The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Finals of the Leeds Piano Competition take place this weekend. Here is some background by a judge from the solo semi-finals and an Internet portal to hear the concerto finalists.

September 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Since 1963, the Leeds International Piano Competition in England has brought us such keyboard luminaries as Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida, Christopher O’Riley and Andras Schiff as well as Alessio Bax, who will perform in Madison on Sunday, afternoon, Jan. 17, this season with his wife Lucille Chung at Farley’s House of Pianos.

The competition, held every three years, has been taking place over the past two weeks. (You can hear the 2012 winner Federico Colli discuss why the Leeds is important and has helped his own career in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

leeds competition-auditorium logo

This weekend you can take in the finalists in their concerto performances.

Here is a link to the competition home page:

http://www.leedspiano.com

Here is a link with an Internet portal.

But it also features some fascinating background and commentary from a judge or juror about the solo semi-finals.

http://www.classical-music.com/blog/leeds-piano-competition-2015-semi-finals

Happy listening.


Classical music: This will be an outstanding semester for piano fans in the area. But it starts with a “train wreck” this Friday night with dueling piano concerts by Christopher Taylor and Ilya Yakushev.

January 20, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

For piano fans, the first semester in Madison proved a bit underwhelming, even disappointing when compared to many past falls.

But that is about to change this semester, starting this weekend.

Of course this piano-rich week comes complete with the inevitable piano “train wreck,” as The Wise Critic terms such scheduling conflicts and competition.

Farley's House of PIanos MMM 20141

CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR OR ILYA YAKUSHEV

For many area listeners, the big annual piano event is on this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. That is when the UW-Madison School of Music virtuoso Christopher Taylor (below) — whom The Ear hears other schools are trying to lure away from the UW — performs his annual solo faculty recital.

Taylor, famed for his prodigious technique and fantastic memory, has won praise nationwide and even internationally for his performances of all kinds of difficult music, from Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven to Olivier Messiaen and Gyorgi Ligeti as well as contemporary musicians like Derek Bermel.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Taylor’s program this time is an unusual one that mixes old and new.

It features another of the dazzling two-hand transcriptions by Franz Liszt of the symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven, which Taylor has been performing elsewhere in a cycle. This time he will perform the famous Symphony No. 6 in F Major, “Pastoral.”

Also on the program are seven of the 12 etudes by the contemporary American composer William Bolcom, who taught at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and the Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5, by Johannes Brahms — a wondrously dramatic and beautiful work that you can hear performed by Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner Radu Lupu in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Tickets are $10 and benefit the UW-Madison School of Music Scholarship Fund.

For more information, including some national reviews of Taylor, here is a link to the UW website:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/christopher-taylor-piano-faculty-recital/

But, as I said, there is a problem.

At exactly the same time on Friday night, in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, is a terrific concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev (below), who last performed Prokofiev and Gershwin concertos with the WCO.

This Friday night’s program includes Yakushev in two well-known concertos: the keyboard concerto in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Felix Mendelssohn.

ilya yakushev 3

Also on the program – typically eclectic in the style that conductor Andrew Sewell (below) favors — is the English Suite for Strings by British composer Paul Lewis and the Chamber Symphony No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg.

For information, go to: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/77/event-info/

andrewsewell

But this piano weekend doesn’t stop there.

On Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., Ilya Yakushev will open the new season of the Salon Piano Series when he plays a solo recital in the concert room (below) at Farley’s House of Pianos, on Madison’s far west side.

The program includes the famous Sonata in C minor “Pathétique,” Op. 13, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Sonata No. 2 by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and “Carnival” by Robert Schumann. A reception will follow the recital.

Farley Daub plays

Here is a link with more information:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

And as background, here is a Q&A that The Ear did in 2011 with Ilya Yakushev:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/classical-qa-russian-pianist-ilya-yakushev-discusses-prokofiev-and-gershwin-which-he-will-play-at-the-opening-concert-of-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-on-friday-night/

ilya yakushev mug

MORE TO COME

Of course this is just the beginning of Piano Heaven.

There is still the concerto competition for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to come, along with the UW-Madison concerto competition, the Bolz “Final Forte” Concerto Competition of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and others.

Later this semester, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will also feature two other returning pianists –- Shai Wosner (below top) and Bryan Wallick (below bottom). They will perform, respectively, two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major “Emperor” by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

Bryan Wallick mug

Here is a link to the WCO website:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/

And let’s not forget the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to the above piano events and others, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will feature the Irving S. Gilmore Competition winner Ingrid Fliter (below), a native of Argentina, in the lusciously Romantic Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor by Frederic Chopin on Feb. 13-15 – perfect fare for Valentine’s Day weekend.

