The Well-Tempered Ear

Today is Veterans Day. Here is some appropriate music by Beethoven to mark it. Can you guess which piece? What composer or music would you choose?

November 11, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 – is Veterans Day.

It started out as Armistice Day in 1918 when the end of World War I was declared to take place on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

It is a day to mark the service of all veterans – not just those who died in the line of duty, as is celebrated on Memorial Day.

You can find a lot of choice of classical music to play for Veterans Day. Here is one link to a compilation that features patriotic songs and marches: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJepYzH1VUY

But The Ear settled on Beethoven (below, in an 1815 portrait by Joseph Willebrord Maehler).

Can you guess which piece?

It is not the memorable funeral marches on the Piano Sonata in A-Flat, Op. 26, or the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”

It is also not the “Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving” in the String Quartet, Op. 132.

And it is not “Wellington’s Victory” or the “Egmont” Overture or the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” with its triumphant fast movements.

Instead it is the second movement of the Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92. (You can hear it see it represented graphically in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

That is the very well known Allegretto movement with its repetitious and almost hypnotizing, soaring theme. It seems like a funeral march, full of introspection, poignancy and sadness, that is a bit brisker and more lyrical than usual.

It is so popular, in fact, that it has been used as a soundtrack in many movies, including “The King’s Speech” and has inspired works based on it including the “Fantasia on an Ostinato” by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano.

If it seems an unexpected choice, you just need to know more about its history.

It was composed 1811-1812, and Beethoven correctly considered it one of his finest works. So did Richard Wagner who famously described as the “apotheosis of the dance” for the infectious rhythms throughout the symphony.

At its premiere in Vienna, in his introductory remarks Beethoven said: “We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.”

Beethoven (below, in 1815 as depicted in a paining the Joseph Willibrord Maehler) premiered the symphony at a charity concert in 1813 to help raise money for the Austrian and Bavarian soldiers who had been wounded at the Battle of Hanau while fighting against France during the Napoleonic Wars.

It was so popular with the first performance that the audience demanded and received an immediate encore performance of the second movement.

Here is a Wikipedia link to the history of the symphony: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._7_(Beethoven)

To this day, the Seventh Symphony, so charged with energy, remains for many people, conductors and orchestral players their favorite Beethoven symphony.

It is ironic that Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Paul de Hueck) performed the Seventh Symphony at the last concert he ever conducted – at the Tanglewood Festival in August 1990. He took the second movement at a slower-than-usual tempo and many have criticized Bernstein, who was in terrible health, and have suggested that he was using it as a funeral march or homage for himself. 

They may be right. But in retrospect the choice of Bernstein – who died two months later — finds a certain justification in the original motive for the entire symphony and especially the second movement.

Listen for yourself.

Then tell us what you think.

Does this movement justify it being played on Veterans Day?

What music would you choose to mark the day?

What do you think of the Symphony No. 7 in general and the second movement in particular?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The New York Times music critics pick 10 online concerts and operas to watch through the month of November

October 30, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music critics for The New York Times have again listed their picks of virtual and online concerts that will be streamed during the month of November, starting this Sunday, Nov. 1, and running right through Nov. 30. In September, they did the same for the month of October.

The list of 10 highlights includes chamber music, orchestral music and operas as well as lots of new music, world premieres of commissions and even the Cliburn International Piano Competition, now known simply as The Cliburn.

Most of the events are posted and available for quite a while.

Note that all times are Eastern and that on this Sunday, Nov. 1, daylight saving ends.

As the critics point out, the list may be especially helpful and enjoyable now that the weather is turning colder, people are isolating at home during the nationwide spikes in coronavirus cases, and concert halls remain closed to the public.

Well-known institutions such as The Metropolitan Opera (below) and the Los Angeles Opera are featured. (You can sample an earlier Met production of Philip Glass’ “Satyagraha” – about the early life of Gandhi — in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So are symphony orchestras from Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco and Cincinnati. 

And pianist Igor Levit (below top), who this past year released the highly praised, award-winning complete cycle of 32 piano sonatas by Beethoven and who was named Artist of the Year by Gramophone magazine, is also featured, as is the outstanding Chicago-based violinist Jennifer Koh (below bottom, in a photo by the Los Angeles Times). 

Here is a link to the story: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/28/arts/music/classical-music-stream.html

What do you think of the choices?

Do you have other concerts or classical music events to add to the list?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: Leon Fleisher, the inspirational pianist and teacher who died a week ago, had ties to Madison

August 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Famed American pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher (below, in a photo by Chris Hartlove), who also conducted, died of cancer at 92 last Sunday, Aug. 2.

Wisconsin Public Radio, like many other media outlets including National Public Radio (NPR) and most major newspapers and television stations, devoted a lot of time to tributes to and remembrances of Fleisher.

That is as it should be. If any musician deserved it, Fleisher did.

