The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here are the 2015 Grammy winners and the nominees for classical music. Pro Arte Quartet recording producer Judith Sherman wins again.

February 10, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The 2015 Grammy winners were announced Sunday night in a live three-hour broadcast.

The list of winners and nominees can be a good guide to new listening.

grammy award BIG

Of course most of the Grammy attention went to pop, rock, rap, country and the big selling music genres.

But here are the winners for classical music, along with the nominees and competition.

One thing to note: Producer of the Year again went to freelancer Judith Sherman (below).

Sherman will be in Madison again inn May to record the last two centennial commissions for the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet. (Below, she is seen recording the first four commissions with the Pro Arte in Mills Hall.) The new recording includes the terrific Clarinet Quintet based on Allen Ginsberg’s landmark Beat poem “Howl” by American composer Pierre Jalbert and Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3.

Judith Shermanjpeg

Judith Sherman with Pro Arte

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL

WINNER: Vaughan Williams (below): Dona Nobis Pacem; Symphony No. 4; The Lark AscendingMichael Bishop, engineer; Michael Bishop, mastering engineer (Robert Spano, Norman Mackenzie, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus). Label: ASO Media

Adams, John: City Noir. Richard King, engineer; Wolfgang Schiefermair, mastering engineer (David Robertson & St. Louis Symphony); Label: Nonesuch

Adams, John Luther: Become Ocean. Dmitriy Lipay & Nathaniel Reichman, engineers; Nathaniel Reichman, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) Label: Cantaloupe Music

Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time. Dmitriy Lipay, engineer; Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Riccardo Muti Conducts Mason Bates & Anna Clyne. David Frost & Christopher Willis, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Label: CSO Resound

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL

WINNER: Judith Sherman (below)

  • Beethoven: Cello & Piano Complete (Fischer Duo)
  • Brahms By Heart (Chiara String Quartet)
  • Composing America (Lark Quartet)
  • Divergence (Plattform K + K Vienna)
  • The Good Song (Thomas Meglioranza)
  • Mozart & Brahms: Clarinet Quintets (Anthony McGill & Pacifica Quartet)
  • Snapshot (American Brass Quintet)
  • Two X Four (Jaime Laredo, Jennifer Koh, Vinay Parameswaran & Curtis 20/21 Ensemble)
  • Wagner Without Words (Williams)

Morten Lindberg

  • Beppe: Remote Galaxy (Vladimir Ashkenazy & Philharmonia Orchestra)
  • Dyrud: Out Of Darkness (Vivianne Sydnes & Nidaros Cathedral Choir)
  • Ja, Vi Elsker (Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl, Ingar Bergby, Staff Band Of The Norwegian Armed Forces & Schola Cantorum)
  • Symphonies Of Wind Instruments (Ingar Bergby & Royal Norwegian Navy Band)

Dmitriy Lipay

  • Adams, John Luther: Become Ocean (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Fauré: Masques Et Bergamasques; Pelléas Et Mélisande; Dolly (Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony Chorale & Seattle Symphony)
  • Hindemith: Nobilissima Visione; Five Pieces For String Orchestra (Gerard Schwarz & Seattle Symphony)
  • Ives: Symphony No. 2; Carter: Instances; Gershwin: An American In Paris (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Ravel: Orchestral Works; Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)

Elaine Martone

  • Hallowed Ground (Louis Langrée, Maya Angelou, Nathan Wyatt & Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’ (Benjamin Zander, Stefan Bevier, Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra)
  • Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7; Tapiola (Robert Spano & Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)
  • Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem; Symphony No. 4; The Lark Ascending (Robert Spano, Norman Mackenzie, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus)

David Starobin

  • All The Things You Are (Leon Fleisher)
  • Complete Crumb Edition, Vol. 16 (Ann Crumb, Patrick Mason, James Freeman & Orchestra 2001)
  • Game Of Attrition – Arlene Sierra, Vol. 2 (Jac Van Steen & BBC National Orchestra Of Wales)
  • Haydn, Beethoven & Schubert (Gilbert Kalish)
  • Mozart: Piano Concertos, No. 12, K. 414 & No. 23, K. 488 (Marianna Shirinyan, Scott Yoo & Odense Symphony Orchestra)
  • Music Of Peter Lieberson, Vol. 3 (Scott Yoo, Roberto Diaz, Steven Beck & Odense Symphony Orchestra)
  • Rochberg, Chihara & Rorem (Jerome Lowenthal)
  • Tchaikovsky: The Tempest, Op. 18 & Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 23 (Joyce Yang, Alexander Lazarev & Odense Symphony Orchestra

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

WINNER: Adams, John (below): City Noir.  David Robertson, conductor (St. Louis Symphony). Label: Nonesuch

Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time.  Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony). Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Dvořák: Symphony No. 8; Janáček: Symphonic Suite From Jenůfa. Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra). Label: Reference Recordings

Schumann: Symphonien 1-4. Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker). Label: Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings.