Ingrid Fliter playing

That program which also includes the Symphony No. 4 by Robert Schumann and British composer Benjamin Britten’s “Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge” -– Bridge was Britten’s teacher — promises to be a memorable performance by a renowned Chopin specialist who last played a solo recital here ay the Wisconsin Union Theater.

And if you know of more. just add them in a Reader’s Comment for others to see,

 

 


Classical music: Can classical music cure cancer? Increase intelligence or IQ? Relieve pain? It may be worth considering at a time of New Year’s resolutions for healthy living.

January 2, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear recently came across a compilation of the health benefits of listening to classical music.

Leonardo da Vinci man

Some of it seems farfetched.

I, for one, am dubious about the claim that you can cure cancer by listening to the Fifth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven (below top) or that you can enhance intelligence and mental alertness to a specific section of a specific work, such as the “Spring” section of “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi (below bottom).

Beethoven big

vivaldi

And there are other claims relating to disease and intelligence, like The Mozart Effect for young children, that seem dubious or exaggerated.

But these studies seem to come from some prestigious journals and organizations as well as some careful studies and experiments or trials.

You can read the methods and results, then decide for yourself. Here is a link:

http://tribune.com.pk/story/802304/5-health-benefits-of-classical-music/

And here is a link to one of the works that is supposed to relieve pain — the Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia in a popular YouTube video:

Have a Happy New Year though listening!


Classical music Q&A: Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan compares great music-making to great acting, and the concert hall to an exciting museum. He makes his MUST-HEAR Madison debut on this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall in a solo recital program of works by Schubert, Barber, Franck and Ravel.

April 17, 2014
3 Comments

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.

By Jacob Stockinger

The prize-winning and critically acclaimed young Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan will make his Madison debut this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall for the Wisconsin Union Theater, which has been closed for two seasons while being renovated.

Inon Barnatan

Barnatan’s MUST-HEAR program is ambitious and appealing; Franz Schubert’ late Sonata in G Major, the one that the young critic Robert Schumann praised so effusively; Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata, which was premiered by Vladimir Horowitz; the “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue” by the late French Romantic composer Cesar Franck that was a favorite of Arthur Rubinstein; and Maurice Ravel’s dazzling “La Valse” for solo piano.

Tickets are $25 for the general public; $10 for University of Wisconsin-Madison students. For more information about Inon Barnatan and his recital, including reviews, program notes, audio clips and ticket information, visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Inon-Barnatan.html

You might recall that Inon Barnatan won raves this past winter for his last-minute appearance with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under Edo de Waart when he stepped in to substitute for an ailing Radu Lupu and played the titanic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor by Johannes Brahms.

In 2009, he won a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, and he has been recognized by the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

The Ear has been listening to his recordings: from violin works (the last Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven and a Fantasy by Schubert) and his impressive readings of the famous last three sonatas and final impromptus and sonatas by Schubert to his performances of “Darkness Visible” by the contemporary British composer Thomas Ades. They all demonstrate his virtuoso technique but also his abundant musicality, subtle interpretations and full tone. Most impressive is his ability to play softly and lyrically. It leaves no doubt: Inon Barnatan is a major poet of the piano.

Clearly, Inon Baranatan is someone to watch, as his career continues to be extremely promising. You can listen to his interview for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in a YouTube video at the bottom. And here is a link to his own website:

www.inonbarnatan.com

And here is the email Q&A that Inon Barnatan did for The Ear:

Inon Barnatan face

You were just named the first-ever Artist in Association at the New York Philharmonic for the 2014-15 season. What plans do you have for that position? How could it affect your career?

What is so special for me about this position with the New York Philharmonic is that it is stretched over several seasons, so I will be performing with the orchestra both in New York and on the road for three consecutive seasons — which enables me to build a real relationship with this great orchestra as well as the audience.  It removes a little of the pressure of the debut– since I know I will be coming back the following season and the one after that.

Of course there is pressure to live up to the expectations and the faith that the orchestra and Alan Gilbert (both below) have shown in me, but it feels wonderful to know that the organization is behind me from the get-go. This appointment has only recently been announced but has already had significant effect on my career. New York is the center of so many things and when the New York Philharmonic does something, people take notice!  I really couldn’t be more thrilled with it.

