The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What is your favorite Sousa march for the Fourth of July? What other classical music celebrates the holiday?

July 4, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, when we mark the day and the Declaration of Independence when the U.S officially separated from Great Britain to become not a colony but its own country.

Over the past decade The Ear has chosen music from many American composers to mark the event – music by Edward MacDowell, Charles Ives, William Grant Still, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, William Schuman, Joan Tower, John Adams and so many others.

And of course also featured around the nation will be the “1812 Overture” by Peter Tchaikovsky.

You will probably hear a lot of that music today on Wisconsin Public Radio and other stations, including WFMT in Chicago and WQXR in New York City.

Here is a link to nine suggestions with audiovisual performances:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/nine-best-works-independence-day

But The Ear got to thinking.

It is certainly a major achievement when a composer’s name becomes synonymous with a genre of music. Like Strauss waltzes. Bach cantatas and Bach fugues. Chopin mazurkas and Chopin polonaises.

The Ear thinks that John Philip Sousa is to marches what Johann Strauss is to waltzes. Others have done them, but none as well.

So on Independence Day, he asks: Which of Sousa’s many marches is your favorite to mark the occasion?

The “Stars and Stripes Forever” — no officially our national march — seems the most appropriate one, judging by titles. “The Washington Post” March is not far behind.

But lately The Ear has taken to “The Liberty Bell” March.

Here it is a YouTube video with the same Marine Band that Sousa, The March King, once led and composed for:

And if you want music fireworks in the concert hall to match the real thing, you can’t beat the bravura pyrotechnical display concocted and executed by pianist Vladimir Horowitz, a Russian who became an American citizen and contributed mightily to the war effort during World War II.

Horowitz wowed the crowds – including fellow virtuoso pianists – with his transcription of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in which it sounds like three or four hands are playing. Judge for yourself. Here it is:

Of course, you can also leave the names of other American composers and works to celebrate the Fourth. Just leave a word and a link in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear!

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Classical music: Pianist Adam Neiman defines what makes for great Chopin playing. He performs an all-Chopin recital this Sunday afternoon at Farley’s House of Pianos.

February 21, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

What makes for great Chopin playing?

It is an especially germane question since the critically acclaimed pianist Adam Neiman (below) will perform an all-Chopin recital this coming Sunday at 4 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall.

Tickets are $45. For more information, go to:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

Neiman –pronounced KNEE-man — has appeared here as a soloist with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded piano concertos by Mozart with the WCO. He is a critically acclaimed prize-winning pianist with a major concertizing and recording career. He also teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago and is a member of the Trio Solisti, a piano trio that has been hailed as the successor to the famous Beaux Arts Trio.

Here is a link to Neiman’s website with information about him and his recordings, including upcoming releases of Beethoven, Liszt and Rachmaninoff:

http://www.adamneiman.com

Adam Neiman also recently did an email Q&A interview with The Ear:

adam-neiman-2017

There are some exceptional players of Beethoven and other German composers who sound completely out of their element in Chopin. What qualities do you think make for great Chopin playing and what makes Chopin difficult to interpret?

Chopin’s music incorporates a narrative language and an emphasis on very “first person” points-of-view; in other words, it is highly personalized, expressing emotion from the perspective of the individual, including nationalistic sentiments. Often, Germanic music aims for “objective” viewpoints, with extremely stringent instructions by the composer.

For players who struggle with the open-ended idiomatic flavor in Chopin’s music, the lack of objective instruction by the composer can make it difficult for them to know what to do. (You can hear Adam Neiman discussing much more about Chopin’s personality and artistic achievement in the YouTube video at the bottom)

To play Chopin (below) at a very high level requires imagination and freedom, as well as a poetic and introspective musical tendency. The fluidity of rubato, the contrapuntal interaction between the hands and the frequent use of widely spread textures requires a nimble master of the instrument, one with the ability to emphasize the piano’s specific virtuosic abilities.

In addition, Chopin’s music is centered around a bel canto operatic style of melody, whereas Germanic melody tends to be more motivic in nature, and therefore developmental.