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7; Tapiola. Robert Spano, conductor (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra). Label: ASO Media

John Adams

BEST OPERA RECORDING

WINNER: Charpentier (below): La Descente D’Orphée Aux Enfers. Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Aaron Sheehan; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble; Boston Early Music Festival Vocal Ensemble). Label: CPO

Milhaud: L’Orestie D’Eschyle. Kenneth Kiesler, conductor; Dan Kempson, Jennifer Lane, Tamara Mumford, Sidney Outlaw, Lori Phillips & Brenda Rae; Tim Handley, producer (University Of Michigan Percussion Ensemble & University Of Michigan Symphony Orchestra; University Of Michigan Chamber Choir, University Of Michigan Orpheus Singers, University Of Michigan University Choir & UMS Choral Union). Label: Naxos

Rameau: Hippolyte Et Aricie. William Christie, conductor; Sarah Connolly, Stéphane Degout, Christiane Karg, Ed Lyon & Katherine Watson; Sébastien Chonion, producer (Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment; The Glyndebourne Chorus). Label: Opus Arte

Schönberg: Moses Und Aron. Sylvain Cambreling, conductor; Andreas Conrad & Franz Grundheber; Reinhard Oechsler, producer (SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden Und Freiburg; EuropaChorAkademie). Label: Hänssler Classic

Strauss: Elektra. Christian Thielemann, conductor; Evelyn Herlitzius, Waltraud Meier, René Pape & Anne Schwanewilms; Arend Prohmann, producer (Staatskapelle Dresden; Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden). Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Marc-Antoine Charpentier color

BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

WINNER: The Sacred Spirit Of Russia. Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Conspirare). Label: Harmonia Mundi

Bach: Matthäus-Passion. René Jacobs, conductor (Werner Güra & Johannes Weisser; Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin; Rias Kammerchor & Staats-Und Domchor Berlin). Label: Harmonia Mundi

Dyrud: Out Of Darkness. Vivianne Sydnes, conductor (Erlend Aagaard Nilsen & Geir Morten Øien; Sarah Head & Lars Sitter; Nidaros Cathedral Choir). Label: 2L (Lindberg Lyd).

Holst: First Choral Symphony; The Mystic Trumpeter. Andrew Davis, conductor; Stephen Jackson, chorus master (Susan Gritton; BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Symphony Chorus). Label: Chandos Records

Mozart: Requiem. John Butt, conductor (Matthew Brook, Rowan Hellier, Thomas Hobbs & Joanne Lunn; Dunedin Consort). Label: Linn Records

BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

WINNER: In 27 Pieces – The Hilary Hahn Encores (below). Hilary Hahn & Cory Smythe. Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Dreams & Prayers. David Krakauer & A Far Cry. Label: Crier Records

Martinů: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1-3. Steven Isserlis & Olli Mustonen. Label: BIS

Partch: Castor & Pollux. Partch. Track from: Partch: Plectra & Percussion Dances. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Sing Thee Nowell. New York Polyphony. Label: BIS

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

WINNER: Play. Jason Vieaux. Label: Azica Records

All The Things You Are. Leon Fleisher. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

The Carnegie Recital. Daniil Trifonov. Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Dutilleux: Tout Un Monde Lointain. Xavier Phillips; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony). Track from: Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time. Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Toccatas. Jory Vinikour. Label: Sono Luminus

BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM

WINNER: Douce France. Anne Sofie Von Otter; Bengt Forsberg, accompanist (Carl Bagge, Margareta Bengston, Mats Bergström, Per Ekdahl, Bengan Janson, Olle Linder & Antoine Tamestit). Label: Naïve

Porpora: Arias. Philippe Jaroussky; Andrea Marcon, conductor (Cecilia Bartoli; Venice Baroque Orchestra) Label: Erato

Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin. Florian Boesch; Malcolm Martineau, accompanist. Label: Onyx

Stella Di Napoli. Joyce DiDonato; Riccardo Minasi, conductor (Chœur De L’Opéra National De Lyon; Orchestre De L’Opéra National De Lyon). Label: Erato/Warner Classics

Virtuoso Rossini Arias. Lawrence Brownlee; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra). Label: Delos

BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

WINNER: Partch (below): Plectra & Percussion Dances. Partch; John Schneider, producer. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Britten To America. Jeffrey Skidmore, conductor; Colin Matthews, producer. Label: NMC Recordings

Mieczysław Weinberg. Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, Daniil Grishin, Gidon Kremer, & Daniil Trifonov & Kremerata Baltica; Manfred Eicher, producer. Label: ECM New Series

Mike Marshall & The Turtle Island Quartet. Mike Marshall & Turtle Island Quartet; Mike Marshall, producer. Label: Adventure Music

The Solent – Fifty Years Of Music By Ralph Vaughan Williams. Paul Daniel, conductor; Andrew Walton, producer. Label: Albion Records

harry partch

BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

WINNER: Adams, John Luther (below): Become Ocean. John Luther Adams, composer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). Label: Cantaloupe Music