Fleisher (1928-2020) was a titan who became, over many years and despite major personal setbacks — stemming from an almost paralyzed right hand — a lot more than a keyboard virtuoso.

But despite lots of air time, less well covered has been his relationship to Madison audiences, who had the pleasure of seeing and hearing him several times in person.

In 2003 and then again in 2016 (below top) — at age 88 — Fleisher performed with the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below bottom).

Both times he played the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, a masterpiece of chamber music. He and his wife, Katherine Jacobson, also performed a joint recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater in 2009.

Fleisher felt at home in Baroque, Classical, Romantic and even modern music. He was renowned as an interpreter of Brahms. Indeed, his early and widely acclaimed recordings of both Brahms piano concertos as well as of the Waltzes and Handel Variations remain landmarks.

Once he was again playing with both hands, Fleisher also recorded the piano quintet for Deutsche Grammophon with the Emerson String Quartet, another frequent and favorite performer in Madison. (You can hear the finale in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a this blog’s review of his last Madison appearance: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Leon+Fleisher

Fleisher liked performing with the Pro Arte, and therein lies another historical tale.

His most influential teacher — the famed pianist Artur Schnabel, with whom the San Francisco-born Fleisher went to study in Europe when he was just 9 — also played often with the earlier members of Pro Arte Quartet. Together they recorded Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet by Franz Schubert, and that recording is still in the catalogue and available on Amazon.

Fleisher discusses studying with Schnabel in his entertaining and informative 2010 autobiography “My Nine Lives” (below).

Fleisher was a child prodigy who made his name while still young. Famed French conductor Pierre Monteux – who conducted the world premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in Paris — called Fleisher the “musical find of the century.” Fleisher made his concerto debut at 16 with the New York Philharmonic under Monteux.

Fleisher was just 36 and preparing for a tour with the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell – a perfect pairing and a conductor with whom he recorded all the Beethoven and Brahms concertos among may others – when he found he could not uncurl the last three fingers of his right hand.

Various diagnoses and causes were offered, and many cures were tried. In the end, it seems like that it was a case of focal dystonia that was caused by over-practicing, especially octaves. “I pounded ivory six or seven hours a day,” Fleisher later said.

After a period of depression and soul-searching, Fleisher then focused on performing music for the left hand; on conducting; and especially on teaching for more than 60 years at the Peabody Institute, located in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University.

There he helped shaped the career of many other famous pianists, including André Watts, Yefim Bronfman and Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Julian Edelstein), who played when Fleisher received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007. (All three have performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Here is an inspiring overview of Fleisher’s life and career from the Peabody Institute: https://peabody.jhu.edu/faculty/leon-fleisher/

And here is another short biography from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Fleisher

Here are three especially noteworthy obituaries:

NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/08/02/702978476/leon-fleisher-the-pianist-who-reinvented-himself-dies-at-92

The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/02/arts/music/leon-fleisher-dead.html

The Washington Post, written by critic Anne Midgette who worked with Fleisher on his memoir: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/leon-fleisher-sublime-pianist-with-one-hand-or-two-dies-at-92/2020/08/02/c7c98f90-527d-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_story.html

The Ear has always found Fleisher’s playing remarkable for its technical fluency combined with the utmost clarity and exacting but flexible sense of rhythm. He always managed to make a piece of music sound just right, as it was intended to sound. His musicality always seemed innate and perfectly natural.

Sample it for yourself. The Ear thinks the performance of all five Beethoven concertos with George Szell still sets a high standard with its exciting, upbeat tempi, its exemplary balance between piano and orchestra, and its exceptional engineering.

The affable Fleisher will long remain an inspiration not only for his playing and teaching, but also for his determination to overcome personal obstacles and go on to serve music — not just the piano.

Did you ever hear Leon Fleisher play live or in recordings? What did you think?

Do you have a comment to leave about the legacy of Fleisher?


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Classical music: UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor performs a free virtual recital of impromptus by Schubert and Scriabin this Wednesday afternoon

August 4, 2020
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A note from The Ear: Thank you to the many blog followers who left a message of encouragement when I had computer troubles last week. The problem seems to be solved, at least temporarily. And I am healthy, despite the fears that some of you expressed that I was covering for coming down with the coronavirus virus or Covid-19.

By Jacob Stockinger

A friend has passed along the following note from Christopher Taylor, the piano virtuoso who won a bronze medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and who has been teaching for many years at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

Taylor (below) writes:

“Despite having my performance schedule ravaged, like everyone else, I do actually have one positive morsel of news to relay regarding a “recital” coming up in the near future, which I wanted to you know about.

“It is being hosted by the Chautauqua Institution, where I’ve performed a few times in the past. Unsurprisingly, they’ve had to switch to an online format this summer.

