The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Mixing old and new music. Violinist Hilary Hahn talks about the works she commissioned and will play alongside classics when she performs Sunday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

April 20, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger 

There are many great violinists playing today. But arguably the most important and innovative is 36-year-old Hilary Hahn (below), the thoughtful virtuoso who returns to perform a MUST-HEAR recital in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater at 7:30 p.m. this coming Sunday night.

The last two recitals there by Hahn were two of the most memorable live chamber music performances The Ear has ever heard.

Hilary Hahn 2016

Tickets are $27.50 to $50.50. UW-Madison students are $10.

Here is a link to information about tickets, the program and audio samples:

http://uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/hilary-hahn.html

During her 20-year career, Hahn – who often mixes the old and new both in live performances and on recordings — has consistently turned in astounding performances of the violin repertoire, including classics. Those works include concertos and sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Niccolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Charles Ives, Jean Sibelius, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Samuel Barber, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein and others.

But she also frequently commissions and adds new works to the repertoire, including a concerto by Edgar Meyer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning concerto by Jennifer Higdon, who teaches composition at the Curtis Institute of music where Hahn studied. Plus, she is a talented and charming “postcard” blogger and interviewer.

Both sides of Hilary Hahn’s artistry – the classic and the contemporary — will be on display during her Madison recital. The very busy Hahn (below, in a photo by Peter Miller) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Hilary Hahn 2016 CR Peter Miller

You have long been known as an innovative artist. What are your new and upcoming projects, including recordings and commissions?

I’m in the middle of a 14-month-long artist residency at the Vienna Konzerthaus. It’s my first such experience, so I feel like a kid in a candy store, getting to try out ideas sequentially that I would otherwise have to stretch over several years.

I’m excited to include among my residency performing as soloist with five different orchestras in the same hall, as well as giving a recital there and developing local initiatives to bring the community and classical music even closer together. Next year, I will be in residence in Seattle and Lyon. It’s been fun seeing what residency activities I want to carry over and what I can add that is specific to each city.

As far as commissions go, over this season and next, I’m world-premiering and touring a significant new contribution to the solo violin repertoire, Six Partitas by Antón García Abril (below), written for me.

That is a meaningful project for me, because I sensed that Mr. García Abril would write a fantastic set of pieces if I could convince him to take on the assignment. He decided to do it and the music turned out to be more wonderful and inspiring to play than I could have imagined. It feels like those phrases breathe with me and the notes fit in my hands.

In addition, I am in the process of wrapping up the original trajectory of my project, In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores. After some concerts on this upcoming tour, as encores, my recital partner Cory Smythe and I will be giving world premieres of the Honorable Mentions from my Encores contest.

Finally, in the fall, the complete edition of the sheet music for all 27 original works will be published as a single edition, with my fingerings, bowings and performance notes.

Anton García Abril BW

Is there an underlying unity or purpose to your program of works by Mozart, Bach, García Abril, Copland and Davidson?

I hope the listeners will find their own versions of unity and purpose in the program. The pieces weren’t assembled randomly, but then again, everyone listens differently.

García Abril’s Six Partitas, of which I will play No. 1, entitled “Heart,” are solo polyphonic works. The violin alone carries multiple melodic lines, as well as providing its own harmonies. Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) wrote his polyphonic Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in 1720. I felt it was important to carry forward this particular type of composition into the present day, so I commissioned Mr. García Abril (below bottom, in a photo by Julio Ficha) to create this set of works. (You can hear Hilary Hahn interview Anton Garcia Abril in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

His writing for violin is compelling, fluid, emotional, clever and expressively rich in a way that I felt needed to be explored further. Especially as this is the premiere tour of his Partita No. 1, I wanted to juxtapose the new work with one of Bach’s, namely the Third Sonata with its complex and multifaceted fugue.

As for the duo pieces on the program, the compositional styles — though they span 250 years — have a certain openness in common: the writing is not densely layered, leaving lots of room for imagination.

Bach1

Anton García Abril CR Julio Ficha

What about the works by Mozart and Copland?

Mozart’s set of sonatas for keyboard and violin is one of the most extensive for this instrumentation, and since I was a student, I’ve been adding at least one to my repertoire annually. It’s wonderful to explore such a prolific composer’s work over a long stretch of time. This particular sonata vacillates among stormy drama, lyricism and playfulness.

The piece by Aaron Copland (below) is gorgeous, revealing. In this sonata, Copland’s musical language is clearly recognizable, but the texture is more sparse than in his famous larger-ensemble works, making it boldly direct and engrossing to listen to.

aaron copland

And the music by Tina Davidson?

The work by Tina Davidson (below) follows on the tonality of the Copland, but the composer’s treatment of the music goes in an entirely different direction. “Blue Curve of the Earth” was written in Wyoming during an artist residency, and was inspired by a photo of the edge of the Earth from space. The music is dreamy yet dimensional, angular yet lush. “Blue Curve of the Earth” is from the Encores project.

Tina Davidson

What would you like the public to know about composers Antón García Abril and Tina Davidson and their violin music or music in general?