Clyne, Anna: Prince Of Clouds. Anna Clyne, composer (Jaime Laredo, Jennifer Koh, Vinay Parameswaran & Curtis 20/21 Ensemble). Track from: Two X Four. Label: Cedille Records

Crumb, George: Voices From The Heartland. George Crumb, composer (Ann Crumb, Patrick Mason, James Freeman & Orchestra 2001). Track from: Complete Crumb Edition, Vol. 16. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Paulus, Stephen: Concerto For Two Trumpets & Band. Stephen Paulus, composer (Eric Berlin, Richard Kelley, James Patrick Miller & UMASS Wind Ensemble). Track from: Fantastique – Premieres For Trumpet & Wind Ensemble. Label: MSR Classics

Sierra, Roberto: Sinfonía No. 4. Roberto Sierra, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony). Track from: Sierra: Sinfonía No. 4; Fandangos; Carnaval.  Label: Naxos

John Luther Adams

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and piano soloist Ilya Yakushev excel in a varied program. But audience members should do better at observing concert etiquette. Plus, retired UW-Madison bass-baritone Sam Jones dies at 87.

January 26, 2015
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ALERT: Sad news has reached The Ear. Samuel M. Jones, a bass-baritone who was an exceptional performer and teacher at the UW-Madison School of Music for 37 years and who also served as the cantor at Temple Beth El and the Choral Director at Grace Episcopal Church, has died at 87. Here is a link to the obituary in the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://m.host.madison.com/news/local/obituaries/jones-dr-samuel-m-jr/article_8a445e98-0cf3-5112-bd72-8840b58a0399.html?mobile_touch=true

Samuel M. Jones

By Jacob Stockinger

On Friday night, The Ear couldn’t be in two places at once.

Being in the mood for some solo piano playing – because The Ear himself is an avid amateur pianist – he attended the solo recital of works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, William Bolcom and Johannes Brahms performed by UW-Madison School of Music professor Christopher Taylor. But more about that will come in another post this week.

However, Larry Wells — a college classmate and good friend who is a longtime and very knowledgeable classical music follower and who has worked, lived and attended concerts in Rochester, San Francisco, Moscow, Tokyo and Seoul — went to the concert Friday night by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

He filed this review:

WisconsinChamberOrchestrainCapitolTHeaterlobby

By Larry Wells

The program opened with a short introduction by Maestro Andrew Sewell, the longtime music director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, to the “English Suite” for string orchestra by the contemporary British composer Paul Lewis. (Sewell himself is a New Zealand native who also trained in England.)

Paul Lewis composer

Although the work was termed by Sewell as an obligatory form for British composers in the manner of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and the like, I found the rhapsodic opening and closing of the second section, “Meditation,” reminiscent of VW’s “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.” But the remainder of the piece seemed trite and forgettable.

Following was the Concerto No. 1 in D Minor for keyboard by Johann Sebastian Bach. In this case, a concert grand piano was used featuring soloist Ilya Yakushev, a Russian native who now lives in the U.S., who was making his second appearance with the WCO.

This familiar piece was played bouncily in the first movement, sweetly in the second, and really fast in the third. I enjoyed Yakushev’s playing, although from my seat the piano seemed slightly muffled and occasionally unheard over the orchestra.

ilya yakushev 3

The second half of the evening opened with the Chamber Symphony No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg, which Maestro Sewell claimed to be in the manner of Richard Strauss. If so, Strauss was much more expressive and engaging.

The evening ended with the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Felix Mendelssohn, again featuring Yakushev. I was unfamiliar with the piece, and found it immediately engaging and enjoyable throughout. (You can hear Ilya Yakushev perform the Mendelssohn piano concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Altogether, it was a good evening of music.

But it was unfortunately marred early in the aforementioned “Meditation” movement when a woman two seats down from me decided to answer a text. The bright light from her cell phone was distracting, so I pointedly stared at her until her seat mate nudged her, and she put away the phone. The seat mate clearly felt that I was in the wrong and glared at me.

I noticed that there is no caution in the program about turning off cell phones, so I believe it would be a good idea for a brief announcement to be made at the beginning of the concert and at the end of the intermission for people to turn off their phones. That simple courtesy has still not become a part of all concertgoers’ routines.

smart phone

And what is with the Madison tradition of giving everything a standing ovation? (Below is a standing ovation at a concert on the Playhouse by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.)

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

There have been perhaps a dozen times in my long concert-going life when I have been so moved by the moment that I’ve leapt to my feet. I think of a standing ovation as recognition of something extraordinary — not as a routine gesture that cheapens to the point of meaninglessness.

For purposes of comparison, here is a link to the review of the same concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and pianist Ilya Yakushev that veteran local music critic and retired UW-Madison medieval history professor John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=44422&sid=6243d3d1e78139b69884d31c5c1126e2


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson will teach a class on the piano music of Claude Debussy in January and February. The deadline to register is Jan. 20.

