The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: UW countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf returns to sing on Sunday night with Chanticleer. Here’s how he got there with the right teacher, hard work, good luck and a push from mom. Part 2 of 2 

October 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday night, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in the new Hamel Music Center, the a cappella singing group Chanticleer (below) will kick off the centennial anniversary celebration of the Concert Series at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Tickets are $45 for the public; $40 for faculty staff and Union members; and $10 for students. For more information about the performers and the “Trade Winds” program, go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/chanticleer/

Among the 12 members of Chanticleer is Gerrod Pagenkopf, who is in his fifth year with the group as both a countertenor and the assistant music director.

For a biography of Pagenkopf, go to: https://www.chanticleer.org/gerrod-pagenkopf

Pagenkopf is a graduate of the UW-Madison. When he performed as a student, his high, clear countertenor voice was a new experience and made those of us who heard him sit bolt upright and take notice. “He is going places,” we said to each. And so he has.

But Pagenkopf’s story is not only about him. It is also about the rediscovery of countertenors, about the changing public acceptance of them, and about the challenges that young musicians often face in establishing a professional performing career.

So The Ear is offering a longer-than-usual, two-part interview with Pagenkopf (below).

Part 1 appeared yesterday. Here is a link: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/09/30/classical-music-uws-first-countertenor-gerrod-pagenkopf-returns-to-perform-on-sunday-night-as-a-member-of-the-acclaimed-choral-group-chanticleer-heres-how-he-got-from-here-to-there/

Here is Part 2:

Back when you were a student here, were you the only countertenor at the School of Music? How did you find out you were a countertenor and pursue that training?

As I recall, I was the only countertenor — certainly the only one studying in the voice department. I had been studying as a tenor with Ilona Kombrink (below, in photo by UW-Madison News Service) for a few semesters, and it just didn’t seem as easy as it was supposed to.

I didn’t sound like other tenors in my studio or on recordings. I remember that a famous countertenor had just come out with an album of Handel arias, and, upon hearing it, I thought to myself, “I can sing like that!”

I asked Professor Kombrink about it, and she told me to learn “Cara Sposa” from Handel’s “Rinaldo” over the summer. When I came back in the fall, if it sounded legitimate she agreed I could pursue countertenor singing.

I remember that first lesson of the fall. After I sang this Handel aria for her, she sat back and mused in her sage-like manner, “Yes, this must needs be.”

I never looked back. I think I was on the early edge of the re-emergence of countertenors. Certainly there were countertenors working professionally, but there weren’t that many. There weren’t any other countertenors in Houston when I went to grad school, and even when I moved to Boston, there were only a handful of working countertenors.

Since then, how has the treatment of countertenors changed in the academic and professional worlds?

By the time I left Boston a few years ago, you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a countertenor. We now see young countertenors winning major competitions and earning places in young artist programs around the country. The competition is fierce now.

I was lucky enough to be one of just a few fish in the pond, but now countertenors are everywhere—and a lot of them are really good! I also remember that there was a stigma so that it would be difficult to find a voice teacher who would teach countertenors.

A lot of pedagogy books by reputable technicians said that countertenors weren’t real — they just sing in falsetto, which isn’t a real voice. I was lucky that Professor Kombrink was willing to explore that with me. I think now that there are so many successful countertenors singing everywhere, I hope this antiquated view of the voice type has changed.

What would you like the public to know about the program you will perform here? Are you featured in certain pieces?

Our “Trade Winds” program explores several different aspects of the wayfaring sailor. They include Monteverdi madrigals about water and nature; a wonderful mass setting by a largely unknown century Portuguese composer, Filipe de Magalhaes; several charming folksongs from around the Pacific Rim; and even a few sea shanties.

It’s a varied program that includes repertoire from as early as the 15th century up to just a few months ago. One of Chanticleer’s missions is to further the art of live music through new compositions, and we’ve commissioned a fantastic young Chinese-American composer, Zhou Tian (below), to write a new multi-movement piece for us, entitled “Trade Winds,” from which our program also gets its title.

Lots of listeners are scared of “new music,” but Zhou has given us a gem. It’s easy to listen to, and I think listeners will instantly understand what it’s all about.

What are your plans for the future?