“Just last week I made the actual recording, playing four impromptus by Scriabin, and Four Impromptus, Op. 142, by Schubert in the Mead-Witter Foundation Concert Hall (below, with the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra), which seemed like a propitious setting. (Editor’s note: In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the third impromptu in the set by Schubert performed by Vladimir Horowitz during his historic 1986 recital in Moscow.)

“Under the circumstances I think the video turned out pretty well. The actual streaming, which will include the 45 minutes of music plus a little live interview before and afterwards, takes place this Wednesday – Aug. 5 – at 3 p.m. CDT.

You can get there by way of the following link: https://porch.chq.org/ue/event/6518/

“Apparently there is a brief registration form one has to fill out prior to viewing the show, but basically getting in should be a free and painless process for all and sundry.

“Hope you get a chance to join in, and that you enjoy it!”

 


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Classical music: Here is the world premiere of the first piece of “pandemic music” commissioned by the Library of Congress

June 16, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has started.

This is the week when the world premieres of the 10 short pieces — written by American composers for the U.S. Library of Congress’ “Boccaccio Project” — will go public and start being posted on various social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well as the Internet.

The project is a way to capture some of the unique culture brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19.

The first is “Sequestered Thoughts,” a solo piano work by composed Damien Sneed (below top) and performed by Jeremy Jordan (below  bottom).

Below is a link to the page with the performance. You can also read what both the composer and the pianist have to say about the new work and what it means — including rippling octaves that depict the monotony of the days in isolation.

Here is the link: https://www.loc.gov/concerts/boccaccio-project/sneed-jordan.html

You can also follow links on the bottom of the page to more information about both the composer and the performer, and to general background of the project.

If you would like some more background, along with commentary and questions, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/06/13/classical-music-the-library-of-congress-has-commissioned-new-music-about-the-coronavirus-pandemic-you-can-listen-to-the-premieres-from-this-monday-june-15-through-june-28/

What do you think of the new piece?

What do you think of the whole project?

Do you want to hear more of the commissioned music?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The prize-winning critic Alex Ross grieves to Brahms. What composer and piece would you choose to mourn the tragedies of the past week?

May 30, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This past week feels like a week that deserves mass grieving.

Of course, there was the life-changing, historic landmark of surpassing, in only a few months, more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

There were the spikes in new COVID-19 cases and deaths following the opening up from lockdowns and the mass gatherings over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, such as the party at the Lake of the Ozarks (below) in Missouri.

Then there was the tragic, racist death — an alleged murder — of George Floyd by the police and the ensuing rioting, violence and additional death in Minneapolis as well as the seven shootings among protesters in Louisville.

And depending of your political point of view, there were the incidents of White House threats against social media, especially Twitter, for simply telling the truth or at least directing viewers to it.

So what can one say about these sad events and sad times with music?

Well, not too long ago Alex Ross (below), the prize-winning and internationally respected music critic for The New Yorker magazine, wrote an engaging and moving essay about why he finds Brahms to be the perfect composer for grieving and mourning.

He mentions other composers as possibilities, including Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

But Ross still finds Brahms more suited for several reasons. He even cites a favorite performance of a Brahms short, late Intermezzo by the Romanian pianist Radu Lupu. (You can hear that performance in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/grieving-with-brahms

What composers – and what pieces or performances – do you find best for grieving? For marking loss?

Read the essay, listen to the music.

Then let us know in the comment section what music – perhaps Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings? – that you would want to listen to during sad occasions.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Wisconsin Union Theater announces its new season featuring Renée Fleming’s postponed concert on Oct. 24

May 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement with the lineup for next season’s concerts at the Wisconsin Union Theater (below top, with a photo of Shannon Hall below bottom), which he calls “The Carnegie Hall of Madison.”

The upcoming season of the Wisconsin Union Theater features eight performances, including a rescheduled performance on Oct. 24 by world-renowned vocalist Renée Fleming (below), who was previously scheduled to perform May 2, 2020, as part of the 100th Concert Series but had to cancel because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fleming recorded a special message for Wisconsin Union Theater patrons: https://youtu.be/V1B4L2KFUls.

During the 101st Concert Series, patrons will have the opportunity to attend performances by the following artists. Click on the links and names to find out more:

  • Dec. 11, 2020 – Pianist Jeremy Denk (below, in a photo by Shervin Lainez)

  • Feb. 28, 2021 – Meccore Quartet (below in a photo by Arkadiusz Berbecki)

All programs are subject to change. The WUT team will announce when subscriptions and single-event tickets, along with prices, will become available for purchase at a later date.

The Wisconsin Union Theater’s Concert Series is one of the oldest uninterrupted series of its kind in the United States and has brought such talented artists as pianists Arthur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz, violinists Fritz Kreisler and Itzhak Perlman, and pianists Vladimir Ashkenazy and Claudio Arrau to Madison.

