The Well-Tempered Ear

Ukraine’s most famous living composer is now a war refugee in Germany

April 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

He fights and defends his native country with beautiful sounds.

Ukraine’s most famous living composer has had to flee his war-torn country and — like some 3 million fellow Ukrainians in various other countries — is now living as a a war refugee in Germany. 

He is Valentin Sylvestrov (below), 84, and has survived both World War II and the Nazi occupation as well as the Soviet rule experiencing democracy and freedom after the fall of the USSR and now the devastating Russian invasion five weeks ago.

The irony is that his music, which The Ear can’t recall ever hearing performed live in Madison — although Wisconsin Public Radio recently featured a beautiful choral work — seems calming and peaceful, even consoling.(Please correct me if I am mistaken.) Many people compare him to the style of Arvo Pärt, his Eastern European contemporary and colleague in Estonia.

Little wonder that his works have found a new popularity in worldwide concerts as the world hopes for the survival and victory of Ukraine — below is Ukraine’s flag — over Vladimir’s Putin’s army and war crimes. 

His works have been particularly popular at fundraisers and memorials. They underscore the long history and importance of Ukraine’s tradition of making music, which has been recounted in the news features you find in the press, on TV, on radio and elsewhere in the media including live streams and recorded videos other media, especially the Internet.

As far as The Ear can tell, his most popular work in the concert hall these days is his hauntingly beautiful 1937 “Prayer for Ukraine.” You can hear it, in  an orchestra version, in a YouTube video at the bottom.

As background here are two different interviews with the distressed and saddened Sylvestrov in exile.

The first interview, from The New York Times, is by a professor at Arizona State University who has published a book on postwar Eastern European composers and offers links to more works: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/30/arts/music/valentin-silvestrov-ukraine-war.html

The other interview is from the German media outlet Deutsche Welle, translated into English and featuring current photos: https://www.dw.com/en/ukrainian-composer-valentin-silvestrov-what-are-you-kremlin-devils-doing/a-61158308

The tragic occasion of the war in Ukraine could be the event that brings the soul-stirring music of Sylvestrov to a larger global public. 

He certainly deserves it — along with some live performances here — and The Ear certainly plans on posting more of his music.

Have you heard the music of Valentin Sylvestrov?

Do you have favorite works from his piano music, chamber music, choral music and many symphonies?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: Violinist Axel Strauss and pianist Trevor Stephenson will recreate a historic concert of Beethoven, Debussy and Bartok this Friday night

September 10, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Friday night, Sept. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at West Middleton Lutheran Church, the prize-winning and internationally acclaimed violinist Axel Strauss (below) — a Madison favorite through his many wonderful concerts with the San Francisco Trio for the Bach, Dancing and Dynamite Society — and pianist Trevor Stephenson, artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians, will collaborate on a program of masterpieces by Beethoven, Bartok and Debussy.

The event is something of a re-creation of a legendary concert given by famed violinist Joseph Szigeti (below top) and pianist-composer Bela Bartok (below bottom) at the Library of Congress on April 13, 1940 when Bartok, fleeing Europe and World War II, had been in the U.S. only a couple of days.

You can hear a recording of their historic performance of the Rhapsody by Bartok in the YouTube video at the bottom.

At the Sept. 14 concert, Strauss — who now teaches at McGill University in Montreal, Canada — and Stephenson will perform three major works that Szigeti and Bartok also played that April evening in 1940: Beethoven’s Sonata in A major Op. 47 (“Kreutzer”), Bartok’s Rhapsody No. 1 and Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, the last completed major work by Debussy (below) finished less than a year before his death in 1918. (You can find more about the impressive biography of Axel Strauss at http://www.axelstrauss.com and at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axel_Strauss  on Wikipedia.)

Stephenson will bring his 1855 Boesendorfer concert grand piano (both are below in a photo by Kent Sweitzer). Although heavily strung like a modern piano, this mid 19th-century Boesendorfer piano has no metal plate to alleviate the tension of the strings, but relies instead upon an ingenious wooden frame design.

The resonance of the sound is thus carried entirely by the wood, resulting in a complex and dark tone wonderfully suited to the sensibility of 19th- and early 20th-century music.

The West Middleton Lutheran Church (below top and bottom) is at 3763 Pioneer Road — the intersection of Mineral Point Road and Pioneer Road, just 10 minutes west of West Towne Mall.

It has superb acoustics for chamber music. The seating is very comfortable. The sight-lines are terrific. And there is plenty of parking.

Concert tickets are $25 available at the door (credit card, check and cash) or in advance (check only). Seating is limited to 225.

To reserve tickets, email trevor@trevorstephenson.com

Find more information at www.trevorstephenson.com.


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Classical music: The fall concert series by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras starts this Saturday and includes the Wisconsin premiere of Martinu’s Symphony No. 3

November 6, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras have sent information about their upcoming fall concert this coming Saturday and the following Saturday:

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) opens their fall concert series on Saturday, Nov. 11, and Saturday, Nov. 18, with the WYSO Youth Orchestra performing Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu’s Symphony No. 3.  (You can hear the opening movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“All our orchestras and ensembles have been digging deep into some amazing repertoire this fall,” said Interim Artistic Director Randal Swiggum (below).  “WYSO fans will love these concerts—a great mix of beloved classics like Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol” and the Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, and some compelling new works.  The students are super-excited to share it.”

Martinu’s fiercely energetic Symphony No. 3 was originally premiered by the Boston Symphony in 1945 while the composer (below) was a refugee from the Nazis; but the piece has not been performed by any orchestra in Wisconsin in 72 years.

“This is a remarkable piece,” Swiggum said, “Always rhythmic and exciting, it has really challenged the kids with its unusual colors and ideas.”

Tickets for the fall concert series are available at the door, and are $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.

The full concert repertoire is available at www.wysomusic.org/fall-2017-repertoire/.

Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concert Dates

  • Saturday, November 11:
    1:30 pm – Percussion Ensemble (below), Harp Ensemble, Philharmonia Orchestra
    4:00 pm – Concert Orchestra, Opus One, Sinfonietta
    Mills Concert Hall, 455 N. Park St., Madison, WI
  • Saturday, November 18
    7:00 pm – Youth Orchestra
    Middleton Performing Arts Center, 2100 Bristol St., Middleton, WI


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