I like to picture where pieces were written; the surroundings can add another dimension to the music. Environment influences the creative process. The studio is the private stage. Antón works in a studio outside of Madrid that his son, the architect by the same name, designed for him. Tina is based out of a refashioned church in Pennsylvania, with vaulted ceilings and a garden.

Both write beautifully for voice. Since violin can be a lyrical instrument and is tonally varied, capable of both sustaining and articulating, the ability to write expressively for voice transfers to the violin. Also, I have the impression that both composers start from a strong conceptual point with their works. When I play their music, the big line is the first thing that jumps out at me; the myriad fine details support the gestures.

Hilary Hahn playing 2 horizontal

If you play an encore or two, will they be from the ones you commissioned a couple of years ago and won a Grammy for?

That’s the plan! I feel very close to those pieces. Great encores exist from previous centuries, too; I never rule out the classics.

Why did you commission 27 short encores?

I began to notice that new encore pieces were not being showcased as much as other types of contemporary works. Shorter pieces remain a crucial part of every violinist’s education and repertoire, and I believed that potential new favorites should be encouraged and performed as well.

How successful have they been with the public and with other artists?

The public embraced the project. The music contained within the Encores is varied and imaginative. Each composer had a different concept of what an encore can add to today’s musical landscape.

I think every listener can find at least one work that is particularly poignant. I want the audience to discover these pieces for themselves. It is thrilling to listen to music that you have never heard before and, uninfluenced by other people’s opinions, be free to feel your own response.

This project is something I’ve been working on for a long time; I would estimate that my direct involvement in all of the different parts will wind up having a 15-year arc. What I have learned on musical and creative levels from working with the composers will stay with me for my whole career, and the logistical lessons from organizing such a big project will influence my future work.

Most importantly, I hope the Encores themselves will continue in the active repertoire beyond my lifetime. That will be up to other performers, of course.

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

You have played here several times, both concertos and solo recitals. Is there anything you would like to say about performing in Madison and about Madison audiences?

I really enjoy Madison itself. It’s in a beautiful part of the country. I’ll never forget the first time I visited, in the winter, when the city was covered by snow and one of the sidewalks featured a table topped by a tower of knit hats and sweaters. As for the Madison audience, their curiosity and involvement are energizing.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Hello, everyone!


Classical music: The critically acclaimed vocal group Cantus sings about four kinds of love at the Stoughton Opera House this Saturday night. The Stoughton High School Concert Choir is a special guest performer.

March 30, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received word about an intriguing and appealing performance this weekend:

On this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., Cantus (below top, in a photo by Curtis Johnson), the critically acclaimed, nine-voice men’s vocal ensemble based in the Twin Cities, will perform at the Stoughton Opera House (below middle and bottom), known for its historical restoration and its fine acoustics.

Cantus Railing Clustered

Stoughton Opera House ext

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

Love has been the inspiration for artistic expression since the dawn of time. It is such a complex idea that the ancient Greeks broke it down into four different kinds: romantic, familial, friendly and unconditional or spiritual love.

Weaving together repertoire and interstitial remarks, Cantus regards this unquantifiable emotion from all sides.

The program spans multiple historical eras and cultural traditions.

It features music by Francis Poulenc, Edvard Grieg, Ludwig van Beethoven and Bobby McFerrin.

Each of those works is paired with newly commissioned works exploring each of the four loves (romantic, familial, friendly and spiritual) by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang (below top, in a photo by Peter Serling) as well as Roger Treece (second below), Joseph Gregorio (third below) and Ysaye Barnwell (below bottom).

david lang CR peter serling

Roger Treece

Joseph Gregorio

Ysaye Barnwell

The program brims with Cantus’s trademark programming juxtaposition, including pairing the Beach Boys’ “Their Hearts were Full of Spring” with  “Wedding Qawwali” by the Grammy Award- and Academy Award-winning Indian composer A. R. Rahman (below) and Michael McGlynn’s setting of the traditional Gaelic “Ceann Dubh Dilis (Her Sweet Dark Head)” in a set about romantic love.

A. R, Rahman

While seemingly disjointed on its face, the variety of repertoire throughout blends seamlessly and highlights the universality of Love – our greatest and most fragile gift.

For more information about Cantus, including biographies, photos, videos and audio samples, visit this link:

http://www.allianceartistmanagement.com/artist.php?id=cantus&aview=dpk

Here is a YouTube video about the program, with musical samples, to be performed in Stoughton:


Classical music: Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky performs Samuel Barber’s beautiful and popular Violin Concerto this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, which also celebrates spring with works by Beethoven and other composers. Plus, University Opera’s production of “Transformations,’ which ends Tuesday night, gets a rave review from Isthmus

March 14, 2016
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ALERT: University Opera’s production of “Transformations,” with dark and adult takes on fairy tales by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Anne Sexton and music by Conrad Susa, gets a rave review from critic Jay Rath writing for Isthmus. It calls the production breath-taking and an astonishing success. It also gives you tasty morsels of the show to whet your appetite.  The last performance is this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m in Music Hall. Here is a link:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/university-opera-transformations/

And here is a link to the A Tempo blog, with more information, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will perform a captivating concert this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

As usual, longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below) has pulled together an arresting program of both well-known and rarely heard works.

