The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It’s Valentine’s Day. What piece of classical music would you give to your Valentine?

February 14, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Valentine’s Day.

Cupid

If you want to celebrate, there is always chocolate or roses or champagne or a special dinner.

But there is music too.

Many composers come to mind: Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Antonin Dvorak, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Gabriel FaureGiacomo Puccini, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, and  Sergei Rachmaninoff to name a few.

But The Ear thinks one of the most beautiful pieces is a short one, a miniature if you will.

It is the Romance in F-sharp Major, Op. 28, No. 2, by the Romantic German composer Robert Schumann (below with his wife Clara Wieck Schumann). Nobody wrote music about love, music filled with love and yearning, better than Schumann.

Schumann_Robert_and_Wieck_Clara

Not only does the piece sound intimate.

It IS intimate — with the two thumbs playing the melody a third apart much of the time. It is as if the two thumbs, left and right, are the two lovers.

Little wonder that the composer asked his virtuoso pianist-composer wife Clara to play it for him as he lay dying.

And to top it off, it is not all that difficult to play, so you could learn it and play it for your Valentine.

Here it is, performed in a YouTube video by the late Van Cliburn:

But what about you?

As radio stations like to say ”The Request Line is open!

What piece of classical music – big or small, old or new, hard or easy — would you play or dedicate to your Valentine?

Duets of all kinds seem especially appropriate. But so do songs and symphonies, operas and oratorios, and all kinds of chamber music.

So tell us about your musical gift for Valentine’s Day.

Leave a message in the COMMENT section, with a short explanation and dedicatory comment and perhaps with a YouTube link if possible — the forward it to your Valentine.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Pianist Gabriela Montero plays music by Schubert and Schumann and then does her own spontaneous improvisations this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

February 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pianist Gabriela Montero (below, in a photo by Shelley Mosman) will perform in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Saturday night, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. Montero last performed in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and wowed the house at the Overture Center.

On this Friday, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Mills Hall, Montero will also hold a master class, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

gabriela-montero-2017-shelley-mosman

Here are ticket prices for her recital: UW-Madison students are $10; Union members and non-UW students are $42, $38 and $25; UW-Madison faculty and staff are $44, $40 and $25; the general public is $46, $42 and $25; and young people 18 and under are $20.

Tickets can be bought online; by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787); or in person — see locations and hours here.

The first half of Montero’s program features the first set of Four Impromptus, Op. 99, D. 899, by Franz Schubert and the playfully Romantic “Carnival” by Robert Schumann.

After intermission, the former prodigy will perform the spontaneous improvisations – usually on themes suggested by the audience – that she is acclaimed for.

According to The New York Times, “[Gabriela] Montero’s playing has everything: crackling rhythmic brio, subtle shadings, steely power in climactic moments, soulful lyricism in the ruminative passages and, best of all, unsentimental expressivity.”

Here she is performing the third Schubert impromptu, in G-flat major, in the set of four that she will play here:

Montero was born in Venezuela and gave her first performance to a public audience at the age of five. When she was eight, she made her concerto debut in Caracas, which led to a scholarship for private study in the United States.

Montero played with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman and clarinetist Anthony McGill at Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Inauguration.

She has been invited to perform with the world’s most respected orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Liverpool Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony and more, performing in the Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall and Wigmore Hall, among others.

Celebrated for her ability to brilliantly improvise, compose and play new works, Montero is an award-winning and best-selling recording artist.

She has received the Bronze Medal at the Chopin Competition, two Echo Klassik Awards in 2006 and 2007, and a Grammy nomination for her Bach and Beyond follow-up Baroque work in 2008.

She participated in the 2013 Women of the World Festival in London and spoke at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. She has also been recognized as a composer for her Piano Concerto No. 1.

In the YouTube video at the bottom you can hear Montero improvise on a famous melody by Sergei Rachmaninoff in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach.

This performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee and was supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Media sponsors are WORT 89.9 FM and the UW-Madison student station WSUM 91.7 FM. 