January 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our good friend Trevor Stephenson — who is usually an eloquent and humorous advocate of early music as a keyboardist who founded and directs the Madison Bach Musicians — will be offering a class at his home-studio about the piano music of the early 20th-century French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy (below).

Claude Debussy 1

The class will take on four Monday evenings: January 26, February 2, 16 and 23 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Those who know Trevor Stephenson (below top) know that he is an articulate and witty explainer, a fine teacher who can reach listeners on all levels. And he will use a 19th-century piano that is close to the kind the Debussy himself used (below bottom).

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Stephenson ca 1850 English parlor grand

TOPICS include:

. Debussy’s life and musical influences

. Construction and tonal qualities of the 19th-century piano

. Modes, whole-tone scales, harmonic language, tonality

. Touch, pedaling, sonority

. Fingering approaches

. Programmatic titling, extra-musical influences, poetry and art

REPERTOIRE includes:

. Suite Bergamasque (with Clair de Lune), Preludes Book II and Children’s Corner Suite

. Two Arabesques, Reverie and Estampes (or “Prints,” heard at the bottom in a YouTube video of a live performance by the magical and great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter in 1977 in Salzburg, Austria.)

The course is geared for those with a reading knowledge of music.

The classes will be given at Trevor Stephenson’s home studio (below). It is located at 5729 Forsythia Place, Madison WI 53705 on Madison’s west side.

Schubert house concert

Enrollment for the course is $150.

Please register by January 20, 2015 if you’d like to attend. Email is: trevor@trevorstephenson.com

 


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS: The slow movement from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major.

December 27, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, this isn’t really holiday music.

But I suppose you could consider it a “holiday” from the more tumultuous and dissonant, more acerbic or satirical writing, that Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (below) is identified with.

dmitri shostakovich

It is gentle and lyrical, and quite lovely — even wistful.

It is the slow movement -– marked Lento –- from the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major.

He wrote it for and dedicated it to his son Maxim -– who has since become a famous conductor -– for his 19th birthday.

And, if I recall correctly, Maxim performed it when he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory.

If you are used to the dissonant, brash, loud sarcastic Shostakovich, try this for a change. It is played by Kirill Gerstein in a YouTube video:

 


Classical music education: Classical music can help students study for final exams. Plus, the WYSO Harp Ensemble and Youth Orchestra perform Saturday afternoon.

December 12, 2014
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ALERT: Just a reminder that tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 13, at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, on the UW-Madison campus in the George Mosse Humanities Building at 455 North Park Street.

The Youth Orchestra (below) and the Harp Ensemble of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will perform.

The orchestra’s program includes The Roman Carnival Overture by the French composer Hector Berlioz; three excerpts from Act 3 of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” by the German Opera composer Richard Wagner; and the first, third and fourth movements from the Symphony No. 1 in D Minor by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Harp Ensemble will perform the traditional tune “Be Thou My Vision” as well as “Grandjany, Eleanor and Marcia”; and a medley of music by the Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini.

Call the WYSO office at (608) 263-3320 for up-to-date concert and ticket information. Or visit http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

Tickets are $10 for adult, $5 for young people 18 and under; and they are available at the door 45 minutes prior to each concert.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is officially the last day of classes for the first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The next two weeks are devoted to a study period and to final papers and exams.

That means classes are also ending at a lot of other public and private universities and colleges around the nation, The Ear suspects. And elementary schools, middle schools and high schools will not be far behind.

Final exams 2

So it is a timely time to post the results of research that shows that classical music -– not just any music, but specifically classical music, which lowers rather raises blood pressure –- can help students study and prepare for final exams.

It was published in advance of two radio stations’ scheduling of useful classical music in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California and in San Francisco.

Apparently, the secret is that it has to do with the embedded structure of the music itself.

The researchers, which range from the cancer center at Duke University and the University of San Diego to the University of Toronto, even mention some specific composers and musical genres or forms that exhibit that sense of structure in outstanding ways.

The composers cited include such Old Masters as Johann Sebastian Bach (below top), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below middle) and Johannes Brahms (below bottom). Richard Strauss and George Frideric Handel also were mentioned. Surprisingly, no mention was made of music by Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn or Franz Schubert.

But students should avoid loud and more scattered music, the research suggests. No “1812 Overture,” complete with cannons, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky! Such music is actually disrupting and counterproductive.

Bach1

mozart big

brahms3

Hmmmm.

Maybe that same sense of structure and regularity — especially noticeable in Baroque music as well as the Classical period and early Romantic music — also explains why those composers have appealed to so many people for so long.

It may also explain why student who study music  and go through formal music education often go on to high achievement in other fields.

And the preferred forms include solo music, including the piano and the lute, and string quartets. That makes sense to me since they are more intimate and less overwhelming forms. Solo French piano by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré  and Francis Poulenc come in for special mention. (I would also add the 550 sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.)