Personally, I can’t say that I have anything coming up. As wonderful as Chanticleer is, the job pretty much limits any amount of outside freelance work. (At the bottom, you can hear Chanticleer singing “Shenandoah,” its most popular YouTube video – and a piece with a prominent countertenor part — with well over 1.6 million hits.)

One of the truly fantastic parts of singing in Chanticleer (below, performing on stage) is all the places we travel to. We started off this season with a three-week tour of Europe, which was actually the ensemble’s third trip to Europe in 2019.

We love traveling around the U.S., and as I’ve said, traveling back to Madison is certainly the highlight for me. The Midwest is always a special place for us to sing, as several of our members are from this region.

We’re very excited to travel to Australia in June 2020. I think it’s Chanticleer’s first visit “Down Under.” We will also be going back to the studio in January to record a new album for release sometime later in 2020. We have lots of exciting events coming down the pipeline.

Is there something else you would like to say?

Prior to singing with Chanticleer, I had been living in Boston for almost eight years, pursuing professional singing as a freelance artist.

To make ends meet, I had been working at Starbucks, which I actually started doing when I still lived in Madison, and my gigging was getting lucrative enough that I eventually decided to take a leave of absence from slinging lattes.

While I was in Wisconsin on Christmas vacation, I received a message from Chanticleer’s music director, William Fred Scott, letting me know that there was an immediate vacancy in the ensemble, and would I be interested in singing for them.

I thought I was being spammed, so I didn’t respond, and continued to enjoy the bliss of spending the entirety of the holidays with my family.

When I eventually got back to Boston a few days later, another email arrived from Mr. Scott: “Did you get my email? We’d really like to hear from you.” Ok, how do I tell them I’m clearly NOT the countertenor they’re looking for?

Well, after much soul-searching, calling my mother (“Just do it!” she exclaimed), and figuring out the logistics of liquidating a one-bedroom apartment, I decided to run away and join the circus. It was a complete leap of faith, but I think I made the right decision.

Don’t give up on your dreams. Singing in Chanticleer was the first legitimate dream I remember having. Although my musical path took me in several other directions, that path eventually led me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


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Classical music: The Karp family turns in a memorable and moving 40th annual Labor Day concert that also took listeners back in time

September 5, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you missed the free 40th annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert on Tuesday night in Mills Hall, you missed more than music. You missed the kind of event that makes for long and precious memories.

Sure, you can nitpick the program and the performers, who also included daughter-in-law violist Katrin Talbot (below right) and guest violinist Suzanne Beia (below left), who performs with the Pro Arte Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

You could ask, for example, which cello transcription worked better – the Violin Sonatina, Op. 100, by Dvorak or the Violin Sonata No. 10, Op. 96, by Beethoven. (The Ear votes for the Dvorak.)

And you could also ask which performer stood out the most. (The Ear thinks that is the great-grandmother and matriarch pianist Frances Karp playing in a Mozart piano quartet. At 90, Frances still possesses beautiful tone, the right volume and balance, and the necessary technical chops. They say there is nowhere to hide in Mozart, but Frances Karp did need any place to hide. Her Mozart was, simply, sublime.)

But, in the end, those kinds of questions and critiques really seem beside the bigger point.

What mattered most was the sheer enjoyment of hearing a family perform live some wonderful music by Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak and Schumann (the passionate Adagio and Allegro in A-flat Major, Op. 70, played by Lynn Harrell in the YouTube video at the bottom).

And what mattered more as The Ear thought about it was the kind of time travel the concert involved.

There were two kinds, really.

One had to do with having watched the various performing Karps – clearly Madison’s First Family of Music – over four decades. It was touching to realize that The Ear has seen cellist Parry Karp, to take one example, evolve from son to husband to father to grandfather. And through it all, the music remained.

In today’s culture of short attention spans, that kind of constancy and persistence — through the inevitable ups and downs of 40 years — is something to celebrate, admire and cherish.

Time travel happened in another way too.

The Ear first watched Frances Karp accompany her son Parry (below top), then watched son Christopher Karp accompany his older brother Parry (below bottom). And it called to mind the days when – before radio or recordings – families made music together in their homes.

Historically, that’s how many great composers and much great music got started. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn played piano duets with their gifted sisters, Nannerl and Fanny, respectively. Jean Sibelius played duets with his sister. And there were surely many more. Hausmusik, or “house music,” played a vital role.

And this is how it felt at the traditional Karp family concert. We felt invited into a loving, close and gifted musical family who were performing as much for each other as for the audience.