Classical music education: Composer Robert Schumann and cellist Steven Isserlis offer advice to young people about going into music

September 16, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Schools are back in session – public and private K-12 elementary, middle and high schools, and colleges and universities, including Edgewood College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And private music lessons have started up again after a summer break.

So it seems only fitting to offer advice to young people who are thinking about becoming musicians.

Such advice comes from two very good sources, one older and one newer: The Romantic German composer Robert Schumann (below top) and the acclaimed contemporary British cellist Steven Isserlis (below bottom).

Schumann photo1850

steven-isserlis-playing

Schumann (1810-1846) wrote a book (below) with his advice to young musicians. Then Isserlis updated that book with his commentaries.

schumann-isserlis-book

You can get a good sample of its contents, from practicing to performing, from the entry on the blog “Only Strings” that is written by local musician Paul Baker (below), who also hosts a radio program for WSUM, the award-winning student-run radio station at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Here is a link:

https://onlystringswsum.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/what-to-think-about-when-youre-thinking-about-being-a-musician/

Paul Baker at WSUM


Classical music: Guest pianist Leon Fleisher and the Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE performance of the Piano Quintet by Brahms at noon on Oct. 6.

September 7, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

You heard it here first.

Here is a date to save  and then spread the word:

The Ear hears that famed pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher (below top in a photo by Chris Hartlove) will perform a FREE concert with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below bottom in a photo by Rick Langer) at noon on Thursday, Oct. 6, in Mills Hall.

Intl_Piano_LF1120.pdf

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The program features a dramatic and lyrical masterpiece, the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear Leon Fleisher perform the third movement, the lively Scherzo with a lovely Trio, of the Brahms Piano Quintet with the Emerson String Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

More details are forthcoming.

The Ear has been told that Fleisher, 88 and retired from the Peabody Institute of Music at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and the Pro Arte are doing this as a gesture of thanks to all supporters of the quartet, which several years ago celebrated its centennial and is the longest-lived string quartet in history.

Fleisher was an acclaimed and prize-winning pianist whose career was thwarted by focal dystonia in his right hand, which made him play and perform only with his left hand.

For a decade now, he has recovered and been performing with two hands and often with his pianist wife. They performed several seasons ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Pro Arte Quartet holds a special place in his affection.

About a decade ago, Fleisher performed the same Brahms work with the Pro Arte. Fleisher’s main teacher, the legendary Artur Schnabel, performed and recorded works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Schumann, Antonin Dvorak and others with the Pro Arte Quartet back in the 1930s.


Classical music: Check out The Violin Channel. Read about the International Competition for violin and cello in Harbin, China plus news, videos, celebrity interviews and playing tips

July 31, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear loves the string family of the violin, viola, cello and double bass – as solo instruments, in duets with the piano, in piano trios, in string trios and string quartets, and of course in orchestras.

cello strings

The various string instruments can be so songful and sound so like a human voice – plus without the words!

There are so many things The Ear, as a string fan, just learned from The Violin Channel:

That Deutsche Grammophon has an office in China. Which should come as no surprise, really, since so much of the classical music world – especially in strings and piano – now seems increasingly located in China.

That prize winners in violin and cello were just announced at the International Competition in Harbin, China. (The city of Harbin is, by the way, the capital of Heilongjiang province, the sister state of Wisconsin in China.) Frenchman Christoph Croise, below, took the top prize for cello. 

Christoph Croise Cellist

That the website also has several blogs, including some that offer practical advice on playing, specifically about bow strokes for example.

That the website tells you about new recordings, including some news by Benjamin Beilman, who soloed impressively here with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in the Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Benjamin Beilman close up playing

And it keeps you up to date on new YouTube videos, including one by the late Henryk Szeryng playing the Violin Concerto by Robert Schumann.

henryk szeryng BW

The Ear especially likes the master classes and the 20-question interviews called Meet the Pros. (You can hear one with Sarah Chang in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link:

https://www.theviolinchannel.com

The Ear hopes you enjoy it enough to bookmark it or subscribe to it.