The Ear suspects that what works for final exams also works for other studying and homework in general and other intensive intellectual tasks.

studying to music CR Holly Wilder.jpeg

And maybe what is good for college students is also good for high school or even middle school or elementary school students.

final exams 1

I do have some questions: Did the researchers take the conflicting evidence about multi-taking into account? But I assume they probably gave that some thought. Still, you have to wonder.

Here is a link to the story:

http://news.usc.edu/71969/studying-for-finals-let-classical-music-help/

Do you have favorite music to study by? (One of my favorites is the Waltz in C-Sharo minor by Frederic Chopin as played with great discernible structure, repetition and variation — listen to inner voices — as well as incredible color and nuance by Yuja Wang in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Favorite composers, favorite kinds and favorite pieces?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music Q&A: Russian pianist Olga Kern explains the popularity of Russian music. She performs Rachmaninoff this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

October 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Not only does the Russian pianist Olga Kern (below, in a photo by Chris Lee) play Russian music superbly, she speaks about it just as well, even eloquently and poetically.

Olga Kern

Witness her remarks below, which serve as an introduction to Kern, who will return to Madison to solo this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) under longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The all-Russian program includes the Suite from “Swan Lake” by Peter Tchaikovsky; the Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-Sharp Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff; and the Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $16-$84 with student rush tickets available. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Here is link to the MSO’s webpage about the concert, which includes biographical information, program notes and some audiovisual clips.

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/kern

And here is a link to the always comprehensive and informative but accessible program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1415/2.Oct14.html

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

The half-hour pre-concert talk will be given by the accomplished violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below). She plays with the MSO, the Madison Bach Musicians and the Ancora String Quartet and who also serves as a weekend host for Wisconsin Public Radio. The FREE talk starts in Overture Hall one hour before the start of the concert.

MarikaFischerHoyt

NOTE: In addition, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Club 201 will host a special concert and after-party for Madison’s young professionals on Friday, Oct. 17. Fun, friendship, networking and tastings are included. The post-concert party, located in nearby Promenade Lounge within Overture Center, will include hors d’oeuvres and desserts, and offer drink specials. All Club 201 guests will have the exclusive chance to mingle with Madison Symphony Orchestra musicians and fellow music lovers. The $35 ticket will include a discounted concert ticket (usually $63-$84), seating near other young professionals during the performance, and access to the post-concert party with food. Purchase tickets by this WEDNESDAY, OCT. 15, by calling (608) 257-3734 or at www.madisonsymphony.org/club201

Here is the email interview that Olga Kern, who won the first Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition when she was just 17, graciously granted to The Ear:

Olga Kern

How do you compare the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninoff – which you played to win the Van Cliburn gold medal — to its more popular counterparts such as the Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 and the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” which you also perform? What do you like about the work and what should listeners pay attention to?

The first concerto is Rachmaninoff’s Opus 1 piece. He re-edited it later in life, and in this composition you can hear the fresh approach immediately from the beginning of the first movement. And what an incredibly beautiful second movement it has. He gives the piano an opportunity to start the main melody, which sounds almost like an improvisation in a way.

It’s so unique, and at the same time you can hear Rachmaninoff’s special style as a composer in every note and bar. It’s his first composition and it gives incredible platform and base to his other orchestral works, especially to his piano concerti.

This concerto is similar in structure to his third concerto. It has also a long piano cadenza in the first movement, which is the dramatic point of the whole composition. Also, as in the third concerto, the finale of the last movement is challenging for both the pianist and the orchestra.  (You can hear Olga Kern perform Rachmaninoff’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

This is why, I think, this concerto is not performed very often — because it’s not easy. But it’s really a great pleasure and excitement to perform this concerto. It’s such a wonderful jewel of Rachmaninoff’s music!

rachmaninoffyoung

You have performed in Madison several times, both solo recitals and concertos. Do you have anything to say about Madison audiences or the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

I love Madison — the city, the people, the concert hall, the audience, the orchestra and of course the Maestro, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad). He is fantastic. I can’t wait to work with him again. It’s always great! I have wonderful friends here and I always come back to this great place with pleasure!

I like to work with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — they are so sensitive and responsive, and I always have a great and fun time at the rehearsals with them. In the end, at the concert time, the performances come off so beautifully that it is a joy and a great celebration of music!

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The Rachmaninoff piano concerto is part of an all-Russian program that also features music by Tchaikovsky (below top) and Shostakovich (below bottom). Are there certain qualities that you identify with Russian music and that explain the music’s appeal to the public?

Russian music is full of feeling and is very powerful emotionally. Russian people, even if they are happy, are always sad inside. And this explains why Russian music is so complicated with feelings -– it is in its nature — always a fight between sadness and happiness, between darkness and light, between good and bad. You feel it — whether you listen to it or you perform it.