We could use more of that.

The musical and the familial mixed so beautifully, so convincingly, that all one can say after the event is “Thank you” with the ardent wish to hear them again next year.


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Classical music: Here are the best classical music CDs of 2015, according to the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper.

November 27, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Black Friday –- the much-touted big shopping day after Thanksgiving.

(FYI: It’s Black Friday not because it is bad, but because it is so good that it puts many businesses from the red into the profit-making black for the year.)

And all indications are that this year a record-setting amount of the shopping will be conducted online.

Between now and the holidays, The Ear will direct you to various lists of the Best Classical Recordings of 2015.

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

Today, he offers two such guides and gift suggestions, and future guides will include picks by the forthcoming Grammy nominations and The New York Times critics.

The first of today’s two gift guides is the well-regarded BBC Music Magazine (below) and its list of awards for 2015:

http://www.classical-music.com/awards/winners-2015

It features Record of the Year plus eight other categories that you can click on. The categories include: Orchestral, Concerto, Opera, Choral, Vocal, Chamber, Instrumental and Jury Awards.

Of course, make allowances of course for cultural and geographic bias. So you may find more British or UK artists or labels than you might think.

BBC Music Magazine

The second is the Telegraph newspaper and website in England and the United Kingdom:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/classical-music/best-new-albums/

Don’t forget to leave your own suggestions in the COMMENTS section. Some pretty knowledgeable and sophisticated listeners follow The Ear.

So … The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: After almost three decades, Anonymous Four will break up and retire after the 2015-16 season. The Ear is sure glad he heard them sing LIVE at the Madison Early Music Festival in 2012.

May 18, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

I remember some purists complaining when, in 2012, the 13th annual Madison Early Music Festival had booked the a cappella singing group  Anonymous Four (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta) to open the festival in July, which focused that year on early North American and colonial American music.

Anonymous Four CR Dario Acosta

The complaints ran that the guest “star” singers didn’t really stick to the Colonial and Early American and Canadian repertoire set out by the festival’s theme that year — the complement to the previous year’s festival theme of South and Latin American music — that many of the songs they performed dated from later than the “early music” title defined.

But the concert certainly drew a full, perhaps even sold-out house (below), I think probably the largest opening concert of any Madison Early Music Festival I have ever attended.

MEMF 2012 Anon 4 audience

And The Ear thought they were wonderful performers that allowed the audience to thoroughly enjoy themselves and the repertoire that did indeed run into the 19th century, that they performed. The cheers were deservedly loud and long.

Even the group’s name honors the countless nameless women composers and performers who have sat outside mainstream music history and musicology for so long. Plus, it also emphasizes getting along and the seamlessly tight ensemble work that the group was deservedly celebrated for. It celebrates the more greater musical value of collectivity rather than individuality.

Editor’s Note: This year, the 15th annual Madison Early Music Festival features century Italian music  1300-1600, with an emphasis on the 14th century and ties to the other Papacy in Avignon, France, and will run this summer July 12-19. It will features the usual workshops for participants plus seven public concerts including the second annual Handel Aria Competition, which last proved a really delightful sing-off smack-down. Here is a link to the MEMF website, which will be featured on this blog a bit later:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

And here is a link to that review The Ear wrote when the Anonymous Four sang at the Madison Early Music Festival in 2012 (below) taking turns as soloists, duets, trios and full quartets:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/classical-music-the-madison-early-music-festival-opens-with-anonymous-4-and-wows-a-record-crowd/

MEMF 2012 Anon 4 duet

RETIREMENT IS PENDING

But like many other groups –- including the Tokyo String Quartet and the Guarneri String Quartet –- the members of the Anonymous Four have reached they age where they are tired of endless touring, recording some 20 albums and now want to settle down and into other things.

So the group will disband at the end of the 2015-16 season. They said they would do so once before, about a decade ago, but this time they are apparently serious about it.

Who can blame them? Three decades is a long time to spend touring on the road, selecting and rehearsing  repertoire, and recording songs in a studio. At bottom is one of the group’s many YouTube videos, the done with the most hits (over 100,000) that features Medieval English chant and  polyphony. It really spotlights the purity and clarity of their a cappella  singing and how there is absolutely no weak link in their chain of music. But many others are also noteworthy and deserve listening, including recordings of Hildegard von Bingen and “Shall We Gather at The River” are among  the group’s popular audio-visual samples..

