The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: After a year recovering from an injury, Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang says he has become a more serious musician

August 11, 2019
2 Comments

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Chinese pianist Lang Lang (below) has long been popular, a best-selling superstar and one of the most bankable players in the business.

Yet such was his flamboyant showmanship and self-indulgence that many of his colleagues and critics did not take him very seriously. Many thought of him more as the Liberace of the classical concert stage.

But then a serious injury to his left arm, tendonitis from over-practicing and straining, forced Lang Lang to take a year off to recover.

During that time he married. He worked with young children and music students, even funding a new piano lab. And he released a new CD (“Piano Book”) of short pieces that he has loved since his student days. (You can see Lang Lang coaching a young pianist about a Mozart sonata that played a pivotal role in his life during a master class in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Lang Lang now says that during that recovery period he rethought everything about his career and has made some major changes from practicing to performing.

And what seems to have emerged, at age 37, is a new approach that emphasizes more seriousness and regularity coupled with greater respect for the music he plays.

Time will tell – in both live and recorded performances — how much has really changed in Lang Lang’s approach to making music.

Nonetheless, the dramatic change was recounted recently in a comprehensive story in The New York Times, which even goes back to trace the pianist’s career, including failures, from his early childhood (below) in China.

Read it and see what you think.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/24/arts/music/lang-lang-piano.html

Then tell us in the Comment section if it has changed how you think about Lang Lang.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Meet UW-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon who performs with the Willy Street Chamber Players on Friday night

July 17, 2019
2 Comments

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Who is Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill)?

This week, he is the bassoonist who will perform Franz Danzi’s Quartet for Bassoon and Strings in D minor, Op. 40, No. 2 (ca. 1820), this coming Friday night, July 19, with the acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players (below), who will also be joined by pianist Jason Kutz and violist Sharon Tenhundfeld..

(The concert is at 6 p.m. in Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street. The program includes: the Allegretto for Piano Trio by Ludwig van Beethoven (1812); “Dark Wood” by American composer Jennifer Higdon (2001); and the rarely heard String Quartet No. 1  (1948) by Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera. Admission is $15.)

A native of France, Vallon is one of the busiest musicians in Madison. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, where he also performs individually, with faculty and student colleagues, and as a member of the Wingra Wind Quintet. He also frequently performs and conducts Baroque music with the Madison Bach Musicians.

Vallon attended the Paris Conservatory, where he won first prizes in bassoon and chamber music, and also earned a philosopher degree at the Sorbonne or University of Paris.

A versatile musician, Vallon played with famed avant-garde French composer Pierre Boulez and for more than 20 years was the principal bassoon of the well-known Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. He has also performed with major modern orchestras and conductors as well as with many period-instrument groups.

He gives master classes worldwide and also composes.

For a more extended and detailed biography, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/marc-vallon/

Vallon recently did an email Q&A interview with The Ear:

What drew you to the bassoon (below) over, say, the piano or singing, over strings, brass or other woodwinds?

I played the piano as young kid but was not very interested in the mechanics of it, even if I had a strong passion for music. It was the day that my piano teacher brought to my lesson a friend of his to do a bassoon demo that I found the right medium for my passion.

I started practicing like a maniac and knew by the age of 14 that I was going to be a professional bassoonist.

What would you like the public to know about the bassoon, perhaps about the challenges of playing it and about the repertoire for it?

The bassoon does not offer more challenges than other wind instruments, but it is safe to say that an absolute perfectionist person should probably not play it.

It is an instrument capable of true beauties, yet it has its own character. You don’t conquer it, you work with it like you would work with a wonderful but temperamental colleague.

Bassoonists sometimes complain that our solo repertoire is not as rich in masterpieces as the clarinet’s or the flute’s. True, but in its 350 years of existence, the bassoon has amassed enough wonderful music to keep us busy for several lifetimes.

What would you like to tell the public about the specific Bassoon Quartet by Franz Danzi that you will perform, and about Danzi and his music in general?