All the composers who will be performed in this concert had very difficult, complicated lives. They went through so much, but at the same time they wanted to be happy. They were romantics in their souls, fighters in their hearts.

They wanted to make the world beautiful, no matter what, with their heavenly amazing music! This is why it’s always so exciting and so touching to listen and to perform their incredible works and compositions!

tchaikovsky

dmitri shostakovich

Since winning the gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Competition in 2001, you have been very busy. What are your current recording projects and touring plans?

Yes, I am very busy, and of course very happy about it. I definitely have lots of exciting plans for the near future, but — if you don’t mind — I will keep it as a secret to keep many wonderful surprises soon for my wonderful fans and friends!

Please follow me on my website, www.olgakern.com, my official Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/olgakern?fref=ts, Twitter: @kernolga1, and Instagram @kernolga. I will be posting all my exciting news and projects and share it with all of you there!

Is there more you would like to say or add?

I am looking forward very much to coming back to beautiful autumn season in Madison. It’s my favorite season there. Nature is gorgeous and, as always for me, very inspiring!


Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison will celebrate Wisconsin composers, unknown Tchaikovsky and the 25th anniversary of Aaron Copland’s death during its 2014-2015 season.

August 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Festival Choir of Madison has announced its concerts for 2014-15 — its 40th anniversary season of three one-performance programs —  that include a variety of music, from rarely heard Tchaikovsky vespers to choral music by Aaron Copland, and an entire concert that highlights living Wisconsin composers.

Festival Choir of Madison 2013

Here is a press release:

Concerts will be held at the First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS exterior BIG COLOR USE

“Pre-concert lectures by the group’s Artistic Director Bryson Mortensen (below), who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Rock County, will be on Saturday evenings at 6:30 p.m., with concerts beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Bryson Mortensen BW

“Season tickets can be purchased at http://festivalchoirmadison.org/Season1415/tickets.htm or by calling (608) 274-7089.

“Season ticket prices are: General, $40; Senior, $32; Student, $25. No word yet on single tickets or when they will be available.

“1. All-Night Vigil: Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky on Saturday, November 1, 2014

Written nearly 35 years before the more popular Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky (below) set the text of the All-Night Vigil to ensure that church music in Russia retained a uniquely Russian flavor. The work, containing settings from three “overnight” canonical hours (Vespers, Matins, and First Hour), is a sublime representation of Russian church music that inspired other Russian composers in the previously untouched genre of religious music. With the uniquely shifting harmonies and meditative melodies, this a capella work will be particularly suited to the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s chapel. (You can hear some of Tchaikovsky’s a cappella choral music in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tchaikovsky 1

“2. Wisconsin Sings! on Saturday, March 7, 2015

The traditional of vocal and choral music is strong throughout Wisconsin, from the Appleton Boy Choir, to the Milwaukee Choral Artists, to the Festival Choir of Madison. Wisconsin is also home to many internationally recognized choral composers, and this concert celebrates the best of them. We will be singing works by composers such as Blake Henson (below 1) who teaches at the St. Norbert College; Eric William Barnum (below 2), Zach Moore (below 3), Jerry Hui (below 4), who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Stout; and Andrew Steffen.

blake henson

Eric William Barnum

zach moore

Jerry Hui

“3. Aaron Copland: 25 Years on Saturday, May 2, 2015

2015 marks the 25th year since Aaron Copland’s death, and is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate his significant contribution to choral music. Instrumental in forging a distinctly American style, the compositions of Aaron Copland (below) are perfect to celebrate the beginning of summer. This concert will include performances of “In the Beginning” and his “Four Motets” as well as selections from Irving Fine’s choral arrangement of the Old American Songs.

aaron copland

“For more information, call (608) 274-7089 or contact bryson.mortensen@uwc.edu.”

 

 


Classical music: Con Vivo! will perform Russian and Eastern European chamber music this Saturday night.

May 28, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Con Vivo! … music with life, concludes its 12th season of chamber music with a concert entitled “Eastern Block Party” on Saturday, May 31, at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall.

Con Vivo core musicians

The program includes the Serenade for violin, viola, cello and two clarinets by Bohuslav Martinu (below top), the Polonaise No. 1 in D Major for violin and piano by Henryk Wieniawski (below middle), and Spiegel im Spiegel for clarinet and piano by Arvo Pärt (below bottom in a YouTube video that features the viola rater than the clarinet).

Bohuslav Martinu

Henryk Wieniawski

Arvo Part

The performance will also feature the outstanding church organ with the Prelude in G Major by Friedrich Constantin Homilius. To conclude the evening’s offering, con vivo! will perform the Piano Quintet for two violins, viola, cello and piano by Dimitri Shostakovich (below).

dmitri shostakovich

Audience members are invited to join Con Vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature and to hear about their Carnegie Hall debut this past December.

Con Vivo at Carnegie Hall

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.

