The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It was the best of years and the worst of years. Here is NPR’s year-end national wrap-up of the state of classical music in 2013.

January 4, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

As I said in yesterday’s post, even though we are now into 2014 there is some unfinished business to wrap up for 2013 for reasons that I also explained yesterday. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/classical-music-here-are-the-top-six-essays-on-and-writings-about-classical-music-with-runners-up-from-2013-as-chosen-by-famed-radio-station-wqxr-fm-of-new-york-city/

Most media outlets, from old-fashioned newspapers to high-tech blogs, tend to take a year-end look back at the high points and low points of classical music as well as other forms of art and culture. But they tend to favor local performances and trends – even the venerable and first-class New York Times, the national newspaper that sets the media’s agenda, nonetheless generally focuses on The Big Apple as the center of the cultural universe.

So imagine my delight when I found a really good wrap-up of national trends, and even international events, on NPR’s great classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence.” It even opens up your eyes to what The Industry considers to be classical music by revealing the “classical” music that made it onto the Billboard charts of best-sellers.

The post was compiled and documented on by the blog’s director, Tom Huizenga, (below top) with, I suspect, help from the always informed and creative Anastasia Tsioulcas (below bottom).

huizenga_tom_2011

anastasia tsioulcas

What is especially praiseworthy is that it is comprehensive with much food for thought; it also seems to The Ear to be fair and balanced, neither boosterish nor alarmist; and it includes a lot of photos and a lot of links to develop any particular story that grabs you even further.

So here it is — from the mixed state of symphony orchestras (the locked out Minnesota Orchestra, which lost its conductor Osmo Vanska to labor strife, is below top) to the demise of the New York City Opera with the world premiere of the new opera “Anna Nicole” (below bottom) to the issue of bullying LGBT teenagers to various anniversaries of works and composers including the centennials of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and of the birth of Benjamin Britten.

minn-musicians

Anna Nicole opera  StephanienBerger

It should easily provide you with some fine reading on what promises to be a bitterly cold and mean January weekend and work week.

Enjoy. And now it is onward to the high notes and low points of 2014!

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/31/258649125/high-notes-and-clams-the-best-and-worst-of-classical-2013


Classical music: Two FREE concerts Monday night feature wind music by Black Marigold and contemporary music for duo-pianists, including a work by UW-Madison composer Joseph Koykkar.

November 17, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Just a reminder that there will be two FREE concerts on Monday night that might interest you.

The first is by the wind quintet Black Marigold (below). It will perform in the auditorium at Oakwood Village West, 6201 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side, on Monday night at 7 p.m.

The program includes: Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein, transcribed by Don Stewart; “Five Frogs” by Jenni Brandon; “The Rite of Spring” (its centennial is this year) by Igor Stravinsky, as arranged by Jonathan Russell; and “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin, arranged by Ernst-Thilo Kalke.

For more information, visit: www.blackmarigold.com

Black Marigold 2

Then at 7:30 in Morphy Recital Hall on the UW-Madison campus, Duo ARTIA duo-pianists Jeri-Mae Astolfi and Holly Roadfeldt, who have been on a fall concert tour of Minnesota and Wisconsin, will perform a FREE recital.

Jeri-Mae Astolfi

holly roadfeldt

The program includes some modern and mostly contemporary music including works by Bela Bartok, Witold Lutoslawski, James Wilding, Yehuda Yannay, James Leatherbarrow, Robert Patterson, Ed Martin, Kirk O’Riordan and UW-Madison composer Joseph Koyykar (below).

joseph koykkar color


Classical music: Season-openers continue this weekend as Fresco Opera Theatre presents the “Paranormal Playhouse” this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Playhouse in the Overture Center. Plus, the Kat Trio plays a FREE concert at Grace Presents at noon on Saturday and the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra performs Rossini, Haydn and Arvo Part on Sunday afternoon.