Indeed, Sewell seems to have an endless knack for finding modern music that is not well-known but nonetheless appeals on first hearing.

andrewsewell

Not that he neglects tried-and-true masterpieces.

Take the famous Violin Concerto by American composer Samuel Barber — most famous for his “Adagio for Strings” – which will feature the return of the young European prize-winning soloist Alexander Sitkovetsky (below).

alexander-sitkovetsky

The Ear always finds the work by Barber (below) absolutely riveting. It takes all of about 10 seconds before you realize you are hearing a beautiful masterpiece that will endure. And then it just gets better. (You can hear the slow second movement — performed by James Ehnes who has played with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Samuel Barber

The concert opens with a work by Irish composer, Joan Trimble (below), specifically her ethereal Suite for Strings from 1955.

joan trimble

That work proves a perfect complement to the popular Pastorale by Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson (below).

Lars-Erik Larsson

The Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, by Ludwig van Beethoven (below) is like his Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” in that it celebrates the joy, fullness and robust qualities of life. The slow movement has an other-worldly beauty. With its driving finale, the symphony packs a punch.

Yet wedged in between the three of Beethoven’s most famous symphonies – Nos. 3 “Eroica,” 5 and 6 “Pastoral” – the Symphony No. 4 often gets overlooked. Sewell’s mastery of the Classical style should bring it to life in a memorable performance.

Beethoven big

Tickets are $15-$80 with student rush tickets for $10, available on the day of the performance. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141 or visit www.wcoconcerts.org

ABOUT ALEXANDER SITKOVETSKY

Alexander Sitkovetsky, 32, was born in Moscow into a family with an established musical tradition and made his concerto debut at the age of eight. That same year he went to study at the Menuhin School in England.

Lord Yehudi Menuhin (below) was his inspiration throughout his school years and they performed together on several occasions, including the Double Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach and Duos for Two Violins by Bela Bartok at the St. James Palace, and he played the Violin Concerto by Felix Mendelssohn under Menuhin’s baton.

Yehudi Menuhin

Since then, Sitkovetsky has gone on to perform with the Netherlands Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic, London Mozart Players, Konzerthaus Orchester Berlin, Brussels Philharmonic, the European Union Chamber Orchestra, Malmo Symphony Orchestra, Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Mulhouse Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, St. Petersburg Symphony, Welsh National Opera and the BBC Concert Orchestra among many others.

This season, Alexander Sitkovetsky will make his debut in Brussels, Poznan, Santa Cruz in Bolivia and St. Petersburg and will go on two nationwide tours of the UK with the Brussels Philharmonic and St. Petersburg Symphony. He will also tour Australia with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and perform with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Sitkovetsky will return to the Kuhmo and Cheltenham Festivals and make debuts at the Verbier and Lockenhaus Festivals

Sitkovetsky, an avid chamber musician, has recorded for Angel/EMI, Decca, Orfeo, Onyx, BIS and Avanti Classics including the Bach Double Concerto with Julia Fischer.


Classical music: University Opera will stage three performances of “Transformations” this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night.

March 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Take children’s fairy tales – such as “Sleeping Beauty” (below) — and recast them through adult reinterpretations. You can get some pretty weird and dark and humorous results.

Henry Meynel Rheam painting Sleeping Beauty

That is not only the formula for Stephen Sondheim’s popular Broadway musical and later Hollywood movie “Into the Woods.”

It also worked for the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Anne Sexton, who grew depressed and killed herself at age 45. Her versions then became an opera.

anne sexton

The music, described as tonal and accessible, is by Conrad Susa (below), who taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The contemporary opera has been popular and widely staged.

Conrad Susa

This weekend and early next week, University Opera – the opera program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music – will give three performances in Music Hall of the work on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. (NOT 3:30 as first posted here mistakenly) and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOTE: An ad on Wisconsin Public Radio erroneously lists the performance times on Friday and Tuesday nights as 7 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.)

Admission is $25, $20 for seniors and $10 for students.

Members of the cast even posted an invitation video on YouTube:

For more information, visit the A Tempo blog of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which features remarks from interim opera director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio), who is based in New York City, and details about the pre-concert discussion on Friday night from 6 to 7 p.m. (There will also be talk back sessions after each performance.):

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/university-opera-presents-spring-show-transformations/

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

The music director is graduate student in conducting Kyle Knox (below), who recently conducted Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” for the Madison Opera and who conducts ensembles at the UW-Madison and the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Kyle Knox 2

For even more background, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/02/12/university-opera-presents-transformations/

Here is a sample, a YouTube video of the “Hansel and Gretel” section of “Transformations”:


Classical music: This is your brain on music! New scientific research shows that the human brain evolved special channels for hearing music. Read all about it!

February 13, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

What is your brain like on music? (The illustration below is by Marcos Chin.)

music and brain CR Marcos Chin

One of the most fascinating stories The Ear has ever read about music and science came last Tuesday in this week’s Science Times section of The New York Times.