Artistic Director Robert Taylor, talking about the concert, said: “As is our tradition, con vivo!’s post Carnegie Hall debut season brings to our audience works that are familiar and some that are new. We’ve been honored as the “Best Classical Concert of 2013” by reviewer John W. Barker (below). With this concert, we aim to continue that trend.”

John-Barker

Con Vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.

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Classical music education: The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras showcase both soloists and ensembles on this Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Plus, a FREE collaborative concert-arts event takes place tonight at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

May 13, 2014
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ALERT: University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music viola student Sharon Tenhundfeld (below) is the director of the Artist Collective Concert Series. She writes: “You are invited to the FREE DEBUT concert tonight, Tuesday, May 13, at 8 p.m. in DeLuca Forum at  the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, located at 330 North Orchard Street. This concert series is an opportunity for UW-Madison musicians, dancers, visual artists, and actors to freely explore collaboration across art disciplines and present their collaborative works of art to the public. The concert includes three performance pieces as well as an audience art piece. The three works involve a total of 15 collaborating artists. The concert is free of charge and should be a ton of fun! The program includes: Distance – video art and musicians; Tomato Magic – actress, comics, and musicians; and Mobile – dancers and a string quartet. We look forward to seeing you.”

Sharon Tenhundfeld

By Jacob Stockinger

On this Saturday, May 17, and Sunday, May 18, 2014, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will present the annual Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts, the last major event of the current regular concert season. (There are summer events.)

The Bolz Family Spring Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, in Madison.

There is not much The Ear can add except that he is almost sure you will be impressed by the skills of these many young people – hundreds of middle school and high school student from dozens of communities around south-central Wisconsin –- especially if you have never heard them before. Just listen to them tackle the massive and iconic Fifth Symphony by modern Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich in the YouTube video at the bottom.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

I suspect you, like me, will also be impressed with the size, young age and enthusiasm of the audiences, who cheer when the musicians first come on the stage and never stop. It is as if you are at some kind of sporting event – an atmosphere that the performing arts and various academic events could use a lot more of.

WYSO young audience

I say: Try it, you’ll like it! And you will be supporting a great cause. Music skills last a lifetime and translate into other careers and endless appreciation and ageless enjoyment.

Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for children under 18 years of age. The family-friendly concerts, informal in atmosphere, generally last about 90 minutes.

Here are programs and performers:

On Saturday, May 17 at 1:30 p.m., WYSO will kick off the concerts with Sinfonietta (below) performing “Oblivion” by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla; a traditional Chinese tune entitled “The Brilliant Red Shandadan Flowers: and American composer Aaron Copland’s “Grovers Corners.”

Sinfonietta strings

The Concert Orchestra (below) will perform “Song of Jupiter” by Baroque master George Frideric Handel; the “Triumphant March from Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique” by Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; “Vignettes”by Kirk; “Song without Words” by Gustav Holst; and Gavotte in D minor by the Baroque French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully.

wyso concert orchestra brass

At 4 p.m., WYSO’s Philharmonia Orchestra will feature its two concerto competition winners. Davis Wu will play Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor by the American composer Edward MacDowell; and violinist Isabelle Krier will perform Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), Op. 20, for solo violin and orchestra by the Spanish composer Pablo de Sarasate. The Philharmonia Orchestra will then play the fourth movement of the Symphony No. 6, Op. 74, B Minor and the Danse Bacchanale by French composer Camille Saint Saens, and the Caucasian Sketches No. 2, fourth movement by the Russian composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov.

Davis Wu

Isabelle Krier

On Sunday, May 18, at 1:30 p.m., WYSO will display three of their smaller ensembles: Percussion Ensemble (below top) under the direction of Vicki Jenks; the Brass Choirs under the direction of Dan Brice; and the Harp Ensemble (below bottom) under the direction of Karen Beth Atz.

WYSO percussion Ensemble 2013

WYSO Harp Ensemble 2011

At 4 p.m., WYSO will welcome its Youth Orchestra, which will feature the four winners of the concerto competition. Violinist Savannah Albrecht (below top) will perform Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Camille Saint-Saens; marimbist Ephraim Sutherland will perform Concerto for Marimba and Strings by Sejourne.

Savannah Albrecht

Ephraim Sutherland mallets

Pianist Isabella Wu will perform the Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 1, by Sergei Rachmaninoff; and pianist Charlie Collar will perform the Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16, by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.

Isabella Wu2

Charlie Collar

The Youth Orchestra will also perform two additional works it will play on its concert tour to Argentina this summer: Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein and the Danza final (Malombo) from “Estancia” by the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera.

For more information about those concerts and about WYSO, including its history, how to support it and how to audition to join it, visit:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

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Classical music: The University of Wisconsin Choral Union says goodbye to Madison architect and longtime member Rick Levin with Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers.” A memorial for Levin will be held May 18.

May 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Gradually The Ear is catching up with reviews of local concerts.

April has been such a busy month for music, that I have given priority, as usual, to previews and advance features. They better serve not only the performers and presenters, but also the public.

