The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Former UW pianist Catherine Kautsky will talk, play music and sign copies of her book “Debussy’s Paris: Piano Portraits of the Belle Epoque” this Thursday night at the Mystery to Me bookstore in Madison

October 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some of you may recall the pianist Catherine Kautsky (below). She came from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wis., to the UW-Madison where she performed many memorable concerts.

Then, after about five years, she returned to Lawrence as the head of the piano department.

Kautsky always showed an affinity for French music — she has recorded both books of Debussy‘s Preludes for piano — and now she has transformed her francophilia into a book: “Debussy’s Paris: Piano Portraits of the Belle Epoque” ($38, below).

Kautsky will be in Madison this Thursday night from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Mystery to Me bookstore, 1863 Monroe Street, next to Neuhauser Pharmacy and across from Trader Joe’s.

A terrific explainer, Kautsky will talk about her book and sign copies. A keyboard will also be available for Kautsky to play some of the music she talks and writes about. (You can hear Kautsky playing and discussing the great last Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960, by Franz Schubert in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a description of the book with biographical information:

“Debussy’s Paris: Piano Portraits of the Belle Époque takes readers on a tour of Paris through detailed descriptions of the city’s diversions and the music Debussy wrote reflecting them.

“Catherine Kautsky explores how key works reveal not only the most appealing aspects of Paris, but also the more disquieting attitudes of the time. In contrast to the childlike innocence of fairy tales, minstrel shows had racist overtones, colonization entailed domination, and the brooding nationalism of the era was rife with hostility.

“Debussy (below) left no avenue unexplored, and his piano works present a sweeping overview of the passions, vices, and obsessions of the era’s Parisians.

“When played today, Debussy’s music breathes the story of one the world’s most fascinating cities. Kautsky reveals little known elements of Parisian life during the Belle Époque and weaves the music, the man, the city, and the era into an indissoluble whole.

“Her portrait will delight anyone who has ever been entranced by Debussy’s music or the 
city (below) that inspired it.”

Catherine Kautsky is chair of keyboard at Lawrence University and has been lauded by the New York Times as “a pianist who can play Mozart and Schubert as though their sentiments and habits of speech coincided exactly with hers…” She has concertized widely, performing in major halls in New York, Chicago, Washington, and Boston, soloing with the St. Louis Symphony and other orchestras and appearing frequently on public radio.

Here is a link with more information, including praise from pianist Richard Goode who will perform in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/debussys-paris-with-author-pianist-catherine-kautsky-tickets-37666427298?aff=eivtefrnd?utm_source=eb_email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=evitefrnd&utm_term=eventimage

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Classical music: New Orleans seeks to once again become an American opera capital with an emphasis on diversity

May 31, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

When you think of opera in America, chances are good that you think of New York City with the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera; the Lyric Opera of Chicago; the Houston Grand Opera; the Santa Fe Opera; and countless other opera companies in many major cities.

And when you think of New Orleans, you understandably think of jazz.

But the truth is that for a long time, New Orleans was an American capital for opera, more important than many of the other cities mentioned above.

Consider the fact that the first opera performed in the United States was performed in New Orleans in 1796. And that at one point, New Orleans was home to five opera companies.

Plus, the opera that was performed there in the past brought racial, cultural and gender diversity to an art form that often lacked it and was largely Euro-centric. (You can hear the company sing “We’re Goin’ Around” from ragtime great Scott Joplin‘s opera “Treemonisha” in the YouTube video at the bottom,)

Now some singers and others (below) have formed an organization – OperaCreole — with the aim of correcting racism and restoring New Orleans’ reputation for opera,  especially that of the many African-American and Creole opera composers who were native to New Orleans.

A fine story, with an illuminating interview, recently appeared on NPR (National Public Radio).

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/05/28/530085480/a-new-orleans-company-shines-a-light-on-operas-diverse-history

Another excellent story, with more focus on repertoire and history, appeared in The New Yorker magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/a-small-step-toward-correcting-the-overwhelming-whiteness-of-opera

And here is a link to OperaCreole’s own website with more information about the company and its productions:

http://www.operacreole.com


Classical music: Jazz and classical music are closely related and work well together, says composer Daniel Schnyder. He discusses “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” which the Madison Opera stages in its Midwest premiere this FRIDAY night — NOT Saturday — and Sunday afternoon

February 6, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Jazz and classical music are not so different, says Swiss-born composer Daniel Schnyder.