Here is a link to the group’s own website:

http://www.anonymous4.com

Here are stories about the Anonymous Four, the breakup, retirement and the group’s history, with a good sampling of their range from Medieval and Renaissance music to colonial American music (below) and contemporary compositions and commissions. Much of what they sang in Madison came from the best-seedling CD “American Angels.”

MEMF Anonymous 4 American Angels CD

Here is a link to the outstanding story on NPR and its first-rate blog Deceptive Cadence” that also features an exclusive preview of their last CD recording:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/13/311087203/anonymous-4-breaking-up-is-hard-to-do-but-theyre-doing-it

LESSONS?

Increasing, I think there is a lesson to be learned here.

At a time when so many local performing groups and arts presenters, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, keep offering many of the same soloists –- both because they are reliable and dependably excellent performers and because they are affordable -– it is a refreshing reminder than presenting new soloists and new performers is laudable in itself.

We need to experience new performers. We never know when a single performer or even an ensemble will die or retire or become too expensive or whatever. But if we have heard them, then at least we can say: I am glad I had a chance to hear them live before it was too late.

And, boy, I am glad I had a chance to hear the Anonymous Four not only through recordings, but also in person.

And as many readers pointed out during the current discord and controversy about Wisconsin Public Radio canceling the live statewide broadcast of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” after 36 years, there is a huge difference between studio and recorded music versus live performances.

Here is a link to the post about the WPR decision. Be sure to read the post – it brought in more than four times the usual amount of “traffic” or “hits” and readers — but also to read the comments by readers, which set a record for the number and length.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/classical-music-news-wisconsin-public-radio-has-cancelled-the-sunday-afternoon-live-from-the-chazen-free-chamber-music-series-after-36-years-of-success-other-classical-music-from-a/

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Classical music: How should you listen? Try these four ways to get the most out of classical music. Then tell us your own.

February 8, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

What is the best way to listen to classical music?

How can you get the most out of what you are listening to?

listening to music

One way is not to use the music as wallpaper – as background music to brunch or some other social event or personal task.

It is also probably not a good idea to multi-task, to listen while watching TV or a DVD, or reading a book.

But even if you give the music your full attention, what is the best way to get the most of out of your listening?

The Ear suspects that a lot of people — especially performing musicians and composers — have a lot of different answers.

But one of the best is the short essay by Anastasia Tsioulcas (below), who writes for the exceptional classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” that is featured regularly on NPR.

anastasia tsioulcas

Tsioulcas lists and elaborates on four ways to turn your listening experience into a richer and more informative as well as enjoyable experience.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/28/267777013/4-ways-to-hear-more-in-music

Of course many of us have learned other lessons in listening over the years.

The Ear, for example, would suggest not always comparing the performance you are listening now to the first or favorite performance of the same work that you heard live or recorded long ago and grew to love. Otherwise you are more likely to overlook whatever originality the new performer you are listening to brings to the score.

For example, comparing all Chopin performances today to those by Arthur Rubinstein (below top) or Vladimir Horowitz (below second) might cause you to overlook what some of the new young Chopinists like Daniil Trifonov (below third) and Jan Lisiecki (below bottom, in a photo by Mathias Bothor for Deutsche Grammophon) bring with them, as I will explain further in another posting.

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

Vladimir Horowitz

danill trifonov 1

Jan Lisiecki CR Mathias Bothor for Deutsche Grammophon

The same goes for orchestral, chamber music, vocal music and opera performances: Try to remain open to newness and difference.

But different kinds of music an instruments might even demand different approaches to listening, as the deaf but acclaimed and popular percussionist Evelyn Glennie explains in a widely circulated YouTube video about whole body listening at the bottom.

Do you have suggestions or tips about listening to classical music that might help others? Share them in the COMMENTS section.

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Classical music: Mary Mackenzie, a former Madisonian now singing in New York City is seeking help to finance the first recording of composer John Harbison’s “Songs After Hours.”

January 6, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Mary Mackenzie (below), a very accomplished singer, a friend of the blog and a former Madison resident, writes:

mary mackenzie

Dear Mr. Stockinger,

It has been quite a while since you saw me perform — I suspect it may have been “Brundibar” with Madison Opera in 2000! — but I always enjoy keeping up with your blog about all things musical in Madison.