The bassoon and strings quartet became popular in the last decades of the 18th century, a trend that lasted well into the Romantic era.

Sadly, many of these quartets are basically show-off pieces for the bassoonist while the strings players have to suffer through some often very dull accompaniment parts.

I like this one by Danzi (below) because it features the strings on the same musical level as the bassoon, creating an enjoyable musical conversation rather than a cocky bassoon monologue. (You can hear that musical conversation in the opening movement of the Bassoon Quartet by Danzi in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

As a performer and conductor, you are well–known for championing baroque music as well as modern and contemporary music. Do you have a preference? Do they feed each other in your experience?

What I always have enjoyed about playing contemporary music is the possibility to work with living composers because I often realized how flexible they are with their own music and how much they like the performer’s input. They’re often ready to compromise and veer away from the strict notation.

The approach when playing composers from the past is actually very similar in the sense that we have to remember how approximate music notation is. Baroque composers are not here anymore obviously, but the 17th and 18th centuries sources tell us clearly how much flexibility we, modern performers, have in our approach to their music.

When it comes to music pre-1800, we basically have a sketch on our music stands. I always want to remember this. (Below is a manuscript page of a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Do you have big projects coming up next season?

Always! I am putting together a contemporary program on March 27 in our new concert hall on campus. It is called ”Opening Statements” and will feature early works from major 20th-century composers.

On period instruments, I have Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” and more Bach on my calendar.

Is there something else you would like to say?

A big Thank You to you, Jake, for being such a relentless and informed advocate of the Madison musical scene!


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Classical music: Here are practicing tips from pianist Emanuel Ax who uses software to help correct wrong notes

September 28, 2018
3 Comments

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR SHARE IT (not just “Like It”) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

Even professional musicians can find practicing to be an ordeal.

“Ax is back,” says the publicity.

That’s because world-famous pianist Emanuel Ax (below, in a photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco) is back in Madison to help open John DeMain’s 25th anniversary season with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Ax will perform the monumental and fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 2 by Johannes Brahms tonight, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

It is a piece that Ax performed live some 200 times before he would agree to recording it.

Here is a link to more about the MSO concerts with the famous pianist:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/09/26/classical-music-this-weekend-pianist-emanuel-ax-helps-conductor-john-demain-opens-his-25th-season-with-the-madison-symphony-orchestra/

And here is a link to a story about how Ax, who describes himself as a slow learner and who teaches students at the Juilliard School in New York City, practices. It contains his own tips and also talks about special software he uses to detect and correct wrong notes that is available to students and amateurs :

https://lifehacker.com/how-emanuel-ax-makes-piano-practice-less-of-a-slog-1826402441

And as a follow-up, here is a short example of the many YouTube videos of master classes with Emanuel Ax. This one small passage in a sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven gives you a good idea of the hard work that goes into the 50-minute concerto by Brahms:


Classical music: Want to know how professional musicians practice? For the next 100 days on Instagram, violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn will show you

August 13, 2018
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Many listeners and many amateur musicians often wonder: How do professionals do it? How do they practice to prepare for a performance? And what goes on in the practice rooms (below) of major conservatories and schools of music where tomorrow’s professionals study?

Of course the usual advice is to play slowly, to repeat difficult sections and to break a larger piece down into smaller parts.

But it is one thing to be told what to do, and another thing to see professionals follow their own advice and put it into practice. The Ear finds that it often inspires him to work harder and better, and more efficiently and satisfyingly.

Many performers seem reluctant to show up what goes into a career, to show the hard work of practicing that leads to apparently effortless performing.

Not Hilary Hahn (below, in a  photo by Peter Miller), the outstanding violin virtuoso who has performed several times at the Wisconsin Union Theater in some of the finest programs The Ear has ever heard.

Recently Hahn, the thoughtful three-time Grammy Award winner, started a series called #100daysofpractice on her Instagram account called “Hilary Hahn’s Violincase.” It is worth subscribing to for the short one-minute videos.