The “Music Channel” story was reported by the acclaimed science writer  and journalist Natalie Angier (below), who won a Pulitzer Prize and has been nominated for a National Book Award She also included a sidebar story about her own experience undergoing the kind of MRI scan that helped researchers.

natalie angier

The upshot is this: No matter what kind of music you like – classical, jazz, folk, country, rock, pop – the human brain has developed special neural pathways to perceive the music.

In short, the human brain seems to have its own music room.

The story says this may help to explain why music seems a universal, cross-cultural phenomenon and why the first music instruments, such as the vulture bone flute found in Germany (below, in a photo by Jensen of the University of Tubingen) date back 42,000 years — some 24,000 years before the first cave painting appear in Lascaux, France.

Vulture bone flute CR Jensen:University of Tubingen

Plus, the story points out that the scientists and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) do not get the same result with non-musical noises. The special nerve pathways or circuits seem to have evolved specifically to receive musical information.

There is a lot more fascinating information in the story.

For The Ear, the bottom line is that we are closer to knowing why music has such deep appeal in so many different ways. And the researchers say that this study is just the beginning. (You can hear more about the effects of music on the human brain and body in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear looks forward to seeing more research about why music is special to the human brain: Is it the structure of music? The logic and intellectual content? Primarily the melody or harmony or rhythm? The emotional content?

Here is a link to the must-read story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/science/new-ways-into-the-brains-music-room.html?_r=0

And here is the sidebar story, “Lending Her Ears to MIT Experiment,” about Natalie Angier’s own experience with the MIT research study about music and the human brain. It explains the research methods in details from a subjective point of view:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/science/lending-her-ears-to-an-mit-experiment.html


Classical music: The new Grammy nominations can serve as a holiday gift guide.

December 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Each year at holiday time, The Ear offers a series of roundups of the best recordings and classical music gifts of the past year. The idea is to use them as holiday gift guides.

Today is Grammy Day.

grammy award BIG

So far, The Ear has listed choices made by the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-music-cds-of-2015-according-to-the-bbc-music-magazine-and-the-telegraph-newspaper/

And another roundup of book and videos as well as CDs by critics for The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/classical-music-its-small-business-saturday-here-are-classical-music-gift-suggestions-from-the-critics-for-the-new-york-times/

Now he adds the 58th annual Grammy nominations of 2016 that were announced this past Monday. The winners will be announced on Sunday, Feb. 15, on CBS television network. The telecast will be live and feature live performances.

The Ear likes to see if he can predict the winners. Outguessing the industry can be a fun, if frustrating, game to play.

He also notices two items of local interest.

The late Twin Cities composer Stephen Paulus, whose works were often commissioned and premiered in Madison by the Festival Choir of Madison and groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, has been nominated for several work.

stephen paulus

In addition, producer Judith Sherman, who has several Grammys to her credit, is nominated again. She is also the producer of the two recordings of the centennial commissions by the Pro Arte Quartet.

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

Here are the 58th annual Grammy nominees for Classical Music:

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL

Ask Your Mama: Leslie Ann Jones, John Kilgore, Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum & Justin Merrill, engineers; Patricia Sullivan, mastering engineer (George Manahan & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) Label: Avie Records

Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’: Dmitriy Lipay, engineer; Alexander Lipay, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot, Augustin Hadelich & Seattle Symphony) Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno D’Ulisse In Patria: Robert Friedrich, engineer; Michael Bishop, mastering engineer (Martin Pearlman, Jennifer Rivera, Fernando Guimarães & Boston Baroque) Label: Linn Records

Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil: Beyong Joon Hwang & John Newton, engineers; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Charles Bruffy, Phoenix Chorale and Kansas City Chorale) Label: Chandos

Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3, ‘Organ’: Keith O. Johnson and Sean Royce Martin, engineers; Keith O. Johnson, mastering engineer (Michael Stern and Kansas City Symphony) Label: Reference Recording

Ask Your Mama CD Cover

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL

Blanton Alspaugh: • Hill: Symphony No. 4; Concertino Nos. 1 & 2; Divertimento (Peter Bay, Anton Nel & Austin Symphony Orchestra) • Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil (Charles Bruffy, Phoenix Chorale & Kansas City Chorale) • Sacred Songs Of Life & Love (Brian A. Schmidt & South Dakota Chorale) • Spirit Of The American Range (Carlos Kalmar & The Oregon Symphony) • Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance (Giancarlo Guerrero, Cho-Liang Lin & Nashville Symphony)

Manfred Eicher: • Franz Schubert (András Schiff) • Galina Ustvolskaya (Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Markus Hinterhäuser & Reto Bieri) • Moore: Dances & Canons (Saskia Lankhoorn) • Rihm: Et Lux (Paul Van Nevel, Minguet Quartet & Huelgas Ensemble) • Visions Fugitives (Anna Gourari)

Marina A. Ledin, Victor Ledin: • Dances For Piano & Orchestra (Joel Fan, Christophe Chagnard & Northwest Sinfonietta) • Tempo Do Brasil (Marc Regnier) • Woman At The New Piano (Nadia Shpachenko)