New York Philharmonic Alan Gilbert

How would you describe your approach to playing and interpreting music? Are there other musicians, and especially pianists, either historical or current, whom you admire and why?

I feel that we classical performers are like actors — we have a text that we try to internalize and bring to life, but ultimately it is not ourself that is being presented, but the character, or, in our case, the music, that is being communicated. A great actor like Meryl Streep becomes whichever role she is playing, embodying it in such a way that she herself disappears and becomes the role.

That is what I think my job as a performer is.  I don’t want an audience to listen to me playing a piece — I would love for them to feel like the piece is being created at that very moment, the same way I would want to believe an actor IS the person that they are playing, not merely reading the text convincingly.

There are great performers, as well as actors, that are compelling not because they disappear in a role, but because of the very force of their personality. There are phenomenal actors and musicians that don’t change much with different roles or pieces, but bring their particular magnetism and virtuosity to every role.

When the performer is great both types can be very compelling, but I tend to gravitate towards the former. (Below is Inon Barnatan performing at Carnegie Hall in a photo by The New York Times.)

Inon Barnatan playing at Carnegie Hall NY Times

Your terrific and critically acclaimed new recording for the Avie label is an all-Schubert recital. But here you will perform a different big work, the G Major Sonata. What do you want to say about that particular work and its place in Schubert’s overall body of works? Why does Schubert hold particular appeal for you, and will you do more recording of his works, perhaps even a Schubert cycle?

Thank you! Back in 2004 I participated in a Schubert workshop with the great Leon Fleisher (below) at Carnegie Hall, and in some ways that was the start of my love affair with Schubert. I was familiar with his pieces, of course, but delving into the late sonatas as we did, I became intoxicated with the beauty and depth of the music.

Leon Fleisher

The music of Schubert (below), and especially the music he wrote later in his short life, became a staple of my repertoire.  I even curated a project of solo, chamber and vocal music from the miraculous last year — and both the Schubert CDs I’ve recorded so far feature pieces from that year.

That said, the G Major sonata, even though it was not written in the last year but a couple of years before, stands proudly amongst the greatest. It is one of his most lyrical and poetic pieces. It is not played nearly as often as the last three, and I am excited at the prospect of some audience members discovering it for the first time.

As for a possible Schubert cycle, it has been a dream of mine for a long while — perhaps I will keep playing his works one by one until I discover that I have recorded the whole cycle!

Franz Schubert writing

What would you like the public to know about your Madison program, which includes Franck, Barber (below) and Ravel?

This is a very special program to me. The pieces are magical: They manage to be at once very emotional and very intellectual, without compromising one for the other. The pieces all have a sense of nostalgia about them, in different ways.

The composers of the pieces in the first half take Baroque and Classical forms, such as fugues, chorales, sonatas, etc. and imbue them with their own innovation and emotion. The second half has more of a sense of fantasy, a sense of light that by the end of the recital turns to dark. I guess the second half goes from the sublime to the grotesque.

Samuel Barber

How do you think classical music can reach new and young audiences? And what advice would you give to aspiring young musicians and especially pianists?

That’s the million-dollar question. I think there are many things we need to do. It starts with education — putting an instrument in a child’s hand teaches them a lot about communications, listening and a huge variety of other important skills. It also encourages future curiosity about music and culture.

We also need to be more inclusive in some ways, make the concert experience something that would appeal to a young person as well as an older one.  Nowadays, when there are so many ways to consume culture without leaving your home, the concert experience needs to have an energy and excitement to it that is unique to the live experience.

A great museum knows that in order to attract a variety of ages and stay relevant, they need to have not only great art, but great curating.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York, for example, is always teeming with people of all ages, newcomers, repeat visitors, young and old, experts and lay people. They have a collection of some of the great, established artists as well as new exciting art and they are always providing new and interesting ways to look at things. People who go there expect to be challenged as well as be entertained. You may come to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (below) but it’s the new or unexpected stuff around it that keeps you coming back. It’s that combination of edge and quality that makes it cool.

We can learn a lot from that. As performers we need to strive for the highest possible quality of performance, and at the same time try to present it in a context that is interesting, and sometimes challenging or unexpected.

VanGogh-starry_night_edit

 

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Classical music: During “Schumann Week” at NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog, American pianist Jonathan Biss excelled in exploring and explaining the music and life of the prototypical Romantic composer.