For Schnyder, it is more than an academic matter. He puts his point of view into action in his acclaimed chamber opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” which deals with the life of the bebop saxophone player and jazz giant. (You can see the YouTube trailer for the productions by Opera Philadelphia and the Apollo Theater in Harlem at the bottom.)

charlie-parkers-yardbird-logo-for-maidson-opera

The Madison Opera will offer the work’s Midwest premiere when it stages the chamber opera this Friday night (NOT Saturday night, as first mistakenly posted here) at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Both performances are in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. (Performances photos below are from the world premiere at Opera Philadelphia.)

Here is a link to more general information about the opera, tickets, the cast and the production:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/classical-music-madison-opera-will-present-the-midwest-premiere-of-charlie-parkers-yardbird-here-are-the-many-preparatory-events-for-the-public/

Daniel Schnyder (below) — who will perform a FREE concert of the music of Charlie Parker and do a question-and-answer session on this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOT 7 p.m. as mistakenly first stated here) in Morphy Hall on the UW-Madison campus — also agreed to an email interview with The Ear:

daniel-schnyder-2017

What was the work’s genesis and what gave you the idea for “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird”? Are you a big jazz fan and did you see the work as a way to meld the jazz and classical styles of music?

I am a jazz fan. I am also a jazz musician and I love to compose, play and improvise in the jazz idiom. I have recorded more than 30 jazz CDs.

I love to combine jazz and classical music. I just finished a symphony for orchestra and big band, a commission by the Temple University in Philadelphia.

I do not see classical music and jazz as two completely different things. Jazz is by nature a synthesis of European music influences and African music.

The idea from the very beginning was to write an opera for Lawrence Brownlee, the great African-American tenor. Opera Philadelphia asked me to write a work for him and we tried several libretto options. After hearing a recital by Larry singing gospel songs, I came up with the idea to write an opera about Charlie Parker’s life.

lawrence-brownlee-as-charlie-parker-opera-philadelphia

How would you describe the musical style of the opera in terms of tonality and melody, and its accessibility to the general public? What were the audience reactions in Philadelphia and New York City?

In both places, the audiences were very moved by the story and the music. The topic hit a nerve, something our society has to reflect upon, a general issue that concerns us all as a nation.

The music itself is not hard to listen to and moves swiftly. For the orchestra and singers, the opera is rather challenging, since Charlie Parker (below) was a virtuoso. The music moves fast and often in off-beat rhythms that are unusual for classical musicians. There are also a lot of odd meters and tricky patterns that sometimes connect to Parker’s music and sometimes relate to the music that came after him.

The audience will have a ball. There are 12-tone music passages reflecting on new music and opera — mostly in Nica’s parts —  but there are a lot of R&B influences and jazz and Latin music grooves.

It would be false to see the opera as a patchwork of different musical sequences and styles. It is my music that is based on all these influences. The opera can be described as a modern music carpet with lots of colors of today’s music, rather than a quilt.

charlie-parker-1

In what ways do you see the characters and the story as offering lessons and being relevant to today?

I guess this is obvious: Our society has to understand that different cultures and different ethnic backgrounds enrich America and are fundamental to its culture and success.

If we go down the path of segregation, divisiveness and disrespect, we all will lose. Jazz is the great coming together of different heritages, the roots of America, and it conquered the world.

We still erect barriers in society and music that are detrimental to growth and innovation. Other contemporary issues are also important in the opera, such as being a single parent, drug addiction and faith.

The opera also highlights that jazz musicians at the time could not earn money from recorded music, something that is true again today. The stealing of royalties from Parker and Dizzie Gillespie were different from today’s issues of streaming, but the problem of jazz musicians not receiving money for their creative works stays the same.

In the opera, Parker discusses the very nature of music, its volatility and the fact that you cannot physically possess it. This is one of the reasons why he wants to write the music down on paper. He wants to make it abstract, but realizes that he loses some of the essence of what he wants to say. That is the dilemma of the composer.

He also reflects on the notation system, which was not designed for jazz. He sings: “How can I put down these black dots on white paper, how can I capture these sheets of sound?”

