The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet closes out its season with polished, precise and emotionally intense performances of contrasting music by Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Caroline Shaw

May 16, 2019
Leave a Comment

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

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

The Ancora String Quartet (below) is closing its season with a cluster of concerts around the area, including a central one Tuesday night at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Regent Street in Madison.

Of the three works in the program, the centerpiece was the Entr’acte by the American musician and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw (below, in a photo by Kait Moreno). It was written in 2011 when Shaw was 29, and has won some acclaim over the years.

It is cast roughly in the traditional form of a minuet and trio, but its point is less any musical substance than the invention of new and utterly eccentric ways of string playing for ear-catching sound effects. Many of those effects are, to be sure, intriguing.

Surrounding this was a pair of quartets seemingly very distinct from each other but related.

The first published quartet, in A major, Op. 13, by Felix Mendelssohn (below), was written in the wake of a romantic song he wrote and whose motives he then used in the quartet.

Emotional suggestions aside, however, it is notable as a darker and more intense work than his subsequent ones in this form. It was composed in 1827, when Mendelssohn was 18, but also the year in which Beethoven died. And it is the shadow of Beethoven, and of Beethoven’s innovations in his later quartets, that hangs over the Mendelssohn work.

Clearly the young master was trying to see how he could absorb the older master’s progressive style into his own still emerging one. I think he found in the process that the two could not be reconciled, and so his subsequent quartets were to be in a less stressful vein.

Against that 1827 work, we were then offered a composition from Beethoven’s own earlier years when he was 29 or 30.  This was the final quartet in the set of six published as his Op. 18.

This Op. 18, No. 6, by Beethoven (below) in B-flat major — the program had it mistakenly in G major — is a Janus-faced work, its first two movements still rooted in the late 18th-century background, but with a scherzo full of quirks and tricks that point to the future, and a finale that plays on emotional contrasts.

Its opening Malinconia – or melancholic – music is contested by music of rousing joy, somewhat prefiguring Beethoven’s absorption with recovering his health in the Heiliger Dankgesang (Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving) of his late string quartet, Op. 132. (You can hear the two contrasting moods and themes in the last movement, played by the Alban Berg Quartet, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For all three of these scores, a quartet member gave some introductory comments. (Below, first violinist Wes Luke introduces the work by Caroline Shaw.)

Members of the Ancora String Quartet are violinists Wes Luke and Robin Rynan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb. As a group, the Ancora players displayed intensity and absorption as well as polished precision, in a program of contrasts.


Posted in Classical music
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Classical music: Did anyone else hear Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and think of Donald Trump’s America as well as Stalin’s Russia?

November 21, 2016
15 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has to agree with a knowledgeable friend.

If you heard the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under music director John DeMain, perform the famous Symphony No. 5 in D minor — the same key as Beethoven’s Ninth — by Dmitri Shostakovich almost two weeks ago, you heard a performance that rivals or surpasses any other one, live or recorded, you’ve probably heard.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The performance was nothing short of stunning. And it was especially moving, given its timing in coming right after the presidential election in which Republicans Donald Trump and Mike Pence won an upset surprise victory over Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.

mike-pence-and-donald-trump

So here is what The Ear wants to know:

Was The Ear the only one who found himself thinking that the symphony proved an especially fitting, perhaps perfect, choice even though it was programmed a year ago? (You can hear the moving third movement, a lament with such pathos that people cried at its premiere, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Was The Ear the only one who identified with Shostakovich, who felt an even deeper empathy with the oppressed composer (below), who, fearing with good reason the dictator Joseph Stalin and his reign of Terror in the USSR, always kept a small suitcase packed with pajamas and a toothbrush by the front door in case the KGB secret police came knocking at 3 a.m., the usual arrest hour?

dmitri shostakovich

The symphony is dark music for dark times. And The Ear hopes he wrong when he fears that America is headed for some dark times of its own, times when various people and members of our society will live in constant fear and dread of what they might suffer?

This is not to suggest that President-elect Donald Trump can be equated to the murderous Joseph Stalin (below), or the United States in 2016 to the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

jospeh-stalin-2

But it is to suggest that some comparisons — if not equations — might be in order.

It is to suggest there will be a constant and unsettling anxiety in the US created by a new ruling order that seems based on insults and intolerance, that excludes and condemns what it doesn’t approve of, that seeks to suppress or destroy opposition?

Like Latino and Syrian immigrants.

Like Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians.

Like African-Americans, Native Americans and other non-whites.

Like poor people.

Like liberals and progressives, dissenters and protesters .

Like LGBT people.

Like women and women’s health advocates and organizations that favor reproductive rights.

The list could go on and on.