October 21, 2012
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not as if the music of Robert Schumann (1810-1856) hasn’t found a secure place in the repertoire. His piano music, chamber music, songs and orchestral music are all pretty standard fare and are performed and heard often.

And yet Robert Schumann (below, in a photo from 1850), who started out as a music critic and would-be concert pianist before turning to composing, still remains an enigmatic figure whose personal life and musical compositions offer many mysteries to explore. This is especially true of the role of his mental illness and the quality of his late-life compositions.

Two weeks ago, NPR and its terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” offered a mini-seminar on Schumann. It used many audio samples, including playing and insightful commentary by the contributor Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Jillian Edelstein) and others, including Maurizio Pollini, Sviatoslav Richter, Andras Schiff and Radu Lupu.

The young American pianist has recorded several outstanding CDs for EMI of major solo piano works of Schumann. His latest release is a terrific new recording of Schumann’s upbeat and extroverted Piano Quintet, coupled with Dvorak’s Piano Quintet, with the Elias String Quartet for the Onyx label).

Biss has also just published an outstandingly informative and personally revealing e-book on Schumann called “A Pianist Under the Influence” (below, $1.99 at amazon.com). Biss has also launched a season-long major project and international 30-concert tour — called “Schumann: Under the Influence” — of performing Schumann’s works with other instrumentalists and singers.

Biss also played the piano for NPR, which offers samples on its website.

HERE ARE THE SELECTIONS OR TOPICS OF THE WEEK-LONG EXPLORATION, IN ORDER FROM TOP TO BOTTOM EQUALING FIRST TO LAST. THE EAR LEARNED A LOT ABOUT SCHUMANN AND HOPES YOU DO TOO.

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Schumann, with some audio samples to highlight the discussion:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/20/161482421/5-things-you-never-knew-about-schumann

Pianist and Schumann enthusiast Jonathan Biss Shoots Down Schumann Detractors:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/26/161810687/jonathan-biss-shooting-down-the-schumann-detractors

How the Schumann’s  (below) – Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck — used an unusual joint written Journal more than conversation to communicate:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/26/161842022/jonathan-biss-meet-the-schumanns-and-their-cryptic-communications

How Schumann created and furthered a Culture of Musical Nostalgia:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/26/161847811/jonathan-biss-schumanns-culture-of-musical-nostalgia

I love Schumann’s sense of bittersweet melody and harmony, his sense of longing and search for belonging, and have many favorite pieces.

But perhaps my most favorite work is the second section of “Kreisleriana,” which is about his longing for Clara before they were married and which was dedicated to Chopin. (Chopin dedicated his Ballade No. 2 to Schumann, and Chopin’s career was launched early by published praise from Schumann, who was writing as a critic.)

Perhaps because I heard it early on, I find the performance by Martha Argerich particularly moving. Here is that movement performed by Argerich. (Biss’ outstanding and beautiful recording of the complete “Kreisleriana,” which runs to more than 33 minutes, is also available on YouTube.):


Classical music: Italian pianist Federico Colli wins the 2012 Leeds International Competition, which has ties to Wisconsin this year.

September 18, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s official.

After two weeks of performances, the 2012 Britain-based Leeds International Piano Competition has a winner. He is the 24-year-old Italian pianist Federico Colli, who played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” (below, in a photo by SWPIX) in the final round, as well as several solo recital and a chamber music performance, to win.

An American, Andrew Tyson, also won a prize for his concerto performance.

Since it started some 40 years ago, the prestigious Leeds Competition, which is held every three years, has launched the careers of such pianists as Murray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida, Andras Schiff, Radu Lupu, Lars Vogt, Alessio Bax and Louis Lortie among many other recognizable names.

Here are links to stories about the winner (below in a photo by BBC News):

http://www.classical-music.com/news/federico-colli-wins-2012-leeds-international-piano-competition

http://www.oregonlive.com/performance/index.ssf/2012/09/italian_pianist_federico_colli.html

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/leeds-international-piano-competition-2012-winner-announced

There are some local connections to this year’s competition. The panel of judges included pianist Robert McDonald (below top), who studied at Lawrence University in Appleton Wis., as well as at the Curtis Institute and Juilliard School. (He now reaches at both, and is also known as the longtime collaborator with violinist Midori.) And Harvard-based pianist-scholar Robert Levin (below bottom), who has perform often at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival was also on the panel of jurors.

Here is a link to the official website of the Leeds competition:

http://www.leedspiano.com


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