September 26, 2013
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ALERT:  A new season of Grace Presents gets underway this Saturday at noon with a FREE hour-long concert at Grace Episcopal Church, 116 West Washington Avenue, downtown on the Capitol Square. The Kat Trio  (below, with a different pianist) has a long history in Madison and consists of violinist Victoria Gorbich, clarinetist Vladislav Gorbich and pianist Justin Snyder. The program includes works by Aram Khachaturian, Johannes Brahms, Alexander Glazunov, Jean Sibelius, Peter Tchaikovsky and Dmitri Shostakovich as well as unique Russian arrangements and transpositions of classical works, well-known inspirational songs, and even American pop standards (from “Fiddler on the Roof”)  and rags by Scott Joplin.  For more, visit: www.thekattrio.net 

Next Up at Grace Presents: On Saturday, October 26, at noon, tenor Daniel O’Dea and  soprano Marie McNamara will perform. Support for Grace Presents comes from donations, Dane Arts and the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation.

kat trio 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

As I said earlier this week, even though the concert season officially started with chamber music many classical music fans wait for big groups, bigger pieces and bigger audiences to see that the season is really underway.

Symphonies orchestras are well represented this weekend, what with three performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra plus the University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra’s centennial homage to Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” on Sunday night.

But two other notable events add to the dynamic.

One is the first opera of the new season.

It is “Paranormal Playhouse,” to be presented Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the Playhouse at the Overture Center.

Paranormal Poster Fresco Opera Theatre

Here is more from an official press release:

“Fresco Opera Theatre has transformed the Overture Center Playhouse into a shell of its former self. The space is haunted by spirits of operas past, including performers who have met untimely deaths, evil spirits who sabotage those who get in their way and mysterious souls who are untraceable.

Patrons are being scared to death. The Overture Center needs help, and who are they going to call?

“Fresco has the answer. A.R.I.A. (Apparition Removal Investigation Association) will find the spirits and the stories behind their inhabiting the Playhouse.

“Fresco knows you will be moved by the stories of these unfortunate souls as they sing to the audience they long for. But be warned. As you are drawn in to these beautiful spiritual voices, something else evil is lurking…

“Opera shouldn’t be scary. No one knows this better than Fresco Opera Theatre.”

Sorry, I have no specifics about arias and other specific works and composers to be sung. For more information about this production and past productions as well as photos of the Fresco Opera Theatre, visit:

http://www.frescooperatheatre.com/paranormal-playhouse.html

The “Paranormal Playhouse” project is made possible with support from the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission (Dane Arts), Madison Arts Commission, and its generous donors.

Fresco Opera Theatre logo

ALSO: At Edgewood College this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra (below top) will perform under the direction of Blake Walter (below bottom).

Edgewood Chamber Orchestra poster Sept 12

blake walter john maniaci

The program features Rossini’s Overture to “La Cambiale di Matrimonia,” Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 87 and Arvo Pärt’s “If Bach Had Been a Bee-Keeper” (At the bottom in a YouTube video.)

Admission is $5, or free with an Edgewood College ID.

 


Classical music: Black Marigold, the Madison-based woodwind quintet, will perform three FREE PUBLIC concerts in the second half of August, starting this Friday.

August 13, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Word has come of three very appealing FREE and PUBLIC performances by a notable local chamber music group. Here is the press release:

“Black Marigold (below) welcomes the dog days of August with a free concert series of chamber works hot enough to fry an egg on the stage. (You can hear Black Marigold in a lively performance of the “William Tell” Overture by Rossini in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“Join the members of this local woodwind quintet as they perform arrangements some of their favorite orchestral works, including a 100th anniversary celebration of the notorious premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Any riotous reactions to this challenging quintet adaptation will hopefully come in the form of applause.

“All performances are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Black Marigold 2

“Members of Black Marigold are: Elizabeth Marshall, flute; Laura Medisky, oboe; Bethany Schultz, clarinet; Kia Karlen, horn; and Cynthia Cameron Fix, bassoon.

For more information about the group, here is a link to a website and also the group’s email address:

www.blackmarigold.com

blackmarigoldwinds@gmail.com

Here is the line-up of upcoming appearances with programs and links to details:   

Friday, August 16, 6 p.m ., Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Lecture Hall (below), first floor, 227 State St., Madison, Wisconsin

MMOCA lecture hall

Saturday, August 17, 7 p.m. , Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, Grand Hall (below), 333 W Main St., Madison, Wisconsin  

Program:  Overture to “Candide” – by Leonard Bernstein, trans. Don Stewart; “Le Tombeau de Couperin” – by Maurice Ravel, arr. Mason Jones; “The Rite of Spring” – by Igor Stravinsky, arr. Jonathan Russell; “Rhapsody in Blue” – by George Gershwin, arr. Ernst-Thilo Kalke

Capitol Lakes Hall

Orton Park Festival, Main Stage (below top), Sunday, August 25, noon, Orton Park, 1200 Spaight St., Madison, Wisconsin, with a special guest, the local well known recording engineer, amateur musician and all-round enthusiastic and amiable good sport Buzz Kemper (below bottom) as narrator. 