It is fascinating to see such a gifted professional slowing down passages of concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach and Jean Sibelius – music Hahn already knows intimately and has recorded — and to hear and appreciate how she continues to practice making hard leaps, negotiating difficult transitions, adjusting bowing, correcting off-pitches and finding difficult fingering and hand positions.

If you haven’t seen and heard it for yourself, treat yourself. You will learn a lot that will help you to appreciate the physicality of making music and perhaps even help you to play it better yourself.

Here is a link: https://www.instagram.com/violincase/

And there is another sample in the YouTube video at the bottom:

What do you think?

Do you know of other sites on the web and social media that document professional musicians practicing? If so, please leave the address in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Bach Around the Clock 2018 is looking for participating performers to sign up

January 27, 2018
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s time to get practicing!

The Ear has received the following announcement to post for those who are interested in participating and performing in Bach Around the Clock 2018.

Dear friends,

I invite you to Bach Around The Clock, the annual FREE community festival celebrating the music and birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach.

It will take place this year on Saturday, March 10, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, on Madison’s near west side. There is free on-street parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

Players and singers; soloists and ensembles; beginners, amateurs and professionals — all are welcome to come share your musical gifts with the Madison community, and to enjoy the performances that will go on all day. Audience members can come and go, and stay as long or as short as they like. (At bottom is a YouTube video from a previous Bach Around the Clock with arrangements of a Two-Part Invention.)

Those who are unable to attend in person can view the event via live stream.

There will be an upright piano and a grand piano available.

This year there will also be a small back-up for concertos.

Performers and audience members can relax between numbers in the newly remodeled Parish Hall, directly below the Sanctuary, where refreshments, comfortable seating and free wi-fi will be available throughout the event, with birthday cake served at the end.

For more information, please visit our website at: bacharoundtheclock.wordpress.com

To sign up for a performance time, visit our Contact/Sign Up page at bacharoundtheclock.wordpress.com/contact/

Thank you and hope to see you there,

Marika Fischer Hoyt, Artistic Director 
Bach Around The Clock

Tel : 608-233-2646; batcmadison@gmail.comwww.facebook.com/batcmadison; bacharoundtheclock.wordpress.com


Classical music: All pianists are invited to the first annual FREE and PUBLIC ‘Keyboard Day’ at UW-Madison on March 4. This coming Tuesday is the deadline for high school pianists to apply to perform

January 26, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Calling all pianists, amateur and professional, and especially high school pianists!

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is sponsoring a daylong workshop for pianists and the keyboard artists called “From the Practice Room to the Stage: The Pathway to Artistry.”

pathways-to-artistry-logo

The first annual “Keyboard Day” event is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, and will take place in Morphy Hall on Saturday, March 4.

Morphy piano 1

The event features UW-Madison students and faculty members – including well-known UW pianists Christopher Taylor (below top) and Martha Fischer (below bottom) — as well as selected high school pianists who will take part in master classes and recitals.

NOTE: The deadline for high school pianists to apply to participate in master classes and recitals is this coming Tuesday, Jan. 31. Those who are selected will be notified by Feb. 15. For more information, see below.

Christopher Taylor new profile

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

The purpose of the daylong event is to help advertise the piano program at the UW-Madison and to attract talented high school piano students to the UW music school.

Workshops will cover many aspects, from learning a new piece, developing keyboard technique, practicing efficiently and overcoming stage fright when performing.

There will be master classes too.

Interested high school students must submit a recording of two pieces as well as an application.

Here is a link with a complete schedule and more specific information about the various workshops and concerts, along with an application form that can be downloaded and submitted:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pathways-to-artistry-uw-madison-keyboard-day/

Steinway Grand Piano


Classical music education: How long should you practice each day? And how should you go about learning a new piece?

September 2, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Fall is just about here and school is starting.

In fact, today is the first day of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the UW-Madison School of Music.

That means a lot of undergraduate and graduate students there will resume music lessons.