I was last in Madison in August, and gave a recital at the Token Creek Music Festival (below, and art bottom in a YouTube video). Returning home to Madison to share my life-long love of song with family and friends is always a treat for me.

TokenCreekbarn interior

I was fortunate to have an extensive musical education in Madison. I was involved in the music programs at West High School, WYSO (Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra) and the Madison Opera, and I was able to see my mother play almost every week, either with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or the Oakwood Chamber Players.

I went on to receive a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and later moved to New York City, where I received a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from the Manhattan School of Music.

I made my Carnegie Hall debut in the Stern Auditorium in November with the American Symphony Orchestra, singing “Warble for Lilac Time” by Elliott Carter (bel0w).

Elliott Carter

My eight years in New York City have been rich with a busy and varied singing career. I have made a name for myself as an interpreter of contemporary music – particularly art song and chamber music – and have worked with many prestigious living composers. (Below is Mary Mackenzie performing Harrison Birtwistle’s “Three Settings of Celan” with the Juilliard School’s Axiom Ensemble in a photo by The New York Times). It is one piece in particular, and the relationship I forged with the composer  John Harbison that has resonated with me.

Mary Mackenzie ii in Harrison Birtwistle's %22Thee Settings of Celan%22 with the Juilliard School's Axiom Ensemble NYT

I am writing to tell you a bit about the jazz songs, Songs After Hours, by John Harbison (below) and a unique new artistic endeavor of mine, which includes creating the first-ever recording of these works. It is my hope that you will see the value in this project, and consider supporting its production.

JohnHarbisonatpiano

Five years ago, I performed John’s Songs After Hours at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Though scored only for piano and voice at the time, John mentioned his wish to see the music developed further for a jazz combo.

Fast forward to 2012, when I had an opportunity to work with some of the most exceptional jazz musicians in New York City. Through their artistry and creativity, I knew that I’d found the group to realize John’s vision. We created original arrangements of the songs for voice and combo and are going into the studio soon to make the debut recording in 2014. The album will ultimately be released by Albany Records.

There are many financial obligations involved in making a record, and while I am applying for grant funding and running a crowd-funding campaign through Kickstarter, I am looking for outside donors as well.  In particular, I would like to find donors to sponsor each of the five musicians involved in the project. (Below is a photo of Mary Mackenzie performing Hector Parra’s “Hypermusic — Ascension” at the Guggenheim Museum.)

Mary Mackenzie in Hector Parra %22Hypermusic -- Ascension%22 at the Guggenheim Museum

As for the Kickstarter, the deadline is January 17, so not that far away. The link for the page is:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1472615144/the-john-harbison-project-songs-after-hours-debut.

The goal of the Kickstarter is to raise $10,000, which would go towards studio costs, engineering, mixing, and mastering.  Of course, if we exceed our goal, then that’s more money towards the overall budget. I am hoping that I can find some donors that are separate from the Kickstarter to help sponsor the musicians.

I will be applying for a grant through the Aaron Copland Fund for the remainder of the funds.

I have some of the best jazz musicians accompanying me on this project, and I believe they deserve to be compensated with at least $1,500 for their work on this record. Ideally, I’d like to give them more if funding allows. This totals at least $7,500 for five musicians.

I am hoping Madisonians will consider supporting this record.  Of course, any amount anyone can give would be a great help, perhaps even a sponsorship of one of the musicians. You and others can contact me at mmackenzie981@gmail.com or at www.mary-mackenzie.com or call me at (608) 215-9261.

Sincerely,

Mary Mackenzie


Classical music: The Exclusive Company on State Street is moving, but NOT going out of business. And WYSO holds a benefit Wednesday night with the Pro Arte String Quartet.