Dan Merceruio: • Chapí: String Quartets 1 & 2 (Cuarteto Latinoamericano) • From Whence We Came (Ensemble Galilei) • Gregson: Touch (Peter Gregson) • In The Light Of Air – ICE Performs Anna Thorvaldsdottir (International Contemporary Ensemble) • Schumann (Ying Quartet) • Scrapyard Exotica (Del Sol String Quartet) • Stravinsky: Petrushka (Richard Scerbo & Inscape Chamber Orchestra) • What Artemisia Heard (El Mundo) • ZOFO Plays Terry Riley (ZOFO)

Judith Sherman: • Ask Your Mama (George Manahan & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) • Fields: Double Cluster; Space Sciences (Jan Kučera, Gloria Chuang & Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra) • Liaisons – Re-Imagining Sondheim From The Piano (Anthony de Mare) • Montage – Great Film Composers & The Piano (Gloria Cheng) • Multitude, Solitude (Momenta Quartet) • Of Color Braided All Desire – Music Of Eric Moe (Christine Brandes, Brentano String Quartet, Dominic Donato, Jessica Meyer, Karen Ouzounian, Manhattan String Quartet & Talujon) • Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (Ursula Oppens) • Sirota: Parting The Veil – Works For Violin & Piano (David Friend, Hyeyung Julie Yoon, Laurie Carney & Soyeon Kate Lee) • Turina: Chamber Music For Strings & Piano (Lincoln Trio

Manfred Eicher

BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4: Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) Label: Reference Recordings

Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’: Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony) Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow – Symphony No. 10: Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra) Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Spirit Of The American Range: Carlos Kalmar, conductor (The Oregon Symphony) Label: Pentatone

Zhou Long and Chen Yi: Symphony ‘Humen 1839’: Darrell Ang, conductor (New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) Label: Naxos

nelsons-shostakovich

BEST OPERA RECORDING

Janáček: Jenůfa: Donald Runnicles, conductor; Will Hartmann, Michaela Kaune & Jennifer Larmore; Magdalena Herbst, producer (Orchestra Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin; Chorus Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin) Label: Arthaus

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno D’Ulisse In Patria: Martin Pearlman, conductor; Fernando Guimarães & Jennifer Rivera; Thomas C. Moore, producer (Boston Baroque) Label: Linn Records

Mozart: Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail: Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Diana Damrau, Paul Schweinester & Rolando Villazón; Sid McLauchlan, producer (Chamber Orchestra Of Europe) Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Ravel: L’Enfant Et Les Sortilèges; Shéhérazade: Seiji Ozawa, conductor; Isabel Leonard; Dominic Fyfe, producer (Saito Kinen Orchestra; SKF Matsumoto Chorus & SKF Matsumoto Children’s Chorus) Label: Decca

Steffani: Niobe, Regina Di Tebe: Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Karina Gauvin & Philippe Jaroussky; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra) Label: Erato

ozawa ravel

BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis: Bernard Haitink, conductor; Peter Dijkstra, chorus master (Anton Barachovsky, Genia Kühmeier, Elisabeth Kulman, Hanno Müller-Brachmann & Mark Padmore; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Chor Des Bayerischen Rundfunks) Label: BR Klassik

Monteverdi: Vespers Of 1610: Harry Christophers, conductor (Jeremy Budd, Grace Davidson, Ben Davies, Mark Dobell, Eamonn Dougan & Charlotte Mobbs; The Sixteen) Label: Coro

Pablo Neruda – The Poet Sings: Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (James K. Bass, Laura Mercado-Wright, Eric Neuville & Lauren Snouffer; Faith DeBow & Stephen Redfield; Conspirare) Label: Harmonia Mundi

Paulus: Far In The Heavens: Eric Holtan, conductor (Sara Fraker, Matthew Goinz, Thea Lobo, Owen McIntosh, Kathryn Mueller & Christine Vivona; True Concord Orchestra; True Concord Voices) Label: Reference Recordings

Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil: Charles Bruffy, conductor (Paul Davidson, Frank Fleschner, Toby Vaughn Kidd, Bryan Pinkall, Julia Scozzafava, Bryan Taylor & Joseph Warner; Kansas City Chorale & Phoenix Chorale) Label: Chandos

paulus far in the heavens

BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

Brahms: The Piano Trios: Tanja Tetzlaff, Christian Tetzlaff & Lars Vogt. Label: Ondine

Filament: Eighth Blackbird. Label: Cedille Records

Flaherty: Airdancing For Toy Piano, Piano & Electronics: Nadia Shpachenko & Genevieve Feiwen Lee. Track from: Woman At The New Piano. Label: Reference Recordings

Render: Brad Wells & Roomful Of Teeth. Label: New Amsterdam Records

Shostakovich: Piano Quintet & String Quartet No. 2: Takács Quartet & Marc-André Hamelin. Label: Hyperion

Hamelin Takacs Shostakovich quintet

BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

Dutilleux: Violin Concerto, L’Arbre Des Songes: Augustin Hadelich; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony) Track from: Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’. Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Grieg & Moszkowski: Piano Concertos: Joseph Moog; Nicholas Milton, conductor (Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern). Label: Onyx Classics