The opera reflects on American history, but it simultaneously relates to today’s world. This is not just some nice story about the past; it is about us.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-women-opera-philadelphia

Quite a few other productions have been planned. What do you think explains the work’s popularity? Do you think it attracts new audiences to opera?

There might be many different reasons for that:

1) There are very few operas using the modern jazz idiom.

2) There are very few operas in which the leading roles are African-American.

3) The opera is flexible; it can be produced with a moderate budget in a lot of different venues. It is mobile, which is similar to L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) by Igor Stravinsky. It also has a length of just over 100 minutes.

4) As mentioned above, the opera hits a nerve; it is about our time and about us.

5) Charlie Parker is a legend, but very few people really know about him and his music. People are intrigued.

6) The music is very accessible; it can be played on the radio without getting boring or incomprehensible. Some modern operas rely a lot on light, staging and special visual effects. This opera works more like Carmen or a Verdi opera, told through the music.

7) It is an opera, not a musical. It only uses a song format in a few instances. The opera is composed in an open and evolving format, connected by leitmotifs similar to Wagner’s operas.

The music definitely has a lot of jazz influences, but the format is mostly one not used in jazz music. That creates a new experience. It does not fit into one of the known “drawers” of music, so it can be tempting to try to compare it to their pieces but it sticks out as musically different.

8) The opera is composed very close to the sound and rhythms of the words. Hence you can understand a lot. The language is very direct and clear, close to spoken language. That helps. You can actually understand a lot of the lyrics without reading the supertitles.

I tried to avoid the Strauss or Wagner effect of creating something where the mix of complex language and complex music creates something beautiful but often incomprehensible. French and Italian operas are better in this regard. “Yardbird” has a message that needs to be understood.

9) There are many riddles in the opera – musical riddles, but also hidden messages and references in the text – that can be explored. The opera plays in a twilight zone between death and life. This is also intriguing.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-female-singer-opera-philadelphia

Is there something else you would like to say about yourself and the opera?

I enjoyed writing the opera very much. It was a great pleasure and an honor to reflect on one of the great music geniuses in American history.


Classical music: Art and politics do mix, and music can fight racism. That is why we mark the 75th anniversary of black singer Marian Anderson’s historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

April 13, 2014
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REMINDERS: Today at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., the lovely Requiem by Gabriel Faure will be performed at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. Free-will donations will be accepted. For more information and background, see the link below. Also, at 7:30 p.m in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music‘s group Chorale will perform a FREE concert under conductor Bruce Gladstone (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/classical-music-qa-faures-music-is-hard-to-performed-and-underrated-says-the-first-unitarian-society-of-madison-music-director-dan-broner-who-will-conduct-two-free-performances-of-faur/

BruceGladstoneTalbot

By Jacob Stockinger

Do art and politics mix?

Can music fight racism?

Maybe definitive answers can’t really be offered.

But The Ear thinks YES and says here is a reminder of what social and political action be achieved through music.

It is a story about the 75th anniversary of contralto Marian Anderson’s famous and historic concert (below top, in a photo from the University of Pennsylvania) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial because the singer (below bottom), who was African-American, had been denied use of Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Eleanor Roosevelt helped procure the appropriate public venue for her, and FDR’s Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes delivered a rousing and populist liberal introduction that you can hear at the bottom in a YouTube video, along with her opening song.

anderson

marian anderson

Be sure to check out the crowd on that showed up to hear Marian Anderson on that 1939 Easter weekend, and also look at the many Reader Comments on the YouTube post. This concert made a difference.

It is a fine and inspiring story with some little known information, including how the singer changed the lyrics to the well-known patriotic song “My Country, T’is of Thee” to be more inclusive. She was anything but bitter and spiteful, which is more than you can say about her opponents then and now.  And readers in the Madison area should know that Marian Anderson did indeed perform locally at the Wisconsin Union Theater on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

This story was broadcast on NPR and was reported by Susan Stamberg (below), the famed and beloved longtime anchor of “All Things Considered,” who these who these days in her retirement seems to do a lot of feature stories about the arts in her hometown of Washington, D.C.:

B0045P 0064

http://www.npr.org/2014/04/09/298760473/denied-a-stage-she-sang-for-a-nation

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