The Orton Park program inc;ludes:  Overture to “Candide” – by Leonard Bernstein, trans. Don Stewart; “Peter and the Wolf” – by Sergei Prokofiev, arr. Earl C. North; “The Rite of Spring” – by Igor Stravinsky, arr. Jonathan Russell; “Rhapsody in Blue” – by George Gershwin, arr. Ernst-Thilo Kalke

Buckwheat Zydeco performing at the Orton Park Festival, 2006

buzz kemper


Classical music: Was composer Igor Stravinsky gay or bisexual, as a new book by Robert Craft claims? And if he was, how much does it matter? Did it affect his music? Were New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe and other writers even-handed and fair in exploring the “issue”?

July 28, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

With the rising social and political acceptance of marriage equality, or same-sex marriage, it is hard not to imagine that there will also be even more interest in gay history and whether great and important figures from the past will be “outed” as gay, lesbian and bisexual.

That is especially true of the pioneering 20th-century Russian modernist composer Igor Stravinsky (1881-1972, below top) -– 2013 is the centennial of his landmark ballet score “Rite of Spring” – who has been “outed” in the new book “Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories” by 90-year-old Robert Craft (below bottom, on the right with Stravinsky on the left), who was the composer’s longtime friend and assistant.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

Robert Craft (right) with Igor Stravinsky

Specifically, Craft says, Stravinsky – who was married to women three times and was said to have been proud or even boastful of his heterosexuality  — had affairs with Andrey Rimsky-Korsakov (below top), the oldest son of Stravinsky’s teacher, the famous Russian composer and orchestrator  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov; with French composer Maurice Ravel (below middle, with Ravel on the left and Stravinsky on the right); and with Belgian composer Maurice Delage (below bottom).

andrey rimsky-korsakov

ravel and stravinsky

maurice delage

Perhaps the most comprehensive and careful or even conservative treatment of the questions raised by Craft and his book (below), which was published by the thriving Naxos Records, came in The New York Times through the treatment by reporter and critic Zachary Woolfe.

Robert Craft old w book NAXOS

Here is a link to that story by Zachary Woolfe (below):

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/18/arts/music/doubts-greet-claims-about-stravinskys-sexuality.html?_r=0

zachary woolfe ny times critic

Other writers and media outlets also covered the controversial story, which was bound to get attention, given the “virility” of Stravinsky’s most famous scores and the wide influence he had on modern music. Be sure to read the Comments sections, since you will there find many other points of view and debate from the “consumers.”

Here is a link to an excellent story on the radio website for the New York City radio station WQXR-FM. Be sure to read the many reader comments:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/blogs/wqxr-blog/2013/jun/25/was-stravinsky-bisexual-if-he-was-so-what/

Here is another fine story from the Los Angeles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-stravinksy-craft-20130721,0,6906602.story

And here is how famed critic Norman Lebrecht (below) first treated the matter:

http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/06/was-stravinsky-ambisexual-while-writing-rite-of-spring.html

And then here is how Lebrecht later got pretty dour about Woolfe and the Times as well other critics  or questioners of Craft’s claims:

http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/07/the-new-york-times-gets-sniffy-about-stravinskys-retrosexuality.html

norman_lebrecht

One thing is for sure: Craft’s contentions and the validity of his proof as well as the effect of the claim will surely be analyzed and talked about a lot at the special Stravinsky festival in August at Bard College near New York City.

What do you think of the claim? True or false?

And if true, how much do you think it matters?

The Ear — who thinks almost all great art and great artists involve a real or symbolic transgression of sexual taboos — wants to hear.