A composer like Beethoven will emphasize motivic metamorphosis as a means of augmenting a form to create large structures, whereas Chopin will glide from one melodic area to another, using harmonic exploration as the central means of formal expansion.

This compositional difference outlines different strengths in the pianists, as the skill set to play reams of melody lines in succession can often be very different from those skills required to highlight motivic development in a work.

Chopinphoto

Can you place the 24 Preludes that you will be playing within the context of Chopin’s entire body of works. What would you like the public to know about the preludes and how you see them individually and as a group?

The 24 Preludes were composed while Chopin was on holiday in Mallorca, Spain, which proved to be Chopin’s first palpable bout with tuberculosis, the disease that eventually killed him. (Below is an 1849 photo of Chopin on his deathbed.)

Many of these works were written in a fever-state, in haste, and during a stressful time period in which Chopin was not only facing his own mortality, but also dealing with the myriad challenges of integrating with the children of his lover, the French writer Aurora Dudevant who is better known as George Sand.

These Preludes are like snapshots into the mind of the composer at a moment in time, often without regard for cohesion or development. They exist in a timeless place, where the music expresses the extremely personal sentiments roiling through Chopin’s consciousness.

In many ways, these works capture his spirit in the most distilled possible way, giving the player and listener an opportunity to view the mind and heart of Chopin without filter or refinement, hallmarks of his larger works.

Despite the widely varied emotional content of these Preludes, as a set they hold together as a marvelous and surprisingly cogent musical journey. They exemplify the 19th-century “Romantic” ideals of fantasy, freedom, individuality and raw emotion.

Chopin on deathbed photo

You will also perform all four Ballades. How they do they rank within Chopin’s output? What would you like listeners to know about each of the four ballades, about what they share in common and what distinguishes each one? Do you have favorites and why?

If the Preludes represent the pinnacle of Chopin’s ability to express poetic ideals within miniature forms, the Ballades represent the apex of his more grandiose musical philosophy.

The Ballade, as a form, emanates from epic poetry, often portraying a heroic protagonist overcoming seemingly inescapable challenges. Ballades can also be tied to nationalistic notions, and for Chopin, all four Ballades are truly Polish in their expression.

As Chopin’s native Poland was invaded and he was cut off permanently from re-entry, Chopin became an orphan of the world, whose adopted home of France revered and celebrated him without equal.

His musical mission — exemplified by the Ballades, Mazurkas and Polonaises in particular — was to heighten awareness of Poland’s cultural contributions to a European audience totally unaware of the goings-on in the east.

As a result of the immense conflicts suffered by Chopin’s homeland, and in keeping with the deep pride and identification Chopin felt as a Pole, these Ballades express the emotional rollercoaster of a lone Polish hero — perhaps Chopin himself, autobiographically — battling the world.

All four of these works make an enormous impression on the listener. From the despair and anger of the first Ballade, the bi-polar conflicts of the second (below is the opening of the second Ballade in Chopin’s manuscript), the pastoral hopefulness of the third, and the desolate introspection of the fourth, these Ballades speak to the soul and require the most intensely personal voice of the performer.

Adam Neiman 2 2016

They require the possession of immense physical power and emotional maturity, which renders these works as being among Chopin’s most challenging.

I love all four of them equally. They are true masterworks of the highest order.

chopin-ballade-2-autograph

In there anything else you would like to say?

I am deeply honored and extremely delighted to return to Madison to perform this recital. I look forward to seeing many familiar faces, as well as new friends. Thank you!


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson is offering a 4-part Chopin course and an all-Chopin concert on Feb. 25 (NOT Feb. 24 as first announced an mistakenly printed here). TODAY is the deadline for enrolling in the course

January 27, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Trevor Stephenson (below), who founded and co-directs the Madison Bach Musicians, may be best known in the Madison area for his work with early music and Baroque music.

But Stephenson, who is known for his outstanding pre-concert lectures as well as for his performances, is also deeply involved in period instruments and historically informed performance practices concerning Romantic music.

trevor-stephenson-with-1855-bosendorfer-grand

He writes to The Ear: “In February, I’m offering a four-part course on  piano music by Frederic Chopin (below). This will meet on Thursday evenings 6-7:30 p.m. at my home studio. Information is below. Email me to enroll.