Let us all know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What music would you play to honor and mourn the dead, wounded and traumatized victims of the gay night club shooting in Orlando, Florida?

June 19, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a week now.

A very long, hard and emotional week.

The Ear has heard some classical music dedicated to the victims — 49 killed, some 50 wounded and countless traumatized — of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, Florida, that took place one week ago. (Below is a vigil in support of the LGBT community.)

Orlando shooting vigil crowd 1

Others might choose a standard like the famous “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber. It is undeniably moving and perfectly appropriate.

But so far the piece that most moved The Ear, unexpectedly, was a familiar one that aired on Wisconsin Public Radio: the “Nimrod” variation from the “Enigma Variations” by Sir Edward Elgar.

The Ear hears tenderness, gentleness and even love in the music. But in it he also hears strength, resilience and pride as well as sorrow, acceptance and resignation.

Plus, he likes the idea of enigma that is attached to it, given all the issues and questions — terrorism, Islamic radicalization and extremism, homophobia, self-hatred, hate crimes, gun control, protests, mass grieving — that still surround the incident and remain to be solved.

You can listen to the piece of music in the YouTube video at the bottom that features conductor Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It has more than 3 million hits.

But The Ear is also sure that there is a great deal of other music that would suit the purpose. They include:

The passions, oratorios and cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Requiems of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Giuseppe Verdi and Gabriel Faure.

The symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky and Antonin Dvorak.

The string quartets, piano trios, duo sonatas and other chamber music by Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert as well as the solo piano music of Chopin, Schumann and so many others.

The masses of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

The songs of Schubert and arias and choruses from all kinds of operas, but especially those of Giacomo Puccini.

And on and on.

Leave your personal choice, with a YouTube link if possible, and your reason for choosing it in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Let us now praise women composers — with the help of a new history and recent political events

June 12, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Politically, this has been a historic week and a week to remember for women.

Democrat Hillary Clinton (below), the former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State,  became the first woman to win the presidential nomination – barring something unexpected or a surprising turn of events – of a major political party in the United States.

hillary clinton thumbs up

That victory was soon followed by an endorsement from President Barack Obama and from another promising woman in American politics: Senator Elizabeth Warren.

So it also seems a good time to take a long look back to the 17th century and discover women composers who were overlooked and who failed to crack the glass ceiling of artistic fame or sexism in the arts in their own lifetimes.

They include the Baroque composer Barbara Strozzi, the Romantic composers Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel and Clara Schumann (below top, in a photo from Getty Images), and the modern composers Lili Boulanger and Elizabeth Maconchy (below bottom).

(You can hear a lovely Romance for solo piano by Clara Schumann, a virtuoso pianist who championed the works of her husband Robert Schumann, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Clara Schumann Getty Images

Elizabeth Maconchy 2

The Ear doubts there is a better guide than Anna Beer (below top, in a photo by Jeff Overs) and her new book “Sounds and Sweet Airs: Forgotten Women of Classical Music” (below bottom):

anna beers CR Jeff Overs

Sounds and Sweet Airs

The historian and writer recently spoke with Rachel Martin of NPR or National Public Radio, about her history. Here is a link to the blog site, which also has links to related stories:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/05/22/478734604/sounds-and-sweet-airs-remembers-the-forgotten-women-of-classical-music


Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society seeks amateur photos from the public for a slide show to accompany Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in June. Plus, Mikko Rankin Utevsky gives a FREE viola recital Sunday night

April 9, 2016
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ALERT: Blog contributor and all-round musician — violist, conductor and singer as well as critic — Mikko Rankin Utevsky sends the following word:

Dear friends: I’m giving my senior viola recital this Sunday evening, April 10, the culmination of my four years of study here at the UW-Madison. On the program are a pair of powerful and evocative works from 1919: the Viola Sonata of Rebecca Clarke, and the Suite for Viola and Piano by Ernest Bloch. Pianist Thomas Kasdorf joins me for the program, which is at 7 p.m. at Capitol Lakes, off the Capitol Square, at 333 West Main Street. I hope to see you there!