November 11, 2012
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ALERT: This Wednesday evening, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras will host a fundraising benefit concert of chamber music by the renowned Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) to benefit the WYSO scholarship program. Founded in Brussels in 1912, the original Pro Arte Quartet served as court musicians for Queen Elizabeth of Belgium and traveled the world performing both modern and classical pieces. In 1940, while on a 10-day performance run at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the musicians were stranded in the United States by the outbreak of World War II and accepted a residency at the UW-Madison. They are believed to be the oldest continually performing string quartet in the world. The event is from 6-8 p.m. at the Blackhawk Country Club. Tickets are $50 each. Guests will be treated to hors d’oeuvres and will receive two complimentary drink tickets. The Pro Arte Quartet performance of music by Haydn, Schubert and John Harbison is to begin at 6:45 p.m. All proceeds will directly benefit WYSO students in need, providing tuition assistance for orchestra membership, the Chamber Music Program and private lessons. You can make reservations at the WYSO office at 608 263-3320 x10 or wyso@wyso.music.wisc.edu

By Jacob Stockinger

A good friend recently announced – with some alarm in his voice – that he saw that The Exclusive Company (below) at 508 State Street (phone 608 255-2433) was going out of business.

That would be too bad, thought the Ear, who shops there but had heard nothing about it. That longtime landmark store is one of the last remaining brick-and-mortar bastions of classical music in Madison. Even Barnes and Noble has cut back to the point of leaving consumers littler choice other than on-line places such as Amazon.com or Archivmusic.com.

So The Ear headed down to State Street to check it out.

Turns out that the storefront windows all have been papered over with messages that are easy to misread as a Going Out of Business SALE.

True, the store has cut back a lot on classics, especially since the days when the late Chuck Lunde (at bottom) headed up the classical department and had most of the basement to display his extensive stock.

But going out of business now is not what is happening, according to those who run the store, the local franchise of a Wisconsin company that has seven other locations around the state. (A far West Side location in Madison closed three years ago.)

For more about the Exclusive Company, visit:

http://www.exclusivecompany.com

It turns out that the Exclusive Company has lost its State Street lease. For more than a year, apparently, the landlord has been looking to dramatically increase the rent, maybe even double it.

Last year, the Exclusive Company said it couldn’t pay that much, so it went on a month-to-month lease while the landlord searched for another tenant.

It took quite a while, but apparently a new occupant has finally been found who is willing to pay the rent increase.

And the Exclusive Company is still looking for another location, preferably near the current state Street location but that is also affordable. I will keep you informed about the new location when I find out more about it.



Until then, you can still find a fair amount of new and old classical releases on CDs and DVDs, to say nothing of used CDs and DVDs. And what you don’t find on the shelf, you can usually order without a long wait. At least that is what The Ear has found.


Classical music: What single CD best exemplifies the digital Compact Disc revolution for you?

April 2, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

One day I was sitting at home, looking at my CD collection.

Actually, I was staring in disbelief.

I confess: I have too many CDs.

Even after having given away or donated many, many copies, personal copies I bought and reviewer copies I received free, to local libraries, I have way too many to listen to.

The more CDs I collect, the more it seems my listening focuses more narrowly on certain composer, certain works and certain performers.

But after all, I started collecting them when the first CD player (SONY’s pioneering CDP-101) first came out in 1982 — available in the US in early 19893, I recall — and there were only maybe a dozen digitally recorded titles available.

Anyway, as I looked I kept thinking: Which single CD best exemplifies the qualities I like and look for in a Compact Disc?

I could go with a great symphony – maybe Mahler or Beethoven or Brahms — because of the sonic range and realism it reproduces and the length of the timings, which means not changing discs.

I could go with chamber music, my deepest love, because of the way it almost makes it sound like the chamber musicians are playing right in your own home in front of you.

But instead I settled on Artur Rubinstein’s 1960s recordings of the Chopin Ballades and Scherzi (below).

I picked the Rubinstein CD – at least this particular CD because it has been through many CD formats and  remasterings — for several reasons.

I love it and never find out outdated. I consider it not necessarily the definitive version of all eight great pieces — can there be such a thing as “definitive” art? But I certainly find it the indispensable version against which all other interpretations before and after must be compared. So I love it for the piano playing on it, for the first-rate performance.

I also love it because it combines two 33-1/3 LPs that I knew and loved as a teenager. That makes the state-of-the-art CD actually cheaper all these many years later than the original vinyl versions were.

And most of all I love the sound, no matter whatever the LP-and-turntable audiophiles say.

I love that the listening is guilt-free and anxiety-free.

I listen to those pieces and that recording a lot. In the old days I would have scratched up the recording terribly or gone through several. With the CD, it is always there — just the way I anticipate it from the last time – without anxiety about ruining it with a slip of the hand and the gouging of a needle.

What single CD would you choose as your favorite to represent the best achievements of the Compact Disc revolution?

The Ear wants to hear.


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