“Also, I’ll play an all-Chopin house concert on SATURDAY, FEB. 25 AT 7 P.M. — NOT Sunday, Feb. 26, at 3 p.m. as first and mistakenly printed here — which will be here at the home studio as well. Refreshments will be served. Reservations are required (trevor@trevorstephenson.com). Admission is $40.”

Chopinphoto

CHOPIN COURSE

DATES: February 2, 9, 16, 23

TIME: Thursdays 67:30 p.m.

PLACE: 5729 Forstyhia Place, Madison WI 53705

COST: Enrollment is $120

Reading knowledge of music is suggested.

Class size is limited to 15, and enrollment closes TODAY, Friday, Jan. 27.

Contact trevor@trevorstephenson.com

TOPICS:

Feb. 2: Waltzes, Preludes

Feb. 9: Nocturnes, Mazurkas

Feb. 16: Etudes, Polonaises

Feb. 23: Ballades, Scherzos

Instruments to be used are: an 18th-century Fortepiano (Sheppard after Stein)
 c. 1840; a Cottage Upright Piano (attr. C. Smart ) c. 1850; and English Parlor Piano (Collard & Collard) 
c. 1855; and a Viennese Concert Grand Piano (Bösendorfer) 

Subject matter will include: Origins of Chopin’s compositional style; tonal qualities of his pianos, early 19th-century temperaments; fingering; pedaling; articulation; touch; tempo; and tempo rubato.


Classical music: The UW-Madison Concert Choir performs a FREE concert of three contemporary works this Sunday afternoon. Plus, here are the winners and works of the Beethoven piano competition’s FREE concert on Sunday

April 15, 2016
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ALERT: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has announced the winners of the 31st annual Beethoven piano competition. The FREE winners’ concert is this Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. Oxana Khramova will play the Polonaise in C Major, Op. 89,  and Two Rondos, Op. 51; Kyle Johnson will play the Sonata in F minor, Op. 57, “Appassionata“; and Shuk-Ki Wong will play the late Sonata in E Major, Op. 109. There will be a reception after the concert. The judge for the competition was Dan Lyons, a UW-Madison graduate and the pianist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Here is a link to more information about the winners and their teachers:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/31st-annual-beethoven-piano-competition-honors-concert/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following message:

This Sunday, April 17, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall the UW-Madison Concert Choir (below top) will perform a FREE concert under its director and conductor Beverly Taylor (below bottom).

Concert Choir

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

The “Three for Free” program, features three wonderful contemporary works that have something delightful for everyone.

We’ll begin with “The Hope of Loving” by Jake Runestad – for chorus with a string quartet — a warm, and Romantically phrased work that was premiered by the ensemble Seraphic Fire last year.

It will feature three fine Concert Choir soloists: Kenny Lyons, Talia Engstrom and Eliav Goldman.

Runestad recently received the ASCAP award for composers.

Jake Runestad

The second work on our program is the 2016 edition of “Llorona,” written for the Concert Choir and guitar by UW-Madison composition Professor Laura Schwendinger (below), who has won numerous awards for her works.

It’s based on a famous Mexican song and tale of a woman who dies with her children; her voice can be heard on the wind.

Laura Schwendinger 2

Our final work is “The World Beloved” by Minnesota composer Carol Barnett (below). It is a “Bluegrass Mass,” which features many Concert Choir soloists and blue grass instruments. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Mass combines parts of the usual mass forms of Kyrie and Agnus Dei with folk hymn ballads presented both by themselves and used to replace part of the usual mass text.

Carol Barnett

The program will be approximately 75 minutes long, including a short intermission.


Classical music: Meet Korean pianist Ji-Yong and see the back story to the great TV piano ad for Google Android apps.

February 29, 2016
3 Comments

ALERTS: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall is a FREE recital by the UW-Madison percussion studio. Sorry, no details about the program. Also please note that the joint faculty recital on this coming Saturday night by flutist Stephanie Jutt, oboist Kostas Tiliakos and pianist Christopher Taylor has been CANCELLED. 

By Jacob Stockinger

Maybe you’ve seen one of The Ear’s favorite TV ads these days.