Mozart: Keyboard Music, Vol. 7: Kristian Bezuidenhout. Label: Harmonia Mundi

 Rachmaninov Variations: Daniil Trifonov (The Philadelphia Orchestra) Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! Ursula Oppens (Jerome Lowenthal). Label: Cedille Records

trifonov rachmaninov

BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM

Beethoven: An Die Ferne Geliebte; Haydn: English Songs; Mozart: Masonic Cantata: Mark Padmore; Kristian Bezuidenhout, accompanist. Label: Harmonia Mundi

Joyce & Tony – Live From Wigmore Hall: Joyce DiDonato; Antonio Pappano, accompanist. Label: Erato

Nessun Dorma – The Puccini Album. Jonas Kaufmann; Antonio Pappano, conductor (Kristīne Opolais, Antonio Pirozzi & Massimo Simeoli; Coro Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia; Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia) Label: Sony Classical

Rouse: Seeing; Kabir Padavali: Talise Trevigne; David Alan Miller, conductor (Orion Weiss; Albany Symphony) Label: Naxos

St. Petersburg: Cecilia Bartoli; Diego Fasolis, conductor (I Barocchisti). Label: Decca

jonas kauffmann puccini

BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

As Dreams Fall Apart – The Golden Age Of Jewish Stage And Film Music (1925-1955): New Budapest Orpheum Society; Jim Ginsburg, producer. Label: Cedille Records

Ask Your Mama: George Manahan, conductor; Judith Sherman, producer. Label: Avie Records

Handel: L’Allegro, Il Penseroso Ed Il Moderato, 1740: Paul McCreesh, conductor; Nicholas Parker, producer. Label: Signum Classics

Paulus: Three Places Of Enlightenment; Veil Of Tears & Grand Concerto: Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer. Label: Naxos

Woman At The New Piano: Nadia Shpachenko; Marina A. Ledin & Victor Ledin, producers. Label: Reference Recordings

Paulus Three place of Enlightenment

BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

Barry: The Importance Of Being Earnest: Gerald Barry, composer (Thomas Adès, Barbara Hannigan, Katalin Károlyi, Hilary Summers, Peter Tantsits & Birmingham Contemporary Music Group) Label: NMC Recordings

Norman: Play: Andrew Norman, composer (Gil Rose & Boston Modern Orchestra Project) Track from: Norman: Play. Label: BMOP/Sound

Paulus: Prayers & Remembrances: Stephen Paulus, composer (Eric Holtan, True Concord Voices & Orchestra). Track from: Paulus: Far In The Heavens. Label: Reference Recordings

Tower: Stroke: Joan Tower, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero, Cho-Liang Lin & Nashville Symphony). Track from: Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance. Label: Naxos

Wolfe: Anthracite Fields: Julia Wolfe, composer (Julian Wachner, The Choir Of Trinity Wall Street & Bang On A Can All-Stars) Label: Cantaloupe Music. (Note: You can hear a haunting part of the work that won a Pulitzer Prize in the YouTube video below.)

Julia Wolfe Anthracite Fields

 


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Classical music: Here’s why the opening concert of the Madison Symphony Orchestra proved a stunning success.

October 1, 2015
6 Comments

ALERT: This Sunday afternoon the UW Chamber Orchestra, playing under conductor James Smith, will give a FREE concert at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program includes the Serenade for Strings by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky and the “Death and the Maiden” string quartet by Franz Schubert as arranged by Gustav Mahler.

By Jacob Stockinger

The critics and audiences all agreed: The season-opening concerts last weekend by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) proved a stunning success.

MSO playing

As The Ear heard it, here’s why.

Of course there are the usual reasons: One was the balanced program that MSO music director John DeMain chose to highlight his ensemble players without a guest soloist. It featured beautiful and dramatic music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Aaron Copland.

Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3 was crisp and dark, dramatic but not melodramatic, befitting the opera “Fidelio” that it was originally intended for.

If you missed the opening movement of Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto — written for jazz great Benny Goodman — The Ear is sorry to report that you have already missed a high point of the new season.

It was that gorgeous and that elegiac, that moving and that unforgettable. It was nothing short of sublime. (You can hear the first movement in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Then there was the soloist — MSO principal clarinet Joe Morris (below), who showed in the Copland what an incredible talent he possesses, a talent that allowed him at 22 to beat out 45 other clarinetists in blind auditions for his post. His pitch and tone, his technique and expressiveness all make his playing the clarinet – not an easy instrument to master – seem as effortless as breathing.

Jennifer Morgan MSO oboe by Joe Morris

But The Ear found another reason for the concert’s success, one that he credits to longtime music director and conductor John DeMain, who is starting his 22nd season in Madison.

It has to do with the clarity and precision of the playing, the careful dynamic balances, tempi and the delineation of the structure of each work.

DeMain (below) made sure that each section of the orchestra and each part of every work could be heard distinctly, and that helped you to hear how one part or section, of the score or of the orchestra, related to others.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

No music event in Madison leaves The Ear with more food for thought than each summer’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

And at the most recent one, co-founder and co-artistic director John Harbison who teaches at MIT and who, as a composer, has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur genius grant, commented on the unsurpassed ability of Beethoven to allow listeners to understand the structure of the sound they were hearing in his compositions.