So check out the sheer transgressive sensuality and even sexuality of the music and dance, with choreography by the famed PIna Bausch, and the dancers’ bodies in the YouTube video below:


Classical music: A century later, is “The Rite of Spring” still new and edgy? Was Igor Stravinsky the Pablo Picasso of modern music? It’s a good question to consider as “The Rite” turns 100 this Wednesday, May 29, and NPR devotes several worthy stories to Stravinsky and his music.

May 26, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Wednesday, May 29, marks the 100th anniversary of the premiere of “The Rite of Spring” by the 20th century master Igor Stravinsky (below at about the time of “The Rite.”).

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

You may remember that its sensational premiere in Paris in 1913, which also ushered in modern dance as well as modern music, was conducted by Pierre Monteux, caused  a literal riot in the concert hall at the Theatre of the Champs Elysees. (Below are the dancers of the Ballets Russes who performed the original 1913 choreography by the famed Nijinsky and a video of the opening from the Joffrey Ballet‘s recreation of the original production.)

Nijinsky's dancers original Rite of Spring Ballets Russes 1913

A century later, the ballet score remains a shockingly visceral, raw, convulsive and heart-pounding work that has lost none of its impact. It is, like late Beethoven string quartets — I believe it was Stravinsky himself who made the observation about Beethoven’s “Grosse Fuge”  — forever modern.

Miles Hoffman recently discussed “The Rite” on NPR within the very varied and very long career of Stravinsky, and how Stravinsky (below, in a photo by Richard Avedon) was musical chameleon who constantly pushed his art and evolved his sense of style in different directions.

Igor Stravinsky old 2

Hoffman, himself a performing musician (a violist) and a fine writer, compared Stravinsky to Pablo Picasso for the range and diversity of his experimentation and the masterful results.

Certain, the range of Stravinsky (1882-1971) is worth considering even as record labels are issuing special centennial editions and performances of “The Rite of Spring.”

What, one wants to ask, about the neo-Classical Stravinsky? Or the 12-tone Stravinsky? The contrasting styles are all so central to understanding his career. (I love the earlier Stravinsky of “Rite” and “The Firebird” but I adore the Neo-Classical Stravinsky and admire the courage that it took for the ever-morphing composer to buck his modernist colleagues.)

And the often repeated comparison to Picasso is especially appropriate given that the two prolific and protean  ever-changing artists knew each other and even had a bet on who would live the longest. (Picasso, who lived from 1881 to 1973, won the bet.)

hoffman_rite

Here is a link to the NPR piece, which features audio samples and which I highly recommend you listen to and not just read:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/24/186296467/igor-stravinskys-rite-of-spring-counterrevolution

Here is a piece to another NPR piece, “A Cocktail Party Guide to Stravinsky,” complete with audio and video samples, from Tom Huizenga.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/24/186443524/the-cocktail-party-guide-to-igor-stravinsky

And here is a third NPR piece that features sound clips and the 48-year-old Leonard Bernstein (below) in an electrifying and thrilling performance of the difficult but thrilling score to “Le Sacre du Printemps” with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1966:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/25/186489566/leonard-bernsteins-rite-of-spring-thrill-ride

Leonard Bernstein conducting

Finally, here is anther comprehensive NPR piece done by Tom Vitale that aired Saturday on Weekend Edition host Scott Simon:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/25/186497792/then-the-curtain-opened-the-bracing-impact-of-stravinskys-rite

Meanwhile here in a YouTube video is the part of “The Rite of Spring” that always seems my ears like the soundtrack to an Aztec heart sacrifice — well, it is about pagan Russia — with its incredible use of slashing strings, pounding percussion, spooky winds and brass, and propulsive off-beats.

What careful mastery, craft and precision went into something so physical, so visceral, so emotive! There is a lesson there for advocates of passionate art who mistake sincere confession for careful craft!


Classical music: What are your favorite warhorses? The Ear says warhorses need defending and performing, and also thinks Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto is far superior to his Second.

September 30, 2012
9 Comments

ALERT: Phenom conductor Gustavo Dudamel (below) leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Stravinsky‘s “The Rite of Spring” LIVE on an NPR webcast today at 5 p.m. EDT on www.npr.org. Here he discusses the landmark work with “All Things Considered” host Robert Siegel: http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/28/161964987/gustavo-dudamel-on-the-magic-of-stravinskys-crazy-music

By Jacob Stockinger

Just a week ago, last Sunday afternoon, I heard a stunningly good concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

It was the perfect season opener and featured an all-Russian program plus a tribute to two MSO figures who died recently, principal tuba player Paul Haugan (below top) and longtime conductor and music director Roland Johnson (below bottom).