He finds it to be both very eye-catching and very ear-catching. It is called “Monotune.”

It is about the Google Android apps and it features the well-known young Korean pianist Ji-Yong (Kim) playing a section of the emotionally ferocious and technically difficult last movement of the famous “Moonlight” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven on a regular Steinway piano and then an on a specially build “monotune” piano where all the notes are the same – specifically, Middle C.

The ad emphasizes difference and complementarity of difference – and provides a good metaphor for social diversity too. So The Ear bets that it wins some awards in the advertising profession.

Here is the YouTube video of the ad:

Making of the Android App ad included building a special piano that could be tuned so all notes play a middle C. Here is the fascinating back story:

From the playing The Ear thought: This is a serious and accomplished pianist – not some second-rate hack brought in for an ad. He is expressive but not self-indulgent or flamboyant like, say, the Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang.

He was right.

Ji-Yong is a serious pianist and former impressive prodigy, so maybe the Android ad will further his career with many new bookings. He deserves it. The Ear sure would like to hear him live.

Here are other samples of his playing:

Here he is playing the complete Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825, by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Ear likes his lively but convincing interpretation of Baroque music on a modern piano:

And here he plays the opening movement of the virtuosic “Waldstein” Sonata, Op. 53, by Beethoven:

Along more miniature and less heroic lines, here he plays two favorites from Robert Schumann’s “Scenes From Childhood” – first “Of Foreign Lands and People” and then “Träumerei” or “Dreams,” which was a favorite encore of Vladimir Horowitz:

Finally, here is a pretty amazing YouTube video of him as a young prodigy playing at the Miami International Piano Festival in 2008. He is performing a difficult work, the Andante and Grande Polonaise, Op. 22, by Frederic Chopin:

What do you think of the Android ad?

And what do you think of pianist Ji-Yong?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Music for piano-four hands played a vital historical role in disseminating classical music and also in encouraging amateur musicians and a socially acceptable form of erotic intimacy.

April 1, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

First things first — a full disclosure because today is April 1 or April Fool’s Day.

april fools day

But this is no April Fool’s post. The Ear detests using the media, old or new, for April Fool’s stories and pranks. The Ear finds them stupid and reprehensible. They undercut credibility and insult readers or consumers by taking advantage of their gullibility.

So …

Yesterday, you may recall, I posted a preview of the upcoming recital this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. by pianists Peter Serkin and Julie Hsu at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/classical-music-pianists-peter-serkin-and-julia-hsu-will-play-works-for-piano-four-hands-by-mozart-schubert-schumann-and-brahms-this-saturday-night-at-farleys-house-of-pianos/

But as background, or perhaps an appetizer or teaser, I thought you might like to see a link sent to me by a professor friend at Stanford University. It covers a book by his colleague in German that offers not only history but also the role of four-hand playing in encouraging intimacy, a kind of erotic sensuality and sexuality that was socially acceptable. Then, too, music playing also bridged the worlds of professional and amateur musicians.

Whether or not you attend the concert at Farley’s, it is good to read the overview of the vital role that music for piano-four hands (below is the team of Varshavsky and Shapiro who perform quite often in the area) played in the history of Western classical music. They helped to disseminate into ordinary homes versions of the symphonies by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven at a time when hearing a real symphony was a rare occasion.

And of course they also encouraged Hausmusik — the playing of music in private homes before commercial concerts became established. A piano was like the CD player or radio or television of its day.

Stanislava Varshavski-Diana Shapiro

Madison hears its fair share of such music. It is always featured at the Schubertiades, held by wife-and-husband pianists Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music in late January.

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

Such music has also appeared regularly at the free Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen Museum of Art, the annual Karp Family Labor Day Concerts, the summer Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, Farley’s House of Pianos, and other important series.

The Ear has enjoyed such music – in addition to the many social works by Franz Schubert, I have heard Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms, Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak and Polonaises by Franz Schubert, for example — but was never fully aware of what, historically, he was listening to.

So The Ear found the historical essay fascinating and thought you might also appreciate it.