P.S.: Thomas and I are giving another recital – with me singing this time – on Tuesday, May 10, at 7 p.m., also at Capitol Lakes. On the program are assorted songs by Samuel Barber, Kurt Weill, Charles Ives, Robert Schumann, and Claude Debussy, and the “Songs of Travel” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. If you can’t make this one, see you in a month!

By Jacob Stockinger

Multi-media concerts seem to be catching on, perhaps in an attempt to attract new and younger audiences.

Next season the Madison Symphony Orchestra will do two of them: Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” with a hi-definition film made by NASA for the Houston Symphony Orchestra; and a Beyond the Score with “Scheherazade” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, accompanied by photographs plus actors Jim DeVita and Brenda DeVita from American Players Theatre in Spring Green.

Doing mutli-media is nothing new for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which is always experimenting and looking for novel approaches to classical music. But the group is expanding how it is done in an impressively populist way.

Here is an announcement from The Ear’s friends at the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which turns 25 this summer:

BDDS silver jubilee logo

SEASONAL PHOTOGRAPHS WANTED FOR A SPECIAL CONCERT AT THE OVERTURE CENTER THIS SUMMER.

Have you taken photos of your favorite time of year?

Visual artist Lisa A. Frank will be creating photographic scenery for this year’s “Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society” concerts at the Overture Center for the Arts.

The program on June 25 will include the “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi. For this concert, a photo collage of the four seasons – like Frank’s spring image of bird eggs and feathers in a nest and the fall image of gourds – will be projected on a large screen behind the musicians.

(You can get a sense of it from the popular YouTube video at the bottom, which features the “Spring” section of the four string concertos that make up “The Four Seasons.)

Lisa Frank Spring Birds eggs

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Lisa Frank (below) invites amateur photographers of all ages to participate in this concert by sending up to 5 of your best shots depicting any aspect of any season.

Lisa Frank

The images can be in jpeg, tiff or Photoshop format. If your photograph is included, you may be asked to resend a higher resolution image. (Below is a summer photo of a flower and butterfly.)

Lisa Frank Summer Butterfly

All featured photographers will receive a video of the final result.

Up to 100 photos will be selected.

Send your photographs by Sunday, April 18 to:

lisafrank@lisafrankphotography.com

And here is a link – with information about programs, performers, venues and tickets — to the new summer season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which celebrates the group’s 25th anniversary or Silver Jubilee:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org


Classical music: Let us now praise Kato Perlman and other donors and sponsors whose generosity supports classical music at the UW-Madison and elsewhere

April 7, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

In yesterday’s blog about afternoon concerts this weekend, The Ear mentioned the FREE concert by the Perlman Piano Trio this Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall.

The all-masterpiece program is an appealing one: The late Piano Trio in E-flat Major, K. 542, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, by Robert Schumann; and the Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 101, by Johannes Brahms.

Members of the graduate student ensemble (below, from left, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) are: violinist Adam Dorn; pianist SeungWha Baek; and cellist Micah Cheng.

Additional members for the Schumann Piano Quintet are violinist Keisuke Yamamoto and violist Luke Carmichael Valmadrid.

Perlman Piano Trio 2016

But the concert by the Perlman Trio is also an occasion to recognize an important donor to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Her name is Kato (Katherine) Perlman. The Ear knows her as a congenial, amiable and modest person.

Perlman’s generosity has made possible this scholarship trio for distinguished graduate students. Its membership usually changes every school year.

Perlman (below), a retired chemist, has also contributed to other events and programs at the UW-Madison and to other music events around town.

Kato_Perlman

Now, Perlman is not alone. There are many important donors and patrons and underwriters of musical events in Madison.

One of the most distinguished and largest recent gifts was the late Karen Bishop, whose gift of $500,000 made possible hiring a new director of University Opera outside the punitive budget cuts by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature.

Another is Irving Shain(below), the retired chemistry professor and Chancellor of the UW-Madison, who decades ago started the ongoing Beethoven Sonata Competition and who also underwrites the wind and piano duet competition.