I agree with just about all my critic colleagues, who wrote very positive reviews. It was an extremely impressive and satisfying concert in so many ways.

The “Adagio for Strings” by UW composer John Stevens (below) was less emotionally wrenching than Samuel Barber’s well-known work of the same name. But that only made it more suited to the occasion. It held loss in a level gaze and didn’t sentimentalize the inevitability of death and loss. Plus, the MSO strings sounded so beautiful and so precise.

Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 “Classical” was performed with all the wit and spark that the neo-Classical pastiche requires. All sections showed the energetic snap the piece calls for.

And who wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the drama and fierce rhythms, the masterful orchestration and sonic beauty of The “Firebird” Suite, which showcased the entire orchestra, by Stravinsky (below).

But as for the finale, the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Op. 44, by Tchaikovsky – well I guess I find myself in the role of the dissenter filing a minority report.

MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill), now entering his 19th season in Madison, programmed it at the suggestion of the soloist pianist Garrick Ohlsson. It proved to be a premiere performance in the almost century-long history of the MSO.

And I think for good reason.

One critic praised it as a deserving work and a wonderful piece. And it is true that the performance received an enthusiastic standing ovation.

But I think that reception was largely NOT for the music.

I think the audience’s reaction came from hearing a first-rate performance of a second-rate piece.

It is good once a while to hear this rarely performed work. But let’s not overdo it. It is true that the concerto does have some beautiful moments. But overall, it is ponderously long, especially in the first movement.

The second movement, a piano trio with less piano than cello and violin, was performed exceptionally well by principal cellist Karl Lavine (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (tomorrow bottom). But it really can’t compare for me with the beauty of the Piano Trio in A minor by the same composer. And the final movement was disjointed, albeit virtuosic.

The virtuosic Ohlsson (below) played the treacherously difficult piano part with aplomb, confidence and conviction.

But too much of the concerto just sounded to The Ear like a reworking of passages from the more famous Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, which has made so many careers including those of Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter, Van Cliburn, Emil Gilels, Lang-Lang and many others.

What drive and what lyricism that earlier concerto has. It is irresistible. It changes your world. It shakes you up. It stirs you deeply. And makes you hum or sing along.

If it is a warhorse – and it truly is – it is for a good reason. Its magic never fails. It is indisputably great. It is reliable. It never fails to deliver the goods.

It was good to hear the Second Piano Concerto by Tchaikovsky (below), but more as a curiosity than as a great listening experience. The audience would really have gone wild the First Concerto, especially the hands of such a fluent and powerful player as Ohlsson. I also bet it would have meant sellouts for all three performances at a time when symphonies can use all the attendance they can muster.

Perhaps the concert could have concluded with a Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev concerto, or even the Shostakovich Second. Or the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, which like the same composer’s great symphonies, stands up to the First Piano Concerto and surpasses the Second Piano Concerto.

So I’ll be anxious to hear what other audience members have to say about Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto? Was it a great work that you liked? Or the great performance that enthralled you?

The Ear wants to hear. You be the critic.

I also want to hear what your own favorite “warhorses” are: J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins or Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”? Beethoven’s Fifth or Ninth symphonies, or maybe his “Emperor” piano concerto? Rachmaninoff’s Second or Third Piano Concertos or his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini? Mozart’s G minor and “Jupiter” Symphonies, or perhaps his Piano Concerto in D Minor? Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony? Grieg’s Piano Concerto or Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”? Puccini’s opera “La Boheme”? Or maybe Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (at bottom)?

Some very experienced or even jaded listeners will call them “warhorses” and dismiss them.

But so-called warhorses get their name precisely because they are tough and reliable, and because they work. It is laudable to program beyond them, but not to ignore or dismiss them

Warhorses are usually great music that should be performed live more often, great music that will help attract new and younger audiences who might not even know them at all because, unfortunately, “warhorses” aren’t supposed to be played – and, at the risk of seeming unsophisticated, often aren’t.


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