But you get the idea.

If either as a musician or an audience member you agree – or disagree – leave a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Female classical musicians are coerced to sex up their image, says star violinist Nicola Benedetti

July 27, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear loves all the talk about female equality happening at the Democratic National Convention this week.

It seems only fitting, after all, given that Hillary Rodham Clinton last night became the first female presidential nominee of a major political party in the U.S.

Now, you might think that culture and especially the arts lead the way in such progressive matters.

And sometimes they do.

But not always.

In a story in the newspaper The Daily Mail, published in the United Kingdom, Scottish star violinist Nicola Benedetti (below) says that female classical musicians are still coerced to “sex it up” to have major careers. (Y0u can hear another interview with her in the YouTube video at the bottom. She seems both charming and candid.)

NIcola Benedetti PIcture:- Decca/Simon Fowler

NIcola Benedetti
PIcture:- Decca/Simon Fowler

Hmmm. Sounds almost like an appropriate story at a time when conservative political genius and news director Roger Ailes was forced to leave his Fox News job because of multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

Benedetti cites her own career as an example, and also the case of singer Charlotte Church (below), who had to wear sexy lingerie in a crossover video.

Charlotte Church

It sure sounds like sexism is alive and well in the world of classical music.

Here is a link to a story with Benedetti’s charges.

Read it and see what you think:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3682724/Proms-star-Nicola-Benedetti-Charlotte-Church-parading-lingerie-does-NOT-empower-women.htm

Then tell the rest of us what your opinion is.

And if you know of other examples.

The Ear recalls a sexed up album cover for American violinist Lara St. John (below) who, on a recording of solo works by Johann Sebastian Bach, used her instrument to conceal her bare breasts.

Lara St. John Bach breasts

Let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Presidential debates should include questions about funding and supporting the arts and humanities

October 27, 2015
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, well.

Tomorrow night — from 7 to 9 p.m. CDT on CNBC — there will be another presidential debate.

The always astonishing and amazing Republicans, led by the always astonishing and amazing Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, will debate in Boulder, Colorado.

Republican presidential debate

The Ear has watched three presidential debates so far — two Republican and one Democratic.

But he still has no idea of where the various candidates on both sides stand when it comes to government support of the arts –- including music — and the humanities.

Please tell us, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, what you think?

bernie sanders and hillary clinton in presidential debate

And you too, Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and Chris Christie and Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and John Kasich and ….

Do you want to defund PBS?

pbs logo in black

Or defund NPR?

npr

Or will you support these important and historic cultural commitments? Why or why not?

Along the same lines, do you want to defund, sustain or enhance the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities?

Why or why not?

Some funny reasoning is going on here. Some of the candidates want to eliminate all subsidies to the arts, which are a form of economic development after all – at a time when a lot of conservatives don’t mind funding big rich corporations in the same name of economic development.

The arts create a lot of jobs and spark a lot of spending and stimulus. Or don’t the culture-challenged charlatans realize that?

Stop and think a minute about the local situation. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Overture Center (below), public schools, the University of Wisconsin and its School of Music — all rely in part on public funding. They employ a lot of people and generate a lot of value.

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

Don’t these issues deserve a public airing? Doesn’t the arts consuming public have a right to know where the various candidates stand on these issues? Shouldn’t voters know what they might be getting in those areas?

As The Ear understand its, one flank of the attack has to do with the so called left-leaning liberal or progressive bias and politics of PBS and NPR.

Plus, there is the view that the art that public taxpayer money is helping to create doesn’t defend the so-called family values that the most radically conservative Republicans and Christian fundamentalists and Evangelicals want defended.

The other flank of the attack has to do with the stance that government should be smaller and that therefore should be funding less in general.

Makes you wonder just how the radical “freedom coalition” and Tea Party people in South Carolina, Texas and California feel about having a smaller government when it comes to providing aid for victims of torrential floods and devastating wildfires. And how is that kind of help for those in need different from funding education or health care?

California wildfires 2015 nbcnews

AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25, 2015 Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, TX – MAY 25, 2015
Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015.
(Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

Anyway, wouldn’t it be appropriate for some of the panelists to question the candidates on the issues pertaining to the arts and humanities?

The Ear is reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s comment during World War II. Some members of the British Parliament asked him if funding for the arts shouldn’t be cut and used instead to fight Hitler and the Nazis. He said no and added, “Then what would we be fighting for?”

winston churchill

Tell the Ear what you think. Leave a COMMENT.

Maybe, just maybe, someone else will read it and pass it along and we will finally get a substantive discussion from the candidates about where they stand on arts and humanities funding by the federal government.

 


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,188 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,034,640 hits
%d bloggers like this: