal at the Van Cliburn Competition and who has performed frequently with the MSO.

The concerts take place in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday night, April 7 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, April 8, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 9 at 2:30 p.m. Ticket information is further down.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856, below) composed the Overture to Manfred in 1848 during a time of many revolutions throughout Europe, with political feelings running high across the continent.

In Bryon’s mystical poem, Manfred, Bryon’s hero, a “freedom fighter who is tortured by guilt and melancholy” perfectly suited the time and political environment of Europe.

Schumann once wrote in a letter to Franz Liszt (who directed the complete version in 1851): “I feel that it is one of the strongest of my artistic children, and I hope that you will agree with me.”

Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994, below), began work on Concerto for Orchestra in 1950. This is the first time this piece will be performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. (You can hear the dramatic opening of the work, performed by Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the YouTube videos at the bottom.)

Originally from Warsaw, Poland, the Lutoslawski family fled to Russia to escape the German occupation of World War I. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Lutoslawski’s father and uncle were executed by the Bolsheviks for their political activism and the family returned to Warsaw. Lutoslawski had studied piano and composition between the wars, but was then drafted into the Polish army and captured by the Nazi’s in 1933.

He escaped captivity and found his way back to Warsaw where he worked as a cabaret pianist. Lutoslawski fled Warsaw a second time, just months before the Nazis leveled the city in 1945 – “losing most of his scores in the process.” He then returned to Warsaw when it was controlled by the Soviets.

Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra is based in part on folk styles – apparently at the request of conductor Witold Rowicki, to whom it is dedicated.  It is his most popular piece.

Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) composed his Piano Concerto No. 3 in 1909. He spent the summer in the Russian countryside, relaxing on his wife’s family’s estate, while also writing one of the most challenging works for piano in the repertoire. This piece is a “fiery display of piano technique” that has been called “The Mt. Everest of piano concertos.”

One hour before each performance, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the MSO, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

For more background on the music, visit the Program Notes, written by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a  photo by Katrin Talbot), at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1617/7.Apr17.html

Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each, available at madisonsymphony.org/bianconi and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Exclusive funding for the April concerts is provided by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.

For more information about the Madison Symphony Orchestra, go to madisonsymphony.org


Classical music: What piece of classical music best celebrates Labor Day? And which pieces require the most work to play?

September 5, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day, 2106.

We spend so much of our lives working and so little of our art relating to that work. 

But there are exceptions, such as the great historic photo “Working” by Lewis Hines that is below.

Here are suggestions of work-related music and a listing from 2014 by the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR-FM:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/poll-what-music-best-captures-spirit-labor-day/

And here is a pie chart and a 3-part listing from WQXR-FM this year with music that pertains to labor as well as to the work needed to play a piece of music as well. Just place the cursor over the segment of the pie chart to see the title and composer:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/crowdsourcing/classical-music-labor-day/report/

working Lewis hine photo

WQXR usually broadcasts labor-related music on Labor Day.

Here is a link for listening via streaming:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/

The Ear guesses that other radio stations, including Wisconsin Public Radio and Sirius XM Satellite Radio, will do the same.

But feel free to leave suggestions that might have been overlooked in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

For example, The Ear thinks that the “Hammerklavier” Sonata and the “Diabelli” Variations by Ludwig van Beethoven qualifies as does the Symphony No. 8, the so-called “Symphony of a Thousand” by Gustav Mahler, the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. there are many, many others. It often takes hard work to make great beauty.

Anyway, tell us what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Labor Day!

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) starts its current concert season this Saturday. Plus, Madison violinist Kangwon Kim performs a FREE recital of music by J.S. Bach, Dvorak, Chopin, Debussy, Kreisler and Rachmaninoff this Friday at noon.

November 13, 2014
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Kangwon Kim (below) and pianist Junghwa Moon Auer in music by Antonin Dvorak, Johann Sebastian Bach, Fritz Kreisler, Frederic Chopin, Claude Debussy and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Kangwon Kim

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will present its first concerts of the new season, the Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts, on this Saturday afternoon, Nov. 15, and then on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 13.

More than 350 young musicians will display their great talents to the community during the three concerts, which are dedicated to private and school music teachers.

These young musicians, who get into WYSO through competitive auditions, are really good.

They also play to some of the liveliest and most responsive and enthusiastic audiences in the city.

wyso violas

THIS SATURDAY

WYSO’s string orchestra, Sinfonietta (below), will kick off the concert series at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon with “Highland Cathedral” by Korb and Roever; the “Danse Infernal” by Del Borgo; Eureka! by Sharp; “Fantasia on Theme from Thailand” by Meyer; the “Haunted Carousel” by Newbold; and “Tuxedo Junction” by Hawkins, Feyne, Johnson and Dash.

Sinfonietta strings

The Concert Orchestra (below) will then take over with Washburn’s “St. Lawrence” Overture, Del Borgo’s “Meditation,” “A Pirate’s Legend” by Newbold and Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak.

wyso concert orchestra brass

At 4 p.m. on Saturday, the popular Percussion Ensemble will perform “Spanish Point” by Ben Wahlund and the “Danse Bacchanale” from the opera “Samson and Delilah” by Camille Saint-Saens.

WYSO Percussion Ensemble

The Philharmonia Orchestra will then end the concert with Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1, the Danse Macabre, Op. 40, by Camille Saint-Saens; the “Pavane pour une infante defunte” by Maurice Ravel, featuring Logan Willis on piano; the fourth movement, “March to the Scaffold,” from the “Symphonie Fantastique” by Hector Berlioz; and the Hoedown from Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo,” featuring Moqiu Cheng on piano.

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

DECEMBER 13

At 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 13, the Harp Ensemble (below top) will perform before the Youth Orchestra (below bottom) closes out the concert series with “The Roman Carnival” Overture by Hector Berlioz; Excerpts from “Die Meistersinger” by Richard Wagner; and movements 1, 3 and 4 from the Symphony No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 13, by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

WYSO Harp Ensemble 2011

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

TICKETS AND OTHER INFORMATION

The Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the UW-Madison George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street in Madison on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

WYSO concerts are generally about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.

Tickets for each concert are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.

This project is supported by Dane Arts with additional funding from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation. This project is also supported by the Alliant Energy Foundation and by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 


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: 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
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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


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