Here is a link to the essay:

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/december/piano-monster-daub-120814.html

And here is a link to a YouTube video of the piece that is perhaps the crown jewel of piano-four hand literature — Franz Schubert’s late Fantasy in F Minor, D. 940 — performed by two of my favorite British pianists, Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis:


Classical music: Learn about – and listen to Rafal Blechacz –- the talented Polish pianist who is the 2014 winner of the unusual Irving S. Gilmore Foundation. Plus, Trevor Stephenson will play a house concert of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Bartok this Sunday afternoon.

January 10, 2014
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REMINDER: Madison keyboardist Trevor Stephenson writes: “On this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 12, at 3 p.m., I’ll play a fortepiano house concert at my home at 5729 Forsythia Place on the west side of music ranging from Haydn to Bartok. (I know that Bartok is not usual fare on the fortepiano—but the other day I was reading through his Romanian Folk Dances at the fortepiano and was simply stunned by how energetic they sounded—since the style of these comes largely from cimbalom playing (Romanian hammer dulcimer, and the fortepiano is really a hammer dulcimer in a tuxedo). So this really makes perfect sense. The concert will also feature Mozart’s charming variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata, Op. 13, two Mazurkas by Chopin, and Haydn’s waggish Sonata No. 23 in F major. Sweet and savory treats, drinks, and will be wine served. Admission is $35. Reservations are required: email trevor@trevorstephenson.com or (608) 238-6092.

House music 2 in the round

By Jacob Stockinger

It happens once every four years.

The contestants for the unusual Gilmore competition,which is based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for classical pianists don’t even know that they are in the running. Unlike other major competitions like the Tchaikovsky, the Van Cliburn, the Arthur Rubinstein and the Chopin, in the Gilmore the anonymous judges follow an individual’s career over a period of time and then choose the “winner.”

This year’s winner in the polish pianist Rafal Blechacz (below), who has already won the Chopin competition at 20 – the first Polish pianist to do so in 20 years, he also took all the gold medals in individual categories and was so good that no second prize was awarded. He has recorded half a dozen acclaimed CDs of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Karol Szymanowski and Claude Debussy and of course Chopin for Deutsche Grammophon.

Rafal Blechacz DG

The year’s recipient has been all over the airwaves and the web, so here is everything you may want to know about Rafal Blechacz plus his inaugural concert as the winner that was streamed live Wednesday night by famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City, which then archived it for those of who missed the live event.

Here is the official announcement:

http://www.thegilmore.org

Here is an candid and cordial interview done by Tom Huizenga and NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that was broadcast on “All Things Considered”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/06/260276435/cachet-and-cash-for-rafa-blechacz-named-2014-gilmore-artist

Here is the announcement in a story in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/08/arts/music/rafal-blechacz-is-chosen-for-gilmore-artist-award.html

Archived video of his sold-out concert Wednesday at the Greene Space that can be found at WQXR. No one listed the program even though it was live-streamed – but instead announced the works AFTER they were played.

That is too teasing for my taste, whether it is done on WQXR or on Wisconsin Public Radio. Can we please have the pieces to be played up front before the performance and then again after the performance?

The program included a Chopin waltz (the soulful valse triste in A Minor, Op. 34, No 2) and the two Op. 40 Polonaises the “Military” Polonaise and one in C minor;  the Largo slow movement Beethoven’s Sonata in D, Op. 10, No. 3, and the scherzo from the same composer’s Sonata in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2;  the spirited first movement from Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 311; and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”

All works except the Debussy and the Chopin waltz are available on recordings. (But you can hear a YouTube video of Blechacz playing the three waltzes of Op. 64, including the famous “Minute” Waltz, at the bottom.)

In the broadcast, Dan Gustin, head of the Gilmore Foundation, speaks about the unusual award, as does the last 2010 winner Kirill Gerstein, who uses Skype. Here is the link:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/webcast-2014-gilmore-artist-award-announcement/

Some of the Gilmore winners seem to disappoint and peter out. I keep expecting to hear big things from the very talented Argentinian Ingrid Fliter, for example, but no such luck. Rafal Blechacz, on the other hand, seems more likely to follow the path of  Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who is perhaps the Gilmore winner who has maintained the highest profile and had the biggest career.


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