That, said Harbison (below), is a major reason why the music by Beethoven has survived and that of many of his contemporaries has not.

JohnHarbisonatpiano

Harbison’s analysis came to mind during the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert.

Since he took over, DeMain has brought each section up to an impressive level of performance The strings have been excellent for a long time; the winds and the percussion have also caught up.

But the brass really showed it stuff this time, especially in the Tchaikovsky Symphony No 4, which is a very brassy piece.

And DeMain (below) did something important. He illuminated structure by imparting order. He gave each section the kind of shading and space it needed by offering it time to breathe.

He allowed the audience to hear how parts related to the whole. He allowed you to get inside the score and the notes, to step inside the sound and hear the sense  it made and the logic it possessed.

John DeMain conducting 2

In short, John DeMain offered us music that was both deeply emotional and convincingly intelligent.

You felt that he was conducting you as well as the players.

The effect was to create clarity and color, distance and immediacy, all at the same time.

It’s not only the players who have grown during John DeMain’s 22-year tenure.

So has Maestro DeMain.

And, thanks to him and his players, so have we.

 


Classical music: Here are four for the Fourth.

July 4, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday The Ear asked readers for suggestions about classical music that would be appropriate to post and play today, which is Independence Day or the Fourth of July.

American Flag

TETRRF-00024113-001

I got some good answers.

Some of the suggestions were great music but seemed inappropriate like “On the Transmigration of Souls” by the contemporary American composer John Adams. It won the Pulitzer Prize. But it deals with the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and strikes The Ear as a bit grim for this holiday.

So, here are four others for The Fourth:

Ann Boyer suggested the Variations on “America” by Charles Ives, who was certainly an American and a Yankee original. The original scoring for organ was transcribed for orchestra by the well-known American composer William Schuman and it is performed below in a YouTube video by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the famous composer-arranger Morton Gould, who seems to specialize in Americana:

Tim Adrianson suggested Aaron Copland’s great Third Symphony. It is long but the most famous part of the symphony is “Fanfare for the Common Man,” played here by Metropolitan Opera artistic director James Levine and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. And that seems a perfectly fitting piece of music to celebrate the birth of American democracy:

Reader fflambeau suggested anything by Howard Hanson, but especially Syphony No. 2 “Romantic.” Here is the famous slow movement — performed by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra — that is also the appealing theme of the Interlochen Arts Academy and National Summer Music Camp:

Finally, The Ear recently heard something that seems especially welcome at a time when there is so much attention being paid to matters military.

It is also by Aaron Copland and is called “A Letter From Home.” It was dedicated to troops fighting World War II but it strikes me for its devotion to the home front and to peaceful domestic life, which is exactly what the Fourth of July should be about. Be sure to look at the black-and-white photographs that accompany the music:

And The Ear reminds you that you can hear a lot of American composers and American music today on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Have a Happy Fourth of July and Independence Day, everyone!

fireworks


Classical music: The Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society gets its 24th three-week summer season underway this coming weekend. This year’s theme is “Guilty as Charged.” Here is part 2 of 2 with weeks 2 and 3.

June 9, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society – which The Ear named Musician of the Year two seasons ago – will begin their new summer season this weekend.

The season features six concert programs performed over three weekends in three different venues and cities.

Here is the second part of two postings based on the BDDS press release. Part 1 ran yesterday. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/classical-music-the-madison-based-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-gets-its-24th-three-week-summer-season-the-theme-is-guilty-as-charged-underway-this-coming-weekend/

The second week of “Guilty as Charged” features “Honor Among Thieves” and “Breaking and Entering.”

In “Honor Among Thieves,” we feature composers who stole from others or themselves, but always in an effort to elevate what they stole and bring it to wider circulation.

John Harbison (below) “stole” familiar American songs in “Songs America Loves to Sing,” arranging them to show what incredible beauty lies in these everyday tunes and honoring the folk traditions of America.

JohnHarbisonatpiano

Ludwig van Beethoven stole from himself to create his Piano Trio, Op. 38. Beethoven’s Septet was a wildly popular work, and many dishonorable publishers created bad arrangements of the work to capitalize on that popularity. Beethoven stopped them short by creating his own masterful arrangement of the Septet; giving the work the honor it was due.

Both programs feature the incredible clarinetist Alan Kay (below top), familiar to our audiences from his stunning performances last year, and the San Francisco Piano Trio (below bottom), with violinist Axel Strauss, cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau and pianist Jeffrey Sykes.

“Honor Among Thieves” will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 19, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, on Sunday, June 21, at 2:30 p.m.

Alan Kay 1 BDDS 2014

BDDS 2014 San Francisco Trio

Composers often have to break the rules in order to achieve their expressive ends. “Breaking and Entering” features composers who did precisely that: breaking with tradition and entering a new world of expression.