But here is one review — really more of an appreciation than a review — that I wanted to include before it was too late.

A week today, last Saturday night, April 26, we said good-bye to Richard “Rick” Levin (below), a local architect, an avid baseball fan and a devoted chorister.

rick levin 2014

We said that good-bye through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union, in which Rick Levin (pronounced le-VINN) sang bass for 20 years or so.

But last year Rick was diagnosed with a form of oral cancer. He fought valiantly, with good humor and with hope, and many of us thought he would definitely make it.

Sadly, he did not.

He died on March 3.

So the UW Choral Union dedicated its one-night only performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s a cappella Vespers of “All-Night Vigil,” Op. 37, based on the Russian Orthodox liturgy, to Levin, who had started rehearsing the work at the beginning of the semester.

Rick was Jewish, the work’s liturgy was Christian; but it was the music by the Russian neo-Romantic composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (below), not the religion, that mattered.

Rachmaninoffold

Here is a link to some background, provided in a Q&A by the two leaders of the performance, conductors Beverly Taylor and Adam Kluck:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/classical-music-qa-co-conductors-beverly-taylor-and-adam-kluck-explain-the-appeal-of-sergei-rachmaninoffs-vespers-and-why-they-are-hard-to-perform-and-exotic-to-hear-f/

The performance proved a moving experience.

It is not a concert I really want to review artistically. I leave that task to this blog’s sometime guest critic John W. Barker, who usually writes for Isthmus.

Barker (below) knows the liturgical and religious aspects, the musical score, the Church Slavonic language and the dynamics of choral singing much better than I do. So I defer to Barker’s judgment and his review, which you can find a link to lower down on this posting.

John Barker

But I do feel capable of making some general observations.

This is the second time – the first was about 10 years ago — that conductor Beverly Taylor, the director of the choral department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the assistant conductor to music director John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, had conducted the relatively neglected work and brought it to the Madison public. She also shared her conducting duties with graduate student conductor Adam Kluck.

The two switched on and off with great continuity, and both seemed in command of the score and the style.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

Adam Kluck conducting

The chorus sang the difficult a cappella work, without accompaniment, with heart.

The singers changed their usually standing position on risers, and sat in a horse shoe-like semi-circle, which added to the intimacy. It almost felt like a comforting religious set-up, suggesting a surrounding circle of friends, the kind you might find in some church, synagogue or congregation.

Vespers seating UW Choral Union

Adding to the atmosphere of the work were some paintings of angels, mural-like or mosaic-like such as you might find in a Eastern Orthodox church

Vespers 1

Vespers angel 2

There were some red candles in golden church brass holders, forming an altar next to the conductor’s podium, where even an icon of the Madonna and Child had been placed on the stage.

Vespers podium and altar

Vespers stage icon5

In addition, the Vespers opened with Father Michael, of Madison’s Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, holding aloft a candle as an invocation.

Vespers Father Michael

The Choral Union did everything to create an atmosphere that would make this concert seem unusual, special and less concert-like, more intimate, if you will.

And it worked.

I sat in the audience with Rick’s wife and several friends.

We were all moved, especially, I thought, by the many verses about redemption and salvation. Unbeliever that I am, I ask: How else does one move forward from such loss of love and the grief that accompanies it?

The texture of the vocal sound enveloped us. The chorus seemed to sing with precise attacks and releases, and with good balances that shifted emphasis from section to section. Rachmaninoff’s rich sense of harmony and of melodic line showed through.

But a higher purpose than turning in an outstanding artistic performance was served, at least for some of us.

We all sat moved –- by the testimony of a great composer, unafraid of emotion, and by the many musicians paying tribute to one of their own. Such is the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Art and, for The Ear, especially of music.

It was a fine evening of fine music that served a fine purpose. I think Rick Levin would have been very pleased.

Is there more to say? Not for me, not now.

Except perhaps that a celebration or memorial gathering for Rick Levin will be held in two weeks, on Sunday, May 18, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., in the shelter in Warner Park (below) on Madison’s far east side.

Warner Park shelter

If you feel close enough to Rick and his wife Judy to join in the words and music, the ballpark franks and food that Rick so loved from his childhood in Chicago, where he was a Chicago Cubs fan and regularly went to Wright Field (below), I am told you are welcome and even invited to attend. As for memorials, Rick Levin modestly asked only that contributions be made to Wisconsin Public Radio.

Wrigley Field

Here is a link to Rick Levin’s obituary:

http://host.madison.com/news/local/obituaries/levin-richard-rick/article_9282977f-eb94-52f7-8e76-ded2b25864d2.html

And here is the link to the review of the UW Choral Union’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers,” done by retired UW-Madison history professor John W. Barker, that I referred to above:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42618&sid=1d5a87b16b85286f287599373df2f6be

Finally, here in its entirety is the beautiful and mysterious “Vespers” from a live performance in a popular YouTube video. Even just the opening will, I expect, move you:

 

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