Irving Shain

Kato Perlman has an interesting, compelling and moving personal history, and the upcoming concert in Saturday is a good occasion to share it.

Here it is:

http://www.supportuw.org/stories/feature/perlman-gifts-span-campus/

These are challenging times for classical music. Those of us who appreciate it should be especially grateful to Perlman and other sponsors and donors for allowing it to exist for our pleasure and enlightenment.

So The Ear says:

Thank you, Kato.

Thank you, Irv.

Thank you, Karen Bishop and family.

And thank you to all donors and sponsors – individuals, groups, corporations and businesses — including those whose philanthropy supports the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Madison Early Music Festival, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and so many of the wonderful music groups in the areas.

You were never needed more.

In their honor, here in a YouTube video is a song of dedication, “Widmung,” composed by Robert Schumann and sung by baritone Thomas Quasthoff:


Classical music: In “Clara,” Fresco Opera Theatre traces the love triangle between Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

March 28, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at Fresco Opera Theatre have sent the following information about the three performances of its intriguing and original production this coming weekend, April 1-3, in Promenade Hall at the Overture Center Promenade Hall.

Here it is:

One woman. Two men. A musical love affair. The story of the Schumanns and Brahms.

“Clara” is about the life of Clara Schumann, and centers around her skills as a performer, composer and most importantly her relationship with husband Robert Schumann and close friend Johannes Brahms.

poster04

It’s a 200-year-old “secret.” Schumann was the love of Clara’s life. Clara was the love of Brahms’ life. The music was their passion. Letters were burned in an attempt to erase history, but the historian will uncover the truth of this age-old love affair. 

Fresco Opera Theatre has created an original production celebrating the life of Clara Wieck Schumann (below). Adapted from Boman Desai’s critically acclaimed novel, “Trio,” Fresco Opera will use the music of Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms to tell the story of the lives of these three great composers. 

schumannclara

Admission is $30, and no children under 6 will be admitted. Performances are in Promenade Hall on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.

For more information about the company, you can visit: www.FrescoOperaTheatre.com

What is really exciting is the opportunity to perform works not often heard on the concert stage. Lieder or art songs by Clara and Robert Schumann (both below), as well as vocal works by Brahms, including the Alto Rhapsody, will be featured.

Schumann_Robert_and_Wieck_Clara

We will have solo piano and voice for this performance, to match the pieces we have chosen. It was important to us to employ a female pianist given the story of Clara, so we are fortunate to have Erin Crabb, one of the best pianists in the area, to accompany our singers.

Repertoire includes: “Liebeszauber,” “Lorelei,” “Am Strande,” “Liebst du um Schonheit” and “Der Wanderer” by Clara Schumann; “Ich bin dein Baum,” “Erste Begegnung,” “Tanzlied,” “Widmung” and “Du ring an meinem finger” by Robert Schumann; and Alto Rhapsody, “Dein blaues auge,” “Die Mainacht” and “Neckereien Quartet” by Brahms (below).

(In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Jessye Norman sing the Alto Rhapsody by Brahms in its full orchestral and choral version.)

brahms3

There are many more pieces by all three composers, which have been left out here for the sake of brevity. This will all be performed live, and was researched and arranged by director Melanie Cain.

We teamed up with Chicago author Boman Desai (below), and adapted his novel “Trio”to create this operetta on the life of the Schumanns and Brahms. “Trio” is highly regarded and provides a reference for those looking for the story behind these three composers.

http://www.amazon.com/Trio-Novel-Biography-Schumanns-Brahms/dp/1504915909

Desai will conduct a pre-show talk one hour before each performance of “Clara.”

Boman Desai

Plus, since the Madison Symphony will be performing the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Garrick Ohlsson that same weekend, we are offering a 20 percent discount to anyone who has a ticket stub from that performance. It will certainly be a Brahms weekend at the Overture Center!

Here is the link to the Overture Center’s page about “Clara” where you can find more information and purchase tickets:

http://www.overturecenter.org/events/clara


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