“Country Fiddle Pieces” by Paul Schoenfield were among the very first classical “crossover” works. Combining traditional fiddling, jazz, Latin, and pop influences together with a strong classical sense of phrasing and structure, Schoenfield (below) almost single-handedly created a whole new musical style.

Paul Schoenfield

The great Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8, was the first masterpiece by Johannes Brahms (below), a work that boldly broke with the past and ushered in an era of chamber music of symphonic scope.

“Honor Among Thieves” concerts will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 21, at 6:30 p.m.

brahmsBW

Our biggest and final week includes Crooked Business and “Highway Robbery.”

The world of classical music is not as pure and pristine as it sometimes seems. From unscrupulous managers falsifying box office receipts to dishonest publishers pirating successful compositions, classical music can be a “Crooked Business.“

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart exhausted himself arranging performances of his piano concertos—and he watched most of his profits get swallowed up by greedy impresarios.

Johannes Brahms was strongly encouraged to destroy the original chamber version of his Serenade in D Major and rewrite it as an orchestral composition simply because it would bring greater profit to him and his managers. We’re featuring the work in a reconstruction of its original form as a nonet.

“Crooked Business” concerts will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 26, at 7:30 p.m., and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 28, at 2:30 p.m.

A career in classical music—even a successful one—is not a quick road to power, influence, and wealth. And virtually every musician walking that road has been subject to “Highway Robbery” at one point or another.

Throughout his short life, Franz Schubert (below) was taken advantage of by “friends,” publishers, and promoters. He wrote his great Octet for performance in the home of the Archduke Rudolph (Beethoven’s patron) and received not one cent for his efforts.

Franz Schubert big

And we at BDDS have been guilty of highway robbery of a sort ourselves. In 2010 we commissioned American composer Kevin Puts—an extraordinarily talented, successful, but nonetheless struggling composer—for a work for our 25th season next summer. We agreed to a fee we thought was fair to him and comfortable for us.

In 2012 Kevin Puts (below) won the Pulitzer Prize for music. Thank goodness we signed the contract in 2010, because now it’s likely his talents would be out of our financial reach! It feels like we’re the perps in a highway robbery!

This seasons we’re featuring Kevin Puts’ “Seven Seascapes,” a beautiful piece based on poems about the sea. (You can hear the first one of Kevin Puts’ “Seven Seascapes” in YouTube video at the bottom.)

Kevin Puts pulitzer

Both programs feature extraordinary musicians: powerhouse violinists Carmit Lori (below) and Hye-Jin Kim, violist Ara Gregorian, and newcomers Katja Linfield, cello, and Zachary Cohen, double bass. They are joined by the great young clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois and veteran French horn player Richard Todd.

Enjoy a BDDS concert and stay for the fireworks downtown! Free reserved parking will be available for the first 100 cars, with reservations.

“Highway Robbery” concerts will be performed in The Playhouse in the Overture Center, Madison, on Saturday, June 27, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 28, at 6:30 p.m.

Carmit Zori

For the fourth year, BDDS will also perform one free family concert, “What’s So Great About Bach?” an interactive event that will be great for all ages. Together with the audience, BDDS will explore interwoven layers of melody. Everyone will be up on their feet helping to compose for the musicians on stage.

This event takes place 11–11:45 a.m. on this Saturday, June 13, in The Playhouse at the overture Center. This is a performance for families with children of all ages and seating will be first come first served.

CUNA Mutual Group, Pat Powers and Thomas Wolfe, and Overture Center generously underwrite this performance.

Dianne Soffa and Tom Kovacich, artists-in-residence at Safi Studios in Milwaukee, will create a stage setting for each concert in The Playhouse. All concerts at The Playhouse will be followed by a meet-the-artists opportunity.

BDDS Locations are: the Stoughton Opera House (381 East Main Street); the Overture Center in Madison (201 State Street); and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater (County Highway 23 in Spring Green).

Single general admission tickets are $40. Student tickets are always $5.

Various ticket packages are also available starting at a series of three for $114. First-time subscriptions are half-off.

For tickets and information visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.

Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com. Additional fees apply.

Hillside Theater tickets can be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor’s Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900.  Tickets are available at the door at all locations.

 

 


Classical music: Meet composer Julia Wolfe, who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for her oratorio about Coal Country.

April 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Monday, the winners of the 2015 Pulitzer Prizes were announced.

You will hear a lot about the journalism recipients.

You will hear much, much less about the arts recipients.

So meet American composer Julia Wolfe (below).

Julia Wolfe full face

Wolfe, who is associated with the group Bang on a Can!, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for “Anthracite Fields,” her oratorio for chorus and sextet about families living in coal mining country.

Coal Miners

Wolfe (below, at the piano in her home in a photo by Richard Perry of The New York Times) did a fine interview with the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR or National Public Radio.

julia Wolfe with piano CR Richard Perry NYT

Here is a link to that interview:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/20/401010330/julia-wolfe-wins-music-pulitzer-for-anthracite-fields

And here is a link to her own website:

http://juliawolfemusic.com

Finally, here is a haunting documentary video with excerpts from “Anthracite Fields” in a YouTube video. A recording of the complete work is scheduled to be released in September.


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