And of course, private lessons are resuming as Labor Day approaches.

The Ear wanted to post something that seemed appropriate and germane. And what issue could be more central to music lessons that the question of practicing?

How long should a student practice?

How many hours a day?

Those are questions faced by most, if not all, music students and their parents -– and by a lot of teachers too.

Recently, The Ear came across one of the best answers.

The sensible and insightful answer was given by Pamela Frank, a concertizing violinist who has taught at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia since 1996. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, Frank also discusses how to learn a new piece of music. She has more insightful remarks to offer, including the role of using recordings.)

pamela frank

Now, Frank – who speaks from her own experience — is a string player.

But it seems to The Ear that her remarks apply equally well to the piano and to various other families of instruments –- winds, brass, percussion.

And here’s the payoff: She emphasizes the quality of practicing not the quantity, and the time commitment will seem pretty practical to many musicians.

For specifics, watch and listen to her video.

Here is a link:

http://www.theviolinchannel.com/vc-masterclass-pamela-frank-many-hours-practicing-everyday/

 

 


Classical music: How do concert pianists practice? Stephen Hough offers tips.

October 19, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

So much of playing the piano – or any instrument or indeed any performing art -– boils down to practicing. Specifically, that means how to practice correctly, how to practice productively.

practice room and piano

Recently, I blogged about a wonderfully useful story that appeared on NPR’s terrific classical music blogDeceptive Cadence” about 10 tips for successful practicing. (It also some  interesting reader suggestions and tips that you should read.)

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/classical-music-here-are-10-tips-from-npr-on-how-to-improve-your-practicing/

cello practice

From a slightly different perspective, British pianist Stephen Hough (below) more recently blogged about how professional concerts pianists practice. He included some great tips from his own teachers.

Hough_Stephen_color16

Now, Hough is not only a concert pianist but also an exceptional one. In addition, he is an excellent teacher, as I witnessed firsthand several years ago when he gave a master class at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. (At the bottom is a YouTube video of a master class Hough gave on Liszt at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.)

And not for nothing was he the first instrumentalist to receive a MacArthur “genius award.” This multi-talented man – who is openly gay and who converted to Roman Catholicism at 19 — composes music, created a special app for Franz Liszt‘s Sonata in B Minor and writes extremely insightful and intelligent blogs for the Daily Telegraph newspaper and website in the United Kingdom on many different subjects. And he still finds time to be a globe-trotting, award-winning, much-in-demand concert pianist with dozens of recordings to his credit.

hough

So here is a recent entry that of Hough’s talking about the DO’s and DON’Ts of how professional concert pianists – with limited time for practicing – go about the tricky but absolutely vital business of practicing.

It is an article that Hough wrote for the November/December issue of International Piano magazine. And it adds to the many other blog posts he has done about learning how to play the piano. (You can use a search engine o his site to check out other ones.)

The Ear hopes you find it as helpful and engaging as he did:

Here is a link:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100070997/the-practice-of-practising/

Do you have any practicing suggestions?

The Ear want to hear.


Classical music: Here are 10 tips from NPR on how to improve your practicing.

September 7, 2013
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear is willing to bet that 90 percent of having successful and satisfying music lessons boils down to knowing how to practice.

practice room and piano

That takes a long time and a lot of experience. And you know how hard it is when so many actual lessons turn into guided practice sessions, no matter whether it is a question of the voice, the piano, strings like the violin an cello,  brass and woodwinds,

violin practice

But NPR’s outstanding classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” recently offered 10 tips, culled from various sources, for improving how you practice. I find them useful and suspect so will you.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/09/03/216906386/10-easy-ways-to-optimize-your-music-practice

Use the COMMENT space on this blog to let all of us know how these practice tips work for you and if you have any special tips for practicing of your own.

cello practice

Thank you, NPR. And you can also find some useful practice videos for various instrument at YouTube (at bottom).

So spread the word and share these tips by passing them along to others with this blog post.

Now, let’s all go make music!


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