The Wisconsin Union Theater holds numerous arts events throughout the year and has provided cultural experiences for community members and visitors for more than 75 years.

The student-led Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) Performing Arts Committee plans many of the Wisconsin Union Theater’s events, including the Concert Series.

More information — including ticket prices and programs  — about the Concert Series and other 2020-21 Wisconsin Union Theater events will be made available soon at uniontheater.wisc.edu and on the Wisconsin Union Theater Facebook page.

Tickets purchased for Fleming’s May 2, 2020, performance are valid for the Oct. 24, 2020, performance.

Violinist Gil Shaham (below), who was to perform March 28, 2020, as part of the 100th Concert Series season will instead perform as part of the 2021-22 Wisconsin Union Theater season. Ticket holders for Shaham’s previously scheduled performance date are receiving refunds.

The upcoming year of programming will undoubtedly bring new challenges, and the Wisconsin Union team will continue to make decisions with the health and safety of team members and patrons in mind while providing experiences for a lifetime.

While Memorial Union and Union South remain closed to the public until further notice, the Wisconsin Union continues to provide support services, such as Meals To-Go, and online events and activities.


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Classical music: Here is the music that Wisconsin Public Radio hosts find calming and inspiring during the pandemic. What music would you list?

April 27, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the major sources of music during the COVID-19 public health crisis and the coronavirus pandemic is Wisconsin Public Radio.

The Ear finds WPR a reliable source of beauty and companionship during this difficult time of self-isolation and self-quarantining required by the state’s stay-at-home and self-distancing orders.

Each host plans and broadcasts hours of classical music each day. So they hear a lot of classical music.

They also contribute to a blog that offers insights to: new and old recordings; background information about the composers, music and performers; and personal observations about classical music.

Recently, the radio hosts – including Stephanie Elkins (below), Norman Gilliland, Lori Skelton, Ruthanne Bessman, Anders Yocom (at bottom, in a  photo by James Gill) and Peter Bryant — listed the music that they find particularly calming and inspiring during a difficult and anxiety-ridden time.

The names of composers include Bach, Scarlatti, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Ysaye, Vaughan-Williams and film score master John Williams.

The list includes audio-visual performances of the pieces.

Take a look and listen.

Then tell us what you think of the various suggestions and which ones you prefer?

Also leave the composers, pieces and performers that you would add to such a list, with a YouTube link if possible.

Here is a link:

https://www.wpr.org/wpr-music-hosts-share-music-calms-and-inspires


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Classical music: The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble and Salon Piano Series cancel and postpone concerts and master classes

April 3, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll. The Ear has received notification of the following cancellations and postponements.

WISCONSIN BAROQUE ENSEMBLE

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) has cancelled its April 18 concert, due to the COVID-19 virus threat. Its next concert is re-scheduled for the fall, on Oct. 17, at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church at 1833 Regent Street.

SALON PIANO SERIES

Concerts by the Grammy-nominated, New York jazz pianist Bill Charlap (below) on April 25 and April 26 plus his master class on April 25 are all cancelled and indefinitely postponed.

New dates for Charlap’s concerts and master class are yet to be determined. They will be announced via email, on the Salon Piano Series website, and on the Salon Piano Series social media. The necessary decision is made out of concern for the public’s health and well-being.

In the event that it is not feasible to reschedule the concerts, or you have a conflict and cannot attend the rescheduled event, you can get a credit for a future Salon Piano Series performance or be issued a refund.

Everyone who bought a ticket will have one week after the announcement of the new concert date in order to request a refund.

If you have a ticket for the concert, please see additional information at the end.

The Salon Piano Series — which takes place at Farley’s House of Pianos — also says that the concert by Drew Petersen (below), which was to have taken place this spring is rescheduled for Aug. 15 at 7:30 p.m. and the master class is rescheduled for Aug. 16 at a time to be determined.

To purchase tickets, go to: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4275242)

If you have a ticket and cannot attend the rescheduled event, Salon Piano Series asks that you help support the arts by not requesting a refund. For those who request a refund, the deadline for refunds has been extended through Thursday, April 9, as a courtesy.

For more information about the concert, visit salonpianoseries.org.

If you would like a refund, please follow the instructions below and allow several business days for refunds to be processed.

Paper Tickets

If you have a paper ticket, please take a photo of your ticket and email the photo to cristofori@salonpianoseries.org explaining that you would like a refund.

Online Tickets

If the ticket is not part of a season ticket, call Brown Paper Tickets at 1-(800) 838-3006.

If your ticket is part of a season ticket, contact Salon Piano Series at (608) 271-2626. Refunds for season ticket holders will be issued through Salon Piano Series by check, not through Brown Paper Tickets.

Tickets Ordered by Phone

If you purchased a ticket by phone, contact Salon Piano Series at (608) 271-2626 to request a refund.

 


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